Monday, July 31, 2017

A Snowball Fight in July at Lassen Volcanic National Park: A National Park Odyssey Day 26

LassenVolcanic National Park

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National Park #13

We woke to the scent of freshly-brewed coffee and sizzling bacon.  Uncle Larry was in the kitchen making eggs to order and serving up fresh California fruit, some from his own trees and some grown by his younger daughter, Sarah.  His older daughter, Beth, and I went to pick up some fabulous cinnamon rolls from a local bakery which completed the morning’s spread.  We wolfed it all down hungrily before setting out for Lassen Volcanic National Park located an hour and forty-five minutes away.  Josh’s parents, Steve and Lanita, were joining for this park visit, and we all piled into the Volvo to get to Lassen by 10:30 in time for the ranger program.
L to R - Lola, Sarah, Kinley, Beth, Uncle Larry,  and Josh enjoy breakfast.

Aunt Nancy and Steve

Could these kiddos be any cuter?  Roman and Addie eat their breakfast, too.

I give Uncle Larry a hard time because I like him!

Josh and Lanita serve up the cinnamon rolls.

Josh had called ahead and learned that this park had the most complicated and time-consuming requirements of any Junior Ranger program we’d done to date.  The ranger on the phone was actually sheepish about it, especially since there were only two ranger programs a day and every Junior Ranger is required to attend one.  The ranger also told Josh that our favorite trail, Bumpass Hell, was closed due to snow.  Evidently, crews had been working on snow removal ten hours per day, seven days a week since April, but progress was slow.
I got to use the heat gun to test the temperature of the bubbling mud pot.

We arrived just in time, and the young ranger taught us about the geology of the area including mud pots and fumaroles that are common in the park.  He even let us use his heat gun to test the temperature of the soil surrounding the mud pots!  After his talk, we drove up to the Bumpass Hell trailhead to get some pictures of the remaining snow, and we certainly weren’t disappointed.  Huge walls of snow lined the parking lot, and the kids and I climbed the drifts, throwing snowballs at each other and posing for pictures of the spectacle.
This wasn't a pile of snow that had been plowed into place.  It was an actual snowdrift.  In July.

Kinley aims for Knox.

We returned to the Visitors’ Center to pick up some lunch at the snack bar (which was fine but nothing to write a blog about), and Knox spent some time checking out the exhibits.  The quality of exhibits in national parks’ visitors’ centers varies widely, so he was excited by the interactive ones at Lassen.  The unfortunate side effect of this was that his sister got really annoyed with him for not working on his Junior Ranger book.  At every stop, Kinley is very focused about getting the booklet done as quickly as possible, but Knox has to be reminded repeatedly to get to work.  And seeing as how this was park #13, Kinley was super tired of her brother slowing down the whole process over and over because even if she finishes early, we like to let the kids go through their swearing-in ceremonies at the same time.  I’m pretty sure that on this day she got so sick of waiting for him that she just told him the answers to get the whole thing over with.
Knox makes a new friend while learning about the geology of the park.

The coolest thing about this particular swearing-in was that the ranger got each child a real ranger hat to wear!  Kinley’s was a little small, but it was still a really cute experience we’d never had before.  Badges in hand, we loaded back into the car to meet the rest of the family for a tour of the Sierra Nevada Brewery.  Tour guests must be at least twelve years old, so we dropped Knox at Aunt Nancy and Uncle Larry’s to swim while the rest of us met up with Josh’s cousins at the brewery.
The kids got to wear real ranger hats while being sworn in!

Let me say this.  I don’t like beer.  I just don’t.  Neither does Josh.  But we really wanted to have time with the cousins, and this tour was what they wanted to do so off to the tour Josh, Kinley, Steve, and I went.  Lanita stayed behind to spend time with her brothers and help out at the house.  The tour was unlike anything I’d ever done before, and our tour guide was incredibly enthusiastic.  The most interesting parts to me were seeing the cold storage room full of hops and learning about the founder’s tinkering at age 14 that led eventually to crafting his own beer.  He was clearly a gifted child, and I found myself wondering what would have happened to him in school if he hadn’t had a mentor who encouraged his mechanical gifts and inquisitive mind.  (You can take the teacher out of the classroom for the summer, but you can’t keep her from thinking about gifted kids!)
Sierra Nevada samples

Our tour ended up being a little bit of a Willy Wonka reboot.  Steve got overheated on the tour and left to go home, but the Sierra Nevada staff somehow didn’t get the memo.  They were freaking out, and it felt a little like when the Augustus Gloop character in Roald Dahl’s book disappears up the chocolate pipe.  Only instead of Oompa Loompas singing we had security asking us if we’d heard from him every five minutes.  We eventually got in touch with him, and he was safe back at Aunt Nancy and Uncle Larry’s house.
Just before Steve started feeling overheated, he sampled the  non-alcoholic wort, part of the beer-making process.
Word got around that our tour guide, Matt, had lost a guest.  His colleagues gave him a seriously hard time about it.

After the tour, we had dinner together at the brewery, and then we returned to the ranch.  Josh, Beth, Uncle Larry, and his brother, John, took some time to practice their barbershop quartet numbers which would debut the following evening at the anniversary party while the rest of us talked and visited.  Part of the family was staying at an Airbnb property, and several of us eventually ended up there, talking, laughing, and even making s’mores until we couldn’t hold our eyes open any longer. 

L to R - Uncle John, Uncle Larry, Josh, and Beth squeeze in a barbershop quartet practice session.

Being together made me wish for more occasions like this one, occasions where we all converge on one place and spend time remembering why we like each other.  And intentionally forgetting the reasons we might get annoyed with each other.  Because families are fun and annoying all at once.  But mostly fun.

Great Basin National Park’s Cave, Glacier, and Bristlecone Pines: National Park Odyssey Day 30

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What a surprisingly great park this one was!
We had scheduled our hot breakfast at Hidden Canyon Ranch for 7:30 and scarfed down scrambled eggs, sausage, hashbrowns, and toast before packing a lunch and heading for the Lehman Caves Visitors’ Center which was 30 minutes away.  A couple of weeks earlier, we had bought tickets online for the 9:00 tour, so we checked in and picked up Junior Ranger booklets for the kids. 

Just like at Carlsbad, we were asked if we had visited any other cave in the last nine years.  When we said that we had, the ranger asked if we were wearing or carrying any of the items we wore or carried into our last cave.  We were all wearing the hiking boots we had worn in Carlsbad, and, of course, our camera was the same.  We wiped the camera down with a Clorox wipe, but they had us take off our boots and soak the soles in some sort of cleaning solution for five minutes to avoid spreading white nose syndrome to the cave’s bats.  I guess they think their bats are more fragile than Carlsbad’s bats or something.
The Cypress Room at Lehman Cave
During our 90-minute tour we saw cave formations including stalactites, stalagmites, columns, soda straws, cave popcorn, cave bacon, draperies, and shields.  This cave began as many others in the national park system did, as a privately owned tourist attraction.  From the 1890s to the 1920s, visitors were told, “If you can break it, you can take it,” and from the looks of the many damaged and broken formations, the guests took the challenge seriously. 
Evidence of broken soda straw formations and other broken stalactites
During prohibition, the cave was used as a speakeasy.  Later it was used for meetings of the local chapter of the Elks club, and even later the Boy Scouts had campouts inside.  The low ceiling of The Inscription Room is covered with turn-of-the-century graffiti – names and initials inscribed using smoke and charcoal.  The guide told us that the NPS requires parks to protect anything in the parks that is at least 50 years old, so the graffiti stays.  Never mind that some rangers tried to scrub huge swaths of it off the ceiling at some point, leaving strange illegible black smudges as permanent scars on the rock.
These formations are called parachute shields.  The shield part is the flat disk at the top, and the parachute part is the draping extending off of the shield.

After our cave tour, we drive up to Mather Point to have a picnic lunch, and then we drove to Wheeler Peak Campground to hike the Bristlecone and Glacier Trails.  This would lead to a grove of bristlecone pine trees and then up to the southernmost glacier in the US.  (The idea that there is a glacier in Nevada seems ridiculous, but it’s there nonetheless.)  We ended up adding on the Alpine Lakes Trail as well on our way back down, but that meant that we ended up at the wrong trailhead 0.7 miles from our car at the end.  Josh hiked back on the road to our car and came and picked us up at the end.  He’s a good egg.
Our lunch at Mather Point may not have included a picnic table, but the view made up for that.
The Glacier Trail is an extension of the Bristlecone Trail, and together the elevation gain is 1,100 feet.  I don’t love hiking uphill, but I still really liked this trail.  Being able to see 3200 year old trees, a glacier, alpine lakes, and a grove of Aspens all in one hike (even if we did end up at the wrong place) is extraordinarily interesting and diverse, in my opinion.
Here we are at the beginning of the trail, ready for a hike!
The signs along the Bristlecone Trail loop were very helpful since those trees look very similar to limberpine trees.  Learning the difference helped us not only at Great Basin but at Bryce Canyon as well.  Bristlecones have the ability to “turn off” parts of themselves to conserve resources, so one way to notice the difference is to look for dead plant material.  And it’s not just that these trees live a long time; they also take a long time to decay.  We saw one still-standing tree that had been dead for 600 years! 
Can you see the bristle-like little tips on the end of the cones?
This tree is still standing even though its' been dead for 600 years.
The signage at this park was excellent.
You may be wondering how experts can know when a tree died if there weren’t any tree experts around making notes about dead trees 600 years ago.  Well, as we learned on the interpretive signs, they look at the growth rings of a living tree and compare them to the rings of a dead tree.  All off the trees in an area will have similar growth rings for a given year.  For example, the ring for 1972 looks the same on all the trees in an area.  They just look for rings that are the same to figure out when the tree died!  Science is so cool.  (NOTE:  I am not even close to a botanist, so if I interpreted this all wrong, just tell me below in comments so that future readers can be set straight by someone who knows what they’re talking about.)
The tree over Knox's left shoulder, which appears to be mostly dead, has actually been living for the last 3200 years.  You can see some remaining green above my head.
The placard at the base of the tree
You can learn so much just from reading the signs!

After we had spent adequate time in the awe-inspiring presence of these amazing trees, we proceeded to climb up to the glacier.  Soon, it began to drizzle.  We passed a few people on their way down who said that a storm was coming in.  We heard thunder and came to a sign warning of the dangers of lightning on the exposed mountain.  Neither bristlecones, timberpines, nor any of the other tree species in this area were tall varieties of trees, so Josh was the tallest thing in the area.  I was not crazy about the idea of my husband getting struck by lightning, so I began to get increasingly nervous and to hike as fast as I could stand up the steep slope.
The trail was rocky and gained 1100 feet in elevation.
Up we went!
Another pair of hikers advised us to just hike to the view of the glacier.  They thought that we could beat the storm (and still count the trail as pretty much done) if we stopped at the glacier sign and didn’t do the last ¾ mile to the actual glacier itself.  I was in favor of this, but I didn’t want to make Josh quit early on one of his top-priority hikes for this whole trip. 
Yay!  We made it to the sign!
But then the rain started.  We arrived at the sign (which was very well done and pointed to both the ice part of the glacier and the rock covered part of the glacier), took some pictures, heard more threatening thunder, and skedaddled back down the trail.  Josh was perfectly ok with it all, and we still think we get to say that we hiked to the glacier.  I mean, we could see it.  That counts, right?
The gray part in hte middle of the snowy area is the rock-covered glacier.  Under all that rocky scree, there is an ice core.
Once we were past the bristlecones on the way back down, the rain and thunder stopped.  Since we no longer felt in danger, we decided to take a left and check out the alpine lakes.  What a great choice that was.  They were strikingly beautiful, and the rain had kept most people away.  We first came to Teresa Lake where we sat for a few minutes enjoying the scenery.  We could hear the sound of a little creek emptying into the alpine lake, so we decided to walk around to the right to look for it.  Again, a great choice.
Oh yeah.  This was a seriously high area.  That made the increase in elevation as we hiked even harder.

Teresa Lake was lovely!

This little creek was one of the most scenic spots of our entire trip.  The sound of the tinkling water, the sight of the vibrant pink wildflowers growing along the bank as if they’d been plants by horticulturists at DisneyWorld, the smells of the evergreens and the rich creekside soil – all of these paired with the fact that we didn’t have any preconceived expectations for this part of the trail made the experience magical!
Doesn't this look like something at a botanical garden?!

These pink flowers lined the little creek.

We followed the trail on to Stella Lake and then on through the grove of Aspen trees whose leaves swished in the breeze as though they were trying to whisper a secret just for us.  Their white bark was a stark contrast to the green juniper underneath, and wildflowers dotted the trail’s edge meaning frequent stops for pictures.  What a marvelous setting for our day!
Beautiful Stella Lake

Wildflowers on the forest floor
Knox hikes through the Aspens in a funk.  You can see Kinley ahead of him.  We didn't try to catch them.

I’m sure there are other equally-diverse parks, but I’ve got to say that I can’t think of any where you can get caves, 3200 year old trees, a glacier, Alpine lakes, and Apsen groves, all in a relatively small land area.  I’d tell you to get yourself to this park, but then you might.  And the deserted nature of the park is one of its charms. 

In fact, it's so deserted that when both of our kids became irritated with each other and with us and took off ahead of us up the trail to hike separately on their own, we didn't even care.  We let them hike far ahead of us and just enjoyed the much-needed peace and quiet.  By the time we all caught up with each other a half hour later, nature had done the thing she's so good at.  She brought us all back to a sense of equilibrium, just by experiencing her in peace.

So don’t go.  Stay home.  Go somewhere else. 

And leave all this awesomeness just for us.

The Best I Can Do Today: A National Park Odyssey Day 31

Great Basin National Park to Zion National Park

Want to listen to a podcast about these parks instead?  Click here for Great Basin or here for Zion.
Our fifteenth park!

Thanks to a suggestion from my sister, Amanda, who, upon learning that I was stressed out about the blog and reconsidering my commitment to writing about our summer, encouraged me to channel my inner David Sedaris, this post is going to be different.  That’s why I titled it, “The Best I Can Do Today.”  Because it is.

  1. Woke up from my first classroom management nightmare of the summer.  Got really frustrated with myself since I shouldn’t be having school dreams for at least a couple more weeks.
  2. Ate French toast and possibly fried SPAM for breakfast.  Really liked it.  Everything tastes better when you’re eating in a remote canyon with no other food around for miles.
  3. Packed.  Again.  For the eleventy-billionth time.
  4. Drove (or rather, Josh drove and I sat, pseudo-blogged, and slept) eleventy-billion miles across country with so little civilization that we got really excited about tiny places like Milford, Utah, just because they had things like a two-pump gas station and a place called Penny’s Diner that no one wanted to eat at besides me.  I was overruled.
  5. Got really, really excited about a town called Cedar City, Utah, where we drove up and down Main Street several times thinking we were in heaven just because they had an Indian restaurant and an artisan ice cream shop.
  6. Ate Indian food cooked by a Pakistani guy who forgot to lock the front door of his restaurant so he decided he had to make something for us even though he really meant to be closed at 2:00 on a Wednesday.  And his chicken tikka masala and his chicken curry may have been different colors but they tasted remarkably similar.
  7. Shared a double scoop of Tim Tam Slam and Black Currant Blueberry artisan ice cream with Josh and the kids.
    This place was delish!  And, to be fair, this picture is actually from our second visit a few days later.  Like I said, it's the best I can do today.
  8. Briefly considered checking out the Renaissance Festival that was taking place across the street before remembering that A) it was 99 degrees and B) a Renaissance Festival that is mostly blow-up bounce houses and booths selling fairy wings and Samurai swords is probably not worth the sweat we’d no-doubt find ourselves soaked in after a look around.
    Those bounce house makers were real Renaissance men.
  9. Let Josh drive some more and recorded a couple of podcasts.
  10. Worked really hard not to pull the car over and kick my offspring out on the side of Interstate 15, leaving them there to bicker and pick at each other endlessly so I could nap in peace.
  11. Completed our 15th national park sign photo shoot of the summer.
  12. Did a happy dance when we realized that our historic cabin inside Zion National Park had A) air conditioning, B) wifi (sort of), C) both a fridge and a microwave.

    We loved our cabin at Zion!

    The interior was spacious and nicely appointed.
  13. Hiked to the Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald Pools.  Decided that the people who named this national park’s features must have been color blind because those pools were nothing but brown.  And calling them pools is a stretch, too.  Puddles is more apt.
    This trickle of a waterfall is what fills the lower pool.

    In this picture, you can actually see some color of green.  Believe me.  It was mostly brown.
  14. Ate peanut butter sandwiches for dinner in our cabin.
  15. Fell asleep three times waiting for our next podcast episode to upload because national parks aren't known for their fabulous wifi.
  16. Resisted the urge to throw my computer across the room.
  17. Set my alarm for 5:20 the next morning to get ready to hike The Narrows.  Slept all night without dreaming of school a single time.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Celebration, a Barbershop Quartet, and a Hidden Canyon: A National Park Odyssey Days 27-29

Durham, CA to Great Basin National Park via Lake Tahoe and Carson City, NV

Forty years of marriage is a great thing to celebrate.  Friends and family of Josh’s Aunt Nancy and Uncle Larry gathered in Chico, CA to honor the couple after more than a year of planning by their three children, Pat, Beth, and Sarah.  The Mexican menu was perfect for feeding a crowd, and the scrolling pictures chronicling this family that is so dear to us was an entertaining way to wait for our turn at the buffet. 
Their wedding picture was on the party invitation.

Aunt Nancy and Uncle Larry were married in Josh’s family’s backyard in Fort Thomas, KY, in 1977, so seeing the wedding pictures that included four-year-old little Josh was especially interesting to me.  Their wedding was a small one since they’d only met three months earlier, and Josh was one of only five people (besides Larry and Nancy themselves) who were at both the wedding and this party.  I wish we had thought to get a picture of those five people with Nancy and Larry at the party!

The main entertainment of the evening was the barbershop quartet performance by Uncle Larry, Uncle John, Josh, and Beth.  They practiced for several hours that weekend and sang beautifully together in spite of the complex harmonies involved in singing barbershop style.  All four of them have been singing their entire lives, but the chord progressions in a barbershop song are very different from those in the traditional four-part-harmony they grew up singing.  I was so proud of all of them!  Watch them for yourself below.
Uncle John, Uncle Larry, Beth, and Josh sing "Always" and "Can't Help Falling in Love."
In this one, they sing "I Love You Truly" and "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."  At the end, Uncle Larry spontaneously invites the crowd to sing along.

But the most impressive part of the evening was when Uncle Larry took the microphone and went around the entire room and introduced every single person there and explained their relationship to him.  I remember at my wedding that the thing that gave me the most anxiety was the fear that I would blank on someone’s name in the receiving line.  The thought that someone would give up their Saturday to travel to my wedding, buy me a lovely gift, and then I would not be able to immediately call their name was terrifying to me.  So while there is no way I would ever have been able to do what Uncle Larry did, he certainly made us all feel special.
Steve offers a poignant toast to the happy couple.

Aunt Nancy thanks her children for their hard work planning the fete.

The second cousins were much more entertained by Kinley's phone.

I love this picture of Uncle John and Aunt Liz.  I'll admit that it was staged, but that's only because I was too slow with my camera to catch the actual smooch seconds before.

After the party, we did what we always do when the Bradley family is together – sing.  We sat around Aunt Nancy and Uncle Larry’s kitchen table and sang hymns in four-part harmony.  Watching the faces across from me with their voices lifted in song, I got emotional for two reasons.  One, we sang one of the songs that was sung at my Daddy’s funeral.  And two, every time we do this I worry that it will be the last.  We just don’t get to see each other that often, and losing a parent has made me much more aware of the value of times like these.  But I wiped my tears and tried to keep singing because I certainly didn’t want to miss out on a single opportunity for my voice to blend with these beloved ones.
Knox was too sleepy to sing.

The next morning, Josh taught the adult Bible class and preached at the Chico church of Christ, and our extended family’s presence significantly increased the attendance that morning.  Lunch at Smokin’ Mo’s in Chico followed, and then we spent the afternoon enjoying more family time.  By late afternoon, the Bradleys packed up leftovers for us and we waved goodbye as we began to make our way to Carson City where we were spending the night.
Before we left, Josh arranged for his parents to bring his blazer with them so that we saved some room in our luggage.  The church in Chico has supported our LST mission work for years, and we were glad to get to share an update with them.

I'm not sure how Uncle Larry got stuck feeding a whole passel of people for an entire weekend just because he's been married a long time, but it sure was yummy!  And at Smokin' Mo's in Chico, if you wear their t-shirt when you come in, you get 10% off!  Uncle Larry wore his over his church clothes.

I was glad we were just sleeping in Carson City for a night because I was less than impressed with it, but we passed though Lake Tahoe to get there.  Now that is a place I’d like to spend some time on a future trip!  There were so many cute little shops and restaurants, and the lake at dusk was serene and inviting.  I made a mental note to look for a time to come back.
Sunset over Lake Tahoe

After our night in Carson City, we proceeded to drive all the way across Nevada the next day to make our way to Great Basin National Park.  The get there, we had to drive on US 50, known as the loneliest road in the US.  And for good reason.  It was desolate.  Gas stations and restrooms were rare so we stopped when each one appeared.  They each sold Loneliest Road t-shirts, but we weren’t tempted.  It wasn’t the sort of by-way we wanted to commemorate.  For hours and hours and miles and miles we drove, through rocky hills and past cattle grazing on land that appeared to have little for them to eat.  Finally, we turned off of US 50 and drove another hour to the dirt road that led to our hotel for the night.  In fact, we had to go just over the Utah line and then back into Nevada to get to our destination.
We had Bradley party leftovers for lunch on the road!  Yum!

We saw a dramatic forest fire along US 50.

Great Basin doesn’t have a lodge inside its boundaries, so we had made reservations at Hidden Canyon Ranch.  The property was located about thirty minutes away from the park at the end of a six-mile-long dirt road that wound its way over a ridge and down into a canyon as its name suggests.  The nearest restaurant was about forty minutes from Hidden Canyon, so we had arranged in advance to have dinner at the ranch for the two nights we’d be there.  There was only one seating each evening, and we were barely going to make it.  We had emailed to let them know we were coming, so we went straight to dinner when we arrived.  A different entrée and accompanying sides were served each night, and on our first night, a potato bar with chili was set before us along with chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

We were so glad that we'd signed up for meals at the ranch since it was so far from anything else.
The building housing our suite was a short walk from the dining hall.

When we finished eating and walked outside of the dining hall to have a look around, the first thing I noticed was the shocking abundance of water.  There was a rushing creek running the length of the back of the property, and, because of the plentiful water, the land was lush and green.  Trees and tall grasses replaced the scrubby, squat bushes we’d seen dotting the parched landscape all day.  Flowers bloomed in brilliant reds and pinks attracting hummingbirds in droves.  An orchard stood just behind the dining hall, and nearby, a faucet with a hose attached was actually allowed to leak.  Here we were in the middle of the desert, and there was this precious resource – water – just dribbling out onto the ground as if we were in some Southwestern Garden of Eden where all plants grew with ease and no necessary building block of life was scarce.  It was surreal, especially after having been in conservation-obsessed Arizona and California for two weeks.

Wild turkeys made their home in the canyon.
This is only one of the many hummingbirds in the canyon.

As we made our way to our room, we saw mule deer and a flock of wild turkeys with several little chicks trailing along behind.  The scene was idyllic, and Josh and I agreed that he’d made an excellent choice about where to stay for our two nights in the area.  Since breakfast was to be served at 7:00 the next morning and wifi was non-existent, we turned in early.  The next day we’d planned to do our longest hike of the trip so far, so we drifted off to sleep, hidden deep in the canyon, while the water rushed on, oblivious.