Friday, August 14, 2009

Day 19 - 21 June 2009

When I was going to high school I really wanted to go to the Air Force Academy and become a jet pilot. As was the case at other times in my life, I didn't pursue that goal hard enough. I many times relied on things just happening, just coming to me. In addition, I had little help from my family. That does not mean that I was neglected, but my mother was an immigrant, barely able to speak a few words of English and my sister and brother-in-law were inexperienced and occupied with their own lives. I never made my wishes known strongly enough, nor did I ask for their help in this matter. I didn't really know how the system for getting into one of the military academies worked. I only knew that one had to be appointed by a congressman or senator and I didn't know any. That you could contact one of them never entered my mind and that they would then administer tests to select their appointee(s) was unknown to me. Why these questions never came up during guidance counseling, where the guidance counselor suggested schools to apply to for attendance after high school, isn't quite clear to me. Looking back now it seems to me that I lost interest in going to college at this point.

So, Bill Tracy of my graduating class went to the Air Force Academy and I didn't. I don't know how many from other high schools in our state went to the Air Force Academy that year, Bill Tracy certainly deserved it. He was smart and a star athlete. As it turned out, I chose another route to enter the Air Force, had a good career, but I always envied those who did go to the Academy. My wish would be that one of my grandchildren could go there. However, the rigors of the Academy or of military life in general are not everybody's cup of tea. By the way, I heard that Bill Tracy graduated from the Academy but quit the Air Force after his commitment was up to go on to other endeavors.

So much for the background to our visit to the US Air Force Academy. Visitors can't really see much, especially in the summer when most of the cadets are gone. There is a visitor center from which one can walk to the chapel and a terrace that overlooks the cadet area. But that's about it. The whole layout, the location at the edge of the Rockies, though, is fantastic. The weather was outstanding and I couldn't get enough of the scenery.

But, we had other goals as well. We drove to the Cog Rail depot on the side of the mountains and bought tickets to ride the Cog Rail up to Pike's Peak. At the depot it was sweltering hot, but somehow we got the idea that at 14,110 feet the temperature might be something else, especially since we saw people carrying sweaters, sweatshirts, and jackets. My friend made a quick trip back to the RV (that's the nice thing about a camper, you have all your belongings with you at all times) to get some sweatshirts for us. That was a good move as we found out later.

The ride up the mountain was not as exciting as I had thought. First, we sat opposite (pairs of seats faced each other) a corpulent lady and her equally corpulent grandson (it apparently is a family trait). What was worse, the lady had a slight leg impairment and walked with a cane. That is lamentable, but it was bothersome to have to ask her to remove her foot which she had propped up on my friend's seat before we came in. She readily yielded, but lo and behold, she did the same thing when we resumed our seats on the way down. As it turned out, she and her adolescent grandson were pretty nice, my friend's conversation with them made the long trip, especially down the mountain, go faster. I abstained from the conversation as much as possible.

Somewhere I had read a sign saying "Pike's Peak or Bust." If given that choice again, I would take the "Bust." I don't think that taking the Cog Rail up to the top is worth the $63 it cost, although the nice young lady tour guide who pointed out various worthwhile sights along the way was well-versed, charming, and pretty. We had driven up Pike's Peak many years ago with a car and three small children and as I have it in my memory, it was more enjoyable. The benches on the train were hard, small, and you had to work at not sliding into your vis-a-vis, unless you were facing uphill, in which case you had the opposite problem.

The peak of Pike's Peak was partially snow covered, partially muddy, very cold, very windy, very overrun with people, and not worth a visit. The cafeteria had run out of all food except some popcorn, including the highly praised (down in the valley) doughnuts which are baked up there, two of which we were supposed to get for free. Sure, you can get a magnificent view from up there, but at the expense of about four hours worth of inconvenience. The sweatshirts came in handy, our seat mate bought one for her grandson in the souvenir shop at the peak because they hadn't gotten the word that it's near freezing up there. (The lady had stayed in the train and rested her foot on our seat, so she didn't need to buy a sweatshirt).

We had one more item to complete when we hit the valley again - a "chuck wagon dinner" at the "Flying W Ranch." The "Flying W Ranch" may have been a ranch at one time, it is on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, consists of a reproduction Western town with gift shops and clothing stores where one can get Western wear from boots to hats and most items in between. Periodically throughout the evening there were performances by Indian dancers.

The main reason for going there is their nightly "chuck wagon dinner," which is a Western version of a dinner and a show. When the weather permits the dinner is held outdoors at a large area covered with about 100 wooden picnic tables that seat 10 to 12 people each. Facing the dining area is a small stage where the show takes place. After we found our preassigned seats we wondered how the feeding of all the people that streamed in would take place. I was somewhat relieved when the stream of people coming in started to diminish when a little over half the tables were occupied.

We soon found out how we all would get served: When the time to start serving arrived (announced by the ringing of a triangle) we were called up by groups of tables which all had numbers, ushered into a barn-like structure where there were many short serving lines, and received our metal trays and tin cups which, as we walked through, were filled by "wranglers," as the serving personnel was called. The food consisted of roast beef and gravy (unless one opted for a steak, which cost extra and had to be ordered upon entering the ranch), baked beans, corn bread, apple sauce, and a piece of fruit cake. In the tin cup we got coffee, tea, or juice. The whole thing was supposed to be an authentic meal as the cowboys on the range would get, except that we found out later that the cowboys seldom had roast beef or steak out on the range because of lack of refrigeration in those days. Mostly what they ate were baked beans which they called "whistle berries" and biscuits. It was fun and the food was not bad. Amazingly, all 600+ (as we were told later) people had food after a little over 20 minutes due to the many serving lines and the many wranglers that were serving.

After about an hour from the ringing of the triangle, the wranglers came around and collected the trays and cutlery (the cups we could keep for refills). The clearing of the tables was as swift as the serving had been and the show began. It was about an hour of Western music, mostly cowboy songs with some gospel and instrumental pieces interspersed. Five musicians who played, sang, and joked presented a thoroughly enjoyable show. They claimed to be the oldest band of this type other than Roy Rogers' "Sons of the Pioneers." The clear, balmy night with the rising of a full moon made for a romantic evening which more than made up for the disappointment of Pike's Peak.

With that many people exiting all at once I had expected a massive traffic jam, but was pleasantly surprised how quickly we got out on the road. This time our navigator came in real handy because finding our way back to our campground in the dark would have been a nightmare. So ended day 19.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


This is as far as I got writing down the day's events every day or every other day while on the road. I had gotten way behind in entering the handwritten drafts into the computer because of a lack of Internet connections and other activities. I will now try to reconstruct the events of the remaining days on the road from memory and notes. Let's see if they turn out any different (shorter) than the entries written in real-time.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Day 18 - 20 June 2009

Not finding a campground and paying $150 for a room seemed the be the continuation of a streak of bad luck yesterday. Today we actually considered ourselves lucky to have been able to spend the night in downtown Aspen, to see some of its nightlife, and today before departing, we walked around in the center of town admiring the buildings and stores in relative peace and quiet - it was 7:30 am.

There is a nice pedestrian zone with trees, cobblestone streets, and a brook snaking its way between the trees. The pedestrian zone covers several blocks and that is where the most expensive shops are. A bakery was open and served good coffee and a good bagel with cream cheese - also not cheap, over $7. After getting some gas (about 80 cents per gallon more than elsewhere in the area) we headed for Colorado Springs.

I called ahead and got the last RV site at the Air Force Academy campground where we arrived early in the afternoon and called it a day after doing some laundry. It is raining, which suits me just fine because I can catch up on some of my writing, and then end day 18.

Day 17 - 19 June 2009

This was another day when everything seemed to go wrong. After a hearty pancake breakfast we left the campground and went to the Arches National Park. At the first scenic viewpoint called "Park Avenue" I tried to get a better shot with my friend's new digital camera when I tripped on the sidewalk and fell on my knee (the same one I had landed on when I stumbled on the sidewalk in Helena, Montana - did I mention that?) and my elbow and the camera hit the ground. My main concern was for the camera. It came away with several scratches but no other damage. I came away with considerably more damage: There was the bleeding knee, the scraped up elbow and hand, but worst of all was my damaged ego. Several kind people helped me up and offered first aid which I naturally refused ("'t ain't nothin', ma'am!"). Do two such incidents constitute a streak?

We continued on in near 90 degree heat to see most of the arches. Arches are different than the bridges which we saw earlier. Bridges are made by flowing water eroding the stone, whereas arches are high and dry and are formed when walls of rock called "fins" lose some of the lower stone, leaving the upper part as an arch. Did I explain that real good? If not, "Google" it.

We then went to have lunch in an "authentic" Mexican restaurant, only the waiter's accent struck me as being from Eastern Europe. He also was about twice as tall as the busboy who was a real Mexican. The reason I mention the lunch at all is that my streak of bad luck continued when I accidentally knocked over my tall glass of ice tea while passing my leather bound menu to the tall waiter. I claim that contributing factors were the tall glass and the stiff menu. My friend's lap was wet and the waiter and the busboy rushed over with napkins and rags. Oh yeah, the food lacked that real Mexican flavor - my friend thought that the cook forgot the chili powder and the cilantro. Maybe the cook was from Eastern Europe also.

We then pressed on toward Aspen, Colorado, expecting to make it only partway there. Frankly, I had had enough of canyons and rocks of any color and longed for some green meadows and pastures where one could see for miles. Canyons with mountains on both sides give me claustrophobia, after a while. Well, we made it to where we thought we would make it and the place was closed. Not really closed, but the campground we were shooting for was filled up and we couldn't locate any other. So we drove into the evening until we finally came to Aspen, Colorado.

Now, this is a ritzy place! They don't have any motels, let alone campgrounds, just lodges, hotels, and Inns. They don't have any prominent signs (a city ordinance) to catch your eye as you're driving by and they don't have any supermarkets with large parking lots where we could have parked our camper and spent the night. We drove up and down the street until we finally spotted a place called "The Tyrolean Lodge" that had a vacancy sign out front. We hesitated because there was no place to park our camper, but the route beyond Aspen, according to the map, was devoid of any civilization, so we had no choice but to take the very last vacant room at "The Tyrolean Lodge." We parked the camper on a side street, took all the valuables to our room and hoped for the best. In retrospect, we probably didn't have to worry about the camper or our meager belongings being stolen after we saw the stores and the jet setters in downtown Aspen. With all that apparent wealth being displayed, who needs to rob a couple of tourists?

The town of Aspen is really nice. Solid stone or brick buildings, some dating back to the 1800s. Fashionable stores that you would find on 5th Avenue in New York, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, etc. In the evening when we went out for a bite, the town was full of young people with cell phones in their hands and on their ears, some dressed to the hilt (especially the women), getting in and out of limousines. One watering hole or restaurant borders on the the next - all were packed. These chic places didn't look exactly cheap. Where all these young people came from, if they live there year-round, and where they get the money for their lifestyle is a mystery to me. There also were some older people surrounded by what looked like extended family - maybe they had flown in for the weekend, I saw a number of airplanes that looked like private jets as we passed the airport. One explanation for the many people in the midst of a wilderness is that a wine and gourmet food festival was going to happen the following weekend with some kind of jazz performance. Probably a "must" for the jet set.

Day 17 ended with us watching reruns of "Seinfeld" and the "Golden Girls" in our room in "The Tyrolean Lodge."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Day 16 - 18 June 2009

The campground at the Natural Bridges National Monument is really nice. It is small and has no hook-ups for RVs or trailers, but that is part of the charm. You drive in, park, and you are all set. In the morning you just drive off without having to unhook things. The sites are arranged nicely between juniper trees (they make gin out of the berries, maybe that's why I liked the place). A loop that you can drive or walk leads to viewpoints of the natural bridges or the trails of various lengths that you can walk to view the bridges from close up. The bridges were formed by water rushing up against a wall of rock for many, many (millions) years, finally breaking through and forming a bridge. We drove the loop once more and took a couple of short walks and then were off on our way to Monument Valley.

The lady in the next RV (a Roadtrek, such as we had in British Columbia and one of which we had wanted again this time but none were available - I was jealous!) told us the evening before that on the road to Monument Valley there is a three mile stretch of gravel road which makes a series of switchbacks (tight curves back and forth along the side of the mountain) taking you down about 1,000 feet. She had come up the gravel road and said it was "hairy," but she had made it. My friend tried to talk me out of going down that road, but I insisted that a little gravel road with switchbacks didn't scare me, especially if that lady and her cat made it without "dinging up" her $100,000 Roadtrek. Besides, the long way around would have taken twice as long.

We proceeded down the road and lo and behold, I have traveled "hairier" roads in the Alps, in Vermont, and on Majorca. However, the views of Monument Valley from stopping points on the gravel road were magnificent. Once on the valley floor we followed it until we reached the Arizona sate line. The stone sculptures formed by millions of years of erosion are truly monumental. At every turn in the road there is a different structure, some of which have been given names such as "Mexican Hat" due to their distinctive shapes. In my mind's eye I saw John Wayne and the 7th Cavalry riding through the valley. We opted not to take the tour that takes you to the locations where the movies were shot and where John Wayne supposedly spent the nights while shooting the films. By this time we were saturated with rocks, cliffs, canyons, gorges - you name it - although Monument Valley is grandiose.

Not much else to report, except that we drove north to Moab, Utah, and checked into a campground. When I asked at the campground office where we could buy a bottle of wine for my friend (I didn't mention the whiskey and beer for me) I was told that the state-run liquor store was about four miles away, downtown. Utah has this alcohol restriction (as do other states), putting hurdles in people's path to keep them on the right path (in their view). That's OK, but their recycling laws need updating: There is no deposit on glass bottles of any kind, at most places they are just dumped into the trash. I don't know for sure if they recycle plastic, I didn't see any special containers for that either.

Anyway, we were set now, the KOA people are about to fix the mix up in the site assignments of our neighbors and my friend is cooking dinner. The ground is sandy (its a desert, you know), the sky is clearing and another day, number 16, is ending.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Day 15 - 17 June 2009

This was the day when everything went wrong:

First, I twisted my back such that my sciatic nerve got pinched, causing a bad pain in the right side of my lower back and radiating down my thigh. This happened as I was attempting to attach the sewer hose to the RV to drain the sewage tank. The pain was so bad that I didn't think I could drive, which made my friend nervous because she thought she might have to drive the RV. I would describe the pain as a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is when you thankfully pass out because the pain is so bad. There was no position I could assume that made the pain go away so I gritted my teeth and decided to drive with the aim of finding a drug store or shopette to buy some strong pain killer because all we had was aspirin, of which I took two. The nearest medical facility was over 100 miles away and not in the direction we wanted to go. As I drove, the pain let up a little, but returned after a rest stop where I got out to use the rest room. My main concern was that, because the pain made it difficult to lift my right leg, I would not be able to respond to an emergency quickly enough when I had to hit the brake fast. My friend continuously lobbied for us to forget about Monument Valley, our next planned destination, and to head straight north toward the city of Moab, Utah, and more civilization. I was bound and determined to see Monument Valley, by golly, where John Wayne and numerous other Western heroes had fought Indians much to the delight of movie-goers. We made it to an intersection of two highways where there was a gas station, a couple of shops, and a visitor information center. While I was getting gas, my friend went into the visitor center to ask where we could find a drugstore or other store that carried pain relievers. A couple, also getting information, overheard the conversation and volunteered to let me have four generic Ibuprofen tablets since the nearest town was a ways down the road in the opposite direction than we wanted to go. The man also advised me to put ice on the places that hurt - he had had several back operations himself, he said. I took two of the tablets and since we didn't have any ice my friend got a package of frozen hamburger out of the freezer compartment of our refrigerator. I put that behind my back while driving and after about 15 minutes the pain in my lower back let up a little. I don't know if it was due to the pain killer or the hamburger. When the hamburger started to defrost I put a package of frozen steaks into the pocket of my hiking shorts to alleviate the pain in my leg, which was still strong. Unfortunately, due to the euphoria I experienced because the pain in my back was bearable, I got out at a scenic overlook and walked a few yards to look over the edge and promptly earned an increase in my back and leg pain. But we pressed on since I was not about to give up on Monument Valley at this point. Along the way we found a market that had pain relievers and we bought a bottle of Motrin. When the pain got so bad again that I had to pull off the road and stop I took a Motrin even though the time since I had taken the Ibuprofen had not yet been sufficient. After that I got better until by evening I was almost back to normal. Knock on wood!

Second, I discovered a small chip in the windshield, probably made by a small rock kicked up by a passing car. These rental people, from whom you rent these campers, are finicky about that sort of thing. I wonder how much that is going to cost, they probably will charge me for a new windshield.

Third, the vent hatch on top of the RV blew open because I was going fast and the wind was blowing strong. When it blew open it broke the mechanism that allows it to be cranked open to various amounts of "openness." We had to tie it shut and I will see if I can repair it good enough to get us by the inspection when we return the RV - when my back gets better.

Fourth, while driving around a curve in the road, one of the kitchen cabinet doors opened up and several of the dishes fell out. What a mess - splinters everywhere. Two cereal bowls, a big plate, and a little plate broke into a thousand pieces. Now we will have to take turns eating our cereal and our soup out of the one remaining bowl.

Other than that, we saw some fascinating landscapes, different at every turn. I decided to take a short detour to the Natural Bridges National Monument which is on the way to Monument Valley. We found a lovely little campground on the grounds of the National Monument and decided to stay there instead of forging ahead to Monument Valley and uncertain campground availability.

My friend thought that she could still change my mind about going to Monument Valley after my painful experience this morning because she didn't want to be stuck with an incapacitated hulk and a big truck (as she sees it) in the middle of the desert, but I assured her that I could make it. As she found out not only with the two nice people who shared their Ibuprofen with me, but also as she chatted with the attendant at the visitor center at the entrance to the Natural Bridges National Monument who offered us his first aid kit, there are always people who are ready to help. Onward to Monument Valley after this 15th day.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Day 14 - 16 June 2009

We departed Zion canyon through the tunnel that was cut through the mountain to let visitors in and out from both directions, west and east. We went east to Bryce Canyon National Park. All along the scenery kept changing, one more interesting than the other. Just before reaching Bryce Canyon the earth became redder and redder. I thought nothing could top the beauty of Red Canyon, just before Bryce Canyon.

But Bryce Canyon is something out of this world! The rock formations sculpted by erosion look unreal. When looking down on them from the rim of the canyon I thought I was looking at a make believe landscape found in Disneyland. We took a hike between the towers of rocks called Hoodoos, to the bottom of the canyon and back up. What nature does is incredible.

We had enough time left in the day to drive on to the town of Escalante at the edge of the Grand Escalante Staircase National Monument. We didn't do any sightseeing, the campground was crummy, but it had a good Wifi connection allowing us to do some computing. That was day 14.

Day 13 - 15 June 2009

We departed Salt Lake City, the proud owners of a navigator which was going to guide us to Zion National Park. The navigator guided us unto Interstate 15 and from there on it was practically useless because the rest of the route was on Interstate 15, how could you get lost. During the last few miles after I-15 there weren't many choices of which way to go to Zion National Park. Nevertheless I dutifully consulted the navigator until we got to the campground just outside the park. The town of Springdale is a nice place with restaurants and shops. They also provide free shuttle service, this time because parking in the park is limited.

We decided to take a free ranger-guided tour through Zion canyon, in the evening. The tour was informative if a little long-winded. The rangers (both she's) told a lot about the origins of the National Parks system and the early Mormon settlers in Zion canyon and a little about the geology. The walls of the canyon are impressive and many faceted, hard to imagine that anything we will yet see could be more majestic.

All in all, it was a long day and I was glad that day 13 was over.

Day 12 - 14 June 2009

This being a Sunday, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed and we had gotten reservations to see the performance through our campground. The Tabernacle is a large theater which holds several thousand people. Because in the summertime many tourists want to see and hear the choir, the performances are moved to the Congress Center which holds more than 20,000 people. We were lucky because this was the last performance in the Tabernacle before the choir went on a 13 day tour and after that would perform in the Congress Center for the rest of the summer.

It was an impressive experience. The choir has its dress rehearsal during which time the audience is let in, then follows the performance which is taped and then broadcast by radio and television stations around the world. Everything has to be very precise, the timing, the camera shots, and the silence by the audience.

The sounds produced by the orchestra and the choir are fantastic and to experience them live makes it even more enjoyable. Needless to say, there were herds of ushers and guides who helped prevent chaos when people entered and left the Tabernacle. Again the free shuttle service transported us both ways.

We had originally booked the RV site for two nights, which we had already had. So we extended our stay one more night so that we could spend the rest of the day in and around Salt Lake City without having to look for another campground. The reasons for the stay were a shopping trip to Hill AFB and a visit to Antelope Island for which we had great expectations. The trip to Hill AFB got us some groceries, a laptop computer, and a navigator. The reason for the groceries is obvious, for the laptop not so (our old one keeps skipping letters and freezes up), and for the navigator there is hardly a reason except that I was in a "buying frenzy" by that time.

Antelope Island was a disappointment. We had a hard time finding the causeway that leads to the island (the navigator was still in the box, I thought it would require extensive study before installation). We saw no antelopes, just more deer, bison, and insects. Originally we had hoped to go swimming in the Great Salt Lake because one can float almost completely on top of the water (well, 25% of the body is still in the water) because it has 16 timed the salinity of the ocean, only the Dead Sea has more. However, the water is brackish and stinks, not smells, stinks. The beach, if you can call it that, is covered with little bugs. In short, not conducive to swimming. There is a visitor center on the island that is built like a bunker and a coffee shop that didn't have any coffee.

At that point I decided to unpack my new navigator and much to my surprise got it working right away and it guided us back to our campground expeditiously. Unpacking the computer and trying it out concluded day 12.

Day 11 - 13 June 2009

This was a "no-travel-day." We caught the first shuttle to downtown Salt Lake City, to Temple Square, the heart of Salt Lake City and the Mormon universe as well.

Right off the bat let me say that I am impressed with what the Mormons offer tourists (mainly non-Mormons) in Salt Lake City. First of all, there is a free shuttle bus from the airport to Temple Square and back (this bus happens to pass by the KOA campground where we stayed and it picks up and delivers anyone from there who wants to go downtown). The shuttle buses are driven by volunteer members of the Church. The aim of the free shuttle service is to avail people who have a few hours layover at the airport to spend them seeing the Mormon version of Rome's Saint Peter's Square. Then on Temple Square there are many ushers, guides for most languages, and generally nice people willing to point things out and to assist in any way. How the Church manages to mobilize these numbers of people is beyond me: Men dressed in business suits, women in long (almost formal) dresses befitting the rules of the Mormon Church, and young people also dressed befitting the surroundings. I surmise that the overall aim is to put the Mormon religion in as positive a light as possible. Everything is clean, neat, and well organized. Although the references to the Church, it's leaders past and present, and the all-present thesis of the Book of Mormon are evident, no one directly proselytized or even mentioned other religions.

We were given a tour of Temple Square and some buildings by two young women, one from South Korea, the other from Mexico. They spoke in glowing terms of the achievements by the pioneers who braved many hardships in reaching this valley after being persecuted out of two different locations farther east. The temple itself is sacred and can only be entered by members of the Church in good standing. Don't ask me exactly what "in good standing" means, the best I could gather was that once a year every Mormon has to have an "interview" with a bishop who ascertains and certifies the worthiness of the member to enter the temple. The mystery of it all makes me more than a little suspicious, but I took care not to embarrass the young ladies by asking too many skeptical questions.

We also visited the Museum of Family History, also known as the Genealogical Library. Again, the people were all very friendly and accommodating. The Genealogical Library is huge and like any large library has several floors, reams of books, masses of computer terminals, and a large vault with thousands of microfilms. All of it is accessible to the general public with the aid of the library staff. I really didn't make this trip to Salt Lake City to do genealogical research, but since we were there it interested me how and why they maintain such a library. The "how" is that people (presumably Church members) go out and obtain family histories from archives around the world. This information is put into a database and shared with the world. Then if someone finds his or her ancestors and adds his or her own records, this information in turn can be added to the database to augment it. The "why" is that the Mormon Church emphasizes the unity of families. By tracing one's roots and completing the family tree the whole world could eventually be united as one big family - sort of. Mind you, I'm no expert on the Mormon religion, this is only my "take" on the situation.

We then wandered around aimlessly a bit and had "a little lunch" at a cafe in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. As we finished our lunch we strolled out into the main part of the building which looked like the lobby of a grand hotel, but without reception desk or bellmen. My friend wanted to take a picture of the richly ornamented lobby, but didn't dare because a greater-than-life statue of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints - also known as the Mormon Church, kept watch over us, and many people in wedding attire moved about the lobby and the corridors. I spotted a dapper gentleman in a light gray suit and a name tag who was standing at the entrance to the hall as if ready to direct anyone who needed directing. I approached him intending to ask if it was OK to take a picture, but first I asked him what the function of this building is. That started a relationship that lasted for over an hour, got us a private guided tour of the building and tons of information ranging from the customs of the Mormons to the use of unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan.

In the early 1900s the building which is now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building used to be the Utah Hotel, a grand gathering place for the rich and famous in Salt Lake City and surroundings. It is now a place where Mormon Church members can have their wedding receptions (there were nine going on at the time we were there), and where Church banquets and meetings are held. The president of the Church used to live in a private suit upstairs. There are two restaurants in addition to the cafe where we ate and viewing areas on the 10th floor where one has a wonderful view of Salt Lake City and the surrounding valley.

The gentleman opened doors for us that are usually closed to the public. Everything is of the finest quality. The drinking fountains are golden, spotless, and work well! When the ceiling in one of the main dining rooms was refurbished, only a lady from Germany knew how to do it. No expense seems too great to demonstrate the power of the Church and to extol its virtues. It turned out that the gentleman we had stumbled upon was a Salt Lake City native, Church member of course, and ex-Navy-man who had worked for Lockheed Martin Corporation (just like me) after retiring from the Navy. That brought out the fact that he had been to Ramstein Air Base in Germany to train US Air Force personnel in the use of unmanned aircraft such as are used in Afghanistan and maybe elsewhere today. When I told him that I have some moral qualms about launching missiles from an aircraft without a pilot who can make last second decisions about whether to fire the missile or not, he assured me that the drones (as the unmanned aircraft are called) are as completely under the control of a pilot as a conventional jet aircraft, except that the pilot is not in the aircraft but thousands of miles away. He also stated that no strike is carried out without several levels of permissions that have to be received, including that of a legal expert. Well, if a member of the Mormon Church...

After visiting another edifice or two we hopped aboard the free shuttle for a ride back to the campground in a torrential downpour. The nice man driving the bus told us that they have had twice the amount of rain that usually falls in the entire month of June in just two weeks, but that they need it because the summers are hot and dry. He not only took us to the campground, he drove us right up to our RV so that we wouldn't get wet. "Hats off" to the nice people in Salt Lake City. So much for day 11.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Day 10 - 12 June 2009

I had the great idea to spend another night or two at an Air Force base - Hill AFB in Ogden, Utah, just a few miles north of Salt Lake City. Before departing the campground at Montpelier I tried repeatedly to call Hill AFB to make reservations - no luck. So we left the campground and drove into the town of Montpelier which used to be called Clover Creek, then Belmont, but was finally named Montpelier by the Mormon leader Brigham Young because it reminded him of a town in Vermont near where he was born. To me that name fits about as well as the name Montpelier fits the Vermont capital, that is, not at all.

Nevertheless, Montpelier, Idaho, is a nice little town. It is the place where the pioneers that traveled the Oregon and the California trails rested and refitted their wagons after coming over the Continental Divide. The travelers going to California split near here from those going to the Oregon Territory.

Right at the spot where they rested there now is an information center where we received about an hour long description of what the pioneers had to have for supplies and equipment. The description actually was a tour through reproductions of a gunsmith's shop and a general store where we received a detailed descriptions of the kinds of items that were necessary for the long journey. In addition, there was a reproduction of a camp as it was set up at night by the pioneers and a simulated ride in one of the wagons to get a feel for the twisting and bumping the freight or people in the wagons experienced. Very worthwhile!

My friend, with the infinite curiosity of a woman, discovered that a few miles (out of our way) north of Montpelier there lies the town of Soda Springs. The pioneers discovered that carbonated water came out of the ground there. Some years later the carbonated water was bottled and sold all over the region or country. However, in the 1920s prohibition supposedly took away a large part of the market for soda water (scotch and soda, etc.). Simultaneously, methods for artificially carbonating water were developed, leaving the town of Soda Springs "high and dry" so to speak. Then some townspeople wanted to get at the mineral water for a municipal pool and drilled a hole about 300 feet deep, thereby creating a man-made geyser because the water shot 70 feet into the air out of the hole. The water turned out not to be suitable for a swimming pool, but the geyser became a popular attraction for tourists. It "geysered" constantly and reliably so that it became competition for Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park. Consequently, someone (the government?) caused the town to cap the geyser so that it would not spew constantly. However, in order to leave the town one attractive feature (it has none otherwise) the geyser was put on a timer and now it goes off once a day, exactly - and predictably - at noon. I can see that the water is unusable for a swimming pool because the area around the geyser is reddish-brown, almost orange. Probably from the iron content.

After a little lunch and a nap near the geyser, in the camper, we left and passedfa town with hot springs at which my friend drooled for she hates to pass up an opportunity to get wet, especially if the water comes from a hot spring. However, I prevailed because I wanted to reach the Hill AFB campground before it was all filled up. As it turned out, when I finally managed to get hold of someone at the campground they were all filled up already. The nice lady gave me some rather vague directions to another campground.

To make a long story short, we got to Salt Lake City as planned, got lost as programmed by the vague directions, called a KOA campground for directions, backtracked to the campground because we were past it, and settled in for the evening. One more unusual aspect: The KOA hospitality lady who escorted us to our campsite was extremely helpful in giving us information about Salt Lake City, the free shuttle service provide by the Mormon Church, signed us up to see the Tabernacle Choir perform, and told us about the guy in one of the RV slots who sells barbequed spareribs and other items which he barbeques there on the spot. We partook of some of his excellent wares. Day ten ended with a full stomach.