Tuesday, April 29, 2014

50 States - Utah

Even though we have been to all 50 states, that doesn't mean we've stopped traveling. One case in point is Utah. We first went through there in 2006 on our cross country trip where we spent one night in Salt Lake City and did the whole Church Of Latter Day Saints tour. Salt Lake City is one of the cleanest places I've ever been. Even the bums have a certain fresh-faced glow to them. And the LDS tour guides are preternaturally perky.


And the salt flat are the flatest place I've ever been and I used to drive across Florida once a month.


On a later tour of the Southwest, we went from Monument Valley up to Mexican Hat just touch base on the each of the four corners (Four Corners itself was closed but that is another story).


But we still felt we hadn't gotten the full Utah experience so this year's Spring trip was to hit all five of the national parks in Utah. Of the five, Zion was the most gorgeous and lush. Full of steep canyons and thick woods, it was a hiking paradise. The compact limited access park had a well run shuttle service and a simple but gorgeous lodge.


From there it was a fantastically scenic drive to Bryce Canyon. Unlike Zion which is at the bottom of the canyon, Bryce is usually viewed from the top. To see the inside of the canyon, we took one of the tourist mule rides down to the pine tree floor and then back up. Far easier than hiking it but I ended up sore anyways.


Going through Capitol Reef was a last minute audible and allowed us to check of perhaps the least known of the five Utah parks. Put it still had stunning views and marked the transition from semi-arid to deep desert.


Arches National Park in Moab is a big draw for the eponymous arches and they are impressive, both day and night. I particularly fell in love with Skyline Arch, perhaps one of the more under-rated ones.


Less than an hour from Arches is Canyonlands, a far more rugged park which literally does not have running water. We went to the Islands In The Sky section just because it was closest to Moab and were amazed by the views. Canyonlands also has its own arch, Mesa Arch which was the match of any of its cousins down the road.


Utah just has amazing scenery nearly everywhere you look.

Monday, April 14, 2014

50 States - Idaho

It was about this time last year that we visited the penultimate of our 50 states, Idaho. Idaho had lingered long on the list because it's hard to get to and there is not much to see if you are not a hardcore skier. But it turns out there is more to Idaho than meets the eye. Boise in particular is a delightful college town, home to the Boise State Broncos and their signature blue field.


As the capitol of the state, it has the requisite huge capitol building complete with a replica Liberty Bell.


Downtown Boise is rather quaint with old buildings, one of which houses a very prominent drag bar.


Just outside of Boise the Snake River, which seems to snake through most of the state, is home to grand overlooks and raptors.


But most of Idaho is rural at best. One area, the Craters of the Moon National Monument, is so foreboding as to be frightening.



Our last stop in Idaho was at Idaho Falls where a childhood friend of mine has been living for over thirty years.


The town of Idaho Falls had the requisite Mormon Temple as well as a bar that Harrison Ford hangs out in when he is in the area.


Idaho has charm and wonderful scenery but nothing can change how incredibly remote it is.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

50 States - California - Los Angeles

When people think of California, they usually think of Los Angeles. This seems natural since the movie industry is based there and its images such as the Mann Chinese Theater and the Hollywood sign.


LA also has beautiful beaches and the funky side show that is Venice Beach about any time of day.


Even the streets are famous. On Rodeo Drive there is the Beverley Wilshire where Pretty Woman took place and the Whiskey on Sunset Strip where about everything has happened.


I can see why people love LA.

Update: I haven't been back to LA since that trip in 2003 but I've been to lots of other places in California since then. See my comment below for links ot other photos.

50 States - California - Bay Area

California has been described to me by a Californian as a really great country club with pretty steep initiation dues. Of the 50 states, California has the most variety to offer. Nowhere does this seem truer than in central California where there are beaches, mountains, and culture all withing easy purview. Nothing is more emblematic of the wealth of the west coast than San Simeon, the home of Randolph Hearst and the inspiration for Citizen Kane:


Between there and San Francisco, there is amazing natural beauty including elephant seals lolling on the beach and the zen-like beauty of the Lone Cyprus along the Seventeen Mile Drive in Monterey to the pristine vistas of Pebble Beach.


This all eventually leads to San Francisco with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and the chilling isolation of Alcatraz.


From Alacatraz you can see the great skyline of San Francisco itself. And San Francisco itself has the elegance of the Palace of Arts.


All the photos in this post and the accompanying Flickr set where scanned in from our trip in 2002 but I have been back to the San Francisco Bay area many times since and there is always something new to see or explore.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

BooksFirst- March 2014

Books Bought

You Can Date Boys When You're Forty by Dave Barry
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas by John Scalzi
The Hammer of Witches by Shana Miwalski

Books Read

You Can Date Boys When You're Forty by Dave Barry
The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English by Bill Walsh
Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas by John Scalzi


Last year Dave Barry came through DC promoting his first novel in a long time Insane City which I kind of faint-praised in my review. So I was a bit reluctant to shell out hard cash when he came through DC again this year pushing his latest collection of essays You Can Date Boys When You Are Forty. Boy, was I wrong. This book was literally laugh out loud funny. I would just chuckle constantly as I read it. In addition to the titular essay about the travails or raising a teenaged daughter, he talks about growing old and life in general.

I'm really not sure what makes him so funny but a lot of it is his dead pan observations of actual life. He just manages to get straight to the heart of any topic in a way that is instantly recognizable.

Bill Walsh is a professional editor at the Washington Post who has a monthly online chat where he regularly refers to his books. Liking the chat, I went and bought his best reviewed book, The Elephants of Style. The allusion to the Strunk and White classic is deliberate and indicative of his irreverent style.

Unfortunately, when all is said and done, it's still a book about nitpicky grammar debates. Walsh leans towards the descriptivist camp rather than prescriptionist (neither word which passes muster with spell-check) which is the way I lean as well. On most topics, he lays out what the dispute is, what the various sides assert and then gives the side he comes down on.His advice is always sound and logical but it's still arbitrary.

At the end of the book he just outright starts padding. There is a certain random cotton candyesqueness to his musings. It's a fun read but not solid enough to serve as a reference book.

In the past couple of decades, two styles of books have been winning Hugos, heavy tomes and light-hearted romps. Redshirts is definitely the latter. Borrowing heavily from the tropes of television science fiction, the novel is about a young ensign on a military style exploratory space ship NOT named the Enterprise who becomes concerned about the high casualty rates for landing parties. It seems anyone other than the headstrong captain, the stoic science officer or the folksy medical doctor is doomed. And while not always meeting a fatal end, the eastern European accented navigation officer always seems a little too close to the center of the action.

At this point, it could have become farce along the lines of Galaxy Quest, but instead it becomes very intriguing metafiction. And while there is a little patchouli whiff of dorm room existentialism in the philosophy, it does become an interesting treatise on the nature of reality and fiction. It has a little of the self-awareness of Jasper Fforde novels but not quite as much cutesy cloyingness. It is a slight breezy read, but well worth the effort.