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Monday, October 31, 2016

Insane Discover America Tour 2016: Capitol Reef

Picture Capitol Reef National Park as a pencil, with one main road cutting horizontally through the middle. This leaves much of the park inaccessible unless you've got an 4 wheel drive vehicle. Nor can I say much for the folks staffing the ranger station. Unlike Grand Staircase-Escalante, tour buses constantly go through here, and overwhelm the facilities. We found the staff there curt and uninterested in making our stay there in any way exceptional. 

We took a little drive along the main road, and stopped occasionally to photograph any geological features that caught our eye. Then we left to find our hotel.

We returned after dinner. In the waning light, we hiked part of an Intermediate level hike, and enjoyed how the evening light deepened the colors in the landscape.

When those faded, there were still the colors in the sky. For a few minutes, anyway.

The next morning, we drove through the park, stopping to take one last glimpse of Capitol Reef National Park. Then we headed onward to our next adventure.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Insane Discover America Tour: 2016: Grand Staircase-Escalante

No one really thinks about visiting the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, certainly not in the same way they do Bryce or Arches. The Grand Staircase doesn't even hold National Park status, despite the fact that it covers a huge region, far larger than both of those National Parks put together. We stopped in at both visitor centers, and spoke with the staff inside. Both visitor centers were modern structures, with impressive amenities. This seemed odd, given how few visitors they receive. The staff helped share their love of the park by offering us a piece of cake, as they celebrated the Monument's twentieth birthday. 

The second visitor center had a cast of a Utahceratops skull on display. This dinosaur species, a relative of the better known Triceratops, was discovered in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and named only six years ago. In time, I imagine more important fossil finds like that will not only help advance our knowledge of Paleontology, but also stir the public's interest in this relatively new National Monument.

As we drove through Grand Staircase-Escalante, it seemed that, with each turn of the road, we were seeing something new and awesome. Photographs don't do this area justice, but we took a lot that day. Off hand, I cannot remember a time when we pulled over to the side so often to take a photo, with the possible exception of our first visit to Kauai. 

The photo above reminds me of the area used by the filmmakers for the planet Vulcan in the first of the recent series of Star Trek movies. It isn't--that area is located in the San Rafael Swell, another area  in Utah overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. Still, it's easy to imagine Spock growing up amid a stark landscape such as this.

At one point, I noticed a cave off the side of the road. So we turned around, parked, and did a little exploring. It reminded me of similar caves I've seen in Kauai, Oregon, and Texas. The pink/red of the rock made it far different than those others, however.

Part of this area also merges with the national forest system. We passed lots of campgrounds as drove. We also passed through quite a few little towns. You're really living at the top of the world up here. Most of the time we were around nine-to-ten thousand feet elevation. You've got to be hardy to spend lots of time here, without the altitude bothering you.

I'm not sure I'd want to spend a winter in such a remote region. But it's beautiful in the autumn.

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Insane Discover America Tour 2016: Kodachrome State Park

Kodachrome Basin may only be a state park, but if Utah wasn't already overflowing with National Parks, it might hold that status.

The eroded sandstone walls certainly live up to the brand name Kodak gave their line of color film.

For those of you too young to remember the days before digital photography, cameras used to require film to record images. You developed exposed film by bathing it in a series of chemical-filled basins. One of the films amateur and professional photographers used was Kodachrome, made by the Eastman Kodak. This company dominated the film photography market in that era. Had the National Geographic Society expedition that traveled here in 1948 arrived a few years later, and wished to popularize the new Polaroid Instant Camera that came on the market in November 1948, this park might be known as Polaroid Valley State Park.

While my father mostly used Kodachrome film in his cameras, he also had a Polaroid SX-70 instant camera, which I inherited after his death. All told, that camera served my father and me for several decades. Alas, all good things eventually pass away. My camera eventually went the way of film photography, making movies with film, and, of course, the dinosaurs. Having said that, both Kodak and Polaroid survive as companies. You can even buy an SX-70, and the instant film packs it requires, online. I'm sure the rangers would allow you to use a Polaroid camera to take photos in Kodachrome Basin State Park. That would be kind of cool and retro, wouldn't it?

Still, if you plan on doing any hiking in the park, carrying a smart phone or digital camera is easier. I would advise against you bringing a Polaroid SX-70 if you plan on doing rock climbing, or scaling the impressive hoodoos. These stone towers may not be as plentiful and beautiful as at Bryce National Park or Red Canyon, but there are a more than enough here to fulfill your photography and climbing desires.

The canyon walls and hoodoos reminded me of sandcastles, or a dramatic underwater landscape. The bright light of the afternoon we visited robs the land of some of the color we saw that day. It'd be interesting to return in the morning, or on a cloudy day, and see how the colors of the landscape changed.

One trail takes you out on a long, thin wedge of a hill. From here, you can really see the land unfold around you. 

The above photo, taken on maximum zoom and then enlarged further on computer, was taken by my wife, from the nearest "safe" hilltop.

Yeah, I know: I'm bad. It's a burden I have to live with.

Kodachrome Basin State Park may not lie on anyone's Must See list, but my wife and I found it a fun place to explore for an afternoon. It may not be as extensively photographed as Red Canyon, but had our schedule (and energy) allowed, we could have spent more time there. If you plan a trip through Utah's scenic wonderland, you might consider a visit there. Regardless of the type of camera you bring.

Dragon Dave

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Wrangling Rick Takes The Stage

Wrangling Rick, Krazy Kirk, Animal Anders, and Whistling Rick

Last weekend at Knott's Berry Farm, Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies took the stage with a guest musician. Kirk introduced him as Wrangling Rick. Apparently he is a vegetarian, and earned his name by wrangling with cucumbers. Kirk never explained why Rick took issue with cucumbers, but I suppose even vegetarians must have some vegetables they dislike.

Wrangling Rick and Krazy Kirk jam.

Aside from being a vegetarian, Wrangling Rick has another claim to fame: he inspired Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies to add "Sharp Dressed Man," to their set list. He and Kirk then led the group in a crowd-pleasing rendition of ZZ Top's hit song.

When Animal Anders joined Kirk for a fiddle duet, Wrangling Rick then took over Animal's bass. He laid down a strong backbeat that helped the two fiddlers shine.

Whistling Rick

All this proved too much for Whistling Rick. As a regular, he resented all the attention the new boy was getting. So he challenged Wrangling Rick to a duel.

Wrangling Rick and Whistling Rick: dueling banjos.

While Krazy Kirk and Animal Anders urged them on, the two Ricks demonstrated their banjo prowess. First Whistling Rick would try his stuff. Then Wrangling Rick would follow his lead, and perhaps add a little something extra to get on the regular's pecs. When the competition was over, no formal vote was conducted. Nonetheless, Kirk declared that the victory definitely belonged to, um...Rick.

Krazy Kirk says, "See ya!"

The end of the show came all too soon. Krazy Kirk wished us well, and thanked us for our participation in the show. That's the real secret of concerts with Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies: they're not only accomplished musicians, but they enjoy having fun with the audience. Now there's a fact that no one can dispute. Not even someone with a name like Wrangling Rick.

Dragon Dave

Monday, October 17, 2016

Everyone's Smiling at Knott's Berry Farm

It can be scary to go new places. This is especially true at Knott's Berry Farm during October.

You could find yourself in some real hot water. Or worse, facing otherworldly creatures lurking in the water.

But provided you remain vigilant, you should survive these dangers unscathed.

Smiling helps too. It reinforces a positive mental attitude, which can help you defeat any foe, regardless of how scary they seem. A good rule for life, don't you think? (Not to get preachy, or anything).

Ultimately, Knott's Berry Farm may seem scary during October, but everyone's really having lots of fun.

But then, everyone's smiling at Knott's Berry Farm, regardless of whatever month you visit, which helps with the whole positive attitude thing, I suppose. (Again, not that I'm getting preaching or anything).

Dragon Dave

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Insane Discover America Tour 2016: Destination 4

The day we drove to Bryce Canyon National Park, we had to stop along the way and take photographs of these amazing cliffs and hoodoos. After visiting Bryce the previous day, we decided to skip the crowds, the long lines, and visit Red Canyon instead. We enjoyed walking amid such grandeur, over accessible paths, and taking in the hoodoos and other geological formations. The sandstone in this area of the Dixie National Forest has been carved into all sorts of shapes. It's easy to just gaze around, let the mind wander, and the imagination soar.

Chess, anyone?

No wait! Pass this spot carefully! Don't wake the dragon!

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Insane Discover America Tour 2016: Destination 3

We knew we were headed toward a popular place when the road slowed to a crawl a half-mile before entering Bryce Canyon National Park. Traffic like this always gets me angry. It just seems to me that if a place gets visitors in this number, something should be done to prevent such traffic from occurring. By the time we got past the guard shack, several of the first scenic viewpoints were filled, and the entryways blocked off so no cars could enter. Again, I ask: Why? You drive hundreds (or thousands) of miles to see a National Park, you pay your entry fee, and's just crazy, right?

Letting go of irritation and anger can be hard, even in an area of such scenic beauty. Like Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park is a canyon, and the public access areas are all located along the top. This makes hiking down into this scenic wonderland difficult, as you're already at 8,000 to 9,000 feet elevation, and the air is thinner, which can lead to high altitude sickness. So unless you're at the peak of fitness, or feeling real adventurous, you probably don't want to hike down into the canyon very far, as you'll need to hike back up again later. 

My wife tells me I was sort of irritated all day, which is a shame, as there was always plenty of beautiful scenery to glimpse. In the afternoon, we were able to get back into one of the areas that had been closed off earlier, and even do a little art. We sat in our canvas chairs, overlooking the landscape below, while people stopped by to glance at my pencil sketch and my wife's watercolor. I heard quite a few folks tell their friends that they wished they could draw, which made me feel nice. 

Although we had allotted for a second day at Bryce Canyon National Park, gazing down at remote geological features isn't the same thing as walking amidst them. Couple this with the wait to enter the park, the blocked-off areas, and the crowds everywhere when you're trying to "immerse yourself in nature," and another visit to Bryce Canyon National Park seemed more than a little, uh...insane.

Dragon Dave

Monday, October 10, 2016

Jane Austen: Madness Versus Dampness

Several years ago, a saleswoman in a bookstore tried to arouse my interest in Love And Freindship, a short novel by Jane Austen. But the price of the slim hardcover volume seemed steep, and the print was small, so I decided to buy one of the novels that was published during Jane Austen's lifetime instead. 

Reading Love And Freindship now, as part of an ebook collection on Kindle, I think I made the right choice. The story is structured as a series of letters, in which an older woman recounts the major experiences of her life to the daughter of a friend. This story was written by Austen in her early teens, and lacks much in the way of causality. One event happens, then another, with no real reason why one should follow another, and no later recounting of how those events occurred. This may follow the random chaos of life, but a well-crafted novel attempts to make sense out of the chaos. That's the appeal of fiction: it helps us better understand reality.

The story itself, in many ways, reminds me of a farce. Here's one little bit I found memorable. The protagonist and her friend are going here and there (for various reasons) in a horse-drawn carriage. At some stage (I forget why) they leave the carriage and are walking along the road. Then they hear a crash, and rush back along the road to the scene of an accident. There they find their husbands lying amid the wreckage of another horse-drawn carriage. While the protagonist goes mad, and runs about screaming, her friend suffers a serious of fainting spells in the damp grass. By the time the protagonist awakens from her madness, her friend has caught a cold from lying in the damp grass in the chill of the evening. They make their way to a cottage, where the protagonist nurses her friend. Before her friend dies, she extolls the protagonist's wisdom in giving way to madness instead of fainting. This, she asserts, is the best way for a young woman to handle a traumatic event. Then she dies.

Love And Freindship is wacky and hilarious. It reminds me of some of the hysterical and trivial women that populate Jane Austen's novels, such as Elizabeth Bennett's mother in Pride And Prejudice. It's easy to see that kind of character relating the high points of her life in such a fashion. I'm not sure I love it enough to have bought a bound and printed edition, but it was a pleasant diversion, and provides an insight into the young Jane Austen, as she experimented with fiction, and gradually learned her craft.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Insane Discover America Tour 2016: Destination 2

Cedar Breaks National Monument is located adjacent to ski resort town Brian Head in Utah. It's named for the Cedar trees that grow there, and the canyon of colorful cliffs that early settlers called Breaks. It's got just one great canyon to gaze at, so after doing that, my wife and I took an alpine hike along the rim. In the afternoon, I sketched a pile of rocks, while my wife did a watercolor (of the same pile of rocks). I had expected to see a beautiful meadow up top, but this late in the year, few flowers were growing. So, like I said, we sought inspiration in a pile of rocks. As they say in the movies, "That's the breaks, kiddo."

Dragon Dave

Friday, October 7, 2016

Insane Discover America Tour 2016: Destination 1

Earlier this year, I presented my wife with a proposal to visit Arches National Park and Mesa Verde National Park as part of a vacation. This plan gradually evolved into a driving tour of lots of parks throughout Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. It involved a lot of driving, but promised a lot of adventure. So here's the first stop on our Insane Discover America Tour 2016.

It's Kolob Canyon, an extension of Zion National Park in Utah. Isn't she beautiful?

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Wilkie Collins: The Ordeal of the Woman in White

Does reading a novel ever become an ordeal? Do you sometimes find yourself plugging through a book just to get through it? That proved my experience with The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins. This novel is the fifth written by Charles Dickens' friend and contemporary author, and considered the best written by Collins. It is said to be one of the first Mystery novels ever written, or at least a precursor to the later Mystery literary genre. The novel impressed fans and authors, including a young Agatha Christie. Yet I found the pace glacial, and the story largely uninteresting. How could this be?

Perhaps a little comparison is in order. Earlier this year, I read The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. It was my first experience with Dickens (at least as an adult, and as best as I can remember). Dickens peppered his story with lots of characters, who each had interesting stories to tell. Many of the characters were quirky and amusing, and perhaps a little far fetched. I suppose the story was rather satirical. Yet the one thing that sticks in my mind was how much sheer story there was. Like The Woman in White, The Pickwick Papers was serialized in a magazine/newspaper. There was mini-adventure after misadventure. It was a lot of fun, and told me a lot about England during that era.

By contrast, Collins' novel was more focused, and the story simpler. When one character left the stage, the next person involved continued the linear narrative. There were complications, and a few interesting characters, but only one plot thread. So if you got bored with that story, there was nothing else to look forward to but more of the same. 

Most of Collins' characters left me flat. There were only three well developed characters, in my opinion. The rest seemed more like charicatures. Now that's fine in a humorous novel, but not so good in a serious narrative. The whole point about The Woman in White was that it was breaking new ground for its time. It was a Sensation novel, a fusion of the Romance and Gothic literary genres. It clearly spoke to contemporary readers and authors, even if many reviewers hated it. Even today, it is ranked as one of the most important English language novels ever written. Yet I slogged through it, and feel robbed of the enjoyment that others have derived from the reading experience.

Don't you hate it when you miss the party?

Dragon Dave