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Archive for the ‘Family Travel’ Category

When I awoke Wednesday morning, looked at my phone, which read 6:54, then realized that meant it was actually 7:54 (eastern – because I didn’t have service down there in the ravine, so the time hadn’t changed) – and breakfast was served at 8 – well, then I was doubly and triply relieved we’d forged ahead and done that second hike on Tuesday and not waited until 6 am …that morning. That would have been crazy.

I jostled the kid awake and we got ourselves out to the dining room for another great meal – that tomato/egg/sausage pie and some perfect biscuits – checked out and yes…hiked back up a mile to the car. Which was still there, still started, and didn’t have a flat.

Next stop: Prison.

I’d happened upon this place a couple of weeks ago and my first reaction was, “Surely this is tacky.” But then I read reviews which indicated…it’s not. So down we went to the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.

And no, it wasn’t tacky at all. It was haunting and thought-provoking. About sin and redemption, crime and punishment, about the possibility of change and how criminal justice might or usually doesn’t contribute to that, about exploitation and all kinds of fear.

Brushy Mountain was a maximum security penitentiary that closed in 2009. It’s most well-known for housing James Earl Ray, who actually escaped and remained at large for a couple of days. Here’s a history.

Now the penitentiary grounds are open for tours and is the site of a distillery, periodic concerts and, in the area, and apparently inspired by Ray’s escape attempt, the insane Barclay Marathons.

First, the site. It’s quite striking. You can see from the photo below – which I did not take – why it was situated there. Not only so the prisoners could work in the mines, but because nestled deep in that valley, escape was clearly even more challenging.

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, Petros, Tennessee

It’s like Helm’s Deep one of us remarked.

We didn’t do a guided tour, but simply watched the introductory film, looked at the exhibits, and then walked the grounds – various floors of the penitentiary with placards on the walls (Ray’s cell noted – 28), the visitation rooms, the laundry, the cafeteria (walls painted in murals by inmates), the notorious “Hole” – and you can imagine what that was about – and then D Block, which replaced the Hole as the section for the most dangerous prisoners – and some of them in most danger, themselves (pedophiles, for instance).

Here’s my comment. As I mentioned, there’s an introductory film, and I was a little surprised – but perhaps I shouldn’t have been – by the approach. The perspective is all from corrections officers – which is fair – but the central theme is the impact of the prison’s closing on the local community (called Petros, interestingly enough.) Which, as you can imagine, was devastating. And yes, interesting.

But it’s not what I expected. I was expecting some perspective from former inmates – and if you think that’s crazy, well just know that former Brush inmates do make their appearance on the grounds, even participating in tours. I was hoping for a broader view of what this place was all about, what it was like to be incarcerated there, and what was the impact – but that wasn’t the intent of the film.

Anyway – well worth the stop.

Next was a bit of a detour as the kid realized, studying the map, “Oh! Windrock is on our way!” – And what is that, pray tell? Among other things, a well-known mountain biking course. And it was, indeed, on the way, in Oliver Springs, between the prison and Oak Ridge – so we just shot up there and got the lay of the land for future reference, in case he and his biking friends get it together and make it up there some day.

Next: Oak Ridge. Someone was hungry, so I said, “Look and see if there’s a Buddy’s BarBQ” – and yes, of course there was. Not that it’s anything great or stupendous, but it’s the East Tennessee barbecue chain, and going there made me nostalgic, as I could hear my dad saying, “Anyone want Buddy’s tonight?” and him laboriously noting everyone’s preference, cig in one hand, martini in the other, and then heading out to pick it all up.

I had been pretty much totally confused about the state of public tours of Oak Ridge facilities and museums. I hadn’t been since I was in school myself, and I knew things had changed, partly because times just change and more recently because of Covid – these are museums, but many are also federal facilities. I could not sort out what was open and closed, and I had just about resigned myself to thinking that this would be another Rugby and we’d just drive through, when a volunteer at the children’s museum told me, no – this and that were indeed open.

So what should we do?

By that time, it was around 2 – which is, indeed 1 our time, but still. We were wanting to be home sooner than later. And at 16 and a veteran of countless science museums and having aged out of almost all of them, we went for the history – which was my intentions, such as they were, for this trip anyway. So we headed to the K25 plant facility, which is, indeed, a nice little museum and also free – and open, masks required, naturally.

It was just what I hoped for. Small, not overwhelming, and very focused on what the K25 facility was all about – uranium enrichment – with enough context about the Manhattan Project in general to make it understandable.

It’s just astonishing, really – bringing thousands of folks in, building these facilities, building this town, with hardly anyone knowing what it was for. I never understood how that could have been before I listened to one former employee of the era, in a recording at the museum, recount that well…they thought it was just…power. But didn’t know what for. Ships? Planes? Manufacturing power? No one knew. But. “I never would have thought about a…bomb.”

Most striking artifact? Below – an anatomical model, embedded with human bones, to see what impact uranium exposure might have on the human body……

So there you have it….three days, essentially, packed full. See what can happen in just three days?

And probably our last jaunt for a while. I had been thinking next week maybe, but it’s already filling up, so…no, except for a day here or there.

Sunday: Up I-59 to… Fall Creek Falls, Jordan Motel in Jamestown, TN

Monday: Rugby, Northrup Falls, Sgt. York Historic Site, Simply Fresh restaurant, Charit Creek Lodge

Tuesday: Charit Creek Lodge, Slave Creek Falls Trail, Twin Arches Trail.

Wednesday: Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, Windrock, Oak Ridge K25 History Center….back down I-59…home

Good deal.

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Yeah, yeah, I’ve used it before – here – on a post about the hardest hike I’ve ever done (not that I have a lot to sort through) – up one of the highest peaks in Honduras, in this national park.

So this was not as hard as that. But it was still…challenging. But it’s also why we were there, it was good for me, so up and down and up we went.

First, though:

Monday and Tuesday night, we stayed at the marvelous Charit Creek Lodge. It’s a hike-in lodge, which means that you have to, well, hike, bike or ride horseback in and out to get there. There’s no vehicular traffic, except what’s necessary for staff. The lodge (which contains two of the oldest structures in the national park system) is in a ravine. There are several cabins of different capacities, a few attached to stables. There’s no electricity, no wi-fi – it really is off the grid.

We stayed in the Corn Crib – one queen bed and one twin. Meals (which are included if you wish) were of quite high quality – pork tenderloin, interesting vegetable casseroles, a wonderful tomato/egg/sausage pie for breakfast – you get the drift. I’m told there is a cookbook coming soon, so I’ll be sure to mention that in this space when it appears.

There’s a small cemetery in which, among others, is buried a Hatfield – related to the feuding family, but apparently, according to this, not killed in relation to the feud.

And a refreshing creek and a polite dog named Booger.

There are a couple of major trails you can tackle from the lodge. We did both. In one day. I was assured it was doable – and oh yes, it was, even for me, but not easy-doable. More I-might-not-die-but-it-will-be-close doable. Like that.

To the point at which we finished the first major trail – Slave Falls – and got the junction with a choice – do we do the other – the Twin Arches – or save it for the morning? As in – get up super early and tackle it? After some consideration, we went for the former, and forged on. I was pretty wiped out by that point, but I am also not a fan of living in dread of an approaching hard thing. I’d rather take the medicine now and sleep soundly.

Believe me, that is a lesson learned from years of procrastinating, not only grading papers, but writing jobs. It’s better to just get it done than let it sit, taunting you.

And it turned out to be absolutely worth it. The first trail was enjoyable (sort of) – especially in the destination, and we did have a couple of adventures, but this Twin Arches trail had quite spectacular, surprising features, and it was good to end the day – a hard day – with that payoff. Plus it was all downhill back to the lodge.

I don’t have a lot of photographs because my phone was at a low level, we didn’t have electricity, and my portable charger had already been sucked dry (I guess I should get a new one).

Here’s a map of the trail. You can learn more about it at Alltrails.com or some such.

Slave Falls and Twin Arches Loop - Tennessee | AllTrails

The lodge is just north of where the “i” is on the map. We went up, then left, then to Slave Falls (not labeled on the map, but it’s at the point of the squiggle far the left. Another trail continues on that path that goes to the half green/half black circle – the Sawmill trailhead), a bit beyond the falls to see the Needle Arch, then back on the same trail, then up to the Twin Arches and back around.

Let’s see if I have any photos at all. Hah. Actually none at all of Slave Falls. When we were there, we were doing a bit of scrambling and went off trail (honestly) behind the falls to get across, so we wouldn’t have to go back and around. I wasn’t carrying my camera or phone and didn’t want to keep saying, “Wait a minute, let me get my camera out.” Well, you can see photos of it here. And plenty at the Alltrails site – just look it up!

Well here’s a giant toppled-over tree root system. There’s that.

Now, the Twin Arches was something else – and the paucity of photos there is just because although I had recovered from the first part of the hike and was feeling okay and back to carrying the camera, the rock formations were so huge, I couldn’t capture them very well. Let’s put it this way – say you are driving by mountains in this part of the world and you see, at the very top, great walls of bare rock? That’s where we were. I tried to get the kid in the photos for a sense of scale.

He said, “It’s like the mountain has a giant stone mohawk.”

The Twin Arches? Hopeless – just too big, with not enough space to back up and capture them, at least with my cameras. But again – just look them up!

So, a hard, but good day. Back to a cool creek, an excellent meal, and a friendly dog.

Why do these things? How do I figure out to do them?

Well, it’s all about going places we’ve never been. And there’s a lot, even within a few hours of here. And having different experiences – like a hike-in lodge. Not too different though. I mean, he can camp all he wants and has but I’ve been camping once in my life, it wasn’t horrible, and I suppose I would do it again, but it would not be my first or even tenth choice of how to get out and see the world.

So one thing leads to another – I want to go somewhere. The Smokies are probably crazy right now. North Georgia, maybe. Mississippi blues trail? Maybe wait until it’s cooler, wait until football season is over – because we’d want to stop in Oxford and see Faulkner things on the way. Okay, well, here’s this are – Big South Fork? Never even heard of it. Oh, and I’ve wanted to take him to Oak Ridge since forever. Oh, and Rugby! We could do that, too.

And so a trip takes shape. One element that was in this at the beginning was the Cumberland Gap – but ultimately I decided that took us too far afield, and it’s a good thing. We would have been quite rushed if we’d kept that in.

So basically? I want us to see new things, learn history and be outdoors, and not have to fly or drive too far.

So there we were – with one more day to go, featuring a prison and uranium…..

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Continuing on our journey…

(Part one here)

It seemed to be a day about ideals. Ideals adjusted, brought briefly to life then withered, ideals bearing fruit in quiet places.

As I mentioned, we began in Jamestown, Tennessee. Our day would end at the Charit Creek Lodge, but check-in there wasn’t until 3, and even though we’d need to build a mile-long hike into the place into that timetable, we still had time to See Things. Always my goal. Just to See Some Things. Learn a little bit. Encounter a little bit more of the world, past and present. Build up your world of experience, expand your vision.

Even talking to your neighbors does that. Trust me. Try it.

Anyway, beginning in Jamestown and figuring the least back-tracking, this is what we did.

First, Rugby. I’ve always wanted to see Rugby, especially having grown up (from my teens) in East Tennessee – but we were not a traveling family (I never went to the Smokies except on school trips) except to see family elsewhere, so it just never happened.

Turns out – and I knew this – that if it’s not a weekend, there’s not a lot to see, for nothing’s open. And neither of us had phone service, I hadn’t thought to download any information, so all that was left for us to do was to wander around, look at some exteriors, observe all the British flags on display, and me to offer my vaguely remembered accounts of the utopian colonies’ foundation and brief existence. In case you are wondering:

The village was founded back in 1880 by Thomas Hughes, a well-known social reformer in England and author of the popular book, Tom Brown’s School Days. Inspired by the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hughes envisioned a utopia for England’s ‘second sons,’ men who’d grown up in wealthy British families but were doomed to inherit nothing because of their birth order. Hughes hoped Rugby could offer these men a chance to leave British class distinctions behind by creating a cooperative agrarian community in a particularly scenic area of rural Tennessee. Rugby colonists were promised an opportunity to live off the land as gentleman farmers while still enjoying the culture and comforts to which their class was accustomed, and it was an offer some found irresistible. Within the first year, a number of new families arrived and a large hotel, three boarding houses, a commissary and several private homes were constructed, along with tennis and croquet courts and a walkway to a popular picnic spot by the river.

Typhoid struck the community in 1881, they bounced back, but…

The magnificent Tabard Inn burned to the ground. Lawsuits and land disputes prevented colonists from owning the land they’d come to claim. A series of unusually severe winters disheartened Rugby’s new residents. Beyond circumstantial problems, it turned out the colonists were ill-suited for the pioneer life and either unwilling or unable to sustain their agrarian utopia. A cannery failed. A dairy failed. A sheep-raising endeavor failed. Pottery and brick-making efforts failed. Finally, in 1887, Thomas Hughes’s mother, a central figure of Rugby life, died, and by then, most of the colonists decided they’d had enough. Many returned to England or moved elsewhere in the states. Thomas Hughes, who’d never managed to convince his family to move permanently to Rugby and only spent a couple of months there each year, left for the last time in 1887, never to return.

The buildings are maintained, though, even the 7000-volume public library, said to be one of the first free libraries in the Southeast. Photos at this link. It probably would be quite worthwhile to visit when the buildings are actually open. It wasn’t a total loss though – it was good to see it, see the landscape, and knowing the general history of the place, the challenges these folks faced…and why they even attempted it.

My one photo – the school house.

Time to head back towards Jamestown, with a stop at the quite nice Colditz Cove State Natural Area – the preservation and maintenance of which might just be the fruit of ideals, stubbornly maintained despite varied opposition, since most natural areas don’t stay natural without a fight. A short hike takes you to a coursing waterfall. Not at Fall Creek Falls level, but still quite enough, even for a quick dip. He was brought up short by a snake sighting – not unusual considering the rocks.

(Speaking of snakes – I had forgotten about our encounter at Fall Creek Falls when I posted last night. Updated now. Go here unless it will trigger you.)

Next, up past Jamestown to Pall Mall, the site of the Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park. Of course, son knew nothing about York, and most of what I knew I did from just living in Tennessee and the movie, seen decades ago. It’s an interesting little spot, with a visitor’s center that offers the basics, quite a few artifacts, and then the homeplace, a mill and a mock WWI trench where I assume they bring school children and have commemorative events.

I’m still startled that York didn’t actually look like Gary Cooper. And it’s certainly interesting to follow York’s transformation from pacifist to war hero to outspoken supporter of intervention and even the draft. His support for and commitment to his local community is a model, though – but intriguing that his efforts to help modernize the area and bring education in actually did meet resistance.

Back down to Jamestown for lunch at the shockingly excellent, definitely-a-cut-above place called Simply Fresh. Kid had a burger that he said was clearly made from high-quality, fresh meat, and I had an interesting chicken-goat-cheese-pesto-quesadilla thing that was very well made and flavorful.

Back to the ideals: Someone clearly has ideals about what good food is and what’s possible, even in small-town America, well outside the urban foodie centers – and is working it out, for the benefit of a lot of folks.

Now……time to cross back over to the Eastern time zone (we’d been back and forth all day) for a journey into the Big South Fork Natural Area and a hike to…the Charit Creek Lodge.

I’ll have more about it in the next post – this is long enough already – but let’s get started with the basics. It’s a hike-in facility – that is, you can’t drive your vehicle there, and must hike – a little less than a mile from the parking lot. There are a couple of other similar places in the Southeast, but with longer hikes – LeConte Lodge in the Smokies being the most well-known and hardest to get reservations for – and then the Hike Inn in north Georgia. I’m interested in doing the others – well, at least, the Georgia place – so I thought I’d start with this one.

And so…we start!

(Talk about ideals….)

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We just returned from a few days up north. That is all the way up north to Tennessee. Just a few days, but, as per usual, much food for thought provided.

I’m pretty tired right now, and just finished downloading and resizing my photos, so I’m going to start slowly and in smaller doses, rather than offering a single megapost.

And what I’m doing here is encouraging, I hope – in case anyone needs it, which I doubt – folks to get out and be about. Outdoors, if that’s where you’re most comfortable, and heaven knows, we’ve got plenty of that in the U.S. of A, don’t we?

To recap – these last couple of weeks of August are our last chance to travel at all until mid-November. Between the kid’s church job, which occupies him on Sundays, his co-op classes, tutoring, music lessons as well as his social and workout life…this was it. I had hoped, vaguely, to even get to Mexico or Guatemala, but decided it was just too much hassle and too much risk of tumbling into a quarantine situation on that end. So, yes, here we are…

As I mentioned earlier in the week – before I was in a place with no wi-fi (on purpose) for two days – we began early afternoon on Sunday, after Church Music had been played. Headed straight up I-59 – one of my least favorite stretches of road, mostly because I associate it with trudging back and forth to Knoxville during my father’s last days and subsequent year or so of dealing with his estate. But let’s not live in the past – in that way, at least.

So, yes, up I-59, a short jog on I-24, then over and up to Fall Creek Falls State Park. It is, I believe, the most popular of Tennessee’s state park – and well deserved – but given this was a Sunday late afternoon with school in session in most of the region – not busy at all.

We walked the trail from the cascades parking lot over to the actual Fall Creek Falls, then hiked down to the bottom of those falls – the tallest, they say, this side of the Rockies. It was a rocky climb up and down, but hey, there was a young woman there doing a pregnancy shoot with the falls in the background, so if she made it, I guess we could, too.

Oh, and this guy was encountered. Don’t worry. There was a standoff and he was pushed off the trail with a very long stick.

I had a hotel I’d spotted online that I wanted to stay in, but I wasn’t sure if we’d feel up to the drive all the way there after Fall Creek Falls. So I waited until we got up to Crossville, then called the place to see if they had rooms – they did, and said they were about 30 minutes from where we were. Okay, no problem. We’re in! And after finding an open restaurant – the only ones open on a Sunday night being either chains or Mexican (we went for the latter) – we headed up to Jamestown and the Jordan Motel.

What a treat. Old school motel, beautifully maintained with gorgeous, classic stone exteriors, absolutely spotless rooms and just the nicest people running the place. I think they get a lot of cyclists on those roads (deducing this not only from the decor, but also from the reviews online) as well as a heap of business around the time of the World’s Longest Yard Sale, which runs right down 127, the road on which the motel sits.

It’s always worth it to look beyond the chains if it’s at all possible for you. This was less expensive, cleaner and more pleasant than most chains – certainly any at a similar price point.

Well, that’s done. Monday? On to dabble in some history, another waterfall, and hike (yes) to the next stay….

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Okay, so we did.

Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee. Spectacular waterfall, very light crowds – it being a late Sunday afternoon when school is in session for most folks now.

A late start because someone is employed as a church organist. Then up to Tennessee, then dinner in the only kind of place that’s open in mid-sized Tennessee towns on a Sunday night: Mexican. And the night in the cutest, cleanest non-chain, family-owned motel in the state, I’m thinking. Although the kid persists in muttering things about a guy wearing a dress carrying a knife.

More on that when we move on.

Look for posts tomorrow on St. Rose of Lima and a decent digest – including what I thought of PIG, starring Nicholas Cage….

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—1 —

First, St. Augustine, who’s in the Loyola Kids Book o’ Saints, under “Saints are people who help us understand God.” The first two pages:

— 2 —

Secondly…well, we’re back. And about to be gone. So here’s what happened today.

We packed up and left Gardnier, WY, at the north end of the park, about 7:30. We were met at the Yellowstone entrance (which is right there) with the news that not only was the road I knew was closed still closed because of fires (between Old Faithful and West Thumb), but another road  – the alternate I’d been assuming would be our way out – was closed as well, because of an overturned gas-carrying 18-wheeler. That one, between Canyon and the lake (below is a campground map – first thing I grabbed – it’s the road between Canyon Village and “Fishing Bridge” campground.)

So here’s a map.

campgroundmap

You can see the problem. There would be no way to get from Gardiner, in the north, to the South entrance, which then would get us on the road to Jackson. It was going to be a 3.5 hour drive, straight shot (you can’t go over 45 on most park roads), and we were planning to take our time and see things we’d missed and maybe take another look at some geysers.

But with that news, the route had to shift, didn’t it? Like, dramatically – out through West Yellowstone and out and over further west, then south through Idaho, to Jackson from the west. Adding not only distance, but time as well. Okay, champ, I’ll settle in to drive, you settle in to sleep.

And now is the part where I tell you that I just learned that as of 8am this morning that road between Old Faithful and West Thumb was opened. I don’t know why they didn’t know that at the entrance gate at 7:35, but it is what it is. No regrets. It’s fine – we saw some lovely sights along the way.

— 3 —

I shook traveling companion awake not long after departure to take in the Roaring Mountain – it used to emit this steam with a lot more force and noise (hence the name), but it’s still impressive.

IMG_20200827_083241

After that – the drive to West Yellowstone is gorgeous, with stunning cliffsides lining the road.

Then….Idaho. So, new state! That means three new states added to our list with this trip, and I’ve now realized I’m up to 45. Only Oregon, Washington, North Dakota, Alaska and Hawaii remain.

It also means that one traveling companion awakened and learning where we were, it was a steady diet of Napoleon Dynamite quotations until the Tetons loomed into site again – and from the west, they are quite lovely. And we were delighted to see that we could, at last…actually see them, since the smoke from the fires further west had evidently dissipated.

— 4 —

Once over the pass, we took a slight detour into Teton Village, since I was curious what a ski village would look like. I’ve known folks who’ve traveled to the area to ski, and I confess my image of what that was wasn’t exactly what I saw, and not just because it’s summer. I guess I imagined something more bucolic and rural, not condos crammed at the base of a mountain. Huh. Well, it’s probably real nice in winter and obviously people like it, so they can have it.

On to Jackson, lunch, since it was a little early, wander around a bit, since it was still early, finally gain access to hotel.

IMG_20200827_140847

This is not from our hotel, but from the balcony of a shop. See the arch? It’s elk antlers, and there’s more of the same on the square, and one at the entrance into the Jackson airport terminal, as well. 

— 5 –

Then back into the car and back up to Jenny Lake – about 30 miles north. We had hours of daylight left, so why not get in some more hiking to points we’d missed before? The route was partway around the lake to the Moose Pond trails – no moose where seen – there– and then up the rest of the way to where the boat had dropped us before, the starting point for hikes to Inspiration Point, Hidden Falls and then the Cascade Canyon trail, which we’d walked a good bit of on Friday, and greatly enjoyed.We decided the best use of our time would be to get up to Hidden Falls and then take the boat back to the other side. Which we did, getting back to the car by 7, back into Jackson by 8, then to dinner at Bubba’s Barbecue, which was excellent. 

— 6 –

And so…..animals today? Lots of elk, of course. Two does with their fawns crossing the road near the Visitor’s Center on this end of Grand Teton NP, and then, on the Jenny Lake hike…

IMG_20200827_181106

— 7 —

And….

IMG_20200827_173004

I think he was in the same spot 45 minutes later when we rode the boat across the lake, because I could see a group of folks on the trail there, looking down. For video, go to Instagram. 

As per usual, I’ll do a post– probably tomorrow, from the airport – describing our itinerary and accommodations choices, for anyone contemplating a similar trip.

Back to ordinary life very, very soon. But in these days, of course, “ordinary” is anything but….

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Thanks to decent wi-fi (more than decent – excellent  – thanks place that I’ll name when we’re gone!), I can get this done for you this evening instead of my usual routine, which has been: write it on the word processor at night and then attempt to load photos at 7am when hopefully fewer people were trying to be online at the otherwise quite nice NPS accommodations.

(For the record – a cabin at Colter Bay in the Grand Tetons and a cabin at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge – both wonderful in every way.)

The day began with me stressing out a bit about the next few days. Not because we might or might not do here, but because of what something called Laura is doing down south. We are flying home via Dallas later this week, and I just started worrying that this hurricane would disrupt travel throughout the Southeast, and it would be better for us to try to get home tomorrow. Well, I called, and yes there were seats, but I’d have to pay $$$ for them (I got these tickets originally with miles) and I’d missed the no-cancellation-fee timeframe for the night-before-the-flight’s hotel in Jackson, and I’d lose the money for the last night here, and so, I just said oh well, we’ll chance it and just hope we can make it home in time for the Organist to practice before Sunday.

Nothing compared to the plight of those in the storm’s path, of course. Nothing. 


So here we are, in a part of the park that is certainly gorgeous, but without the set of  obvious “must-sees” that one finds in Geyser or Canyon country. Plus, there’s a major road (between Tower and Canyon) that is closed for the year, which makes travel down that way circuitous and those sites inaccessible unless, of course, you are backcountry camping which we are most decidedly not.

So we are taking this time to meander. We had one major site to check off today, and then rest of the time, we’ll be driving, stopping to walk/hike a bit, see something interesting, and then get back in the car and drive some more.  This part of the country is so gorgeous and so different from our usual stomping grounds that taking it in that way is more than satisfying.

I’d thought about rafting on the Yellowstone River – but Kid just did some of that a couple of weeks ago (on the Ocoee, not the Yellowstone, of course) , and wasn’t keen enough on the possibility for me to spend the money. I also thought about heading up to Bozeman to the Museum of the Rockies, which is, indeed, open, but today was so pleasant, we decided we’d rather just have more of the same tomorrow.

First stop was about five miles south of Gardiner to the Mammoth Hot Springs site of Yellowstone. You can read more about it here(and if you ever saw the first Star Trek movie, know that it was Vulcan, with modern elements erased. ) It is also the headquarters of the entire park, and historically quite important as “Fort Yellowstone.” 

The nationally significant Fort Yellowstone-Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District is in the northwestern portion of Yellowstone National Park on an old hot springs formation. The buildings on this plateau represent the first development of administrative and concession facilities in the park.
For the decade after 1872 when Yellowstone National Park was established, the park was under serious threat from those who would exploit, rather than protect, its resources. Poachers killed animals. Souvenir hunters broke large pieces off the geysers and hot springs. Developers set up camps for tourists, along with bath and laundry facilities at hot springs. Civilian superintendents were hired to preserve and protect this land from 1872 through 1886. The good intentions of these early administrators, however, were no match for their lack of experience, funds and manpower. Word got back to Congress that the park was in trouble and legislators refused to appropriate any funds for the park’s administration in 1886.

Invoking the Sundry Civil Act of 1883, the Secretary of the Interior called upon the Secretary of War for assistance in protecting the park. The Army came to the rescue and in 1886 men from Company M, First United States Cavalry, Fort Custer, Montana Territory under Captain Moses Harris came to Yellowstone to begin what would be more than 30 years of military presence in Yellowstone.

The hot springs themselves are primarily large travertine formations – cliffs, hills and terraces – formed by the water dissolving limestone and such. Read about it here. 

It was interesting, but right now, there’s not a lot of activity going on – it’s totally unpredictable and constantly changing – so what we saw was certainly worth seeing and studying, but it wasn’t nearly as mystically magical as most of the photos you’ll find online suggest. Still, very weird to see this landscape sticking up in the midst of life-filled mountains.

We saw the formations in the lower terrace area, walked around the historic buildings and then decided to head back to our lodging to eat leftover pizza from last night before heading out again.

At which point, the first stop was the Rescue Creek trailhead.We walked perhaps a quarter mile into vast, open fields, watching a trio of elks, including a calf, from a safe distance. (video at Instagram).

Hopped in the car, stopped at the 45th parallel (halfway between the North Pole and the Equator).

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Then to the Lava Creek trail,  where we walked for a bit further, down to the Gardner River, spending some time watching elk on both our left and right take the waters – doing a weird move with one of their back legs to get water on themselves, it seemed from a distance. Then the hike back up the hill to take in the upper terraces (more easily driven than walked) and then down to the  Hoodoo Trail for rock scrambling.

Yes, I’m sixty,  no, I’m not an athlete or a super-hiker or outdoorswoman and yes, I can think of other activities I’d “rather” do – in a way, but on the other hand, since this is about helping one of my kids experience things he’s interested in, and I’m in a position to make that happen, well, of course there is nothing I’d rather do. Not that I’m selfless and all sacrificial (because, when you get down to it, this is no sacrifice) – but because I have the perspective of a parent who has kids who’ve been out of the house and on their own for twenty years now. That day is coming for this one, too, and not too far in the future. This is it. Before  know it, this moment will be gone, and I don’t want to look back on it and say, I spent that time obsessing about my own thing  – well, good for me. 

Here ends the lesson.

Back to the lodging to clean up, then out for a decent dinner (bison burger for him, trout for me) here. 

More of the same tomorrow, but in another direction…..

Big Sky Country is right….

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On to Yellowstone.

Which is…amazing. At least the geyser areas. To me, the experience has been a bit like seeing the Grand Canyon was.

“Yeah, yeah, I get it. I’ve seen pictures. It’s big. Got it.”

And then you go and…well..it’s grand.

Same here in Yellowstone. I’ve seen pictures. I’ve seen hot springs here and in other countries (Italy, Honduras). I’ve seen bubbling mud (Sicily). Old Faithful? Sure. Iconic. Got it.

And then you go and…well…

 

I’ll just start by saying that once we got into the park, we headed for the West Thumb area, on the way to our first couple of nights near Old Faithful. Saw our first little tiny (relatively) bubbling pile of mud and I immediately thought…Okay, when is this whole damn thing going to just blow and take us all out?

Because the energy in just that small hole was…astonishing. And I tried to imagine all of that happening times infinity in this caldera and there’s one more reason to get right with God.

Also, after a day of wandering these features, you immediately understand the mythological associations of the underworld, death and satan with steaming, sulfurous cracks and holes in the ground. Of course harmful things dwell down there.

Shall I trace the day? I’ll try although  the wi-fi here is terrible. And my T-Mobile doesn’t work at all. Wifi is far worse than it was in Grand Teton NP (neither had wi-fi in cabins, of course, but the Grand Teton NP – Colter Bay – wifi, where they had it (offices, laundry, outside of stores) was fast and not annoying. This is annoying. At least it was tonight, but perhaps that’s because everyone on the property was trying to access it.

(And don’t say…oh, just get away from it all….Guys…I’m a single parent with many irons in the fire, a kid just restarting college in a time during which every day various schools are “pivoting”….so yeah, I want to stay in touch.)

So, quickly:

Leave Grand Teton. Get into Yellowstone. Stop at Moose Falls. Tell some guy that the berry he was wondering about was huckleberry, then praying I was right as he popped it in his mouth. Stop at Lewis Canyon overlook, marvel at the devastation of the 1988 fire, still evident 32 years later. Wonder how much 3 big Yeti coolers being trailered by a family ahead of us could possibly cost.

Get to West Thumb, marvel at our first geysers and springs and such.

Stop at the Kepler Cascades.

On to Old Faithful which, at 3 in the afternoon my son kept saying, “This reminds me of Disney World.” Yes, it was crowded. But it thinned out mightily after five, and our early evening visits to features outside the Old Faithful area were quite pleasant. No, we weren’t alone, but they weren’t packed, and everyone just seemed so….happy. Really. Just content to be out and about and seeing beautiful, strange and wonderous things with family and friends.

The negative here is that services are greatly reduced. I don’t mind no daily housekeeping at all– stay out of my room! – but the stores on the property – which are the only stores around for people, you know, staying here – closed at six. SIX! Even the Grand Teton shops stayed open until 8. But I understand they are understaffed. It seems it is a combination of not really being able to plan staffing, considering no one knew how the summer was going to pan out, as well as restrictions on  the normal dormitory- type accommodations for the seasonal workers. What I read is that they can’t share rooms, so that cuts possible staffing by half. That may or may not be true, but not only are those services reduced, many of the hotels are closed and, sadly some of those fantastic NPS visitors’ centers (like the one here at Old Faithful – closed) and there are no ranger programs.

But anyway, on to the water bubbling, erupting and surging from the earth around here.

It’s so very strange. The Old Faithful area is desolate and dry except for the geysers and ……We arrived just as Old Faithful was to erupt, and it did not disappoint. We then (since the room wasn’t ready) took a hike up a nearby hill from which one could watch the eruption from above. Just as impressive from up there. We then wandered around the other geysers and ….in the area (180 of the 200/250 in Yellowstone are around here), finally got into our room (and I say finally because it took two sets of keys and a security person to figure out what was wrong with the lock), chilled for just a few minutes, then hit the road for some geyser areas that are in easy driving distance. First the Black Sand area.

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Which, as I walked up to it, brought to mind some sort of hellscape. Sulferous odor, bubbling liquids everywhere that would kill you instantly if you tumbled in them, steam rising from the ground, dead trees standing in dark, still pools. Beautiful, fascinating, but still an interesting reminder as to why “sulfur” and underground are associated with evil and death.

Up the road to the Grand Prismatic Spring and the associated Excelsior Geyser. Gorgeous. Warm steam rising from Excelsior like a spa. From ground the level, the Grand Prismatic is impressive, but we think it will be even more so above, so we’ll try that today or tomorrow.

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It was, by that time, getting dark. So we returned to the Old Faithful area, found food – halfway decent noodle bowl from the cafeteria that wasn’t a burger, at least. Successful re-entry into room.

Not many photos because of the wi-fi. I wanted to artfully distributed them throughout the post, but to heck with that. And not too many right now. Come back in a week and perhaps I’ll update with more photos. This has taken too long, time to get back to the room, awaken the traveling companion and rent some bikes.

And if you want to beat the crowds at Old Faithful? Come early in the morning!

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—1 —

Oh, I should mention – for those of you who only check in for these takes – since last we spoke, I’ve driven to Kansas, flown back home and then flown out here…to….Wyoming!

Previous posts here and here. 

Yes, bears have been seen.

— 2 —

Friday night:

Sitting here doing laundry – two whole days worth, but it filled the machine – and catching up here. Thanks, wi-fi (not available in the cabins)

Remember: videos can be found on Instagram. On the day of, in Stories, many kept in posts. 

First, a Covid-era traveling report. This will be adjusted, I’m sure, as we move on, but here’s what I’m observing. Very busy. The flight to Jackson was full. Jackson last night was packed out, restaurants to (adjusted) capacity. Every NPS campground is full. I’m sure the other lodgings are sold out, although I will say I didn’t reserve these accomodations until a month ago, and there were still vacancies then. But there are just a lot of campers – and of course, there are always are out here, but considering the number of rental campers I’m seeing, the numbers are even higher than normal. Why? Because people, first, want to GET OUT. They have kids who are doing remote learning so why not? And camping strikes people, I’m guessing, as more hygienic than staying in hotels and eating in restaurants. You camp, make your own food, and hike outdoors? Covid can’t touch this. Or at least has a much lesser chance.

Just got the clothes in the dryer, so on to today.

— 3 —

Up quite early to get down to Jenny Lake, about a half hour’s drive. It’s a super popular spot because well, it’s beautiful, and there are a number of interesting hikes that begin in that area. The Internet advised me to get there early because the parking lot fills up and the line for the boat shuttle across the lake gets long.

So, we were indeed out of the cabin by 7 and on that boat at 7:30. There weren’t many cars in the parking lot and we just walked right on the boat, but by the time we drove away around noon, the parking lot was full and folks were parking on the road.

I’ll mention that at 7:30 am, there was a line of cars waiting to get into the campground, though.

So, across the lovely lake in that early chill with the absolutely gorgeous mountains as a backdrop. I’m really glad we did this hike, not only because, well, it was a good hike, but because it gave us a chance to actually see the Grand Tetons – up close, visibility was fine, but as the day progressed, from any greater distance, the smoke from all those fires in the West continued to obscure them.

— 4 —

We hiked up to Inspiration Point, and then continued on the Cascade Canyon trail. We didn’t go the whole way – we made the judgment call at 10 that we’d been going for two hours, which meant (we are geniuses!) it would be two hours back, and we didn’t really want to finish up much later than noon. I’m guessing we did about 2/3 of the trail. I’m glad we went early because the numbers of folks meeting us going forward as we were returning was staggering, with probably half of them stopping to ask some version of , “See any cool animals up ahead?”

Answer was “no” because the cool animal we’d seen was at the beginning of the hike – this guy.

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But no bears out there today.

— 5 –

It was a gorgeous, gorgeous hike. The author of a book on Grand Teton hiking that I’d read said in his opinion, the Hermitage Point trail we did yesterday was the best in the park, and that I can’t figure out. That was nothing compared to this, with soaring mountains on either side,  walking above a rapidly coursing creek, studying the snow packs melting into streams.

— 6 –

Then to Dornan’s for lunch – a good (according to my son) Buffalo burger. Some conversation about doing a float down the Snake River – in other words, something that involved sitting rather than walking – but there was little interest. So we drove instead. Drove to check out the famed “Mormon Row” – a frequently photographed site (picturesque barn with the Tetons in the background) and then something I was curious about – the Gros Ventre Landslide site – in 1925, a massive rockslide occurred, and there’s a spot with information and access to walk around the tumbled rocks a bit. According to this: Open.

Nope. We drove out there and the site was cordoned off. I’m guessing it is because they are about to resurface the very potholed road. That was too bad, but the good thing was that you can see the gaping hole in the mountain anyway. So that wasn’t a wasted twenty minutes by any means.

Then back for a rest, then out again – first stopping to buy sandwiches at the general store, then to Signal Mountain, with an overlook to the east (lots of land) and west (Lake Jackson.) It was nice, although, again – the smoke-shrouded mountain had a certain effect, but not the optimal effect.

— 7 —

However – two sites made the trip even more special. First was the sunset. Unfortunately, none of our photography could capture it. While this picture is sort of nice, what you should know is that in Real Life, the sun and its reflection on the lake were equally brilliant shades of orange. It was one of the more stunning sites I’ve seen.

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And then, near the bottom of the hill…this fellow. Calmly munching, ignoring us all. Which is good. No complaints there.

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—1 —

An interesting few days.

The two fellows who still live here are gone for a bit to visit family elsewhere. They’ll be back early next week, but for the moment, I’m alone for the first time since Christmas.

I was talking to my son who lives in NYC, where they’re opening things up, slowly but surely. The past week, he’s finally had some consistent social, face-to-face interaction with friends again – for the first time in months.

Each of experiencing welcome change, for opposite, but related reasons.

I add – quickly – that it will also be a welcome change when the guys return!

But everyone needs a break now and then, yes?

— 2 —

So what am I doing? Working. I have a project due on June 20, and I’m trying to get it halfway finished by Monday. Then I can coast, working on it for probably an hour or so a day until it’s due.

For me, the part of a project like this that requires the most focus is the framing and thinking through the shape and emphasis of it. And that kind of focus is hard for me to grab in small chunks. I need to have a large expanse of time in which I know I’m not going to be interrupted by anything. It didn’t used to be that way, but you know, guys, I’ll be sixty in a few weeks, and so something like concentration is harder to come by.

Today (Thursday) was a framing/get in the groove day. That done, I can work on it for a couple of hours a day till Monday, and then put my mind to the next fiction project.

Still getting chapters of Nothing Else Occurs to Me up on Wattpad. Slowly but surely. (Backstory: here)

— 3 —

So….we have a new bishop here in Birmingham. Bishop Steven Raica, formerly of the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan.

I’ve not met him yet, don’t know a thing about him.

If you’re interested, you can watch the Vespers and Installation Mass that were broadcast on EWTN. If you do, you’ll get to hear the voices of our Cathedral’s core schola, which has been singing Cathedral Masses even through much of the lockdown, when Masses were streaming-only, not public.

 

 

 

As I’ve said before, it’s an approach that makes sense. If you’re not going to have congregational singing, consider the liturgical history of the Church, consider what developed during the centuries when congregational singing in the West was not the norm – and use that. 

It’s far preferable than having to listen to someone gamely warbling Praise and Worship music up there all by themselves.

— 4 —

Okay, I’ve not only been working the past couple of days. I’ve tried to walk a couple of hours a day – which means listening to my BBC radio podcasts – and I’ve read quite a bit as well as (gasp) watched a few movies – films that wouldn’t interest my housemates. So let’s do a quick survey.

First, reading – I finally finished Trevor’s The Boarding-House. That was a tough slog. I was most interested in the structure of it, which switched between points of view very quickly without transitions, as well as the historical detail revealed about London in the early ’60’s. The switching was confusing at first (I read it on Kindle and thought there was something wrong with the formatting), but once I got accustomed to it, I didn’t mind. My problem with the book is that I didn’t care about any of the characters and couldn’t figure out why I should spend time with them.

Anyway, I have a couple more short novels that I checked out via Hoopla that I will try to knock off over the next couple of days, then I think I’m going to plunge back into some Wilkie Collins. I need an absorbing, crazy read like No Name (reviewed here) in my life. I’d started Poor Miss Finch a couple of weeks ago, and will probably return to that. 

— 5 –

Now, movies.

I started watching Rocketman. I did like a few Elton John songs as a teen, but am definitely not a fan, but I was curious about the structure of the film and wanted to see the sections about his early life. Ended up watching the whole thing, not because it was great, but simply because of inertia, I suppose.

I did like the structure – I mean, why not tell a sketchy biographical tale of a living musician by making it a musical of sorts? I actually liked most of the musical set-pieces quite a lot. I think they worked. But the psychological trajectory and personal motivation offered was superficial – to be expected when the piece is produced by intimates and is about a living figure – and formulaic.

Bernie Taupin emerges as the one person you wouldn’t mind spending time with, to be sure.

— 6 —

Il Posto via the Kanopy platform. I gather you’re not supposed to say this is Italian Neorealism, since it’s not immediately postwar, but, well, you could have fooled me. It’s slow and observant, and I liked it quite a bit.

It’s the story of a young man from a village outside Milan who travels to the great city to test for a job, gets the job and begins working at the job. That’s it. It offers us a fascinating look at Italian life in the period and a rather trenchant, mostly wordless critique of white-collar work in large companies.

Except he won’t, and that’s what is so crushing about Il Posto. Antonietta comes to represent the youthful dreams that stagnate in an office building and the drudgery a job enforces. Once Domenico accepts his position as a messenger, Olmi breaks away from his lead for the first time. He takes us on an evening tour of the off-the-clock activities of the accounting staff that Domenico will eventually join. Some have very common, uninspired existences, others harbor their youthful folly as if it were rare treasure. There is the older man who goes to the pub and sings a song that is intended for someone not so advanced in years, and the would-be novelist who scribbles out his book in secret, hiding his light under a towel. Domenico tells his new boss that he may still go to night school to pursue the vocation he wants, but Olmi is showing us the true likelihood of that happening. Domenico’s father told his son that a job like this one is for life, and as the boy will learn, these positions tend to only open up when somebody dies.

Much of Olmi’s framing is intentionally expressionistic. The corporate world alternates between imposing, with the workers appearing small next to the business structure, and claustrophobic, cramped into their own little spaces. On the other hand, though Ermanno Olmi and cameraman Lamberto Caimi shot Il Posto in such a way to show life as it was, hoping to render the dreary gray of an average day, the black-and-white photography has taken on a nostalgic beauty over the years. Domenico and his peers just look more stylish, with their clean haircuts and their suits and ties, than we expect our youths to look today. Looking at Il Posto is like looking at photographs in a vintage magazine back issue: by being frozen in time, the images seem simpler, more desirable, than the busy world we’re used to today. Maybe that was by design. Maybe Olmi wanted it all to look hopeful and modern if only to add to the impact of the crushing blows to come.

The subverted ending of Il Posto sneaks up on the audience. We’ve been trained to expect something more, just like Domenico. We realize that there is nothing else mere moments before he does, and we can only brace ourselves for the heartbreak that is coming.

— 7 —

The Virgin Spring (1960) | The Criterion Collection

Finally, in a move that will please Son #2, I finally watched The Virgin Spring – his pick for his #1 Bergman. Here’s his review, and here’s his list. 

(He’s currently working his way through Hitchcock)

Okay, okay. I agree. It’s a great film, and I’m glad I finally watched it. I’m not an afficiando of Bergman’s films, but I have come to understand a bit about his spiritual-wrestling throughreading my son’s reviews. 

The standouts of that violence made the contemporary New York Times critic say that the movie was a thin morality tale below Bergman’s talents, but there’s actually so much more. What is there just isn’t spoken about, but it lingers in the background of everything. The conflict between the paganism of Odin and the monotheism of the new Christianity isn’t a stand-in for a simplistic good vs. evil battle. Instead, there are interesting shades within each character that drive the ideas even further. The father, Tore, obviously clings to his old pagan ways and has been dragged into the new Christianity by his wife Mareta. Their daughter, Karin, is beautiful and eager to look her best for her mission to deliver candles to the church, but she is also haughty, entitled, and manipulates her parents with ease. Ingeri, the pregnant Odin worshiper the family has taken in as a ward, prays for Karin’s defilement but confesses to Tore after the crime and begs for the punishment Tore will mete out to the perpetrators.

Where this movie stands out in Bergman’s filmography most for me is the thematic thrust of the film. The Virgin Spring came out in 1960, just a few years after the existential The Seventh Seal and right before the Silence Trilogy, and yet the thematic point isn’t a form of rejection of religion. In fact, the titular spring is an embrace of the idea that man’s concept of God, as manifested by the Church, is correct. It’s a natural extension of the story he was trying to tell, but also an artifact of the fact that he didn’t actually write the movie. God is still silent in the face of the violence placed upon the innocent Karin, but the existence of the spring that shoots from where her lifeless head had laid for a day, opening up immediately after Tore had promised to build a church of mortar and stone on the spot, is God’s communication. He speaks more in that than in anything else Bergman made.

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