Friday, October 22, 2010

Zion National Park --

Zion National Park, Utah -- We arrived here late in the day after a long tiring drive across half of Nevada and then down the west side of Utah.
The campgrounds were full. Even the parking lots inside the national park were full when we pulled into the gateway town of Springdale, Utah. We used that as an excuse to find a decent meal and a motel.
The park was still a mystery to us but the scene out the back of the motel was very promising.

The little town, a former Mormon farming community now in the tourist business, was like a small-scale Gatlinburg, Tennessee, near the entrance to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park-- but without the carnival and sleaze. It felt like a ski resort town: expensive but semi-classy.

Despite doing some research on the internet we knew very little about Zion. The park's web site was not very helpful, except that it is one of several popular canyon parks in Utah and very pretty.
So pre-dawn the next morning we got one of the first parking spots in the park's lot (neither the gate kiosk nor the Visitor Center was open at 7 a.m.) and hopped onto the free shuttle bus to tour the canyon with four or five other early risers. You can also park outside the park gate, and ride a free shuttle in to the Visitor Center.

The Park Service shuttle system in Zion is a model of what good public systems should be. The road into the main canyon is too narrow and the visitors too numerous to allow private vehicles, but the buses run every seven minutes, the narration of what you are seeing out the window is interesting and audible, and the drivers were courteous and helpful.
At each stop the narrator/tour guide explained what trails and sites were available, how difficult or easy the walking would be, and what you could expect to see.
We rode to the end of the canyon to take the one-mile hike beyond where the road ends, gawking out the windows as we stared up at the multi-colored cliffs. The sun was still hiding so our photographs don't reflect the strong red colors of later in the day. The narrator provided some history, geology, and even a little poetry as we rode along. The place has a glowing sensual feel.
From the last shuttle stop we hiked to the end of the formal trail up the canyon, following the edge of the river. As the sun broke on the tops of the cliffs, the colors were breathtaking.
When the river takes over the entire narrow canyon floor, you have to make a choice.
Hearty walkers rent neoprene pants and walking staffs and continue up the canyon in the middle of the Virgin River for a mile or so more.
We watched that part, but kept our feet dry.

After spending most of the morning in the upper end of the canyon, we rode the shuttle back to the Zion Lodge to catch a late breakfast just before the lunch shift came on. The lodge was quiet, and beautiful, and did not seem crowded till much later in the day. Another pleasant surprise: the meal was excellent and reasonably priced, unlike many other national parks.

We found space in one of the campgrounds near the Visitor Center before getting back onto the shuttle for one more trip to explore the canyon. By the time we reached the excellent Human History Museum, one stop along the shuttle route, Pat was ready for a short nap on the benches out back.
I spent my time admiring the scenery, including a view of a very rare arch of stone high up the canyon wall. If it can be reached by today's hikers, I didn't ask or want to find out. It was pretty from a telephoto distance.
There were great views in all directions.
But soon it was back to the shuttle and a hike up to the verdant pools in the side canyons.
Unlike the dry desert flora of the highlands and the flat floor of the open canyon, these side canyons host pools that are wet constantly, producing entirely different vegetation and hosting different wildlife. Mostly German and French tourists.
We did see a few deer.
Our late afternoon ride out of the canyon was enhanced by three young Italian families, laughing, hugging their children, and celebrating being in a beautiful place.

As we drove out of Zion the next morning through a tunnel into higher terrain, we realized there are entirely different sections of the park we could have spent days in. The route out was one example, with amazing views and geology all around us. The northwest corner of the park, accessible from the Interstate, is much more remote and less visited.
Zion was not very crowded for our October visit, but I understand it can be very crowded in peak summer and holiday seasons. The campgrounds were full because of a long weekend holiday for the Utah school system children.
Go early.
Stay longer.

One of the smartest ideas we've seen in recent years was this effort by the Park Service to eliminate some of the millions of plastic bottles used for water. They do not sell bottle water in the park, but they do sell inexpensive refillable water bottles and provide fill-up stations along the way.
That's an idea I hope more parks will emulate.

Nevada's Lonely Roads

Hickison Summit, Nevada -- This is a very quiet place above 8,000 feet elevation in the middle of Nevada along Route 50, “The Loneliest Road in the World.”
We had started our ten-day tour of the West by driving east over Ebbetts Pass, through Carson City, Nevada, and then onto the best non-freeway road in the state.
Only the road isn’t near as lonely as it once was, what with trucks carry pipes for the thermal drilling in Eureka, the tourists looking to see the “real” Nevada or a quick blue route through the middle of the state. There is a speed limit, but no one seems to notice.
For us Hickison was a convenient place to spend the night en route to a circle tour of the National Parks in Utah. Hickison was a familiar spot where we had stopped before on trips on the way across the U.S.

The attractions here are the uncluttered views of the high desert, and the petroglyphs left behind by primitive -- oops --- ancient people about 800-1200 years ago.
The light was too poor and the hour too late for us to take pictures of the carvings in the stone walls, so you’ll have to trust me -- there are plenty there. Mysterious, not well understood, and numerous, the carvings are either of mythical creatures or giant men or the artists just couldn’t draw very well. Probably all of the above.
(I know you already know this, but a petroglyph is a prehistoric picture carved in stone, and a pictograph is a primitive painting on stone -- often in caves or canyon walls in the SouthWest.)

The campground is small, generally quiet, and has great views of the desert off to the East.

When we pulled in only four or so sites were occupied, of a dozen or so, and we spotted a good one and stopped to check it out. Unfortunately, giant RVs on each side were running their generators, so we kept moving and looking. When we came back to the same site for another look and listen, one of our neighbors came out of the RV and hastened to assure us he was going to turn off the generator within moments and he hated the noise too. Nice guy. Good neighbor.
We had a quiet evening in our van-turned-camper. When we woke up at dawn the van was covered with frost and ice, and the temperature was probably in the 20s.
A quick cup of coffee and we were off to the East and a big breakfast at the town of Eureka’s Owl Club and Casino (mostly a cafe and bar) where the local miners were having breakfast with their families, one or two were having a beer having come off the night shift, and a slightly worn woman was drinking vodka straight at the bar. They now mine something called molybendium, plus the area is having a mini-boom with well drillers probing the earth’s crust to generate steam for electric power turbines.

Nevada has its share of strange stuff, including two carloads of scudzy-looking fellows at a junction with a table, petition, and a signs that said “Impeach Obama” and “Unbama!” In the high desert there is a plant that apparently creeps up onto the highway, perhaps in the middle of the night when no one is watching. We saw a bunch waiting to cross the road.

And then there was the row of slot machines in the SaveMart grocery store, and the car burning along the roadside (fully involved, but no injuries).

The scenery was great.

And finally, near the Utah border of course, a town called Virgin. Who says old-fashioned values are dead.

Next: Zion National Park: beautiful, varied and efficient

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Travel is broadening, and ???

Lone Pine, CA -- We are winding up a ten day trip around the West, fulfilling a long held desire to see the national parks in Utah.
We made the majority of the parks -- Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef -- before turning back west toward home through Death Valley and Yosemite, and in the next few days I'll post mostly pictures and a few comments.
I'm not good at travel journals because I get so busy looking and enjoying I fail to take notes or remember to take pictures. The photos this time are a bit better because Pat and I took turns with the digital still and video cameras.
A quick look back at some highlights:
Starting across Nevada was a bit strange. In the first few hours we saw slot machines in a SaveMart grocery store, a car along the road on fire but no one stopped )no one was hurt), a roadside stand set up to impeach Obama, spent the night with thousand year-old petroglyphs, and a good breakfast at the Owl Club Cafe, Bar and Casino in Eureka.

But these photos are from the today in the Death Valley region, to give you a sample of the stunning scenery (the sand dunes) and interesting technology (water-free urinals at Scotty's Castle).
This water free device saves thousands of gallons of water a year. Every home should have one. They are becoming common in national parks.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Music for a lifetime of pleasure

Camp Connell, CA -- I've always liked music.

But I can't respond to the "Post your 15 Favorite Albums" requests floating around on Facebook because I have hundreds of favorites.

My earliest childhood memories are hearing my mother sing while preparing dinner after she came home from work. Even tired, she would hum or sing and the sound drifted through our apartment, often an Irish lullaby like "Tura lura lura" or something popular from the radio shows we listened to at night.

My father sang too, though almost always while driving on the highway between work assignments. He liked tunes he had learned in the 1920s including Stephen Foster stuff.
In the summers I would travel the South with him, singing loudly riding down the highways and being careful to quiet down when we passed through small towns. This was in the days before air conditioned cars and the windows were always open. We sang "Suwanee River" very loud when we crossed the bridge over dark black water in North Florida.

Music was a staple in public schools and teachers had us singing or playing instruments every day, usually a loud version of "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" of something similar. In the Fifth Grade were were all required to sing in a city wide cantata. Lyrics were written for the Sugar Plum Fairy and more than a thousand of us sang our little hearts out in the town's biggest football stadium.

I started playing in bands when I was in junior high school and kept it up into junior college. There were a lot of Sousa marches, and I even got to play tympani in a city-wide high school orchestra once in the Orange Bowl in Miami.

The highlight of those years were numerous trips to march in Mardi Gras parades both in Mobile and in New Orleans. We played marching band versions of jazz tunes, but ended up at midnight in the bars on bourbon street listening to the real thing played by Al Hurt or Pete Fountain. We rarely paid attention to the trio backing up stripper Candy Bar, who became famous for going to prison for marijuana possession, as she peeled out of her clothes.

In my hometown of Mobile our informal high school parties had black musicians from across the South, many of them famous. Ivory Joe Turner played at a dance at the military prep school attended (to the chagrin of some very white parents).
Even our church choir had a junior/senior high choir that traveled to other cities.
I briefly played in a dance band and we did tunes like "Begin the Beguine" and a few songs we learned from the Hit Parade TV show, or jazz tunes we had heard on the radio.
And I even went to hear the Metropolitan Opera performances while in college, mostly so I could skip class and ride the bus shared with lots of college girls. But I liked it.

Music was everywhere. I went to hear a Grand Old Opry tour group including Minnie Pearl and the Geezinslaw Brothers at a local lodge hall with my parents with 25 or so people who paid about a dollar each.

Summer evening dances across the bay at Point Clear featured standard dance tunes and mosquitoes. Winter formal dances required fancy attire and bigger bands that tried to imitate the Dorsey Brothers.

By the time I was in the Army I was a full-blown folk music fan and could discuss Dylan and Baez and Seeger, play three chords on the guitar, and even knew what a Child Ballad was.
Albums from my college years included the Weavers and the Kingston Trio, the Four Freshmen, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, and lots of long-forgotten folk and jazz artists.

Rock and Roll music was always a part of what I liked, but never a passion.

I passed up a chance to see Elvis for free because he was a bit too hillbilly for me.

I heard the Fifth Dimension perform in Las Vegas once, and went to enough Jimmy Buffet concerts to tire of drunk college students.

I learned to like some country music, mostly the older performers who kept it basic, emotional, and a bit corny.

I had a John Denver period, and to this day am an avid admirer of Jimmy Buffet and Paul Simon.
About the only music I never learned to like was acid rock. Rap isn't musical enough to interest me (but then, Bob Dylan can't actually sing much either and I really like his stuff).
Today my iTunes file and book shelves are loaded with all the above, plus Celtic and Irish stuff, and one of the world's great song writers that I discovered a bit late in life: John Prine.

Before I share John Prine with you, here is an attempt at listing some of my favorite albums (or the artists) that have stood the test of time:

Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band et al (The best collection of old-time performers with modern admirers who happen to be great musicians)
Graceland by Paul Simon (Maybe the single most original album I have ever heard)
The Essential Doc Watson
Les Miserable by the London cast (I still cry when the little boy gets shot)
Doc & Dog
Tom Dooley by the Kingston Trio (an album that set fire to the folk revival)
Finlandia by the London Philharmonic (stirs the soul)
Frank Sinatra, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra (no one ever sang his songs better)
Hell Freezes Over by The Eagles
Mahalia Jackson's Greatest Hits (1963)
Newport Folk Festival, 1963 (performances that sparked a revolution)
John Denver and the Muppets Christmas Album (don't laugh. It's great)
The Weavers at Carnegie Hall (history right there on the stage)
James Taylor's Greatest Hits
Fruitcakes by Jimmy Buffet (his best writing)
Boats from the Jimmy Buffett box set
Dr. Michael White, A Song For George Lewis (A New Orleans classic)
Feels Like Home by Norah Jones
Julie London's Cry Me a River (I was in love with her at 18)
The Best of Irish Folk

Scotland the Real
Men's Resource Center by DooDooWah
Club Trini (Buffet's Band at its best)
Four Freshmen and Four Saxes
Duke Ellington, Ellington at Newport
Dan Zane
Jim Croce
The Bill Gaither Quartet
The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
Jay Unger and Molly Mason (anything they play)

I will be remembering albums I left off this list that belong there for weeks to come. You can get a sample of some of these artists by doing a Google search. Try it. You'll like it.

If you want to expand your musical vocabulary and hear a gutsy and bawdy original song, try "In Spite of Ourselves" on this UTube link:

Another Prine song, "In a Town This Size," captures life in a community like the one we live in as perfectly as Ansel Adams caught Yosemite Valley on film.

Consider this:

In a town this size, there is no place to hide.
Everywhere you go, you meet someone you know.
You can't steal a kiss, in a place like this
How the rumors do fly, in a town this size

In a smoky bar
in the back seat of your car
in your own little house
someone's sure to find you out

What you do, and what you think
What you eat, and what you drink
If you smoke a cigarette
They'll be talking about your breath

In a town this size.....

There's no place to hide...

You can hear it at


Monday, October 4, 2010

Election Recommendations .... Kinda

*(Explanation for Lady Gaga, who wants you to vote, at bottom)

Camp Connell, CA -- You know those post cards you get in the mail every election eve, indicating the "approved slate?"
Well, this is my version of the "LaMont Approved Slate," telling you why I will and won't vote for certain things and people in November.
You are not required to pay any attention to this, but please do not assume any party affiliation or political leanings based on my history as a journalist. I have been one of those "failure to declare" people for over 30 years.
I never picketed or carried a protest sign, though I should have. I served in the Army, went to church, and owned a gun or two. And I voted in every election since I was 21.
The candidates I voted for over the years include every conceivable party and non-party to get onto a ballot. My great-grandfather ran a Whig newspaper, but I am not a Whig.

And, I did NOT charge anyone to buy space on my election recommendations the way the post card people do.

I WILL vote for candidates that demonstrate they have these characteristics:
-- Honesty.
I know. I know. Nobody's perfect. But I think a candidate for public office should have demonstrated throughout his or her history consistent acquaintance with the truth, and a willingness to state it when necessary. I understand that everyone sees things through different eyes and experience, and I do not object to honest criticisms of opponents or issues. But a liar does not deserve to be elected;
-- Experience that will help in making public decisions about public money and policy.
My choices tend to be people who have some government experience at a lower level if they are trying to move up. Running a company is not the same thing, nor is owning a business, large or small. I was once an executive and have been a manager, so you should trust me I when I say that does not qualify me for public office;
-- I prefer candidates who have actually worked for a living. This pretty much excludes people who inherit money, made it in the stock market or banking business, or were otherwise subsidized by the federal or state governments(most doctors and lawyers) unless they admit it and paid back their student loans;
-- Knowledge of the government office which they seek.
I do not mean someone who took a class or read a position paper. I mean the kind of people who have attended those endless boring but necessary meetings that help government at all levels function. I hated those meetings as a newspaper reporter, but always understood that is how government really gets something done. It takes research and study to gain real knowledge;
-- I prefer someone intelligent, but I'd rather elect an honest average person than a sharp crook.

I will NOT vote for a candidate who does the following:
-- Runs against President Obama when running for county commission. It's not the same, folks;
-- An incumbent who claims he "led the fight" if he did not lead the fight, the fight was unsuccessful or unworthy in the first place, or if -- as is usually the case -- the result made no difference;
-- Attacks his or her opponent as a KoolAid drinker, liberal, Neanderthal, pinko. socialist, right-wing fanatic, Palin clone, Obama-ite, progressive, FDR lover or Beck sympathizer, words used to hide the speaker's lack of knowledge. I can handle someone calling an opponent an idiot because there are some out there running for office, but they had better be prepared to prove it;
-- Wants a return to the "Good Old Days," meaning the Reagan era. You know, the era that gave us inflation, deregulation of the oil drillers, polluters and Wall Street con men, and the subsequent destruction of my stock market account and 401k, but made rich people a whole lot richer;
-- Always allows a "highly paid spokesperson" to speak for them, answer questions for them or write meaningless position papers. Candidates need to face the public and the press in open forums, not hide;
-- Redirects criticism away from him or her self by blaming the media, the opponent, colleagues, friends, or best of all -- unidentified conspirators;
-- Refuses to answer questions about experience, events in the past, or ideas for making this a better world;
-- Claims global warming is hokum;
-- Uses the terms "envirofreaks" or "tree huggers" to avoid discussing serious issues. I am one, seriously;
-- Claims to have God on their side;
-- Offers only criticism of the other person or party, and has no suggestions for improvement.

My "for" and "against" list on ballot propositions is somewhat shorter.

I will NOT vote for a proposition if:

-- It was put on the ballot by big oil companies, auto manufacturers, the Koch brothers, or any corporation or political party who tries to hide their motives. Corporations are not our friends, and neither are the filthy rich;
-- The name of the ballot issue is an obvious false front, such as "The Good Government Incentive Act" which really gives lobbyist what they wanted but could not sneak through the legislature by bribing people;
-- It makes the lives of the poor and true middle class more difficult;
-- It makes the lives of the rich and corporations easier. Geeze, they already own the legislature and Congress, what more do they want?
-- The proposition is poorly written, which many are, and does nothing to reform California's broken government.

I WILL vote for a proposition if it:

-- Reduces the power of lobbyists, special interests, my Congressman, corporations, and the very wealthy;
-- Forces disclosure of every dollar, and every minute of every day of every elected official;
-- Fixes a real problem the legislature can't fix;
-- Punishes bad guys, like polluters and people who rip off the poor and underrepresented;
-- Protects natural resources from the exploiters;
-- Saves our state parks from a legislature unable to do anything meaningful. They can't even supply toilet paper for the public rears.

These lists are far too short, but i just realized I may have to vote "none of the above" in most elections if I stick to this. You don't really expect me to be that consistent do you?

* The New York Times reported that if a website or blog mentions Lady Gaga the number of hits will soar. Buy her records. Check her website. Lady Gaga wants you to vote.