Tuesday, May 31, 2011

North to Brigham City

It snowed on Memorial Day in Mt. Pleasant, Utah where we were staying. Cold, sleety snow that sometimes seemed more like little tiny white lumps of hail, bouncing on the picnic table that should have held hot dogs, buns, mustard and catsup. That should say it all when it comes to how we spent the weekend that was the harbinger of summer for the rest of the country.

Instead of cook-outs and wine-guzzling in a hot tub, John and I spent it playing on the computer, listening to the pitter-patter of freezing rain on the roof, and gazing at the neighbors walking their dogs in winter jackets, fleece hats, and mittens. And the people were bundled up, too!

We were mostly searching for tidbits of information about dead relatives on sites that are notorious for having inaccurate information (i.e., we did genealogy at free, online sites). We explored John's relatives -- he is related to a grandmother of Martha Washington, a man that was Knighted by the King of France, and a previous Speaker of the House. On my side, I found a guy who was presented with a ceremonial cane for helping expel the rest of his (and my) family from Scotland. Genealogy can be so cruel.

Today was beautiful, and we got back on the road. The wet weather over the weekend had an unexpected bonus -- bright, gleaming, tighty-whitey-ish snow on the mountains. We passed through some beautiful mountains and valleys:

But the additional snow has an ominous side, too. When it melts, it will add its load to the streams and rivers that are already approaching flood stage.
On the news tonight, they explained that the amount of expected snow melt would fill the reservoirs 1 and a half times. And they are not now empty. Temperatures in the 80s and 90s are forecast in the next few days -- extreme flooding is likely.
"Oh, no! I hate when that happens!"

We are now in Brigham City for the night, and will move further north tomorrow. We hope to be in Canada by the 6th.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Temple Square: Other Buildings

The last post was about the Temple -- this post will cover some of the other buildings in Temple Square.

The Tabernacle, known for its perfect acoustics, is the home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The 360 choir members practice Thursday afternoons and perform each Sunday.

When we arrived, the organist was practicing. Waves of light above the organ changed from blues to purples to reds. We even recognized the song: Simon and Garfunkle's "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme."

Tabernacle during organ practice

Organist close up

We had lunch at the Lion House, where Brigham Young once lived. We ate in what was the kitchen, a cafeteria now famous for its rolls (and they were very good!):

Carole and Dick at the Lion House

Returning to Temple Square, we were met by three young missionaries, one from the United States, one from Canada, and one from China. They were our guides when we returned to the Tabernacle and visited the Assembly Hall.

Carole and John with Sister Wright, Sister Mullen and Sister Cao

Returning to the Tabernacle, our guides did the "pin drop" for us, a demonstration designed to show the amazing acoustics of the Tabernacle. Without amplification, they gave a few brief statements about the building, and then dropped several pins and a nail. Every word they said was audible to the back rows of the building. The pins clinked loudly and clearly, and the nail practically thudded.

Then off to the Assembly Hall.

The Assembly Hall

The Assembly Hall interior

The Assembly Hall pews look like oak, and the pillars look like marble. Look is the operative word here -- they are neither. They were painstakingly painted that way, and the same is true for the Tabernacle (with the exception that most of the pews have now been replaced by actual oak).

Painted marble and wood
Painted wood detail

We left our guides and headed off to see the Conference Center. It is huge. It holds over 21,000 people on the main floor and cantilevered balcony, plus the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir on the stage.

The roof of the Conference Center is a terraced meadow:
During construction, a spring was discovered under the building, and was incorporated into the architecture. The water flow starts on the roof...
And ends in a waterfall over the front:
We didn't have time for the hour-long movie, the museum, the Family History Center (the famous Mormon genealogy center) or the other historical areas of the Square. Next time we'll take the advice of our Conference Center guide and park away from the square (and its two-hour parking meters) and take the free light rail.

Temple Square: The Mormon Temple

Temple Square's most recognizable building is the Mormon Temple, but the square actually contains 15 buildings, including the Tabernacle (home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir), the Assembly Building, the Conference Center, visitor centers, office buildings and historical buildings.

This post is about the Temple Building. The next post will cover some of the other buildings.

The Salt Lake City Temple is the center of Temple Square. Just days after Brigham Young entered the area in 1847, he determined this would be the site of the Temple. Work began in 1853, and the Temple was completed in 1892. It was the first of the original buildings to be started, and the last to be completed.

In front of the building is a statue of Brigham Young, who lead the Mormon Migration to Salt Lake City, was the second president of the church, and the first governor of Utah Territory.

One function of the Temple is weddings -- and we saw this new husband and wife as we came in:

Non-Mormons are not allowed inside the Temple. To satisfy our curiosity of what lies behind the huge wooden doors, the church has built an amazing replica of the Temple with cut-away views. The 1/32 scale model is housed in the South Visitor Center. It is 88 inches tall, and weighs between 600 and 800 pounds. Each room in the Temple was recreated by craftsmen using photos of the actual temple. A touch-screen display next to the model shows actual photos and allows zooming in to see details.

Guess what? The inside doesn't look anything like a huge cathedral space, which is what I, and most non-Mormons have always thought. It has rooms such as the Celestial Room, the Assembly, and the Baptistry. Here is the model:

And here are close-ups of the rooms:
The next image shows the touch-screen display with a photo of the Baptistry. Comparing it to the model photo above shows the extreme level of detail that the model provides.

This model was erected in 2010. For more information about the model, check out this video created by the LDS Church.

Next post: the other buildings on the Square.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Temple Square and the Mormon Miracle

Panorama view of Temple Square
About six years ago, I flew into Salt Lake City, the rendezvous point for a backpacking trip in the Wind River Range. For reasons that now escape me, I had to come on an earlier flight than the rest of my hiking group, so my job was to get the rental car and return to the airport later that evening to pick them up.

With a couple hours free, I decided to go see Temple Square, the site of the Mormon Tabernacle. By the time I got to downtown Salt Lake City it was almost 4 P.M., and the rush hour traffic was in full swing. Finding Temple Square was a snap -- signs pointed to it from every street. Finding a parking spot was another matter. The block is quite a long one, and as I drove around it I began to think that all I would see was spots already filled with cars. And then ... on the last side of the square I was going to check before giving up... was an open spot!

I parked the car, giddy with excitement! It was short-lived. I was parked at a meter. I had removed all the change from my pockets before I left home so I wouldn't set off the alarms at the airport. I was in a rental car. I had absolutely NO change to put into the meter, and this was before meters took credit cards or bills. I had finally gotten a spot, and I wouldn't be able to use it.

But I decided to check the meter on the off chance that enough time was left for me to hurriedly get change somewhere. I couldn't believe my eyes when I the meter still had a whole hour left -- about the time I had to spend there! I called it my "Mormon Miracle." So I used that hour on a whirlwind tour of the Temple grounds, vowing to come back another day when I had more time.

Today was that day.

And I discovered the truth of a common maxim -- those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

John and I were meeting our friends, Carole and Dick, at the Square. This was mostly an unplanned get together -- we are on our way to Alaska, and Carole and Dick are on their way to South Dakota, but we realized that our rigs were both parked within day-trip distance of Salt Lake City this weekend, so we decided to see the Temple together.

John and I did the same "parking-space-search around the Square" I had done years before. We finally found one and grabbed it. That is when my deja-vu meter went full tilt as I realized, again, I had not thought to bring meter change with us. I had learned nothing from my "Mormon Miracle." However, this time we managed to scrounge a quarter and eight nickles in the car, which bought us enough time to go to a nearby hotel and beg for a couple dollars in quarters.

Carole and Dick arrived just when we were getting back to the meter, and parked across the street from us.

They didn't need a Mormon Miracle -- they were smart enough to have brought quarters!

Zoe, John, Carole, and Dick

Next Post: Images from Temple Square

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Observations from the Cockpit

Since appointing Zoe to the position of "Official Photographer" I have no pics to share; however, I can share a few facts and stories with you.

Referring to Zoe's Basin and Range and her Great Basin blogs, I found out that the two are related but different. Zoe's description of Basin and Range is a great explanation of that ten million year process that has been and continues to be under way between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada, including Arizona south of the Colorado Plateau, and Southern California. The Great Basin, although being part of Basin And Range, is inclusive of northern Utah west of the Rockies and pretty much most of Nevada. The most unique feature of the Great Basin is that it IS a basin! And a basin without a drain! Ain't no way out, folks. What falls in the Basin stays in the Basin. And that's why we have the Great Salt Lake!

I am SO spoiled!!! We did the Lehman Cave tour as Zoe mentioned. It was interesting. The ranger was interesting. I couldn't wait to have it end! After 5 and a half months as volunteer tour guides at Kartchner Caverns State Park, AZ last summer, we both have to work at having a good time in other caves. Most of the "commercial" caves in the country were discovered 100-200 years ago when words like "environmentally friendly" and "ecology" and "preserve for our posterity" hadn't been invented yet. Kartchner was discovered in 1975 by 2 college students who knew all those words. They, and eventually the owners of the land, the Kartchner family, managed to keep the caverns a secret for 14 years until the state of Arizona bought them in order to create a new state park. (Here comes the oped part) Back then, Arizona had 2 things it doesn't have now - Money and VISION! If you think you might like to experience a beautiful cave adventure, you gotta see Kartchner Caverns!

I'll refer you to Zoe's "Zion: Day 2". At the end of that trail to the Narrows, I got into a conversation with a young man whom I would guess to be in his early 40's. We discussed getting out and seeing America and the world. He told me he had taken his kids to Italy about 4 years ago. It cost a lot of money, but he was doing well, and he thought it was important. Shortly after their return home, his and everyone else's 401K tanked. He told me it was a very difficult time for him, so difficult that he sat down to examine his life and accomplishments to that point. "I came to the conclusion that the only thing of value I had ever accomplished", he said, "was the trip to Italy. From that point on, I have invested only in memories!" You are an RVer in the making. See you down the road, Pardner.

And see all Y'all down the road,

Images of Utah

A few images from the Utah scrapbook:
This year's crop of calves, lambs, and foals are catching their first glimpses of daylight in pastures up and down the valleys. There are also "real" cowboys tending the herds. Not all the cowboys ride horses, however -- we also saw some rounding up their cattle on ATVs.

We are staying outside a small town with a great name for their ice cream place:
This town even has a drive-in that is still showing movies! The current movie is Fast Five. But dark comes late this time of year, so the show doesn't start until 9:15. Going to a drive-in sounded like loads of retro fun, but for geezers like us it's way too close to our bedtime!
And in a neighboring town we found this liquor store. Utah restricts liquor sales to state-owned stores, and there are very few of them. This tiny store handles the liquor needs of three towns. And it has received its closing orders.
Quirky as some things in the area seem to us, we can't deny the just-plain-gorgeousness of the scenery:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Great Basin National Park

What a lovely gem tucked into the middle of Nowhere, USA!

We took the scenic drive around Great Basin National Park, and toured Lehman Cave, a limestone cave that is part of the park system.

The scenic drive is dominated by Wheeler Peak, frigid and snow covered this time of year. We were able to drive to about 10,000 feet (the peak is over 13,000), but then were turned back when the road was no longer plowed and became impassible.

Wheeler Peak

Lehman Cave, discovered in the 1880s, was actually in remarkably good shape for the abuse it has seen. Formations were destroyed to provide a dancing area, during prohibition a still was hidden among the stalagmites, social lodges used it as a spooky initiation site, and a low-budget movie, "The Wizard of Mars," was filmed here because the producer thought the cave looked like his conception of the planet Mars.

Lehman's Formations

But a lot of very nice formations, some rare, remain.

This is a rare bulbous formation, and the way they form is still under study. One theory is that a bubble formed on a soda straw (the thin hollow formation that is the beginning of all stalactites) and the globe-like formation, itself hollow inside, grew on top of it.

Here are a lot of them, looking like a "gopher's view of a turnip patch:"

We are staying at an RV Park that is part of the Border Inn. The inn is aptly named -- it sits directly on top of the border between Nevada and Utah. The motel is on the Utah side; the RV Park and the Casino sit on the Nevada side.

Must make doing their taxes a living hell.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Basin and Range

Basin and range, basin and range, basin and range. That’s what was on the "to see" list today as we traveled from St. George, UT to Ely, NV.

Basin and range is a particular method of land formation that results in a long series of basins, or valleys, and mountain ranges. We traveled over five of these combinations during today's travel. Up, down, up, down, up, down. John doesn't like going uphill in a rig; I don't like going downhill. The valleys we crossed were so flat and boring that seeing a herd of cows was annoyingly interesting. So even though there was some gorgeous scenery along the way, it seemed that one of us was always nervous, or both of us were bored.

Next valley and range from this range. Note road continuing across valley on the upper right.

The land got this way through a process known as basin and range block faulting. Millions of years ago, this part of the south-west was a shallow sea. Over the centuries the bottom of the sea, which by then was compressed into limestone, developed huge cracks from pressures coming from inside the earth. Eventually, the cracks broke into large blocks, and then the blocks started to tip, slip, and slide. One side of the block wound up being elevated, and one sunk downward. Block after block tilted, leaving a series of mountains (the elevated parts of the block), and valleys (the fallen parts of the block). Today's valleys are flat and level because they have been filled with the eroded materials from the mountains -- meaning the mountains were once much higher.

Another mountain-valley-mountain scene.

The same range as the photo above, but this one shows a rain/snow storm over part of the mountainside.

When we finally got into Ely, we found our target RV Park was not going to work -- their only available sites were short, rutty, and uneven, with tacky, trashy rigs for neighbors. So we went to a more expensive campground, where our site is long enough, unpaved, reasonably even, but comes with the same tacky, trashy rigs for neighbors. And at 2 1/2 times the price! What a bargain!

More basin and range on tomorrow's "to see" list!

Zion: Day 2

The Virgin River cuts through Zion -- literally. It created the canyon, and much of the amazing scenery that we enjoy today. The river, of course, had some help from volcanoes, wind, and water!

On Sunday, we took a short, 1 mile hike that paralleled the Virgin. The trail would normally have continued into a slot canyon, but the river is running quite high so entry into the Narrows was forbidden.

On our way, we passed the Three Prophets rock formation:

I took the "Obligatory Cute Mammal" photo:

And also the "Not-So-Cute Mammal" photo:

Everyone always says that squirrels are just rats with pretty tails -- now you be the judge!

When we got to the end of trail, we found several large cairns had been created at the point the river curves into the Narrows:

On the trip back, we stopped at Zion Lodge for a couple local microbrews. I had Virgin Stout and John had Polygamy Porter (actual names!). We got to chatting with another couple, Bob and Lisa, who were on their way up to Yellowstone. If you're reading this, have a great trip!

As we were driving home, we spotted a shoe tree. No, not that kind. The other kind:

I'm sure there's a reason for it... and I'm sure I don't have any idea what it is!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Zion: Day 1

John and I have spent the last two days in a Zion whirlwind. We were last here three years ago -- almost to the day -- so we spent the little time we have this year doing scenic drives and short hikes.

The view close to our campground:

On Saturday, we tried to go to a part of the park that we missed in 2008, Cedar Breaks -- but the elevation there is 10,000 feet and the roads are still closed due to snow. We were able to drive part way, though, and found the winter has left a few things to be fixed:

First, a huge, bus-sized boulder lost its perch and landed very close to the road:

And second, this tree was uprooted and is now precariously tipped over the road:

Arriving in main part of the park, we stopped for a close up view of the Checkerboard Mesa. The horizontal lines were made by different layers of ancient sand dunes that were stacked by wind and "cemented" by minerals, and the vertical ones were created by expansion and contraction due to temperature and moisture changes.

As we drove on, we were lucky to spot these mountain sheep. Can't see them? In the first photo, look directly above the green tree where the arrow is pointing. The next two images are zoomed in. We only spotted them because they were initally running across the rock, and the motion caught our eyes.

More photos from Zion in the next post.