Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vajentic Family Western Odyssey: Week 3, Day 17 (Monday, July 29)

Sometimes it's funny, the things that stay with you after some time has passed.  I remember this day being tinged with a touch of disappointment.  Disappointment that led to my own sadness, as I was (unrealistically) trying to make the entire trip perfect.  We all slept in until around 10:30 AM, catching up on some needed sleep.  After taking our time getting up and moving around, we went into Legoland around noon.  The boys were a bit grouchy, so we decided to get them something to eat.  It took a long time for us to wait in line for food.  While in line, Ben whacked Dominic for some reason, and Sharon yelled at him, so he began to cry.  While we were eating, Sharon talked to her mom to try to figure out some problem that we were having with dog care back in Missouri.  After eating, everyone's mood improved a little bit.  We went over into the water park area of the park, where it was super crowded.  I looked into renting a Cabana, and was willing to spend whatever they cost, but they were sold out for the day.  They looked cozy, and would have provided a nice place to hang out at the water park, where it was hard to find any lounge chairs at all.  Sharon and the boys swam, and I found a free lounge chair where I watched our stuff.  There were long lines for some of the water park attractions.  I spent most of the time in the water park people watching and thinking about how I wished we had a cabana.  After the water park, we walked around the rest of the park for a while.  The boys liked playing some of the games and enjoyed going into the stores, but were not interested in riding any of the rides.  We moseyed back to our hotel room at about 4 PM.  It felt like a letdown, because Ben had been so excited about Legoland, and the experience just didn't seem to live up to his expectations in my eyes.  He had been really looking forward to the mini-figure store, thinking that he would be able to buy different kinds of mini-figures, but that's not how it was set up.  He did enjoy trading some of his mini-figures with some of the park attendants, which they would do on demand.  On one occasion, he traded for some clown mini-figures.  Toward evening, Sharon went to swim at the hotel pool, where Dominic joined her for a while.  I took Ben back to the Big Store to buy the Lego Ghost Train and a Lord of the Rings set.  The Big Store is quite impressive, with lots of varieties and sets.  Ben wanted everything, and I wish I could have given him all of it!  For dinner, we ate at the hotel restaurant Brick's Buffet, where we sat outside on the patio.  Dominic really enjoyed the bread sticks.  After dinner, Dominic and Ben played in the Lego pit in the hotel lobby.  This was one of Ben's favorite activities of the day, and maybe of the entire trip.  He would have stayed in the Lego pit for hours.

After going back to our room, we spent some time building some Legos.  Ben stayed up late building his ghost train, and I worked on the boxcar from the other train set he had purchased.  I ran out to the car to retrieve Sharon's book, the phone charger and Domi's medicine.  Throughout the night, I was monitoring the Pirates game against the Cardinals on my phone, which the Bucs ended up winning 9-2.  I was beginning to feel like I needed some exercise on this trip, so I began doing some push ups.  I shaved.  I loaded some pictures from my new camera onto the computer, and then figured out how to add comments to pictures in Windows.  Dominic had bought a Star Wars set and a small Hobbit set from the Lego store, so he spent some time building on those.  The boys and I all three slept in the bunk room, and gave Sharon the bed to herself.

Monday, November 10, 2014

An Incomplete Education

An Incomplete Education

Death-smacked into unknown tomorrow
A desperate yearning to believe
Spirit anesthetized by sorrow
Still being taught what it means to grieve.

A dark, cold campus unfolds through space
Loneliness, self-pity and regret
One can unlearn too much in this place
Graduate with degrees of forget.

Alas, four years is not enough time
Storm clouds still linger across the sky
Obscured by void any sense of rhyme
Visions of tomorrow petrify.

A dull aching pain up the worm's sleeve
Cynical numbness is his barter
Spewing his craft on how we perceive
Trying to gain a devil's martyr.

Strange that the world continues to turn
With innocence frozen into stone
Always looking for new ways to learn
Everyone in his classroom alone.

Along a stretch of nameless highway
On the shoulder lay a lifeless fawn
Though they long for a moment to stay
The valiant mournful herd moves on.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Vajentic Family Western Odyssey: Week 5, Day 29 (Saturday, August 10)

When putting together our itinerary, and researching how and when I would get from San Jose back to Kansas City, I discovered that the Pirates would be playing in Denver during the weekend of my return.  So, I figured, why not?!  I might as well fly through Denver on the way home, stay a few nights and catch a few games as a nice way to wrap up my sabbatical.

For some reason, I could not sleep on Friday night/Saturday morning.  I had to be on the shuttle from the Hilton Garden Inn to the airport at 4:30 AM, so around 3 AM I decided that it would probably be less risky to just stay up instead of going to sleep.  I knew I would be tired, but the ballgame in Denver didn't start until Saturday night, so I would have time to take a nap.  I lugged my bags down to the shuttle around 4:15 AM.  Some guy noticed my statistics book that I had bought from the Stanford University bookstore, and he suggested to me that we all have a lot to learn about Baysian statistics.  Interesting discussion topic for the early morning hours!  I tipped that shuttle guy $10 when he dropped me off at the airport, checked my bags and settled in to await the boarding call.  The flight was not long, and I arrived in Denver at around 10 AM.  I think carrying my overloaded luggage throughout the huge Denver airport aggravated my ankle injury, because it started to hurt even more than it had been.  I found a taxi, and paid $75 to get from the airport to the Tabor Westin in downtown Denver.  The Westin is a nice, swanky hotel in the heart of Downtown Denver that I had heard the Pirates stayed at while playing the Rockies.  In line with my 'you only live once' attitude of this trip, I booked a nice mountain-view room.  After checking in and taking my bags to my room, I headed out to find some lunch.  I ate at a bar and grill around the corner of the hotel.  While eating on the patio, I think I saw Pirates pitcher Jared Hughes walk by with a lady.  I finished eating and headed back to my room for some much needed rest.  As I was waiting for the elevator, I saw former Pirates pitcher and current broadcaster Bob Walk coming into the hotel.  I wanted to say hello, but I was too shy.  I slept all afternoon, finally getting up around 5 PM, when it was time to walk to Coors Field, which was about 5 or 6 blocks from the hotel.  I was impressed with Coors Field.  It's a relatively new ballpark in the mold of PNC Park.
Right outside of Coors Field
 I only wish that the seating offered a better view of the mountains to the west of Denver.  I settled into my seat and started to take many pictures of the Pirates warming up, and the stadium in general.  Just before game time, a storm rolled in, and the game ended up being delayed by 1.5 hours.  I used the delay time to walk around and explore the stadium, and take some more pictures.  There were a lot of Pirates fans at the game.  I had an excellent seat, right by third base, about 10 rows up into the stands.  There was a guy sitting next to me that used to live near Pittsburgh, so it was fun chatting with him.  The weather was beautiful once the rain stopped, and I enjoyed some ballpark food and a nice, cold beer.  Unfortunately, the game itself did not go well.  Although the Pirates got out to a lead, they were unable to hold it, and ended up losing 6-4, with Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen both striking out in the top of the ninth with men on base.  Clint Hurdle got thrown out of the game by the second base umpire for arguing a double-play in the later innings.

Hurdle getting tossed....

So, the loss stunk, but I still had a good experience at the game.  

When I got back to the hotel, I hung out in the lobby for a little while to see if I could catch a glimpse of any of the players.  Indeed, I believe I saw Gaby Sanchez walk in.  Then for sure, I saw Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker walk in together around 11:00 PM.  I also saw Andrew McCutchen riding the escalator from a distance.  I felt a little giddy and silly for being such a star-struck 40-year old baseball fan.  Still, it was a neat experience.  I went to the hotel bar to have a beer, and then headed up to my room.  As luck would have it, while I waited for the elevator, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage walked up at the same time around 11:30 PM.  Clint Hurdle actually initiated conversation with me!  In a jolly voice, he asked me how I was doing, and what my name was, as I got onto the elevator with them.  I thanked him for the turn-around he had initiated for the Pirates.  He introduced Ray Searage, and apologized for not being able to "bring home a win."  I told him to get them tomorrow, and that I would be at the game.  This was just such a cool experience, and I was super impressed by how personable and friendly Hurdle was, especially after a tough loss in a game in which he was ejected.  I only interacted with him for about 45 seconds, but I was so happy to be able to shake his hand and thank him as a lifelong Pirates fan.  As I got back to my room, I really wondered what it must be like for these players and coaches to be on the road so often.  They get to stay at fancy hotels like this one, but wouldn't they get tired of travelling?  I was tired of travelling after only 30 days!

I was hungry, so I ordered some pizza and pot stickers from room service, and ordered the movie 'The Great Gatsby', which I watched from 12:30-2:00 AM.

Fountains!  Just like Kansas City.

El Toro at bat

Friday, August 08, 2014

Vajentic Family Western Odyssey: Week 5, Day 30 (Sunday, August 11)

After staying awake until 4 AM Saturday night, I slept until 12:00 noon.  I debated on whether or not I wanted to go to the baseball game, and in the end decided that I shouldn't pass up the opportunity to see another Pirates game.  Looking around the room, I realized I was out of clean underwear, so it was time to go commando.  The game started in the middle of the afternoon, so prior to walking over to Coors Field, I walked down the 16th Street Mall.  I was in search of an additional duffel bag for my accumulated luggage.  I found a nice outlet store where I found a cheap Nike bag, so I purchased it along with some cologne.  On my way to the stadium, I bought a club-level ticket from a scalper for $40.  The game did not go well....again.  The Pirates got on the board first, and I got to see Pedro Alvarez hit a home run early in the game, but a series of walks and miscues allowed Colorado to take a 3-2 lead by the bottom of the 8th.  Uninspired, I left in disgust before the game was even over.  Yep, I came to town with the Pirates on one of their best rolls in years, only to see them get swept by the mediocre, at best, Colorado Rockies.  I took about a million pictures at the game on Saturday night, so I didn't even bring my camera to the game on Sunday.  The best thing to come out of my Sunday experience at Coors Field was my binge upon expensive ballpark treats: carmel frappe, strawberry stick, hot dog, cajun fries and a diet coke.  What a lunch!  I walked back to the hotel to take a shower.  After poking around the room for a little while, I went back out to walk around some more.  Since this would be my final night of vacation, I wanted to pick a good place to eat.  I was kind of looking for a place where I could also listen to some live music, but my options were limited on a Sunday evening.  After consulting TripAdvisor, I settled on a place called Ocean Prime, which was listed as having a 'swanky seafood menu'.  Seafood it was!  I ordered scallops, ate, paid and went back to the hotel.  I hung out in the hotel lobby for a little while, writing down a list of things that I wanted to focus on in the coming months, post-sabbatical.  I went back to the room and decided to watch one more movie, Mud, starring Matthew Mcconaughey.  After the movie, which I enjoyed, I got all of my stuff packed up and ready to go for the morning.  I called for a wake-up call, just in case my phone alarm didn't work.  Then, I hit the sack for my last night on the road.

Vajentic Family Western Odyssey: Week 5, Day 31 (Monday, August 12): Consummatum Est!

I rode the shuttle from the downtown Westin to the Denver airport for an early flight.  After 30+ days away, and nearly a week since my family had left me, I was ready to go home.  I was too exhausted at the time to do much reflection on how the previous month unfolded.  I would do that after being home for a few days, and really over the course of the next year.  It was a short flight from Denver to Kansas City.  My ankle was still extremely sore, so it was difficult hauling my excessive luggage around.  Once I was in the terminal in Kansas City, I called Sharon to ask her to come pick me up.  I waited for my luggage at the carousel, dragged it outside along the curb, and decided that I would go home to take a nap.  Sharon arrived, gave me a hug and a kiss, helped me load up my luggage and drove me home.  Honestly, walking in the front door, it felt like I had never left.  The dogs came and jumped on me and licked me.  It's weird and comforting how you can travel for 30 days and experience so many interesting new places, yet return home to find that nothing has changed, except perhaps your perspective on life.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Vajentic Family Western Odyssey: Week 2, Day 11 (Tuesday, July 23)

Not surprisingly, given our busy day and late night the day before, we slept in on Tuesday!  I hate to waste vacation time sleeping, but if you have to do it, you might as well do it at a nice cabin in the woods in one of America's most beautiful national parks.  We wanted to see the famous Yosemite Valley and get our national parks passports stamped at the visitor center, so after poking around the lodge during the morning, we loaded up in the car and headed south around 1 PM, after dropping a few postcards in the mail.  It was around a 45 minute drive through more beautiful scenery to get to the valley.  We stopped at one of the parks leading into the valley so that we could walk up to the Merced River.  Standing there on the bank, I was reminded of an antidote I read about John Muir.  Some 19th century tourist came up to Muir and told him that he only had an hour in the park, and asked if Muir could recommend what he should do with his limited time.  Muir replied, "if you only have an hour in the park, you should sit by the Merced River and cry."  The boys, once again, wanted to wade in the water.  This time, Sharon went with them.

Sharon and the boys wading in the Merced River

They waded all the way across the narrow river.  We could see the fish in the crystal clear stream.  It is stunning to stand by the river, and look up to see the gigantic granite walls all around.  After the boys had their fill of swimming, we headed on to the visitor center in search of a late lunch.  After parking the car and taking a healthy walk to the center of the action, we located a cafeteria style eatery that looked like it wouldn't take too long.  Eating at the cafeteria, and being in the valley in general, made it easy to see why the valley has such a reputation of being overcrowded.  It's just harder to enjoy the natural beauty when there are thousands of other souls milling about.  However, nobody should be deprived of the chance to see these spiritual sites.  After lunch, we walked around some of the souvenir shops, visited the Ansel Adams gallery and got our passports stamped at the visitor center.  Ben bought a few more stuffed animals to add to his minagarie.  Unfortunately, because of the summer weather, we were not able to witness one of the park's most famous landmarks--Yosemite Falls.  There was barely a trickle coming down off the mountain.  We could only use our imagination to see the Spring water bursting forth over the granite precipice hundred of feet to the valley below.  We bought some postcards and a few books at the visitor center.  I had almost purchased the book, Death at the Grand Canyon, when we were in Arizona.  It sounds macabre, but it's actually a really interesting account of the many deaths that have occurred at the park.  Now, here at Yosemite, I did purchase the book, Death at Yosemite.  I also bought a John Muir biography.  We eventually took the shuttle back to our car.  On the way out of the village, we drove down by the Ahwahnee hotel, where I had considered staying.  I'm sure it's nice and all, what with presidents that have stayed there before.  However, I think the Evergreen Lodge was perfect for our family.  Before leaving the valley, we stopped at a pullout at the base of El Capitan.  Sharon and I walked far out into a meadow to get a breathtaking view of the gigantic granite monster.  We were trying to spot climbers through the zoom lens of the camera, because the wall is so huge that you can't make out the humans with the naked eye.  Some climbers take multiple days to get to the top, sleeping along the way.  And, there are plenty of entries in the Death at Yosemite book for those that didn't make it.  The walking and the crowds had made the boys a bit restless, so we started to drive back toward the lodge.  On the way, we stopped at an overlook which offered the best view of Half Dome that we had seen.  We made some, "is there coffee on half dome jokes", and Ben had to go to the bathroom (#2), so he and I climbed down over some rocks and slipped away into some brush.  I'm glad we didn't get eaten by a bear.  After Ben was done with his business, we climbed back to the overlook, and took some great pictures in every direction before driving back to the lodge.
Yosemite Ben (Half Dome in distance)

Yosemite Dominic

We arrived back at our room at around 6 PM.  We took a bit of a breather, but before long Sharon and Dominic headed up to the pool.  Ben wanted to rest a little longer, so I stayed in the room with him. Eventually, he and I walked a portion of the trail that goes all around the Evergreen's property.  We were looking for some souvenir sugar pine cones.  It was a nice hike, and we snuck up on Sharon and Dominic at the pool.  We all stayed at the pool from around 7-9, hanging out in the hot tub, swimming in the heated pool, cooking some poolside s'mores, drinking a few mudslides (adults only!), and generally relaxing in this rustic paradise.  The pool closed at 9:00, so we went back to our rooms to change clothes, and then headed up to the resturant for a late dinner on the deck.  I had tenderloin with polenta.  After dinner, we hung out in the recreation area to play some more shuffelboard and ping-pong.  Eventually, we went into the rec room so that I could try to use the wifi to look at driving directions for the next day, but to also check the Pirates score.  We went back to our rooms around midnight.  It was another great day in the park.

Lodge living!

Vajentic Family Western Odyssey: Week 2, Day 10 (Monday, July 22)

The Evergreen Lodge is a privately-owned facility just outside the northwest border of Yosemite National Park.  While planning for the trip, I had originally looked at staying in one of the several lodges within the park itself.  I was particularly drawn to the posh Ahwahnee, which is located right in the heart of Yosemite Valley.  It turns out that most of the park's lodging is booked well in advance of the one month with which I was working.  I stumbled upon the Evergreen Lodge on TripAdvisor, and it looked perfect!  It had beautiful, relatively new, yet rustic looking cabins that were nestled among sugar pines.  Our cabin had two bedrooms and a common area.  The cabins did not have TVs by design, in keeping with their philosophy of enjoying a retreat away from electronics.  The boys weren't crazy about this, but I loved it!  There was a nice little deck outside our front door on which we could sit and drink morning coffee.  A system of lighted walking trails wound throughout the property so you could get from one place to another without having to get in the car.  There were hammocks, horseshoes, benches carved out of tree trunks and various other neat little amenities sprinkled throughout the woods.  The property is anchored by its elegant main lodge, which houses the restaurant and tavern, and opens out back to a commons area that includes open dining, fire pits and ping-pong tables.  Behind the main lodge is the recreation center, which has board games and various park literature.  It even has an (extremely slow) Internet connection, which I only used to check Pirates scores every now and then during our stay.

It was in the recreation center that we gathered Monday morning for our guided tour of the park.  I had first tried to book a guided tour of Yosemite Valley, but it was sold out, so I instead chose the Yosemite High Country Naturalist Tour.  We met our personal tour guide, Bethany, around 8 AM, loaded up on sack lunch supplies and departed for the Yosemite high country.  Our first stop was a trail head where we would begin a mile hike into Tuolumne Grove to view giant sequoias.  Hiking into the grove was mostly downhill, so not too difficult.  The sugar pine cones along the trail were surreal.  Some of them were half the size of Benny!  It is illegal to remove the pine cones from the park, so we had to settle for pictures.  Bethany challenged us by asking which one of us would be the first to spot a sequoia.  Interestingly, you can't see these giant beasts until you are nearly upon them.  All of the sudden, we saw tree trunks seemingly four times the size of the next largest.  Our eyes followed the trunks upward as the foliage spread out into the heavens.  I was humbled by the fact that we were standing in the presence of organisms that have been alive since the time of Christ.  Just as stunning were the sequoias that had toppled for one reason or another.  I can only imagine what it must sound like when one of them fall, crushing all in their path.  There were many trees that had survived the onslaught of past forest fires, with the only scars being some charring on their trunks.  One of the fallen sequoias was hollowed out, and the boys had fun crawling through a portion of the trunk.

The hike back to the trail head was a bit more difficult, since we were more tired and it was uphill.  After returning to the car, we stopped for some gas and then headed east along HWY 120, retracing our path from the way into the park the previous day.  As we drove along, we enjoyed listening to Bethany's stories about wildlife and park history.  Our next stop was Tenaya Lake, where we would stop to eat our sack lunches.  We found a picnic table near the lake, and ate while taking in the breathtaking scenery.  After lunch, the boys wanted to wade in the cold waters of the lake.  At first, they timidly stuck their toes in the water.  Then they were ankle deep, then knee deep, then waist deep until finally they were full-out swimming.

Ben was having a blast, while Dominic was not quite sure he liked the cold water.  Sharon waded calf deep, while I stayed on the shore and surrounding boulders taking pictures.  I think it is a memory we will never forget, swimming in an alpine lake, looking at some of the most beautify scenic vistas we had every seen.

Shortly after leaving the lake I was disappointed to find that my camera battery was dead!  Bethany took us to the Visitor Center so that I could buy a disposable camera.  We next went to Tuolumne Meadows.  It began to rain a little bit, but that didn't stop us from getting out to go down to the banks of one of the beautiful stream tributaries of the Tuolumne River, where Bethany showed Ben and Dominic how to extract and purify water from the stream to drink.  I noticed a few fly-fisherman, working their craft in the rain.  It was a scene one may see depicted on a puzzle, or perhaps a painting.  The rain stopped, and we hiked back through the alpine meadow, with Bethany pointing out the various flora and fauna.  We saw several deer at close range.  I wanted to catch glimpse of a bear, but we had no such luck.  We came upon a picturesque bridge that crossed Delaney Creek.  Ben and Dominic had fun crawling on the rocks next to the stream.  We lingered at the bridge for a little while, under the gaze of Fairview Dome, which was to our southwest.  We took some family pictures with our disposable camera.  I wish I had my good camera available for some of the wildflowers.  It was soon time to hike back to the car, and begin the drive back to the Evergreen Lodge.  Along the way, Bethany continued to entertain us with stories.  She told us of the family from New York, whose matriarch was used to the finer things, and who, when told they were going to the top of Half Dome on the tour, earnestly asked in her New York accent, "Is there coffee on Half Dome"?  We saw a wildfire burning in the distance, and Bethany explained how these fires are allowed to burn themselves out, and are an important piece of the ecosystem of the park.  Interestingly, about a month after we left, we saw on the news that there were fires burning out of control near the Evergreen Lodge, which had to be evacuated!  We stopped at a few more scenic overlooks on our way back to the lodge, notably one from which we could see Half Dome in the distance.  Here, we had someone take a picture of us with Bethany.

As we arrived back at the lodge a little before 5 PM, I gave each of the boys some cash to give to Bethany for a tip.  She really was a great guide.  I think it's so nice to do these types of activities with someone that knows some history of the area.  We went back to our room to relax for a bit and to recharge the camera battery.  Sharon wanted to do some laundry, so she went to put in a few loads, and then we had dinner at the lodge resturaunt again, this time on the deck.  I had gumbo.  Bethany had informed us of a good place to see the sunset, so I gathered everyone up, to their dismay, and we headed out in the car again to try to find the perfect sunset.  We drove along Mather Road, which at times meanders along the rim of a canyon that drops down to the Tuolumne River.  The sun was quickly setting, and we tried to find the place which Bethany described.  The boys irritation grew as I kept driving.  Finally, we found a pull-off where some other people were stopped, and we decided to park here to view the sunset, unsure if it was the actual place Bethany had described.  In any case, we did get settled just in time to see the sun descend to the west in a blazing red ball of glory.  While the boys and Sharon may not agree, I thought it was well worth the hour excursion.

When we arrived back at the lodge, we headed over to pick up our laundry, and then went back to our room.  Sharon wanted to do a few more loads, so I took the boys up to the recreation area, where we had a blast playing ping-pong, shuffleboard and monopoly party until midnight.  Eventually, we headed back to our room for some well needed rest.  It was a fine day!


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Vajentic Family Western Odyssey: Week 2, Day 9 (Sunday, July 21)

Before leaving Las Vegas, Sharon wanted to try her luck with a slot machine.  While the boys and I waited for the valet to bring the car around for us to load up, Sharon popped back inside the casino to try her luck.  Unfortunately, she did not win. However, we still left Las Vegas as winners (at least if only count our net gambling proceeds).  On the way out of town, I took some pictures of 'Leaving Las Vegas' so that I could be like Sheryl Crow or Nicholas Cage.  Our destination this day was the Evergreen Lodge on the northwest side of Yosemite National Park.  Since it was a hot day in the middle of July, and we were on a quest to visit as many National Parks as possible, I thought it would be a great idea to drive straight through Death Valley!  We visited a drive-through for some lunch in Pahrump, NV, before heading into the arid valley of death!  Ever prepared, I even bought some bottled water to take along in case the car overheated. Sharon and I had taken an excursion to Death Valley from Las Vegas the previous December, and I never would have dreamed I'd be driving back into the park a mere six months later.  However, here we were, driving through the familiar Death Valley Junction, CA, into the park and on to the Furnace Creek visitor's center.
Ben = not having much fun
  Death Valley is so spread out that it is impossible to see as much as you might want in one day, especially if you are simply driving through to get someplace else, as we were.  Highway 190 goes all the way through the park, so outside of stopping at the visitor center, our Death Valley experience was going to be limited to getting to the other side.  What an interesting, eerie drive!  It feels like what I would imagine it might feel like driving on another planet.  Its awfully lonely.  The salt flats are impressive, and they have the effect of leading one to become aware of one's own insignificance, similar to the feeling of standing next to the ocean.  It's strange to see so much beauty in something so desolate.
Climbing out of Death Valley, with salt flats in the distance
  It took us quite a while to drive through the whole park.  On the way out of the western border of the park, the road begins to climb steeply in elevation.  Joshua trees were everywhere as we exited the park.  By this time, we could see the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada.  We drove down into a valley between the two mountain ranges, and headed deeper into California.  I was beginning to get worried about gas.  Even though I left Las Vegas with a full tank, we were starting to get low, and had not passed a gas station for a long, long time.  Fortunately, we made it into Lone Pine, CA in time to fill up on $6/gallon California gas!  Lone Pine is just at the base of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in California.

View of Mt. Whitney through somebody's yard
  Evidently, many spaghetti westerns were filmed in this area, known as the 'Alabama Hills'.  It's a quaint little valley town, with a neat main street that offered many storefronts that looked like they were straight out of Unforgiven.  After consulting Trip Advisor, we picked a local place to have lunch, but probably should have went to Subway or McDonald's.  The food was not terrible, but the service was really bad.  We even had to wait ten minutes to try to pay our bill at the counter, and I seriously considered walking out without paying.  However, I didn't want to get shot by Sheriff Clint Eastwood, so I grudgingly paid.  U.S. Hwy 395 runs north from Lone Pine to the eastern entrance of Yosemite at Tioga Pass, which is only open in the summertime.  This 3 hour drive is actually quite scenic, with its continuous climb in elevation and the craggy peaks of the Sierra Nevada just to the west.  Somewhere along this drive, about 30 minutes after we left Lone Pine, Ben realized that he left, at the restaurant, his stuffed big-horn sheep that he had picked out from the Death Valley visitor center.  One might have thought his dog had died, as he mourned for his lost stuffed friend and tears streamed down his cheeks.  In a brief moment of insanity, I actually considered turning around and going back for it, but I didn't want to get stuck in the mountains after dark, so we bravely pressed on!  As we neared the entrance to the park, we got a nice glimpse of Mono Lake, and then turned west.  Immediately, the views were breathtaking.  We saw a couple-hundred foot waterfall on the ridges of Mt. Dana, which rose into a glaciated leviathan in front of us.
Cool mountain stream just outside Yosemite
  We had to drive all the way through the park from east to west to get to our lodge, and this was just fine with me as the late afternoon sun gleamed off the mountaintops and crystal blue lakes.  These granite and glacier-carved mountains were unlike any I had ever seen.  We came upon the Tuolumne Visitor Center, stopped to stretch our legs and use the facilities.  Fortunately, there was a gift shop, so we were able to get Ben a replacement stuffed animal.  We poked around the shop for awhile, and then got back in the car to head toward the lodge.  Along the way, we drove by Tenaya Lake, a stunning, alpine mirror-like body of crystal blue water with tall pines giving way to smooth granite on the far side.  It was a long day of driving, and although we were all enjoying the scenic natural beauty afforded by the drive through the park, we were also all beyond ready to get out of the car.  We pulled into the Evergreen Lodge around 6:30 p.m., and I could tell right away that this was a place that I was going to like--a lot.  In accordance with our developing tradition, Ben and I went to check-in, while Sharon and Dominic waited in the car.  We found our cabin, unloaded and settled in to make it our home for the next few days.  I could easily have spent an entire two weeks at this one location.  We went up to the lodge restaurant to get some dinner.  I had cod salad and key lime pie.  
Arrival at Tioga Pass!
Majestic granite

Sunday, May 11, 2014



Enchained by flesh travels just begun,
Green eyes widen to a vast unknown,
Now forty-odd trips 'round the time-keeping sun,
A one-way flight toward an unknown home.

Near to ten years outliving the light,
In vain his way striving to pursue,
Yet before slipping into that last goodnight,
There's so much left that I long to do.

Charmed by bewitching fair tendrils curled,
Passion erupts from hope that's fertile,
Time melts to a stop when on top of the world,
A fleeting glance becomes eternal.

A teenage week would last forever,
Eternal instant with subtle hope,
Joy abounding, Satan angry, but clever,
Greasing the clock gears with poison soap.

When my corpus melts to ashen dust,
And tomorrow is but distant past,
Is there anyone anywhere I can trust,
To save the piece of me that will last?

Imagine a world that's stripped away,
Of mere time, the soul's crude opponent,
Heaven and Hell assume the form of today,
Immortal life becomes this moment.