Thursday, September 30, 2010

Food Bank

So, what do we do without a television? We volunteer at the Food Bank. Sometimes friends come, sometimes not, but we are there every Thursday regardless.

Service learning is a big part of our homeschool curriculum. Not only does it show the Barracuda he can make a difference regardless of his age, but it also reminds him to be grateful for the little we do have. The Food Bank just down the way distributes food to the entire state of Oregon as well as the outskirts of some boundary states. A couple hours a week isn't a lot, but with the state of our economy and those less fortunate, anything we can do is something.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Roadtrip 2010: Days 19, 20 and 21 - Kansas and the Rockies

Canning season is upon us and completely stolen my ability to post this last stop on our roadtrip. Now that the fruit flies have let up, we can properly finish.

Our last stop had us travel all the way through Kansas. I lost my mind in Kansas and I still can't really tell you why other than it was a very long day. There are quite a few National Parks and Historical Sites in Kansas as the California, Sante Fe, and Oregon Trails all went through the state and the routes for the mail all stopped in Kansas before splitting different directions. They are pretty cool and many ruts still exist in the soils from how worn they became. However, there is only one National Forest and it is actually a grassland. It is also in the far southeastern corner and no where near where we needed to go. So it was a hotel for Kansas and just a whole lotta drivin'. After pounding out Kansas, the Rocky Mountains were our destination.

Just outside the park, we got to take a short stop to go into the Estes Park Mountain Shop. For years, Jules was a buyer for Mountain Crossings on the Appalachian Trail and has the strong desire to visit other famous outfitters. Estes Park is one of those. The expertise at Estes Park makes REI look a little silly. Though he chose not to take over the store, talking shop with other guys in the business still makes him happy. I smile, answer the Barracuda's questions about gear, and try to figure out the pattern of various Silcoat stuff sacks. When all is said and done, they refill our WhipserLite fuel and we are off.

It is hard to write about the Rockies because words like amazing, incredible, majestic are so overused. But it's the Rockies! Just driving in you are struck with their magnitude. At home, everywhere we drive is framed by 2 mountains (one 11, 250 ft, the other 9,670 ft.) and everywhere you hike is framed by at least three others (10,500 ft; 10, 800 ft.; 12,300 ft.). They are huge and beautiful and majestic and all those other words. When I hiked in Appalachia, I kept waiting for "the mountain," because I have grown up living in the Cascade range. We are used to mountains that are destination places for travelers. But not mountains like this! This is some of the best rock climbing around because of the immense granite peaks which are so strong and yet create incredible spires.

Originally, we were only going to spend a day in the Rockies, but once we got to the park and witnessed it that was all out the window. We wound up spending the night. You can't camp wherever you want in this park anymore due to global warming. In fact, the foot traffic is having such an impact that there are signs literally explaining how to walk off the trail for the most minimal impact on the "endangered dirt." Keep on the Trail signs aren't enough here because the permafrost is beginning to melt and there is nothing to hold the top soil in for the plants. As such, campgrounds are all you get. Luckily the camp ground on the farthest side of the park still had vacancies. Whew!

To get to the campground, there were two routes. One was the standard tourist drive which travels at less than 5 miles per hour for a 25 mile trip and is crowded with RV's and people from Florida marveling at the snow. The second option, was the forest service road which cut about 18 miles from the trip but wasn't paved and a bit, shall we say, exciting. Can you guess which road Jules chose?

The Old Fall River Road is a one way road which closed in the winter and, though it had its moments, our 20o3 Mazda Protege made it just fine. Take this road. It rivaled Zion Canyon in the breathtaking raw views of the park. There are very few other cars, no guard rails, and you aren't just looking out at the mountain scenery, you are submerged in it.

You can see the clouds we were standing in as we looked down at the glacial ice melting causing small rivulets to flow into the valley below.

Most of the park is far above treeline, but you are forced to drive through the clouds (not fog, but actual clouds) and cut above the cloudline to look down through the mountains.

Throughout the park, the water cycle is in full view.

I managed a few pictures, but was boundlessly excited from all of my environmental studies classes. "Look at that incredible glacial cirque!"or "Oh my goodness, that is the moraine from the receding ice this last summer!" or "Did you hear that? It was a pika!" There were landforms to identify, and wildlife I'd only seen pictures of, and landscapes out of National Geographics, and almost no people, and abundant hiking, and and and..... I was as obnoxious as an 8 year old on their birthday. But Dude! I could seriously spend at least 3 weeks being this excited before even coming to terms with the fact I was able to spend time in the Rockies. If I ever have a honeymoon, I'm spending it in the Rocky Mountains.

Fortunately, The Barracuda got to fulfill his desire to see some constellations. This was one of his major goals for the trip. He laid huddled in his sleeping bag on top of the picnic table looking up and finding multiple constellations we would never be able to see at home. I tried desperately to name them while bumbling through a star map. Unfortunately, the viewing happened in the Rocky Mountains at one of the highest points in our continental United States and North America. It is going to be a bit of a let down for us to now hang out in the backyard.

We didn't really need the tent. He would have slept right there.

The next morning was off to hike. I personally believe that all you reading out there should quit your jobs right now and go hike in the Rockies. However, that might not work for many of you with this whole recession thing going on. In the least, you should make it there in your lifetime and definitely get out of your car and hike a bit.

This isn't a doctored picture, the sky is really that screaming blue.

We decided to hike up Mt. Ida (5.5 miles one way, 2,112 elevation gain) because it would make a good day hike and we could still leave before noon. Doesn't that sound so very practical? In reality it wasn't as practical as much as just "ooh oh what about this one?!" The Barracuda was highly impressed with all the rocks and put up with me pointing out the water cycle everywhere we went. He also got to see quite a bit of alpine wildlife that were completely unimpressed with humans. Deer, elk, marmots, pika, none even gave us a blink as they sunned themselves or went about eating away.

Outcroppings of rock are thrown about the sides of the trail from eons of glacial debris. This one was the size of our house.

The major benefit of this road trip (other than exposing The Barracuda) was to see each other in spiritual moments. Jules and I are not having another child (willingly), we are not taking large emotional plunges with our relationship like many who decide to marry early, and we do not participate in religion actively to have great awakenings of God. However, moments of such large emotional response are what really test the closeness of people and allow others to see some inherent characteristics of personality. They are the milestones.

Regardless of the creator you wish to worship, places like Zion, Sequoia, Gila, or the Rockies are undeniably hallowed ground. Together, experiencing these places for the first time creates those spiritual moments whom many only connect with in times of birth, death, or ceremony.

The journey to Georgia forces our family to confront Death (Jules' mother has Alzheimers), but can hopefully be a place where we can come to terms with other aspects of ourselves along the way.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

RoadTrip 2010: Day 18 - The Ozarks

On the way out of Georgia, it was important for The Barracuda to see Arkansas. I have no idea why, but the entire trip over to Georgia was heavily peppered with the location of Arkansas. He has been learning the States and apparently taken quite a fondness to this one. So we figured why not.

Now I must confess and apologize to Arkansas. I had never been to Arkansas before, but I was a bit presumptuous. Even more I was a bit negatively stereotypical. I thought Arkansas and I heard banjo music. I envisioned people who were missing teeth, and married their cousins, and said "Durrr" a lot. Think Deliverance. It was bad of me. I'm sorry Arkansas. You totally didn't deserve it.

Arkansas was beautiful!

We camped in the Ozarks at one of the best campsites for the entire trip. I dare say it was probably the most amazing location we had. There was a river less than 5 minutes from camp. It included a nature - made water slide of smooth rocks and enough sun to make the water feel superb.

We had a nice flat area to do the sun salutation in the morning and view the stars at night. The air was warm, but not overly balmy and the bugs were minimal.

There were butterflies frolicking in the flowers in drunken ecstasy. It was rather perfect and much like a Hallmark movie.

This was definitely not the Arkansas that I had in mind. We didn't hear any banjo music and weren't feasting on opossum. I am humbled by your beauty, Arkansas, and look forward to returning.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

RoadTrip 2010: Days 10 - 17 - Georgia

The entire point of road tripping was to get to Georgia and visit family. So visit we did.

The Barracuda got to spend time with his cousins.

Jules got to stay up all night giggling with old friends. (After multiple beers in the early morning hours he begins to giggle like a middle school girl.)

And the beauty of Appalachia was hiked.
Jack's River in the Cohutta or Big Frog Wilderness

Monday, September 13, 2010

RoadTrip 2010: Day 9 - New Orleans

I did not realize it, but New Orleans is actually a National Park. Jean Lafitte National Park covers six separate areas around southern Louisiana and one of those is New Orleans. Though not your standard National Park, the historical significance of the area is quite interesting. Apparently Jean Lafitte realized the cultural significance of the Port of New Orleans back when it was a major trade post. He encouraged a city which fostered acceptance of all walks of life, immersion and blending of cultures to create a fusion of new and interesting perspectives, and the idea that there should be a place where anyone can feel at home. No wonder this is one of Jules' favorite places on the planet!

However, New Orleans is a bit restrictive when you are traveling with a small person. Though we walked Bourbon Street our son was thankfully clueless of much of what he was seeing. The Barracuda was given some beads by "a nice lady wearing funny pants" (thong underwear and thigh high go-go boots), and that comment basically sums up how much flew completely over his head.

What he didn't fly completly over his head were the Beignets. Beignets are fried fritters covered in a thick layer of powdered sugar and brought to New Orleans by the French. Cafe du Monde sells these delectable treats from a walk up window which is open all night long. There is a very specific way to eat these treats which The Barracuda will now walk you through.

How to Eat A Beignet by The Barracuda

So you want to know how to eat a Beignet, huh? Alright, I'll show ya.

But listen up, 'cause they's tasty!

First you shake them up really, really well. Get that powdered sugar all over 'em. It's okay if it gets on you, too. Oooh! They are getting so good with all that sugar!

But don't you be thinkin' about touchin' my beignets! I saw that look! You go get your own! Touchin' a man's beignets is liable to get you hurt. Those are fightin' words. My mom doesn't even let me have sugared cereal and you were thinking about taking away my beignets?! Crazy!

'Cause they's tasty!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Road Trip 2010: Texas - Days 7 and 8

Oh dear Lord, Texas is big. Normal people can look at a map and realize that Texas is big, but we decided (in complete insanity) to drive across it. Uh. There are a lot of cows in Texas, a lot of religious radio stations, and a lot of cheap gasoline. There are also a lot of people who reminded us that we definitely aren't from around here.

Texas was the first of only three nights were were spent in hotels. Jules and I needed to do laundry, take a real shower (which we still hadn't done other than the rain storm) and enjoy sleeping together rather than just next to one another in a tent.

The Barracuda didn't exactly know what we meant by a hotel. This was a completely new concept and experience. He had seen the signs, but apparently never thought anything of them. Being the now-expert-parents (Thank You, Lassen) we checked first to see if there was a pool and exactly what the hours were.

The Barracuda knows a lot about pools. Grampie is a Masters level swim coach and holds a couple of world records for his age class in various strokes. The Barracuda has been receiving swim lessons from Grampie since he was just over a year old.

More importantly, treading water is a skill you learn here far faster than learning to swim. It has saved The Barracuda from drowning once already, and probably will a couple more times in the future. Water kills you here. Around us, the only place you can swim without a wetsuit is in a pool. It is just plain too cold (even in the summer) and the currents are far too bizarre for open water unless there is some serious professional training. Every year Jules looses students to water. You don't fear water growing up here, but you sure do respect it.

However, sleeping in a place where there is a heated outdoor pool was a concept which delighted our son. This meant he could literally play in the water all day, all evening, and virtually all night. Hotels became asked about frequently.

About this time, it had become very apparent who our child's favorite parent was. Though when he falls down extremely hard, is embarrassed, or has a nightmare it is all about Mom, this trip was all about Dad. Once again we have crossed into Boy Territory and Dad is all that will do. Mom does not know much about skipping rocks, or pocket knives, or BB guns. Mom does not have the experience to adequately explain exactly how to use the mysterious fly on jockey shorts or how to adjust ones self mid-conversation without calling too much attention. Mom does however know how to correct her son when he is being completely socially inappropriate and can direct him to his father.

But Dad! Dad knows about comic books, he knows about fitting backpacks, and how to make the best cannonball splashes to get Mom all wet. Dad knows about spitting, about which candy and cereal have the highest sugar content and how to sneak them so Mom doesn't know, and also still enjoys (and tells) jokes which involve words like butt, poop, and fart. Dad is also strong enough to launch The Barracuda several feet in the air across the pool. Dad has become incredibly cool.

So Dad and the boy played in the pool and told fart jokes. They had amazing competitions involving breath holding, twirling tricks, and synchronized splashing. I worked feverishly to send out articles via the hotels fabulous open WiFi connection and charged the computer with much coveted electricity. I also worked very hard at dodging the large waves of splash which came perilously close to the open laptop and myself.

Between Reno and pools, these National Parks were getting a run for their money!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Roadtrip 2010: Day 6 - Lee's Ferry and The Aldo Leopold Wilderness

Before we could get to Texas, a few literary stops were necessary. We were driving through Monkey Wrench Gang country and stomping grounds of Hayduke and Edward Abbey. Stopping at Lee's Ferry we marveled at the stark and unforgiving landscape. The struggle for scraping out life in such remote places is quite palpable. It is easy to see how Edward Abbey could create it as the birthplace of such eco-terrorism. Every action here has long reaching consequences which are often permanent. The Barracuda couldn't understand why on Earth we cared about such a place. He was busy navigating us quickly to camp.

He did quite well with the map and we are hoping to have a significant focus on trail and topographical mapping this year as another added skill for our backpacking. My father can read the trees, Lee is pretty darn amazing at it, and I'm rather hopeless. If The Barracuda can fall somewhere in there, I'll be very happy!

The Gila National Forest of New Mexico was calling. Inside it resides the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, the first designated wilderness area in the United States and an homage to one of the great environmentalists of our time. If we were going to be driving through New Mexico the need to stop was imperative. As we were driving, we couldn't quite understand what exactly it was that Leopold saw in the area.

There was a lot of this.

Though the skies were incredible and there was a definite beauty in the bleak landscape, this wasn't really screaming "Sand County Almanac" (which was written in Wisconson but inspired here). This was the area that inspired the works of Leopold? The area which enticed him to work for Wilderness protection and be a founding member of The Wilderness Society? The area which caused him to write his famous work "Land Ethics", which still stands as a poignant and founding document of the environmental movement?

We ventured on, partially wondering if we weren't enlightened enough to realize the great wonders which seemed to be invisible.

Then completely out of no where, there were trees ahead. A large, gorgeous clump of trees, sloping hills, and meandering lush grasslands, all framed by the incredible setting sun. I'm sorry we doubted you, Mr. Leopold. If there was ever a place to designate the miraculous quality of nature, you found it.

The skies were clear as we began our hike in to camp just north of the sacred spring and the beginning of the watershed. Then came a rain drop. Just one. We are from the Pacific NW. We eat, sleep, and breath rain. No big deal. After all, it slightly smelled of rain, but there were no clouds. After just under a mile in the skies opened up and dumped more rain than I have ever seen directly on us. It POURED. Our clothes began sticking to us like second skin. Unrelenting torrents of rain turned the trail into a river causing us to have to walk along the banked sides. Thunder clapped overhead loud enough to make both Jules and I jump and terrify The Barracuda. Stoic as ever, he held it together and soldiered on. This seemed bad enough, but it still hadn't begun hailing. Once the BB sized hails began to pelt us, The Barracuda broke down into tears sniffling, "The...hail...hurts...." There was nothing to do but continue. Jules took his pack and we covered him in my larger coat to hopefully deflect the stinging ice bits. As quickly as it came, it went. In under 45 minutes we had wet clothes hanging to dry and the tent was up.

Oh yeah...this is flash flood country. That didn't mean much until now.

In the morning out hike back out was very uneventful. Nature was indoctrinating our son into a respect for the land and direct knowledge of who the boss is when you backpack. It is an important lesson to learn that you are not the one in control. Even when it sucks, even when you hurt or are wet, even when you don't want to, you carry your weight and keep on walking.

The Barracuda was unscathed by the exceptionally exciting storm and decided to take on the roll of ninja backpacker! Jules and I had never quite realized how much a balaclava resembled ninja gear, but leave it to the five year old boy to find the likeness. At this point, our son can now hike through anything and we are quite happy he still wants to. More than ever, he has developed a conscience about the life of the woods. You can try to control it, but in the end, she's going to remind you just who you are messing with.

“Obligations have no meaning without conscience, and the problem we face is the extension of the social conscience from people to the land. No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our mental emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions.”
~Aldo Leopold; "Land Ethics"

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Road Trip 2010: Day 5 - Zion National Park

By the time we were on our way to Zion we smelled terrible. "I think a member of the Donner party died in our car," was one memorable way of putting it. It had been five days without a shower or clean clothes and now going through the Mojave Desert the temperature was 125. Hopefully other parents out there have looked upon their sleeping children, and even though they are exquisite, thought, "Man, that kid is gross!"

About the same time it became very apparent that MapQuest isn't a very good judge of distance when crossing multiple states, nor is a road atlas given to you by your insurance company a good guide. Jules was rightly frustrated when we pulled into Zion late, had to pay 38 dollars for a rather terrible campground, and still didn't understand why on earth I was dragging him to this location in the middle of nowhere. (We became even when I completely lost it in Kansas)

When he woke up early the next morning, this was the view from camp.

He quickly apologized for his mini-meltdown and we hopped a bus into the canyon. Like some National Parks where the ecosystems are highly fragile, you cannot drive very far into Zion. You must take a shuttle bus which has frequent stops and return trips so that the flow of traffic and people can be controlled. Another added benefit to this is that if you want to camp within the park, a back country permit must be purchased and you have to hike everything (including water) in by yourself.

Zion National Park is one of my favorite places on the planet. The colors are incredible. Being a natural sandstone canyon which was forged over years of water and then baked by the sun, the walls are a vibrant orange. The orange makes the sky and the trees look almost fake. Secondly, the size is mammoth and you cannot help but leave with a new understanding of how forceful nature can be.

As a sense of scale, those tiny white lines at the bottom are the shuttle buses.

What is even better, the canyons are open access most of the year and there are few guard rails. You get to hike amongst the rock at your own risk and truly experience how small you are within the power of nature. Jules had never quite hiked like this as a dad before and found himself quite paranoid. With a 400-600 foot drop it was reasonably justified, but The Barracuda did just fine.

Cliff-side trail up to Hidden Canyon

Even at 112 degrees, the canyon was incredible. We hiked most of the morning. Up the cliffs and through the winding crevices worn away by eons of water, this was the best lesson in erosion I could ever have imagined. If Sequoia was a cathedral showing the grace and beauty of nature; Zion is a picture of nature's ability to both build and destroy as the true architect of the Earth.

Hiking back trails within Hidden Canyon

This time it was Jules feeling humbled. We decided to come back and purchase a back country permit as The Barracuda gets better at rock climbing and can handle the technical merit of many of the hikes (probably around 9). We figure spending at least 10 days will allow us to see a bit more of this awe inspiring natural wonder which is so different than our normal hiking.

On the way back to the car we stopped to submerge ourselves in the Virgin River which winds its way through all of Zion and is what cut the canyon in the first place. Other tourists seemed to think the dirty hippies playing and soaking in the water were a bit odd, but at least we didn't stink quite as badly when we returned to the car. After all, we were on the way to crossing Texas and that is quite a while to be trapped together smelling like wildebeests!

RoadTrip 2010: Day 4 - Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Leaving Lassen we soon realized that "Putting the Nation Back To Work" translated into many difficulties for National Park visitors. The entire park was tipped upside down with construction. (We began to plan for this since it happened in every park we visited.) We left using a different route than planned and that put us going a completely different direction. After a couple hours on the road, damage control was in order for us to get back on track.

Damage control took the form of Reno, Nevada. What better way to eat, than at an abundant all-you-can-eat buffet. What better way to vacation, than with teaching your child to gamble at Circus-Circus. The Barracuda ate three plates of fruit and won two small stuffed toys in the MidWay. One was given to his baby cousin in Georgia and the other now sleeps with him and is named "Kitty." As far as he is concerned one hour in Reno was a high-light of our trip. Viewing glaciers and constellations from the Rocky Mountains? Pffft. Swimming in the Ozarks? Naaah. Rail-less Hiking in Zion Canyon? Ehhh.

Back on the road, we cut back across California and camped along side the road in Sequoia since both Jules and I completely hit the wall with driving at almost 11:00pm. In the morning, all was well.

This was breakfast.

Mid-drive, The Barracuda announced he wanted to climb to the top of this mountain; so we pulled over. He was serious in his claims and we figured why not have breakfast at the top. His desire to learn and begin rock climbing is sincere and Jules has the knowledge to teach him. This year his school is allowing funding for us to use rock climbing as PE and will pay for not only gear but gym time. Over the course of the road trip, we tried to climb as much as possible.

Jules illustrating a layback and The Barracuda's attempt

From the top we ate, did the sun salutation to welcome the morning, and watched the day warm the valley below. It was well worth driving all night long.

To not repeat previous stupidity, when we stopped at the Ranger Station, Jules took Dae into the visitor center to read all about past indscretions of logging and dendrochronology (Tree Ring Science) while I asked about Junior Ranger patches. The Barracuda had to fill out a rather cool little packet, go for at least one hike, and then pick up trash throughout the park. It was great. This was much more what Crater Lake and all the other parks we would visit had in mind with the Junior Ranger Program. At swearing in, he was reminded to "Promise to not let the past be forgotten through better choices in the future."

As we began to drive through the park, the magnitude of the "trees" we had been talking about soon started to sink in to our son. His eyes were about the size of quarters for most all of the hike. Even living very close to and having hiked through Old-Growth, he had never seen anything like this. Humble was a word The Barracuda now understood.

These were definitely the kings of the forest. When the tree-rings were counted and the dendrochronology assessed, the average age of many of the cross cut sections were close to 3,300 years old.


The idea of this trip was to give The Barracuda a survey course in what amazing natural monuments exist in our nation. When we sat down to think about what that should include, Sequoia was essential. These trees stood as the largest living organisms on the planet for decades (recently usurped by the Honey Mushroom) and can create awe in the most hardened of souls. As Jules stated while hiking, this is as close to a cathedral and religious experience as our family can get.

As we left Sequioa, Jules was fairly sure that little would compare to Sequoia or Yosemite, but he had yet to see Zion.

Template by:

Free Blog Templates