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Saw Modest Mouse in Concert Twice

It’s like an Onion article: the headline is the whole story.

Saw them in June in Salt Lake with my Aunt Mitzie, then again in September in Boise with myself. Salt Lake had a better play list, but I liked the Boise venue better. Now what?

  • I like that they don’t ever play the same set list twice and that, at both concerts, there were heavy doses of songs from older albums (more from Moon and Antarctica in SLC, more from Lonesome, Crowded West in Boise).
  • Set list overlap between the two concerts was probably 50-60%.
  • It was interesting the extent to which they just sounded like a loud, angry rock band, especially on songs that don’t sound all that loud or angry on the albums (e.g., Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, Tortoise and the Tourist).
  • Favorite performed song was Dark Center of the Universe (in SLC). Very loud, very angry.
  • Particularly from their later albums, the “un-produced” sound of the live performances were in many cases way better than what ended up on the albums (e.g., Satin in a Coffin, Sugar Boats, Devil’s Workday, Invisible).
  • OTOH, some of my favorites that they played came across kind of lame live (Trailer Trash, Out of Gas).
  • The SLC was some sort of converted warehouse; in Boise, they played at the single-A baseball team’s stadium (was cold).
  • Far more concertgoers in SLC spent the entire concert taking photos/video with their phones than in Boise.
  • I was about the median age at both concerts.

Here’s a photo, after which this life event will be considered recorded.


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Backpacking Back from Island Lake (Day 3)

This post is mostly to provide closure and post more pictures that were taken on the third day of this trip. I got my best pics of Island Lake on Day 3. I mean, fwiw.

And then it was time to bid sad farewell to this magical place where I mostly just felt sick and out-of-breath. One last pano on the way out:

I decided I’d go back to Eklund Lake and see if I wanted to spend the night there or just head on out of the wilderness. Spoiler: I chose the latter. Before that decision was finally made, though, the way back looked much like it had the day before except from the other direction.

Right, then Eklund Lake, decided to finish the whole thing out. This return trip was (IIRC) a little over 11 miles coming back. Net downhill, but with a lot of up and down still, and 11 miles is a long ways for me with a backpack on. Anyway.

On the route back, went via Photographer’s Point, which…


But anyway. And then I drove home.

Some generals:

  • Man, but this area is crowded. They have a short season with the trails snow-covered well into July and then snows starting up again usually mid-September, which probably helps explain it (plus amazing scenery), but still: the Uintas on a weekend were less crowded.
  • It’s not even close to anywhere (well, maybe an hour-and-a-half from Jackson, but that’s not a huge population center is it?).
  • And it’s not really a super-easy hike. Still: crowded!!
  • And most people camp in “illegal” sites that are too close to the lakes, yet the NFS doesn’t do much to prevent it from happening aside from sending some rando rangers out to tell people “don’t camp next to the lake” while they’re hiking along the trail.
  • Yeah, sure, I’ll avoid all the developed campsites next to the lake so that I can… what? Anyway.
  • Was my first trip with all my ultra-light gear. Was geared up for 5 days, 4 nights and kept it down to (IIRC) 23 lbs. total.
  • This is purported to be a great trout fishing area, but no one I talked to who was using flies caught anything on the lakes I visited. I sure didn’t catch anything there. Apparently lures are the way to go, except that I don’t especially get excited about fishing with lures. Flies? Sure, raw passion.

I am done writing about this trip now.


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Backpacking to Island Lake: Day 2

And then I woke up. Because it was the next day.

Here’s probably my favorite photo of Upper Sweeney Lake. I took it on the way out on Day 2. Better lakes would come, but, hey, meadow, etc.

From there, you’re hiking out of the lake basin. This second day was just a series of hiking out of a basin, then hiking back in to the next one. The net altitude gain from the trailhead to Island Lake is minimal (ca. 1,000′), but the actual vertical feet hiked over that span is maximal (don’t recall except for being ready to just concede and die of exposure by the side of the trail on several occasions on Day 2).

On that happy note, just as you’re exiting the Upper Sweeney basin, you get your next view of the Winds:

Always taunting.

And then, not much further, another meadow with a tarn in it and some people that I didn’t meet ever.

Next lake on the agenda is Eklund, but hopefully I got a better photo of it on the way back, because my in-route photos aren’t very compelling. And then after climbing out of that basin, you climb quickly back into the next one with some lake that’s small and the name of which I’ve forgotten and can’t find anywhere.

This is sort of a high point of the hike. Scenic lake, mountains in the background, enough up-and-down to feel like you’ve done something, not so much that you’re writing the letter in your head informing the forest service that they should probably just go ahead and start using dynamite to form some tunnels. Anyway:

Seems like it might have had a woman’s name. The lake, I mean.

Then it’s on to Hobbs Lake, which is a little more strenuous a trail — but not entirely without upsides.

And then ol’ Hobbs itself:

There weren’t many obvious campsites on Hobbs, but from a distance perspective, this would probably be my lake of recommendation for first-night camping. It’s the last good location before the big slog up to Seneca Lake.

This photo, not much past Hobbs, makes the slog look better than it was:

As does this pretty little unnamed (?) tarn:

But then that last mile hiking up to Seneca was pretty awful. Steep and kind of ugly.

The mud wasn’t actually a big factor, but I didn’t take pictures of the true awfulness. Steep tree prison with nothing to look at. Slog.

But then you get to the top of the slog and get to take in Seneca Lake. You’re pretty much above the timberline and Island Lake is at about the same elevation. You actually have quite a ways to go to get to Island Lake, of course, none of which is anywhere near flat, but whatever: here you are.

Just the walk around the lake has a ton of elevation change (Dear Forest Service: Go ahead and start blasting out some tunnels in the Wind Rivers. Thank you, bkd). There are campsites here, but none of them looked very cozy or inviting. It’s the biggest lake on the hike though. I think.

Then you leave it.

You pass by Little Seneca Lake next, which is just like Seneca Lake only smaller. Then you start getting into the talus slopes.

After the talus, you still have a little ways to go. Here’s yet another tarn.

And then the final descent into Island Lake basin:

Finally, to where I camped, this is close-ish:

Not pictured are the literally dozens of tents scattered across this slope heading down into the lake. So crowded. I was also pretty dehydrated by the time I got here because I am stupid. I set up camp, took a nap (!), ate dinner, read that Chichester book about flying airplanes to New Zealand for not good reason, then, because it was night-time, slept.


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Backpacking to Island Lake: Three Days in the Wind Rivers (Day 1)

It was supposed to be five days, but then I got bored, lonely, and dehydrated. Plus the fish weren’t biting on flies and it was super-crowded. Nice place, though!

At one point, I had the perfect recommendations in mind for how everyone should do this hike. Now? We’ll see.

Here’s the prime payoff pano of Island Lake. I worked two whole days for this.

I did this hike back in August. Was supposed to be heading into Titcomb Basin, spending a couple nights at Island Lake. Again, didn’t end up in Titcomb Basin, turned around at Island Lake. OTOH, someone wrote once that Island Lake was the most scenic part of all that anyway, inclusive of Titcomb Basin. Just, you know.

First night I hiked to Upper Sweeney Lake, which was about a five-mile walk from the Elkhart Park trailhead.

The first couple miles of the hike are talked about in un-glowing terms (e.g., “tedious”). I can see what they were getting at, it’s sort of a tree-prison, but it’s a gently-sloped tree prison where the trees aren’t entirely right on top of you and that opens up into meadows often enough. In other words, it’s a tree prison you can live with (with which you can live, sorry).

Eventually the trail breaks into a large meadow (possibly “Elkhart Park”), from which you can see the jagged Wind Rivers in the distance. This is the point where the trail branches (it’ll reconvene later): photographer’s point to the north, or the Sweeney lakes to the east. I went east.

The trail then drops into a basin, where I encountered my first lake of the trip: Miller Lake. This hike is eventually all about lakes, and this is arguably the least photogenic. I mean:


I skirted Miller Lake and kept going till I hit Middle Sweeney Lake.

So: most of the good lakes were on the second day. Just above Middle Sweeney, then, I hit Upper Sweeney, which was my objective for the day. The problem with this trip, to some extent, is that most of the good camping locations between the trailhead and Island Lake are either only 4-6 miles away, or are Seneca Lake, which doesn’t actually have great sites and is 10 eventually pretty steep (a lot of up-and-down) miles from the parking lot.

Campsite, Upper Sweeney Lake

And then I made a campfire (!). I rarely make campfires, but there was a (not-literal) ton of wood around. It had been sprinkling (rain) off and on, so the wood was a little wet, which added to the challenge as well as the sweetness of the victory.

About two hours later I went to sleep.


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Hiking Logan Canyon: White Pine Lake

If you look up “best hike in northern Utah” in the dictionary, everyone agrees that that’s the High Creek Lake hike. I didn’t go on that one though.

White Pine Lake is a pretty great hike, particularly considering its trailhead is 30 minutes from my house, right next to Tony Grove Lake. It’s possibly #2.

View of Tony Grove Lake (and parking lot!). This is about a half-hour from my house.

~The Lake~

Heading back.

I don’t love the shirt.

<fishing-related story>I took my fishing pole up there with me. When I got to the lake, I went through the jam-knot marathon to tie my bubble  on behind the swivel, the leader to the swivel, then the fly to the leader. Went down to the lake side and filled up the bubble. Opened up the bail, cocked the rod behind my head, threw forward to cast, and my bubble, leader, and fly all went flying off into the water, detached from the rest of my line. I only brought the one swivel. My bad.</fishing-related story>

  • It’s about an eight-mile round-trip.
  • There are some decent-looking campsites at the lake.
  • It’s a pretty well-used trail.
  • The two mountains seen above are, I think, Mt. Gog and Mt. Magog. (Gog is the one seen most frequently above.)
  • I don’t think there are actually all that many fish in that lake.


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Move to Utah, Car 2: via Leadville

So I have two cars. One is the Jeep. The Jeep’s journey from Norman, Okla. to Cache Valley is chronicled under separate cover.

Then there’s Car 2. My house in Utah was going to close on April 27th, but I still had to be in Oklahoma teaching until May 10th or so. Some point around the first of the year, I’d decided to make it a goal to spend as few weekends in Oklahoma as possible. So it occurred to me that, right after my house closed on the 27th, I should deliver Car 2 to its new home.

Got on the road on Friday the 28th. Had plane tickets back from SLC-OKC for Sunday the 30th. Drove up 35 to 240 to 40 west. Everything was fine. Passed through Elk City: everything was fine. Decided I should buy gas at the next town, called “Sayre”, which seemed fine. Then, while doing 85 and passing a pickup truck, the pavement started feeling rough or something. I finished the pass, but there definitely was a thing going on between my car and the road. Exit was 3/4 mile ahead.

Pulled off, car handled weird. Went to the gas station that was not advertising Indian food. Bought gas. Looked at tires: sidewall blown out of the left-rear.

This car is a 2000 BMW M Coupe. It’s built to be a very uncompromising sports car. Uncompromising meaning, for instance, that in an attempt to lower the car’s weight and thereby improve performance, the designers decided against including a spare tire of any kind.

Took it to the shop behind the gas station and was told they only look at semis. Drove back across the freeway to the Indian food truck stop. Apparently Indian food truck stops are really just Indian truck stops. Like from India. The garage at the Indian truck stop, though, was mostly run by a Mexican dude, who was very helpful, except that “uncompromising” also means having really wide, low-profile tires, the kind that totally don’t go on pickups. Meaning that neither the Indian truck stop nor anyone else in Sayre, Okla. carried that size. Called three places in Elk City, and one could get a set in on Tuesday. Called El Reno: nothing.

At which point I realized I’d be spending another weekend in Oklahoma. Called my insurance company to see how much they’d pay toward a tow back to Norman. It was non-zero. Got the one towing company in Elk City that could handle getting a way-low sports car on their flatbed to come out and give me a lift.

And then was on my way back to Norman, Okla. The tow was 154 miles and cost me, after State Farm picked up the tab for the first nine miles, I think $397? Which honestly seems almost cheap. It wasn’t like the driver had a car waiting for him in Norman to bring back to Elk City or something. I don’t think a cab, without the tow, would have been less.

Also, every time I’ve had a tow truck (once during the 48-state road trip for a good 60 miles from Olympia to Auburn, and a couple of short tows in Pittsburgh), the drivers have been pretty awesome. This guy and I had wide-ranging conversations about skiing, religion, renaissance fairs, social media, etc. I should break down more often I guess. Haines & Son Towing, Elk City, Okla. One more good thing for the list of good things in Oklahoma.

Just FYI, when you have tires with very low profiles, blowing one out isn’t a violent event. It felt like any other flat tire I’d ever had. Which isn’t very many, but still, it wasn’t like the car collapsed onto its axel and then careened into a guardrail.

One more thing. At the Indian truck stop garage, I met a married couple who were on their way from Arkansas to Reno, where a casino had hired them and their six chickens whom they were towing in their 20-foot trailer. The chickens had been trained to play tic-tac-toe competitively. So that’s a thing that exists.

Now on to other more things.

Once that trip was scrubbed, I finished the semester, then moved everything but the Coupe to Utah. The stars didn’t align for me to go back and pick it up until middle of June. Used what value was left on the plane ticket from April I’d had to cancel, flew down to OKC, eventually got picked up by the shuttle I’d reserved (this wasn’t something for the good things in Oklahoma list), then was reunited with my Titanium Silver shooting brake.

I tried to optimize this trip around finding “fun roads” for the Coupe to ply. First day made it all the way to Salida. It’s a cool town that I’d particularly liked when I visited it last winter. There aren’t any fun roads between Norman and New Mexico, but things started turning around near Raton and stayed at least pretty good from then on. The stretch from the freeway out to Salida was particularly good. I saw a bear (black).

Next day headed up the mountains to Leadville. When I drove through that area over the winter, it was a white-knuckle ride, especially for someone accustomed to driving the non-iced-over low-lands. More easy going in the summer.

Leadville’s a cool town. I think I first heard of it when reading The Making of a Hardrock Miner, which is still one of my top five non-fiction books of all time. It’s a first-person account of a guy (Steve Voynick) who needed money and ended up finding himself working as a miner. Leadville’s a place that’s really only about a half-hour south of Copper Mountain and Breckenridge and is located above 10,000′, which is pretty high. It’s a pretty little mining town that’s touristy enough to be interesting without having yet turned into Park City, Jackson, or Frisco.

^^ Town from the top of the main drag.

So I went to this museum. It’s fun, worthwhile, particularly if you’re in Leadville already. The Hall of Fame is a little tough to get excited about without being an industry insider, but they had some mine mock-ups to walk through that were fun, gave you a little bit of a sense that you were actually in a mine.

So those were highlights of the museum. They also had some fun dioramas that explored important historical events in the development of the Colorado mining industry.

I mean, look how happy they are!

There’s also an associated mine tour. Although you don’t actually get to go into the mine, you get to see some of the century-old buildings around it. The tour guide was a former work colleague of Steve Voynick, which was also interesting to find out (the tour guide asked how I’d decided to come to Leadville). He said the book was pretty dead-on (it would’ve been surprising if that hadn’t been the case).

Here’s a picture of my car parked at the mine tour. This way any time you think about my car, you won’t have to picture it on the back of a flatbed truck.

And then I left. Stayed the night at a motel in Craig, Colo., where I was assigned to The Bear Room.

The bedspread was probably my favorite part, although everything else in the room was similarly bear-themed (the artwork, the phone, the floor mat, soap holder, shower curtain, towel bar, etc.). Impressive.

And then it turned out that the funnest stretch of road on the whole trip was the stretch of US-89 through Logan Canyon.


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Move to Utah, Car 1: via Mesa Verde NP

Let’s focus this post on the one car involved and the trip that brought it from Norman, Okla. home to River Heights.

There are a million ways to get from Norman to Utah, that all take the same amount of time, give or take an hour. I went one I’d never gone before and that has made all the difference. Via Kansas. It didn’t make much of a difference. A lot of bug splatters, but that would have been true in Oklahoma or Texas as well. Also bug wedgings:

The goal on this trip was to also go by way of Mesa Verde National Park in an attempt to better amortize the cost of my national parks annual pass.

Spent the first night in a motel in some benign part of Kansas. Let’s call it Pratt. It could have been Medicine Lodge. It could’ve been Sawyer, but I’m gonna put my money on Pratt.

This was the breakfast room that morning. It’s difficult to say which was more disturbing, the waffle iron or the microwave giving the time using a metric-system clock.

Next day, kept driving until I hit Cortez, Colo., at which point I quit driving, ate dinner at the same Mexican place that I’d visited with Jon, Erin, and Josh back in 1995, then checked into another motel, the drive-up kind where you park in front of your room. I wish all hotels on earth allowed you to just park in front of your room.

Next morning, headed up to Mesa Verde. It was more popular than last time I’d visited and you don’t get to self-guidedly tour the ruins any more. I signed up for the very guided tour to Cliff House instead. But first I parked somewhere and took this picture.

You can see the Cliff House ruin there at the top rightish area. I mean, “see”.

And then I and 50 of my closest friends got to tour Cliff House. At the start of the tour, the tour guide, Ranger Mark, informed us of all the dangers of our journey and suggested that we would all probably die of hydration some time in the next 20 minutes. Duly informed, we trudged down some steps then came to a tall ladder.

I don’t like heights much. One person in the group opted out and went back the way we’d came. The ladder was fine except for having to hang there waiting for the slower, older people to move. Anyway.

^^ Ranger Mark explaining that no one knows what the ledge at the right of this photo was for. He was a good tour guide and lived in Tennessee eight months out of the year and only came out to Mesa Verde during the high season as a ranger. When not rangering, he delivers pizzas for a living. I imagine his wife works.

And that was kind of most of it. Had a brief discussion with Ranger Mark about the relative timelines between the Mesa Verde people and the Chaco Culture people. I don’t remember the outcome, though. I think Chaco Culture was older, but not by more than a couple generations. Or maybe I’m making that up. Anyway: the guy was pretty under-employed for eight months out of the year.

There was some other scenic drive that I drove around there, during which I took this picture of some other ruin.

Then I drove to the visitor’s center where two trails diverged. Fortunately there was a Native American park ranger standing there and we had this conversation.

Me: Which one of these two hikes is better?

Him: There’s no such thing as a “better” hike.

Me: Uh-huh.

I took neither, which also made a good-sized difference. My niece says that people like that are why she’s not interested in working for the Park Service. Hard to argue.

Then I drove to Price and stayed in another motel before heading on up to Cache Valley where, ten days later, the moving truck finally showed up to deliver all the packing paper that the company had decided to put into boxes a few days before I left.

^^ A fraction of the total.

And that’s about that. I really should’ve stopped off in southern Utah and re-visited Canyonlands and Arches, but was anxious to see the new house and find out what all was, in fact, broken. Time well spent.


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High Uintas Ibantik Lake Hike ft. Notch

If there isn’t already a rapper named Notch, there really should be.

Went on this fun, short-ish overnighter just so I could say I went on an overnighter and had been in the Uintas. The Uintas are pretty cool, or are at least pretty. I guess also cool. Man it’s been hot here in Cache Valley. Uintas were cool, but also pretty.

Found this hike in the Falcon Guide, turns out everyone online also thinks it’s amazing. Would be a pretty easy out-and-back day hike, but I was using it to practice backpacking and do a safe-distance shakedown of my gear that I haven’t used in a year. The hike is supposedly just under four miles from the Crystal Lake trailhead over The Notch (featured) then down to Ibantik. Just: whatever. Photos, then observations maybe, then go on with lives, etc.

~The Trailhead~.

Parking lot was super-crowded with three other groups, a couple of them pretty big, arriving just before me and milling about their respective cars loudly. Despite this, the hike to (and back from) Ibantik wasn’t all that crowded. I met maybe four groups on the way out, then probably a similar number coming back. Apparently the parking lot services enough different trail to keep anything from getting too unwieldy. I’m sure it also helped that I set out on a Wednesday, but still: I”\NiIK L•KF, 4 miles.

This photo wasn’t far from the trailhead, and its purpose in this post is to illustrate that even the scenically un-scenic parts of this trail were not actually all that un-scenic. I mean, there’s not much on that trail that’s uglier than this.

The first real lake you come to is Wall Lake (there was another lake and a couple ponds by the trailhead that don’t count), from which you get your first look at THE NOTCH. Many hikers tremble in its gaze, cowed by the prospect of having to climb its ca., I dunno, 700-800 feet to get up and over it? Anyway. And yes, Wall is a fake lake, it’s just “real” in size. So’s Ibantik. There’s not much I can do about it at this point.

The trail has a lot of views like ^^, with ponds and meadows and peaks. There are also trees and clouds in this photo. Probably bugs also, germs for sure.

This is the view from the top of the Notch, looking north toward Lovenia Lake. Ibantik Lake is almost in the picture — it’s just on the other side of that talus slope on the right.

This is Lovenia Lake. I think. I dunno. Seriously, there are a lot of lakes there and some aren’t named very clearly and sometimes there’s one name on the map, but then you somehow stumble onto three different lakes. Whatever. Good clouds, decent reflection, and pine beetles have had their say in the Uintas.

^^ is about where I ran into members of the Boy Scout troop that would feature so prominently in the outing’s drama. Oh yes, there was drama. Drama! But it involved Boy Scouts, so maybe temper expectations. Temper!

The glory that is Ibantik. There was a sign on the trail that labeled the lake. When I say “on the trail”, I mean it was laying down on the trail. Also, Ibantik is a Ute word the definition of which is unknowable.

So I set up camp (on the shore to the right of that last photo there), ate lunch sort of, fished for about an hour (caught a couple small brookies, but had a bunch of strikes), then decided to go exploring further down the trail. About ten minutes later, I hear someone yelling at me (not by name). I look over and there’s a backpacker who’s gone cross-country a bit. He asks me if I know where the trail is (“yeah, it’s where I am”), then comes over to the trail. He asks whether I’ve seen some scouts at the lake. I tell him I saw some scouts, but it was about three hours ago and they were already heading back to the trailhead. He then explains that he used to be a wilderness adventure guide, so he knows his stuff, but that he got a little too involved trying to help the scouts (?) and that he’s been wandering for 20 miles trying to find them. He says he spent the entire night awake, wandering around looking for them, but the trails have so many loops in them and he never did find them and how far away is it back to the trailhead from here. I told him it was maybe 4.5 miles, tops, which seemed to make him excited. I told him which direction to go, then off he went.

About five minutes later, it occurred to me I should probably go back the way I came and make sure he wasn’t, I dunno, dead or something. Went back, found him right about where I was camped, talked to him a little more, asked him if he needed any food or water or if he maybe didn’t want to just hang out and rest up for a little bit. Nice enough guy. Refused everything, then headed out.

The lake had a bunch of campsites, although this one (that’s my gear) was the first one I came to and the one I ended up using. It was probably my favorite of the ones I took a look at — enough wind breakage from the trees, but no shortage of views of the water, plus you could hear the sound of the creek feeding into the lake a couple hundred yards away. Also had some good branches from which I could hook up my IV drip line.

Went fishing again.

Caught a bunch more eight-inch brookies. I had one stretch where I brought one in on three straight casts. Eventually I started worrying that I was just catching the same fish over and over. This concern started seeming less paranoid and more plausible when I landed my last fish of the evening, a non-fighter that, when it got almost to shore just flipped over onto its back and resigned itself to its fate.

That was also about the time I started hearing a helicopter in the distance. The helicopter got closer and closer until…

…it basically landed at my campsite. It actually did this twice over the span of about an hour. The first time, it didn’t actually land, but some guy from some sort of state rescue service jumped out of it and came over to ask me if I’d seen anyone who looked lost in the woods. Apparently the scout troop had called someone about their missing leader, who by that point probably should have been to the parking lot already. About an hour later, the helicopter came back, landed for real, and the ranger came out and talked to me again, as well as a few other folks with nearby campsites.

I checked online the next day. Didn’t see anything in the news the next day, so >shrug<. I’m sure it worked out. So much drama. It was pretty amazing, though, to see a helicopter land there, reminded me of watching that show about helicopter rescues in the Himalayas, only louder.

^^ The lake at sunset. A lot of mosquitoes and helicopters, but all-in-all it was a good place.

It actually got cold enough to wear this stuff, which was refreshing. So tired of mostly sunny and 97 degrees.

That evening I discovered two problems with my gear: (1) my water filter was clogged up (was fine, I’d brought enough water from below to last for two days, plus I could/did boil more) and (2) I forgot to bring bug spray. The bugs weren’t *that* bad, I just couldn’t stand in one place for more than 15 seconds without getting enclouded. Had Mountain House spaghetti for dinner, the first in-wartime use of my new, non-Jetboil stove. The water boiled and what was once dehydrated became hydrated anew.

After sleeping parts of four hours during the night, I woke up bright and early, ate dry granola that tasted somehow drier than usual, then packed everything up and headed toward home.

The scenery was about the same, but with different lighting.

From The Notch, a view southward. Apparently I can only take photos aiming the direction in which I am traveling. I’m not sure it’s a fatal flaw, but it’s probably a flaw.

And then I saw all the same stuff I’d seen the previous day, only the other side of it, which didn’t look all that different, and even though I took more photos, I mean, they’re kind of just the same as the other photos up above.

Then two days later I got hit by an SUV while crossing the street in Logan, but didn’t die. The end.


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South Dakota Spring

Still working on the National Park checklist. My brother was expecting to move away from western South Dakota this summer, so I figured I ought to go to Badlands NP before that happened.


My SIL Judie wanted to take me to see some of the other local sites first, so she tied the two daughters into the back seat of the car and we headed for the hills and related topographies.

We started out going to Church in the Hills, which was unexpected. I mean, it’s unexpected that there’s a church like this sitting in the hills near Spearfish, S. Dak. Maybe it was surprising we started there. To be honest, I did not have strong expectations wrt the order of attractions.

From there we went to the drive-through zoo. There were no monkeys (thankfully), but plenty of bears. Lots and lots of bears.

Of course there were only two of them in that frame. Blame the photog. Went and got some German food at a place, then looped through the Norbeck Byway.

It’s a good byway. Not pictured are some cool framed-by-tunnel views of Mt. Rushmore. There are several wooden-bridged, loopy turns like this through there. It’d probably a good route on which to take a Harley.

This was a quick trip btw. Just under 72 hours. That’s probably implied by the color temperature of the bear photograph.

Next day, Garry and I headed out to the Badlands. We stopped at Wall Drug on the way, since, you know, South Dakota. I might have bought Bit O’ Honeys. Or maybe that was at the gas station.

They look like that. Or some of them do. We went on a couple of short hikes, one of which involving a bad ladder.

It’s worse than it looks. Particularly going down. Should’ve gotten a person on there for some scale. Next time, next time. Anyway, past the ladder was a solid, sweeping view of more bad lands.

And then we went to the air force base because museum. Here G is with a B-29.

And me behind the controls of a fake F-106, beard at max throttle.

Then here’s a picture of my niece wearing her Easter dress at church because she does a good job of smiling for cameras.

Some bullet points, because blog post, etc.:

  • Badlands is nice, but not exactly Yosemite or Yellowstone. Better than Cuyahoga. Probably about on par with Great Sand Dunes.
  • OTOH, coming there from Oklahoma, I was amazed at how pretty western So. Dak. was. I’ve been there before, just never coming from Oklahoma.
  • Rapid City had better sporting good stores than does OKC.
  • Wall Drug isn’t a drug store. It’s like maze-mall that straddles a Main Street, USA location and is chock full of dogeared tourist trap souvenir stores. If you’re in the area you may as well stop; if it’s not your thing, it at least won’t take long to get the gist of it.
  • I have used the word “because” a lot in this post.

And then I flew back to Oklahoma, which was still flat, treeless, and… I’ve probably ripped on Oklahoma enough for this decade. But looking forward to 2021!


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Living in Norman, Okla.: A Review

About a year ago, I had a random Mormon guy I’d never met before ask me via email about what it was like living in Norman, as he was considering a job at OU. With a few edits, this was my response. Let it serve as a warning to you all.


OU is what I’d call a “good place” — students, staff, faculty, administration all genuinely care about the university and the community. In that sense, OU feels more like BYU, by a lot, than the other schools with which I’ve been affiliated (MBA from UC-Irvine in ’02, PhD from Pitt in ’14). The students have been fantastic — they’re not all necessarily brilliant (some are), but they’re easy-going, reasonably responsible, and generally nice people (using Pitt students as my reference point).

WRT Norman, it’s probably worthwhile to understand my perspective: I’m 44 and single, grew up in the Seattle area, went to BYU, lived for about 12 years in Orange County and San Diego, and (as implied) lived for four years recently in Pittsburgh.


That in mind, my experience living here has been kind of awful. People in Norman are friendly, but they’re not friends. This has been true both in the neighborhood where I live as well as the ward. People seem uninterested in making connections; when I’m working in the yard and someone comes by walking their dog, I rarely can get them to say more than “hi”. Despite OU, Norman doesn’t feel much like a college town to me; most locals seem to be Norman lifers rather than part of a vibrant, semi-transient intellectual community. Even on campus, people often seem socially shut-down. No one mistakes Norman for Ann Arbor.

Also, as an admittedly gross over-generalization, Oklahomans aren’t really thinkers. If you’ve ever read Grapes of Wrath, it’s not hard to see the unseeing simplicity of those characters in the behaviors and attitudes of modern-day Oklahomans.


Church here has been hard for me. The general flavor tends to be dogmatic and a little fear-mongerish, whereas I’d prefer more critical insight and service-mindedness. This is a place where members feel the most important thing about the church isn’t so much being Christ-like as it is knowing that the Book of Mormon is true and that everyone who doesn’t believe in it is bad.

Further, there aren’t a lot of people at church interested in new relationships. Leadership is well-meaning, but not necessarily effective: it took 11 months and three introductions for the bishop to learn who I was. The ward has a lot of needs, yet it took 13 months for me to get a calling. It’s hard to fully express the disappointment I’ve had in getting to know and build relationships with ward members. I’m not a gregarious person, but I’ve never had this much trouble getting to know people in a new ward in other parts of the country.

So, as regards church, if you want an east coast Mormon experience, you won’t find it here. If you want a west coast Mormon experience, you might be a little disappointed by the dogmatism and difficulty of making friends.


It’s actually pretty sunny here, but it tends to also be very humid in summer and stormy/windy in spring. Fall can be nice and winter is usually not very cold once the sun gets above the top of the stadium (it snowed maybe twice a couple inches two winters ago, never really got below freezing last winter, this winter was also mild). That said, between the wind, storms, and humidity, it’s not a great place for being outside or undertaking outdoor recreational activities generally.

The tornadoes aren’t as bad as one might think. You know when you wake up in the morning if it’s going to be a day when there might be a tornado. There are weather apps for smartphones that give good, predictive information. The TV weather people are good at giving the important information in plenty of time to do something about it (although they tend to over-dramatize things as I’m sure they find it validating to do so). You can buy a weather radio that broadcasts weather alerts from the NWS whenever they’re issued. If the house you’re buying doesn’t have a storm shelter, you can get one added for (I think) $2-4K. Generally speaking, late-April/early-May is the tornado season. The biggest tornado-related issues are (a) hail damage and (b) the cost of homeowner’s insurance. Homeowner’s is going to be at least 2x what you’re used to elsewhere in the country.


The shopping here isn’t great if that matters — no Costco, no Trader Joe’s, no REI, no IKEA, only one Apple Store (in OKC). OTOH, Norman has three Super Walmarts, three Walmart grocery stores, and a Sam’s Club. OU sports are huge, obviously, and even many of the “other” OU sports are pretty well attended. Beyond that, there are some decent and some odd local museums (the National Pigeon Museum, for example), a triple-A baseball team, and, of course, the ill-gotten NBA team.

It’s not a particularly outdoor-friendly community. The weather is very often uncomfortable. There isn’t much in the way of bike trails, walking trails, or hiking destinations. I think the youth recreation options are good and I know faculty have kids who are deep into the local soccer scene. You don’t see a lot of adults recreating, though (very few co-ed softball leagues for instance); dog walking appears to be the most common adult outdoor activity. OKC has some nice, paved bike trails along the river, but they’re scarce anywhere else, despite Norman wanting to brand itself as a bike-friendly community.

Also, there aren’t a lot of great day-long driving trips from here. The Ozarks can be interesting, but it takes 5-6 hours to get to the good parts. It’s at least six hours to drive up to the church history sites in Independence, so that’s also probably better as an overnighter.

The lakes here aren’t all that nice. Lake Thunderbird, in Norman, tends to have a reputation for brackishness and appears to be full of snags. For all the reservoir lakes there are around here, you really don’t see all that many people with boats (and I’m thinking there’s a reason for that). The drinking water, I hear, comes from these lakes and, during certain times of the year, often tastes muddy.


I imagine the median lot in Norman is actually less than a quarter acre, but obviously you can find plenty of larger ones. A potential issue there is that houses that are much over $200K tend to take a while to sell if you ever want to sell (the market’s sweet spot is probably around $175K). I bought my place for $297K and am dreading what happens if/when I put it on the market.

Also, if you buy a $500K house here, work at OU, have a family, and wear a white shirt to church every week, you’ll run a very high risk of being in a bishopric within six months of move-in (based on two years of observations).


It takes forever to get to the freeway from where I live (south of Highway 9 off 12th Ave. SE), which means I end up feeling trapped in this neighborhood. By “forever”, I mean 10-15 minutes, depending on the (non-synchronized) lights.

And even though the population isn’t all that dense here, traffic is worse than it seems like it should be, often due to poor road maintenance and/or bad planning (e.g., the state is re-doing two of the four main freeway onramps as part of a two-year project, during which the city has decided to do major construction on the *other* two roads with freeway onramps). Further, drivers here are inattentive, which can be frustrating, particularly if you have somewhere to be. Some specific anecdotes:

  • One time, on a single trip up to OKC (about a 30-minute drive), I saw three different car accidents where a car had tumbled off the freeway and caught fire. Two of these were single-car accidents.
  • When you’re second in line waiting for a light to turn green, you can pretty well expect that, when it does turn green, nothing will happen. Meaning that the person at the front of the line won’t go. Often this is due to them texting someone, but often also it’s due to them just … not … going.
  • People here will not cross a white or yellow line to save their lives. No one will form an ad hoc lane at any cost. They won’t get over on the shoulder to get into that right turn lane three cars sooner, even if that means not having to wait another three minutes at the light.
  • Also, for an uncontrolled left turn at a stop light (i.e., a stop light without a specific green left turn light), the car at the front of the line never gets into the intersection. It’s common for the entire light cycle to pass without any of the cars waiting having made a left turn.


This is a cheap place to live, but often you can see the problems caused by the low taxes (schools outside Norman and Edmond are apparently very bad, the aforementioned road maintenance issues).

Salespeople here are the most arch of anywhere I’ve lived — furniture stores and car dealerships are hilariously bad. I had a lawn services company that insisted that I couldn’t have called them to cancel their services, because they didn’t have anyone answering the phone that day. I have a colleague who, after buying a new phone at the AT&T store, was surprised to look at her receipt and find that they’d charged her several hundred additional dollars for service plans they’d never asked her about. The car dealership I visited the one time told me point-blank that they did not honor the prices that they advertised for specific vehicles online. There’s a lot of petty corruption here, and everyone seems okay with letting everyone else get away with it.


As you can probably infer, I’m a little too high strung for this place. I just really want get somewhere closer to some mountains and some people whom I know I like and back into a culture that doesn’t seem stacked against me. Whenever I get off the plane in OKC after having visited anywhere else, it’s always only ever with a sense of dread.


So that was it. Also, in case my future self is reading this, ^^^ is why it was so important for you to get out of this place. Never, ever come back here.