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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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Tomorrow (June 27) is the memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria.  Here’s what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said about St. Cyril in his General Audience in 2007:

Cyril’s writings – truly numerous and already widely disseminated in various Latin and Eastern translations in his own lifetime, attested to by their instant success – are of the utmost importance for the history of Christianity. His commentaries on many of the New and Old Testament Books are important, including those on the entire Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels of John and Luke. Also important are his many doctrinal works, in which the defence of the Trinitarian faith against the Arian and Nestorian theses recurs. The basis of Cyril’s teaching is the ecclesiastical tradition and in particular, as I mentioned, the writings of Athanasius, his great Predecessor in the See of Alexandria. Among Cyril’s other writings, the books Against Julian deserve mention. They were the last great response to the anti-Christian controversies, probably dictated by the Bishop of Alexandria in the last years of his life to respond to the work Against the Galileans, composed many years earlier in 363 by the Emperor known as the “Apostate” for having abandoned the Christianity in which he was raised.

The Christian faith is first and foremost the encounter with Jesus, “a Person, which gives life a new horizon” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 1). St Cyril of Alexandria was an unflagging, staunch witness of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, emphasizing above all his unity, as he repeats in 433 in his first letter (PG 77, 228-237) to Bishop Succensus: “Only one is the Son, only one the Lord Jesus Christ, both before the Incarnation and after the Incarnation. Indeed, the Logos born of God the Father was not one Son and the one born of the Blessed Virgin another; but we believe that the very One who was born before the ages was also born according to the flesh and of a woman”. Over and above its doctrinal meaning, this assertion shows that faith in Jesus the Logos born of the Father is firmly rooted in history because, as St Cyril affirms, this same Jesus came in time with his birth from Mary, the Theotò-kos, and in accordance with his promise will always be with us. And this is important: God is eternal, he is born of a woman, and he stays with us every day. In this trust we live, in this trust we find the way for our life.

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Cyril was, of course, a theologian, engaged in discourse concerned with theological precision.

We are often told these days that such concerns are nothing but casuistry.  Theology, it is sometimes said or at least implied, is an obstacle to faith.

And it can be.

This is of course, not a new discussion, and is indeed reflective of an authentic dynamic and tension within Christian discourse since….the beginning.

But as anyone with an understanding of what it means to be Catholic in its breadth and depth understands the danger of sweeping generalizations that sweep out one side of the either/or.

Catholicism is the expression of the loving Presence of Jesus Christ in the world. But the human beings Jesus encounters are intelligent, reasonable, and seek to understand.

Precision matters.  As time goes on, the precision might harden, become brittle and lifeless, and finally crack, but that doesn’t mean that the search for the closest words and ideas – even in negation – should be scoffed at or cast aside.  The process is important, and more than that, inevitable.  You can dismiss theological discourse, you can go on and on, talking in a “pastoral” way but do you know what?

Stubbornly, the questions will be raised.

How do you know this?

Where do your words come from?

Who is God?

Why is this a sin, but this not?

Who are you to tell me all about this, anyway?

Son of God? Mother of God? What? 

Questions that deserve answers with language as precise as possible, humble and so aware of the limitations of that language.

But yes, that deserve answers.  Which is what Catholic theology is all about, and what it’s for.

We keep talking, thinking, searching, in faith, aware of our limitations but also aware of who we are as rational beings created in the image of God.

Logos and agape.

Not either, not or.

Both.

— 3 —

Some interesting reading and listening this week.  The listening first.

As I said this past week on Twitter – spend  less time on Facebook this week and listen to some good podcasts instead.  As long time readers know, my favorites are those from BBC Radio 4, particularly In Our Time.  There is simply nothing like it on American radio.  A brisk jaunt through some topic led by Melvyn Bragg and three academics.  It’s very tightly structured, and not a free-for all, but it’s always interesting and disagreements are certainly aired.

It’s also very non-American in that it’s absolutely free from PC cant or snideness when addressing issues of religion.  Historical figures’ religious faith is taken seriously and respectfully.  So refreshing.

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This week I listened to an episode on Jane Eyre, which I confess….I’VE NEVER READ.  I have no idea how that happened, since as a teen, I read most of Austen, Hardy and even Middlemarch. 

That said, I think I’ll read it now….probably over this weekend.

The program examined Bronte’s life, particularly as it might have inspired various aspects of the book, her process of writing it, the plot and major themes, its reception and, at the end, its religious themes….as was pointed out, the last word in the novel is “Jesus.”

— 5 —

Next was an episode on the Curies.  I read a children’s biography of Marie Curie as a child and was quite inspired by it (obviously not to be a scientist, but there was a time around 5th grade when I thought I would be a doctor…so, sort of inspired, I guess).

Religion entered the discussion as the differences between Curie’s mother (observant Catholic) and father (atheist scientist) were touched on and brought back into play in the later French context.  Good discussion of the family dynamics, especially after Pierre’s death, and a clarifying section on Marie’s scientific achievements and the distinction between her chemistry and physics Nobel prizes. 

— 6 —

Speaking of 19th century women, over the past couple of days, I read a very good book called Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice Nimura.   It’s a very well-told history of five young Japanese women (really girls – ranging in age from 7 to young teens) who were sent from Japan to the United States to live and study in 1871.  Two returned fairly soon, but the three who remained ended up studying at Vassar and Bryn Mawr, Daughters of the Samuraiand each, in her own way, eventually made tremendous contributions to the cause of the education of Japanese women.

The author was blessed with fantastic resources – the women were faithful correspondents, some of which has been published, the American and eventually Japanese press covered various aspects of their lives, and they made speeches and wrote articles. 

Through the prism of these women’s lives, we learn quite a bit about late 19th century Japanese history and the sense that women in both countries had of themselves.

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And once again….religion. And again, religion treated respectfully and honestly, since Christian faith motivated many of the women’s American benefactors, and one of the Japanese women converted to Christianity herself.  What is clear is something that anyone who has studied the history of both Protestant and Catholic Christianity both in the context of Europe and in its encounters with other non-European cultures:

Christianity elevates the status of women. And it was understood to do so.

This is one of the rarely-discussed reasons that Christianity was resisted in some traditional patriarchal cultures.  It was a profound motivator, especially for female Protestant missionaries. Everything happens within a particular context, of course.   The Japanese women of Nimura’s tale had, in our view, a “limited” understanding of what education should accomplish, and expressed

dissatisfaction with later more “radical” (in the 1910’s!) visions being expressed by younger women.  But in their own time, their work on behalf of women’s education was certainly radical in and of itself.

A really enjoyable, rich read.

 As I was pouring over this book last night, I was thinking about why historical fiction doesn’t interest me. I mean…the minute I pick up a novel and see that it has a real historical figure at its center, I lose interest. (Not necessarily events, of course, just a novel built around a particular real person.) I think part of that is because historians today have access to such rich sources, they can put their hand to it and pull out a narrative that’s as intriguing as any novel – more so.

(That said, I also resisted history that embroiders in any way – that sets up scenes not derived directly from sources or enters an historical figure’s mind. Hate that.  I thought there might be a bit of that at  the beginning of this book, but turning to the notes, I saw that she pulled the scenes I was questioning directly from correspondence. )

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

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It’s iconic. Emblematic.

Is it even possible to visit the Grand Canyon non-ironically?

Can you even say “I’m going to the Grand Canyon” non-ironically?

Well, it’s Grand.

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge

But first, I want to backtrack and talk a bit about my planning for this part of the trip in detail.  Perhaps it will be useful to someone.

When you visit the Grand Canyon, you have two main choices: South Rim or North Rim. (There is also a Grand Canyon West,  where the Haulapai glass walkway is, but it not actually in the National Park. )

The South Rim is the more heavily visited section: about five million people a year visit the South Rim.  It’s closer to Phoenix, obviously, and closer to Las Vegas.  It’s very developed – there are many choices for accommodations and eating, and more nearby communities.

The North Rim gets a tenth of the South Rim’s traffic – about half a million people a year visit.

It’s more challenging to get to, with a tiny fraction of the tourist infrastructure as you find in the South.

But if your visit is oriented to the north – that is, you’re doing some iteration of the “Grand Circle” – it makes no sense to do the South Rim, which may be ten miles across the Canyon, but is a four hour drive from the North Rim.

And since we were doing Zion and Bryce, North Rim It was.

(Also good to note that if you want to see the Grand Canyon at any time other than between May and October, you must do the South Rim.  The North Rim is only open during the summer and early fall because of snow.)

Accommodations are a challenge.  Unless you are camping, there are only three even sort-of nearby choices for the North Rim.

About 45 minutes from the actual Grand Canyon is the Jacob Lake Inn, which also features a café, a small store, a well-known bakery and a gas station.  It would not be a bad choice, if you were just looking to spend one day at the park – and as I learned, while I was glad we spent two days, I think you can get a good sense of the Grand Canyon in one day – if the weather is good, you can actually do all of the driveable and walkable vistas and viewpoints in a day, easily.

Closer in, about 5 miles from the Park entrance (which would then put you still about 17 miles from the Rim), is the Kaibab Lodge.

Finally, in the park itself, is the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, operated by Forever Resorts (which operates several other NPS accommodations, including the Bryce Canyon Lodge.)

It is much larger than the other two, of course, with a variety of types of rooms, including regular motel rooms and cabins with various layouts. Because I didn’t want to drive 45 minutes back and forth, and because I just wanted the experience of being right there at the Grand Canyon, this was my choice.

So of course, given the distance of the other two accommodations from the actual park, you can see what’s most popular.  Which means it has a reputation of being devilishly hard to get – A YEAR IN ADVANCE YOU MUST.

Well…not so sure about that.

No, I wouldn’t wait until the week before I left, having purchased airfare and rented a car to finally get around to trying to get a room at the GCNR Lodge, and if you definitely know when you are going to be there, sure…go ahead and grab the rooms that far in advance.

But if you have flexibility and if you decide, for example, today, that you’re going to try to hit the North Rim next week…yes, you might be able to get a room, and if you’re thinking…maybe next month?  Sure.  You can do it.

Check the availability calendar (screenshot taken today –  6/24)  and see.

gcnp

And here’s the thing: at this point, you can make and cancel reservations at the Lodge with no penalty.  Yes, they charge your card with a deposit when you make the reservation, but I found that after making and cancelling a few times, they reversed the charges very quickly without having to be asked. And this is what people do – you grab something when it comes free, and then if you really would like something different, you wait, check many times a day, and when what you want comes free, you make that reservation and cancel the last one.

Availabilty changes constantly. Part of the reason, I think is that tour companies reserve blocks of rooms many months in advance, and as they change plans and group sizes, rooms become available.

So when I first started planning, I reserved a couple of days in the first rooms that came up, near the end of our trip. But then I started wondering if I really wanted us to do the Grand Canyon at the very end, and then have a fairly long drive back to Vegas, made even longer by everyone’s interest in seeing Death Valley, which is two hours beyond Vegas.  So I started looking at the middle of the trip, which was, unfortunately, Memorial Day.  The type of cabin I wanted finally came available for Monday the 25th, so it was up to me now to watch and wait to see if anything would come open either the 24th or 26th.  A few days later, the 24th came open for the same type of cabin, I booked it online, then called the reservations center to consolidate the bookings – they are super nice, and used to people doing this reserve/cancel/consolidate dance.

What did we finally get?

A “rim-side Pioneer Cabin.”

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge

Described here.

Some of the cabins are duplex style, this was not.  There were two bedrooms, one with a double bed, the other with bunks and a futon.  The bathroom was modern and clean, both rooms had space heaters, and there was a small fridge.  Yes it was, “rim-side” but unfortunately, ours didn’t exactly have a view. From the cabin.

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge

That’s our cabin on the right.   That’s how far I had to walk to get the view in the second photo.  Not bad!

There are “nicer” cabins with front porches, and that are larger, but those are all located closer to the actual Lodge (which might be nice for you if you don’t want to have to walk far to eat)…but that means they are also right in the thick of foot traffic – I mean, you get a front porch, but what you get to see (and hear) from your front porch is mostly other people walking around.

Some points, addressing complaints and comments about the Lodge one finds online:

  • I can’t speak to the non-cabin accommodations – the complaints are that they are small and cheaply done.  But the cabin we stayed in was just fine.  It was very clean, warm and not-buggy.  The linens were clean, the bathroom was modern.  I have no complaints.  Yes, it was a little expensive, but you are paying TO STAY AT THE GRAND CANYON.
  • There is walking involved.  You can’t pull right up to your cabin and unload your luggage at the door.  You may have to walk forty feet.  Oh dear. GRAND CANYON.
  • Noise? We didn’t experience any.  We weren’t, as I said, in a duplex cabin or motel room, so that wasn’t an issue.  I found the park very quiet and peaceful at night. You would hope so, right?
  • Note: NO WI-FI at the Lodge or any of those rooms.   There is a General Store at the campground, about a mile down the road, with Wi-Fi.  There was a part of me that thought they should have Wi-Fi at the Lodge, in the lobby area at least, but then I had a vision of dozens of people sitting there in front of the picture window, Grand Canyon spread out in front of them, their noses up against their phone screens.  So…probably not. We can live without it.
  • Also at the campground is a laundromat, which I used.
  • They don’t sell bottled water at any of these National Parks, which is a good thing, but be prepared – have your own refillable bottle, or be ready to buy one there.
  • The food at the main restaurant is expensive and not very good.  We didn’t do the restaurant for dinner – I had made reservations, but then I looked at the menu and the prices and cancelled.  We did the breakfast buffet one morning, and it was mediocre at best.  Turkey bacon like leather, cold biscuits, that sort of thing. Nice waitress, though.  All of the employees were courteous and friendly. No complaints there.
  • There is a “deli” like place right next to the Lodge which has good sandwiches and pizza at decent prices.  The boys said the pizza was really good.  There’s also a “saloon” that sells alcoholic beverages and has a few food menu items.
  • And that’s it for food.  So really, take as much food as you can in with you (although it would need to be the kind you don’t have to , you know, cook…since the rooms don’t have anything but fridges – sandwiches that will keep for a day, milk, cereal, bars, fruit, carrots, crackers, cheese, bread).  You will probably want to avoid the restaurant, especially if you have a family.
  • (For contrast…the Death Valley accommodations are also isolated and also function as a monopoly, but they are operated by a different vendor –Xanterra (which also operates the South Rim lodge)   – and the food was much better and more fairly priced.)
  • I was curious about the employees. They are seasonal, obviously, since the place is only open a few months a year.  They all live on site, and many, it seems, are foreign students – I heard a lot of Eastern European accents while I was there.

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge

This is the view of the main Lodge from one of the little hiking trails that goes out from it.  

The Lodge building itself is wonderful – historic and classic “National Park” style, with a fabulous glass-enclosed viewing lounge as well as patios with chairs.  The dining room also has that great view (those are the windows on the left) but again, the food isn’t good, and you can walk ten feet and sit on a couch and enjoy the same view. I thought I had photos of that lounge, but I can’t seem to find them.  You can get a good sense of it just from this search.  

Okay!

Well, I had intended to make this post about our first day at the Grand Canyon, but time is running out, so this will have to do.  But maybe it will help you out if you’re planning a trip…add your own insights if you like!

Tomorrow….

Grand….

"grand canyon"

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When we last spoke (about this, anyway), it was Saturday evening, and we were snug in our bunkhouses somewhere west of Fredonia,Arizona.

The next day we’d make our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but first things first: Mass.

Kanab, Utah was really our only choice in the area. Yes, there would be backtracking from our Saturday night space, but we would have to go almost all the way back to Kanab anyway to get to the road south, and it’s gorgeous country, so I won’t complain.

Mass was at 9.

Now, those of you who are familiar with the area are probably already thinking….uh-oh….

I’ll try to explain to the rest of you. And I may still get it wrong, so feel free to correct the details.  But I’m pretty sure this is what happened:

We were sleeping in Arizona. Arizona, like Utah, is in the Mountain Standard Time Zone, but does not observe Daylight Savings Time, so at the time we were there (late May), when we were in Arizona, we were in the same time zone as we had been in Las Vegas, the origin of our trip, and where the rental car was obtained. Vegas is in the Pacific Time Zone.

We would be going to Mass over the border in Utah, which is in the Mountain Standard Time Zone, but does observe Daylight Savings Time.

So, Mass was at 9am, but that would be 8 am according to where we were sleeping.

No problem.  I mean, going between time zones is a given when you’re traveling, and being that where we live (Alabama) is in a different time zone from places we go often on day trips (Georgia, South Carolina and Florida), this is not rocket science.

So.  Church was about 30 minutes away.  Just to be safe, I said, let’s leave at 7. Which would be 8 Church Standard Time and would get us there, if we drove at a leisurely pace, about 20 minutes early.

Yay.

So, I set my phone – which functions as my alarm clock, as I’m sure it does for many of you – for 6:30 am.

In the morning, it went off, I got up, got myself ready, then awakened the boys.  We packed up, I called the owner to check out, as instructed, we piled in the car, I turned the ignition, the dashboard lit up, and the clock – set to Las Vegas/Arizona time – blinked on.

6 AM.

(Translation: 7 AM Utah time. 2 hours before Mass. We could have slept another hour.)

So…..how did this happen?

It didn’t take me long to figure it out.

The day before, I had not used my phone from the time we drove out of Utah to the time we arrived at the bunkhouses.  Most of that drive was through an sparsely populated Native American reservation, and there, as here at the bunkhouse itself was….NO SERVICE.

My phone had never connected to Arizona cel service, so the clock was still on Utah time.

That time when your Mom apologizes a zillion times for getting us up at 5:30 for no reason? Yeah, that.

There was no sense in unloading and going back in the bunkhouses for just an hour.  I wasn’t tired, so I told them I was just going to drive around and see more of the country around Kanab.  Eating wasn’t an option because by the time we actually got to Kanab, we’d be hitting close to the 1-hour pre-Communion fast, and that cuts it close for me – I prefer the three-hour fast anyway.

So…I drove around.  The 14-year old fell back asleep pretty quickly, but the ten-year old stayed awake, and got to see a huge jackrabbit for his trouble.

Live, as they say, and learn.  Sheesh.

The Catholic church in Kanab is called St. Christopher’s, and I was very impressed with how they welcomed visitors.  Friendly greeters were at the door, and they had this as well:

St. Christopher medals and a prayer card for travelers.  It’s a great idea for any parish in a heavily-touristed area.

They did do the “raise your hand and tell us where you’re from” thing at the beginning of Mass, but I will say that it was actually before Mass started, so I guess I can accept that.  (I didn’t raise my hand, though, and the boys knew better…not that they’d want to enter that fray, either.)  They had donuts, etc., after Mass, but we didn’t go because, hey, I wanted to drive even more before noon.

So… today’s lesson: welcome your travelers. And don’t assume your phone is always telling you the truth. That’s trouble.

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Well, we’re up to Saturday, May 23….at this rate, I might get this trip report finished before the next trip.

Maybe.

As you might recall, we’re finished up our stay at the spindly Bryce Canyon, having survived being taken to the edge by quadrupeds.  Time to move back south…

The destination would be the Grand Canyon, but not until Sunday.  Why? Well, I’ll recap the “planning” process:

Pin down rooms at the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, which I had believed would be the most difficult to obtain (in retrospect…no. But more on that when we get to Sunday). Then work everything else around that.  The difficult issue was that Memorial Day Weekend falls right in the middle of this, and I had a heck of a time finding rooms that weren’t $300 a night for that Saturday night. (Sunday and Monday were GCNP nights, and I checked many times a day, but nothing ever opened up for Saturday.  It if had, I certainly would have grabbed it).  There are two lodgings not ridiculously far from GCNP North Rim – in Jacob Lake, about 45 minutes out, and then another lodge a big closer. Neither of them had Saturday night vacancies.  I thought I had checked Kanab – just over the border from Arizona in Utah –  out pretty thoroughly, and nothing reasonable ever came up. However, I’ll say now that when I drove around Kanab both Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning…I didn’t see packed parking lots in the hotels.  I’m going to guess that the chains that came up on Kayak were either indeed unavailable or too expensive for me, but there might have been independent motor lodges and such that weren’t listed on those aggregate engines.

It turned out fine, and we had an adventure, but staying in Kanab would have saved me a bit of driving…a trade-off.  But that’s the way it is with [insert Life Lesson and Metaphor here].

SO, where we ended up for Saturday night was this, via AirBnB – two little “bunkhouses” just a bit south of Colorado City (does that ring a bell? Well it just might….). That would be our goal for the end of the day, but in between Bryce and that spot was a lot of space and all day, so…time to set out and find stuff to do!

First stop, very close to Bryce, is Red Canyon – which is certainly red! We only spent about thirty minutes here – a place where Butch Cassidy is supposed to have used for a hideout – but you could certainly spend all day, at least.

"amy welborn" "amy welborn"

Then we’d catch 89, and take it to Kanab.  Every town along the way had at least one historical marking, each telling the tale of yet one more Mormon settlement.  Rock shops are also very common, not surprisingly, and we stopped at one where we learned all about the Septarian Nodule – Geode-like, but not really – and bought a few things, including some small pieces of petrified wood.  The owners gave us restaurant advice, but we didn’t take it, continuing on down to Kanab.

"amy welborn"

Kanab is a small town, but it’s a pretty busy gateway, with several hotels, including the Parry Lodge, famed for the movie stars who stayed there back in the day –  the area was a popular location for shooting movie Westerns.   I actually thought I’d gotten a room there when I was on the search for Saturday Sleeping, but the woman called me back five minutes later and said, oops, she’d made a mistake.   Alas, no spirit melding with Tyrone Power (my mother’s favorite) this time.

There’s a terrible “Little Hollywood Movie Museum.”  I mean – it’s the worst.  You don’t pay to walk around the purported sets collected behind the shop,  but you know things are in a sorry state when you feel ripped off…. by a free attraction.  I hadn’t heard of any of the movies except McCabe and Mrs Miller , and all it was was a collection of shacks and false fronts (which is all it would be, I know).  There seemed to be a small foreign tour group there that was being led through and being invited to dress up and play with fake guns, but I didn’t stick around to see. It was just awkward.

Lunch was good – at this great little pizza buffet called Lotsa Motsa.  Just what everyone needed.  I always tell my kids when we travel that when they have a chance to eat…EAT A LOT.  Because they never know when they’re going to get a chance to eat again.  Sound sad?  Well, that’s just how our days tend to go on the road, and it’s especially how it can go when you veer into “picky eater” territory.  So they’ve learned: eat what’s there, when it’s there.  A pizza buffet was perfect, and the pizza was actually good. It was a popular place, too – crowded with obvious tourists from all over world, although the group of Asian tourists walked in, then walked right out, back across the street to McDonald’s.

It was early afternoon by then, and we had plenty of time to Do Things, so I decided that we should head back up north a little ways to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. 

On the way, we made one stop, however, at the Best Friends Animal Society.  This is a huge no-kill sanctuary spread over thousands of acres. Folks go and spend days or ever weeks volunteering at the facility.  They do offer tours, but they are lengthy, and you have to reserve them ahead of time – we missed the opportunity, but that’s fine.  I respect the work that they do, as well as their decision to be a refuge and a sanctuary and not a zoo, open to drop-in gawkers like us.

We did see these guys, though:

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

Such an interesting place.  The red rocks from two more or less parallel mountain ranges blow off into this valley and form enormous dunes of, well, pinkish sand.  What’s unique is that the park is open to both foot traffic and ATV’s (you can see the tracks in the photo), so while you are not going to get a peaceful afternoon in the dunes, ever, probably, everyone seems to respect each other and make way.

We probably spent two hours there  – the boys had a great time wandering and playing their imaginary games, whatever they are about.  I walked a bit, and then just sat and sand dune and people watched.

"amy welborn" "amy welborn"

There’s a small visitor’s center with super nice folks who talked to me about one of the things that had started to obsess me – finding petroglyphs and dinosaur tracksites.   The woman told me of a couple of near-ish sites and I filed them away for consideration.

Now on to the bunkhouses…finally!

Yes, it was a drive, but it’s what we had to do, and I didn’t mind – I would be driving through places I’d never seen, and they are beautiful places, so why not?

The bulk of the drive took us through the Kaibab Paiute reservation – unfortunately we were too late to go through the Pipe Spring historic site. But we did stop at the convenience store, and very weirdly, saw (as fellow customers) the couple who ran the rock shop we’d been to earlier – which was about fifty miles away…

When I booked these rooms, I hadn’t understood how close they were to Colorado City and Hildale. As we drew near, I saw that it was just a few miles, so I said, “Time for a detour!” and I explained, as best I could, what the FLDS was all about.

(And there’s a restaurant in Hildale – called the Merry Wives Cafe – that I’d hope to get to – but alas, they’re closed on Saturday evening, not surprisingly. I was disappointed.)

Trying not to think of Big Love, we reached the area, and I took a quick drive up and down some main streets, curious, I admit, to see what I would see.   It was early evening, so there weren’t a lot of folks out, but I did see a couple of typically dressed women – in the long dresses and big hair – and the really huge, sprawling, but somewhat ramshackle houses, clearly added onto over time – were quite noticeable, and everywhere.  The place had a shabby, tired, feel about it.

Yup, a quick view was good enough, so it was time to shoot back down the road to our home for the night:

DSCN4828 "amy welborn"

They’re tiny and immaculate and have absolutely everything you need, including little solar-powered lights (that’s the panel on the roof on the picture directly below- they are good, I think for three hours at a high level and five at a low – I’m pretty sure this was it), bunks inside, a chair, a side table, and a propane space heater.  The toilets were in a separate small outhouse/building and the shower was outdoors (behind a fence!).  The boys had their own pad, and I had mine. It was fun.

"amy welborn" "amy welborn"

Supposedly this bag containing water and pennies repels flies. Hey, I didn’t see any, so maybe. 

This was the cooking/device-charging area.

DSCN4834

The only unfortunate thing was that it was rainy.  If it hadn’t been, the boys would have spent a lot more time outside playing, and we would have been able to sit outside around a fire (the other people in the other bunkhouses tried to build one, but with no success.) But it was fine – very snug and a lovely little respite.

And dinner? Cheese, crackers and fruit. I warned you, didn’t I!

Now, on to Sunday and…WHAT TIME IS MASS ANYWAY?

"amy welborn"

Welcome Committee.

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— 1 —

A decent, different sort of week here.  The boys being otherwise occupied, I’ve had every day, all day, free.  To work.  To some, that might seem like a sad plight, but honestly, this is the first truly alone time since….last summer, I guess.  I used to be able to write at night, even after teaching all day, but those days are long gone, especially since I hit fifty, and especially since we started homeschooling.  I just can’t focus, and my creative energies are spent by the end of the day.  So this week has been exactly what I needed in order to hammer out a first draft of a project that isn’t actually due until next February, but there’s other stuff in the hopper that I will need to be working on this fall (somehow), so it will be good to get a solid draft done early.  I can revise and edit on the fly, just fine, but the initial writing takes a kind of focus I can only achieve when I’m alone for several hours at a time.

— 2 —

Since piano camp has left the camper exhausted every day, and every day has been a full day for him, there were no extra travels this week.  Last weekend, however, we did go to Sweetwater Creek State Park in Georgia, which was very nice and which you can read about here.  What I didn’t know when I initially wrote the post was that the Hunger Games movies were filmed in part there.  (They were filmed all over Atlanta, of course.  I guess.)

— 3 —

And what of the rest of the summer?  I’m not sure.

What’s weird is that I’m already thinking that summer is almost over, while some of my Facebook friends are just this week posting “last day of school” photos.  What?? We’ve been out for a month!

Of course, school (for the high schooler) also starts a month earlier than those northerners will be returning – orientation is August 6, classes start August 10.  Blah.

There’s only one other *obligation* owed during that time – a scout rafting trip – so we’re contemplating options.  Probably some combination of some local wandering and perhaps one bigger road trip.

— 4 —

Speaking of high school, you might read this very sad local story.  There are some ambiguities in the narrative, and some unanswered questions, but here’s the bottom line for the mother grieving the loss of her 14-year old daughter:

“If I had known then what I know now, one, she wouldn’t have had a smart phone,” Seller said. “She would have had a phone that could make a call, get a call, send a text, get a text. And all of her internet activity would have been in the living room.”

As far as I can tell, we are one of the last holdouts in this regard.  My 14-year old does not have a smart phone and only uses the internet in my presence. I just last week purchased a basic flip phone for them to use when they’re out and need to contact me. I wish more parents were holding firm on this. It makes it very, very difficult to hold the line. I don’t understand why 8-year olds have Instagram accounts.  I wish schools would be proactive, and along with all the other crap they send out on a constant basis, send out a weekly report to parents on the latest internet fads, from Kik to Snapchat to all those apps (which exist) which enable the other apps to remain hidden.

— 5 —

The good thing about not feeling an obligation to follow and comment on Every Catholic Story coming over the Interwebs is that you actually have time to read.

So this week I finished: Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians

It’s the story of a small group of mostly writers and performers who were gathered at a Manhattan bar called Pfaff’s by a man named Henry Clapp, the son of New England Congregationalists who found himself in Paris, was besotted with cafe life and returned to the United States, determined to recreate it.  Walt Whitman was the most well-known of the regulars, although he tended to stay on the margins.

It’s a good tale, if padded a bit – without Whitman, the book would probably be half as long, which would make it more of an Atlantiic Monthly article, which would then be bad, since the Boston-based Atlantic was Clapp’s bete noire. There are a slew of vivid, interesting characters whose lives show very vividly that excess and self-indulgence, as well as delusions of grandeur and relentless self-promotion are not unique to the 21st century would-be artiste. 

I was probably most taken by the story of Hugh Ludlow, who became very famous as a very young man because of his drug experimentation and the book he wrote about it called The Hasheesh Eater.  Ludlow couldn’t follow up on that book’s success, took various writing and office jobs, then in 1863, got the opportunity to accompany painter Albert Bierstadt out west.  Bierstadt was going to sketch and paint, and Ludlow would write about their travels, in articles that would be published in the New York Post, and then in a book.

This interested me, not just because of the fact that we’ve just been out West, nor just because of the interesting paths that were crossed on that trip, but because one of Bierstadt’s paintings of Yosemite – one of the fruits of that trip –  is one of the most treasured pieces of our Birmingham Museum of Art’s collection.  

The trip, however, did not end well.  They returned and Ludlow’s wife left him for Bierstadt, the book’s publication was delayed to the point that when it finally did make it to print, reviewers mocked it for being out of date, since by that time, the Transcontinental Railroad was finished, and going out West was not nearly as exotic a quest as it had been.

If you want a good introduction to the group, head to this comprehensive website – the Vault at Pfaff’s – from Lehigh University.  It’s a treasure trove, and will keep you busy for a while. 

— 6 —

I also finished The Wapshot Chronicle. I had begun it a month or two ago, so I was a little confused at first and required a refresher, but it didn’t take long to get into the swing of it.  It’s a strange book, and I suppose everyone is correct about Cheever being a stronger short story writer, but there’s some gorgeous writing, nonetheless.  There’s something unreal about the whole thing – it doesn’t feel as anchored in reality as do, say, Updike or Walker Percy – to take two male writers Wapshot Cheeverfrom around the same time – and everyone is fairly miserable and stumbling into things and life choices in the most haphazard way. I never could really picture either Moses or Coverly, the two brothers, in my mind.  They seemed more like two dimensions of the same person, which they probably are.

Just as quick sample, from near the end:

[Leander – the Wapshot father] went to early communion, happily, not convinced of the worth of his prayers but pleased with the fact that on his knees in Christ Church he was, more than in any other place in the world, face to face with the bare facts of his humanity.….Even as the service rose to the climax of bread and wine he noticed that the acolytes’ plush cushion was nailed to the floor of the chancel and that the altar cloth was embroidered with tulips but he also noticed, kneeling at the rail, that on the ecclesiastical and malodorous carpet were a few pine or fir needles that must have lain there all the months since Advent, and these cheered him as if this handful of sere needles had been shake from the Tree of Life and reminded him of its fragrance and vitality.

To no good end, unfortunately, but that’s the way it goes.  I’ve never read Cheever but for a few of the stories, and while reading the novel, I also read up on his famously sad and fractured life, and was confronted once more with the paradox of such a mess of a human being producing art that really does, in some admittedly imperfect way, reflect truth. Not that a mess of a human being wouldn’t be able to see truth – we are a mess, and we all have the capacity – but it’s the discipline required to express it in an artful way in the midst of the mess, which for Cheever included being drunk much of the time, that confounds me.

And what of all these lost, post-war, mid-century men?

— 7 —

Mill ruins, Sweetwater Creek State Park, west of Atlanta.

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

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Friday, May 22….

Time to ride!

At some point on Thursday, I’d booked a horse/mule/general quadruped ride down into Bryce Canyon.

You have two options: a 2-hour, or half-day trip.  The half-day is really just about four hours. We opted for the latter.  It wasn’t cheap, but it really was worth it.

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

Despite my near-terror at times.

You might already know this, but the thing about these creatures and the trails down into canyons involving switchbacks on ledges and cliffs is that their preferred path…is the edge. As in the outer edge of the path. With you perched on top of their hundreds and hundreds of pounds, looking down, watching them pick their way delicately along (did I mention?) the edge, dislodging gravel that you can hear tumble many feet in a downward direction.

It’s the same at the Grand Canyon, and I read that there are something like 140 switchbacks going down (on the south rim, I’m thinking, since that’s the steeper side), and I know now I wouldn’t be able to handle that.

All right, let’s backtrack.

The ride left very early – we were supposed to be there by 7:45, and we were, gathering first at the Bryce Canyon Lodge, and then heading down to the corral where we’d be matched with our rides.  There was one trail guide for about every 6 or 7 riders, it seemed. I got a mule – I don’t know what that says about me, but I did.  The boys got horses, and they, being the only children in our group, rode right up behind the guide then me, then the other 4 riders.

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

Various pieces of advice were given, the most important being:

  • Don’t be afraid, nothing will happen, it’s safe, etc., etc.
  • Don’t get too far behind because you don’t want your ride to start running to catch up. Because……?

Better not think about it.  Just keep up with the pack.

The guide was a very nice, super-polite young man, who gave us a few tales about the canyon and what we were seeing, but honestly, not as much as I had expected or hoped – somehow, I thought it would be just a bit more informative regarding the geology and history of the area. Like anything else, it all depends on your specific guide, I suppose.

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

And yes, I was a little nervous. It’s just nerve-racking, as the heavy beast plods along on the edge of a cliff. (Did I mention the edge?).  It’s bad enough when the path is straight, but then you get to the switchback where the animal is going to turn, if not on a dime, at most on a half-dollar, and the gravel is rolling around and dropping..

The woman behind me was on a horse named Comanche, and, well, better her than me.  It was fine, of course, but Comanche was just a little more rambunctious than I would have been comfortable with, and there was one point at which he paused and saw something decent to eat right over the edge, and with his weight, there was a little bit of slipping and sliding, and…

…I’m glad I wasn’t on Comanche.

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

But of course it was all fine. Every time. But I won’t deny that I was breathing easier when we finally hit the bottom of the canyon.

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

And that’s another thing.  Looking at Bryce from the rim, I had thought that the hoodoos represented the whole of it – that the base of the hoodoos reached the base of the canyon.  But no!  Not at all, not even one bit.  The hoodoos actually begin far above the canyon floor, which is lightly forested with some mostly dry creekbeds. (Remember Bryce “Canyon” exists because of a freezing/thawing cycle more than water flowing at the bottom).  It’s where we stopped for a restroom and water break.

Despite my terror, I am really glad we did this.  The boys claimed they weren’t scared at all, so good for them. I mean…good for them. 

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon" "amy welborn" "bryce canyon" "amy welborn" "bryce canyon" "amy welborn" "bryce canyon" "amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

I’ll write more about this later, but after going to the Grand Canyon, I can see a Rim-to-Rim experience somewhere in my future, but…I’ll walk it, thanks. No question.

********

After lunch in Tropic (here – the boys really liked the hamburgers), the older boy was wiped out and was ready for a rest, but the ten-year old wasn’t near finished, so he and I headed back to the park to do some more hiking.

First we tackled the Navajo Trail.

(I thought I had photos, but I guess not…)

Then, as we left the park, I saw the turn-off for the Fairyland Loop (which is actually before the pay entrance to the park), so we decided to check that out.

If we ever go back, I would finish this one out.  We just walked a little way out on it, since we needed to get back but the landscape and trail itself (see how it goes out in the middle there?) was distinctive enough, I think it would be quite interesting to follow.

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

It’s otherworldly.

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon" "amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

Navajo Trail was quite crowded with all kinds of folks, individuals but most in tour groups (Germans, Japanese & Backroads, I noticed in particular)

Back to the hotel – there might have been swimming that night – it was either then or the night before – in the substantial indoor pool at Ruby’s – but no overpriced buffet for dinner.  There was a Subway a couple of miles away, so that would have to do – with no complaints from anyone.

"amy welborn"

A common sight in public places in Utah.  Everything you need.

Tomorrow…heading south, on our way to the Grand Canyon….

thinking)

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It’s one of those places we’ve passed countless times, and every time, I’ve vaguely thought, “We should check that out.”

And yesterday, we finally did.

It’s a Georgia state park, Sweetwater Creek State Park, about 20 miles west of Atlanta. The entrance is ten minutes off of I-20, so yes, it’s very convenient on that Birmingham-Atlanta run, which we made yesterday.

We arrived at the park at 4, which gave us three good hours to enjoy it. We weren’t super prepared – should have had swimsuits and towels in the car – but we made do.

The heart of the park is a ruined mill. The visitor’s center has an excellent display about the history of the mill, as well as the natural features of the park itself.

The mill was a textile mill built in the 1840’s, and a community of about 300 developed around it. When the war started, it was taken over for the making of fabric for Confederate uniforms, and since the men mostly went to fight, was operated by women.

In 1864, when Sherman’s March pushed through the area, the mill was burned and all the women and children in the area were captured as prisoners of war, taken to Louisville, and told they would be released if they promised not to go south of the Ohio River for the duration of the war.  If not, they were just kept as prisoners.

The mill was never rebuilt and the area never resettled, so today we have a state park with a rapid-filled creek and rather haunting ruins.

We walked the Red Trail, which runs along the creek – it gets very, very rocky at times, so if you are unsteady on your feet at all, don’t take it past the mill.  We took it to the falls, then caught the White Trail and looped back around.

I am not a huge fan of kids playing in rapids with sharp rocks, but it was evidently the thing to do, and my son is very careful, so I let him have at it.  I was more than ready to move on, but he wasn’t, and I was wondering how I was ever going to get him out of there when he returned to me from his island conquest in the middle of the creek with as much hustle in his step as he could muster.

Out there, in a crevice in one of the rocks above a relatively calm spot, he’d seen – he claims, almost stepped on – a cottonmouth (also known as a Water Moccasin.) He was excited about the sighting, but, you know, also really ready to come out of the water.

I guess that’ll do it.

All in all, a great find – so glad we finally stopped, and I hope it won’t be the last time. It was the usual mix (not kidding) of Atlanta-area residents on the trails and in the water – white,  African-American, Hispanic, families with women in saris, families with women in hijab….yes, indeed, this New South is a great-looking bunch.

It looks like they have a very full slate of interesting activities, so we’ll try to hit on of those special hikes, for sure!

(Update:  Thanks to a commenter who mentioned that this is one of the Hunger Games filming sights.)

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