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Archive for the ‘National Park Service’ Category

You all know how this sort of entry begins: I was poking around the Internet looking for a public domain book to read

..and I found the first few pages of The Professor’s House by Willa Cather. It grabbed my interest, but it was late at night, so I made a mental note to see if the library had it.

And yes, it did.

Last night I settled down with it, and revisited, for the first time in a long time, that wonderful – wonderful – feeling of having a real book in hand and thinking, I’m going to read this tonight.  As in: read from beginning to end, start and finish, and long after everyone has gone to sleep, I’ll be in dialogue with an intelligent companion, listening to her story.

It is not a long book, but even so, I almost didn’t finish it – I got quite tired at the end, but did manage it, although the next day (today) I did have to refresh my memory with the last "amy welborn"few pages as to how it all came out.

It’s a bit of an odd book. It seems a touch cobbled together, which, in a way, it was, considering one element of the story took shape in Cather’s mind long before the framing story. The description on the cover of the edition I got from the library says The story of a cloistered scholar’s discover of his own soul through contact with the world of reality.

Well, okay. Sort of.

I really hate summarizing plots, so I will let someone else do that part of it. From Goodreads:

On the eve of his move to a new, more desirable residence, Professor Godfrey St. Peter finds himself in the shabby study of his former home. Surrounded by the comforting, familiar sights of his past, he surveys his life and the people he has loved — his wife Lillian, his daughters, and Tom Outland, his most outstanding student and once, his son-in-law to be. Enigmatic and courageous—and a tragic victim of the Great War — Tom has remained a source of inspiration to the professor. But he has also left behind him a troubling legacy which has brought betrayal and fracture to the women he loves most.

I experienced this novel as a meditation – a meditation on the relationship between scientific understanding, technological development and the rest of life. A meditation on the purpose of our life’s activities. It has a touch of idealized romanticism that almost makes it veer off-course, but not quite. The characters do not quite work as one-hundred percent realized human beings – they all seem to stand for something more than exist in the real world, but I found Cather’s writing powerful enough, especially in descriptions of landscape and the tenacity with which she excavates the professor’s inner life  – to let it go.

What I saw here were characters who have lost touch with the spiritual, not in the sense that they have lost faith mediated by religious institutions, but simply in that they are materialists: they have forgotten that life on earth and the earth itself are more than what our senses tell us.  We know more about how it all works and we can manipulate it with great efficiency and profit from what we do with the things of the earth, but none of that connects us with what is most real.

And although Cather herself was not Catholic, it is, as it usually is for her, Catholicism that offers the alternative. The rather mysterious inspiration for much of what happens, whom we know died in the Great War before the events of the novel commence, is Tom Outland, orphaned as a young man in  the Southwest. He is taken care of by a kind family, works hard for a railroad company, then has a profound spiritual epiphany out in the wilderness, when he encounters the remnants of ancient civilizations in a fictional place that was inspired by the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. That initially inchoate sensibility is then helped along and given form by a Belgian missionary priests who takes Tom under his wing and teaches him, simply Latin, the knowledge of which – and the readings in Virgil and so on he has done – are all he takes with him when he shows up at the professor’s house.

Even more importantly, I think, is the character of Augusta. She is a German seamstress who shares the attic space in the professor’s old house. She sews for the family during the day, and her patterns and dress form keep the professor company at night while he works there, his preferred space to that more formal study down in the family home. She is a sensible, forthright woman, and a Catholic.

The two of them have an understanding. The novel begins with the two of them bantering, and ends with them in the same room, one having rescued the other. They have both done good work in that room, with all of its flaws, a room that was less than ideal for both of them. What happens in between the first chapter and the final is the end of one stage of life, a recognition of its goodness and its limitations and a hint of how to move forward. For the professor, the Catholic seamstress represents a way:

If he had thought of Augusta sooner, he would have got up from the couch sooner. Her image would have at once suggested the proper action.

It is a bit of a challenge to unpack that without revealing what incident precedes it, and I actually saw it coming from the beginning…call it Chekov’s gas heater…but I don’t want to spoil it too much, in case you are moved to read the novel. The point is that nothing else in his life, not his loving family, not his successful career, prompted him to dig down and keep living – except for Augusta, sitting there with her prayer book.

The professor has come to a point in his life in which nothing in the present really engages him. He’s done. But, that glimmer:

There was still Augusta, however; a world full of Augustas, with whom one was outward bound.

I hasten to add that this is not romantic – Augusta functions as a symbol of the spiritual reality of life, a reality that is not about dreams or phantasms, but about the spiritual dimension of life – any life, even one spent stitching drapes, tending to a home, and faithfully, quietly, going to Mass.

The professor is changed. He’s not in ecstasy, he’s not George in It’s a Wonderful Life. He just knows something, he knows something real, and “At least, he felt the ground under his feet.”

There are “plot points” that aren’t wrapped up. There’s not a lot of resolution here. But it’s a book that gave me quite a bit to think about as Cather roams through the professor’s consciousness, and then with him and the other characters through the upper Midwest, Europe and the Southwest. And there’s this, which you might appreciate – it’s from one of the professor’s lectures:

I don’t myself think much of science as a phase of human development. It has given us a lot of ingenious toys; they take our attention away from the real problems, of course, and since the problems are insoluble, I suppose we ought to be grateful for distraction. But the fact is, the human mind, the individual mind, has always been made more interesting by dwelling on the old riddles, even if it makes nothing of them. Science hasn’t given us any new amazements, except of the superficial kind we get from witnessing dexterity and sleight-of-hand. It hasn’t given us any richer pleasures, as the Renaissance did, nor any new sins-not one! Indeed, it takes our old ones away. It’s the laboratory, not the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world. You’ll agree there is not much thrill about a physiological sin. We were better off when even the prosaic matter of taking nourishment could have the magnificence of a sin. I don’t think you help people by making their conduct of no importance-you impoverish them. As long as every man and woman who crowded into the cathedrals on Easter Sunday was a principal in a gorgeous drama with God, glittering angels on one side and the shadows of evil coming and going on the other, life was a rich thing. The king and the beggar had the same chance at miracles and great temptations and revelations. And that’s what makes men happy, believing in the mystery and importance of their own little individual lives. It makes us happy to surround our creature needs and bodily instincts with as much pomp and circumstance as possible. Art and religion (they are the same thing, in the end, of course) have given man the only happiness he has ever had.

 

 

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— 1 —

Well, we started with four…and now there are two.

Big trees in the yard, that is.

The two remaining are solid, though, so I’m not worried.

This one, though, was due. I admit that I knew it, too, and at least once a day, I pondered its form, which seem to lean just a bit more every day, and I thought, I really should call someone.

And so I did…at 12:30 am Wednesday morning.

I was sitting here (#nightowl) when the silence was broken by a strong and earth-shaking THUD.

I peeked in the boys’ rooms, even though it really had not sounded like someone had tumbled out of bed or knocked over a lamp in their sleep. All was well. So I peered out the window in the front door, and what a strange, disorienting feeling to see emptiness where you’ve been trained to see a hulking mass of branches twisting up to the sky.

I had never been too worried about it, because I was 99% sure that if and when it did fall, it was angled so it wouldn’t hit anything…and it didn’t. Just the driveway, which it blocked, fully and effectively.

(It was a calm night – no winds or rain. So why did it fall? I suppose because after over two months of drought, the rains had come. Quite a bit of rain over the past week, as a matter of fact. It was not in good shape anyway, and I suppose whatever was left of its roots just slipped out of that soaked earth.)

So the first thing to do was to text my carpool partner with the news and the hope that she could take everyone in the morning because I was blocked in. Second was to call the tree service that promised 24/7 reponse…to get a voicemail. It was fine. I didn’t want anyone to come out right at that moment, but I did want to be first in line for the morning…which I was.

By noon it was all gone and smoothed over.

— 2 —

It was an old, rotting, gnarly tree, but we have each commented that we miss it. It was the only climbable tree in the yard, and it was a home and resting place for all sorts of life.  It really did seem as if the birds that were around that afternoon were confused. It was full of bird-home holes, it had spaces for pools of water to collect which satiated birds and squirrels, and the hummingbirds used it as a Launchpad for dive-bombing the feeder.

— 3—

In case you missed it, I was in Living Faith earlier this week – on the 4th and 5th.  And, as I pointed out yesterday on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, you can get my Mary book free here.

Speaking of the Immaculate Conception, nothing like hearing a homily at your IC Mass that is in essence: 1) You know, no one even thought of this thing until the 12th century.  2) Smart people like Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux were against it.  3) A Pope went ahead and made it dogmatic in 1854. Whatever, it’s a nice metaphor, guys, so feel free to believe..something.

Dude was old and has probably helped more people in his life than I would in ten lifetimes. But seriously.

— 4 —

Perhaps some of you remember the 1990’s PBS series, Wishbone. My older kids grew up with it, and I confess, I loved it. The conceit? A dog daydreams about being a character in various works of literature. It was kind of crazy, but it actually worked.

And believe it or not, the show actually dramatized a religious narrative in Viva, Wishbone! – which involved Our Lady of Guadalupe, in which our friend Wishbone portrays, yes, Juan Diego.

(Why do I bring this up? It’s his feast today)

Now, the story deviates. I just watched a bit of the climax, and the whole roses/tilma thing is not presented as the traditional narrative would have it. So you might not want to use it as a catechetical tool. But take a look on YouTube, and just remember a time – not so long ago – when even PBS portrayed religion as something other than the Opium of Particularly Stupid Bigots.

Access parts 2 & 3 via this link.

 

Also…St. Juan Diego in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. Under “Saints are People Who See Beyond the Everyday.”

— 5 —.

Aside from Silence and other Endo and Endo-related work, this week I read A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. I think it was less than two bucks on Kindle or something for a couple of days, so I picked it up.  Levin was a screenwriter and author of several high-concept novels which contributed both new words to the language and almost folkloric images: The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby and the Somebody-Cloned-Hitler Boys from Brazil.

A Kiss Before Dying was his first novel, written in his mid-20’s. It’s been adapted for film twice: first in 1956, starring Robert Wagner, and then in 1991, starring Matt Dillon. The trailer for the ’56 version is just so…over the top. Or over the roof. What have you.

Anyway, the first 2/3 of the novel were good and fairly absorbing, with some twisty-elements that made you pause, go back and re-read. The twists weren’t so much with the plot itself, but with the narrative framework, which trips you up. But there’s none of that in the last third – just a more routine cat-and-mouse trajectory which I skimmed pretty quickly. Those twists, being formal, are impossible to convey on film – let’s put it this way: even though it’s not the same “twist” – the situation would be like trying to convey the twist at the end of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd on film in a way that hits you the same way it does while reading. I don’t think it can be done. So, as the risible 1956 trailer makes clear, without that interest, you don’t have a lot left.

So sure, that’s what I do. You play video games or watch HGTV. I read odd mid-century novels that strike my fancy and are free, or at least cheap.

— 6—

I don’t think I have mentioned this article in the Atlantic by Deb Fallows. It’s about our downtown Birmingham Public Library. I have written – or at least Instagrammed – about this building before. The murals are quite something, and unfortunately nothing that anyone would ever to decorate a public building with today. Fallows writes about the murals, but more importantly, the research department, which holds some treasures, including a jail log book with Martin Luther King Jr’s signature for that time he spent…in a Birmingham jail.

— 7 —

 

Speaking of such things, it was great to hear that the feds are giving a chunk of our downtown National Historic Monument designation (not quite National Park…but good anyway).  If you are ever here in town, it’s an area you should go visit – the 16th Street Baptist Church, Linn Park, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. I’ve been to most of the Civil Rights-centered museums in the Southeast, and I’m not going to hesitate to say that I think that BCRI is the best. It’s a very good museum.  This article in our local alt-weekly tells the story of this area and how and why the new status was obtained.

“This is the place. This place is me,” Herbert Simms said, as he walked along the slick, leaf-covered sidewalk. He stopped and hunched over a puddle near a statue of a young boy being violently handled by a police officer and his dog. “They beat me here. That statue right there, for I all I know, that’s me too.” Simms, now 75, spoke quietly as he reflected on his role in this place, Kelly Ingram Park, and how it has shaped his life and the world he’s come to know.

He wondered why it took so long for this particular spot he’s known to be designated as a national historic monument. “This place is all of us…all of us. We changed the world here,” Simms said.

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

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— 1 —

Some of you might have heard an NPR story that ran last week about the town of Geel, Belgium. For hundreds of years, Geel has practiced radical hospitality towards the mentally ill and mentally disabled:

The integration of people with mental disorders into Geel society has fascinated scholars for centuries. In 1862, Dr. Louiseau, a visiting French doctor, described it as “the extraordinary phenomenon presented at Geel of 400 insane persons moving freely about in the midst of a population which tolerates them without fear and without emotion.” Nearly 100 years after that, an American psychiatrist named Charles D. Aring wrote in the journal JAMA, “The remarkable aspect of the Gheel experience, for the uninitiated[,] is the attitude of the citizenry.”

Early psychiatrists who observed Geel noticed that the treatment prescribed for mental patients was, in fact, no treatment at all. “To them, treating the insane, meant to simply live with them, share their work, their distractions,” Jacques-Joseph Moreau wrote in 1845. He and others advocated for that communion. “In a colony, like in Geel, the crazy people … have not completely lost their dignity as reasonable human beings.” In the next half-century, many would uphold Geel’s model as the best standard of practice for mental disorders.

This story is a very useful antidote to the current popular notion that it’s only recently that Catholics have learned how to be merciful, that in the past, the Church was all about building walls and elevating doctrine above pastoral care and looking inward.

How interesting that somehow, in this doctrinally “strict” culture in which no one supposedly understood what it really meant to follow Christ because the Mass was in Latin said quietly by the priest with His! Back! To! The! People!...this happened.

In the mid-14th century, Geel erected a church in Dymphna’s honor; it was built on the spot where she was buried. Around this time, rumors spread about disturbed individuals who were cured upon visiting Geel. As these accounts circulated, people began bringing disturbed family members, hoping for their own miracle. And many embattled souls made it to Geel on their own.

A building contiguous to St. Dymphna Church was built to accommodate the troubled pilgrims. Soon enough, the capacity of this structure was exceeded. Church authorities appealed to the citizens of Geel, who responded in a way that would eventually designate Geel as “the charitable city”: They welcomed mentally ill strangers into their homes.

The Geel community showed remarkable compassion, particularly for an era when most any sort of psychological aberration was viewed as being due to demonic influence or possession. Ronald J. Comer’s Abnormal Psychology mentions the typical techniques of the time for dealing with the psychologically aberrant. Exorcisms, of course, were performed. “Holy water” or “bitter drinks” might be administered. If these remedies failed to produce results, the ensuing therapy could consist of flogging, scalding, stretching of limbs, or starvation. It was hoped that these extreme measures might expunge the iniquity.

In contrast to these measures was the Geel way, in which the mentally ill, who were called “boarders” instead of “patients,” became a valued part of the community. Many of the boarders helped with agricultural labor. They were allowed to go about the village, and some even became regulars at local taverns. Some boarders stayed in Geel for only a few months; others stayed for the rest of their lives.

The boarder population peaked in the year 1938, when the number reached 3,736. About 1,600 remained by the late 1970s. Geel now has some 500 boarders and a total population of about 35,000.

For hundreds and hundreds of years, Geel was heavily influenced by purported miracles and the supernatural influence of Dymphna. This changed when St. Dymphna Church was closed by French revolutionary armies in 1797. Although the church would reopen, there was a paradigm shift after the French Revolution, as mental illness became the “concern of doctors, and not of pastors,” according to Eugeen Roosens, author of Mental Patients in Town Life: Geel — Europe’s First Therapeutic Community.

 

— 2 —

Here’s a nugget for the New Evangelization:

Southern Baptist congregations are also losing members who are leaving the faith altogether. The losses here are worse than to evangelical churches. Sure, some people who grew up with no religion convert and join an SBC church. But for each convert, the SBC loses three of its youth who grow up to have no religious affiliation.

Not all who leave the SBC do so for other conservative or moderate churches. There is about three percent who join liberal Protestant churches. There is also a couple percent who join a non-Christian religion. Southern Baptists rarely bring in members from either group.

The only net-gain for the SBC are from Catholics. Very few who grew up in an SBC church convert to Catholicism. Southern Baptists are able to bring in about two Catholics for every one they lose to the Catholic Church.

 

— 3 —

I may have mentioned this before, but if you are on Instagram, consider adding the African Catholics account to your feed. It will greatly expand your churchy vision.

 — 4 —

Earlier this week, we took a little Georgia foray. The boys had spent the Fourth in Florida and I went to fetch them. On the way back we stopped in Albany and Columbus.

We had stopped in Albany last year  – after our Warm Springs visit – at the Ray Charles memorial downtown. It was blistering hot, so we didn’t linger. This time, after a meal at the Yelp-recommended Pearly’s Famous Country Cooking – super friendly have a blessed day service –  we stopped at the Chehaw Park, which featured a small zoo.

And again – shockingly for midday in the beginning of July – it was super hot and the animals responded in kind. But – we didn’t pay any admission because of our zoo membership here, and I wouldn’t have stopped if we had to pay, anyway.

So it was worth a 30-minute stop that wasn’t out of the way on the journey somewhere else to see a bunch of gators, some chameleons, two beaded lizards, a few other interesting reptiles, some meerkats and a rhino. But not worth a separate trip, for sure. Especially if you ever, you know, visited a zoo before.

— 5 

Then Columbus. Well, let me explain something first.

If you are traveling from Birmingham to the not-panhandle of Florida, there are three ways you can go.

First, you can head down 65 to Montgomery, then take a state highway to Troy, then Dothan, then cross over to Florida, catch I-10 and drive east. I did that once and swore never again. Horrible. The road between Montgomery and Dothan is slow and going around Dothan is hellish. I’m convinced the Dothan city fathers and mothers keep it that way to encourage you to just give up on driving, stay a while and spend some money.

Secondly, there is a more diagonal path out of Birmingham on a highway 280 that takes you down towards Auburn, then across the border to Columbus, by Albany and then catching I-75 somewhere, perhaps Tifton. I had never taken this way because I didn’t know how fast the state roads were. I had visions of stopping at stoplights in small towns every five miles.

Last, there is straight interstate. This is the longest, mile-wise, and Google Maps hardly ever recommends it, but it’s also usually the fastest. I-20 across to Atlanta, the 75 down to Florida. Because you can go, er, 70 mph, it’s quicker than any of the others if there are no traffic issues. Recently, though, they have been doing construction south of Atlanta, and that Google Maps shows lots and lots of red in that area, which I experienced when I took them down last week, so when I returned with them, I thought we’d go the Columbus way, not only because I thought it was time to give it a chance, but also because I wanted to see Columbus.

(I had thought about doing Andersonville this trip – but ultimately decided it needed more context and time to process the awfulness, and this wasn’t the moment for that.)

As it turns out, you can go pretty fast on much of the route -the speed limit is 65 for big stretches of it. The only aggravating part of it to me was between Albany and 75, which seemed interminable on the way down, but that might be because it was dark and I was ready to stop.

6–

Anyway, Columbus.

Columbus is on the Chatahoochee River, which also flows up around Atlanta…a big river. It’s also the home of the huge Fort Benning, so there’s a substantial military presence and identity in the town. Our primary destinations were two this time: the National Infantry Museum and the riverfront.

The first is large and designed to impress. The exhibits are very well done, absorbing and not jingoistic at all. We didn’t see all of it because we didn’t arrive until 3:45 and they close at 5, but we did get a good look at their most well-known exhibit “The Last 100 Yards” and exhibit halls that traced the history of the infantry. I learned a few things – like in the days of the calvary, horses were sorted by color for different units to better identify them.

Part of “The Last 100 Yards” exhibit

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The WWI Trench exhibit was very good and helpful for understanding. 

(Note – the museum is free, but donations encouraged)

There’s also a Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, which I would like to hit next time.

Then it was down to the Riverfront, and we saw once again how the presence of water really helps a downtown – something we don’t have here in land-locked Birmingham. It’s not as park-like as the Greeneville, South Caroline riverfront and not as busy and commercially vibrant as Chattanooga, but it’s not dead either, by any means. There’s a whitewater rafting service that runs the rapids – but it didn’t seem like a very long course, unless I wasn’t understanding the set-up. The same service runs a zipline across the river, so you can zip from Georgia to Alabama, if you like.


Riverfront, white water course..on right, turbines and in background one of the many former cotton warehouses and mills that lined the river. 

 

It was nice – we might return – it’s only 2.5 miles from Birmingham, and there’s a state park nearby: Providence Canyon, which is apparently impressive, but also educational since it’s not the result of millenia of natural erosion, but of poor 19th and early 20th century farming practices. It’s also (they say) best to see it when the leaves are off the trees. And probably not so damn hot. So we’ll wait for late fall/winter for that…

— 7 —

We’ll be on another short day-or-two trip next week, so stay tuned on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2) for that.

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

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It’s Thursday, May 21, and we need to get going, both back in history and in terms of these blog posts….

Now here’s an example of how it’s important, while traveling, to leave space and time for new and unexpected discoveries.  At this point, the shape of the next three days was to be mostly Bryce Canyon. But since I had never been there before, I had no idea how much time we would want or need to get our fill of it.  Would Thursday late afternoon and evening and Friday be enough? Or would that leave us aching for more and regretful that we didn’t have it? Would we want two full days? Three? The accommodations were booked – Thursday and Friday night at Bryce, Saturday night just over the border in Arizona, on the way to the Grand Canyon. But we could spend all day Thursday at Bryce (once we arrived)…or just the evening.  We could spend most of the day Saturday, too. Hmmm.

Decision time.  So, since we had that stretch of time open to us on Saturday, upon rising Thursday morning, I thought we might take a slight detour, head just fifteen minutes north of St. George to Snow Canyon State Park.

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It was…great. 

We spent all morning there, and could have probably spent the day.

It’s a gorgeous, fascinating landscape with lots of fossilized sand dunes, lava fields and white hills (hence the name).

(We never got the white hills, by the way)

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We spent our morning climbing over the dunes.

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Then set out in search of lava tunnels.

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"snow canyon state park"

The trail to those tunnels is clearly marked at first, but somehow, we missed another sign at a crossroads – later, when we did find it, we all wondered how we’d missed it, but we did. No matter. That particular detour led, as detours often do, though, to one of the more memorable sites of our trip – a prairie dog stretched out in a bush, leisurely stuffing berries into its furry fat cheeks.

We didn’t actually go into the lava tunnels because we weren’t at all equipped for it, and besides, I don’t do things like go into lava tunnels when I’m traveling alone with two kids. I’ll do a lot, but I always have the what if something happens  caution in the back of my mind. I mean…there’s only me. Aside from my obvious safety concerns about my kids, sorry, but * I*  have to stay safe. There’s no fallback.

I believe I had read about this park before, but hadn’t worked it in because I was fixated on the big sites and, I’ll repeat, I had no good understanding of the distances, and didn’t realize that it was such an easy drive from St. George. It would be a great spot to spend an entire day…or two….

"amy welborn"

We finished up around lunchtime then headed back into St. George to the Chick-fil-A my son had tracked down, and then it was on to Bryce….

"bryce canyon"

Which is amazing. Other-worldly, and quite out of the blue. You could spend your life living five miles away and never know it’s there – which is sort of what happened, historically.

Almost every natural site we visited on this trip was a canyon or valley, but none were anything at all alike.

Bryce Canyon is called a “canyon,” but it’s not primarily formed, as most “canyons” are by a body of water moving through it, carving that canyon which is the first stage to “valley.”

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These hoodoos and other formations have been formed, they say, not by the wind-generated erosion like that which formed the hoodoos we saw in New Mexico, but by a particular process.  Bryce is in an area subject to extreme temperature variations. During the winter, there is a lot of snow and ice, which settles into the rock. With all these temperature fluctuations and the presence of the freezing, then melting ice, the softer forms of rock crack and erode away.

Let’s backtrack a bit.  How did I get to Bryce? Well, I drove on the interstate 15, then up and over.  For the next few days we’d be staying in accommodations that, I knew, held monopolies over the areas in which they were located, and prices on things like breakfast bars and snacks and fruit would be high (I was right).  I wanted to avoid being gouged, so a side-trip to the Wal-Mart in Cedar City, Utah seemed like a good idea, and it was….and by the way, that was a bit of a shock…to get out of the car into temps in the high 30’s? What?

(It ended up not being that cold in Bryce, though.)

The drive to Bryce takes you through the beautiful and aptly named Red Canyon, which we would visit on the way out.

Now, this part of the entry is for those considering visiting Bryce.  I want to clarify a couple of points that were fuzzy to me before I got there and actually saw how things were laid out.

If you want to stay at Bryce, you don’t have a busy little town as you do at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, or Springdale outside of Zion, with more accommodations and restaurants from which to choose that are right there. (Not necessarily a bad thing, except….)

Starting from the closest to Bryce, your choices are:

  • To stay in the park and the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge, part of the NPS, but operated by Forever Resorts (which also operates the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge).  This is, of course, right in the park, with hiking trails jutting off from it – great location.  There are rooms in the lodge itself, plus a bunch of cabins, which looked nice.  I checked here, but there was never any availability that popped up during the month I was searching. Note, there’s no internet at the Lodge.
  • Moving out from there, you have  the Ruby’s Inn complex right outside the park itself – and I mean, right outside. It’s a five minute drive from the Visitor’s Center. There are two hotels, a general store, a souvenir shop, a campground, gas station, etc. The hotels are now part of the Best Western chain. Super convenient, but you pay for it.
  • Then moving maybe ten to fifteen minutes further down the road, off the Ruby’s Inn property, there are a number of smaller hotels, motels and cabin outfits.

Of course, you can guess that the price of the accommodations increases, the closer you get to the park.

The Lodge wasn’t going to happen for us, so I settled on Ruby’s Inn. It wasn’t terrible. It was fine!  The room was clean and normal sized. I got an internet special, so that helped.  But if I were to do it again, I wouldn’t stay there. Here’s why:

  • The distance of the other, smaller, less expensive accommodations from the park isn’t that far, and the drive is very easy.  You’re not having to deal with winding switchbacks or driving through miles of nothing to get from those further-away hotels to Bryce Canyon.  You can stay in a decent place for less money that’s fifteen minutes away on straight roads that are no hassle to drive any time of the day or night.
  • The Ruby’s Inn complex is a monopoly – they own that property right outside the park (they were the original developers of the area as a park, and that’s all a very interesting history), and ….they hold that monopoly.  Prices on food in both the stores and in the restaurants are very high – ridiculously high, even for an area in which prices do tend to be higher in restaurants because of a general lack of competition and the cost of getting supplies.  I mean….$23 for a mediocre buffet for anyone over 11?
  • I just wouldn’t want to get caught in that web again.

So, that said, there we are…

Checked in, along with half of Germany and a third of Japan (amazing!), and set out to explore.  We drove into the Visitor’s Center, looked around there, then drove on down to a couple of hiking/walking trailheads.

(Note – Bryce, like Zion, runs a shuttle bus system.  Unlike Zion during the summer months, it’s not required, but recommended because of possible parking issues. We drove the car, and had no issues, but it was also early in the season.  Judging from what I saw, I would guess that taking the shuttle in the summer would be your best choice unless you were getting there at 6 AM)

OH – forgot this.  Admission to these popular parks is not cheap, and that’s okay, since they really are one of the things that we do best, and a big chunk of the rest of the world gets to us via these parks, so they’re worth the upkeep. Plus, Nature.  It’s now $25 per private car. Because we were visiting so many of these parks on this trip, I opted to just go ahead and purchase the “America the Beautiful” pass for $80 that gets us into all federal recreation sites (that sounds….penitentiary-like, doesn’t it?).

We drove out to Sunset Point, then walked the Rim Trail to Inspiration Point. Then we did a big chunk of the Queen’s Garden Trail.

It really is unreal.

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And gorgeous.

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Then back to settle in a bit more, eat and then return to the Lodge for a nighttime ranger program on astronomy. We drove out to the Lodge, at which point I discovered I had the program time wrong, so we had 45 minutes to kill. We killed it by driving up through a good chunk of the park and stopping at various viewpoints.

At one viewpoint, there was a very friendly, large raven.  The couple that was there when we drove up said it just hopped right up to them. No fear.  Obviously it has been fed by human beings, and this is too bad.  It really was a little menacing, very Birds-like.  When we went to our car it roused itself and flew right to our car, obviously holding out for one last opportunity.  People are stupid.  Don’t feed the wildlife. Please!

Now, back to the Lodge for the program.  I had been looking forward to this.  In fact, I had scheduled us to be at Bryce on a Thursday night so we could catch one of these astronomy programs.  It turned out not to be….the best use of our time for a couple of reasons.

  • It was cloudy.  This couldn’t be helped, but it did mean there would be no actual star-viewing.  But surely the program would be worth it anyway?
  • Sorry, no. We heard some ranger programs at the Grand Canyon that were very good, and this, unfortunately, was not anywhere near the standard of those.  The well-intentioned, enthusiastic fellow spent an hour giving a sort-of history of the science of astronomy, most of which was familiar to anyone with a high school education and not engagingly-enough presented to interest anyone else.   I had expected a presentation about the skies above Bryce Canyon in May  – what’s up there, how to see it, where to look….and that’s not what we got at all. It was fairly torturous.  Not a good start to the NPS Ranger talk program…but it did get much better, so stay tuned for that.

But this would be awaiting us in the morning….so get a good night’s sleep!

"amy welborn"

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