Sunday, June 28, 2009

Camping with Uncle Salty Pants

Spring and early summer have been very wet, and we only have a tent, so it has been hard to escape for weekend camping.  Finally, we grew desperate, and when we heard that Kathleen's brother Nate (aka Uncle Salty Pants -- don't ask) and his family were going camping at nearby Deseret Peak, we decided to chance the elements and join them, notwithstanding forecasts for an unsettled weekend.

Perhaps we should have reconsidered when the road we were planning to drive to camp, South Willow Canyon, was partially blocked by a mudslide.  But no. Nothing if not intrepid, we headed up a side road and proceeded to camp at a spot higher on the ridge (at about 7000 feet) rather than in the valley.  It was a nice little spot with views and flat ground, not to mention ready access to pit toilets (wahoo!).  And it was even dry until the sun went down, giving us time to set up the tent, cook dinner, take a walk up the road past the mudslide, and roast marshmellows for smores over a warm campfire.  Usually, as long as you can do that last one, camping works for kids no matter what else happens.

But then it came.

First was the pitch darkness, followed by wind gusting hard enough to toy with any tent not guyed by a true boy scout (I, a mere tenderfoot, do not qualify). Soon thereafter came raindrops the size of small tangerines. Seriously.  I have never been tent-camping in a rain this hard. It was like one of those storms in the south or east, pounding like a Japanese drum troop, where it feels like heaven has turned on the big fire hose in the sky (say, the one that keeps the very fires of hell at bay) and pointed it straight down at you.  Have you ever been inside a tent in a storm like that?  Loud. Really loud. Loud enough to send a two year old and four year old scrambling into mom and dad's sleeping bag in a blur.  

But that was only the beginning, because in the dark of night, the thunder and lightning started, in earnest, and CLOSE.  You know how they tell you to count "one one thousand, two one thousand, three . . ."  etc. between the flash of flight and the thunder to see how far away it is? Well, at least a dozen times I got to "w" before the thunder drowned me out.  

And then, our tent blew in.  

Lucky for us Uncle Salty Pants, Eagle Scout extraordinaire and former scoutmaster, flew into action before I could even get both feet down one pant-leg.  There he was, abandoning the cozy comfort of his own pop-up trailer, goretexed head to foot, tying knots and pounding stakes like a fury unleashed.  After mere minutes, hurricane Rita couldn't have touched us.  

While that kept us safe from wind and tangerines.H2O,  there was nothing even Uncle Salty Pants could do about the lightning and thunder.  With only thin nylon walls to block things out, we went from pitch black to blinding light and back to black in a split second, over and over again.  Disorienting at best; disconcerting every time. Thunder always followed, usually before the counting could begin, as nearby oxygen and nitrogen atoms repeatedly exploded outward, singed and screaming for their lives. 

All this did not make for happy boys.  Keegan crawled to the very bottom of his mom's sleeping bag, and there, just before midnight, finally fell asleep.  Alden, who really wanted to sleep, continued to toss and turn at my side. Finally, in the way only a little boy could, he turned to me and asked, "Dad, can we sleep in thunder?"  As in, 'is it even possible?' 'Is there some trick to this I don't know yet?'   He just melts me at times. 

Innocence has its benefits. A simple "yes we can, son," and he was asleep five minutes later. (The same cannot be said for his father.) Nerves notwithstanding, we managed to weather the night, and morning presented only intermittent light drizzles.  We even got in a very short hike after breakfast, and I took a few pictures. The first is Uncle Salty Pants himself, surrounded by the kids, on top of a rock with Deseret Peak in the background.
The wet weather did have at least one visible benefit: There are wildflowers everywhere, including this Sego Lily, Utah's state flower.

This was basically the view from our campsite, looking east to the Oquirrh Mountains. And below is Kate, scrambling up another nearby rock, with the rest of the muddy-footed troop in tow.

So here is to Uncle Salty Pants, Nate, and his great family. Thanks for getting us out guys (even if we nearly fried)!

Monday, June 15, 2009


So here are some pics from our last day in Bryce, which was, unlike all prior days, sunny as can be. I woke just after dawn, and headed to Inspiration Point for these photos. One of the hard things about photographing in Bryce is that even though it takes your breath away to see it in person, every photo you can possibly take seems to have been done before, like the one above.  Some of the below will also fall into that category, but I did try to find something new in a few of them. Let me know what you think.

This one was taken from Bryce Point, at over 9000 feet, and there I learned the plateau from which Bryce drops away is called "the Aquarius Plateau."  What an appropriate name, as this place is otherworldly.  Nowhere is that more evident than when you hike down in, which we did with the kids in tow. 

They were really pretty good on the way down the Navajo Loop, and Alden and Kate were troopers on the way back up.  However, Keegan's attitude about the climb out left only one word to describe his mother: "SheWoman," as the photos below attest.

On the way out of dodge, we actually saw this pronghorn, which was an added treat. So ended our Bryce Canyon weekend.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


It has been raining quite frequently and at times heavily this spring and early summer--really one of the wettest times I can remember here in Utah. It almost seems like we brought our San Francisco winters here to occupy our springs.  Despite the weather and a Target-bought (albeit Eddie Bauer) family tent as our only shelter, we have been intrepid (for us) campers.  Over Memorial Day weekend, we braved predicted rain and 8000 foot elevations to camp in the Sunset Campground in Bryce Canyon.  We were greeted by rain and overcast skies, as well as this sign:

Sounds like a great place to take your family in thunderstorms and rain, right?  Especially if you have, say, a two year old with no fear, a penchant for running everywhere, and a genetic defect that renders him incapable of listening to screaming parents.  Potential for disaster and plenty of rain notwithstanding, the trip was delightful.  First, God bless GMC.  I know, I know, there is a lot of work to do there, and the bailout leaves many sore, but within the last year we purchased a GMC Acadia (AKA "the new car"), and it helped make the trip.   

What is so special about that, you ask? Well, among its other qualities, it has a DVD player with wireless headphones for each of the kids.  Two movies later, Kath and I had enjoyed four straight hours of silence and uninterrupted adult conversation for the first time in nine years. That put everyone in a good mood, to the point that the last hour of the drive found the kids and their mother singing songs together.  Kate of course is a good little singer, and lead the way. Alden, who didn't know all the words, simply said "hey, I can sing by humming!" and proceeded to do just that.  (He is all boyish innocence these days, and one of the most beautiful things you can possibly see.)  Even Keegan joined in with gusto.  

We arrived and pitched the trusty tent, started a fire, and were immediately reminded of the magic of camping and simple things.  Alden, staring at the fire, declared, "I feel so happy!" Keegan found a perfect sized stick and ran around the campground yelling "Expecto Petronum!" at the top of his lungs. (He does a mean "Expele armas!" by the way -- Harry Potter, eat your heart out.)  

Meanwhile, Kate found an old Nerf football, and began to throw perfect spiral after perfect spiral while playing catch with her dad.  Later that night, as she sat chatting with Alden by the fire, she was heard to say, "Aldy, this was one of the best days of my life."  Simple things indeed.

Of course, where Alden is involved, no moment of bliss is complete without a lightsaber, and he and Keegan found new challenges to add to their daily battles.

The bummer part about moments of bliss is that they only last, well, for a moment. Then things change.  Sure enough, soon after we finished dinner it began to rain hard, complete with thunder.  Before the night was out, Kath and I found two boys crammed into our 20 year old flannel double sleeping bag, and the commotion woke Kate, who proceeded to read (yes, Harry Potter for the umpteenth time) by headlamp until almost 6:00 a.m.  Restful the night was not.

Yet at that early hour, Kate woke me and asked if we could go take pictures.  I was tired and it was cold and overcast with a drizzle falling, but she seemed none the worst for wear, and how could I of all people resist that request? I am glad I didn't try.  The rain had deepened the colors for which Bryce is famous, as the first picture above attests, and the wet spring has produced wildflowers in abundance. The morning was glorious despite the overcast. Here are a few pics:

The manzanita were in bloom everywhere.

And I have no idea what these two flowers are, but they were everywhere along the rim as well.

After a morning of photo taking we went back and retrieved the rest of the family to see the places Kate and I had already been. It seemed to work out pretty well, overlooking, of course, Keegan's occasional threat to catapult himself off the rim.

Soon after our rim drive the rain began in earnest again, and we set off on scenic Route 12 to see if we could find better weather along with our scenery.  Stop one found us at Kodachrome Basin State Park, where the kids enjoyed that timeless southern Utah treat: scrambling over sloping sandstone waves.

The next stop was Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, a quiet gem of a place, where the kids proved themselves real troopers and dad proved, once again, that he is inept at parenting.  The trooper part comes from the fact that seeing the park requires a 2-3 mile hike, the first of which is up a pretty steep hill to a plateau, but the kids managed it with aplomb.  The inept part comes from the fact that I forgot to bring a diaper and wipes for Keegan, who did the deed about half way through.  When he refused to walk about a tenth of a mile later, though, I paid partial penance for my crime, since I had no choice but to hoist him onto my shoulders and carry him the rest of the way, poopy diaper and all squishing around my neck. 

Nonetheless, it was a great hike, as these photos hopefully show.

There were petrified tree stumps and logs along the way, and they were so colorful. 

Here's the fam playing on some old petrified logs.

I took this closeup just to show the remarkable colors -- how does wood turn into stone that looks like this?  Just amazing.

As we rounded the last bend and began the trek down off the plateau, the sun began to set through a cloud-laden sky.  The reservoir below us was painted with light, and the desert was everywhere green and full of life.  Keegan, riding on my neck, decided to thrust parental incompetence and obvious discomfort aside at that moment.  He patted my head with his little hands, and said with spontaneous enthusiasm, "Wow, it's so beautiful!"  

After the hike we headed back to camp for more evening fun, which included this exchange between Keegan and I:

Keegan: "Dad, I want some juice."

Brett (knowing he was really hungry, and wanting him to eat something solid): "We'll get you some food in just a minute, little bud."

Keegan: "Dad, we're talking juice here!" 

(I kid you not, that last one is a direct quote.) Perhaps because of this perceived misunderstanding, he later asked: "Am I making myself perfectly clear?" And when we told him it was time for bed, he repeated what has become one of his favorite phrases: "That doesn't make any sense!" The kid is going to be the death of me, I just know it.

It rained all night long again, but the next day I woke at dawn to find blue sky with puffy white clouds scattered about.  I will try and post those pictures tomorrow.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Triple Rainbow

So tonight on the way home, we saw a triple rainbow.  By the time we got home and I could take this picture of the Bountiful Temple, the angle of the sun had eliminated two of them, but still . . . have you ever seen a triple rainbow?  Definitely a first for me.  And you know, I really needed it.  Work has been disheartening of late, and I wonder how long they will continue to need my services, which has a deep sadness for me, because I do love my job.   So it was nice to see a triple reminder of God's promise, that He will eventually abate the flood.  Now I just hope it happens before I drown . . . . :-).