Thursday, May 31, 2018

Grand Staircase Escalante

We took a quick trip to Grand Staircase Escalante over Memorial Day this year, with Kathleen's brother and sister and their families. Every time I come here I wonder why we don't do it all the time. When we were away from Utah, we lived in some pretty spectacular places, but southern Utah is just so unique. You can't find anything like it anywhere else -- a wonderland of beauty and fun that surprises you all the time. The picture above, for example, holds a lot more than meets the eye (more on that later). We missed it more than maybe anything but family while we were away.

One of the amazing things about the place is its' diversity.  We camped on the Aquarius Plateau, at a little place called Posey Lake that lies at almost 9000 feet elevation.  Here is what it looked like:

My little bud Keegs got up early with me to hike the one and half miles up to this overlook above the camp.

The area is forested, filled with deer and elk, lakes and ducks, and we were actually cold enough at night to have campfires and wear jackets.

And yet, within less than an hour on mostly dirt roads, you could be in the middle of the opening picture to this post, at 80 degrees in shorts and hiking the most spectacular desert on the planet.  It is such a special place.

Case in point: on the same day Keegan and I did this hike, we also headed into Escalante and down Hole-in-the-Rock road to hike into Peekaboo and Spooky slot canyons, in the heart of the desert.  Here we are eating lunch in the parking lot, and heading down and off into the sand and stone.

First up was Peekaboo Slot.  Keegan scrambled right up and into it, without hesitation or help.

The crew soon followed, with Kevin and Connor helping those of us (ahem) who were a little less agile along the route.

The slot canyon is aptly named, as you can see in this picture of our fearless leader.  Kidding aside, Kevin is just wonderful. Always so positive and encouraging, just a joy to be around. We love him and his family.  We are lucky to be close to them.

Love the heart-shape frame for my peeps in this picture.

We finally caught up with Alden, who despite suffering a serious cold, always found himself at the head of the pack, busting through the Canyon with purpose.

And here is Kevin with Kari, Kathleen's sister, who is also a joy to be around and the glue of this great family I married into.

We found pride rock.  Not quite Mufasa up there, though.

We exited the upper end of Peekaboo, only to see the broad wash that would feed it in a rainstorm. Makes you a little nervous just looking at it.  We paused to take pictures of the crew anyway.

The Baileys

A couple of Browns

and the Moons, with their recent addition of Conner Dean, who gamely sacrificed his favorite shorts while helping us through the canyon. He is a great guy, and we think Abbey made a pretty darn good choice.

The cactus were in bloom along the wash, and I will never cease to be amazed that there are flowers even in the desert. Perhaps a life lesson there, no?

From there, we headed down into Spooky canyon, also very aptly named, as it gets so tight there are places where you literally have to keep your head side-ways in order to move through. How the rest of me made it shall remain a mystery, as will the location of the scabs that formed after squeezing past sand-paper walls like some contorted amoeba. Graceful had nothing to do with it, let's just leave it at that.

It may be spooky, but it is also beautiful. These places still scare me -- you are one thundercloud away from a horrible death -- but they are stunning, hidden jewels of adventure in the vast sandstone playground that covers the southern half of my great state.   I may have to try a few more before my bones are too old, like the dinosaur remains that also dot these places. (And yes, there are some who think I am already a dinosaur . . . ).

Once we exited and made the climb back up to the parking lot, we headed to passable pizza at Escalante Outfitters, then up into the cool hills of the Aquarius Plateau for a campfire filled with good company and many, many S'mores. If there is a better way to spend a weekend, I am all ears.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Big Biting the Big Apple

So we spent spring break in The Big Apple.  I was not that excited when Kathleen proposed it, but my boss kindly offered her condo at the Plaza, so we dove right in and took the Big Bite (8 plus days). We found not a single maggot (sorry Mick -- but there was just that one rat in the subway . . . ).  IT WAS A FANTASTIC WEEK.  Such a great city.

We started with what we thought would be a disappointment -- Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman had rented out the entire Plaza hotel for his weekend in New York, and so the Plaza comped us a place at the Lotte New York Palace:

And a lotta palace it was!  Our room was awesome! Check it out:

50 floors up, it had a grand entry way and kitchenette,

a huge adjoining bedroom for the kids,

A massive, way cool common room, complete with fancy cookies,

and a huge master bedroom and bath, behind a closed door from everything else.

We never could have afforded it in a million years. The bellman asked where we were from, and I told him Utah. He said, "oh, that Mr. Huntsman, he sure was a nice man, used to stay here all the time."  Tells you that it was a really awesome place, way out of our league.  Plus it was only a block from St. Patricks Cathedral in midtown, a nice central location for all we were about to do. (We did move back to the Plaza later, in a very nice suite/room that always smelled like roses, and was right across from Central Park.)  Needless to say, we started off with a bang! A very good sign that it was going to be a great trip.

It was Easter Weekend, Passover, and Spring break all at once, and the City was packed. We walked from the hotel to New York Jumbo Bagels, where my onion with cream cheese was spectacular.  There is nothing like a New York Bagel -- crunchy outside, soft inside, tons of thick cold cream cheese -- just awesome.  We then headed to the Rockefeller Center, and in the few blocks from the bagel shop to there, we must have heard half a dozen languages at least.  There were Europeans everywhere, here on break, but also so many New Yorkers from so many different places. It struck me that it is truly a world city, in much the same way the United States is a world country made of immigrants from all over (much to the chagrin of the Orange Nameless One, whose tower was only a half block from our second hotel).

Rockefeller plaza was just a happening place, with people all around.

The door to the Rockefeller Center has seriously cool art over it.

The roof of that very tall building was our destination. There was quite a line, but we got the City Pass, and were able to cut in front of a lot of folks as a result -- definitely worth it if you plan to visit a  lot of sites in New York.

We finally got to the top, and the views were stunning!

Looking down Manhattan towards the Empire State Building, Freedom Tower, and the Statue of Liberty waaay off in the distance;

East towards our hotel;

and uptown towards Central Park.

Brides and grooms were taking pictures, Russians, East Europeans, and others were posing all over the place, and everyone was in great spirits on a beautiful, spring day.  Top of the Rock is definitely a must do.   After a lot of time wandering around the top again and again, we finally decided head back down.  Lo and behold, right at the bottom we found (a) a Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop (New York Super Fudge Chunk, of course) and(b) a Lego Store!  

Two boys were in heaven.  While they shopped, I headed back out to the plaza, and found a plaque of John D. Rockefeller's beliefs.  I quite liked it, so I took these photos:

Pretty good list of beliefs, I think.  I know that he personally helped fund the Riverside Church in Harlem, where Martin Luther King later preached on occasion, among many other New York projects, so it seems that he certainly walked the walk on some of those beliefs.

After the shopping was done, we headed back to the hotel for a bit, passing beautiful St. Patrick's Cathedral on the way.  

We built Legos, napped for a bit, and then headed out to Angelos Pizza for some great Italian.  There is simply no Italian food like New York Italian.  The Pizzas were crisp and fresh, delighting the boys, and my rigatoni alla vodka was amazing. 

From there we made a mad dash to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we spent about an hour and a half in the arms and armory and Egyptian sections before the museum closed. Big hits with the kids. Here are a few pictures.

The one on the right was HUGE. Guy must have been 6'8" at least!

Pretty awesome sight, all these mounted knights.  I can see how they ruled Europe in their time.

Think about this -- if your only weapon is that sword, how the heck do you kill this guy?  No way in, I don't think. We settled on a gang tackle and then pulling his helmet off. Best guess on tactics from our little warrior troop.

Loved these shields.

Coolest longbow ever.

The Egyptian section, while smaller, was also very cool.

They chased us out at 9:00 pm, and we headed back to the hotel. Turns out you spend a ton of time on your feet in New York, walking, and walking, and walking, and standing, and when you combine it with museums, where you stand even more, you really feel it by the end of the day.  Our great hotel room was a welcome sight.

Easter Sunday we snuck in to a late brunch at DB Bistro, and enjoyed seeing all the Easter Bonnets on display as we walked up and down 5th Ave.  Then we were off to see Grand Central Station, and headed down to the highline trail, a repurposed rail line that is now an elevated, long park.  Here are some photos from that little adventure:

I probably should have taken more photos on the Highline, but the crowds were out of control. New Yorkers do love their walks.

From there, it was off to the Intrepid, a WWII aircraft carrier that Alden could not wait to see.

Alden was stoked to see this TBF Avenger complete with machine guns and torpedo.

But he was in Nirvana when he found this 20 foot long, 255,000 piece LEGO replica of the Intrepid in the holds.  Holy Cow! Jackpot!  I don't know if he can be happier.

After taking all of that in, we were ready for dinner.  We headed for Carbone, but it had no room for us even at 5:00 p.m.  Luckily, that forced us to look to LUPA, a Mario Battali restaurant just across the street. Red brick warm, classic jazz playing, regulars joyfully dining type restaurant, with fantastic food and a wonderful service staff. It was just a great dining experience (recent #metoo issues notwithstanding).  Loved it.

We came back and moved back to the Plaza Hotel, Prince Salman and his entourage having moved on and vacated our space. I don't know how they do it, but the entire hotel always smells like rose and jasmine. Luxury is literally in the air at this place.

The room was smaller, but more than we ever could have stayed in on our own, and the location was prime -- right on the corner of 5th avenue and Central Park. Tough to beat.

Monday we woke to snow (yes, it was that cold the whole time we were there), and decided to make a museum day of it, heading up to the natural history Museum.

We learned a lot of things there, starting with the fact that on every snowy Monday after Easter EVERY New Yorker with kids goes to the natural history museum!  Who doesn't know that?  Here once again we were saved by the City Pass, which let us skip the second half of the long lines (no escaping security). Once inside, we immediately relived Night at the Museum, then learned a lot of other things, like:

African Elephants really are quite huge,

but blue whales are truly massive, 

there are some amazing, BIG geodes in the world; and finally, there are a ton of very large, long-horned mammals in Africa that I had no idea even existed, like

The Greater Koodoo

The Gemsbok

and the Sable Antelope, just to name a very few.  We also discovered that the museum was home to one of the more famous fossils ever found: Lucy! 

At least now I know where I got my short genes from.  Curses.  Oh well, guess it was worth it to get all her good looks too . . .  oh and brain, I suppose, but tall, beautiful people somehow got that too -- very unfair.  Perhaps the most amazing thing I saw though, was this art:

I was just amazed. It is 32,000 years old! And so intricate and accurate. Just fantastic. 

From there, it was time to eat, and we found some average Mexican at a little spot behind the museum,  which was followed by a lovely walk back to the hotel through a snow covered Central Park.

It was filled with beautiful American Elms,

lakes and bridges,

And red cardinals!  (I was really excited about that -- first one I have seen in the wild -- New York of all places!)

Hard to beat a scene like this, if you ask me. It was another great day in New York City.

Tuesday, we woke to a heavy, cold rain, and headed to Essa Bagels for breakfast, then off to the museum of the City of New York.  I had no idea how instrumental the Erie Canal was in building this great city, or how many periods of absolute decay, followed by amazing resurgences, the city has gone through.  Very informative space.  The rest of the day ended up being about logistics and tired boys. We helped Kate connect up with her choral group, who arrived mid-day, and let the boys build legos and chill, as they were tired of walking all over tarnation.  The one small bonus: we watched Jumanji 2 in the hotel that night, and we all still laugh about cake being our weakness.

The next two days we tagged Kate's choral group around as they sang in some pretty awesome spaces. First up, cathedral day!  It started at St. John's church, just off the Columbia campus. Beautiful space.

It was a foggy, rainy day that only added to the distinct feeling of this place.

Kate, Carly and Jewel, the three musketeers of the choir.

From there, we headed to the Riverside Church in Harlem, where the choir sang next.  It was 10:00 in the morning on a Wednesday, so there were not a lot of parishioners, but it was 51 years to the date when Martin Luther King spoke there, condemning the Vietnam War, personally risking much to stand firm in principles of non-violence.  He is one of my great heroes; I am constantly in awe of his patience, faith, persistence, and determination in the face of horrible adversity.  For him to experience all he did, and still love my country enough to try to make it better, despite what it had done to him and anyone who looked like him, just amazes me to no end.  So for me, it really felt like sacred space, and to be there with really beautiful music and architecture surrounding me was just a fantastic way to spend an hour.  Here are some photos.

From there it was across the street to Grant's Tomb, where the choir sang again.

After this we headed to Columbia University, Hamilton's Kings College, where the boys posed for a quick picture.

We decided to march on to the Apollo Theater (because it is there), 

and then Kathleen left to go meet a friend, Becca Pederson, who is at Julliard, and I took the boys back to the hotel for lunch in the food court below the Plaza.

From there we headed to the last choir performance of the day, at the wonderful St. Patricks Cathedral. It is a soaring, beautiful place, and at 4:00 pm it was filled with people coming and going. They loved the choir, listening intently and applauding.  It was so nice.

After the concert, we chatted with Breck and Val England, family relations of Kathleen's who are serving a mission in New York City. From there, we ran to the TKTS booth and on a whim got tickets to Margaritaville.  It was a riot. Kathleen and I love the music, and the show was basically an effort to stitch as many songs as they could into a wacky story fitting of Jimmy Buffett.  The boys liked it as well. Kate, on the other hand, hit Anastasia with her choir friends, and loved it.  A great New York night for all of us.

The next morning, we followed the choir again, this time to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  It was a very, very cold, clear day, with stiff breezes and temperatures more like December than April.  We had a great time though, making our way through the incredibly long lines to the ferry (thankfully Kathleen had purchased tickets in advance, saving us at least two hours of lines).

Even though I have seen it before, and pictures of it a million times, it still caused my heart to skip a beat.  So inspiring--noble and hopeful, strong and welcoming, uniting not dividing, so symbolic of what my country can be and is at its best.  Sadly, it stands in stark contrast these days to the tribal division, pettiness, negativity, anger and fearfulness that seems to characterize our politics and dialogue.  I remain hopeful for better days to come, when some version of rational compromise and commonly shared values holds sway, but I worry that it will come too late.  In any event, I hope to live up, in some small way, to the inspiration I saw in this amazing work of art on a cold, sunny Thursday in April.

The choir sang round back and added to the hopeful spirit of things, in the way that only young voices in sweet harmony can do. What a great way to start our day.

Next stop, Ellis Island, where my Dad entered this country as a 10 year old in 1947.

Luckily, no one questioned accepting refugees from war torn countries in those days. It was fun to imagine him wandering up this ramp from the boat dock as a wide-eyed little Englishman.

Once inside we found the record of their entry into the country pretty quickly.  They came aboard the SS Marine Falcon on September 22, 1947, after a 10 day journey. My dad remembers that it was stormy and took them a long time.  My Grandpa, Herbert Bailey (how's that for a name?), was 38 when he arrived, having suffered a total loss of his home to a direct bomb hit during World War II.  The British government was trying to discourage emigration at the time, and had passed a law that emigrants could not take more than 10 pounds cash out of the country.  So he arrived essentially penniless, but determined to make his way to Salt Lake City and its temple, where, according to our faith, he could be sealed to his family forever.

It was just great to make a connection to that past, and the determination and courage my grandpa showed in emigrating.

Here I am in the Registry hall where passengers were sorted. We spent the balance of the afternoon reading up on a lot of immigrant stories in the various exhibits throughout the museum. They were inspiring and enjoyable, reaffirming my deeply held belief that people are people, no matter where they were born, and each one that pursues his or her dreams in this country is very likely to be a huge value add for our country.

This was reaffirmed by almost every Lyft and cab driver we met in our time there.  I remember one in particular, from Kazakstan, who had moved to New York City with his wife and two small children.  He drove for Lyft for three days straight, sleeping in his car as he could, and then went home to care for the kids while is wife went to school to get her cosmetology license, so she could fulfill her dream of owning her own beauty salon.  When I asked him how he liked it here, he said, " I love it! I love this country, it is my home!"  We need as many people like that as we can find.

From Ellis Island, we headed to the Wall Street Bull and Fearless Girl, which I immediately loved, primarily because of the little Chinese tourist girl who struck that exact pose next to her for a picture.  Who knows what that little surreptitious statue will inspire?  Great things for the future of the world, I think.  We stopped and bought tickets for the 9-11 museum for the next morning, then headed back to the hotel, where I managed to throw my back out in the shower, worst I have ever done--it immobilized me for the rest of the night, and began a 24 hour quest for a muscle relaxant.  The result was Chinese takeout (you have to that in New York, don't you?) and another movie night with the boys, which they loved.

The next morning, we ate a late breakfast at Sarabeth's, next to the hotel, and headed downtown on the subway to see the 9-11site and museum.

The dark holes that once held buildings brimming and vibrant with people, whose names now surround their mutual absence, sets a tone from the outset. It is a place of somber contemplation.

On that day of massive destruction, this lone tree, the "Survivor Tree," somehow managed to survive and live, the only one.

The journey in the museum begins with a descent past iconic iron supports from the twin towers, and past iron supports that were at a spot where one of the planes first penetrated the tower.  But more than these, it is the pictures of people looking up at the tower, and seeing the expressions in their faces, that brings it all roaring back. There is simply no mistaking the horror mirrored there.  The museum at that point becomes a silent and reverent place, with only muted conversation from time to time.

The outlines of the foundation are still evident as you reach the bottom of the museum, where wreckage from the destruction of that day is evident all around.

Somehow, the tremendous force that bent solid iron supports and liquidated massive structures, spared a lone pane of glass. Out of all those miles of glass, only this survived, incomprehensible as that survival seems for anyone who witnessed that event.

As they cleared the debris, they came across partial remains. They needed a place for them:

Rarely have I been more moved by a place.  Perhaps Arlington cemetery and JFK's resting place, perhaps the Lincoln Memorial, but in a different way.  My reaction here was amazingly visceral -- the anger, the horror, the shock and sadness of that day all came flooding back in a very real way.  I am so glad we went, and spent most of a day here.

From there, we headed to Parm, for another great Italian meal, (Kathleen had a rigatoni that I still think about). Then it was off to Broadway, where we scored tickets to "the Band's Visit," which has since received 11 Tony nominations.

It was a quirky story of an Egyptian military band that goes to Israel to play in a palestinian community, but ends up in a very small jewish town in the middle of nowhere. It focuses on how that changes people, pulling them out of ruts. The music was jazz and middle eastern, very unique and enjoyable, but not the show-tune type you typically think of for broadway.

The next day, we had another morning of glorious bagels, a quick return to the Met, where I wandered through the impressionist exhibit, because it always makes me happy, and then we dashed off for a matinee showing of Aladdin, which Kate and Keegan enjoyed a lot. Alden and Kathleen opted to return to the Intrepid, to see the submarine we hadn't been able to see earlier.  Alden was very happy.

We closed the trip with a great meal at Victor's, a Cuban restaurant just off Broadway, and then headed to the Empire state building, for a midnight view of this amazing place. Here are some photos from that excursion to close out the post.

So we ended our trip to "the greatest city in the world," as Lin-Manuel Miranda calls it. Whether that is true or not, I haven't traveled enough to say, but it sure knows how to put on a good time for a little troop from Utah.