Friday, December 16, 2011

November: Thanksgiving

I suspect most people engaged in a word association game would respond to hearing the word November with "Thanksgiving." As soon as Halloween passes, the pilgrims, Indians, turkeys, and cornucopias take center stage reminding us of the coming national holiday for giving thanks. In today's post-Christian culture the reason for the holiday has been muddled. Children in politically correct government schools learn that the pilgrims had a feast "to thank the Indians" for their help. Their gratitude to the Christian God is hidden under a baleful of nonsense. The relity of course is that after a cruel winter in a hard land the pilgrims gave thanks to God for their survival, a bountiful harvest, and the hope for the future. They owed thanks to the Indians as well, of course, for teaching them good farming methods and assisting them to survive the first bitter winter, but they knew to whom they owed thanks first.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I believe in Reincarnation....

at least in the kitchen.

After Thanksgiving Tara's sweet potato casserole with marshmallow fluff had a second life as a pie. Who would ever know? I made my own flaky piecrust. Mixed three cups of the sweet potatoes with three eggs, tasted it for sweetness -- mmm -- pured it in the crust and baked at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. What a winner. For a gourmet look, add whipped cream or ice cream on top with a drizzle of caramel sauce and a sprinkle of chopped walnuts or pecans. Yum. I just had some for dessert after lunch and it is mm-mm good.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Cheerful Pilgrim: November


"Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shall return."         

Ash Wednesday admonition

    November arrives gently with crisp, frosty nights and warm days. We go to morning Mass for All Saints Day and enjoy the little ones dressed up as saints. One young boy, obviously St. George, carries a sword to vanquish his little sister, the green dragon with the spiky tail trying to keep up with him as they march down the aisle. St. Bernadette, St. Therese of Liseux, the three little shepherds of Fatima, King Louis of France in his regal robes and crown, St. Michael and St. Gabriel, St. Joseph with his hammer, and a mini Blessed Mother in a blue dress, white veil, downcast eyes and hands beautifully folded – all the saints, the heroes of heaven, pass in review. How can the minds and hearts of the congregation not be lifted up to the Church Triumphant with such a display of her holy treasures?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I'm Going to Write a Book: The Cheerful Pilgrim

I decided this week that I'm going to write a book. Whether it ever gets formally published is less important to me than the writing. It will take me a year because each chapter will be a pilgrim's journey through a month and I'm beginning it now. It won't be a diary in the sense of keeping a slavish record of daily happenings, but a collection of the months' experiences from both now and in the past.

Since I'm starting with November the beginning is the end chronologically, which I think is appropriate. Pondering on the end gives a different perspective to the rest putting it in the context of the last things (death, judgment, heaven, and hell) which should really be among the first things for the pilgrim journeying through life. Keeping our end's goal in sight is the only way to reach it. So I invite you to join me along this pilgrim's journey through the year and in fact follow your own journey. We are all walking the path and, what a shame, if we don't study it along the way. As Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living. So let's examine ours together.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Check out the Denver Cathedral

We went to Mass at several churches in Denver. One was traditional; one was more modern. Check out the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception downtown. What a beautiful and inspiring church. It lifts the heart and mind to God. I've posted photos at Les Femmes.

Friday, October 28, 2011

There's No Place Like Home, Home Sweet Home

Larry and I have been pretty busy since we got home. I emptied out the camper, put everything away, did the laundry, etc. while Larry mowed the lawn, mowed the field, picked up the footlong clippings and power-washed all the green crud off the house. I cut back the tree in the middle of the circle garden and filled the bird feeders hanging on the side of the house; Larry trimmed the bushes and put out the tray feeders. We both went through bushels of mail! There's still plenty to do but we are glad to be home and back into our routine of daily Mass, Thursday morning 2:00 a.m. Eucharistic adoration, etc.

I was so happy to see the folks at the nursing home again and bring Communion to the Catholics. And they were glad to see us too. Several people at church said they missed us. Isn't it nice to be missed? Truly, I was touched.

This evening I took my first dam walk since we returned and hit the jackpot -- three blue herons along the river. One flew under the bridge as I was throwing a buttercup in the water to watch it float away. He started to land right below the bridge, but saw me and flew off down the river. The second, smaller, was near the other end of the bridge and also flew off down the river. Then I crossed over to the other side and saw a third heron fly over the lake above the dam and land on the shore just around a bend. If I'd been playing a slot machine I would have hit the three-heron jackpot! I walked home in a drizzle with a big smile on my face and praising God for His wonderful world that has such creatures in it!

And then M and B came over to play. What a great way to end the day. We ate (M called it a "great dinner" and let us know she liked the macaroni and catfish), read lots of stories, watched a video of Alice in Wonderland, played Candyland, and cuddled. B slept through most of it after I wrapped her up tightly in a towel for want of a receiving blanket.

Yes indeed, "East, West, home's best!" is my motto. I loved travelling but home is definitely where the heart is.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lingering in Lawrence with Loved Ones

October 15-19, Saturday - Wednesday

The last real stop on our cross country trip (before we made a beeline for home) was Lawrence, Kansas where we met our Houston daughter and her family and spent two and a half days camping at Jellystone Park.

On the way to Lawrence we stopped at the Cathedral of the Prairie and the Prairie Museum. Both were well worth a visit. I especailly loved the stained glass windows at the Cathedral, which is not really a cathedral, but was named that by William Jennings Bryant on a visit. And it is certainly beautiful.

The Prairie Museum was a fun stop too, but we got there late in the day so it was closing in an hour. It's not very big, but had a great collection of miscellaneous stuff. The lady who started it collected dolls, glass, buttons, china, you name it. She needed to open a museum to house all her stuff. There were a number of buildings as well: 1 1930s farmhouse, a prairie sod house, the biggest barn in Kansas, an old prairie church, and a one-room school house. Outside the schoolhouse was one of those old merry-go-rounds they don't make any more. I'd love to have one for our yard and took a spin on it.

Many pioneer families lived in these little one-room sod houses.
We had planned to stay the night in Topeka and dance with a local square dance group, but the campground we planned to stay at was full. That was the only time on our trip we were turned away. Too bad because we moved on to our planned campground Lawrence, too far to come back and dance. Fortunately, they could accommodate us. We arrived around suppertime Saturday and settled in to wait for family coming in on Sunday.

The next morning we attended 10:30 Mass at the local parish in town, I think St. John's. Well, it wasn't the worst place we've ever been, but it was sooooo noisy. The choir was great -- but, please, take the drums over to the hall. And can you, for the love of Pete, retire the music from the 60s and 70s. It's so hopelessly banal even when it's sung well. 

The entire Mass was unrelentingly noisy and since we'd arrived a half hour early we ended up sitting through the very loud choir practice We had planned to pray our rosary, but neither of us could concentrate on the prayers. All my nerves were tingling by the end of Mass. But the noise didn't stop with the recessional. That's when the Church turned into a gym. Kids were even walking up into the sanctuary.

Does no one have any respect for the Real Presence of Jesus in the tabernacle? Do they even believe He's there?  If they do, why do they ignore Him to focus on each other?

Ironically, after Alice and family arrived, they decided to go to the 9:30 p.m. Mass on the KU campus. They reported later that their Mass was silence, low lights, candles, and....(blow the trumpet) Gregorian chant. Wow! We should have waited and gone with them. But isn't that news amazing and wonderful? In a liberal college town the campus is celebrating the Eucharist in reverence with Gregorian chant, while the local parish is stuck in the 70s with with the worst music of Dan Schutte and Marty Haugan. It tickles my funny bone!

On Tuesday we all went to the 5:00 p.m. daily Mass on campus and were treated, not only to Gregorian chant, but to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy after Mass recited for the success of the local 40 Days for Life. Wow again! I loved the Stations of the Cross which look like icons. Beautiful and inspiring.

In the vestibule a basket was filled with baby bottles to pick up and fill with change for the crisis pregnancy center in town. Wow again. Everything we saw at the campus center indicated that this was a vibrant and orthodox community. On the website is a photo of an ordination of a 2004 KU graduate.  Looks like KU has a lot to offer in terms of educating young adults in their faith. The art and statues all lift the mind and heart to God. I found a painting of the Visitation out in the lobby a tender portrait of the two cousins celebrating new life.

Did I mention we got the full KU tour? Our daughter and her husband met at KU when Alice was getting her Masters and teaching Spanish and Chris enrolled in her class -- temporarily. When he began dating the teacher he switched to another section. And the rest is history. The kids all enjoyed hearing the stories (for the ? time) and we enjoyed hearing them mostly for the first. We visited the KU basketball stadium, had a cold picnic on the hill and saw the carillon, visited the "tower" where Alice lived first year, bowled in the student union, stopped at a little nondenominational chapel, and went to the building where Alice had her office. We checked out the bookstore and several of the places where KU memorabilia is on display including the famous KU Jayhawk on all things imaginable including a flour sack. We learned about the rock, chalk, Jayhawk cheer. (Did I get that right?)

We also visited a used bookstore downtown which is always a treat for this book-loving family. Among our finds was a recorded book of The Sinister Pig, a Tony Hillerman mystery whose hero detective is Jim Chee, a Navajo Indian. After all the Indian sites we saw in the west it was fun listening to a mystery filled with Navajo background.
We also stumbled into a school event when we ate at a local restaurant. The program was part of a Tuesday night partnership with the restaurant and they were doing a program on obesity. (Wonder if anybody switched their order from a jumbo burger with fries to a salad.) It was interesting and the girls were all so busy doing a coloring contest for Dad, they didn't even mind sitting through the talk.

Camping got a unanimous all thumbs up from everybody. The kids loved the jumping pillow. The campground was pretty full over the weekend, but cleared out Sunday and there were only a few campers left which gave us the run of the place. Our son-in-law's brother and family joined the fun and we had a great group for our few days there. Some of the girls slept in with their cousin Cece and our oldest granddaughter joined us. She was happy to escape the cold (and her little sisters) by snuggling into the Ritz Carlton of our group. I say that facetiously, but I do love our little camper which we named "maison des etoiles," house of stars, since we mostly saw it at night. For our granddaughter, choosing between a tent, a canvas and screen pop-up, and our hard-sided pop-up trailer with heat was a no-brainer for a teenager.

On Tuesday night, after their cousin left, Larry and I ended up with another two girls in the camper and had a pajama party. Well, actually, we all just went to bed, but there was a lot of Kings in the Corner card games beforehand.

I enjoyed making a good hot breakfast two mornings with plenty of coffee and hot chocolate. My electric frying pan came in handy, the first time I'd pulled it out on the trip. It's too big for just the two of us. We had French toast and sausage one morning and eggs and sausage and sweet rolls the other.

It was hard to say good-bye on Wednesday morning as we headed east on our last leg of the journey home. We originally planned to spend another week exploring St. Louis, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and a park in West Virginia, but we were too eager to get home. We loved our trip, but home was calling.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Denver Day Two

Thursday, October 13

Our second day in Denver began with Mass at St. Thomas More which was about eight miles from the campground. When we drove into the parking lot we thought we'd stumbled on a funeral there were so many cars in the parking lot. We'd already been to a baptism and a wedding at Sunday Mass. But this turned out to be a regular daily Mass. The school's seventh graders were there and several hundred parishioners. Wow! Must be a big parish.

The church is modern. You walk into a large lobby with an information room on the right and a wide staircase (and elevator) that take you up to the church level. The church was decorated for ordinary time with large green banners. A pro-life banner was placed prominently to the left of the altar, I presume to mark respect life month.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Denver Day One

Wednesday, October 12

Our few days here in Denver have primarily been about visiting. We arrived Tuesday in late afternoon and settled into Cherry Creek State Park, a lovely city campground with roomy campsites, a lovely lake, good internet, and nice trails. But we haven't been at the site enough to enjoy the amenities. Wednesday we dawdled a little over breakfast and I prepared dinner to take to my cousin's later. She's recovering from a torn rotary cuff and said her husband would be happy to have somebody else do the cooking for a change. After I was done doing my dinner prep, we drove downtown to the Cathedral for noon Mass which was said very reverently by an elderly priest. He ended the Mass with the Latin blessing which brought back fond memories of my childhood.

What a gorgeous church -- all white marble with magnificent stained glass windows and beautiful statues. I was enthralled as I walked around taking photos. I particularly love Simeon. Thinking about his rejoicing on seeing Mary and the Christ Child never fails to make my own heart leap with joy. In the back of the church behind the organ is a lovely rose window with (I presume) St. Cecelia.

After Mass, we decided to check whether 40 Days for Life had a site in Denver and, yes, they were praying at the Planned Parenthood facility only fifteen minutes from the cathedral. So we went over and met several women from St. Thomas More Church which had the vigil for the day. In view of the fact that our diocese is under the patronage of St. Thomas More, we felt our presence with the St. Thomas More group was providential.

We prayed our rosary and then did a "Jericho walk" around the facility saying the St. Michael exorcism prayer. The place is like a fortress with a high metal fence that's covered with thick black screening. There's an electronic door that goes across the driveway and signs warning that conversations may be recorded. The building is large and the employee parking lot had dozens of cars -- not too surprising when you consider the millions they get from taxpayers. One of the women warned me to move because I had inadvertently stepped over a yellow line painted on the driveway that apparently delineates the separation between the public sidewalk and PP's private property. I pondered how like a prison the place was, appropriate for the devil's work. He binds and enslaves so chains, locks, and bars fit his m.o. The only thing missing was a sign over the driveway saying "Abandon hope all you who enter here."

About half a dozen cars went in while we were there, but most appeared to be employees and they parked on the opposite side of the property from the client lot. We saw a few people leave who looked like they might be clients; it was hard to tell. The women from St. Thomas told us Planned Parenthood has been open for about three years. A pro-life group recently bought a house across the street which will be a pregnancy help center, a blessing for those counseling who can escort the moms there. Hopefully, they'll be able to offer ultrasounds. It's hard to kill a baby after you've been introduced.

The pro-abortionists are always talking about how much they care for the women, but they don't operate a single help center. Those are run by a few paid directors assisted mostly by volunteers serving out of love. How many babies would never have seen the light of day without the blessed service of Christians reaching out in love to desperate moms?

After our hour at PP we went back to the camper to pick up dinner and go to Fort Lupton to visit my cousin and her husband. What a delightful visit! Kathy and Al have about ten acres and they have two beautiful horses, Maisie and Cammie. I wanted to kick myself for not taking pictures of the horses. Kathy competes as a sulky driver and also rides, but she's out of commission for awhile until her shoulder heals. She showed me a lot of her craft work and she is an amazing seamstress. She quilts, makes purses and pillows, and "pillow case" dresses to send to the missions. I used to sew but do very little now l(and was never very good at it anyway) and I am always impressed by the skills of others. It was a great visit and made me wish Kathy and I were neighbors.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On the Way to Denver: Pagosa Springs and the Monument of the Gods

Monday-Tuesday, October 10-11

I've mentioned before that travel days are great adventures. We left Mesa Verde on Monday after attending Mass to pray for our safety over the mountain passes on US 160. What a lovely little parish (St. Margaret Mary in Cortez). They were saying the rosary when we got there fifteen minutes early and at the end of Mass they did morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. We felt well prepared for the challenges of the drive. One of the ladies told us they'd had 40 inches of snow in the mountain a few days ago and the ski resorts were open. She also said they clear the snow really fast and we shouldn't have any problems.

Before we left the campground, Mesa Verde RV Resort (One of the nicest we've stayed at with tiled bathrooms!),  I had to take a photo of the birdman decorating the front. It reminded me of a trip we took to Mexico ten years ago when we saw men decorated in feathers attached by ropes to a pole and "flying" around it.

The weather was chilly (started at 29, but with expectation of the 50s at the lower elevations) but sunny and lovely driving weather. We stopped in Pagosa Springs for a pit stop and wished we had our bathing suits in the car. What a great resort town with natural hot springs! The town offers a large outdoor pool and several smaller pools that have different temperatures. Take your pick according to your heat index. We walked along the river where there were several spots with hot springs bubbling out of the hillside. One had to be about 150 degrees, too hot to bathe in for sure! You could see all the mineral deposits on the stone. It was a great short stop and a place to put on the list for a future trip.

The drive over the mountain actually was less nervewracking than our trip over the Big Horn: fewer switch backs and the up and down was more gradual. We saw plenty of snow, but all on the side of the road and on the mountainside, thank God. At one ski resort we noticed ski tracks that must have been from cross country skiers.

About an hour before we reached our destination we saw a turnoff to go to the Stations of the Cross Shrine in San Luis, but we didn't have enough daylight to make the detour and get over the last mountain pass before it got dark. That was disappointing, but we opted for safety.

We spent the night at Lathrop State Park outside Walsenburg, lovely place with a lake and some interesting big rocks with depressions where water collected. Many of the rocks out here are soft sandstone that seem to develop unusual cracks, crevices, and depressions. Our rocks back east must be harder because we've never seen this before. We met a lovely young family with three children camping next to us -- very Christian and very concerned about the way the culture is going. After dark we could hear the dad playing his guitar and singing Christian songs. Anybody we've had an extended conversation with on this trip has been conservative and Christian -- gives me a lot of hope. We watched the moon rising over the campground -- beautiful.

The second day of our trip to Denver we had one stop planned -- at The Garden of the Gods. A city park, it only covers several square miles, but there are dozens of huge rock formations, sort of a mini Monument Valley. We took a three mile hike on a dual use trail and had to get out of the way at one point for two cowgirls on horseback. I was wishing I could join them. We also saw a couple on Segways. We thought about doing that but after a day and a half in the car we felt like we needed the walk. The park was deeded to the state of Colorado with the proviso that it would always be free and open to the public.

We arrived at Cherry Creek State Park, a city campground, around 4:00 p.m. and are settled in for several days while we explore Denver and spend some time with my cousin and our niece and her family.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Marvels of Mesa Verde

Which one is the piggy?
Mesa Verde didn't make my original list of stops for our cross country trip! But a friend with roots in the West urged us not to miss it and I'm glad I listened. We arrived in late afternoon and decided to do laundry and go out to dinner saving our exploration of the park for Sunday. We hadn't had Mexican food since we hit the west and got a recommendation at the campground desk for a delightful place called Tequila's. It was colorful with a friendly atmosphere. The chair backs had bright designs of macaws, coyotes, fish, Spanish senoritas, etc. We ordered a combination dish for two that arrived in a pig pot and we felt like stuffed pigs after eating although we couldn't finish it all. It was a fun dinner because it was homecoming at the local high school and several tables of teens dressed to the nines and chattering provided entertainment.

We went to early Mass on Sunday and had breakfast at a cute cafe just down the street from the church, then back to the campground to change and head to the park. Mesa Verde is a national park with extensive and well preserved ruins from the cliff dwelling pueblo Indians who lived there during the middle ages. They abandoned the cliff city around 1300 for reasons that no one knows for sure, perhaps an extended drought that left them starving and seeking water. We took a tour of Cliff Palace with Ranger Jo, a terrific guide and inspired story-teller. She interspersed historical information with stories and words of wisdom from her friend's Indian grandfather. When the remains of a large group of Indians were discovered in the park, a religious ceremony was held to reinter them. No Anglos were invited or allowed to attend. Ranger Jo's friend went, but her grandfather drew a line in the sand and told her not to cross it. The reason? Because women are the life givers; they do not handle the dead. Although the Indians kept no written history, much about their lives and practices has been passed down through oral tradition. We learned a lot about marriage practices, daily life, and my favorite fact, that grandmothers were the most important decision makers. (I mentioned that after we visited the museum at Monument Valley.) The men in the Navajo culture are heads of the clans, but the women own all the property. Bet there wasn't and isn't much divorce in families that practice the ancient traditions! Children belong to the clans of their mothers. Among the clans are the water, sand, corn, parrot, and many others.

The cliff dwellings were fascinating. Spruce House is 90 percent original as it was found by ranchers in the 1800s. What a discovery that must have been at the time. When the dwellings were occupied they housed about a hundred people, although there was additional room for those who came to trade, but lived in the surrounding areas. Just getting to the buildings must have been a challenge. Near the exit stairway was a rock face with hand and footholds carved into the rock. They also used ladders. At Balcony House there were 60 foot ladders to climb and a fourteen foot tunnel to crawl through that was only eighteen inches wide. We skipped the tour of that one.

We hiked the 2.4 mile petroglyph trail and decided not to take our hiking polls because it was only a 170 foot rise. big mistake. The cumulative rise may have been small, but I think we did it five times with all the up and down. The trail also required clambering up and down narrow and sometimes steep rock stairs and between narrow rock walls. The petroglyphs wall was about about a mile and a half into the hike. The images were interesting: handprints, several people in different poses. One figure had a hand to his head. I joked that he looked like he had a headache. There were several animals and some interesting designs. In 1942 four Hopi men visited the site and interpreted some of the signs. A few are clan symbols. Others indicate movements of the people and their separation from other clans. My favorite symbols were the handprints, but there was no interpretation for those. They reminded me of all the arts and crafts children do with handprints.

After the petroglyph wall came the part of the trail that made me dub it the hike from hell. We came to a sign pointing left to the museum, but it was pointing at a rock that was almost as tall as I am. No...they couldn't possibly expect hikers to get over that rock. There was no way around it and the only way was up and over and then a steep climb. There was a metal arrow fastened to the rock to let hikers know the impossible trail was exactly where they were meant to go. The only other alternative was to turn around and go all the way back. Did I mention the trail was along the cliff edge? Yikes! We looked closer and there was a little ledge on
the rock just big enough for a foothold. Another rock to the left gave another foothold, but at that point I had to hoist myself and clamber over the edge on hands and knees. Then we had a steep climb and came to a narrow rock ledge with a cliff drop. Fortunately there was a Juniper tree growing in the side of the mountain. if I hadn't had that to hang onto, I'd probably still be there with my shaking knees. Shortly after that point we reached the ridge where the trail was level and easy for the last three quarters of a mile. Thank God! I was surprised the ranger didn't warn us. Now we know why you have to register when you go on that trail. They want to know where to start searching for the bodies. I have to say, though, I was proud of myself for doing it -- once we got to the end and all the scary stuff was over.

The sun was setting as we drove back down the Mesa. As we came around one turn we saw the snow on the mountain a brilliant pink. It only lasted a few minutes and quickly faded to grey, but what a sight while it lasted. (I took the photo through the window, not the best.) Larry and I both agreed that our day at Mesa Verde was a highlight of our trip.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

John Wayne Country -- Monument Valley, UT

Thursday-Friday, October 6-7

After our brief snowy stay in Arizona at the Grand Canyon, we moved back to Utah to Monument Valley, a familiar sight to John Wayne film fans. We stayed at Goulding's RV park and they offer a John Wayne western every night for their visitors. After touring the monuments, it was fun to see the movie, The Searchers, and identify some of the rock formations by name.

Monument Valley is on the Navajo Reservation and is operated by the tribe. The 17 mile dirt road through the area is rough and rutted. We started out on our own and, after traveling the first quarter mile, returned to the campground to take the tour. Let their trucks take the beating! The two hour tour could be summarized as "shake, rattle, and roll." Our guide, Irvin, a Navajo, was also a jokester who thought it was funny to drive as close as possible to the edge of a steep ravine. At one point he drove through a rut that tipped the truck so far down to the left I thought we might turn over. He was up front cracking jokes -- "Oh, Mama!"

We toured the visitor center and were impressed with an exhibit created by high school students in New Mexico about the "code talkers" who created an unbreakable code based on the Navajo language for transmitting messages during WW II. Ultimately, about four hundred Indian men were recruited and served in the U.S. Marine Corps as "code talkers." It is the only code never to be broken by the enemy.

 But what I liked best in the museum was a series of photos of Indian grandmothers. To the Navajos the grandmother is the wisest of the wise. She is consulted before all major decisions. As a grandma of 20, I thought that was a great tradition that should be followed by other cultures.

What can one say about the monuments except that they are amazing. To look out over the countryside and see flat desert dotted with huge rocks in unusual shapes makes you want to rub your eyes and look again. Can it possibly be real? The formations have interesting names that relate to their appearance: left and right mitten, the king on his throne, the cock, elephant butte, the three sisters who look like nuns going in to prayer, the camel (who also looked like Snoopy lying on his back), the totem pole, etc.

In addition to telling us a little about the rocks and their names, Irvin described how the Navajo used some of the desert plants we saw for food, basket weaving, building, even for soap and shampoo (the root of the yucca plant). The last stop on the tour was at a hogan (made of wood poles covered with mud without use of nails or any other joining materials - put together sort of like interconnecting pieces of a puzzle). There we met Grandma Bessie who was carding and spinning wool and had a partly completed rug on her loom. The Navajo weavers have no pattern to follow, they carry the designs in their heads and grandmothers and mothers pass the skill on to their daughters.

At the lodge there is a small museum which is in the house that the original owners built back in the 1920s. Harry Goulding was a sheep buyer who was so taken with the valley that he bought a piece of property and established a tent trading post with his young wife "Mike." During the depression when the Navajos were hard hit, the Gouldings used their last $60 to go to Hollywood to meet with director John Ford who was looking for a place to film a western. They had a hard time getting in to see Ford but Harry in his persistence said he didn't mind waiting; he'd brought his bedroll. When he finally got to meet with Ford, he showed him photos of the valley and Ford was so impressed he ended up making about a dozen westerns in the area. Many of the local indians served as extras in the films. The cabin John Wayne stayed in during the filming, which was also used for some exterior shots, is preserved at Gouldings.

Our day and a half in Monument Valley (I kept thinking of the song, I Remember the Red River Valley because of the red dirt that got into everything!) was fun and we had our introduction to Navajo fry bread which is similar to supapia and delicious! Best of all it wasn't snowing although it was chilly.

Looks like we'll get plenty of use from our winter jackets in these last weeks of our trip. Up until the Grand Canyon we were mostly wearing short sleeved shirts and shorts/capris. Temps the past few days have hovered around 50 during the day and down to freezing or below at night. It feels colder though because of the wind and mostly cloudy skies. We are promised warmer temps and sunshine in Mesa Verde, our next stop.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Our Visit to the Grand Canyon: Short and Sleet

Thursday, October 6

We arrived at the Grand Canyon Wednesday afternoon in the gloom - overcast skies and threat of rain. At first we thought we'd wait til the next day to explore, but since there was plenty of afternoon left we decided to drive the 40 miles and visit the granddaddy of rocks. During the ride over it began to rain, then pour. It was still a lovely drive with the golden glory of the quaking aspens set against the rich green tapestry of the firs and pines.

When we got to the canyon the rain had tapered off, but the wind had picked up. The Bright Angel viewpoint stretches from the lodge out a quarter mile so we decided that short hike was a good starting point. Omigosh! It winds along the cliff edge with a precipitous drop on both sides. I started hyperventilating at the beginning of the walk and didn't stop until we were back at the lodge. The view unfortunately wasn't so great with the mist and the clouds. One peak we could see was 60 miles away, but on a clear day you can see about 125 miles. The wind was fierce which added to my vertigo. I've
 decided I prefer the civilized mountains in the east to these majestic monsters out west that threaten to swallow you in one gulp. I have no trouble hiking in the Appalachians and Alleghenies. Thank you, 1500 feet up is high enough.

We met a young couple at the viewpoint behind the lodge who had completed the rim to rim hike (about 25 miles) and stayed overnight in the canyon. According to the brochure "Under no circumstances should you try to do the rim to rim hike in a day!" No doubt there are plenty who would be stupid enough to try, although I doubt if there is enough daylight this time of year. Can you imagine hiking up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the dark?  The couple were from Connecticut and were leaving to return home on Friday. They had left their heavy jackets behind at the south rim as a weight control measure to lighten their load because the day before on the canyon floor the temperature was 90 degrees. Coming up on the north rim was a cold treck and they bought new jackets when they reached the top. Like the park guide says, the weather can change unexpectedly.

We drove back to the campground in another downpour that was turning to sleet and saw several mule deer along the route with their funny big ears standing straight up. The weatherman was calling for 1/2 an inch of snow during the night, but we woke up to about two inches on the ground, another two called for during the day, and a possible three inches that night. It was snowing little ice balls so we decided to get while the getting was good.

Breaking camp required brushing the snow off the roof (some folks were on top of their big rigs with brooms) before we could take down the ends. The owner's manual warns not to push the ends down with too much snow on top and this was one wet, heavy snow. Fortunately (Thank you, angels.), I had picked up a snow scraper/brush when we stopped at the hardware store in Jackson Hole to get a wrench for tightening the tow ball. I can't say it was with the expectation of having snow; I just knew we needed one. But what a providential purchase. That and a large stick near our campsite plus a borrowed ladder from our neighbor provided our snow removal tools.

The sun kept trying to come out while it was still snowing, so I thought we might see a rainbow, but no luck. We talked briefly about going back to the north rim, but decided the visibility over the canyon would be even worse than the day before and we had both had enough of looking over the edge of cliffs. So we headed out and enjoyed the view of the snow-covered trees along the highway since the road was mostly clear. The weather gradually improved as we descended to lower elevations until the sun was shining and there were mostly clear skies for our drive to Monument Valley. We said good-bye to the Grand Canyon without too much regret, except we would have liked to see the Kaibab squirrel who has a white tail and big ears that look like Mr. Spock's on Startrek. There are definitely some different critters out here in the west including a little bluebird who perched on a roof edge long enough for me to snap his picture. The western species is different from our eastern variety -- not as pretty in my opinion.

Our ride to Monument Valley was easy and pleasant past the Vermillion Cliffs which are beautiful. The colors of the mountains, buttes, and mesas are brilliant scarlet -- so is the dirt. What a contrast to the bright blue of the sky and stark white of the clouds. All the colors seem more vibrant and the air is so clear you can see for miles. Many of the roads since we got to Arizona stretch out in undulating ribbons to the horizon - or to a butte. Looking back at one point we could see the road running along next to the base of one set of cliffs as we were driving along the base of another set opposite.

What a funny day. It began under 30 degrees with snow and sleet and ended in sunshine and 50 degrees -- still chilly, but a far cry from the freezing wet cold at the north rim. And best of all, we now travel east toward home. Our western most point was Hurricane, UT about ten miles outside Zion. Now every mile brings us slowly back to Virginia. I think I'll be humming Carry Me Back to Old Virginny for the next few weeks even as we enjoy the remaining stops on our trip.

Zion National Park: Bryce's Big Brother

Monday-Tuesday, October 3-4

After Bryce I thought Zion would be just a walk in the woods since we'd been told it's very different with lots of green because of higher moisture. Well, it is greener than Bryce; it is also has bigger rock formations, higher and steeper cliffs, a pitch-black, mile-long tunnel through a mountain, and a breath-sucking entrance from the east on Rte. 9 that takes you around hairpin switchbacks in a long, steep descent. Pulling a trailer made it especially hair-raising. We decided when we left we'd take the longer way to the Grand Canyon, only about half an hour, via the south entrance.

Our two days in Zion we hiked about eight miles. Doesn't sound like much, but my knees could sure feel it. We hiked the Watchman Trail which was only about a 400 foot rise all together but was rocky and steep in some places. It went out to an observation point that gave a great view of Watchman mountain. Interestingly, Zion is still in late summer. Flowers bloomed everywhere and most of the trees hadn't changed color yet. Funny to have seen autumn changes only an hour and a half farther north in Bryce and find Zion still dressed in summer finery. I took a lot of wildflower pictures on our hikes, especially up the mountain.

We also hiked one of the really easy trails in the park - the scenic river walk. It's paved all the way and a popular spot for tourists. We felt like we were in Central Park there were so many people, but since we enjoy people watching that was part of the fun. One poor Hispanic couple had a little boy, about 18 months old, who must have screamed for at least 45 minutes. We saw him first at the end of the trail then kept passing and being passed as we walked along and stopped to take pictures or just enjoy the view. It reminded me of the time I left a grocery cart in the aisle and walked out of the store with a two-year-old having a rip-roaring tantrum. I passed one tight-lipped lady who looked very disapproving of the poor family. I remember those folks too. Life isn't hard enough, there are people who see their vocation as making it harder for others.

The river trail led out to "the narrows." That's another trail in the park but it's unmarked because the trail IS the river. We stood on the bank and watched the folks wading across, but we didn't bring enough shoes to be willing to soak a pair. One lady coming back across the river said she waded until she saw people in up to their waists. She was carrying a large, expensive camera and said it just wasn't worth risking it. It was also a little chilly for that. I think the water was 58 degrees. The air temp was in the upper 70s.

A highlight of the river walk was seeing a great blue heron fishing on the bank. And the squirrels! They were so tame and funny running around our feet clearly looking for a handout although people aren't supposed to feed them. There was a prominent picture in the park literature showing a person's hand who had been bitten and scratched by a squirrel and required stitches. Personally, I'm not interested into coming into contact with those sharp teeth!

After the river walk, we hiked up to the lower emerald pools and came back via the grottoes trail. What a beautiful area of the park. Around the pool water was falling off the rocks, not enough to make a real waterfall, but enough to be kissed going by. Sometimes after thunderstorms there are gushing waterfalls that only last an hour or two. What a sight that must be! But actually, every trail in Zion offered scenic views and opportunities to just sit and reflect on the glory of God in nature's cathedral. Many mountain vistas have religious names, not surprising when you consider the impact of the Mormons in Utah. The patriarchs is one stop on the shuttle bus which moves tourists around the park. At that stop there's a short paved walk to an observation point with a view of three mountain peaks named Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob stands behind Moroni. The same religious orientation was true at Bryce and at Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We found peaks and geysers called cathedral, altar, and grotto. I wonder what the ACLU will do to try to eliminate the religion reflected in the wonders of nature. Even the name Zion is based on scripture.

We left the park reluctantly to head for the Grand Canyon, the granddaddy and patriarch of the great cliff, mountain, and canyon vistas.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Horseback Riding and Hiking in Red Canyon and Bryce

Saturday to Monday, Sept. 30 to Oct. 2

Our two and a half days in Bryce Canyon were filled with horseback riding and hiking. We also took a car ride along Rte. 12's scenic byway and attended Sunday Mass at a little country church in Panguitch about 25 miles form the campground (See here). It was all enchanting.

The red rocks of Red Canyon and the rock formations of Bryce Canyon offer endless flights of fancy for the imagination. Some of the rocks look like drip sand castles children make on the beach. Some resemble chess pieces, church spires, grottoes or entire small cities. I could pick out the ruins of the Parthenon and the walls of Jerusalem and walled medieval towns. Some structures look like castles in the Rhineland or little towns in the Swiss Alps hugging the side of the mountain. The picture at the bottom of this post is one of my favorites. It looks like a snow-covered house with a chimney behind a stockade. Everywhere we looked another interesting rock "picture" greeted us.

We took several hikes into the canyon: the Fairyland Trail and the Navaho Loop Trail. The Fairyland Trail is an 8-mile hike and we started late in the day on Sunday so we only hiked a small portion, about a mile in and a mile out, but it enchanted us with its variety. The steep rocky sections alternated with a pine woods and fairy paths everywhere. On Monday before we left we did the Navaho Loop. Going down into "Wall Street" where the stones rose straight up and enclosed us was amazing. The 1.3 mile trail loops back and forth in short switchbacks at the beginning and then narrows out for a level section at the bottom of the canyon. The walk back up was a steady steep grade with narrow places that made me hyperventilate looking out over the cliff. I never had such vertigo as I've had out here in the western mountains. They make our little Virginia mountains look like foothills. But to be honest, I miss our mountains back home. The mountains here are beautiful but so rugged and
many sections look like the badlands of South Dakota. I can't even imagine the pioneers wanting to settle in some of these desolate mountain landscapes trying to scrape a living out of the dry and rocky ground. It's beautiful but formidable.

Our three-hour horseback ride along the floor of red canyon was an easy way to explore several miles of the area. Our guide Pete is taking off a year before college. He spent the spring and summer doing trail rides and will work at a ski resort this winter. He is also a bull rider in the rodeo. A friend of his who was on the trail ride with us says he's somewhat of a local celebrity. At one point on the ride he stood up on the saddle and rode a bit standing up. Wish I could have gotten a picture but it happened too fast.

The Ruby Inn Campground was a great base for our explorations. It's only a mile from the entrance of Bryce Canyon. They have a heated pool and beautiful large spa which we took advantage of on Saturday evening. I think we'll remember our few days there as a highlight of our trip.