Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Beautiful Sound

Yesterday morning we were treated to some wonderful music in the staff meeting held for the museum staff members. Three staff members (from three different departments) graced us with music from the violin, piano, and flute.

First was some Taiolkovsky:

Then some Mozart:

We finished up by singing a hymn together, "Come Thou Fount".


-- Posted from my iPhone
(c) 2012 iWolff Ltd.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Trails across Utah

After Colorado National Monument we headed into Utah as we continued to the west.  We were heading towards Salt Lake City for our first night of camping on our trip.  Both of the previous nights we'd stayed with friends--and the night after Utah we would be at my sister Cheryl's house in Idaho.

Utah was drier than the mountains had been, but there was quite a bit of beautiful scenery.  Though it seemed to take forever for the scenery to pass as we drove across central Utah.  There were some sights like the rock formations in the picture at left, but nothing as nice as the National Parks to the south (Zion, Bryce, Arches, etc...).  I'd like to go back to those parks someday--perhaps along with a trip to the Grand Canyon, though a season other than winter or summer would be best.

Partway through the seemingly interminable hot drive we came across a rest area at long last.  It was the Tie Fork Rest Area along Route Six.  Behind the restroom building was another building that showcased information about trains and Utah tourism.

I do think it is interesting that Utah Lake is in Utah Valley in Utah County in the state of Utah.  Quite original naming, ;-).

In the parking lot Amy spotted a Maersk truck and recognized it because of the Lego Maersk blue color bricks (which are quite rare and popular as there have only been a few Maersk sets).

After this stop we headed straight into the Salt Lake City area.  Thankfully it was a Sunday, so we didn't have too much traffic to deal with.  We ended up stopping for dinner in the city at a place that Amy had never been to.  It was a nice relaxing time.  I didn't want to cook dinner since it was so hot and we didn't have anything we could easily fix without cooking, so eating out seemed to be the best thing to do.  We went to Panda Express.  If you've never been there it is basically Chinese fast food.  I really like their orange chicken!

The chain started in Southern California:
The Panda Restaurant story began when Andrew Cherng, a young man from the picturesque Yangzhou region of China, came to the United States to pursue his American dream. With little money but a lot of heart, Andrew and his father Master Chef Ming-Tsai Cherng started the first Panda Inn restaurant in Pasadena, Calif. The fine dining restaurant introduced the robust flavors of Mandarin and Szechuan cuisine to Southern California and became the inspiration and standard for the Panda Express restaurants that are loved across the world today. With the help and support of his wife Peggy, Andrew knew that quality meals made with fresh and premium ingredients served fast and hot would win over the hearts and stomachs of hungry guests. Today, Andrew and Peggy's vision and passion continue to guide the growth of Panda Express across the United States and abroad.

To get to the restaurant though we had to make at least one U-Turn, and those turns are a bit strange in Salt Lake City.  We found that there were special traffic lights, lanes, and marking on the roads for U-Turns.  The only thing I can figure is that the engineers in charge of road construction in the area wanted to avoid left turns across traffic and thus put in several U-Turns around the intersection near which Panda Express was located.  I suppose it works, but it was quite confusing when we didn't know that it was coming.  Hmm, according to an article that I just found the practice apparently originated in Michigan, but the DOT claims that it increases traffic flow by quite a bit:
The Utah Department of Transportation says the new State Street intersection will improve traffic flow by 80 percent. 
The new design requires drivers making left turns to continue through the intersection for about 500 feet and double back making a U-turn.
--from ABC-4, Salt Lake City
When we filled our tank up I did appreciate a sticker (I'm not sure who placed it there whether by law, gas station policy, or just random person) which illustrated which taxes were included in the price of each gallon.

We finally go to the campground that Amy had found on-line.  It looked really neat, was inexpensive, and even had teepees for the same price as tent sites--this sounded quite nice.  The campground was tucked back in behind a town off of a minor road, but it was a beautiful place covered by cottonwood trees.

Unfortunately the campground was full due to a local music festival.  We headed north after one of the staff members gave us directions to some other campgrounds.  We ended up heading to the local KOA.  It was a bit pricer, but I knew that it would be a good place.  Once we checked in I realized that I recognized the place as my parents and I had stayed at the Brigham City KOA several times when I was a kid and we traveled every summer.

Amy is getting used to camping and does a great job helping to set up the tent (plus she looks really cute while she does it!).

I did have Amy take a humorous picture of me next to the bear statue next to the campground building. I barely managed to get away from him!

We got to bed somewhat early, though we did use the wi-fi for just a bit.  The next morning we planned to get up early so that we could get to Promontory Summit National Historic Site before it opened.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Colorado National Monument

One of the reasons I bought a National Parks Pass this summer was because I knew that Yellowstone would not be the only NPS site we would be passing.

The first site we came to after the St. Louis Arch (except for ones in Kansas that weren't open when we passed them) was Colorado National Monument.  I hadn't managed to connect with anyone in Grand Junction to see about meeting up for a few minutes or for lunch, so we decided to take a quick trip into the monument.  It was a hot day, but I was reminded how much more bearable the heat is in the west because it is dry.  It was ninety degrees, but it wasn't insufferable in the shade at all!

Colorado National Monument preserves one of the grand landscapes of the American West.  Bold, big, and brilliantly colored, this plateau-and-canyon country, with its towering masses of naturally sculpted rock, embraces 32 square miles of rugged, up-and-down terrain.  This is a special place, where you can contemplate glorious views that stretch to distant horizons; where you can discover solitude deep in a remote canyon; where you can delight in wild country where desert bighorns roam and golden eagles soar.  In the spirit of John Otto and others with the foresight to create Colorado National Monument in 1911, and the many since who have sought to protect it, please treat the park with respect so we can share in its grandeur tomorrow.--from Colorado National Monument NPS brochure
When we drove into the park I pulled out my pass for the first time.  When I'd purchased it they hadn't punched the month that it was obtained--which indicates when it will expire the next year.  The ranger who checked it insisted on punching it--but since I had purchased it on June 1 it will be valid through the end of June 2013--thirteen months instead of just twelve.

It was a winding drive up to the visitor center, but the scenery was beautiful.  I'm quite glad we came in at this entrance as the visitor center wasn't that far in (it is the only one in the park and much closer to the north-west entrance than the eastern entrance to the south).  I don't know that I've ever been to the monument before, but I definitely want to go back.  Of course Amy thinks it is all "snake country" even though we didn't see a single one the whole time.

The visitor center is a nice building that seems to blend in with the landscape.  I learned a bit about it by picking up a brochure about the landscape.

The Monument could no longer afford the expense of water to maintain the Kentucky bluegrass lawn that was once in front of the Visitor Center.  The grass died and left a barren greeting for all visitors.  In 2004, the Monument secured a grant for revegetation.  At the time Pete Larson was in charge of the revegetation and non-native plants management program in the Monument...  Pete began searching for suitable plants, rocks and other materials.  The result is a lasting tribute to his devotion by creating a place that people can enjoy as well as learn about and appreciate the beauty of a high desert natural landscape.
--from Pete Larson's Native Landscape

Of course I had to pick up more literature (it was where I got the native landscape brochure quoted above) including the park newspaper.  These are interesting to see at different sites as they have seasonal information and often more details than the basic brochure can provide.  From this I learned that the monument was 101 years old (having celebrated its centennial last year in 2011).  The interpretive signs inside were also quite interesting (and of course I took pictures of many of them).

I especially enjoy seeing interactive signs.  The ones below are part of pieces barely visible at the bottom of the picture above.  There is a display for each stone with a question that slides away to reveal the answer.

We didn't get to see any wildlife while we were visiting, but we didn't look around that much and didn't hike at all.  I think it is amazing that so much life exists in arid climates like this (and ones even drier)--all of which are a testament to the variety that God programmed into the various animal kinds.

I found a description of the Ute Creation story quite fascinating.  Is it a corruption of Genesis 11 and the account of the scattering of the nations from Babel?  I know flood stories are found around the globe--but I haven't heard about scattering tales also.

The Ute Creation Story
In the beginning there were no people on the Earth.  One day, Sinawavf, the Creator, cut sticks and placed them in a large bag. 
Sinawavf told Coyote to take the bag to teh mountains.  When he got to the mountains, Coyote became curious and opened the bag.  many people came out of the bag, and as they ran away, they were all speaking the same language. 
When Sinawavf discovered what Coyote had done, only a few people were still in the bag.  He was very angry that the people had scattered across the land.  His plan had been to distribute them equally.  Sinawavf took the people remaining in the bag and placed them in the mountains. 
Of the people remaining in the bag, Sinawavf said, "This small tribe of people shall be Ute.  They will be very brave and able to protect the rest."  And so, the Ute People were placed in the mountains of Colorado.
I remember seeing quite a bit of cactus when I visited my grandparents in Tucson over the years, so I enjoy seeing it now.  There isn't too much here in the east, ;-).

The cactus model above was part of a fascinating display with many native species and signs explaining each of them--signs that are of course not out in the wild.  It would be an excellent primer if you were going to go hiking and wanted to be able to identify many species.

In addition to the many plant species in the park there are also desert bighorn sheep, golden eagles, collard lizards, Jerusalem crickets and more!  I like one line in the brochure talking about appreciating these creatures: "Examine scat (with a stick!) to learn about an animal's eating habits."

Of course the caution was also given to enjoy the animals from a distance.  I do not understand why people find this injunction so hard to follow.  In Yellowstone we saw tourists getting far too close to bison--and they're large and dangerous critters!  People are killed by them frequently, or by animals that can bite or otherwise attack when feeling threatened.

You can always get my attention with a map!

After we started driving out I stopped at a couple points to take pictures of the awe-inspiring landscape.  We did drive down into the campground.  I'm not sure I'd enjoy it in a tent as it was very dry and there was little shade.  I'm sure it cools down at night, but until then it would be very dry and hot.

What to Call a Monolith (Besides Big) 
Curious visitors to Colorado National Monument often ask, "Like, where's the monument?" Park rangers are often tempted to say, "You're, like, looking at it."
That would leave many visitors scratching their heads.  People from as near as Denver and as far as Denmark get confused upon arrival.  they expect to find a shiny bronze plaque bolted to a big chunk of hand-carved stone, something resembling Webster's definition of monument: "a tablet, statue, pillar, or building." 
But Colorado National Monument is a 20,000-acre park unit.  And within that park unit rises a 450-foot sandstone monolith (a large free standing rock formation) named Independence Monument.  A pair of monuments, both with names that have become familiar to locals, continue to confuse newcomers.  no wonder visitors scratch their heads. 
If neither Colorado National Monument nor the monolith fits our conventional image of "monument," that's OK.  There is nothing conventional about this extraordinary place.  It is truly unconventional, just like John Otto, the Monument's founder.  This rugged conservationist in his cowboy hat and droopy mustache labored alone among the geological wonders that became Colorado National Monument in 1911.  This special place not only changed his life--he changed it too.  Otto lived in the canyons, carved trails with iron tools, erected barbed wire fences, and chiseled handholds for climbing Wingate sandstone walls. 
He also took it upon himself to name many of the monoliths.  Names such as "Needle's Eye," "King Apple's Castle," and "Temple Rock," were all his doing.  He christened Monument Canyon's iconic spire "Independence."  Otto, a proud patriot, honored Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, McKinley and Wilson by naming monoliths after them.
--from Colorado national Monument Visitor Guide

When I saw the balancing rock I had to stage a picture with Amy.  It took a few tries, but we finally managed one shot that turned out rather well I think.  She promised that she wouldn't actually tip it over.

Here is just a little bit of the scenery.

If you looked down you could see the road that climbed up to our location--it had quite a few twists and turns.


PS All of the pictures above (and many more) are in the slideshow below.  You can click on any of the pictures to go visit the album and see all of the pictures.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Colorado Traveling

After leaving Denver on our big trip last month, Amy and I headed across Colorado on Interstate 70.  Our original plan had been to drive north from Denver and cut through the southern portion of Wyoming.  But then I realized that we would miss the Eisenhower tunnel and all of the beautiful mountain scenery that I loved from Colorado.

I'm so glad that we ended up going the way we did as I got to show Amy many sights I recognized as well as seeing new things.  We also got great gas mileage as we came down out of the mountains towards the west.

But before we headed down out of the mountains we had to climb up the mountains from Denver.  I had to shift gears, of course, but it was a breathtakingly beautiful drive into the mountains.  I really love Colorado's mountains, and mountains in general (note, the so-called "mountains" of eastern North America don't really count in my mind--they're far too low, ;-))!  Before the summit we filled up in Georgetown, and I was happy to get ten cents off at Shell.  Kroger owns at least two grocery store chains in Colorado, so they have extended their 10 cents off at Shell deal to that state.

We also pulled off and looked around at one scenic overlook in Summit County.  The first picture above came from that stop.  We were at 9,150 feet when I took that picture, looking at mountains that towered several thousand feet higher.

Amy has seen Colorado before, but not frequently, so I was excited to be able to show her part of this wonderful state.  I'm really looking forward to future trips back out west.

One of the main reasons that I wanted to go across Colorado on I-70 was so that we could go through the Eisenhower Tunnel.  I remember going through it several times as a kid.  Once I remember I was even a pain about it--my parents had decided to take the longer, scenic route over Loveland Pass, but I really wanted to go through the tunnel.  My dad ended up driving through the tunnel twice (once through and then he had to come back) so that I could see it.  It is a very impressive piece of work:

The Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel is located approximately sixty miles west of Denver, Colorado on Interstate 70.  It is the highest vehicular tunnel in the world, located at an elevation of 11,013 feet at the East Portal and 11,158 feet at the West Portal.  The Tunnel traverses through the Continental Divide at an average elevation of 11,112 feet.
The Tunnel was originally designed as a twin bore tunnel.  Construction on the westbound bore (North Tunnel) began March 15, 1968 and was completed five years later on March 8, 1973.  This bore was originally called the Straight Creek Tunnel, and later was officially named the Eisenhower Memorial Bore.  Construction on the second bore began August 18, 1975 and was completed four years later on December 21, 1979.  This eastbound bore was named after Edwin C. Johnson, a past Governor and U.S. Senator who had actively supported an interstate highway system across Colorado. 

You can read more about the tunnel at the Colorado Department of Transportation website, where the above quotes came from.  I never knew before I started researching for this blog post that only the westbound lane was the Eisenhower Bore--but that was the one we went through, so we did indeed go through the Eisenhower Tunnel.

After going through the tunnel we stopped at a rest area before passing Vail.  Even the rest areas have great views in the Rockies, ;-).  Of course I also had to take pictures of the informational signs.

I also got a good picture of the view outside from inside the building.  As you can see, it is a neat rock building.  I'm pretty sure I'd stopped there before as it was somewhat familiar.  I think it is also a place hikers can come to in the winter.

After this short stop we kept going.  The next time I drive through the area I want to stop in some of the mountain towns along the way--but without any advance plans we didn't know where would be a good place to stop, so we just kept driving.  Eventually we came to Glenwood Canyon and more beautiful scenery.  I especially love the highway as it was constructed through the canyon--the engineers did such a great job of blending it into the scenery.  I found a website that tells quite a bit about the history of transportation through the canyon--including the pre-interstate roads:

When Colorado got into state highway road building in the early 20th Century the road through the canyon became part of SH 4. When the US Highway routes were developed in 1926, the route through Glenwood Canyon was proposed to be part of US 46, but that highway was scrapped and it instead was part of US 40S when the routes were implemented in 1927. In 1936 US 40S was renumbered to be part of US 24. Then in 1937 US 6 was lengthened westward from Denver and was comarked with US 24 through Glenwood Canyon. In the 1920s the roadway through the canyon was only graded and graveled, but during the Depression U.S. Representative Edward Taylor obtained $1.5 million for widening and paving of the canyon road. The improvements were opened August 1, 1938. 
US 6-24 through Glenwood Canyon remained pretty much unchanged until the 1960s. In 1960 the federal government approved a proposed extension for I-70 to go west from Denver to Utah. The first divided section of highway was complete in 1965, and went from Glenwood Springs east to No Name. This included the two bores for the No Name Tunnels and bypassed the Horseshoe Curve section of the canyon. East of the canyon (Dotsero) I-70 was built by 1982, but the section from No Name to Dotsero would be the most troublesome to complete.

I hadn't realized that construction wasn't finished until 1992.  I started going to Colorado in 1982 (actually my mother was pregnant with me the first summer she and my dad cooked at Twin Peaks Bible Camp.  I do remember going to Glenwood Hot Springs and driving through the canyon several times.

Here is another tidbit from the website concerning the entire I-70 project in the canyon, which a sign at a canyon rest area labeled the toughest 12 miles of I-70:
Glenwood Canyon is on I-70 in western Colorado, about 150 miles west of Denver and 90 miles east of Grand Junction. The 16 mile-long canyon is on the Colorado River between the towns of Glenwood Springs and Gypsum. A huge engineering challenge was undertaken starting in the 1980s to complete one of the last stretches of Interstate Highway through the canyon. Transportation, environmental, recreational and economic considerations all had to be taking into account before the completed highway opened in 1992. In the end, the canyon ended up with a freeway snaking through its length using bridges, tunnels and retaining walls to create a highway that did not hurt, and even contributed to, the canyon's appearance.
We didn't end up going to the hot springs, though I'm definitely going to take Amy there one of these days on another trip to Colorado.  We did however, stop at one of the canyon rest areas and walk around for a bit.  We even got to see a train pass by across the river from where we were standing.

I think we ended up stopping (or at least reading about on the signs) No Name Rest Area, which just sounded like a fascinating place.

Yes, if I recall correctly, we did stop at No Name just so I could take some pictures of it.  But sadly there were no signs explaining the name--though the rest area did have a very nice building.

After Glenwood we started getting into areas that I really remember.  I spent every summer of my childhood (at least the month of July) in the western part of Colorado, mostly on the slopes of the Grand Mesa.  It was a thrill to recognize the Mesa from a distance.  My favorite picture though was of the Praying Bear.  This rock formation is right by the highway, and I remember seeing it many times--especially as we drove towards Grand Junction.  I don't think I've ever been able to get a good picture of it before--so this was exciting to see it, show it to Amy, and capture a picture!

The next post will be about Colorado National Monument--and then the trip moves into Utah!


PS Here is a slideshow of all of the album pictures: