In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Idaho Vacation--Parting Shots

Our week with Donna and Jonathan in Idaho last month closed with a visit to a lovely section of downtown Idaho Falls called the "Green Belt," a park along the Snake River that flows through the center of the city. This stretch of the river includes some impressive rapids and a long dam-like structure over which the water rushes. This imparts a cool, well-watered feel to the park--a welcome oasis in the dry, sunny, high-plains-and-desert environment that is southeastern Idaho.

One thing in abundance along this stretch of the river are ducks, geese, gulls, and other water birds. They love to congregate at the edge of the dam, and somehow aren't carried over the edge by the rushing water. I'd like to see a person pull off this trick!

Dominating the skyline wherever one looks here is the beautiful Idaho Falls Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). It was here that Donna and Jonathan were sealed in marriage in 2004. The Temple creates a stunning backdrop to whatever portion of the river and park one beholds. The ducks are privileged to have it in view all the time!

Naturally, no visit to a pretty place is complete without having one's picture taken in front of it!

One last thing caught my eye as we were leaving the park--a historical marker (of course!), with a most interesting story to tell of how wartime "enemies" came to be friends in Idaho Falls (click on the picture to open a larger, easier-to-read version).

So, that was our trip--there was so much more fun to it that didn't get photographed! I'd tell you more about it, but my 55-year-old brain struggles to recall details even only 6 weeks after the event! Suffice it to say that it was one of the most enjoyable weeks we've ever spent, and an adventure I hope we can have with our children again!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Idaho Vacation--Of Rainbows and Ravioli

Our recent vacation out west wasn't all about airplanes, flying, and mountains. We had great fun with our daughter Donna and her husband Jonathan just hanging around their home and neighborhood. We needed the rest after all our other adventures!

The day after we settled in with Donna and Jonathan in Idaho Falls, we went to church together (where I heard a wonderful LDS hymn, I Have Work Enough to Do) and, later in the afternoon, Donna prepared homemade ravioli for dinner! I had never seen how ravioli is made from scratch, so the meal was interesting as well as delicious!

Doesn't she remind you of Julia Child? ;-)

That afternoon it clouded up and rained steadily for a couple of hours, something we were told rarely happens in southeast Idaho in August. Guess a bit of Western New York weather must have stowed away in our luggage and escaped when we unpacked! But eventually the sky cleared and we were treated to a magnificent double rainbow! Unfortunately, only one of the bows, and the tail end at that, showed up on the picture I took. But it was still a lovely gift from God!

That evening we drove a short distance up into the hills above Idaho Falls to explore a huge wind farm up there--I'd never been that close to one before. We could see hundreds of these towering devices as we drove along, and were told there are thousands of them in those hills. Some of them were revolving, others appeared to be locked down. It was kind of eerie as the sun set.

But that setting sun gave us another opportunity to capture the wonders of the western sky. It's almost impossible to see a vista like this in upstate New York; there are just too many trees, buildings, etc. to obstruct the view. One almost needs to go the western plains or desert to fully experience the vastness of the Heavens above us!

Our week with Donna and Jonathan reminded me that we don't need to be "doing something" or having some "high adventure" all the time to be happy and contented. Sharing time, laughs, and experiences with our family is all we really need to grow inside and together--and growing is what life is all about!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Idaho Vacation--Of Mountains and Marriage

Of course, it wasn't enough for me merely to view the Teton Range from more than two miles in the air during our recent western vacation. A couple of days after that breathtaking event, my family and I drove from Donna and Jonathan's home in Idaho Falls to Grand Teton National Park--which is located in northwestern Wyoming, just south of Yellowstone National Park--to see those mountains from the ground, in all their towering majesty!

A little background: The Tetons were supposedly named by French explorers who called the three highest peaks of the range Les Trois Tetons (um, "the three breasts" in French). In addition to 13,770 ft-high Grand Teton Mountain, eight peaks in the Teton Range are over 12,000 feet above sea level. The entire range is about 40 miles long, and is the youngest in the Rocky Mountains. Unlike most mountain ranges, the Tetons lack foothills, and rise sharply from 5,000 to nearly 7,000 feet above the floor of a beautiful and historic valley called Jackson Hole. The largest nearby town, just south of the Park entrance, is Jackson, Wyoming.

It took us less than a full morning to drive through Grand Teton National Park, even with numerous stops for pictures. I wasn't able to take notes of the precise peaks I was photographing or of each particular place from which I was taking them, so here I can only present my best photos in rough order of their taking, and let you take in the incredible beauty of these mountains. Don't forget to click on them for much bigger and more detailed views!

Of course, no tourist experience is complete without a shot of yourselves standing in front of whatever natural wonder you have traveled to see!

We drove on from where these pictures were taken, and snapped a few more from the northern end of the Tetons looking south.

Not far from the northern entrance to the Park we stopped for a picnic lunch on the shores of Jackson Lake, which lies directly to the east of the Tetons. That's Melany in the lower right corner of the picture below!

Still more spectacular views were presented from the causeway above Jackson Lake Dam.

Only a short distance further up the road and we were out of Grand Teton National Park and into Yellowstone National Park! We've visited there several times before--someday, I'll have to scan my pictures from those trips and put them up on this blog--so we didn't plan on tarrying there too long. Our actual destination was Yellowstone's west entrance, a little over an hour's drive north from the Tetons. But we did make a pit stop at the visitors' center near Old Faithful geyser, and just happened to be there when she "blew" at about 2:35 p.m. That was something we hadn't seen on previous Yellowstone visits, so it was an unexpected treat!

Interesting factoid: According to Wikipedia, Old Faithful was sometimes used as a laundry during the Park's early days; garments placed in the crater during the geyser's quiet periods were ejected thoroughly washed when the eruption took place!

Driving beyond Old Faithful, we encountered this big fellow sunning himself just off the road--what visit to Yellowstone would be complete without seeing bison (as much our national animal as the bald eagle, in my opinion)!

We finally reached the western entrance to Yellowstone and our destination just beyond: West Yellowstone, Montana (yes, this one-day trip took us from Idaho to Wyoming to Montana, and eventually back into Idaho!). This is a small, slightly kitschy, but fun "western" town full of shops and restaurants that cater to the Yellowstone/Grand Teton visitors--but it's not gaudy and tasteless enough to qualify as a "tourist trap." We did a little shopping, and after some coaxing I was persuaded to try on a ridiculous hat supposedly made from the fur of some animal (I didn't know they had such animals in China!)

After a nice barbecue dinner (I had something called a "Mad Dog," a spicy sausage wrapped in barbecued beef brisket on a hoagy roll), we walked over to a place called the Playmill Theatre to see a delightful production of the stage musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Donna had heard about this place and got us all tickets ahead of time. If you've ever seen the film version, you know that this was the most perfect play you could possibly see after a visit to Yellowstone!

What made the experience really special was the theater and the cast, and the way they presented the show. The theater, in a throwback western wood-frame building, is very cozy and seats probably no more than 120 people. The stage is semi-round and projects well into the audience, so the place is very intimate. The greatest thing, however, is the cast--they're all young people attending colleges in the southeastern Idah0-northern Utah region, and spend the whole season together acting at the Playmill. Are they ever talented and entertaining! They'd better be--the theater presents three different productions on different nights of the week all summer long, which means the cast has to know the dialogue, choreography, and music for three full-length shows simultaneously! And they don't just act--they usher before the show starts, and go out in the audience selling refreshments (soda, popcorn, and homemade fudge) during the intermission, in their costumes, makeup, and stage personas! Before the main production they come out individually or in small groups on stage and with the greatest enthusiasm and skill perform old-time musical numbers and comedy skits, all clean and family-appropriate. One suspects that vaudeville was just like this in its prime, when it was all the (legitimate) entertainment available in most small towns, at least outside church halls and school dances. What a wonderful and unique thing to experience today!

After the play we started back to Idaho Falls--by now it was after 9 p.m.--but took a wrong turn somewhere and drove at least 20 minutes north toward Bozeman, Montana (a classic frontier town)! Once the mistake was realized we decided that it was God's way of sending us back to West Yellowstone for some homemade ice cream before returning home--so that's just what we did! We're still joking about it.

We finally got to Idaho Falls not long before midnight, exhausted but happy after one of the most delightful days we've ever spent! Thanks so much to Donna and Jonathan for making it happen!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Idaho Vacation--Flying HIGHER!

Little did I know, while visiting Hill Aeorospace Museum to kick off our recent Western vacation, that I'd soon be having a much more personal experience with flying!

Donna and Jonathan's home in southeast Idaho is only a short distance from the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains, lying on the Wyoming side of the border with Idaho, just south of Yellowstone National Park. These mountains are depicted in a famous photograph by Ansel Adams called The Tetons and the Snake River (left). I always wanted to see these spectacular mountains in person, but on two previous trips we made there while visiting Donna and Jonathan, freakishly bad weather--fog, rain, mist--completely hid them from view, even from their very base. Deeply disappointed, I concluded that these mountains don't really exist, and that the whole thing is an enormous hoax!

So, before our trip Donna and Jonathan devised a plan to prove to me that the Teton Mountains are really there. Jonathan's boss Mike is a licensed pilot, and having flown with him several times before, asked if he would take me up to see the Tetons "up close and personal" from the air. Mike loves to fly and readily agreed, and the kids sprung the idea on me early Monday afternoon. I was totally floored--I'd always thought it might be fun to go up in a private plane, but I'd never been confronted with a real opportunity to do so. Now I was gripped by the willies and agonized for the better part of an hour whether I really wanted to take the risk. I had no qualms about the pilot, but in a jetliner you're sitting in a pressurized cabin with at least has several feet of cargo space, a ton of luggage, and lots of metal between your tush and the ground. In a private plane there's nothing separating you from eternity but a thin sheet of aluminum or fiberglass. I also started calling to mind all the fatal small-plane mishaps reported in our local news over the last few years. Yet, not wanting to disappoint or embarrass Melany or the kids, I finally decided that an exercise of faith was called for, and agreed to go. But I still had several hours to stew and quake before the big moment arrived!

We drove a short distance to a small private airport near Idaho Falls where we waited for Mike's plane, carrying him and Jonathan, to land. Donna, Melany, and I were standing at the end of the runway when it came in, and I was a bit taken aback--the plane was all fiberglass (or "Plastic!" as I blurted out), and barely big enough to accommodate the two passengers (see below).

Mike and Jonathan hopped out and helped me climb aboard, strap in, and don a radio headset so Mike and I could communicate during the flight. I was more nervous than I've been in memory! (next two pictures)

Mike squeezed in next to me--we were practically in each others' laps--closed the canopy, and started taxiing the plane down the runway. Here I am (below) commending my spirit to God as the little plane-ette moved passed Donna's camera!

A few moments later we were in the air over the airport, and my "excellent adventure" had begun!

To my credit, I think, I didn't even reach for a barf bag (Mike had thoughtfully made sure that several were tucked into the passenger's side of the cockpit) as we encountered some turbulence over the fields and pastures between the airport and the Tetons, about a half-hour's flight away. But rest assured, I was saying my prayers (paraphrasing the 23rd Psalm, "though I fly through the valley of the shadow of death")! Incredibly, though, I settled down after about 10 minutes in the air--Mike was cheerful, reassuring, and told me about the various landmarks we were flying over, such as the Snake River, which I was able to photograph by pointing my camera through a small window in the canopy (picture below).

Before I knew it, we were approaching the Tetons at something like 10,000 feet above the ground (the summit of Grand Teton Mountain is actually about 14,000 feet above sea level). I didn't know which was more breathtaking--the mountains spread out in a vast panorama before me, or the fact that I was suspended so far up in the heavens over them! To contemplate both was a real faith-building experience! Mike was amazed that the air up there was as smooth as a blanket. Only a few wisps of vapor scudded between us and some of the highest and craggiest peaks in North America (next two pictures).

Finally, we were directly over the Tetons, and I finally knew for a certainty that they're there--and that only God could have brought something so huge, majestic, and beautiful into existence.

We then gently descended above the valley on the Wyoming side of the range, over broad mud flats and Jackson and Jenny Lakes (next two pictures).

After flying above the valley for a few more minutes, we crossed the mountains again, and were treated to more spectacular views of the Snake River (next two pictures).

As we soared in the setting sunlight over the pastures and fields of eastern Idaho, on our way back to the airport, I was struck by how much the ground looked like the rippling surface of a pond (next picture).

As we neared the airport again after a flight of somewhat over an hour, you could still see the mountains in the distance, above the farm fields (next two pictures).

The next thing I knew, we were descending rapidly, and I saw the runway coming up to meet us (that's the way it looked, though I think, physically, it was more like us coming down to meet it).

We had a marvelously smooth landing. The plane came to a stop, Mike opened the canopy, and I climbed out with Donna, Jonathan, and Melany there to greet me with delight--and more than a little relief--clearly showing on their faces. As wonderful as the trip was, it was great to see them and to have the ground under my feet again!

Here are the proud junior birdmen, Mike and I, beside the plucky little plane that took us above the roof of the continent. Thanks a million, Mike!

And a happy face to end the tale!