“highest of the high”

We picked up Aaron, Christine and our 4-year-old granddaughter, Aria in Denver on Sunday. They had flown in from Vermont the day before to join us and Aaron’s sister, Jessica and brother, Matthew in Steamboat Springs for 4 nights. We had dinner Sunday night in Denver with two of our grandchildren, Marissa and Sierra and their families. Marissa and Mandon live in Denver and Sierra with husband Micheal and our great-grandson, Maverick had driven down from North Dakota to join us in Steamboat and were staying the night in Denver also. The photo is all of us having dinner at Marissa and Mandon ‘s favorite Mexican restaurant.

We spent the night in Loveland and Monday morning got a really good breakfast at the Loveland Breakfast Club. Darlene and I shared a big skillet of eggs, ham, tomatoes and onions piled on some good hash browns, and then topped with cheese and pork green chile. After breakfast we headed west though Estes Park and then up to Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road toward Steamboat. Trail Ridge Road is 48 miles long, part of Highway 34, and traverses the Park east and west connecting the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake. The road crosses the continental divide at an elevation of over 11,000 feet. It is a spectacular drive with 11 miles above timberline and views of peaks of over 12,000 ft in every direction. It is like driving along on top of the world.

As we left Estes Park and entered the National Park we told Aria to look for Bighorn Sheep and elk, and also that we would be driving up higher and higher to cross the Continental Divide. She started talking about the drive to the top and called it driving to “the highest of the high”. We stopped at the very interesting Park entrance visitor center. Aria loves animals and points out every dog, horse and cow as we drive along. She’s standing by a statue of a mule deer and fawn at the visitor’s center.

As the continental divide is reached there is a big parking lot and another visitor center. There is also a paved trail which rises an additional 800 elevation feet to a mountain top of 12,005 feet with big views in all directions. We walked the trail to the top as a couple of clouds rained and hailed a little on us. Here is a photo of Aaron, Christine and Aria taken at the top.

As one travels the Rocky Mountains of Colorado from Trinidad north through Denver to Ft Collins and west to Rangely and all the way southwest to Cortez the landscape wows over and over. Describing it becomes difficult without being trite and cliché. So, I won’t attempt words to describe Rocky Mountain National Park – but if you get a chance don’t miss it. Aria’s concept which formed in her mind of “the highest of the high” is close to saying all that can be said.

With us on this visit to Steamboat Springs were all 3 of our children, 4 of our grandchildren and both great-grandchildren along with their husbands and wives. Those husbands and wives are labeled in-laws in some circles, but in our family, they fit in so well we can’t distinguish any difference from them being just family. I’ve been looking forward to the trip since we got it planned over the winter. We are separated by so many miles and so gatherings are beyond special. Over the years we’ve gathered in small and big groups in places where families lived like Pagosa Springs and Grand Junction in Colorado and Easley, South Carolina and also in vacation spots like Daytona Beach, Branson, Flagstaff and Park City. This gathering in Steamboat Springs is turning out to be maybe the most special of all of them for me. Maybe it’s because of the two new members that are great-grandchildren. Darlene and I used to be the only grandfather and grandmother. Now our family has grandfathers and grandmothers everywhere you look. Whatever the reason I’m feeling especially fortunate right now. The Psalmist was close to speaking my feelings:

“But he lifted the needy out of their affliction

and increased their families like flocks.” Psalm 107:41 (NIV)

Maybe afflicted wasn’t particularly descriptive of the situation as Darlene and I married nearly 50 years ago, yet this family of mine that has grown over the years and is still growing meets a need and provides fulfillment like nothing else is be able to do. God continues to increase our numbers with marriages and births. We’re 20 strong now in this family of 4 generations. May God be with us and keep us in his care.

Maverick Mills – Williston’s newest native son

I drove up to Williston, ND this past week to see my new great-grandson, Maverick and granddaughter, Sierra and her husband, Micheal. Darlene had flown to Williston earlier to be with Sierra for the birth. I stayed for 3 nights and then Darlene and I drove home arriving back in Belen last night. The visit was a joy and so were the drives up and back. We live in a wonderfully beautiful world – the prairie grasslands in eastern Wyoming and Montana are green this July – their vastness seen as the highway hills are topped driving along seem to go on forever – like looking out on the ocean from a coastal shore. The farmers were cutting and baling hay on the entire route from Cheyenne, WY northward. There were cattle ranging on many of the hills and oil well pumps and equipment here and there sharing the grasslands with the cattle. It is a long drive from Belen, NM -1,150 miles – but I’ve always loved the driving or riding the open road. I’ve been all over western Wyoming and Montana over the years, but this was the first time seeing the eastern part of those states north of Cheyenne and it was my first visit to North Dakota.

Williston, ND sits in the northwest corner of North Dakota 60 miles south of the Canadian border near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. The city was established in the late 1800s with an economy based in agriculture until recent years. The population of the city in 1960 was about 12,000 and in 2010 was just under 15,000 – the population had peaked in 2008 during several years of oil boom, then a bust when oil prices plummeted – and the population declined significantly for the 2010 census, but in the boom again years since then population has grown to approach 30,000. The current boom is the result of resumption of oil drilling, fracking and production on the geological Bakken Formation which by 2012 was said to be the largest oil producing area in the United States including Alaska. Recoverable oil reserve estimates in the formation vary widely but have been estimated as high as 100 billion barrels.

Here is a photo of Williston overlooking town from near Sierra’s apartment. If you look closely you can see the Missouri River at the base of the far-off river bluffs.

Sierra’s apartment building:

All of that information about Williston would be fairly boring to me except our grand-daughter Sierra moved to there a year ago with husband Micheal. Micheal works for Halliburton in their oil well fracking operation in the area. Sierra gave birth to our great-grandson, Maverick Mills, on July 1st. Darlene flew to Williston at the end of June and was with Sierra for the birth. Our daughter, Jessica (Sierra’s mom), and granddaughter, Marissa (Sierra’s sister), drove up to Williston and arrived the day before the birth. I want to give Micheal a lot of credit for putting up with a grandmother in-law, mother in-law, sister in-law plus a wife during 11 hours of labor before the birth.

I’m not smart enough to write down words which can express what a great-grandfather feels as he holds his grandchild during those first weeks after birth. I still remember 22 years ago when I held Sierra that first morning she was born. She was our first grandchild, and I remember sitting there at the foot of Jessica’s hospital bed filled with joy and wonder and holding back emotions that were wanting to spill out of me. The feelings are the same as I held Maverick each time those 3 days I was there with them this week. The feelings are a little different than those felt 40+ years ago when Jessica and her brothers were born. There is the same joy and the same wonder, but the years add a dimension that feels not only the moment, but additionally feels a hope for them conditioned by living a lot of years. Those years have seen the joys and heartaches, the challenges bringing successes and some failures, and those years have seen the relentlessness of life that keeps coming to us day after day – life that we live out in the good days, the bad days and all those other days that get lost in our fading memories. Maybe I’ll live long enough to tell Maverick someday to just keep after it day by day – no matter what a day might bring – keep doing good and being good – persevere because of trust in a God that has promised to make all things right one day. I wrote a blog post last fall listing a lot of hopes that I felt for our first great-grandchild, Maddie. Those hopes are the same for Maverick. Sierra and Micheal show their love for each other in lots of ways that are evident as you spend time with them. I’ve seen it for the several years they’ve been together. I watched them show that same love to Maverick those 3 days with them, and I’m still smiling thinking about it.

Maverick was born into a word already filled with everything he could need to begin living a happy life. There is safety and peace for him – a hospital that took good care of him and his mom during birth – a dwelling warm in the winter and cooled in the summer – a couple of good vehicles to take him everywhere he needs or wants to go – there were friends and family of his mom and dad who out of love gave him diapers and supplies and clothes and cars seats and swings and strollers and cribs – with work for his dad which keeps paying the bills – with a nation committed to protecting him and his freedom – with a mom and dad who love each other and him – with a couple of great-grandparents who would go 1,150 miles just to see him, lol. So many babies are born into this world without some or lots of those things. We ask why some like Maverick are so blessed and some not at all? – we’re probably not very good at answering that question. We are tempted to get pretty self-righteous about our answers sometimes. We talk about the hard work of several generations – about the opportunities from living in a free and prosperous nation – about a God who blessed us and not others for some reason. We can become so prideful about our family’s accomplishments and good fortune that we get jaded to the hardship and suffering all around us in a world that has become so very small that we see the suffering continually. We get tempted to believe that if those who suffer in hardship were like us and acted like us their hardships would disappear. We blame those who suffer for their suffering and justify turning aside. We can become hardened against being merciful and benevolent – we can lose having a heart for those not blessed like us.

I worship a God who I believe to be not only just, but also merciful – a God who intends to use us to display his mercy. I hope Maverick some day will choose faith in that same God – I also pray that in his faith he will heed the words of Micah written long ago who told Israel that though they worshipped it was vain and rejected by their God. It was worship, that though offered in faith, was rejected because they had lost their commitment to justice and in their prosperity had lost their heart for the downtrodden and those suffering around them. Micah spoke God’s words to them like this: Micah 6:8 (NIV)

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.”

 

May God bless you all your days baby Maverick – with the plenty that your family has known, but also and more importantly with a heart for a lifetime that is humble, just and merciful.

Sedona – 2018

We drove over to Sedona, AZ 5/21/2018 and spent 4 nights there.

One of the days there we drove the 100 miles or so to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for a revisit of that very special National Park. Photos from the visit were recorded in a separate blog post. Our very good friends, Phil & Rene Thompson drove up from Phoenix where they live and spent 2 nights with us in Sedona. We’ve visited Sedona a dozen times in the last 20 years. It is one of our favorite places. It is a metaphysical hub for those of that particular crowd – there are lots of shops in town to cater to their interests and everywhere you go you’ll hear and read of vortexes and the like. Their understanding of the forces at work in our universe is quite different from mine, but they are good people and Sedona is a welcome place for people from around the world of all spiritual and cultural viewpoints.

The scenery from the drive down twisty Oak Creek Canyon from Flagstaff to the red rock formations surrounding the town is incredible.

Coffee Pot Rock towers behind and over Darlene.

One of the places we visit each trip is Chapel on the Rock. The structure was completed in 1956 on National Forest land after being issued a special use permit to the Chapel’s creator. The Chapel was gifted to the Catholic Church after construction but is not used by them for regular worship services. Access is granted freely to the general public during daylight hours. It draws lots of tourists – there are spectacular red rock formation pictures to take in every direction from the elevated site – the simple architecture as it sits on the huge rock amazes. You can see that the base of the cross was designed to extend down into the natural relief of the rock which appears as 2 rocks from the front. I always sit inside for a few minutes on one of the bench pews. There is a feeling of peace I get while sitting there which cannot be described well. I don’t necessarily ascribe the feeling to any external source, but it is very real to me. It is unusual, but the outside courtyard with the views can have 100 people milling around taking pictures, but only some enter the always opened doors to the darkened interior, and even fewer will sit down on a pew for a few minutes. I personally am not drawn to Catholicism in any way, but this is a place of peace and comfort that always draws me for a revisit each time we’re in town.

We talked late into the evening each of the nights Phil & Rene were with us. They are a little younger than we are, but we have children and grandchildren of similar ages – we both are active members of Church of Christ congregations – Phil was minister of a congregation in Grand Junction, CO we attended in the 1980s. Some of the time is always spent discussing Bible passages which we enjoy hashing out, though not always agreeing with each other’s understanding of them. It is a blessing to have long-time special friends to share this life with.

Our last day in town Darlene and I spent a lot of time hiking and driving around enjoying the scenery and taking a few photos. We hiked the Teacup Trail at the north edge of town during the morning hours. It has great views of Coffee Pot Rock the entire length and ends with a panoramic overlook view of the Soldier’s Pass area. There are lots of trails to spend time on in the area for those who enjoy hiking.

There is so much scenery to see in the West that is breathtaking. The scenery is diverse even over short distances – changing from alpine to low desert within a couple hundred miles in some places. We feel so fortunate that over the years we’ve been able by auto and motorcycle to see a lot of it. Time demands that some of the places be a one-time drive-through – others, like Sedona keep calling for us to return. If was a fun trip – maybe circumstances will allow a return one day – we hope so.

Grand Canyon – 2018

Below is a photo of a plaque hung on an overhanging roof pillar just outside of the Hermit’s Rest gift shop and snack bar. It says a lot about the feelings that fill me every visit to the Grand Canyon. Although you won’t likely hear much in the way of a song vocally from me standing at the edge of an overlook at the Grand Canyon, the heart can’t help but react in praise to a part of creation that so fills it with awe.

The horizon in these photos taken from the south rim of the canyon is the north rim which is 10 miles or so away. There are places the canyon exceeds 1 mile deep. If you look closely you can see the Colorado River far below in the photo above.

It’s been 24 years since I visited the Grand Canyon for the first time. There have been numerous return visits since then. It might be surprising, but the Canyon inspires awe more with each visit. We arrived at the Park about 7:00 AM after the drive from Sedona and a quick stop for an Egg McMuffin at McDonalds. We found a parking space in the El Tovar Lodge lot and walked down to the beginning of the Hermits Loop shuttle route. The shuttle stops at 9 overlooks in its 7 mile ride up Hermits Road to Hermits Rest. It gives views of the west end of the canyon in the Park and is my favorite way of seeing the Canyon at the South Rim.

We walked the 7/10 of a mile trail rather than ride the bus between the Powell and Hopi overlook stops on the Hermit’s Loop shuttle route. As we walked we came up on a man with a serious looking camera standing at the edge of the rim who was taking picture after picture rotating the big wide-angle lens between each one. He had a tripod strapped on his back and a bag with camera accessories over his shoulder. We walked by, and then stopped 30 yards up the trail where I was taking some pictures. He stopped as he came up the trail and said in a reverent and kind of hushed tone, “there’s shadows happening down there right now, aren’t there?” I just replied in a probably befuddled sounding way, “yes, there are”. Darlene laughed at me as he walked on up the trail away from us knowing I didn’t have the faintest idea what he was talking about.

The Park at the South Rim sits at an elevation of about 7,000 ft. The vegetation is a mixture of Pinyon Pine, Cedar and Juniper with some Yuccas thrown in here and there – it’s beautiful. Speaking of Yuccas, have you ever seen a stalk this tall?

I’m already thinking about a return visit for 2019.

Dianthus

These Dianthus are being show-offs right now. They’re liking the Spring warmth and the pampering we give them.

The Dianthus sit out on our back patio in 3 pots – planted a year ago in the pots from 6-pack nursery stock purchased from Lowes. Dianthus are a perennial here on the high desert. They retain some of their grayish-green leaves all winter, and even shoot out an occasional bloom stalk in the winter when there are a few days of warmth in a row. The blooms freeze and die during the cold at night – but the plants are relentless knowing Spring will arrive and blooms will survive one day soon. As the freezing nights ended with the coming of Spring the leaves thickened and lengthened, and the one-year old plants shot out all these bloom stalks several weeks ago – the blooms opened this last week.

The beauty of the flowers and other plants make the patio an inviting place. I get drawn there from the work on the computer screen more often than I should. I suppose the attraction to beauty is the way of things. We react to people in the same way. We enjoy our time and seek to be around those whose hearts are beautiful.

There is a truth to understand about self in watching the Dianthus green and bloom as Spring arrives. Beauty brings a joy and a desire to participate in the good which comes with it. It makes me think of so many Bible passages which encourage and teach about being beautiful. The passages found in places like Galatians 5 and II Peter 1 and I Corinthians 13 talk about love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, perseverance, brotherly affection, patience, refusing envy, humility, slow in being angry, finding joy in truth, trusting, protecting, and being filled with hope. Becoming beautiful like these Dianthus is a noble pursuit – worthy of thought, meditation and effort – a way of making not only a back patio, but also the neighborhood, and maybe even the world a better and more inviting place.

A Weekend in Moab – with Maddie and a bunch of neat cars

For most of the last 24 years you would have been able to find Darlene and I on the last weekend in April in Moab, UT with an assortment of friends and family enjoying car show weekend there. This year we had 13 family members with us including little Maddie – our first great grandchild – her mom, dad, brother and an assortment of her great aunts and uncles and 2nd cousins.

Maddie above and mom and dad, Ashley and Matt, below.

The weekend draws upward of 700 muscle cars, hot rods and vintage autos from Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Saturday morning the cars line up in long rows in City Park and the public is invited to the show with free admission for all. It’s an energy packed weekend with Main Street cruise nights both Friday and Saturday – Main Street sidewalks lined for blocks with car enthusiasts in camp chairs watching the show – the motels booked for months in advance – restaurants jammed – and the town overflowing with smiling car lovers.

The weekend, besides being about getting to see Maddie, is all about the cars.

A weekend with children, grand children and great grandchildren is special for us. Sierra, pregnant with our 2nd great grandchild, and Micheal came all the way from North Dakota; Marissa and Mandon from Denver: Jessica, Joe and Noah from Pagosa Springs; Ashley, Matt, Austin and Maddie from Grand Junction.

You never know what you might see lined up in the rows of cars. Both the cars and their owners are a diverse group – lots of old guys like me – but both the owners and the crowd in town are all ages – drawn together by a common love for cars and car people.

Joe pays a lot of attention to the rat rods.

We booked a room for next year at the Virginian – am already looking forward to next year. We’ll be thinking about a breakfast of smothered Sweetwater Potatoes at the Moab Diner, a dinner of mushroom or green chile stuffed ravioli at Pasta Jays, stoplight burn-outs at the cruise nights, the gathering of a bunch of family, and a packed full town of smiling, friendly car lovers.

Dad to be, Micheal, getting some practice. Sierra is due early July.

 

It’s a boy!

We drove up to Pagosa Springs the last weekend in February for a gender reveal party for our oldest granddaughter, Sierra and husband, Micheal. They had driven down from North Dakota – only our daughter, Jessica and Micheal’s mom had been told by Sierra’s doctor whether it was a boy or girl. I was sure it was a girl and had been pretty vocal about it.

You can see from the blue smoke I was very wrong – grandpas aren’t as smart as they think they are – lol. It was a great party. Jessica and Michael’s mom and Sierra worked really hard planning it all out, making food, and decorating. There were 25 or 30 at the party – family and a few friends. We all had a great time.

The baby boy, already named Maverick, is due in July. It will be our second great-grandchild. Our second oldest grandchild, Ashley gave us a little girl named Madison (Maddie) in October. Along with our eight grandchildren ages 4 to 21 we are very blessed.

There isn’t anything I enjoy more than spending time with family. We live a few hour’s drive away from everyone except Aaron and family in Vermont, but trips are made often. We get to see them grow and change – we know the difficulties they face – the failures and successes. We try to be good examples, especially spiritually but also culturally. They will all be their own person – I see my independent and stubborn streak at least a little bit in all of them. I have great hope for all of them and confidence to match. Each of our children have great hearts – our grandchildren seem to have chosen to follow that lead. These great-grandchildren will have a host of good examples in family to watch and learn from. We live in a time when many families seem to get torn apart – my prayers and efforts will always be to encourage our cleaving to each other. There is great strength to be found in family that share a common love for each other.