Monday, 18 September 2017

Scaling New Heights

    Each day we headed out we were constantly in search of diversions from the road trip boredom for the kids. It didn’t take long to find another spot on the side of the road to stop and do some more rock climbing. Although it appeared that Gavin and Adam undertook this activity with total reckless abandon they had been warned numerous times to take care. Not that us telling them that had any bearing on their actions, both Karen and I were always nearby should our assistance be required, as sooner or later we knew it would be.

      Scaling the face quickly then scrambling up the ridge, our fears were set aside as Gavin reached the top and glanced down. If we had any concerns that he was not aware of his surroundings or the potential peril he could be in, the expression on his face told us he got the message. As he glanced straight down his eyes widened, his eyebrows shot up and his mouth dropped open - it was priceless.         

      Always wanting to emulate his brother, Adam gave no thought whatsoever to how he might get down, he just scrambled to the top and sat next to Gavin. Oh to have the innocence and fearlessness of youth. After all this display of agility, balance and speed Dad had to come to the rescue as on his way down Adam got stuck on a rock outcrop that was just a bit too far for him to jump across to safety so I stepped in to bridge the gap and lift him across.

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Monday, 11 September 2017

The Royal Gorge

    Royal Gorge is another gem we found; a deep canyon on the Arkansas River near Canon City, Colorado. At the bottom the gorge is very narrow at a width of about 50 feet but it is its 1250 foot height that makes it so memorable. As we approached we stopped the van on the side of the road and got out because we were rapidly being approached by a herd of wild yet somewhat contented looking mule deer. They were obviously quite used to human presence and it soon became evident the reason for this familiarity was that they were fed by our species. Not wanting to break with tradition we dug through our lunch and Gavin and Adam immediately chose to surrender their carrots.

      The deer approached cautiously at first but once they discovered we meant them no harm and food was involved they came right up to us. Adam was a little fearful at first but when he saw they were gentle and willing to eat right out of his hand he enjoyed it and even started petting them. It was a heartwarming scene for me to see the boys feeding and petting the deer and I asked myself, “Can you get this close to nature in a book, even if man did have something to do with it?”

      The flags of all the states, in the order they became states, adorned the rails of the 1260 foot long bridge traversing the canyon so it was an education just crossing to the other side. The deck of the bridge was approximately 1000 feet above the river below so I found it somewhat preposterous that there was a sign warning, “No Fishing from the bridge.” Exactly what kind of tackle would one need to make this work?

      Once across the bridge we found a rock ridge that Gavin and Adam insisted on climbing, exercising their new-found favourite activity. Hindsight being the wonderful thing that it is pointed out to us just how insanely dangerous the allowing of this activity had been. The back side of the ridge they were climbing leveled off slightly for several yards then dropped straight into the canyon – 1000 feet! Maybe as parents we should have exercised a bit of authority and found somewhere else for them to play. Oh well, wait for a couple years until we get to Delicate Arch!

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Monday, 4 September 2017

Pikes Peak

    Today we would be heading up Pikes Peak, yes that’s Pikes not Pike’s. In 1891 the newly formed US Board on Geographic Names recommended that apostrophes not be used in names. In 1978 the Colorado state legislature passed a law mandating it be called “Pikes Peak.”

      I expected the journey would bring us some trying moments, like the altitude, but we were ready to give it our best effort. It is 30-some miles west of Colorado Springs and as part of the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains it rises an impressive 14,115 feet. Starting just a few miles up Ute Pass at Cascade, the 19 mile Pikes Peak Highway climbs steadily to the summit, the last two thirds still being unpaved in 1990.

      The road had a series of treacherous switchbacks called the W’s because of their shape on the side of the mountain with a continuously steep climb out of the densely forested lower level to a barren, open expanse toward the top. The road was dirt for the highest parts and was an unnerving drive as there were no guardrails so you had to be comfortable with your driving skills. With great risk, however, came great reward.

      At the top I felt alone as I gazed across the peaks and valleys with the howling wind and surrounding snow providing an indescribable sense of isolation. The air at this altitude contains only 60% of the oxygen available at sea level. We had trouble breathing and felt nauseous but I managed to take a few pictures, had a quick look in the gift shop then suggested we head down immediately because that was the only way the nausea and light headedness was going to subside. The trip up Pikes Peak was a real eye opener as I discovered that one felt like absolute crap at 14,000 feet.

      On the drive down the switchbacks came at us fast and furious and all of a sudden the fact that there were no guardrails seemed to be of greater concern. On top of that was the worry that my brakes would melt as I was pretty much riding them the whole drive down, to the point we felt it best to stop a number of times just to let them cool down. Somewhere on the trip down the mountain the nausea disappeared as we descended in altitude. There was so much to pay attention to that I didn’t even realize I felt better until down to the highway but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat and wouldn’t change a thing – well, maybe I wouldn’t bother to go into the gift shop.

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Monday, 28 August 2017

Message In A Bottle

    After two visits in the past three years an immediate return to Florida may seem incongruous to many but the boys were both eager to visit the newly opened (June 7, 1990) Universal Studios in Orlando. Stopping for the night on any vacation journey was always fun for Gavin and Adam because they were finally able to get out of the van and stay out. They were only there for a short time but it was going to be a good time as pizza, jumping on the beds and watching TV assured it was their vacation too! They probably had to do some homework but for a few wonderful moments they were free – at least until the next day’s drive.

      We awoke to rain and fog, left the motel and headed out of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee where we quite literally turned right instead of left and were officially on our way to Colorado. Severe weather altered our plans in the blink of an eye. Talk about playing the cards we had been dealt; we had no reservations, no route planned and we honestly had no idea where we were going so no matter what kind of spin you put on it, this was a first for us and it was exciting.

      Through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park the road follows a river where we stopped for a picnic lunch as we headed toward the park exit. After enjoying the lunch I sat back and watched as the boys threw stones into the fast moving water thinking that there were not a lot of obstructions like rocks and trees which slowly developed into an idea that I thought Gavin and Adam would like. We took one of their empty juice bottles, rinsed it out, peeled the label off, shook out any excess water and dried out the inside of the bottle as best we could. Gavin and Adam then wrote a note on an empty page from my journal to send down the river in the bottle asking the finder to please send a postcard to their home address which they included in the note.

      What a great little adventure for them as they hoped the bottle would somehow journey down the river in Tennessee to the ocean and across. In spite of the grandiose, hopeful dreams of a child, as it turned out it did not get quite that far. Gavin and Adam received a post card a couple of months later from a man who saw the bottle while fishing in the river and noticed the note. Although their bottle had only travelled a few miles downstream the boys were thrilled to receive the card proving their experiment had worked and giving them and me renewed hope in the goodness of people. We went out immediately and bought a postcard of the Holland Marsh in nearby Bradford with a picture of open flat farm fields stretching as far as the eye could see, a complete contrast to the fisherman’s card of the Tennessee mountains, thereby completing the circle of life of the message in the bottle.

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Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Baseball Forever

    The long haul through Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and into Iowa was a snorefest. Generally speaking the boys had always tolerated the changing scenery as a necessary evil but this was a new challenge for them; luckily I had a surprise planned for them for tomorrow.

       “Field of Dreams” is a movie about an Iowa farmer who plows his cornfield under to build a baseball diamond hoping that the spirit of Shoeless Joe Jackson will return. We didn’t have to drive through the area but it was a very short detour to Dyersville, Iowa, where the movie set had been built and was still maintained.

      “If you build it, he will come,” is the underlying theme of the movie, so as we stood in the surrounding cornfield, Adam whispered those words to my video camera. The old house, the bleachers, the ball diamond, the corn, they all made the movie come to life as Gavin and Adam walked through them. Two days from home, this was the perfect stop to make the end of the trip as good as the beginning, another baseball connection on a Whitehead family vacation.

      On the following day amidst fire trucks and other emergency vehicles tending to a blazing car at the side of the interstate we arrived in Chicago late in the afternoon. Karen and I both love this city from past visits so we decided to stay overnight so the boys could see it. Coincidentally, or perhaps fatefully, our first stop was the relatively newly built Comiskey Park. The old stadium was torn down in 1990 to make way for this newer model. Home plate and the batters boxes from the original stadium had been inset in the parking lot so we parked the van in the empty lot about where the left field fence would have been. The boys had a very special moment as they “ran the bases” on their imaginary home run in the big leagues. 

      There was just enough time remaining for a brief interlude at Chicago’s other baseball shrine Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. Built in 1916, its ivy-covered walls are unique to baseball and are recognized the world over. It was closed but we spent a moment reflecting on all the great players and the great games that had taken place at this hallowed location.

      If there was one thing that emerged from all our years of travel with the boys it was being able to reinforce a love for the game of baseball for them – something that had been done for me by my father many years ago. Someday I hope they’ll be able to do the same for their children.

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Monday, 14 August 2017

This Is Legal Is It

    Moab is a city of about 4,000 people in eastern Utah and is the closest city to Arches National Park which is why we were there. The park boasts the greatest density of natural arches in the world while spires, pinnacles and impossibly balanced rocks vie with the arches as scenic spectacles.

      The Devil’s Garden Trail was a leisurely stroll revealing to us many arches and columns scattered along a ridge but the five kilometre hike to Delicate Arch following was the show piece of the day for sure. A more harrowing or dangerous hike I do not expect to ever undertake. It wasn’t so much the hike itself as the circumstances and terrain we were faced with once we reached the Arch that would haunt me for all of eternity.

      Delicate Arch is an isolated remnant of a bygone rock fin that stands on the brink of a canyon overlooking the dramatic backdrop of the La Sal Mountains and is beauty personified. It rests on smooth, rounded, barren rock with one side exposed to a sheer thousand foot drop and no guard rails or restraints of any type and no warning of difficulty or danger. I could not believe that people were allowed to roam freely up here amidst such impending disaster. We did venture out to climb around the arch (probably the most foolish thing we have ever done) and it instilled terror in our hearts as we gingerly made our way along an almost non-existent footpath with nothing but empty space and rock below. There was one point when Karen and I had to pass Adam between us, as his legs were too short to reach the next foothold, and all we thought about was “what if we fall?” Not for the faint of heart and, as I alluded to earlier, not for anyone with any common sense or good judgment. I hope if we return in years to come, there will be some regulation on how close one can get to Delicate Arch.

      Nevertheless, it was one of those moments in life we could look back on and proclaim, “We survived despite our reckless abandon and outright stupidity,” a moment that would be a cornerstone as we built our lives’ amazing moments.

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Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Canyonlands of Utah - A Geologist's Dream Come True

    We were excited as we left for Bryce Canyon knowing that the drive would bring us more of the awesome Utah canyon lands along the way. It did not take long for us to find a suitable spot to stop along the roadside to partake in yet another rock climb at a spot where the rocks laid in folded stacks as if a row of books had been knocked over. The boys and I ascended the stack to the top while Karen stayed at the bottom filming for prosperity on the video camera. Finally, just before entering Bryce Canyon National Park, we detoured through a blind box canyon right out of Butch Cassidy’s days.
    The closest lodging to the canyon is Ruby’s Inn, opened in 1916. It is all the wonderful things they say it is and more but the real attraction is obviously the giant natural amphitheater known as Bryce Canyon. Wind, rain and ice erosion has created thousands of multi-coloured Gothic spires thousands of feet tall in this area unlike any other on earth.
    It was a highlight of the trip as we hiked the Navajo Trail from the top to the bottom of the canyon providing us with some truly breathtaking views as we travelled deeper and deeper into the abyss. However, I strongly recommend you not attempt a journey such as this in cowboy boots. I believe they were made for riding because these boots weren’t made for walking.
    Surrounded by rock formations like castles and gigantic hoodoos we felt a mere speck in the universe as we wound our way around switchback curves to the canyon floor. The canyon floor was riddled with small caves, fallen trees and rock arches with huge rock formations lined up like sentinels on the hillside. The hike back up took us to the Natural Bridge lookout where we gazed across the canyon, engulfed by fir forests, and felt somewhat blessed that we had chosen to come to Bryce Canyon. As the sun began to set we gazed from the top of the lookout and felt a real sense of accomplishment knowing that we had ventured all the way to the bottom and returned unscathed to enjoy our final look at this most spectacular vista.

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