Friday, September 30, 2011

First the Patriot Act, now this

The President of the United States orders the assassination of a U.S. citizen.  Fifth Amendment, anyone?

George Bush gave us the Patriot Act, now Obama gives us this.  There really is no difference between Republicans and Democrats today - both are lackeys of the highest corporate/military-industrial complex bidder.

EDIT: Let me make this very clear - this is not a vote of support in favor of Awlaki's actions, it is a protest against a government that is brazenly pissing on the Fifth Amendment on all four major networks.  The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution clearly states "nor shall any deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law".  It also states that this right applies "except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger".  I don't think that Awlaki was in the land or naval forces or Militia, so the President has just expanded this exception to apply to US citizens acting against the interests of the US government.  I understand that Awlaki was clearly acting on behalf of a terrorist organization and was rumored to have harbored the 9/11 terrorists, but since the British declared Iceland's Landsbanki a terrorist organization in 2008, it is also pretty clear to me that this idea of sanctioning terrorists could easily be expanded to permit the murder of anyone standing up for their rights against a powerful Central Bank just as easily as it was used to snuff a radical Muslim propagandist.  In the good old days, the CIA would have done this just the same, but the government would not have bragged about it openly through the main stream media.  Today, our liberal Democratic President doesn't hesitate to brazenly spit on the Bill of Rights. 

I once owned a t-shirt that had an elephant pointing a gun with the words "Your Rights" printed underneath next to a donkey pointing a gun with the words "Your Money" underneath.  Vote Republican, protect your money and surrender your rights.  Vote Democrat, protect your rights, surrender your money.  Not any, both parties give your money to the banksters and military-industrial complex, and neither protects your rights.  How are you doing, America?  Who are you going to vote for in 2012, and do you really think it will make a difference?  If not, what can you do about it now?  Ron Paul?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Grand Teton National Park - Cascades Canyon Trail and Jenny Lake Campground

We were lucky to get into Jenny Lake Campground in the Grand Tetons as it filled every day we were there.  While the views are not spectacular unless you're lucky enough to get into one of the first few sites, the location is fantastic with hiking trails, bike trails, boating, interpretive centers, and spectacular vistas nearby.  Check out the deer having a snack next to our tent:

We opted for the lazy path to the Cascades Canyon Trail - the ferry ride across Jenny Lake.
The Cascades Canyon trail offers a steep climb at the outset to Inspiration Point, and from there is a fairly easy walk through the forest beside a bubbling brook and many small waterfalls.  The fall colors are just beginning to appear.

The trail goes past some incredibly twisted rocks, and if you look at them long enough, you start to see people's faces...sort of like looking at Mount Rushmore after a Grateful Dead concert.

The trail presents a gentle uphill incline, and is lined by raspberry bushes in many places, which should be a clue that it's a good place to see a bear.

The tiny brown-black dot near the center of this next picture is a black bear, stuffing itself with berries on the hillside opposite the trail.
By the time we got close to where the bear was having lunch, it was pretty much obscured by the thicket.  However, we knew it was still there because the moose munching on plants near the creek below kept looking up the hill.
While the bear and the moose paid no attention to us, the moment our son sat on a rock to have a snack, a ground squirrel appeared out of thin air.

The visitors centers in Grand Teton National Park are impressive and extremely well-funded.  This is no doubt partially due to the fact that the global central banksters favor Jackson Hole, WY with an annual visit, and bring a trail of money with them that showers the area from helicopters and private jets.  However, take advantage of their largess, as all of the visitor centers are worth a visit.  The Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve Center in particular offers an extremely eclectic and unique experience.  It has a fantastic library of books on plants, wildlife, local trails, and many other things related to the outdoors, and an equally impressive reading room in which to enjoy them, a room specifically for listening to sounds of the forest, and another that presents both images and sounds in a museum-like venue.  It is absolutely worth the time spent to visit this small but special interpretive center.  It also offers up one of the better conservation quotes I've seen, from Laurance S. Rockefeller himself.  "How we treat our land, how we build upon it, how we act toward our air and water, will in the long run tell what kind of people we really are."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Norris Geyser Basin

We camped at Norris Campground, just across from the Norris Geyser Basin.  This is truly a phenomenal place, where sulphuric acid bubbles up from the ground, and the colors are more pastel and subtle than in the pools around Old Faithful.  The walk puts you closer to the vents, boils, and fumaroles than at Old Faithful, and you're often walking through thick, sulphur-scented steam.

I love the tiny "volcano" at the bottom right of this picture.  It looks like something we'd make with baking soda, soap, vinegar, and paper mache!

The Porcelain Basin and Springs presents a rainbow of colors, both from the boardwalk above...

 ...and up close

I wasn't kidding about walking though the steam - many parts of the Porcelain and Back Basin trails make you feel like Darth Vader.
This was my favorite "hydrothermal feature walk" in Yellowstone.  The Old Faithful trails are certainly more dramatic and more intensely colorful, but they are also crowded and set on a wide open plain in most places.  The Norris Basin trails wind through open spaces, among trees, and above and around a crazy quilt of colored pools and streams.  Combined with the relative lack of crowds when compared to other places in the park, I enjoyed the Norris trails best.

Yellowstone National Park - Ground of Extraordinary Colors

I didn't truly appreciate what Yellowstone means until the second day of walking around looking at bubbling, steaming, venting holes in the ground.  The sheer number of geothermal features, the radical rainbow of colors flowing from the ground, the hundred different ways the light would play off of the steam rising from the ground everywhere at morning, noon, and nightfall - all of these things left me OK with the fact that my wife and son were so bearanoid that we didn't take a hike off of an established boardwalk after my jaunt down the South Canyon Trail.

First, the obligatory photo of Old Faithful.

The boardwalk around and behind Old Faithful weaves for about a mile and a half through numerous hydrothermal areas - bubbling pools, colorful pools, spouting geysers, and steaming vents - until it reaches the Morning Glory Pool.  From there, you can venture farther into the park, or take a paved trail back to the Visitor Center.  The sights, sounds, and smells are unique!

Once I ordered a meal "Thai hot" after drinking too much tequila, and my bottom felt like this the next day.

Notice the water levels in these two pools next to each other are significantly different.  Our son completed the "Yellowstone Young Scientist" program, an exercise that took about five hours and involved measuring the temperature in various pools, examining the color of the algae and bacteria that lived in the pools and how this related to the temperature, identifying rocks, learning about the park's geology, and a bit of conservation.  It was a great program, but not the easiest thing for a 9 year old to complete in a single visit.

A unique geologic feature, the monster from Day of the Triffids, or something more adult in nature?  Your first thoughts regarding the next picture may tell you quite a bit about yourself.

That night, temperatures dropped into the 20s, and we enjoyed snow showers, a layer of ice on the tent, and a dead battery the next morning due to aggressive charging of laptops and cameras.  Fortunately, we carry a portable Black & Decker battery/air compressor, so we fired the truck right up the next morning and were on our way on the "game drive" in the rain.  It's time to replace that battery!

The Marmot Halo 6 performed flawlessly in the rain, sleet, snow flurries, and ice.  Without any seam-sealing, straight from the factory it was completely waterproof.  100 square feet of car camping comfort with six feet of headroom - by the time we reached Norris Campground in Yellowstone, I had started hanging decorative mobiles from the loops in the ceiling inside to fill up the empty space.

With a rainy start to the day, we timed the "game drive" perfectly.  It was an ideal day to spend cruising around empty roads in the early morning light, popping in and out of the heated truck, peering out overlooks for an elk, bear, or bison.  We weren't disappointed.  Even better, we realized the next day that on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the crowds descended again and the roads were jam-packed, so we were quite lucky.

After a few hours, bison in Yellowstone became kind of like elephants in Kenya - a non-event and something you carefully drove around to avoid receiving a kick to the quarter panel or worse.

We also popped into the town of Mammoth Hot Springs, where the elk ignore the "Don't Walk on the Grass" signs.

It turned out to be a great way to spend a rainy day in Yellowstone!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pix from Yellowstone National Park - South Canyon Rim Trail

382 stairs to the bottom of Uncle Tom's Trail.  My wife pauses to smile for a photo, our son tries to climb through the railing for a better look at the drop of several hundred feet!

There's always a rainbow at Uncle Tom's!

Upper Falls on the Yellowstone River - this is the view upstream.

Another look from farther down the South Canyon Rim Trail.

The trail has a few steep places and switchbacks, but it is smooth and level throughout.

One more look upstream...

A look down as the last light of sun lights the river up...

...and here is the view downstream.

I hiked this one alone, as the proximity to the Wapiti Trail, where the poor bloke was killed by a grizzly bear last month, made my wife and son bail after the walk at Uncle Tom's.

On the drive home, we saw the ever-present bison herd, which our son tried to stampede with his best wolf howl.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Glacier National Park Pictures

I've heard it said that just because you go on vacation to near place, you often don't get to see it.  When we were planning the drive to Yellowstone and the Tetons, Glacier National Park was temptingly close on the map.  So, we altered the route slightly, ignored the extra 500 or so miles of driving, and made Glacier the first stop on our trip.  I still don't know if it was a mistake or not.  We were frustrated that we didn't have more time to spend there.  It was a "drive-by shooting" - one night at commercialized campground Apgar as we just couldn't make it to a decent campground that day.  A full day driving over the Road to the Sun in heavy traffic thanks to the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009" dollars being poured over the roadways in the most remote parts of our country...yeah, you feel that Recovery right about now, don't you, America (not you, NYC, things seemed just fine last time I walked down Wall St.).

Our son's treasured moment was the hour we spent walking along the creeks and river, throwing large rocks in the water.  You don't realize what you can't do in Florida until you find an unlimited supply of cannonball-sized, polished rocks next to a crystal clear stream.

Throwing rocks in MacDonald Creek

MacDonald Creek

Going to the Sun Road - the Loop overlook - six years ago I would have dropped the camera and leaped to grab him, now I just snap the picture.

Going to the Sun Road

Two Medicine Lake Campground - very nice place, puts Apgar to shame!

View from the sleeping bag at Two Medicine.  Black bear, sheep, and elk on the ridge across the river.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Moonrise over Glacier National Park

Looks like we will be lucky enough to have a full moon over Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.  This picture is a bit bizarre - 30 second exposure from our campsite pointed at the moon as it rose over a mountain, but here it is.  Without my glasses, it's not too far off of what I could see!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Made it to Glacier National Park - saw Yoga Duck the first night

For those of you following along, we finally made it to Glacier National Park.  After stopping for Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, and Supper, we barely made it before dark and had to stop at the first available campground - Apgar.  Apgar is short for Always People Going At Restroom.  Fortunately, having camped with the Y-Guides YMCA group and being aware of the hazard of Restroom, we found a tent site well away from Restroom, and should sleep OK tonight.  Tomorrow, we will find a better camp site.

No bears.  No foxes.  No mountain lions.  But we have Fire, a Growler of IPA 395, and that spinach, bacon, and pasillo pepper quiche that I whipped up before we left Mammoth, so all is Right with the world.

Look, it's Yoga and Boo-Boo now!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Saddlebag Lake Resort - Lundy Pass - Lake Helen - Cascade Lake - whoa, I'm lost!

I'm two-for-two.  Two hikes, and I've lost the trail twice!  This time, I even saw the sign pointing to the right trail, but it couldn't possibly have been right, so I went the other way.  It's all part of the character-building for our son.  If he can see his parents walking in circles, but still persevere in finding the right trail and finishing the hike...and more importantly, doing it fast enough to make the last boat out of the wilderness...then there must be a lesson there somewhere.  Maybe something like "their generation is just nuts", or hopefully something more positive, but time will tell.

Saddlebag Lake is a resort that really seems to be genuine and family-owned.  I really have no idea about the ownership, but the overall feel is one of a family operation where the dad or uncle works the bar-be-que churning out delicious tri-tip steak sandwiches, hamburgers, and hot dogs for the guests, a daughter/cousin/neice/family friend works the register ringing up ferry fares and lunch, and a team of sons/nephews/friends runs the pontoon boat that takes hikers and backpackers across the lake to enjoy the beautiful Twenty Lakes Basin a couple hours sooner than without the ferry.  It's probably all part of the fantasy I've built in my mind around the delicious Apple Crumble Pie we had after today's hike, but you never know!

Things started out great.  We headed up US-395 towards Yosemite for the first time.  We wanted to see if it was as "crazy-busy" as we had heard for the Labor Day Holiday weekend.  We were not disappointed.  There were cars going in circles, lines at the bathrooms in gas stations, and the parking lots at Saddlebag Lake were full.  We slipped into a parallel space between two pine trees, and sauntered down to the lake secure in the knowledge that no matter how crowded it was, we could come back next week and the parking lot would be empty.

Our luck continued, as we walked up to the Saddlebag Lake Resort to find the smell of bar-be-que and a ticket for the ferry available with only a half-hour wait - just time enough to gobble up a tri-tip steak sandwich and a couple slices of watermelon!

No sooner had we topped up the tank, then our boat was ready and I was like Leonardo DiCaprio, King of the World on a sinking ship!

The Twenty Lakes Basin trail is a 5 mile loop that seems to always be weaving around a lake or creek.  It is a rocky trail, and with the enormous snows this winter, even in early September, snow is still a factor!  The walk began harmlessly enough.  Look at the levels of the lakes in the picture below.  The little, unnamed lake sits a story or so above Greenstone Lake, which sits quite a number of feet above Saddlebag Lake.  The trail is full of these types of stepping-stone vistas with little waterfalls and steep creeks linking lake after lake.

If we had checked the map at this point, we would have realized that we were taking the trail clockwise.  Unfortunately, we thought we were taking the trail counter-clockwise.  We were having a great time, the hike was fantastic, and ignorance is bliss!

About a mile or two into the trail, we see a sign that says "Lake Helen", with an arrow pointing the opposite direction than we would have expected.  In a moment of hubris, we munch our beef jerky and decide the sign must be wrong, since it would mean that we have to climb up a steep, rocky hillside.  We jump the creek and take the soft, wildflower-lined trail that is not so steep.  We are rewarded with spectacular lake views.

Unfortunately, we have taken an off-shot of the main trail that leads to the old Tungsten Mine (which we didn't see), and end up circumnavigating Cascade Lake before rejoining the main trail - about 1.5 miles and an hour later.  All of the sudden, the four hours we had allowed for this nice loop hike and return on the 5:45pm ferry had turned from a lazy day into a race against time.  Our son began lecturing us on the various facts he had picked up from watching a couple seasons of Survivorman, Dual Survival, Man vs Wild, and Man, Woman, Wild.  In no time, he had convinced us we would be spending the night on a rocky slope in a snow cave, trying to beat fire out of rocks and wet twigs, and eating raw lake trout while fighting off bears.

Fortunately, we found the main trail and the sign we had ignored earlier, and this time, we followed the arrow and scrambled up the hill double-time to make sure we didn't miss our ferry out of the basin.

The key word in all of this is "basin".  Even I can't get lost when you drop me in a bowl surrounded by 12,000 foot peaks.  Eventually, you must walk in a circle, or climb a really steep hill.  As long as you refuse to climb the hill, you will come back to where you started!

We jumped the creek between Excelsior Lake and Shamrock Lake, and started on the part of the map designated as the "small trail" (versus the "main trail").

The trail got steep and rocky, and we were, of course, in a hurry due to the time lost wandering around Cascade Lake, thinking we needed to waste time or we'd be way too early for the ferry.

We made up the lost time, and then slowed down a bit to appreciate the incredible trail and view.  Rocks, lakes, and wildflowers everywhere!

With about half of the hike traversed, and about an 1 1/2 hours left before our scheduled departure, we're doing OK but don't have a lot of margin for delay as we're traveling at the speed of a 9 year old boy - sometimes very fast, sometimes very slow.  We then hit the "snow trail".  There was so much snow this year that snow drifts are everywhere.  When the staff of Saddlebag Lake arrived in early July to open the resort, they found three feet of snow and ice still covering the lake!  The lifts at Mammoth Mountain ran until July 4th.  It was a truly prodigious winter!  We hit this section of trail feeling a bit behind schedule.

Look at the path above.  It was a wild slide down the side of a snow drift!  In more than a few places, the trail was completely lost, and we were left guessing which rock slide we should scramble down in order to rejoin the "small trail" as it emerged from under the next snow drift.

Soon enough, we had left the tricky bits of the trail behind, and were left scrambling across rocky scree around Lake Helen. 

Fortunately, we'd made up lost ground thanks to the yeoman's effort on the part of our son to stretch his stride.  It was time for a break on a sun-warmed rock.

The wife/mother is by this time so sick of hearing how fun it would be to survive the night in the wilderness and all of the gory details of shelter-building and fire-starting and hillbilly hand-fishing that she is beginning to fade from view.  Unfortunately, she has no hope of escape as the trail once more becomes steep and hard to pick out.

With a last effort that would make any Scout leader proud, they push through the final stretch of trail past Odell Lake, and it's smooth sailing down the hill to the boat dock and ferry pick-up with almost 45 minutes to spare and 6+ miles (including the detour around Cascade Lake) under our belts.

We make a fast exit through the Tioga Pass and back to peaceful Mammoth Lakes, relatively crowd-free after the bustle of Yosemite!