Sunday, April 29, 2018

Hamilton is inspiring in many ways, including rereading about the Revolutionary War

After seeing Hamilton on Broadway, the inevitable next step is to dig back into Revolutionary War literature. I figure one place to start and not go wrong is with acclaimed author David McCullough. 

His book 1776 opens with, in 1775, despite much opposition in the press and throughout the country to the troubling war in America, King George III addressing a whopping 60,000 people in London’s St. James Park. Can you imagine that many people gathering back then?

Having seen the crazed wickedness of George on hilarious display in the musical, some of the small personal details at the start of 1776 are well worth lapping up, such as his “whitest hands ever seen” with a large red ring on them and the four-ton exceedingly elaborate carriage he had made to carry him around London. Many found the King a bit dull and, unlike in the play, he refused to wear a huge white wig, the fashion of the time.

George was steadfast throughout his life, even in his later “mad” life, that America must obey England, even though he had never been a soldier or to America, or the Scotland and Ireland which he often praised.

The play, by the way, is every bit as astounding as everyone says. It was also fun sitting in the 10th row center with the likes of Jerry from Parks and Recreation and film and TV star Alfre Woodard of St. Elsewhere and 12 Years a Slave.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Escape Campervan-ing, an Arizona safari, and ending Spring Break in Phoenix

I never wrapped up the blog series on our recent family Spring Break #vanlife trek out west. Having already recounted our time in Vegas, Zion, Lake Powell, the Grand Canyon, and several other places in between, we headed to Rachel’s grandmother’s house in Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix.

But first we spent an afternoon north of the city at Out of Africa, a well-done safari in the desert. My favorite animal was the grizzly bear, which we were able to get within an arm’s length and is a majestic and downright pleasant-looking creature. One of several tigers also stretched up into a massive form along a gate next to our walkway. And a baby tiger jumped out from its hiding spot at one point to nearly surprise Zoey and I out of our shoes. But perhaps best of all was when Jackson fed a giraffe right out of his mouth, including a smooch on the lips that incorporated his very long tongue.

I highly recommend a visit to this American/African safari. 

And I should also mention the I-66 shop we visited in Williams, Arizona, if only because of all its pop-culture lunch boxes (and signs).

Finally, anyone who rents an Escape Campervan, which are now available in many cities throughout the country, won’t regret it. The customer service was incredible, the price was maybe even less than renting a typical minivan without a kitchen or pop-up bed, and we were able to pick up lots of groceries and other necessities like a cooler and firestarter wood in our pick-up location where others returning from their trips left the materials in a community-share area. And it was fun to count the other Escapes along the way. Jackson’s final tally was 27, and we talked to many of their occupants about our similar travel experiences.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

It the movie(s) simply can’t compare to the classic book

As readers of this blog know, I’m a huge Stephen King fan. I keep wanting to deny that as I get older and supposedly more mature, but King just keeps being every bit as awesome as ever.

2017’s It has been high on my list of movies to see for many months, but it ends up being a letdown. At 2 hours and 15 minutes, it moves slowly in parts, doesn’t develop enough of the kids’ characters, and suffers from perhaps too many shocks and scares.

That said, it is indeed scary, but it would be scarier if it were less scary all the time.

Granted, pulling off a re-creation of one of the great horror books is not an easy task. It’s a long and detailed book. But with a slew of it neglected, the movie should have just gone ahead and been considerably shorter.

The 1999 TV miniseries suffered from different elements. It was long enough to capture better characterizations, but it was far less scary and fairly cheesy.

I’ll still look forward to the supposed sequel being planned for when the kids are adults and It comes back to the town of Derry, Maine on its usual schedule. But probably the best use of my time would be to simply read the book again.

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Can we make Grand Canyon visits mandatory for all humans?

The experiment, which we had no idea how it would unfold, turned out to be a success.

Nobody tried to kill each other on our week-long Spring Break Escape Campervan trek across Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

Sure, there were some times like this.

But it was mostly like this.

Our kids weren’t just troopers. They were flat-out buddies. And the van was beneficial because they were much further away from the parents than in our regular car rides.

After an already full Wednesday of hiking, we arrived at the Grand Canyon in early afternoon to explore about a 30-mike stretch along the South Rim.

Although our kids are too little to do major hikes down to the bottom, we did get down a switchback trail a good little ways.

And the day was absolutely stunning weather-wise, turning the sunset into our Grand Canyon highlight. We watched it on a point with far fewer tourists than the other spots we had visited throughout the afternoon.

It’s tough to believe it took me this long to get to one of the Earth’s true wonders, right here in our own country. It should definitely be a requirement that anyone from the U.S. visit the Grand Canyon. All the pictures and postcards capture it well, but they still can’t compare to staring out across that vast space.

We decided not camp for the night and stayed in a hotel about an hour away in Williams, Arizona, which is the starting point for the Grand Canyon train. Promotional materials says it helps keep “about 50,000 cars out of the park every year.” Sounds like a good thing, although as a car-trip expert, that seems like an extremely conservative estimate of how many cars the train actually keeps out of the park. I’d like to know how they make that estimate.

Anyway, after Williams, our trip will conclude further south in Phoenix.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Northern Arizona presents stunning camping and hiking

We arrived early at our next destination, the Wahweap Campground overlooking beautiful Lake Powell ( with time to play a little baseball before sunset and a campfire under the stars.

This was great because it’s started a string of daily father-son baseball catch and whiffleball, which are some of the very best ways to bond with a 10-year-old.

Wednesday morning we headed out to get a good look at the nearby Glen Canyon Dam, made famous by author Edward Abbey’s classic Monkey Wrench Gang novel that helped form the anarchist environmental movement decades ago.

We stopped just south of the dam and Page, Arizona for a quick 1.5-mike round trip hike off the highway to Horseshoe Bend, which is stunning but packed with tourists, so we didn’t stick around long. It’s also super scary to be standing at the edge of the steep drop off.

Next up, we hightailed it down to the Grand Canyon to spend most of Wednesday taking it all in.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Navajo and other hiking adventures on the path to Lake Powell

We saw mostly deer and squirrels in Zion National Park in Southern Utah. But a little while after leaving, we spotted a big-horn sheep grazing alongside the road. Despite it lurching a little at a girl who got too close, Jackson really wanted to inch near it. We exercised caution. 

That night (Monday) we spent In Kenab, Utah, taking a break from camping with a night in a hotel. In retrospect, we should have camped because the camper van was every bit as comfy as any hotel. But it was fun walking around the town, billed as the “Hollywood of Utah,” and home to several movie stars, including one of my favorites, Eva Marie Saint, famous for On the Waterfront and Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

The next morning, it was back on the road towards our upcoming adventures in Arizona and our next campsite, at famed Lake Powell.

But first, to break up the drive, we stopped right alongside the highway for a hike through the Star Wars-like dunes and hills of the Toadstools in Grand Staircase-Escalante, which the Trump administration wants to very mistakenly open to oil drilling. If anyone wants to spoil this landscape, the least they could do is think about solar, which seems perfect for the area. Jackson and I had a blast hiding in the hills and scaring Rachel and Zoey along the walk.

Then it was off to our next hike, another true highlight of the vacation, at Antelope Canyon in Navajo territory. This is one place where pictures can actually capture some of its beauty, and it was highlighted several years ago on the cover of National Geographic as proof.

After ascending back up to ground level, we were ready to continue on our way.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

My first Southern Utah exploration

Our western Spring Break journey continued with two nights of camping in Springdale right outside Zion National Park in Utah.

The place is really unexplainable in writing or photo form. And it’s a public-transportation dream, with only shuttles and feet (and bicycles) allowed to travel throughout the park (cars can go through but they are far from annoying or destroying the remoteness and beauty of the park).

See a remarkable history of the shuttle, which began in 2000 to alleviate the massively growing pollution in the park:

About the worst thing about Zion is the crowds at the Visitor Center. The goal should be to get there as close to the 7 a.m. park opening as possible as not to wait in the long shuttle lines there. We learned this the hard way after arriving to our campsite at 11 p.m. and not getting going early enough for our first day in the park. The good news is that it was easy enough to hike along the Pa’rus trail for a couple of miles to get to Shuttle Stop #3 (there are nine stops in all, each with multiple choices of hikes).

And Jackson was really into putting cactus needles into his hands to pretend he was Wolverine.

The river walk ends at the famous Narrows, where lots of hikers were headed in with wetsuits to walk through the thin river canyon.

Other great hikes we got to do included the Emerald Pools and another one that it connects to with beautiful and precarious upper ridgeline views.

We finished up Zion with one of our best moments, exiting the park and going through mountain tunnels only to find a pulloff spot that allowed us to hike up some hills into an area with lots of scat and that was pretty clearly mountain-lion territory.

Zion is definitely right up there in the running for my favorite national park in the U.S.