Saturday, July 15, 2017

Thinking of Sunsets

Our summer to date has been quite bittersweet.  We had the trip of a lifetime in Iceland (more on that very soon), but we returned to sad news all around.  First, Beverly Murray passed away, suddenly, after feeling a headache for most of the day. She collapsed at 5:00 pm, and was gone by 11:00 pm, at the age of 86.  I spent my youth playing tennis on the tennis court in her back yard, which she and her husband, Bob, so freely shared. My parents spent every summer gardening with her, knowing that if they didn't keep their rows in top shape, they were out. (Bev loved a beautiful and well kept garden).  She raised five tremendously successful and wonderful children, loved horses, and had the highest pain tolerance of any person I have ever known.  

Thirteen days later, her husband Bob, a Korean War Veteran and tireless supporter of every ambition I ever had, developed appendicitis.  He went under anesthesia, and never came out, passing away at the age of 88, having just seen everyone he loved at the funeral for his beloved Bev.  He was interred on July 3rd, 2017, beside her. Bob was a pilot who flew 100 missions in the Korean War in 86 days. Many of his squadron mates never achieved that milestone, dying in the service of their country before they could return. Bob vowed to live life to the fullest after that, and did so, graduating from Harvard's business school, becoming a successful business man, and a pillar of our little community. He was also one of my dad's best friends.  The United States Air Force honored Bob by having two F-35s fly over his grave on July 4.  It was quite a site to see.

Within a week of Bob's passing, Kim Burningham, Bountiful High debate coach and wonderful public school teacher, passed away after a very short battle with liver cancer, the same disease that took my dear friend Marilyn Muir Jager, whom I had gotten to know so well in Mr. B's classes so many years before.  He was one of a kind, dedicated, tireless, patient, calm, and unyielding in the things he knew to be right, a great example to all those he taught so well.  I was lucky to have him as a teacher.  

It is a hard thing to see that the world hurtles forward leaving such good people to the mists of memory.  Bob, Bev, and Kim all lived on Canyon Crest Drive, between my home and my best friend Doug Folsom's house.  I can't tell you how many times I went up and down that street, but it was home to me.  And now it is a home that feels far too empty, missing something fundamental to its very essence. Doug's parents have also passed on, and I can't imagine anyone who comes after in these places will understand the magic of this little community of kind neighbors. It was a Camelot of sorts for me, a place of good, hard working people, with solid values, who were honest and kind and faithful, who supported each other and went about doing good, filled with hope and believing both in dreams and in the goodness of other people. I hope, for the sake of the country Bob courageously fought for, that somewhere a few more of these magical places remain. I don't know whether they do, but I know that this one is passing below the far horizon, and I am feeling it.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Spring Wouldn't be Spring without Antelope Island

In addition to hiking in the Wasatch Front foothills, I always try to make at least one trip to Antelope Island during the spring, before the bugs get really bad (which they do out there as it warms up). It is a unique and amazing place.  The Farmington formation rocks on the southern two thirds of the island are as old as the rocks at the bottom of the Grand Canyon -- 1.8 Billion years.  That alone makes it worth a visit, but add in the Bison, the Pronghorn, good hiking, good mountain biking, all the birds, and a pretty regular cooling breeze, and you can probably ignore both the bugs and the wet clay-pan smells for a while.

 The views of the Wasatch from the island are awesome. But any visit should really almost always involve staying for sunset.  I don't know what it is -- the chemical balance in the water, the shallow depths, maybe (this huge lake averages 12 feet in depth) -- but the colors at sunset are different here than anywhere else I have been in the world.  Here are a few pics from a very cool April Sunday evening, after General Conference, to convince you:

I really didn't do much to touch up those colors - that is the way it looks.  If that can't convince you to visit one evening, I don't know what will.  It is an incredibly beautiful place to experience a sunset.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Little Spring Hiking

So at 54 I find myself in the very worst shape ever.  A couple of years battling a little arthritis in my back and bad knees will do that to a guy who never in even the wildest imagination was an athlete. Decided to take advantage of unusually warm weather and melting snow to try and change that with a little spring hiking.

The bad news is that folks in these parts don't even know what a "switchback" is, and the trails pretty much reflect that.  Hard way to start for an old guy.  The good news: I haven't had a heart attack . . . yet (and I've tried, believe me -- stress tests are uphill walking, right?).  So there is that.  The other good news:  I really do love it, always have.  Here are a few photos from a hike above City Creek Canyon.

Downtown, the valley's east side, and the Wasatch Front.

My alma mater, the U.

It was a nice fullish moon, that allowed for later hiking. Caught it just as this plane headed east under it. Fly me to the moon maybe? (Sing it Frank).  Below is a picture of beautiful City Creek Canyon in the late evening light.

My next hike was in Centerville, near my home, up a place called Duell Creek.

While it looks dry, we really have had great snow and water this year, thank goodness. It is needed. but the signs of it are visible in the landslide below.

I chose the one on the left. Probably a little ambitious. Went straight up and ended up being no more than a deer trail across pretty darn steep terrain.

If you look close, you can see someone has actually put a flag pole, complete with American Flag, on the top of that peak there. This is the point where the trail turned sketchy, and while I followed it pretty far, it started to get dark, so I didn't quite make it to the flag.

Saw some awesome scenery on the way though, including this little hidden waterfall below me.  The pic does not do the steepness of this spot justice. Perhaps the one below gives a little idea.

Sunset over the Great Salt Lake from the trail. It is so nice to be out in it, feeling like I am actually taking advantage of all this place has to offer. Here is hoping that I can find the time to keep it up. Wish me luck.  And speaking of sunsets, here is one from my back deck last week. I am telling you, this is a pretty great place.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


We are just back from perhaps the best four-day vacation we have ever taken.  It began with a flight from SLC to LA, and then to stunningly rugged and beautiful Loreto, Baja California, Mexico, on the Gulf of California. Our plans did not call for a stay, but we may go back -- the views flying in told of secret, isolated beaches, surrounded by mighty cliffs, with fantastic sunrises and some of the bluest seas you will ever see. We had other plans this time, however, and so at the airportThere, we rented a shiny red jeep:

(with full, and I mean FULL, insurance coverage) and drove across Baja to the Pacific, and a sleepy little town called Puerto San Carlos on Magdalena Bay.  Our real destination was an Eco Camp on Isla Magdalena, one of three islands along the Pacific that creates the magnificent Mag Bay, winter home to California Gray Whales, known for their fearless friendliness.  We had signed up with Magdalena Bay Whales, (link here: ) and Captain Marco, its young, friendly jefe, who speaks English with ease, and is a delight to talk with.

There is only one paved street in San Carlos, and the Hotel Villas Isabella, where we were to meet Marco, is not on it.  Many dirt streets, strayish dogs (63, to be exact -- the kids counted) and a few chickens later, we found it, near the shores of Magdalena Bay, where the shrimp boats put in every evening, for a full night's work.

There Marco introduced us to Martin, who would be our most able captain for the next two days, and we learned that he and his boat, the Keiko I:

would be at our service for the entire time. What a happy circumstance that turned out to be. After locking our car inside the hotel's protected parking, we jumped in the Kieko I, and headed off to our destination: Isla Magdalena, across the magnificent and huge Magdalena Bay.

As you will soon see, birds were everywhere, including the Brown Pelicans catching Alden's attention here, and were reflective of the abundant marine life in the Bay.

Martin's true self shows through here. Happy, easy going, comfortable with his boat and on the water, excellent whale-whisperer, and just a great host all the way around.

By the way, this is the hot babe in the distance of the opening photo. Have I mentioned that I love my wife? She put this trip together, and is all around awesome.

We arrived at the Eco Camp with its 6 to 8 tents on level, wooden platforms, each of which had cots, blankets, sheets and pillows inside. The great palapa below, where we were to eat for the next two days, is a fantastic gathering place, to talk all things whale with other guests and captains.

It had electricity at night, and two restrooms with flush toilets (that mostly worked), along with running water, and all the soft drinks and bottled water you could want (and Cerveza too).  Most important of all, it had Christina and her crew (Christina is in the center below)

who would prepare fresh seafood, brought from the bay right next to us, at almost any time we asked. The Camarones Diabola (Devil Shrimp) was absolutely killer, as were her breakfast Chilaquiles.  I still think about both of those dishes all the time, and the kids think about her cinnamon hot chocolate even more than that. After one of those great meals and a decent night's rest, we woke the next morning to this:

and knew it was going to be a good day.

After a hearty breakfast in the palapa, we headed out into a sunny day for our first whale watching excursion.  Fortunately, we had been advised to bring jackets, and long pants, and we needed them! It was cool on the water.

After a fairly short ride across a very smooth Magdalena Bay toward Isla Santa Margarita, and as we approached the opening to the Pacific which divides her from Isla Magdalena, we began to see this:

It was then that Martin did his magic, carefully approaching, stopping where he thought the whales would come up next, and letting them decide if they wanted to come close or not.  Never once, in the two days we spent with him did we feel like he was chasing or harrassing whales in any way. He was always very careful to let them make the choice about how close to come. Soon enough, that magic turned to this:

There we were, amidst all these whales, engine off, silence interrupted only by lapping waves and gull-cries, and then the transformative sound of giants exhaling from massive lungs.  It was just phenomenal.  And of course, their were the tales:

There was even a friendly sea lion that came out to watch us watching them:

If we had stopped there, it would have been worth it. But of course, Martin was determined to give us a show, so south we went, along the eastern coast of Isla Santa Margarita.  Along the way, we witnessed an old partnership -- dolphins and brown pelicans, working a mass of sardines -- one from below, the other from above.

 I really love watching brown pelicans fly, they are so graceful and efficient in flight, but to watch them dive is to see the fighter planes they really are inside.

As we approached the great sand peninsula that juts out from mainland Baja about half way down Isla Santa Margarita, we were greeted by more pelicans, and by the whitest sand you can imagine, in dunes running along the Bay.

It was on this long jaunt south that I realized just how happy Keegan was -- in his element, loving the wind, the water and wildlife, never uttering the word "bored" even once.  Then there was this:

Keegan:  Hey guys, why don't seagulls like to fly over bays?
Us:          (After a few lame guesses) I don't know, why?
Keegan:  Because then they would be Bay gulls (get it, Bagels?).

I laughed so hard.  His creative juices were rolling. It did my heart so much good to see him so HAPPY.

But I digress. We were greeted not just by Pelicans and dunes, but also by these guys:

This was the only mother and calf pair we saw. That is a seriously newborn whale there, she was tiny by comparison!

Bulls jostling around a female whale.

And paying no attention to our boat whatsoever.

Until this guy showed up, spy-hoping all around us. Those barnacles look like they hurt!

 The close encounters continued throughout the early afternoon.

It was during this stretch that Alden coined the term "Salty Rainbows" for the whale exhale (or whale snot, depending on your level of sophistication) that bathed us from time to time. He could be heard to shout "Incoming! Salty Rainbows!" as we sailed right through it.

That was not enough, however, to keep us from getting close enough to see bubbles on their backs as they surfaced.

 How much of their time was spent. I love this picture of my boys. When we decided to turn for home at the Eco Camp, Martin let each of the kids take a turn driving the boat, much to their delight.

Now if I could just get Kate this interested in driving her car . . .

Don't think I will have that problem with Keegan.
Or Alden for that matter.  He actually hit the throttle as soon as he got behind the wheel.

It was a long boat ride back, but everyone was happy, and it was not without interest.  Martin took us past a yellowfin tuna fish farm, where his uncle works.

And introduced us to the ubiquitous (at least around here) Frigate Bird.

They really are remarkable fliers.  Don't know if that forked tail has anything to do with it, but it certainly makes them unique, looking like swallows on mega-steroids.

Once we arrived back in camp, the time was spent sea-kayaking, paddleboarding, beach walking, and just reading good books, until dinner time. It was fantastic.

Alden was in full trireme charging/ramming mode almost immediately.  That boy was born for battleships.

Keegan really started to get the hang of it, and I think he had fun.

Kate always loves paddleboards.  (But she was no match for the sea kayaking of Alden.)  The beach walk she took with me, however, was amazing. So many shells, skeletons, and signs of sea life, all along it, including this turtle shell, washed up on shore.

The skeletons collected included a sea horse, which I can't seem to see here, but I know is there somewhere.  Plant life around the camp also showed some signs of spring and beauty.

The shells we collected were so varied and colorful. Really amazing.

I love the symmetry of shells, and marvel at how it happens.

This isn't really the half of it, and does not do it justice. But it shows some of the color, which is so fun to see. Speaking of color, sunsets were amazing.

And so ended our first full day on Magdelena Bay.

The next morning dawned ugly as usual (NOT--that is a Caracara on the nest there, by the way) and after a great breakfast of Chilaquiles we headed out to the channel opening between Isla Santa Magdalena and Isla Santa Margarita, which looks like this:

and soon we started seeing this:

Which became this:

And then, THIS happened:

He spy hopped within a foot of the boat.  If you look close, you can see that a whale has whiskers. Yep, that close.

He played around the boat, as close as he (or she, maybe female whales have whiskers too!) for a full five minutes, showing no fear, only curiosity. And then THIS:

YEP.  My kids have touched a wild whale, who seemed to really want and invite it. AMAZING. In Keegan's words: "BEST.VACATION. EVER!"  I told him that he will probably go through his whole life, and never find another person who has touched a whale in the wild. Truly one of the most unique, wonderful and remarkable moments I have ever witnessed or experienced.

For those who may wonder at the ethics of the moment, though, I want to make clear, at no time did I ever feel we were chasing or harassing a whale.  First, there were no other boats around -- we were alone. Second, Martin was very careful -- he would head in the direction of the whales, place himself ahead of them where he thought they would come up, and then sit idle in that spot.  In all cases, every time, they came to us.  And in this one's case, he really came to us, and I swear, wanted to communicate.  It was a magical, peaceful, quiet moment. And when he was done, we let him go -- no chasing, no following, no desperate attempt to maintain the experience.  The entire encounter was on his terms.  I really have to commend Magdalena Bay Whales and Martin in particular. I saw enough to know that this is the way they operate, an ethic of respect that they maintain.  Just wonderful.

Later in the day, the same thing happened when another boat was in the area (this was rare for us, most of the time we were alone).  I post a couple of those pics just to show how big these guys are compared to the boats.

I am quite sure we were all more nervous than the whales were.  We spent the balance of the morning seeing things like this:

And the amazing coast and rookeries there as well:

Before heading back to the Eco Camp for lunch and a family photo.

I'm starting to think you actually could get swallowed by a whale, at least based on the size of this skull bone.  In any event, our day couldn't get better, but it did continue to be fantastic. In the afternoon, Martin took us out to the dunes, which were also just awesome, one of the more beautiful places we have been.  Here are a few pics:

From there, we headed to the Hotel Isabella in Puerto San Carlos, for hot showers, a nice night in a bed, and then a long drive and flight back home.  But we will never forget Magdalena Bay.  It is magical.