Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Inspired by Yellowstone

LaVon Driggs (my mother's cousin, and my friend) and I used our long Pioneer Day holiday weekend to visit Island Park, Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. I came home feeling totally rejuvenated and refreshed...what beautiful and amazing country that is! One of my coworkers mentioned that his friend called Yellowstone "inspiring", and I'd have to agree!

Here's a photo of LaVon and I at Yellowstone's "Grand Canyon", where you can see the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. This was the first time I'd ever visited that part of the park, and I finally realized how the park got its name.....from the color of the walls of that there canyon!

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. It's about a 5 hour drive from Salt Lake City to the hotel where we stayed in West Yellowstone, Montana. Along the way, we stopped in the city of Rexburg where we attended the newly built LDS temple, rode the old carved wooden horses of the Idaho Centennial Carousel, and visited the Teton Dam Flood museum. I was very interested to see houses floating down the street in the movie they show at the museum, and was surprised to learn that the dam had only been in operation for 8 or 9 months on the day it broke back in 1976.

A little ways north of Rexburg and Ashton, you can visit two gorgeous waterfalls on the Henry's Fork river. Here's a video of the lovely Upper Mesa Falls:

About a mile downstream you can see these beautiful Lower Mesa Falls.

We next made our way to the Henry's Fork Lodge, which had made it into the "1000 Places to See Before You Die" book as a mecca for fly fisherman. It's very expensive to stay there (like $400 per person, per day), so we didn't stay there but just went there for a scrumptious dinner on their patio that overlooks the peaceful Henry's Fork river. As we sat on the patio, we saw the resident yellow bellied marmot (who stood politely begging for food from LaVon), and a number of beautiful and colorful birds.

The best part, though, was meeting some of the fly fisherman who were staying there. We chatted with a father and son...David and Dave...who run a software company in San Francisco and were there for a week of rest and relaxation. Each day of their trip, the lodge took them on an outing to a different place, where they learned a different fly fishing technique. It was obvious that they were passionate about fly fishing, which made talking with them about it totally delightful. They told us that women often make great fly fishermen, because it requires smarts and subtlety, rather than brute strength (of course that made us like them even more!). They talked about how fly fishing humbles CEO's who are used to having their commands obeyed and quickly learn that they are in no position to demand anything from nature...they must instead use smarts and intuition and patience to have any success out here.

Here's a shot of LaVon chatting with David.

David's son Dave was excited to show us his collection of flies. He let me study them, and they were pretty darn cool!

Here's a photo of Dave in the river:

LaVon captured this shot of me as I was chatting with David

Meeting David and Dave and seeing their passion for fly fishing made visiting Henry's Fork Lodge a magical experience....the kind of travel experience you always hope for!

The next day, we explored Yellowstone National Park. I hadn't been there since the forest fires in 1988, and so I was interested to see lots of new young trees amid the tall toothpick-like older burnt trees that were still standing.

Here's a video at one of the first places we stopped, Gibbon Falls:
Next we went to the Norris Geyser basin, where we saw this area where you can use the color of the algae to detect the temperature of the water:

We next made our way to Yellowstone's "Grand Canyon" where we visited the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone river.
We took the strenuous "Uncle Tom's" hike down lots of stairs to get a close up view of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. Here's a little video of our experience there:

As we made our way towards Old Faithful, we stopped to see this interesting "Churning Cauldron" at the Mud Volcano area that is along the way:

Right near there, I had this experience with a bison:

We did have a few other animal experiences that day...mostly traffic jams caused by bison or bears or eagles.

You can't visit Yellowstone without seeing Old Faithful, which we did. Since I grew up in Soda Springs Idaho, where there's a geyser as tall as Old Faithful that goes off each hour, I probably wasn't as impressed with Old Faithful as I should have been. My favorite part of Old Faithful was visiting with all the other tourists we met there. I chatted with a family from New York City who was spending a month visiting all the National Parks in the Western U.S....that seems like a really long road trip to me....I suspect I'd get grouchy if I tried to do that! We also chatted with a guy who had ridden his motorcycle all the way from Tennessee to be there, and a lady from Utah about my age who had patches all over her backpack, representing the places she's visited. I usually pick up a refrigerator magnet each place I go, but now my fridge is getting quite covered with them, and so perhaps I'll need to start getting patches instead. I love souvenirs that don't clutter up your house or your life too much!

On the way back to West Yellowstone, we found this delightful place, called the Fountain Paint Pots:

Later, when it was very dark, we went back into Yellowstone to see the brilliance of the starry night sky far from city lights. We saw a few falling stars and the milky way. I was able to brush off some of my rusty Astronomy 127 class memories and identify a few constellations. The best part was being in a peaceful place, and remembering what an amazing world God created for us!

We spent the following day in the Island Park area. In the morning, we took a canoe trip down the Henry's Fork. Here's a little video of that:

In the afternoon, we hiked through Harriman State Park, in hopes that we would see the Tetons, but it was too cloudy that day. We did enjoy seeing the "Railroad Ranch" buildings there, which were the summer homes of some of the railroad magnates. We walked through wildflowers and saw a huge white pelican (which we had thought might be a Trumpeter Swan from the distance), along the river. Here's a photo where you can see both the ranch buildings and the river.

Before going to a silly and entertaining dinner theatre show in the evening, we visited Big Spring, where the Henry's Fork river starts as water just flows out of a mountain spring. The water is very, very clear there, and we could see rainbow trout through it. Here's a little video of that experience:

Finally, here's the beautiful Island Park sunset:

Joan of Arc

While my parents have been serving a mission in New York City, I've had the privilege of visiting them a few times. I love seeing where they live, where they work, and what their lives are like while they are there. I've also enjoyed the opportunity to explore New York City.

One of the places I've visited is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Since I've never taken an art history class, I don't have the background to appreciate much of the art there. I enjoyed their exhibit of Superhero costumes, was tickled to see their huge roof-top statues that are enormous shiny metal versions of the long, skinny balloons that clowns twist into animal shapes, and laughed at their exhibit of a real shark (dead, of course) suspended in a glass box of formaldehyde, with the fun name "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living".

Other parts of the museum, though, I found downright boring and sometimes even depressing. I felt that way as I was walking through an area that had European paintings...many of them were dark and depressing, and many of them portrayed nude women, which I just don't enjoy seeing or find uplifting. In the middle of their European art section, however, I came across this painting that really caught my attention.

The first thing I noticed about the painting was the look on the young woman's face. I could see that something significant was going on here, but wasn't quite sure what it was. I read the description of the painting, and learned that it was a portrayal of Joan of Arc when she was hearing the voices that directed her to lead the French armies against the invading captors. Capturing the moment a person is receiving revelation in a painting seems like a very tough challenge; revelation is all about what 's going on inside of a person...not something easily portrayed visually. I liked the way Jules Bastien-Lepage did it here by including three almost transparent figures among the trees on the left side of the painting to represent the voices she heard. The thing that I kept coming back to was her face and the look of humility, enlightenment, and determination I saw on it. I loved it. I loved the uplifting nature of the moment it portrayed. I loved the fact that it portrayed a woman having this experience, making it resonate with me even more.

When I returned home, I thought about the painting several times and finally decided that I wanted to have a copy of it in my home. Not just because it was lovely, but because I wanted to use it as a reminder of how I desire to live my life...I want to be a person that seeks, receives, and then follows the revelation and inspiration of heaven for my life.

So, I searched the internet for a large print that I could hang above my staircase. I soon found that I could get an actual oil painting for about the same price as a print would cost, so I ordered one from Oceanbridge. A few months later, they began emailing pictures of the painting their people in China had done. At first, I didn't like their version of the painting...I think I had unrealistic expectations of how close they could come to the original....if I had wanted an exact copy, I should have gotten a print! Originally, it seemed that the artist didn't understand the meaning of the painting, and so the three angel figures were painted with no sense of transparency, and Joan's face just didn't show the inspiration I was looking for. But, we emailed back and forth several times, and they kindly adjusted the painting until I felt good about it.

It arrived a few weeks ago in a thick cardboard cylinder mailed from China, and is now hanging in my home. Here's a shot of the version that hangs above my staircase:

The artist definitely has a different style than Jules Bastien-Lepage, and his color choices are different also, but I felt that he was able to represent the message of the painting, and the message was my whole purpose for purchasing it. Here's a closeup of Joan and the angels:

I hope it will help me remember faithful, courageous women and men who have gone before, and will also help me remember the type of person I want to become.

Monday, July 28, 2008

SpongeBob and San Francisco public transportation (Part III)

Our last day in San Francisco reminded me of one of my favorite SpongeBob episodes where he rode the bus far from home for a day at an amusement park. The episode is all about his experiences of trying to get home again...buses zoom past his stop without stopping, they don't come when he's at the stop but do come when he's distracted by a vending machine, and so forth. It's hilarious, just because it's so true sometimes!

Our day was just like that...we decided to take public transportation that day to avoid the exorbitant parking rates in downtown San Francisco, but that turned out to be a mistake. Our hop-on/hop-off tour bus had problems that forced us to get off the bus and stand in line to get on again three times during the day. The cable cars zoomed past our stop because they were too full, so we walked to the stop where they were picking up people, but, in true SpongeBob-nightmare-public-transporation-episode fashion, the next cable cars didn't stop there and went to our original stop instead. When we finally got on a cable car, it got stuck in the middle of an intersection because an automobile got in the way just as it was heading up a hill, and so it lost momentum. We waited for 10 minutes until a big tractor trailer cab came gave the cable car a push from behind, but that only moved it out of the intersection, where they then told us that everyone had to get off because the car wasn't going to continue its route.

What really made me cuss, though, was when we missed the last CalTrain out of town (our hotel was about 25 minutes south of the city), because the 5 or so city buses and electric street cars we tried to take to the station just zoomed past their stops without stopping (because they were too full) and even the taxis we hailed wouldn't stop. But, never fear, we didn't spend the night homeless in San Francisco. We took a BART train to a station that was about a mile from the CalTrain station where our car was parked, and then luckily found a taxi. We didn't know the way to the other station, and it was very late at night, so I considered that a serious blessing. It turned out that we spent quite a bit more money on public transportation than it would have cost us to just drive our car and park! Looking at the bright side, Tracy set a new record on her pedometer that day (over 21,000 steps)....and at least we could take comfort by thinking of SpongeBob!

There are beautiful parts of taking public transportation, too, though. Here's a little video of the fun part of our Cable Car ride:

One of the highlights of our day was stumbling across some tourists who were doing a special "Shanghai San Francisco" tour. Back in the early days of the town, the ships had a hard time recruiting sailors for the long trip to Shanghai, and so they would kidnap sailors by various means (like by getting them drunk or sending them through a trap door in a bar, and they'd wake up to find themselves on a boat headed to Shanghai), and so getting kidnapped became known as getting "Shanghaied". The people on this tour were following clues that lead them to actors placed around the city which would help them to solve a kidnapping case. We stumbled across these actors, who were part of the adventure:

As we watched the Shanghai people on their tour, their leader even pulled us into the fun, by warning his tour group people that we were some of the bad guys! One of the ladies (who happened to be wearing silly rabbit ears) did a hand gesture to indicate that she'd be watching us!

This tour was happening on Telegraph Hill, which is the hill on which the Coit Tower sits. We really enjoyed walking through the neighborhoods around there and seeing people who live in homes that can only be accessed by lots of stairs (which made me wonder how they ever got their refrigerators and couches and stuff up to their house!). One of the fun things about that area is that there is a flock of wild parrots that live there (some pet parrots escaped, reproduced, and that's how a whole flock of wild parrots came to be living in urban San Francisco).

Another highlight of the day was visiting the Mussee Mecanique at Fisherman's Wharf, where they had lots of antique arcade games. If you saw a machine like this, wouldn't you be tempted to put in a quarter too?

Wanna know what the Belly Dancer does on her day off? She plays the ukulele!

They were very effective at getting the quarters out of our pockets. We couldn't resist seeing "Susie dance the Can-Can" either:

The last highlight of our trip was visiting the prison at Alcatraz Island. We took a night tour, which was fun because they had extra ranger tours. We attended one about Al Capone, who was the most famous inmate there. It was interesting to learn how he was able to bribe or buy the officials at other prisons (he had carpet and curtains in one of his previous prison cells and could run his gang from within prison), but how the warden at Alcatraz could not be influenced by him. Al Capone offered the warden at Alcatraz $10,000 so they could build tennis courts for the inmates there, but the warden refused. He made several other offers also, but finally realized that this warden couldn't be bought. The end of Al Capone's life was really sad...all the other prisoners were out to get him (his partner in the kitchen duty stabbed him in the back with a spoon or pair of scissors). He finally ended up dying of syphilis. His life choices finally caught up to him.

Here we are at the end of my San Francisco blogs. To end, I'll just include a a sunset photo of Alcatraz island:

Here's one last photo, taken of the Golden Gate bridge from our Alcatraz ferry.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Napa Valley to Golden Gate Park (Part II)

Ok, so my last post ended with us in Napa Valley, being disappointed that it was too windy for us to ride a hot air balloon. I'd post a photo of us standing by the balloon basket, looking disappointed, but we happen to look really bad just then (the day started at 5 a.m., after all). Instead, for your aesthetic enjoyment, I'll post this photo of what a partially filled hot air balloon looks like when it's too windy to take it up.

Also, just so you can get a feel for the size and weight of the basket, here's a little video showing what they had to do to get it back on the trailer for hauling around.

The whole operation was a big production, with all the people and equipment they have. I could see why it was so expensive to take a trip (the tickets were over $200 each). One of the pilots told us that the envelope (the fabric part) can cost $35,000. This company uses really heavy duty ones, that last only a year or two, because they take them up daily (except on windy days). Their biggest cost, though, is liability insurance. Not a single insurance company in the U.S. will cover them, so they get their coverage from Lloyd's of England.

We really enjoyed chatting with the pilots. One of them mentioned that they used to go to hot air balloon competitions, where they'd have contests to land in certain spots and so forth. But, because they flew every day and most the people they were competing against were hobbyists, they always won the contests, which didn't make them very popular and resulted in them being "uninvited". We also learned that they carry a bottle of champagne with them on each flight, so they can give it to the owner of the property where they land. They try to get the owner's permission in advance, but sometimes because of the weather or other conditions, they are running out of fuel and just have to land whereever they can, and then make friends afterwards!
We also enjoyed a conversation with the man who drove our shuttle van to and from the launch site. He had been an air traffic controller in the Newark New Jersey airport on September 11, 2001, and told us about his experiences that day. He now lived in California because he had met a woman on the internet and moved there to marry her. The two of them were older (he was in his 50's when they married), but they wanted to have kids, so they travelled to China and adopted two orphans. He said that the Chinese government mandates that you must take a tour of China before you can adopt an orphan from there, and that's what he and his wife did.

So anyway, even though we didn't get a hot air balloon ride, we were still glad we had gone to Napa Valley because it was such a beautiful place and we enjoyed meeting the hot air balloon people.

We then headed back into San Francisco. Our first stop was the Ferry Building, which had been a huge transportation hub before the bridges were built across the Bay. It's right near the Bay Bridge (here's a photo of the Bay Bridge from there).

Today there are still ferries coming in and out of the dock, but the building is now mainly a shopping center for foodies! We enjoyed all the free samples of various types of olive oils, chocolates, toffee, bread, cheeses, and so forth, and bought a few things for lunch (including sourdough bread and fancy cheese...you can't go to San Francisco without eating sourdough, right?!)

We then made our way to the Palace of Fine Arts, where ate our lunch and shared some with the birds. This is a place that had been built for a big world exposition in the early 1900's. The main dome is currently blocked off for remodelling and adding structural support. Even so, it was still a beautiful spot for lunch.

We then headed to the Golden Gate Park. I'd never been there before and was surprised at how wooded and untamed much of it was...I guess I was expecting something a little more manicured. There are manicured parts, of course, but much of it has the feel of a forested area.

One of the highlights there was visiting the Conservancy of Flowers.

They had a special butterflies exhibit where you walked into a room that was filled with colorful, beautiful butterflies flitting around along with all the plants.

The rooms were very humid, and were all kept at slightly different temperatures to accommodate the types of plants that were in each one. We tried to stay clear of their carnivorous plants (not that they could really eat us, although it reminded me of that "The Little Shop of Horrors" movie with the monster plant). We enjoyed seeing the plants with enormous leaves (like 3 feet across), and all the orchids. There was a Buddhist monk in his orange robes touring the exhibit the same time we did, which was kind of fun. There was also a guy sitting outside playing the drums, also something I don't see every day.

Next we headed to the Japanese tea gardens, also in the Golden Gate Park. The garden is filled with bonsai trees, waterfalls, ponds, bridges, and replicas of Japanese temples. It's a very peaceful place, and did remind me of the beautiful gardens I visited in Kyoto and Tokyo. Here's a shot of a temple with bonsai trees and waterfall in front.

I was amused to see this totally steep bridge in the Japanese tea garden.

The thing that amused me about it was that the steepness had no functional value, since it wasn't like something tall needed to float under it (especially since there was a surface level bridge right next to it). And, the steepness had a bit of a cost, as you can see the difficulty people had going over the bridge in the photo below.

But, maybe that's part of it's attraction...in a world full of practical, functional things (which I appreciate in my daily life), it can be a nice break to see something that exists solely for beauty, for whimsy, or for fun. That's the type of thing that's just right for vacations.

I've run out of time again today, so I'll tell you about the rest of our trip in a later post.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Coldest winter? Summer in San Francisco

Legend has it that Mark Twain said that the coldest winter he ever spent was summer in San Francisco. After spending a chilly 4th of July weekend there, my sister Tracy and I just might agree! Actually, it was a joy to escape the hot Salt Lake City summer for a few days.

Since Tracy had lived in San Antonio, she was the guide on our last trip together, and this time it was my turn to show her around the Bay Area.

We first went and got our pictures taken in front of the fog obscuring the Golden Gate Bridge. Ok, so maybe it's kind of irrational to get your photo taken in front of the fog...but it's still kind of fun! I won't post the photos, because, well, it just looks like us in front of fog. We also took this silly photo of me in front of the statue that honors all of our servicemen who travelled through the Golden Gate on military ships as they went to serve their country.

Once across the bridge, we stopped in Sausalito to see The Bay Model visitors center, which is a huge model (like two football fields in size) of the San Francisco Bay and surrounding areas water systems. It had been constructed in the 1950's by the Army Corps of Engineers so they could test various ideas on how to manage the water systems. It mimicked a day's worth of tides and water flows every 14 minutes. During the 1990's they started being able to use computers for their modelling, so now this place is used only for education. I was interested to learn that they have to dredge the bottom of the bay every year so the big cargo ships can make their way to the ports at Oakland. They have these ships that are like vacuum cleaners that suck up all the sediment from the bottom of the bay and then go deposit it elsewhere.

Our next stop was down the winding road to Muir Woods to see the huge old redwoods. There wasn't any parking for miles around, and so we continued down the road for a few miles to Muir Beach, where we saw lots of jelly fish washed up on shore. Most of them were about 3 inches in diameter, but we did one that was about a foot in diameter. Tracy especially enjoyed seeing the powerful waves against the rocks and relaxing in the peaceful feeling there. Here's a little video to give you a taste of the experience:

Next we went to the Muir Beach Overlook, where you are theoretically able to see miles and miles both directions down the coast. Because of the fog, we didn't see much, but got some cool pictures that have a "great wall of China" feel to them.

It had been long enough for the crowds to die down at Muir Woods, so we next enjoyed walking through the beautiful groves of ancient redwood trees. I was surprised to learn that the United Nations was actually founded in one of the groves at Muir Woods. They have cool calendar there, which is a cross section of one of the big redwood trees, with arrows pointing out the date of the various rings. They thought this tree was "born" in 909 A.D. Standing next to that made me feel humble....

It's hard to get a photo that can do Muir Woods justice, (you just can't stand far enough back to get the full trees!) so here's a video instead. Muir Woods is one of my favorite places.

After leaving Muir Woods, we hit rush hour traffic, so we decided to stop and eat dinner at a fancy strip mall area in Mill Valley. We ate at "High Tech Burritos" (which are just like low-tech burritos, except more expensive!) and then mingled through some of the shops. Tracy bought a CD of beautiful classical guitar music at a shop called "The Spanish Table" and we enjoyed browsing through all the ceramics and books and such that had been imported from Spain. While browsing through a candle shop, we met a friendly lady who helped us come up with good time-killing ideas. She suggested that we go to the pet store nearby, where we could watch people wash their dogs at a special dog wash there, and also see all the silly clothes that people buy for their dogs. She was right...that was great entertainment.

When we got back on the road again, we headed to Napa Valley. It was an absolutely beautiful drive past vineyards with rows and rows of grapevines. We didn't stop to take a photo, because we expected we'd have lots of photo opportunities the following morning, since we were scheduled for a 5:30 a.m. balloon ride over the valley. The next morning, however, there was fog in the Napa Valley, so the company drove us to the next valley over, but then it was too windy to fly. Bummer....taking a hot air balloon ride has been Tracy's dream ever since she tried to do it on the 4th of July in Soda Springs as a teenager, but it was too windy then too! We'll put that back on our lists of things to do.

I'm running out of time now, so I'll post more about the trip later.