Flagstaff – A December Visit

We had a few timeshare points left to use for 2018 – enough to get a nice 1-bedroom unit for 3 nights in Flagstaff, AZ. We’ve been visiting Flagstaff since the early 1990s. It’s a small town, but one with a lot of energy – it’s the home of Northern Arizona University and draws a lot of tourists because of its proximity to the Grand Canyon and Sedona. We return here again and again and always have a good time. It sits at 7,000 ft. elevation with the San Francisco Peaks looming over town and is located in a forest of Ponderosa Pines near the Mogollon Rim. It is not at all the normal Arizona desert that you think of – we arrived this visit to a fresh layer of snow on the ground from a storm that went through over the weekend.

We got up early Tuesday morning and had breakfast just up the street from the timeshare at the Toasted Owl. Then we headed for Sedona – down the steep, twisty, famous Oak Creek Canyon to a Jeep trail I had picked out. Sedona is red rock country and in the descent of 2,500 feet from Flagstaff the terrain turns from Ponderosa forest to Pinyon Pine, Cedars and brush. It was 15 degrees warmer in Sedona and none of the snow from the storm remained on the ground.

We’ve had the Jeep Renegade for a couple months. It’s a tiny thing with a 4-cylinder engine. It does have a sophisticated Jeep 4-wheel drive system with a low range and even a hill descent function. I know it is built in Italy which is blasphemy for a Jeep, and it is not a Wrangler, and doesn’t have a lift kit, and it doesn’t articulate much. But we have had it on twisty mountain roads in snow storms with slick roads twice already and selecting 4 wheel-drive on the fly has made it rock steady. So, I wanted a chance to put it in 4-wheel low and crawl over some rocks and see how it did. I had chosen a trail just outside of Sedona to the Van Deren cabin ruins. It’s a trail of 3 miles, rocky from beginning to end. Most of the trail is low 4-wheel drive and a slow go. It doesn’t require big clearance or areas where wheel articulation is necessary, but the last ¼ mile is particularly steep and required accurate wheel placement on rocks in several places. The picture above is in a dry creek bed with some steps just before the final difficult section. If you look close you can see Darlene behind the steering wheel. I was out taking pictures and guiding her for wheel placement to ease up that little rock ledge. The skid plates scraped a couple of places on the trail, but never hung up. We had a good time and the Jeep was just great. It will get us through snow storms and up trails we haven’t been able to negotiate since trading away the Jeep Commander when we moved to South Carolina.

The Van Deren cabin shown above was built in 1924 – not sure when it was abandoned. We saw a coyote crossing the dry creek bed. Between the cabin and where the Jeep was parked a couple of Javelina crossed just ahead of us. Look closely in the center of the picture below and you can see one of them.

Javelina look like pigs but are not in the pig family. They are about 4 feet long and weigh 50 to 75 pounds. They are not related to the razorbacks which are plentiful in parts of the Southeast. We see them occasionally when in and around Sedona.

We decided to go back to Flagstaff up Snebly Hill Road rather than back up Oak Creek Canyon. It was another slow go often in 4 wheel low – a rocky dirt road 17 miles long – steep in places – it tops the Mogollon Rim after 11 miles and then through the forest connects to I-17 which is the freeway from Flagstaff to Phoenix. It has many spectacular views looking back down on the red rocks of Sedona.

Over the last 30 years we’ve been fortunate to take several short trips each year throughout the West and were also able to see a lot of the East while living in South Carolina. There is so much to see and enjoy within just a day or two of driving. This trip was typical – a few days away – some sightseeing – a break from the routine – some good food in new restaurants. Politicians talk about good times and bad times – ½ of them are always telling us times are good and the other ½ want us to believe we need change because times are bad. What we experience over my lifetime is that nothing much changes regardless of the agenda of those in political power. Life goes on for most regular people in America, and when we think about it, we have been incredibly blessed with mostly good times for all of my lifetime. These little trips we take full of beautiful scenery, and with family sometimes, and with small adventures on days like today prove that we are fortunate to live in this great country. We should vote and care about and discuss the issues some and work hard to do our part, but the nastiness and vitriol doesn’t help. A drive or a walk on a red rock trail – the grandeur of creation – getting a picture of a javelina irritated that his walk was interrupted – all these things give a perspective that allows living with a smile, with contentment and with hope.

We finished the day sharing a great Italian sandwich with some spinach dip and a gooey, ice creamy, fresh baked, hot, macadamia nut/chocolate cookie. Maybe things are too good – might have to watch what I eat for a few days when we get home to get a couple pounds back off.

 

Maddie’s First Birthday

It was a quick trip to Grand Junction several weeks ago – left at 2:00 PM on Friday and spent the night in Durango – then up early Saturday morning, arriving at Matthew’s in Grand Junction a little before noon. Maddie’s birthday party started at 2:00. Then we were up early Sunday morning and drove back to Belen. I’m so glad we went. Maddie is just starting to try to take steps. She has those big bright eyes and the red hair from her mom. There is so much to take in to the mind watching a one-year old. She has grown and changed so much since birth – Maddie seems so healthy and it is a delight to just watch her take in and respond to a barrage of things going on all around her. It was a joy being there that Saturday afternoon.

Matthew had gotten up at 4:00 AM and put 2 pork butts in his Traeger Grill to slow cook – taking them out just before the party goers arrived. He let me help pull and shred the pork for sandwiches – had a little trouble keeping from eating too much of the bark that was so good. It was a good size group of people who came to be with Maddie on this first birthday – I didn’t count but am sure there were 20 or more. It was a happy afternoon – everyone in good spirits.

One-year old’s often struggle with their 1st birthday party. Lots of people and noise and carrying on wear them out and crankiness sets in. Maddie held up to it all so well. There was a huge stack of presents – she sat with her mom and helped open them – and was happy the whole time – her mom is strong – I think Maddie takes after her in that.

We had to have the 1st birthday cake ritual of course – poor kid – lol.

Maddie won’t remember much about her 1st birthday. Her great-grandfather will, though – the images are stuck in my head – along with memories of those first years of our eight grandchildren and there are still memories there of the first years of our own children also. God inserts hope into our minds as we watch these little ones – in a world where horror stories and angry tweets get so much attention a 1-year-old birthday party of a great-grandchild is a welcome diversion. Somewhere along the way as 70 years go by inside a head full of memories you come to realize that it is these simple memories of the children that are the best memories of all.

White Sands National Monument

I woke up Friday morning in the mood for a road trip of some kind. White Sands National Monument is a part of New Mexico we had not seen yet. So, after working a little in the morning we headed south about 1:00 PM for White Sands, a distance of 180 miles. It just happened that the Buckhorn Tavern was on the way about 50 miles south of us, so we stopped in for a green chile cheeseburger – they are world famous at the Buckhorn and the one we shared was great. We reached Alamogordo about 5:00 PM – checked into a cheap motel – then headed 15 miles west of there to the Monument. I was hoping for some pictures at sunset.

White Sands is a 275 square mile area in southern New Mexico formed from erosion of a huge gypsum deposit. Over the last several thousand years the soil has eroded away and the gypsum flaked from the affects of the winds forming gypsum sand which blows around in dunes much like we think of the sand in the Sahara desert. Much of the area is just pure white, smooth, gypsum flakes of sand blown into dunes with some sparse vegetation interspersed in-between. Other parts have more significant vegetation growing on dunes which are held more permanently in place by the vegetation.

We hiked a while and took some pictures until sunset on Friday evening, walking a little further than needed back to the parking lot because we were lost among the sand dunes – lol. The cell phone can normally find the car, but there’s no cell service in this little section of the world.

It’s a beautiful place at sunset – maybe a little eerie – like on a far-off planet somewhere. Saturday morning, we were up early – at the Monument gates when they opened hoping to get some sunrise shots. We stopped at a spot with some more vegetation on the dunes for the morning walk. There is scrub brush, yucca and cactus somehow surviving in the gypsum sand.

The geology of the high desert presents new things to see whatever direction we want to take. There are many adventures to be taken. There are so many National Parks and Monuments preserved for us in the West. We’ve visited many of them over the years. I happily pay taxes to man them with Rangers and maintain the roads and administer rules that keep them nice for me, my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Hopefully those grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to wake up on a Friday morning 40 years from now with an itch for a road trip and be able to head to White Sands and walk around on dunes that have been freely blowing in the wind all those in-between years. God blessed us with an incredible earth. Genesis tells us that God took Adam and placed him in the Garden to work it and take care of it. May we treat this incredible earth we have been given with great respect. It is strong and resilient but not beyond being damaged if in disregard we only take and do not give back. May we heed the instructions given to Adam long ago – work it and take care of it.

 

Red Mountain Pass

Our granddaughter Ashley put on a 1-year old birthday party for our first great-grandchild, Maddie, two weekends ago. We were really busy with working on tax return extensions and had just taken a week off to travel to Steamboat Springs a couple of weeks earlier – but, how can you miss the first birthday party of your oldest great-grandchild. I worked Friday morning and early afternoon then we got in the Jeep and drove to Durango to spend the night. We got up early the next morning and were at the Durango Diner to open them at 6:30 Saturday morning. You can’t be near Durango in the morning and miss having a green chile omelet at the Durango Diner. We headed north after breakfast over the passes on Highway 550. There are 3 passes each over 10,000 feet on Highway 550 between Durango and Ouray, CO. It is a magnificent drive that we have made many, many times over the years. I always look forward to it and never tire of the windy road and incredible views. The Aspen leaves had mostly dropped up higher on the mountains, but closer down at the road some golden leaves remained. We drove over Coal Bank and Molas and Red Mountain passes with only light traffic which the Jeep took care of handily. Just over the top of Red Mountain we pulled off the highway and drove down a little trail to a grove of Aspens with views of Red Mountain.

In years past the side of Red Mountain was the site of Yankee Boy Mine, a good sized silver mining operation in the first half of the twentieth century. You can still drive dirt roads up on the side where several weathered mining buildings remain. In the middle of the picture you can see mill tailings that remain from the operations. If you’ve never seen Red Mountain you owe it to yourself to drive over the pass someday. It’s an experience with the views that will remain in your head for a lifetime.

Steamboat

Steamboat Springs is a town in North Central Colorado known primarily as one of Colorado’s prime ski resorts. Historically the town dates to the year 1900 established as a community with its roots in cattle ranching. It sits at an elevation of 6,700 feet with the Yampa River running through downtown. Commercially the town is divided with the historic downtown remaining and flourishing, and also a commercial area with the ski resort of Mt Werner at its center just several miles to the south. Below is a photo taken in the middle of the historic downtown which is 12 or so blocks long – it is full of shops and restaurants catering to visitors.

A photo taken from downtown Steamboat looking across the river at the historic Howelsen Hill which is the oldest operating ski area in North America – operating since 1915 – named after Carl Howelsen, a Norwegian immigrant who established it. At the right of the photo is the famous historic ski jump area which has been the training ground for many American Olympians in that sport. The Mount Werner ski area sits on the other side of the river and to the east and is the primary ski area for wintertime ski visitors.

The photo below was taken at Fish Creek Falls near Steamboat of our family gathered there during the week of September 17, 2018. From left to right is Aria, Christine, Aaron, Dave, Darlene, Sierra, Maverick, Joe, Jessica, Noah, Ashley, Matt and Maddie. Maddie is in a backpack at the right strapped to Matt – you can’t see her but she is there for sure. The only missing family is Micheal who is taking the photo and our son Matthew who had to leave earlier that morning.

Below a photo of grand daughter Ashley, great-granddaughter Maddie and father Matt taken on our walk down to the base of Fish Creek Falls. Ashley is our second oldest grandchild and Maddie is about to turn one year old. I don’t really know how to describe the feelings watching these great-grandchildren and remembering back not so long ago holding their mothers in my arms when they were born, and watching them grow up as toddlers and children.

Below a photo of Maverick – 2 ½ months old along with his mother, Sierra – our granddaughter and a proud, happy great-grandfather. Sierra is our oldest grandchild – I remember well holding her the very morning she was born just over 22 years ago.

We spent 4 nights in Steamboat at the Wyndham timeshare resort. There were 15 of us total sharing a 3 bedroom, a 2 bedroom and a 1 bedroom unit all located next to each other. We had good meals together at various local restaurants and enjoyed a day of golf and the visit to Fish Creek Falls and other things, but the most enjoyable part of the 4 days for me were the evenings that we just spent together laughing and talking and spending time that we don’t get often because we live so far apart.

James in chapter 4 of his letter describes life as “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”. As we get old enough to have great-grand children the truth of that description begins to get very real – we begin to comprehend our own mortality. There are not enough times like the few days in Steamboat. But still God has also told us that though this mist of mortal life as we live it out that vanishes in a little while is dear and important it really is only a beginning. Life is not a birth and then a few years and a death – life is birth that continues in eternity. Ecclesiastes has this to say about it,

Ecclesiastes 3:11–14, 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

We enjoy these times as we should – they are a gift of joy – a product of our toil. Although at the age with great-grand children we feel the body diminishing day by day God is faithful setting eternity in our hearts. Though this life is a mist that vanishes, times like these few days in Steamboat are a gift that endures.

 

 

 

 

“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.