Monday, July 18, 2005

Some Monastery Business in Oklahoma

Old-school singing

This weekend I went to my cousin's ordination ceremony, where he became a regular monk in the Monastery at Our Lady of Clear Creek. It was quite an intense ceremony because this is the real thing, a tradition of monks that has passed down from St. Benedict. A couple of fans were the only things that cooled the audience - not the monks - for three hours in intense heat and humidity; after the ceremony my great-aunt fainted! She soon recovered.

For those who don't know, my uncle went to France to become a monk himself over twenty-five years ago, and just a few years ago the monastery he was associated with, Fontgambault, opened a priory in Oklahoma and he followed.
Me, my dad, and my Uncle Roark

You'll notice Roark isn't wearing a black robe as the Benedictines are known to do - it was decided that because it was so hot, the monks could wear white on special occasions.

Nick, newly ordained, poses with family

I remember Fontgambault as a magical place, with beautiful gardens and an ancient church that just felt venerable. They are trying to create this same atmosphere in Oklahoma with another large church and monastery that will last for centuries. Below are pictures of what has been finished so far and what the finished product will look like.
Outside the crypt ("basement"), about three times my height

Inside the crypt, used as a church for Nick's ceremony

The finished product - only the very bottom level is finished

Friday, July 15, 2005

Yep, Kansas is boring

There's just no avoiding it. Kansas just doesn't have the sort of mind-boggling natural features that other states do. Except mind-bogglingly empty and flat expanses of nothing but farms and horizon. Kind of like this, but 3D:

The only natural monuments we seem to have are pretty poor excuses:

In my opinion, the only thing that saves us is this, one of the stranger monuments in Kansas:

This is from the "Garden of Eden" in Lucas, Kansas. The sculptor was a civil war vet who got creative in his 60's and began building some very interesting statues like the one above, depicting various attacks on various people, made out of concrete. He got procreative at 80, having two children with his 20 year old wife.

I visited all these places today, after staying at Scott Lake, which wasn't bad. I was able to get a camp site right next to the water, without any neighbors but the bullfrogs and fireflies.

It was nice until about 2 in the morning, when a bunch of drunken kids made a ruckus (I'm getting old, I know) nearby for about a half hour and woke me up.

This morning I awoke to another unpleasant surprise - my front left tire was completely flat. I found out later I had run over a nail the night before. Luckily a local mailman had an air compressor and plugs, and I was able to get back on the road without much trouble.

And so now I'm in Wichita, staying with my dad. This weekend I'm going to see my cousin initiated into a monastery, then I'll go to Lawrence next Monday...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Colorado Springs

Just about to leave Colorado Springs for Scott Lake State Park in Kansas. Cindy and I went to the Garden of the Gods this morning, and that was pretty impressive.

Yesterday we went on a hike in hills near Cindy's house, a hike with very impressive views.

Also, I really liked this tent for Cindy's cat, Spanky.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Trying to Catch Up

It's tough keeping up to date on a weblog! I've had so much other fun stuff to do, I haven't sat down and kept up with what is going on. Hopefully I'll be able to do that now.

After I left the Tetons, I spent the rest of the day driving through mostly boring Wyoming. The drive from Grand Teton to Rock Springs is nice, but after that it looks like western Kansas except with sage and horses and cows rather than grass and just cows.

I had a campsite selected for that night, but I took a wrong turn and ended up way off track, so I planned to find a hotel in Laramie. But Laramie (a podunk, crappy town if I ever saw one) was full of expensive hotels - they were having some kind of Western festival - so I decided to head on to Cheyenne. By this time it was getting dark, so I wasn't sure what I'd do. Luckily, though, I found a great campsite about 30 miles west of Cheyenne (can't remember the name, now).

This was a really lucky find. It was really spectacular scenery, with some of the most private campsites I've seen on this trip, and all for 10 bucks, the cheapest site yet. I met a neighbor who was camping out with his wife until they could move into their new house in Fort Collins, Colorado. They were an interesting couple, to say the least, and they had quite a set up up there in the hills west of Cheyenne.

On their recommendation, I took a hike around the area and climbed one of the rock outcroppings like that in the picture above. It was such a different outcome than I had expected.

I then went on to Colorado Springs, and I am now staying at my cousin Cindy's place there. We took a hike in the hills near her house, and I'll try to have those pictures tomorrow.

Tomorrow I'm off to Kansas (egads), where I'll stay a night near Monument Rocks, then Thursday I'll be in Wichita. Over so soon?

By the way, in an interesting reversal of fortune, a Japanese friend who was supposed to accompany me on this trip but had to back out is now a day ahead of me, in Topeka. She resolved the problem that was keeping her from leaving while I was still sick in Daly City, and she ended up renting a car for a drive across the US. We were even in Yellowstone at the same time without knowing it. So if you are in Lawrence tomorrow and see a Japanese woman in her mid to late twenties driving through town, say hi (she speaks English very well).

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Grand Teton

Some of the Tetons

Looking back at these photos, I realize they can never come close to realizing the awe-inspiring sensation of actually being in these two parks. There is nothing like it. I have been to several beautiful places in the world, but there really is no comparison to be made between Yellowstone/Grand Tetons and anything else I have ever seen. I hope you will, if you haven't yet, go there some day. That said, here is the regular blog entry...

My last full day in Yellowstone/Grand Teton. It's hard to believe. I can't imagine being anywhere else in the world - Kansas especially will look flat and unremarkable.

This place is magic, like nothing else I've ever seen. Unlike Yosemite, the crowds don't completely destroy that magic. Without much effort, you can lose the crowds, and even when you do follow some trail to a waterfall or meadow, you don't feel like one of the herd. While of course it would be better if there were no roads at all, at least the size of the park allows for those roads to not completely overwhelm the park, like they do Yosemite.

Yeah, so there is a tiny bison in this picture...who cares! Look at that scenery!

It's in the car that you join the ranks of other visitors to the park, and I admit I spent way too much time myself in the car. Both parks are so big that unless you have a specific destination in mind, you have to go by car. Next time I really want to do some backcountry hiking, but for an overview, I am glad I had my car. Very hypocritical, yes, but I admit it.

I caught myself several times thinking "This is too good to be real." There are so many unbelievably majestic areas all crammed into to two national parks, it just doesn't seem believable that we can get so much of a good thing. It really is a treasure.

The second day I was in Yellowstone, I did the touristy thing (can't be helped), and the third I went on a couple of hikes. Near the camp I stayed in, Indian Creek (a picture is in the previous log), was a place called Sheepeater's Cliff (I think). Apparently the local Native Americans were found of eating bighorn sheep, and somehow this cliff was associated with them...

Sheepeater hike
It was a nice little warm-up hike, about 45 minutes there and back, but the hike I was looking forward to lay ahead.

I had decided on a back-country hike, one that in the guidebooks was described as a way to get away from the crowds - good and bad, as getting away from crowds means solitude, but it also means animals are more skittish and likely to attack. Still, solitude piqued my curiosity, so I decided to risk bodily harm (I'm exaggerating for effect, I wasn't really that worried).

I include some photos from this hike below. At one point, I did run into a group of pronghorns, and I actually was a little scared. They were skittish, and I was a little worried that the few male pronghorns might attack me to defend the herd, composed primarily of young and females. I didn't want to turn back, so I waited, slowly edging towards them, and they finally went further up the hill, though they did complain verbally.

The beginning of the hike

A secret meadow

Strangely threatening pronghorns

Yellowstone's "Hoodoos"

The next day I did a bit more touristy junk, then headed down to the Tetons. I wanted to get a campsite as soon as possible, so I landed in Lizard Creek which, like Indian Creek, is a very nice campsite but remains empty even on the weekend. It has a beautiful meadow just behind the campsites, and that is where I ate my dinner that night.

My backyard at Lizard Creek

After I found my campsite, I drove around a little bit to check out this new park, then listened to a ranger's class about mountain lions (apparently there are mountain lions in the Tetons and Yellowstone, though they are never mentioned in guidebooks).
The Tetons looking all mysterious

The next day it was rainy and I was grumpy. I wanted to move my campsite because Lizard Creek was just too far away, so I tried to get into South Jenny Lake, but that was filled within hours of check-out time, so I settled for Signal Mountain. Honestly, I wasn't that impressed with this one, though it had access to a very nice beach, where I took the picture that starts this article.

I trekked around Jenny lake, then, exhausted about half way (for some reason I had no energy that day), I took the conveniently located boat back to the parking lot.

I left the next day, regretting somewhat that I was leaving such a special place, but ready to move on to a new area.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Mountains near the entrance to Yellowstone

A big day. I feel like I cheated, driving around all day, but I wanted to get a feel of the park, then choose a section to hike in tomorrow.

It's funny, though, even though I just drove around, doing the tourist "stop and shoot" technique Yellowstone seems to be famous for, I feel more satisfied in what I did today than anything in a long time.

I guess camping has a lot to do with it - there's a lot more to handle just to get your tent set up, make every meal, and pack up so that the bears don't come and attack your campsite (although, unlike Yosemite, you are allowed to keep your food in your car - thought that was a little strange).
Indian Creek, first Yellowstone camp.

I think also, though, it is the constantly changing scenery in Yellowstone - in one day, you are able to experience a huge variety of ecosystems, from alpine meadows to hydrothermal "wastelands" (I realize there is a great deal of life in these areas, but they look dead to me).
Thermal "wasteland"

I saw bison, elk and deer - though no predators so far, and no otters...

In case you've been wondering what I've been eating (and I know you have...), here's a sample. I'll have more pictures later - I need to keep moving so I can get a campsite tonight. (I'm actually posting this Mon. the 11th, on my way to Colorado).

Some weird vegetable/lentil/nori mix. Good, though

Beer and hot dogs. Can't do better

Friday, July 08, 2005

Montana is Beautiful

A Fun Sign Somewhere in Washington

After spending the night in a stupid hotel because I didn't get to the campsite I wanted in time, I made it to Montana yesterday, and was quite impressed by the scenery. There are some beautiful colors covering the soft-peaked mountains on either side of I-90. Unfortunately, I didn't get a good picture of the river flowing through the area, but here's a sample of the scenery.


I stayed at a campground a few miles from I-90, 30 miles from Bozeman, in a state park called Lewis and Clark Caverns. It was a beautiful setting, as the pictures below hopefully show. From here I'm off to spend a couple of days in Yellowstone. It's getting late, so I'm going to get on the road again.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

July 4th in Portland

Should be leaving Portland today. I'm off to the next stage - coming to Portland was the easy part. From here I'll be on my own for 4-5 days. I'm headed to Montana first, I think, then I'll spend a day or two in Yellowstone.

It's been a lot of fun visiting Jake and the family. I really see now how much it takes to bring up a couple of kids - they take up every minute of the day. I don't know if I could do it.

Yesterday was July 4th, of course, and we went to the fair to ride some rides and watch fireworks. It was a really nice riverside view, and the fireworks were very good (very loud - Ellea and Aya were both crying).

I'm headed to Yellowstone, etc., over the next few days, so I probably won't be able to update this blog for a while, but when I do, I ought to have some pretty cool pictures. Until then...

Sunday, July 03, 2005

A New Month, a New State

Today was less eventful. I just drove most of the day. 101 is certainly beautiful, as is Highway 5 north of Grant's Pass, but I didn't take any pictures. Photographs just don't do justice to the landscape. And besides, it's tough to take pictures when you are going 70 miles an hour (though I did do that once on a motorcycle with a disposable camera).

Most of the day I listened to Gene Wilder's book on tape Kiss Me Like a Stranger. I bought it mainly because it was $5 at Amoeba Records and I thought it might be interesting to hear about his life. I haven't finished it yet, though I'm almost done. It's fairly interesting, but I wouldn't have continued it were I not driving in a car with little else to do.

I got to Jake's house in Portland about 9 o'clock and was warmly greeted by his youngest daughter, Aya.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Goodbye San Francisco, Goodbye Fog

Instead of San Francisco, fog

Today was partly foggy.

I have been staying with my friend Amanda in Daly City, "Gateway to the Peninsula", a city just to the south of San Francisco. It's an ugly city, with not much going for it beyond the fact Amanda lives there (hi Amanda!) and it is, well, "Gateway to the Peninsula", as every freeway onramp is happy to tell me. And it's foggy - I had no idea. June 30th, and it is 70 degrees and completely foggy. Ridiculous.

I left the city at 2 pm, 3 hours later than planned, but at least I finally left. My head was in a fog from too much beer and very little sleep. I'm on my way to Lawrence, Kansas, to sponge off my parents for a while as I look for a job in Japan.

I took a few last pictures of Coit tower, my favorite SF landmark, and, biting my lip (I'd just had an emotional parting with Naoki, a Japanese friend staying in SF, and that brought my mood down a bit), I headed towards Golden Gate Bridge. I thought I'd say goodbye to the city from the other side of the bridge, in Marin, where on a clear day you can see the entire northern half of the city.

Having lived in the city for 5 and a half years, I should have known better.

As soon as I reached the bridge, I realized it was a typical SF day. Fog was covering the bridge, just as it had been covering Daly City most of the day and was just beginning to cover SF itself. Thus, no final pictures of the city, no goodbyes, except to fog.

So I left, went up Highway 1 along the coast. Here again, of course, everything was covered with fog. Quite haunting.
A rock soaks up the fog

I wandered through that for a while, until I realized it would take several days to travel up highway 1, then turned off to go to Highway 101 and take that up.

I ended the day just north of Leggett, California, at a medium-size campground called Standish-Hickey State Recreation park just off the highway. It was nice except for that one catch - it was on the highway, and I could hear semis barreling by all night long. But it was a very pretty campground, with trails leading off to the remarkably clear Eel River, and I wasn't complaining too much.

I didn't sleep well, though - it's been a while since I've camped.

I hiked down to the river the next morning and sat staring at it for about thirty minutes, thinking about San Francisco and the cat I left behind, Doris. Then I left, got back on Highway 101.

The Eel River

My camping outfit and Hickey Standish state park

From the Decadent Camper catalog, the camping espresso maker