Saturday, October 3, 2009

Try Our New Exfoliant

“Mother Nature is Awesome!”

I almost threw up a little bit at that point.

It is disgusting to me how a 50 year old man can be standing at a view point in one of the most beautiful places in North America and think it appropriate to thank “Mother Nature” rather than the L-rd who shaped this landscape. The word says that “the firmament shows his handiwork”. This magnificent creation was not sculpted by chance, nor was it created by Mother Nature, a gentler, socially acceptable substitute for G-d. There is nothing gentle about the way this landscape was formed.

Any time a sculptor works to create something beautiful, the process is violent. Our national parks are no exception. They were shaped by floods, rivers, tectonic plates colliding, volcanic eruptions, earth quakes, glaciers, repeated freezing and thawing, acidic rain, the list does not stop. When you see the grandeur of Balancing Rock, you must remember Chip of the Old Block (the balancing rock 100 feet away that toppled in the 70s). When you see Landscape Arch, you must remember that in 1991, 180 tons of stone fell from the west side of the arch. That is how these features are created, and that is how they will be destroyed. It is sometimes a slow process, but it is almost never a gentle process.

I wonder if that is part of the reason why life can be really hard and messy sometimes. Are all of the challenges and difficulties that we face constantly just a part of G-d chipping away at the stone to shape us into something beautiful?

I really do believe that is the case. How beautiful would Arches National Park be if there were no violent forces to shape the stone there? Would it be worth visiting, or would it just be a large mound of rough, unshaped stone?

PS: Before anyone jumps on me, I am aware that Mother Nature is a part of many Native American religions, and is the counterpart of father sky. I am not putting down mothers, or Native American religions even though I do not believe in those religions. I am talking about the way that middle-class, Caucasian Americans use the term basically to mean a series of random occurrences which shaped the world.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Not So Promised Land

For some reason, I had always pictured Utah as a big desert, and it is, but it is not at all the empty, arid, ugly place that I had thought. I can see why the Mormons feel like this place is a place of refuge, even going so far as to name one of the national parks here Zion. Utah is the kind of infinitely varied and beautifully sculpted desert that makes desert life actually seem appealing.

Salt Lake City is like a moderately well watered garden, with confusing streets and plenty of room to stretch out in. The city spreads out like a blanket to cover the entire valley, the arms of the city reaching far up into the surrounding canyons like roots of a tree, searching for water and nutrients.

There is a feeling about the area, as if everyone is pretending to be happy. Businessmen walk about town in nice suits while soccer moms wearing too much makeup drive SUVs to their small suburban mansions. Parents occasionally yell at their children in the supermarket because their child is “making a scene”. The feeling of false happiness is not all that different from Alabama really, except that Alabamians pretend to be polite, not happy.

The family that I stayed with in SL city was absolutely wonderful. The father runs a successful online business, while the mother, when she is not helping with the business, paints some of the most beautiful landscapes that I have ever seen. My friend took me to the basement and showed me his father’s collection, which includes an AR-15, M-1 Garand which he uses to hunt elk, M-1 Carbine, and a fully restored WWII era model 1911 Colt .45. Like I said, these people were right up my alley.

One of my favorite things about staying with this family is that they are believers. They have what appears to be a very real faith that they walk out in their day to day lives. I am really impressed by people who live in communities that are not supportive of their faith. I can only imagine that living in the Mormon capitol of the world would do a lot to strengthen a person’s walk with the L-rd through trials.

I was only able to stay with the family for two days before heading south and east toward Arches National Park. In my short stay I felt very rested and rejuvenated. I hope that they are blessed by the L-rd for their hospitality to a traveler.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Big Coffee Maker in the Ground

It was a long, cold drive back to Artists point. I do not know the exact temperature, but last night felt like the coldest night that I have experienced this entire trip (my feet were frozen in my 15 degree sleeping bag). I arrived at the point at 7:30, tightly bundled up in a fleece jacket, down vest, flannel lined pants, and wool hat. There were a handful of photographers already on location with everything from point and shoot cameras to the Nikon D3 (retail value = a used car).

As I made me way from my truck to the point, I was struck with a brilliant idea!

Instant Coffee! I had purchased a box with several small packets of instant coffee in Missoula, so I gathered my camp stove, along with the coffee and mug and made my way to the point.

For the next half hour, I was the envy of every photographer at the point. Some people made friendly comments while others gave me jealous sideways glances as I stood happily watching the sun pour over the ridge and down into the valley to illuminate Lower Falls.

There are few ideas that I find more romantic than sipping coffee in the cool of the morning in a beautiful wilderness. This little pick me up, helped make my entire day more positive. I spent the next several hours stopping at every thermal feature I could find to catch the morning light illuminating the steam that poured from the ground. Because Yellowstone is basically the caldera of a giant super volcano, it is known for having the majority of all the thermal features in the entire world. By noon, I had made my way to Old Faithful, possibly the most famous thermal feature in the entire park.

The eruption of Old Faithful is quite a sight. Imagine a giant ant hill, with steam pouring from the opening. Next imagine that steam building in pressure underground until finally it erupts 60 feet into the air, like a volcano of water, spewing its stinky steam across an area half the size of a football field.

From Old Faithful, I made my way back south to Grand Teton national park where I had some beautiful encounters with moose before finally ending the night in the town of Jacksons Hole, Montana.