Musings, Nits, and Praises: June 2006

Musings, Nits, and Praises

A farrago of all things deemed blog-worthy by a music-loving, poetry-writing, humor-seeking English teacher

Poem of the Week--A Tribute

Although my "Poem of the Week" posts have become more like "Bi-Monthly Poems," I thought I'd post one today in memory of Randall Parks. It was around this time seven years ago that he died, and whenever I'm in Colorado, I think of him at some point. It's impossible in our finite knowledge to understand why God permits a tragedy like that to befall one of His people; it's definitely an instance in which we can only walk by faith. But thanks be to God that Randall is somewhere now where the streams are clearer, the pines greener, and the mountains more majestic than any in Colorado or anywhere else on this earth.

So, in memory of Randall, here's a well known sonnet by John Donne:

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

If You Can't Sleep, Type

Well, I went to bed over an hour ago, but I couldn't go to sleep. It probably has something to do with the fact I took a nap this afternoon and that it's roughly 165 degrees in our bedroom. Ok, so it's not that hot, but my wife's feet are at normal body temperature, and that's saying something.

It's been nice just take it easy the past two weeks. I've managed to send a few queries to magazines, start my reading for the school year, enjoy the Red Sox' 12-game winning streak, see three movies--Top Gun (at the Movie on the Rocks night at Red Rocks) Mission Impossible III for $4 total at the Elvis Discount Theater (and we're not even in Memphis yet) and Superman Returns--and watch a glut of programs on The History Channel.

But we've also taken in plenty of the great outdoors. I made my foray into fly fishing (as you can see me deftly demonstrate fly casting in the photo). We also visited Estes Park (the Stanley Hotel is located there, for fans of
The Shining), drove through Rocky Mountain National Park, went to Pike's Peak and an even taller peak (the name of which is eluding me right now), and took a ride on a steam train as well as a tour of a silver mine. Because I'm too lazy to elaborate on any of these travels right now, I'll just provide some photos for the time being.

Tomorrow we'll continue our outdoor festivities with a 6-mile hike through Herman's Gulch, which means I probably ought to try and go get some sleep.

Day 7: A Busy Anniversary

After we dropped Baxter with Carla this morning, we had a quick breakfast, then returned to the Glenwood area to hike to Hanging Lake. The signs at the trailhead urge hikers to stock up on water, but we didn't think it was necessary since the hike to the lake is just over a mile. Well, by the time we reached the lake, climbing some very steep terrain for the last 1/4 mile, we certainly could've used some water. The lake was well worth the arduous hike, though. Hanging Lake is a turquoise lake fed by waterfalls. The lake is a bit too cold for swimming, but the water was good for a few splashes on our faces. We hung out at the lake for about thirty minutes, then we trekked back down the mountain and headed to our next stop, Glenwood Adventure Park.

The park is atop a mountain, and the only way to reach it is by the suspended cable tram. Now, heights don't bother me in many cases--rollercoasters, planes, mountain tops, even paragliding--but the thought of the car breaking from the cable, sending us plummeting to our demise, was a bit unnerving. With us safe and my shorts dry, we reached the park after what seemed like an hour-long ride. There are really only three rides at the park: the Alpine Coaster, a two-man bobsled of sorts; the Alpine Rush, a two-man zip line; and the Swing Shot, a swing that flies out over the edge of the mountain. We decided the Swing Shot wasn't for us, so we rode the AC twice and the AR once. If the Alpine Rush actually gives a rider a rush, it's because the rider has never ridden anything more exciting than a see-saw. We had a blast on the coaster, though.

Following our time at the park, we cleaned up and went to dinner at Russet's, a lovely restaurant in downtown Carbondale. We made it our mission to make up for not eating lunch. Mission accomplished. (We had Belgian fries, chicken gumbo, pork tenderloin with potatoes and green beans, and key lime pie.) I don't think we'll need to eat until dinner tomorrow. Our dinner was a nice culmination to our anniversary festivities and the road trip.

I'm a bit sad to end our road trip (I've traveled twice through the Southwest, and there's still plenty I'd like to see), but after seven days and countless miles, our three weeks at Janet's parents' place will provide some much-needed rest.

Day 6: Slight Change of Plans, Baxter Outwits His Collar

When we arrived in Glenwood Springs and took a closer look at our hotel reservation, we discovered our hotel was actually in Carbondale. Following Janet's brush with rage, we found that Carbondale was only ten miles down the road. And, as it turned out, Carbondale proved the more tranquil place in which to stay. After checking in, we took another scenic drive. This one wound along the Roaring Forks River and offered the sights one would expect to see in Colorado--evergreens, river rapids, snow-topped mountains.

When we returned to the hotel, we changed into our swimwear and headed to Glenwood to take a dip in the Hot Springs Pool. Centuries ago, the Indians believed the warm water held medicinal powers. Well, it sure the heck better for the $14.75/person we paid! That doesn't include the $6 they charge for four rides on the water slides. The slides weren't open, though. While the pool didn't merit the entry fee, the water was quite relaxing, particularly the warmer "therapy pool," and we left feeling rather refreshed.

Our serenity was short-lived, though. When we returned the hotel, we had a message from the front desk indicating that a guest had complained of Baxter making noise, saying he sounded as if he were in distress. We learned that Baxter had apparently figured out how to semi-howl, still making plenty of noise, but not setting off his collar. Worse yet, the manager told us that no pets were allowed unattended in the rooms. Well, fantastic. Our day's worth of activities for our anniversary tomorrow--hiking, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, and dinner--was shot. We contacted a woman who runs a dog-care business, but she couldn't take Baxter because we didn't have his shot records with us. I suggested to Janet that we ask her parents to watch Baxter tomorrow since we are only two hours from Denver. (A good plan, if I say so myself.) Janet's mom was kind enough to agree to meet us halfway in the morning to pick up Baxter.

Disaster averted.

Day 5: Desert, Anyone?

In order to reach our final stop for the day in Grand Junction, Colorado--nothing to see there, just our motel--we began by backtracking through the sparsely populated areas of northeast Arizona and southweast Utah. Unfortunately, we didn't pass through Monument Valley again, but we did have lunch in Bluff, Utah, at the Twin Rocks Cafe. On what proved to be an otherwise non-pet-friendly day, Baxter enjoyed the attention that diners on the patio lavished on him. The attention he drew also allowed us to strike up conversations with fellow travelers.

Before leaving Bluff, we drove around the few blocks designated as the "historic loop." Part of what I enjoy about road trips is stopping in quirky, out-of-the-way towns and learning a little something about their history and what life is like now in those places. The remains of the original 1883 settlement (constructed by Mormon missionaries--who would've guessed?) provided the main attraction of the loop. According to the signs, the area was once considered too harsh a place to live. It seems the people of Bluff have managed just fine over the past 123 years, though.

Leaving Bluff, we traveled north through Blanding to Moab, where we visited Arches National Park. Arches may not be as renowned as Bryce Canyon or Zion, but it boasts its share of captivating sights. Unfortunately for Baxter (and us), the park didn't allow pets on the trails. I assume dogs aren't allowed on the trails for fear of them deficating. (I'm sure it has something to do with irreparably upsetting the delicate balance of the desert ecosystem.) Of course, pet owners could simply poop scoop. But even if the owners lacked courtesy, since the park is in the desert, it wouldn't take five minutes for a dog turd to dry up and resemble a rock. So rather than leaving Baxter in the car to die from overheating, one of us hiked/jogged to an arch while the other stayed in the car with him. Not optimal sightseeing, but effective.

Once we finished touring the park, we elected to take the scenic byway out of Moab that runs alongside the Colorado River. The route was plenty scenic--the river, the canyon, several wineries--but given that we longed to eat something by this time, the route grew too long for our taste. Eventually we made it to I-70 and started looking for food exits. Much to our chagrin, the two or three towns between the 128/I-70 junction and Fruita, Colorado, proved utterly useless, with their exit signs reading only "No Services." When you're a one-horse town along the interstate, gas stations, fast-food restaurants, and hotels can be quite lucrative. Apparently the town councils of these towns assumed sheer boredom would attract visitors. (Or maybe they just don't like outsiders.) At last, the exit sign for Fruita offered not just one, but five, restaurant choices! We felt like we'd discovered El Dorado.

Finally sated, we continued on to Grand Junction, arriving around 8:00. Motel 6 offered rest for our weary bones, but only after we lugged our belongings to the second floor. We plan to sleep in tomorrow since our last stop, Glenwood Springs, is only about an hour away.

Day 4: They Don't Make Towns Like This Anymore

For our last day in Flagstaff, we decided we'd hike in the morning and explore historic downtown in the afternoon. We got a late start on hiking, not arriving at Fatman's Loop Trail until 11:00. (The trail derives its name from a narrow section near the top. Shouldn't it be "Thinman's Loop," then, or "Not a Trail for Tubbies"?) Janet wasn't feeling too swift since we didn't have breakfast, so she stayed in the car and rested while I hiked. (I suspect she may have wanted to secretly feed her Sudoku addiction.)

Strapped with my trusty Camel Pak and wielding a palm-sized rock should I encounter some man-hungry creature (yes, I'm an idiot), I spent the next hour completing the two-mile loop. Once I reached the top of the loop, I had a clear view of the entire east side of town. Of course, I took some pictures. When I finished the hike, we headed downtown to have lunch.

Flagstaff's travel guide boasts, "They don't make towns like this anymore," and that's probably not too far from the truth. For a town of nearly 47,000 people, it manages to retain the feeling of a much smaller community. It also has a vital and thriving downtown, which is an increasing rarity for a town of its size. Janet and I had lunch on the patio of Monsoon, an Asian restaurant on Heritage Square. From there we had a great view of the Weatherford Hotel. Built in 1897, it really reinforces the nostalgic vibe of downtown. After lunch we grabbed some ice cream and strolled several blocks, periodically dropping into stores that caught our attention, like the Golden Aspen Toy and Candy Shop and Armadilla (not with an "o") Wax Works, where we dipped our own candle in the shape of a basset hound.

Although we would've been perfectly happy to spend more time in town, we called it an early day because we're back on the road tomorrow.

Day III: Primitive Locales and Prime Real Estate

Our first order of business today was to buy Baxter a shock collar. When we returned from dinner last night, he was barking loudly--the low, bellowing hound bark--and we knew we'd need to rectify the problem quickly. Sure, we're in a pet-friendly motel, but no one wants to hear a dog bark for hours on end. We tested the collar before leaving for breakfast (we stood outside the door and waited for him to bark). Seeing as how we heard one bark and then a weird sound of surprise, I'm guessing the collar works.

After breakfast we picked up Baxter and began the day's travels. Our first two stops were Montezuma Well and Montezuma Castle National Monument, both about fifty miles south of Flagstaff. The well is a limestone sinkhole with a lake at the bottom. Cliff dwellings and the remains of pueblos built by the Southern Sinagua around the 12th century surround the well. Although it was rather cool in Flagstaff, it was nearly 100 degrees in the desert. Why did I wear jeans? We walked the 1/3 mile trail along the top of the well, and then I waited with Baxter while Janet took the trail down to the lake. Baxter nearly pulled me along when we started walking, but it hadn't taken long for the heat to enervate him. Eventually I took him to the car for some water (for me and him) and enjoyed the air conditioning.

Next, we drove a few more miles south to Montezuma Castle National Monument. The "castle" is a five-story, 20-room cliff dwelling built by Southern Sinagua farmers. Early settlers thought Axtecs had constructed it, hence the "Montezuma." Both the well and the castle demonstrated the ingenuity people have possessed throughout history. With a taste of antiquity, we drove north to Sedona, where 21st century, upscale living abounds.

If we lived in Sedona, I would never tire of the scenery. Anywhere you drive you get a view of the beautiful red rocks surrounding the town. The only problem is that if we lived in Sedona, we'd have to live in a tent. Even fairly worn houses on the outskirts of town go for $470,000+. Sedona began as a pioneer settlement but has evolved into a resort town and a wealthy retirement hotspot. The average age in Sedona is 50. (Although Janet and I will never live there, we decided it would make for a nice anniversary getaway in the future.) We weren't concerned with spas, boutiques, and gourmet dining today, though. We just wanted to take in the scenery and take an easy hike.

We took the Upper Red Rock Loop, which winds along the southern edge of town and offers some stunning views of the rocks. Along the way we stopped at a park called Red Rocks Crossing and took a hike on a short, wooded trail to where Oak Creek runs by Cathedral Rock, the most-photographed of the formations. I wish we'd had a chainsaw to cut down the annoying, skinny tree that extended over the creek and partially obscured the view, but we still managed to get some good photos. We returned to Flagstaff via Highway 89, which cuts through areas thick with pine as it climbs the edge of Oak Creek Canyon. Again, more gorgeous scenery.

After dropping off Baxter at the motel, we ate dinner downtown at the Altitude Bar and Grill. It was a bit noisy (due in no small part to the 70's dance music playing in the background), but I enjoyed my gyro. Sufficiently nourished, we drove a few miles northwest of town to Hart Prairie Road. It's an 11-mile dirt farm road that gently ascends to a meadow through acres of aspens and Ponderosa pines. Driving with the windows down was a must here, too. It was easily the most tranquil drive of the trip to this point--we saw more deer than people. While we were doing our best to "feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera" as Collins writes, I was reminded how mind-boggling it is to attempt to fathom heaven when God has created some nearly indescribable places here on earth.

We wrapped up the evening with a drive up to the Snow Bowl ski resort to watch the storm approaching from the west and to catch the last bit of the crepuscular sky.

Road Trip Day II: The Novel and the Majestic

We hit the road this morning at 6:00. Ordinarily I wouldn't be out of bed in the summer before 9:30 barring a natural disaster or an insuppressible need to pee, but the promise of hundreds of miles of picturesque scenery and stops at two of the nation's most august landmarks invigorated me.

We headed west to Gallup, then north to Shiprock. The scenery of northwest New Mexico is decidedly more enchanting than what we saw yesterday. From Shiprock we continued north to our first official stop of the day: Four Corners National Monument.

There are three kinds of landmarks: those that are singular, breathtaking illustrations of God's handiwork, those that make up in historical significance what they lack in aesthetics, and those that are novelties, such as the giant roadrunner statue in Fort Stockton, Texas. Four Corners is mostly the latter type and a bit of the second. Sure, it was cool to see the only place where four states touch, but after we saw the monument (an actual structure this time, not a park) and took a picture of ourselves standing on it, we were ready for more impressive places.

After passing through the Utah towns of Bluff (noteable for the Twin Rocks formation and the Twin Rocks Cafe) and Mexican Hat (named for a nearby rock formation that resembles a sombrero), we came to Monument Valley. If I could choose only five roads to drive the rest of my life, Highway 163 south to Monument Valley would be one of them. This was my second trip through MV (the first was in 2003), and both occassions proved borderline euphoric. Even if I possessed a Fitzgerald-like command of English, I'd lack the ability to adequately describe the experience of reaching the top of 163's tallest hill and staring ahead to where the road disappears into the colossal red sandstone formations that dominate the skyline. Janet and I got several good photos from atop the hill and as we passed by the rocks, but the photos don't do the experience justice entirely, either.

From Monument Valley we headed southwest through northern Arizona to the Grand Canyon. Both of us had seen it before, so we had initially decided to skip it. Once we regained our sanity, we decided to stop. (Skipping the Grand Canyon because you've seen it once is sort of like turning down filet mignon because you've eaten it before.) So we wound our way up through the Kaibab National Forest to the South Rim of the canyon. Given my hackneyed description of Monument Valley, I won't venture to provide a lengthy description of the canyon. In short, very few places in the world can match its magnificence. We spent a little time on a few of the trails that lead from various lookout points, but we didn't delve into any serious hiking on account of the time and the fact that Baxter isn't bred for prolonged, strenuous walks.

From the Grand Canyon we drove south to Flagstaff, one of my all-time favorite towns. The drive down Highway 180 was a wonderful way to close our travels for the day. The road winds through the Coconino National Forest, which is comprised of acres and acres of Ponderosa pines (best appreciated with the windows down so you can smell the trees). You also get a clear view of the San Fransisco Peaks, two long-dormant volcanoes. One of the peaks, Humphrey's Peak, is home to Flagstaff's ski resort.

We checked into our motel a little after 7:00, grabbed some dinner across the street, and now it's time to call it a night. It'll be nice to stay in the same place for three nights after all the driving we've done so far.

Road Trip Day I, Part II: Dismay, the Dog, and the Desert

After grabbing a bite to eat at IHOP, we made our way into Las Cruces and then out to White Sands National Monument. (I don't know what the distinction is between national parks and national monuments since quite a few national monuments are parks, not impressive edifices.) When we arrived at the monument/park entrance at 8:04, the monument/park ranger informed us we had to leave by 8:30 due to missle testing at 9:00 (the Air Force has a test site 30 miles away). A string of expletives as long as Ulysses wouldn't have adequately expressed my displeasure. We had driven 11 and a half hours so we could sightsee for 26 minutes!

To save some precious minutes, I raced to the back of the park with blatant disregard for the 35 m.p.h. speed limit. We weren't out of the car two minutes when it dawned on Janet that it was only a few minutes after 7:00, not 8:00, because we had entered the Mountain Time Zone. With my ire assuaged, we went about exploring the dunes.

Although Janet and I marvelled at the beauty of the vast expanse, we didn't have as much fun as Baxter. He rumbled up and down the dunes with his tail wagging and his ears flapping like wind socks. After an hour at White Sands, it was time to drive on to Albuquerque.

Now, New Mexico's nickname is "The Land of Enchantment," but that's a bit of hyperbole. "The Land of Intermittent Eye-Catching Scenery" would be a more appropriate moniker. To put it in terms of human beauty, the desert between Las Cruces and Albuquerque is pre-botox Meg Ryan to the Salma Hayek of Arizona's deserts. By the time we reached Albuquerque, all we wanted to do is sleep. And, man, did we ever.

Somewhat refreshed by our six-hour siesta, we ventured to the Old Town section of the city to eat dinner and stretch our legs a bit. Although the area now is basically just a melange of restaurants and curio shops, most of the buildings, which are designed in quintessential Southwestern style, are from the original settlement. Janet and I found the area quite charming and a nice place to wind down after a long day.

Road Trip Day I, Part I: Night Driving and Wildlife

I don't possess an inordinate amount of physical endurance. No, you'll never hear of me running a marathon or scaling Everest. Heck, I don't even squeeze out extra reps when I exercise. But one thing I can do is drive, drive, and drive. In fact, my stamina behind the wheel is a thing of legend. My most impressive automotive exploit was my 25-hour, non-stop (except for gas and snacks) journey from Hagerstown, Maryland, to Austin, Texas, in 2002. I haven't tried to replicate the feat, nor will I, but I'm still capable of treks normal drivers wouldn't attempt. So, the overnight drive from Austin to El Paso then to White Sands in the morning and ending in Albuquerque presented me with only a modest challenge. (Note: Janet wasn't nearly as convinced as I was of the ease of the trip.)

Janet, Baxter (our basset hound), and I left for El Paso a little after 8:00. I didn't see any advantage to driving during the day because we would've had to pay for an extra night's lodging. Plus, there's nothing to see in west Texas anyway. Nothing. Kansas is a land of wonder by comparison.

The only problem with night driving is you're more apt to encounter animals with an apparent death wish. Sure, you can flatten some poor creature in broad daylight, too, but at night you barely have a chance to react before the dreadful crunch, thud, or crash--depending on the size of the animal. Between Johnson City and El Paso there were enough animals by the road for a large petting zoo: a cow, a cat, ten deer, and at least two dozen jack rabbits. Miraculously, I managed not to hit any of them, although there were enough jack rabbit carcasses on the road I was half afraid Leonard Smalls was around.

Oh, and then there was the pig--the law enforcement variety that is. Somewhere in the abyss between Fredericksburg and Ft. Stockton, a cop pulled me over for going 75 (the night limit is 65). Even more miraculous than me not sending any animals to the wildlife hereafter was that the cop only gave me a warning. A warning! I suspect he may have just been bored because he spent more time shooting the breeze with me about my trip than admonishing me to drive the speed limit. Nonetheless, I heeded his warning, and after one bag of pretzels, one bottle of chocolate milk, two waters, two bathroom stops, and nine and a half CD's, we reached El Paso unticketed and unscathed at 6:00 A.M.

Back to Blogging

After an endofschoolfinishupyearbookpackmovethingsintostoragegoonourroadtrip-induced hiatus, I'm finally getting around to blogging again.

As far as the moving stuff goes, Janet and I will be moving to Germantown, TN on July 10th. We loaded everything into storage in Austin about two weeks ago. We get to load everything into a Budget rental truck on July 8th. I'm trying not to think of that task between now and then. Right now we're in Littleton, Colorado, visiting Janet's folks. We just completed our week-long road trip through the Southwest. For the next few days I'll be posting entries from my travel journal. Hopefully they'll make for a more interesting read than a synopsis of our packing, loading, and wrapping up the school year.

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