Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How I Spent My Spring--Travelogue: Part IV Memorial Day

My new skull shirt
For Memorial Day, we went to the Moreland, Idaho cemetery to visit my Dad.  When he was still living, Dad used to say things like, "When I kick off..." and other things that were slightly irreverent about death.  Because of that, I wore my new skull shirt to the cemetery.  In my own odd way I was paying tribute to my Dad.  Of course, some of my family members objected and thought it was slightly inappropriate, but I didn't care.  My nephews thought it was cool.  That was enough.

Moreland, Idaho is a very small town.  It seems to be shrinking, too.  When I was a kid we'd go visit and there were stores and gas stations.  They're all boarded up now and it seems that the population is less.  The best thing about Moreland, though is that it's where my family comes from and many of them still live there.

With a town that small, it is funny and ironic that both my wife and my son-in-law have people buried there.  Chimene is from Seattle and Nick is from Baltimore.  Chimene's grandmother grew up in Moreland and was friends with my grandmother.  I got to know her for a few years before she died.  We go and visit her grave every year as well.

Dad and Mother's stone
My kids were scandalized when they put the stone over Dad's grave.  They were wierded out that their grandma's name was on it when she was still living.  Imagine their consternation when they saw the back and my name was on it.

The backside

My grandparents' stone

Chimene's grandparents

Nick's family members

The extended family at the cemetery

After the cemetery we drove on into Pocatello where a Viet Nam veteran has for the last 8 years set up a memorial to the casulties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This memorial has grown in size and scope over the last eight years.  Part of why it has grown is the number of casulties has gone up every year.  The organizers of the event said they hoped it didn't get any bigger, and I knew exactly what they meant by that.

I had intended to show up, take a few pictures, explain the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to my sons and be done.  When we got there, however I realized just how important this thing really was.  Seeing over 6000 crosses and realizing that each one represents a deceased American serviceman was sobering.  Just seeing it on television or on the internet does not give one the full impact of seeing it for real.  It was heartwrenching.  We stayed for almost two hours.  It was a sacred experience.

There was a section for the soldiers killed in Afghanistan, one for the soldiers killed in Iraq and another section for the Idaho soldiers killed in both conflicts.  There was also a small section reminding us that there are still eight Idaho soldiers who are still unaccounted for from the Viet Nam War.  I grieve for the families and friends of these soldiers.

Idaho's Field of Heroes

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Operation Enduring Freedom

Idaho's MIA from Viet Nam

Idaho's casualties from Afghanistan and Iraq

Field of crosses

Nick and Cynthia and their children were with us all day, and on the way back to Rexburg, we decided to walk the interpretive trail at the rest stop at Hell's Half Acre.  I have always liked Hell's Half Acre.  I have always wondered why filmmakers haven't used it as a location.  It is some of the most rugged terrain I have ever seen.  Hell's Half Acre is a 4100 year old lava flow along the Snake River Plain.  Interstate 15 runs through the southern arm of the flow and there is a rest area there.  At the rest area there is an interpretive trail through the flow.  Both sides of the highway have trails and I have walked both of them.  In my opinion, the trail on the southbound side is more scientific but both sides are very cool.  It's called Hell's Half Acre, but in reality, the flow covers about 150 square miles.  The trails at the rest areas are paved and not too long. 

The family at the trailhead

Pahoehoe flow


Small fern that grows here

Juniper berries

Moss on the rocks

Lichen on the rocks, the first step in soil building

Connor and Haydn on the path

Jonathan, Garrett, Chimene, Hunter and Rhys

Holden, my youngest grandson

Nick and the boys exploring a cave

The boys on the lava

Nick and Cynthia and a whole bunch of boys on the trail

I never get tired of Idaho.  I'm glad we moved here.  There's alot to like about this place.  Most of all, though I love my family.  I was thankful to spend the day with them.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

How I Spent My Spring--Travelogue: Part III Fishing With Bruce

My brother Bruce and my two youngest sons
I've never really been much of a fisherman.  Fishing wasn't much fun when I was a kid.  To me, fishing was going to Fan Creek with my Dad, being put on a rock in the middle of the stream that I couldn't get off of, getting dehydrated and sunburned while Dad fished for three hours.

I've often thought I should learn how to do it and learn to like it because I have children who would probably like to be fishermen.  Last week, my brother, Bruce made the decision for me and invited my two youngest sons to go fishing with him.  They accepted the invitation and when I took them to his house on Saturday, he asked why I wasn't coming.  I tried to make some excuse, but he said I didn't have to fish, I should just come and take pictures of my sons fishing.  I finally agreed to go and now I'm glad I did.  We had a wonderful time fishing.  I could even see myself learning to like it.

We drove out to Warm River near Ashton, Idaho and walked in to the fishing hole which is in the campground.  It was a little chilly and when we first arrived it was drizzling.  We went to the river and the boys started fishing right away.  A man across the river started shouting at us and warned us of the skunk that was approching.  I did something really stupid, I tried to get close enough to get a good picture, but the skunk was wise and moved away from us quite rapidly, choosing to stay under cover.  I did not get a good pic and I did not get sprayed.  It wasn't for a lack of trying though.  He did raise his tail at us a couple of times, but we didn't corner him and he thought it best to leave us alone as well.

Warm River, Idaho

Bruce taught the boys how to spin cast and Rhys, my 12 year old caught a rainbow trout almost immediately.  He was really excited.  He hooked a couple more during the day and Bruce hooked one and let him fight it in, but that was the only one he caught from start to finish.  He felt like it was enough, though.  He had a great time and said he wanted to go back and fish again.

Bruce teaching the boys to fish

Rhys and his first fish
Garrett's day started out slower.  Bruce set Rhys up in a pretty good hole, but Garrett wasn't having much luck where he was so Bruce took him to a couple more spots.  Bruce had to help Rhys with something and I was with Garrett and the skunk.  We decided to go where Rhys was and on a whim, Garrett cast off the wooden bridge in the campground and immediately hooked a fish.  He was thrilled. 

Garrett and his fish
Then it started to rain.  Rhys and Garrett were getting cold and opted to sit in the car for awhile.  Bruce took his pole under a concrete bridge and started fishing.  The rain stopped for a few minutes and the sun came out from behind a cloud and Bruce started catching fish.  I hollered at the boys and they came over and watched him catch a bunch.  In less than ten minutes, Bruce had caught his limit.  They wanted to start fishing again but by that time, the sun had gone back behind a cloud and it started to rain again. 

We packed up and started for home.  There is a place on Warm River where for a hundred yards there is no fishing allowed.  It's a kind of fish preserve and the trout grow to be huge.  Some of them are eight to ten pounds and nearly 20 inches long.  There is a vending machine there with Purina Trout Chow in it and you can get a handful for a quarter.  Some people brought bags of dry cat food and fed the fish with that.  It was neat to see the water boiling with big fish trying to feed on the cat food.  My Dad took me there when I was a boy.  I'd forgotten how much fun it was to do that.

Big trout in the water

Big ole rainbow trout

Another big fish

On our way out of the canyon, Bruce pointed out an old stone bridge.  It's not really used much anymore and it's all overgrown, but it looked like it ought to be in Vermont or someplace back east.  I had to photograph it.

Very old stone bridge

When we got home, Bruce taught us all how to filet the fish so you didn't have to gut them.  Pretty ingenious.  Basically you just slice the meat off the bones and leave the head, tail and gut cavity intact.  Lots easier than the old way.  This was a great day.  I'm glad my big brother Bruce convinced me to go.  We had a really nice time with him.  I think he may have convinced me to give fishing another shot and I may end up buying a license and a fishing pole. 

Our haul

Monday, May 14, 2012

How I Spent My Spring--Travelogue: Part II America's Serengeti

May 12 was Chimene and my 28th wedding anniversary.  We had planned to go up to Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone and spend the night on Friday and then enjoy the park on Saturday all day.  Just before we were going to pull the trigger on the hotel room, I found out that I had a rehearsal on Friday and that I might have to work on Saturday.

Chimene was pretty bummed because it always seems that I have a show going on at anniversary time.  We have never really gone anywhere or done anything besides dinner or a movie on the anniversary so this one was going to be a big deal, we thought. 

After Friday's rehearsal, I talked to the director and he said I didn't need to be there as he was going to be rehearsing different things than what I was responsible for.  Chimene and I decided to do the Yellowstone trip but on Saturday only.  It would have been fun to spend the night in the old historic hotel, but we weren't about to miss Mother's Day with the kids to do it.

On the way to Yellowstone, we stopped at Swan Lake because there were three trumpeter swans there.  I've always liked swans.  The last time we were through, there was only one swan on the lake.  Swans always remind me of my Dad.

Three trumpeter Swans on Swan Lake, Island Park, Idaho
We stopped on the Henry's Lake Flats to get a picture of Sawtell.  Legend has it that Chief Sawtell was a great chief and a great man of the native people here and when he died, the wind and the rain carved his likeness in the mountain.  Before Mount Rushmore, there was Sawtell Peak.  When you look at the mountain, it's as if he is lying on his back, his face in profile towards the heavens.  His nose and chin are to the right and the ridges coming down the left side and towards the camera represent the full feathered warbonnet.  I've always liked Sawtell and always look for the likeness.

Sawtell Peak
When we left yesterday morning, we decided we wanted to see a bear and possibly a wolf.  When we go to Yellowstone, we usually decide before we go what kind of a day it is going to be.  Will it be a hot water day?  A cold water day?  A hiking day?  Yesterday was an animal day.  Yellowstone did not disappoint.

I have a colleague that calls The Lamar Valley in Yellowstone, "America's Serengeti."  That was where we decided to go to see the animals.  The largest wild herd of bison in the world makes its' home in The Lamar Valley.  Where there's food, there are predators. 

There are two routes from Norris to the Lamar Valley, the northern route through Mammoth and the southern route through Canyon.  The southern route was closed because several areas of the road had washed out in the spring, so we chose the north by default.  We stopped at Gibbon Falls.  I've seen Gibbon Falls hundreds of times and yet I never tire of it's grandeur.  I usually see it during the late summer, so seeing it in the spring with all the runoff was a treat.

The Hot Chick at Gibbon Falls
Gibbon Falls in the spring
We normally stop to see alot of the waterfalls in the park.  There are around 300 of them and we want to hike to and photograph as many of them as we can.  There's a beautiful one near Mammoth called Undine Falls.  We stopped there for a quick view.

Me at Undine Falls

Throughout the park, from about 7 Mile Bridge on, we saw large herds of bison.  I counted over a hundred individuals in a small herd in the Madison River valley.  I saw several much larger herds as the day passed.  I estimate that we saw over 1000 bison yesterday.

Small herd on the Madison River
A couple of big fellers near Madison Junction
An aggressive bull bison at Mammoth Hot Springs
Bison calf in the Lamar Valley
We also saw hundreds of Elk in the park yesterday.  Mostly females and no young.  We saw some scruffy females that had not yet shed their winter coats at Mammoth Hot Springs, and near the Lamar Valley we saw three bulls with their antlers still in velvet.  I believe it is still too early for the elk to begin calving so we saw no young.  Baby elk are not a common sight in Yellowstone, however because the mothers hide their young in the forest and in the tall grasses.

There was a rock in the Madison River, around a bend in the road that when we were little, my sister mistook for an elk.  Forever after, that rock has been called the "Jolene Elk".  I decided to take a picture of it this time.

The "Jolene Elk"

Scruffy elk at Mammoth
Bull elk with velvet coated antlers
We also saw about 45 bighorn sheep.  It had been decades since I had seen any bighorn sheep in Yellowstone and only a few at that.  These were fairly close, and were drinking in the Yellowstone River.  We were standing on a bridge and they were crossing under.  It was a spectacular sight.

Bighorn sheep near the Lamar Valley
We viewed a small herd of pronghorns near a bridge over the Lamar River.  Pronghorns are sometimes called antelope around here, but they are not related.  They are their own species.  Pronghorns are also the fastest land animal in the western hemispheres and second only to cheetahs in the rest of the world.  It is thought that their speed evolved during a time when there were faster predators in North America.

I loved seeing all the large herbivores, but the real story of the day, yesterday were the carnivores.  In the last large meadow before the descent through the Golden Gate into Mammoth Hot Springs, there was a large gathering of people with cameras, binoculars and spotting scopes.  We stopped and saw a very large sow grizzly with two cubs.  They were about 300 yards away, but we got a few photographs of them.  It had been a very long time since I saw grizzly bears in the park.  Later in the day, we saw another grizzly in the Lamar Valley.  That one was so far away that we had to see it with a spotting scope.

Sow grizzly bear and two cubs
Near Tower Junction, there was another gathering of people and this time we saw a sow black bear and two cubs.  That seemed to be the theme of the day, a sow and two cubs.  The sow was forty or fifty yards away from her cubs but seemed unconcerned even though there were about a hundred people out of their cars snapping photographs.  Later on during the day, we saw another black bear sow with two cubs about two miles away from where we saw the first.  We weren't sure if it was the same sow and cubs, but later decided it had to be a different family because they were quite a ways away from where we saw the first group.

Black bear cub
Black bear sow
There were four wolves in the Lamar Valley and we were only able to see them through a spotting scope.  They were around a thousand yards away, so we didn't get any photographs of them.  It was worth it, though to have just seen them.  It was the first time either of us had seen wolves in the park.  Later on as we were heading home, we rounded a bend in the road and I saw cars stopped and immediately looked where the people were looking and I saw a wolf loping off.  I stopped and tried to get a photo, but it was already gone.  One of these days I'll get a photograph of a wolf in the park.

It was very neat to see the bears and wolves.  That was dinner.  The dessert came when we were on our way back and saw a little red fox.  He was unconcerned about the people who had stopped to watch him and proceeded to run around the hillside and pee on everything.  We had hoped to see a bear and had figured we'd see a wolf, but the little red fox was completely unexpected.  I don't think I've ever seen one of them in the park before.

This was a fantastic day in Yellowstone.  It was a priceless experience.  This was the best animal day I've ever had in Yellowstone Park, and I was thankful to be able to spend my anniversary with the girl I love in this idyllic environment.