Friday, September 15, 2017

Tix


A friend of ours, who has Dallas Cowboy season tickets, gave two to me and Jackson for the November game between Dallas and the Kansas City Chiefs.

I am super stoked! I have only been to one NFL game in my life: September 13, 1985, a rare for the time Thursday Night Football Game (on ABC) between the Chiefs and the Los Angeles Raiders. Chiefs beat the hated Raiders. Since then, the Raiders have moved back to Oakland and are soon to move to Las Vegas. Life moves fast.

I had looked into buying tickets for the Chiefs-Cowboys game. Kansas City doesn't make it down to Arlington too often. But tickets are ridiculously expensive. I had decided to watch the game from the comfort of my couch. However, tickets fell from the sky.

My son has recently began to show interest in watching football. He's been to plenty of high school games and SMU games, but he really hadn't shown interest about what was going on on the field. This year he seems interested in the outcomes and understanding the game. He watches and asks questions.

I am conflicted about football. Concussions and CTE are a serious problem. NFL owners are greedy. Many college programs are corrupt. The players are often not the best role models. I know this. My son says he has no interest in playing organized football. But I want him to be able to converse with people in his life about a major topic of conversation in these parts of the United States of America. Watching football can bring people together and I don't want him excluded on the playground or later in life at watch parties.

So he's excited about going the game. He's a Cowboys fan as well he should be. Although I'm a Chiefs fan, I'm proud that he roots for his hometown team and isn't some bandwagon fan of a team that doesn't make geographic sense.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

New Bike


I love to bike, but I haven't had a decent bike in years. About fifteen years ago I bought a cheap mountain bike at Walmart, a 26 inch Next Breakpoint Pro. I retrofitted the bike with quick release wheels and a new seat. It was a real tank of a bike, heavy and durable. After several crashes and long use, it began to show its age.

So I finally bought a new mountain bike, a GT Aggressor Pro. GT is a well respected bike manufacturer known for making fast and sturdy bikes. Now, I'm not a hard core trail rider. But I didn't want a cheap bike either. I ride a lot. So I spent around $500, which believe it or not is considered fairly cheap by serious riders.

I had done my homework and the reviews were excellent...even in reviews in serious Mountain Bike magazines. The typical review said it was a great bike for amateurs and professionals, a high level bike that won't break the bank. These are magazines that usually ignore bikes under $1000. But they all loved this bike.

I was immediately impressed by the difference between the GT and my old bike. The new bike is so much lighter. Climbing is a breeze in comparison to the old bike. The gears shift so much more smoothly. The shocks have much more travel.

It took me a few rides to get used to how responsive the bike is. If I think it, the bike does it. It's like I've been running with ankle weights for years and I've been released. If anyone tells you there aren't real differences between bikes and price, they have no clue what they're talking about.

I've been riding a lot since I got the Aggressor last week. Every time I'm done with a ride, I want to immediately go back outside and ride some more. This bike is that much fun to ride.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Grand Tetons


After five days in Yellowstone we headed south through the Grand Tetons. We spent most of one day in the park. One day in the Grand Tetons is definitely not enough. But if you have to leave Yellowstone anyway, you might as well go through the Tetons.

The Grand Tetons are another freak of nature. They seemingly rise out of nowhere. The contrast from plain to mountains is startling and breathtaking. The morning we were there started out cool, misty and rainy. We did get hit by a sudden hail storm that lasted only a few minutes. We were in the parking lot of a visitors center at the time and the storm didn't slow us down much.

We spent the day hiking some easy trails and taking it fairly easy. After Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone we just wanted to relax and look at nature. I wish we could have spent more time in the park. It's quite a bit smaller than its massive neighbor to the north. The services are a bit more rustic. The Tetons seem more designed for real campers, hikers and fishermen. Although we saw sightseeing buses there weren't nearly as many as in Yellowstone. And the place was a whole lot less crowded.

I would love to go back there someday and give its due. Amazing scenery. I really wish I had brought my bike. Hopefully I'll get back up there and ride some trails.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Yellowstone


Yellowstone was beyond words. The scenery in some places is phenomenally beautiful. In others, the scenery is phenomenally weird...and beautiful. It was unlike any place I had seen on earth.

Favorite moments...

Old Faithful is fantastic. I watched it erupt five different times over the five days we were there. We also saw the Great Fountain Geyser and Volcano Geyser erupt. The Great Fountain is even more impressive than Old Faithful in some ways. We saw many eruptions of several geysers. It never got old.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is unbelievable. Artist's painting of it look hyperbolic. But it really is that spectacular. We hiked the rim and just couldn't believe our eyes.

The wildlife in Hayden Valley. Bison, Elk, bears and more!

Bison and bears blocking traffic. Worth every minute of stoppage.

Hiking to waterfalls. 

The wagon ride and cowboy dinner.

The mudpots and painter's pots and all the other strange bubbling and gases and emanations of the earth. The clear, crystalline blue/green pools and springs that will scald if you get too close. The Grand Prismatic Spring. Wow.

In the park we stayed at Grant Village. Our accommodations were pretty nice. I would definitely recommend staying near Yellowstone Lake, Grant or Old Faithful area, if you can get a room.

Some of the drives were quite harrowing, steep cliffs and switchbacks. Other drives were peaceful and smooth. There were places that were crowded. But we never had a problem parking since we made it a point to be up early. Places got really crowded after lunch. We planned the popular hotspots in the morning and did our more remote hiking in the afternoons. This worked out great for us.

I know I'm leaving some great stuff out. Yellowstone was one of the most magical places I've ever seen.

Tons of photos on my flickr site

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Absaroka Mountain Lodge


Despite calling for reservations 366 days in advance, all the rooms at the Old Faithful Inn were already booked up. Almost every lodge and hotel in the park were booked up by 8:00 am when I called. I was lucky to book three nights at Grant Village before everything got swallowed up. But we wanted to spend more than just three days at Yellowstone so we booked our first two nights at the Absaroka Mountain Lodge which is just a few miles from the East Entrance to Yellowstone.

It was a wonderful place, nestled in a narrow canyon with cliff walls that towered over each side of the grounds. After exiting the highway you cross what they called a creek but what was actually a raging mountain river. There is one lodge house that serves as a restaurant surrounded by very nice little cabins. Our cabin had two rooms and two bathrooms.

It was at the Absaroka Mountain Lodge where we had one of our most memorable experiences. We got there in the early evening and headed to the lodge which was right next to our cabin to eat a nice big dinner. After dinner Jackson traipses out of the lodge looking at the ground. He did not see the grizzly bear standing by our cabin, fifteen feet in front of him.

Kim and I were about ten feet behind Jackson when we saw the bear. A young looking bear, not a cub but probably about two years old according the lodge owner's later estimate, was right there. I yelled "JACKSON STOP!" Jackson stopped. The bear stood up on his hind legs. At that moment, the owner of the lodge who was also cooking happened to see the bear out his kitchen window and burst out. He placed himself between Jackson and the bear and thrust him back toward us and gestured for us to get inside. He waved his arms and the bear ran off into the forest next to the canyon walls.

Whew.

From that moment on I carried my bear spray wherever we went.

The resort was very nice. We only stayed two nights and didn't spend much time there since we drove to Yellowstone each day. But they had bonfires each night and there were a lot of outdoor amenities that we didn't get to take advantage of. Our cabin had two rooms separated by a curtain and two bathrooms...a pretty posh cabin. I would highly recommend it if you can't get a spot in the park.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Custer State Park



We hadn't planned on stopping at Custer State Park while during our Rushmore trip. But some friends told us it was well worth a visit. They were right. Sylvan Lake is beautiful and weird. The Needles Drive through the park is a winding meandering road full of switchbacks and one lane tunnels. Many of the tunnels were built to provide views of Mount Rushmore in the distance. The drive is not for the faint of heart. Steep drop-offs and roads that actually make 360 degree turns appropriately called "The Pigtails" can really try the nerves. The amazing scenery is definitely worth it. Another place worth more than a day's visit. But we were glad to have had the time to spend there.




Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Crazy Crazy Horse Monument


The Crazy Horse Monument often provokes skepticism. I've heard it derided as nothing more than a family fundraiser for the Ziolkowski family. I've heard people say they've returned twenty years later to the monument and haven't seen discernible progress. They've been working on the sculpture for fifty years and there is no end date in sight.


Still. It is a staggering achievement. And when you've seen the photos of progress from the beginning, it is astounding how far they've come. Finishing the face in 1999 was a big step. Seeing Crazy Horse's face really helps one envision the direction of the project. When you see it in person the scale of the thing blows your mind. It is much much larger than Mount Rushmore.  All four of Rushmore's heads could fit in just the head of Crazy Horse.


Now they could get this thing done much faster, if they accepted government assistance. The United States Government has offered assistance in the past and I have no doubt with taxpayer help this they could get done in twenty years. Right now there seems to be less than ten guys working on it at a time. I saw three or four working on it while we were there. The crew is small and the project enormous.


But they will not accept money from the United States Federal Government. That would defeat much of the point of the statue...to serve as a counterpoint to nearby Mount Rushmore...that these lands were Native American lands and if you're going to honor American presidents then you need to honor Native American leaders as well. And the Federal Government has a horrible record in keeping promises and treaties with Native American tribes. In fact, was there a treaty the U.S. Government ever honored or kept with the American Indians?

The museum at the base of Crazy Horse is extensive and impressive. The story of the family building the sculpture is fascinating. Korczak Ziolkowski was definitely a man possessed. His family is certainly not becoming wealthy off this project.

We ended spending half a day there. We rode a bus closer up to the base. We saw them jack hammering away on Crazy Horse's hand. We had a great time and definitely recommend paying the fee to get in. Ignore the naysayers who say to just stop on the side of the road to look at it for free. Go to the museum and visitor's center. Ride the bus up there. We really enjoyed the Crazy Horse Monument.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mount Rushmore


We finally got to South Dakota and checked in to the Holiday Inn Express in Keystone. I recommend staying in Keystone if you wish to spend any time at Mount Rushmore. Keystone is right in the center of the action, a mile or so from Rushmore and very close to Custer State Park and the Crazy Horse Monument. Keystone is a bit tourist trappy but it's fun and our hotel was right around the corner from the main drag.


Our plan was only to spend two days in the area. But you could easily make it a longer vacation stop. There's lots to do and see. Helicopter tours, panning for gold, cave exploration...all kinds of stuff for kids and adults.


But our main objective was Mount Rushmore. I had seen it in 8th grade and yet I was still impressed. It's hip to say you were disappointed, that it wasn't as big as expected. I can't say that. It's massive and worth the trip. They've made major improvements to the base area since I visited back in the late 1980's. The observation area has been expanded and designed to spread the crowds out. The parking situation is much better with a multi-level garage system.


They have a newer trail called the Presidential Trail that takes you much closer to the sculpture since last I visited. The trail provides amazing close-up views of the four presidents. When you buy a pass to the monument, it's good for a year so you don't feel rushed (no pun intended) to move so quickly. We were able to leave and come back later in the evening for the night lighting of the presidents.


It is a bit surreal to drive up the highway and boom! there's four massive presidents looking down at you. Mount Rushmore is the ultimate American roadside attraction. We had built in a full day to visit so we checked out all the exhibits and various visitor centers at the base. We had a great time. I even enjoyed it more as an adult.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Detours in Nebraska


Last year when discussing our summer 2017 plans our son wanted really badly to see Mount Rushmore this summer. Both my wife and I had visited Mount Rushmore as kids. We decided that Rushmore would be the first leg of our summer vacation.

We decided to drive to give us more flexibility. Finding fights into Rapid City and then out of a town near Yellowstone was becoming too complicated. Getting rental cars to and from completely different locations was becoming a hassle.

So we drove. And drove. And drove some more. Our Dodge Durango was perfect for the trip and handled everything great.


We drove up north from Dallas through OKC and Wichita, hitting I-70 at Salina. We then shot north on US Highways at Hays, Kansas. We were going to sleep in Ogallala, Nebraska. As we were approaching a town called Alliance in Nebraska, my wife saw a sign for a roadside attraction called Carhenge. She said let's take the three mile detour and check it out.


I'm glad we did because Carhenge was pretty cool. Years ago, a Nebraska farmer had recreated England's famous Stonehenge with old cars. He had arranged them just like Stonehenge and painted them gray. This was worth stopping for. Talk about a classic American roadside attraction in the middle of nowhere! There were other sculptures on site as well, all made from old cars. Admission was free. We were all glad we made the unexpected stop.


We had packed picnic lunches and stopped at Chadron State Park in the Nebraska National Forest. Who knew that Nebraska had such beautiful topography. We drove up a small mountain (who knew Nebraska had mountains?) and ate lunch overlooking a fantastic forest. This was an unexpected highlight of the trip. That's one of the benefits of driving across America. You see all kinds of oddities and scenery not mentioned in the high tone tour books.

That first night we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Ogallala, although it was it's last night of operation as a Holiday Inn. A new Holiday Inn Express was set to open across the freeway and the old one was converting to the Lonesome Dove Lodge. Nonetheless we had a good night's rest before heading out the next morning for South Dakota.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Epic June


Yeah, it's been a few weeks since I last posted. End of the school year was the normal mad rush. Then in June I was only home for six days out of the thirty days of the month. And I'm leaving soon for another trip, this time to see family in Indiana and Oklahoma. 


On May 31st, I flew out for my annual trek to Salt Lake City to grade AP World History Exams. I was a Table Leader once again this year. This was my third year as a TL and tenth year (10!) to grade AP exams overall.


Had fun in SLC. This year the timing was fortuitous. The United States Men's National Soccer Team was in town to play a friendly against Venezuela. I got tickets several weeks in advance. I had seen a game at the Rio Tinto stadium, but to see the USA was something special. Back in 1993 I had actually spent some time in Venezuela so that experience made the match even more interesting. I still have a soft spot for Venezuela especially since they are going through so much turmoil.

The game ended a tie. The game experience was phenomenal. We had a lot of fun riding the train to the match. Super time.

I also once again made it to the top of Ensign Peak which overlooks Salt Lake City. It's quite a hike but well worth the view. I also saw it as high altitude training for our upcoming trip to Yellowstone.

I'll post soon about our epic trip to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons. It was a busy month of June. But it was an amazing ride!