Back to Bryce Canyon

The cabin I lived in

Why “Back” to Bryce? Because that is what I do. I keep going back to Bryce Canyon*.  Unlike almost everyone else with whom I grew up in Bryce Valley during the 50s and 60s, I was born elsewhere, my mother returning to move in with my grandmother in Cannonville  following my father’s death.  While very young, I spent my days with my mother at her job as postmaster at the Bryce Canyon Lodge post office, either underfoot there or wandering around the Lodge, being looked after by her and all the lodge employees.  Later we actually lived in a rented apartment in the park during the summers, going down the “dump” (the affectionate term for the road down to the valley) to tend the garden, take care of things at home, etc.  My summers in Bryce Canyon were glorious, free and life-shaping.  Now, I go back.  It’s not the same, of course, I’ve changed. As a parent I brought my children, hoping that they too would have their own Bryce Canyon experience and each, in their own way, has done so.

Bryce Canyon ampitheater

Now I go back, not to recapture what I had, although the memories are wondrous, but to seek the peace and absorb the beauty. The canyon is still beautiful, the forest, with its pine-vanilla smell still whispers with the wind, the air almost sparkles with freshness.   The blueness of the sky and sharp whiteness of the cloud against the white-pink-orange-red limestone reminds us that our world is one of kaleidoscope color, brilliant, subdued, ever-changing with the movement of sun and shadow.

Alone on the canyon rim

This canyon is a place of stillness.  Its remoteness doesn’t lend well to the corporate tourist who travels according to a franchise-like itinerary.  The buses still come, full to stuffed with those wanting to see in person what they’ve only seen in photo books, calendars or on Ken Burns’ PBS series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea**.  I’m glad they come.  If even one accepts what the canyon has to offer, it is worth it.  If just one of these many feels the spirit of the canyon and remembers throughout their life, telling others what they felt, it is worth the buses, the exhaust, the temporary crowds.  The crowds eventually leave, moving on to the next destination and the stillness returns.

If you come to Bryce Canyon, spend some time alone.  If you come with a busload of people, go off on your own, even if for just a few minutes.  Go to a place where you no longer hear other people and listen.  Listen to the birds, the wind, the random rock sliding down the eroded face of the canyon.  Feel the breeze, smell the freshness and drink in the beauty.  You too will be changed.

More to come on Bryce Canyon:

1.  The Geology, how the canyon came to be and how it continues

2.  Life in the park

3.  Trails, oh the trails….

4.  So I drive all the way out to Bryce, what else is there?

5.  Bryce Canyon in winter


* Bryce Canyon National Park

**Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea

This is the last and final installment about the trip to San Francisco.  Part One: the trip there, Part Two: where we stayed (cheap) and Part Three: what we saw on day one.  This brings us to Part Four:  the second full day in the city and the trip home.

Jonathan and Tiff in the doorway of Tiny Telephone

Finding that John Vanderslice (terrific musician, recording studio owner and human being) was going to be at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco in June, we planned our trip so that Jonathan and Tiff could go to the concert.  I just wanted to watch people from our hotel window, so a good time was had by all.  They loved the concert and returned safely to the Embassy Hotel in the Tenderloin District with the news that JV had invited out-of-town attendees to join him for a free tour of his recording studio Tiny Telephone the next morning.  None of us have ever been to a real recording studio where real recordings are made that real artists perform and real people buy to listen to, so of course we went.  Taking our trusty map along, we wended our way to the Mission District and eventually found ourselves at a dead-end street with a park and some small warehouse-looking buildings nearby.  Turns out the warehouse-looking buildings are a collection of utilitarian/storage type converted tin-sided garages, one of which is now housing Tiny Telephone.  Both Jonathan and Tiff have written about this part of our trip so I’ll let you read their observations.  I’ll only say that the tour was great fun and very informative about the technical side of recordings, and that JV is a gracious host and a genuinely nice person.

After returning the car to the hotel we set out on foot again, this time due west on Turk.  We turned however, after running into a parade of hundreds of beautifully restored 60s-70s muscle cars!  What a sight!  I don’t have a photo of that wondrous display of gas-guzzling power (would’ve brought a tear to the eye of Exxon/Chevron/Shell CEOs), frankly, well, because I didn’t dare.

We kept walking, stopping for a lovely southwestern (New Mexico) chile chicken pot pie and some organic ice cream at Chile Pies and Ice Cream at Baker and Fulton in the Western Addition.  Great food, and what a delightful place!  Then on to the Panhandle.  The Panhandle is a  narrow strip, including an extension of Golden Gate Park that was the center of the Haight-Ashbury hippie era of the 60s.  So.  I finally made it, just 40 years too late.  Oh well, it’s an area that is really quite lovely, the homes are well cared for (those hippies grew up and got jobs), a very nice neighborhood.

Our succulents at home are NOT this big!

From there we went to Golden Gate Park, intending on going to the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden and DeYoung Museum of Art but, as everything costs an individual entry fee, and they’re not cheap, we opted instead for simply wandering around the Botanical Gardens.  Lest you think that our time was wasted, no, surely not.  One could spend entire days, perhaps even weeks studying the different sections, from Andean Cloud Forest to Moon Viewing Garden to Ancient Plant Garden to California Native.  My personal favorite was the Redwood Grove where you can almost feel the spirits of the trees.

Gulls on Stow Lake, what posers.

They really were getting married, right there at the side of Stow Lake!

After spending a few hours in the garden we noticed that it was not nearly as warm as it had been earlier when we decided to leave our jackets at the hotel and go in short sleeves because it was ‘so warm.’  The breeze came up and we were downright chilly!  Jonathan had talked to a friend who is now getting his graduate degree at San Francisco University and invited him to join us for a seafood dinner — actually, I said I would pay for his dinner if he would pick us up so we didn’t have to walk back!  Bribery always works but we were freezing by the time he finally came!  Walking to where we were to meet, we strolled along Stow Lake, saw the ducks, gulls, waterfall and a wedding on the sidewalk.  We also went past Drum Hill with a drum circle going on and bikes, bikes, bikes everywhere!  It is a beautiful park with something for everyone.  All in all, it was a lovely day.

The next day we drove home, out of the city, up into the mountains, across the desert and back to Utah.  I will say that the sunset as we looked back, westward across the salt flats, was a beautiful thing but after that drive I was really glad to see our mountains again.

We loved San Francisco and are already planning on going back, will probably stay at The Embassy Hotel again, but will try to see some of what we missed this time — Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, more of the Golden Gate Park, Presidio, the Cliff House — so much to see!  If you have any suggestions, please comment, I’d love to hear from you!

If you’ve been with me for Parts One and Two, you will know that this was a trip on a whim, John Vanderslice became the reason to calendar the trip, we travel on the cheap, are not afraid to try new things and love to observe everything around us.  Part Three will give the highlights of what we saw on our walking trip around the city.  My personal opinion is that if you really want to experience the “place,” you must walk it.  Books, travel guides, etc. can give you ideas of what is there and what you might be interested in, but we are all different, we enjoy different experiences and to fully absorb the essence of wherever you are you must put your feet on the ground, open your eyes, ears and nose, and get your senses involved.  That is how you experience a place.

maps, maps and more maps-- we are SO ready!

After making sure our car was as we left it in the hotel parking lot (yes, it’s fenced and gated, but still, we were in the Tenderloin), we took off walking.  If you mapped our tracks it would be a counterclockwise, roughly circular trek:  Tenderloin to Union Square, north  through the financial district to Chinatown, cross over into North Beach and Little Italy, over to Telegraph Hill, Pioneer Park, Coit Tower, down Filbert Street (of course it was down!  Filbert is the steepest street in the U.S.!), over to and down Lombard, up to Fisherman’s Wharf then straight south back to the Tenderloin and Civic Center. A full day of walking and the distance was multiplied by the ups and downs of San Francisco’s lovely hills.

So, now you know the route. I’m going to let my pictures tell the story although I must offer this disclaimer: I’m not a professional or even a good amateur photographer, I just take pictures.  With that said, here is the day:

Center of High End Shopping

Perusing the art in Union Square

I didn't catch the history of this heart but think it's pretty nice.

Interesting combination here: high-rise office building, Chinese-style architectural roof on a neoclassicist exterior, rainbow flag.

Chinatown, food and trinkets everywhere.

So much here: building art, use of space

We saw a beautiful white church in Little Italy, and always interested in seeing churches and other places of sacred space, we went inside.  Turns out it is the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi.

Inside the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi

Living and working in the city. Nice roof garden!

Music 101 (music store) front window full of old posters.

Parking on these streets is a beast!

Here is where a lovely photo of the Golden Gate Bridge should appear, but it was hiding from us.  Every time we got a glimpse of the bridge it was just a bit here or there, poking out of the fog.  Even so, it was lovely.  We did not take the time to go to the bridge this time.  It is on the list for next time, however.

Coit Tower in Pioneer Park, Christopher Columbus looking like Captain America keeping watch over the city.

Just so you know, the wild parrots really are on Telegraph Hill.  If you haven’t seen the documentary Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, you should; it’s wonderful.  The parrots really are there, we saw them although I couldn’t get a good photo.

Just like so many tourist pics of the city -- but it's a nice looking city!

Urban art. Some call it graffiti, I call it art.

I love these homes!

We noticed that in the Russian Hill neighborhoods there were laundromats everywhere!  It seemed that there were more of them there than anywhere else but I guess moving washers and dryers into these homes must be pretty challenging!  I kept thinking as we walked past these homes that must have stairs, stairs and more stairs that it would be advantageous to rent or buy an already furnished home/apartment rather than have to move furniture in or out!

Crazy, clutch-burning zigzag!

A notable exclusion from photos of the day was Fisherman’s Wharf.  No pics.  After having wandered much of the day through this very lovely and picturesque city, we made our way to the Wharf.  Jonathan and Tiff, my two adult children with whom I came on this trip, having never been to San Francisco before, both looked around at the crammed souvenir shops, overcrowded restaurants and flash and wondered why we had come.  It looks very much like other touristy spots we have been before, Niagara Falls for example, with the tourist destination franchises such as Ripley’s, Tropical Rainforest Cafe, and Hard Rock Cafe looking just like they do everywhere else.  San Francisco is a bit different in that it has the view of Alcatraz, the converging cablecars, Ghirardelli Square and chocolate factory and seafood restaurants and can be a lot of fun for folks who like that kind of experience.  This is where you catch the ferries to Sausalito, Berkeley, etc. and there are boats everywhere (it is a wharf, after all)!  The history though is wonderful and there is a San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park that is part of the national park system (and you thought they were in just wilderness areas!).

That’s the day, as I can tell it.  I can’t give you the sounds, the smells, the seeing people just living that is all around.  You’ll just have to go for yourself and your day will not be like my day — you will make it your own.  San Francisco is a wonderful city!

Part One ended with us entering the city by the bay.  Part Two will be about our hotel (The Embassy), where it was located (the Tenderloin) and just some observations on the people we met/saw.

Lobby of The Embassy Hotel

We had scheduled our trip around a John Vanderslice concert that was being held at the Herbst Theater.  This was a trip on a whim, so to speak, that needed a reason and JV became our reason.  I booked through an online travel site, choosing The Embassy Hotel because, well, it was the cheapest I could find within walking distance of the Herbst.  San Francisco is an expensive city and I travel as inexpensively as possible!  The Embassy was rated two and a half stars, not good but better than the others in my price range.  Do you ever really read online hotel reviews?  Wow!  These were doozies!  It seems that people either love or hate this hotel because the rating had to be the average of 5’s and 1’s, comments ranging from “loved, loved, loved” to “never, Never, NEVER!”  Most negatives referred to its location on Polk and Turk, in the Tenderloin District,  the city’s dark, inner self, that has historically been an area of crime, corruption and vice.

down our hall at The Embassy Hotel

After reading the reviews, I wondered if I should relocate our stay but decided to stick it out, and we found the 30’s art deco hotel  to be just what we wanted, close, clean and comfortable, with the double bonus of free parking and free continental breakfast (located in the adjoining bar). Most people probably don’t take much food with them beyond travel snacks but we like cooler snacks and also had our fabulous leftover Basque-cooked steak so big it was hanging off the plate from Elko (see part one) and we needed but didn’t have a refrigerator in the room.  So it was morning and nightly trips to the ice room in the basement to keep the coolers happily chilled.

Room carpet - decidedly retro

Some of the negative reviewers complained of paperthin walls and undesirable-type folks hanging out in the stairways and halls.  We didn’t have that experience.  The hotel clientele seemed to be European students coming on holiday and trying to get the best deal (as we were).  The walls seemed no thinner than any other hotel so I’m not sure why the reviewer’s experience was so bad for them.  The hallways are narrow (it’s old!) with painted, exposed pipes but it was clean.  The elevator, also old, small and slow as well and had a double access door but got the job done.  The bathroom was all tile in these lovely shades of green with a shower that would give you a slow rhythmic shift from hot to cold to hot throughout your shower.  That could get a bit interesting depending on where it was in the rhythm when you turned it on.  I’m including here a couple photos so you get the idea of the place.  It really was safe, clean (I did rinse the glasses though, just to be sure) and comfy (good beds).

Room with a View

The view from the window wasn’t necessarily picturesque, as the hotel is relatively small and surrounded by larger buildings.  We could look straight into the offices in a federal building, the street and an urban view across the civic center district toward the Bayshore Freeway and South Park, nothing spectacular to be sure.  The view straight down, however, was much more interesting, especially at night.  While Jonathan and Tiff were at the concert I spent the evening watching couples come and go from the corner bar just off the hotel lobby, listening to the beating bass of the dj’d music.

Those people were distinctly different from the others I would watch from our fifth floor window. Solitary folks coming from all directions (both north and south on Turk and west on Polk) seeming to converge, always one at a time, going east on Polk.  They came with various types of containers — grocery carts, luggage carts with boxes, baskets or bins, or tethered children’s wagons — all filled with bottles.  I couldn’t see what kind of bottles, just could hear the clink – clink as they wheeled their carts, etc. along the sidewalk.  This started as soon as it got dark and went on as long as or whenever I watched or even listened as I lay in bed (windows open to catch the breeze).   There must be a collection center just a block or two away because I would see them moving towards Polk, go east turning south on the next street.  About ten to fifteen minutes later, here they would come back again, this time with empty cart, no more clinking bottles.  It was a curious current of bottle people ebbing and flowing in the night.

Most daytime people that we saw seemed to be on their way to work somewhere, maybe in the civic center which is tucked into the southeast of the Tenderloin.  In my reading both before and after the trip, I found that the Tenderloin forms part of the Theater District,contains Little Saigon, a Vietnamese neighborhood, and is a center for “low brow,” mural and graffiti art.  We missed all these things — can’t do everything in just two days — but it’s on the list for the next trip to this fascinating city.

Next up, Part Three: If You’re Going to San Francisco – Day One in the City

…“…Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair….”

Oh the concerts I would've gone to....

This is the first of a four-part series.

If, as I silently yearned to do at the height of the 60s hippie movement, I had been able to escape (as I saw it) the confines of small-town southern Utah and make it to join all those other free spirits in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, life would be decidedly different. Not being into the sex and drugs that many were, however, would have been rather limiting on my own assimilation into that 60’s culture and I find that life has been just fine as I have lived it. I grew up and moved on, all those gentle people grew up and are now busily building their stock portfolios in preparation for retirement, and Haight-Ashbury traded its tie-dye and sandals for a suit of urban respectability, complete with groomed flower boxes and manicured and sweatered dogs. It’s amazing what can happen in fifty years!

Rock Art on the Salt Flats

Moving on to the “wander” to San Francisco. ‘Twas a quick trip, a day driving there, two days in the city, a day’s drive back. Lovely– IF you like driving across northern Nevada via I-80, through the flatlands made of accumulated salt, where mysterious people stop on the edge of the freeway and leave messages and art with rocks and bottles in the salt beds (who ARE these people and who are they talking to?), then up and down through the endlessly stretching basin and range topography, crossing grasslands, desert, passing towns such as Wendover (destination of the “fun bus” and icon of wasted space), Wells, Elko (home of the Cowboy Poetry Festival and the most amazing Basque food at the historic Star Hotel), the Golconda Summit (this would be a beast in the winter!), Winnemucca (don’t you love saying that word?), Battle Mountain (not sure I want to know the origins of the name), Lovelock (get your love’s locket here — no really, that’s what they advertise!), and finally to Reno, on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevadas. The drive is as long as that last sentence but for desert lovers it must be delightful. For the rest of us, well, we just need to learn to appreciate the desert.

The climb to Donner’s Summit was beautiful and the mountains are stunning — geologically a granite batholith, there is much exposed rock with spruce and other hardy conifers that put the garden variety to shame as they hang on and dig in, doing their part to break down that massive rock. These trees are the tough guys, and I have tremendous admiration for their endurance and raw beauty. Driving down the western slope of the mountains is an ear-popping good time. Truckee is a skiing destination but since we were there in late June, ski season was over, thecrowds were gone and the main thing running was the river. Snowmelt cascading down everywhere — beautiful, especially after crossing the desert! Once you get to Auburn it is all California– rolling hills, wetlands, agriculture, palm trees and cities. We finally made it to the toll booth at the Bay Bridge, about eleven hours after leaving Salt Lake City even with stopping for the Basque food (that deserves its own blogpost!) and then it was into the City by the Bay.

Bay Bridge from Telegraph Hill

Coming soon:
Part Two: If You’re Going to San Francisco – The Embassy Hotel, The Tenderloin and people
Part Three: If You’re Going to San Francisco – Day One in the City
Part Four: If You’re Going to San Francisco – Second and Final Day (ah sadness)

La Push, Washington

First Beach, La Push, WA

If you have never been to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, I hope you can find the time (and gas money) and go. We found La Push, a little coastal town on the Quileute Reservation, quite by accident many years ago and instantly connected to “place.” If you seek solitude, healing, peace, you will find it here. There are no phones, tvs or internet available at the Oceanside Resort and even cell service is sketchy. This is the ultimate “getaway” from everything — a true escape. The remoteness forces you to remove yourself from life as you know it and in so doing encourages reflection and meditation.

La Push school (center) from the beach and over the driftlogs

That’s not to say there is nothing to do! You can run from one activity or location — all ocean, beach or forest related — to another with as much frantic energy as you want but after a day or two you’ll settle down and realize that what you really need can be found by wandering through a gentle forest or toeing sand and shingle as you feel the rhythm of the waves on the beach and recalibrate to the pulse of the earth.

I’ll be back to La Push probably many times because that’s what I do. I always go back to La Push.

Sunset on First Beach, La Push (May 2011)

Canyon Ranch Motel, Springdale, UT

Thursday I escaped. With Tiff as collaborator, Jonathan covering for me at home, and the encouragement from my cheerleaders in the office I was able to make it out — out of the house, out of the office, out of town, just out. I am OUT. Tiff leading the way, we dodged UHP marked and unmarked cars all down I-15, slipped off the freeway onto UT-9 and cruised through the otherworlds of LaVerkin, Virgin and Rockville, finally arriving at our safe house, Canyon Ranch Motel in lovely Springdale, UT. Caren and Mark (I’ve never learned their last name) met us as though we’d just successfully been handed off to them on the refugee trail. After getting us settled in our temporary home, they retreated, probably to go walk the dogs (I think that’s pretty much an all day project for either Caren or Mark). Thus began our retreat.

Great White Throne, Zion Nat. Park

Friday was a planning day. The weather was looking rather grim — rain, rain and rain/snow, but what the heck. If it’s going to weather on us at home we might as well be here! It wasn’t raining yet and we’d come prepared anyway so we went to the park (Zion National Park). Never to miss an opportunity to browse the books in the Visitor’s Center, we only looked this time, no purchases although Tiff tried to interest me in the stuffed tarantula for the boys (twin grandsons). Imagination prevailed however, as I knew I couldn’t ride home in the same car as that thing so we left empty-handed. Clouds were heavy with only a spot or two of blue sky but the intensity of the natural world was, as always, breathtaking. We opted out of any real hikes as the steep trails were thickly iced over. Instead, we spent time just walking (both of us), sitting (me) and taking many photos along the river (Tiff). It was indeed a wonderfully reflective time. When was the last time you just sat on a log listening to the water and birds? A highlight of the day was the rafter (did you know that’s what a group is called?) of turkeys that was on the road… and on the road… and back on the road….. Fatties all, they (eight of them) just kept coming back in front of the car. This is after the helpful History Association employee at the Visitor Center had told us that if we saw turkeys not to roll down the window to take pictures because the turkeys think you are going to feed them and when you don’t they jump on the car and try to get you! By the way, wild turkeys have really long, sharp claws and can rip the paint on your car to shreds. Just so you know.

The house I want to buy

Saturday was more of an indoor day. It was raining all day and since we both brought projects to work on there is no better place to work on projects than right here with the stunning scenery available from the windows. We did spend a little time with a real estate agent (sister of friend Greg) who showed us the perfect house for us here. The only obstacle is money to buy it! Anyone want to go in with us? We’ll share the time here!

Sunday, our one day left. We woke up to snow! Beautiful! Lots of snow! Knowing that the canyon would be stunning with the snow we hurriedly piled into our multilayers of hoodies, jackets, beanies and scarves, grabbed cameras and batteries and headed out. The consensus was that though Zion is beautiful anytime, summer (peak tourist season) is actually the lowest on our seasonal rating. We’ve been here in spring– water and waterfalls cascading from the cliffs everywhere, autumn– leaves competing with rocks for the ‘most colorful’ award, and the smell! Oh my goodness, the smell of autumn in Zion triggers something primal. But Winter– how to describe winter in Zion? One feels the need to whisper as though the slightest sound will wake something that needs to sleep a little longer. It’s a tender, nurturing, pre-wakening feeling, as though the snow is lovingly protecting the life that will soon emerge. No turkeys or deer and few birds today, just stillness and intense color — reds deepened by the wetness and dark green of the trees all accentuated by the whiteness of the beautiful snow.

Zion in Winter

Tomorrow I will retrace my way back home and Tiff goes east to Bryce, our respite over, but our time here will get us through until the next time we can get back to the natural world that heals our souls.

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