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Honeymoon, Day 2: Downtown Portlandia

TRIP DATE: July 3, 2016 | SLIDESHOW | PHOTO ALBUM

Meador Post

Our favorite hotel in OKC began as a Cambria Suites

Our favorite hotel in OKC began as a Cambria Suites and is now a Doubletree by Hilton

I suppose our first honeymoon hotel was technically in Oklahoma City, since we spent the first night at our favorite place to stay in OKC: the Doubletree by Hilton near the airport. It is only a 15 minute drive from there north along Meridian Avenue to my parents’ home in the Windsor Hills neighborhood. When we first began staying at the hotel, it was a Cambria Suites. We liked its room décor, spacious bathrooms, and luxurious bedding. “Suite” is used loosely by hotels these days; I don’t regard a separate area for the bed that only has a divider instead of a real wall and door to actually qualify as a suite. These days I usually book us in a real suite with separate bedroom since Wendy is a night owl who likes to stay up later than I do.

Hilton bought out the hotel later and only slightly changed the room décor. Lately they’ve been ripping apart the dining area, lobby, and hallway carpeting. (What is it with hotels’ carpeting? Is there a law that it must be incredibly ugly? I know they are trying to disguise heavy traffic patterns, but I’ve only seen a few examples of nice-looking hotel carpet. The Doubletree’s new corridor carpet, which looks like a signal wave pattern, is not one of them.) It is a testament to the hotel’s room design that we’ve continued to stay there even with that mess, including road delays as a long stretch of Meridian Avenue is being reconstructed south of Interstate 40.

Our "mini-suite" in Troutdale

Our “mini-suite” in Troutdale

In my mind, our honeymoon really began in the Pacific Northwest. We spent the first four nights at the Best Western Plus Cascade Inn & Suites in Troutdale. It also isn’t honest about “suite” – calling an extra long room narrowed in one spot by short wall segments a “mini-suite” is stretching the truth. But I still booked the room there because everything in liberal, popular Portland is expensive, particularly the hotels. I avoided the pricey downtown hotels with their valet parking and instead picked the Best Western over in Troutdale. We like Best Westerns, so long as they have interior corridors, because they are usually clean and fairly quiet and not too hard on the wallet.

I picked Troutdale because the hotel was close to the airport and near the western terminus of the historic Columbia River Gorge scenic highway. Wendy the night owl doesn’t prefer to get up early, and for the day we planned to take that long scenic drive, I did not want us to waste a lot of daylight threading our way through Portland over to the old scenic road.

But the big draw for Wendy in Portland was the International Rose Test Garden. We had thought we’d do that on Sunday, our first full day in the area, but reconsidered since Google said Mondays had far fewer visitors than Sundays. Now, mind you, the Monday in question would be the Independence Day holiday, but we opted to wait. So our first full day in the Portland area was spent downtown visiting the regular Portland Saturday Market (which also operates on Sundays) and Powell’s City of Books, making a stop at the Mount Hood viewpoint in Mount Tabor Park, and walking the trails of Glenn Otto Park in Troutdale.

Things Were Smokin’ at the Market

Portlandia is a comedy show set in the city

Portlandia is a comedy show set in the city

There’s a reason they make a sketch comedy television series in and about Portland, called Portlandia. The Pacific Northwest, especially Portland, can be as laughably liberal as Oklahoma and the states to the southeast of it can be comedically conservative. I prefer the former, but live in the latter. But I do have my limits, and the stink of reefers that was wafting throughout areas of downtown Portland was unwelcome to my nostrils. My very conservative home state has repeatedly failed to produce enough signatures for ballot initiatives to promote even medical uses of marijuana, although neighboring Colorado has recently legalized it for recreational use, as have Alaska, Washington State, and, of course, Oregon.

So Wendy and I were taken aback to see stores across both Oregon and Washington, dispensaries emblazoned with green crosses advertising marijuana. As teachers who are supposed to be alert for misbehaving students, our drug detecting senses were alerting pretty often in downtown Portland.

It was a 15 mile drive westward from our hotel in Troutdale to Portland’s Old Town, which lies along the western shore of the Willamette River. But we made a detour in our rental Nissan Sentra to a Biscuits Cafe in Gresham for a late breakfast. The place was very busy, and the food explained why.

We then crossed the Willamette to visit the Saturday Market, which is mostly folks selling hand-made arts and crafts. In quest of a restroom, we threaded our way through the event for relief. Then we could weave our way amongst the stalls. My favorite was intricate framed string art by Pterylae Designs. I noted that some of the food booths were backed up against a Municipal Sewage Pumping Plant. It seemed efficient, if not appetizing! I snapped a busker making a wild Independence Day hat for a youngster and enjoyed getting a shot of the streetcar tracks angling along 1st Street near Skidmore Fountain.

The City of Books

A skinny buddy and I enjoy the science section at Powell’s City of Books

A visit to downtown Portland is not complete without touring Powell’s City of Books, the largest used and new bookstore in the world. The original location in the Pearl District on Burnside takes up an entire city block. Its nine color-coded rooms together hold about one million books, divided into a staggering 3,500 sections. The store’s parking garage was full, so we parked a block away in an underground lot that let us exit through a Whole Foods Market.

Wendy bought a few books on roses, naturally, while I hung out with a guy who was so overwhelmed that he forgot to eat. I enjoy browsing a bookstore, so when in Tulsa I’m careful to buy magazines and picture books and the like at Barnes and Noble to help keep them going (I so miss Borders!). But regular readers of the blog know that since 2008 I have preferred reading books on a long line of e-ink Kindles; my current and fifth Kindle is their Voyage model. On this trip it was very nice to be able to quickly shift about to continue reading a book on the Kindle, then my iPad, and even sometimes on my iPhone. And it was pretty darn nice to get to read some books, for that matter. Back home I’m always inundated with school-related work, so the honeymoon was a great chance to instead concentrate on relaxing and touring with my bride.

On the way back to the car, we stopped in at Storables, where Wendy enjoyed browsing. We’ve had home organization on our minds a lot recently, with her moving into Meador Manor from her nearby apartment. She is a tremendous organizer. I’m pretty organized in some ways, but Wendy puts me to shame.

Mount Hood from Mount Tabor

One of my discoveries on a previous trip to Portland was the nice view of Mount Hood from Mount Tabor Park a few miles due east of downtown Portland, on the other side of the Willamette River. The city fathers built a park and reservoir up there, not realizing they were building on an extinct volcano. The Tabor cinder cone is part of the Boring Lava Field, an extensive network of cinder cones and small shield volcanoes ranging from Boring, Oregon to southwest Washington, and dating to the Plio-Pleistocene era. The lava field has been extinct for over 300,000 years, and the cinder cone now rises about 400 feet above the surrounding landscape, providing a nice view of Mount Hood, the huge snow-capped stratovolcano 45 miles away to the southeast. Mount Hood’s last major eruption was 230 years ago.

Portland’s own volcano, Mount Tabor, affords a lovely view of huge Mount Hood 45 miles to the east

Dinner and a Walk on Cold Ashes

Dinner was at another chain restaurant, a Shari’s, where we enjoyed following our entrées with pie; Wendy particularly liked her slice of marionberry pie. We needed to walk after all of that food, so I drove us back to our hotel in Troutdale and then explored the roads east of there, discovering the western terminus of the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Byway which we’d be driving along in a few days. It led through downtown Troutdale and passed Glenn Otto Park right before it crossed the Sandy River. The park is nestled between that river and Beaver Creek. It was clear from the folks striding through the parking lot that the park afforded river access and had some trails, so I pulled in.

Wendy found a heart rock pretty quickly along the Sandy River

I had told Wendy that one odd thing about hiking in the Pacific Northwest is how you always find yourself treading on ash and other volcanic debris. This was a great place to illustrate that. We took off down a trail, noting the ferns and other vegetation unfamiliar to us plains folk. Wendy marveled at the abundant ivy as we found various trails leading to the Sandy River. Folks were out enjoying the cool water, floating by and yes, smoking weed.

Wendy the rock hound had a blast looking at the rocks and found a heart rock pretty quickly. The sand was really just ash, and some rocks were quite volcanic in appearance. Across the river I could hear folks dining on a restaurant patio; I think it was Shirley’s Tippy Canoe, where we’d have breakfast the following day before we headed back to Portland to tour the International Rose Test Garden.

SLIDESHOW | PHOTO ALBUM

< Honeymoon, Day 1: Planning for Portland and Beyond

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2016 in art, photos, travel

 

Honeymoon, Day 1: Planning for Portland and Beyond

TRIP DATE: July 3, 2016 | SLIDESHOW | PHOTO ALBUM

Meador PostNOTE: I’m extremely busy this summer “break” with oodles of school-related projects, so I considered limiting my blog posts on our honeymoon to brief highlights. But Wendy and I only get one honeymoon, and I want a record we can enjoy in our dotage. So I’m opting for my old-fashioned detailed day-by-day approach, which means this will be a quite lengthy series of posts. Plus my busy schedule means I’ll have to space them out over many weeks to get them all in with the many linked photos. I hope some of our Gentle Readers will find the wait worthwhile and enjoy the nitty gritty travel details. We sure enjoyed our trip!

Wendy and I have traveled together extensively in Oklahoma and Arkansas for various hikes and vacations. We’ve also fled Oklahoma’s weather extremes with ventures into Texas during winter breaks and to Colorado and the higher elevations in New Mexico in summer. But I had never taken her to my favorite summer vacation area: the Pacific Northwest (PCNW).

Travels Map

The travels Wendy and I have shared since 2013

Longing for the Pacific Northwest

Some of my happiest memories are from the Pacific Northwest; this is from a hike at Mount Rainier in 2008

My love for the Pacific Northwest as a summer destination began in the late 1990s. I had won free plane tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S. as the district teacher of the year. My criteria for selecting a destination was to a) go as far away from Oklahoma as possible, b) go somewhere cool during the hot Oklahoma summer, and c) go somewhere I had never been before. So I invited a teaching colleague to go with me to the PCNW. It is a coincidence that her name was Wendy, as that was years before I met my future wife. We visited Seattle, the Mount Saint Helens volcano, and both Victoria and Vancouver in far southwestern British Columbia. It is a lovely region in the summer with bright but cool days, beautiful vegetation, and friendly folks.

I enjoyed that visit to the cool and beautiful PCNW so much that I returned to Seattle in 2005 on a solo outing, and then made another solo trip to Oregon in 2006, driving and dayhiking along the Columbia River Gorge and all of the way down Oregon’s open coastline from Astoria to the redwoods of northern California. In 2008 I again received the free-tickets deal when I was honored for the second time as the district teacher of the year (a recognition I will soon be immune from), so I returned to Washington state and British Columbia. The following year I made a second dayhike-oriented trip to Oregon. So it is little surprise that I decided we should splurge on our honeymoon and visit Oregon, Washington, and Victoria, BC.

Planning for Portland and Beyond

I’ve never driven from Oklahoma to the PCNW and never plan to do so. The trip is about 1,900 miles by car, taking about 28 hours of driving time. I used to be willing to drive as much as ten hours in one day, but I’m far too old and too wise to do that now. Five hours of driving in a day is pushing it for me these days. So we’d be flying out, which meant dealing with all of the restrictions and fees on baggage that have arisen since the last time I flew on a plane in 2009.

Airplane seats have really shrunk in coach, so we splurged on First Class

Airplane seats have really shrunk in coach, so we splurged on First Class

Wendy had flown before, with her first flight back in 1990 when she was flown out from Dallas to Washington, DC to compete as the northeast Texas champion in the National Spelling Bee. (Thankfully, I can spell pretty well: I tied for first place in a written spelling test at a state scholastic meet in high school, but my wife is even better at it.) Wendy was apprehensive about the long flight, and I too dreaded narrow seats with little leg room and the possibility of squalling babies. So I looked into paying various fees for extra bags, wider seats, seats with more legroom, etc. By the time I had seats in coach that I thought we could live with, the fees had piled on to where we might as well try a different tactic. So Wendy and I flew in First Class on all three of our plane flights for the honeymoon: Oklahoma City to Dallas and then Dallas to Portland on American Airlines and later Seattle-Tacoma to Oklahoma City on Alaska Airlines. Thus we always shared a lone row of two side-by-side wide seats with plenty of legroom and could each check two bags for free, so long as they each weighed less than 50 pounds.

Even with that luxury of an extra checked bag for each of us, the length of our honeymoon meant that we needed to plan our trip to include a couple of laundromat days. I was determined to hit several highlights: Portland’s International Rose Test Garden for my rose-loving wife, the Columbia River Gorge scenic highway, Ecola Point and Astoria on the Pacific coast, Mount Saint Helens and Ruby Beach in Washington (our friend and fellow teacher Gary Layman clued us in on the latter), and Victoria, British Columbia’s Inner Harbour and the nearby Butchart Gardens. Driving around to enjoy all of those places without having to pack in and out of a hotel every day extended our honeymoon to 17 days. That’s the longest trip Wendy and I had ever taken, and mid-trip we agreed that our future vacations will likely be 10 days or less. We got along fabulously, but two weeks or more on the road is a bit much.

Honeymoon map

For our honeymoon we travelled over 3,300 miles by plane, 1,200 miles by car, and 50 miles by ferry

Security! Security!

Unlike my wife, I’m a morning person. Left to my own devices, I’ll get up at 7 a.m. or earlier and run hard until I head for bed around 10 p.m. Wendy would much rather sleep later and stay up late. So I decided to avoid morning flights from Oklahoma City to Oregon on the day after our wedding. Back in February I booked us on planes that would fly us out of Oklahoma City at 2 p.m. Central Time, switch planes at the Dallas hub, and land in Portland, 6.5 hours after our first flight took off, at 6:30 p.m. Pacific Time. But those flights were cancelled and we were shifted to fly out of OKC at 4:24 p.m. Central Time and not arrive in Portland until 9 p.m. Pacific Time. Arriving in Portland at what would feel like 11 p.m. to us wasn’t ideal, especially with us needing to pick up a rental car, but I’d booked a hotel in Troutdale that was only a 15 minute drive from the airport, so we’d cope.

A typical TSA screening line

A typical TSA screening line

Wendy’s last flight had been prior to the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, so she’d heard about but never experienced TSA security screening at airports, with its scanners, fluids restrictions, shoe removal, and the like. We were dreading it a bit, given that long delays, due to typically poor planning and implementation by the TSA, had led to long delays at major airports in the spring and early summer. Wendy is a careful planner, so she’d researched all of the fluids regulations and the like and done her best to pack legally and efficiently. My airport worries were more focused on baggage; I’ve had a bag exceed weight limits before and have had to scramble to avoid nasty fees. So I was using my bag weight scale and re-packing to keep my big rolling suitcase under the 50 pound limit.

I drove us and my parents out to Will Rogers World Airport in one of my parents’ cars; they would come pick us up at the same airport when we returned from our honeymoon. When I was a child, my father would sometimes take me with him out to the airport to pick up natural gas measurement graphs flown in from field stations (there was no internet nor wireless technology for field recordings back then). I was always excited to go out there with him, eager to visit the “control tower” and listen to the air traffic controllers — it was actually a shorter tower with speakers playing the feed from the real control tower. So I had fond memories of the airport, but had not flown out of there in decades. So I was interested to see how much it had changed.

Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City is quite pleasant

Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City is quite pleasant

There are now many more parking lots at that airport, and the interior is still recognizable in shape but has updated finishes. Our flight was taking off from an extension off the main terminal I had not visited before. The Oklahoma City airport on that Saturday afternoon was mostly empty, and check-in was quick and easy. We had only a short wait at the TSA security screening, albeit Wendy encountered a gruff screener:

Wendy approached the body scanner, and this lady asked her, “Do you have anything in your pockets?”

Flustered, Wendy tore through her pockets, looking for anything metal that might be problematic. She only found some gum and pulled it out, saying, “Oh, uh, I have some gum.”

The lady barked at her, “That’s a thing.”

Well, yes, but we’re stressed too, okay?

Two days earlier I had my own run-in with security. We had to go to the Oklahoma County Courthouse to get our marriage license, and the security officers would not let me in with the tiny key tool I had not thought to remove from my key ring before walking several blocks through the simmering sun to the building. (The streets around the courthouse were either blocked by construction or lacked open parking. Well, Wendy points out that as I tried to navigate the confusing streets I failed to take advantage of closer parking spots she spotted and mentioned to me, but that goes without saying. Men don’t listen!) The officer said, “Believe it or not, we can’t let you in with this.” Then he gave me the option of taking it back to my car and returning, or having him confiscate it permanently. So he could store it for disposal, but not simply hand it back to me as I left a few minutes later. Seething, I let him take it. The TSA has a similar policy, although theirs makes much more sense in a crowded airport than the same policy at the quiet entrance to the courthouse. In the case of the TSA, the confiscated items are sold off.

Thankfully Wendy got through the airport scanner without triggering it, so we put our shoes back on and grabbed our items that had gone through the belt scanner. Then we moseyed through the long curving terminal to our gate, which was at the end of another long terminal extension I had not seen before.

The Flights to the PCNW

Our first flight was on one of American's Bombardier CRJ900s

Our first flight was on one of American’s Bombardier CRJ900s

Our flight from Oklahoma City to Dallas was on a smaller Bombardier CRJ900, rather than the Boeing 737 or McDonnell Douglas MD80 jets I was used to flying out of Oklahoma on American Airlines in all of my previous flights. The plane was fairly comfortable, especially in First Class, although on our flight to Dallas the air conditioning was not functioning well, so we were warm, but not nearly as uncomfortable as the flight attendant.

The connection at Dallas-Fort Worth went well, with us finding time to grab dinner at a TGI Friday’s in the airport, since we weren’t too sure about the entrées we had reserved for our long evening flight to Portland. That four-hour flight was on a larger Boeing 737-800, a style of plane which filled the gap when the venerable MD80 went out of production after McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing. We liked that older and wider plane better than the Bombardier.

We enjoyed First Class on the 737-800 to Portland

We enjoyed First Class on the 737-800 to Portland

We had a seasoned, expert flight attendant who took good care of us. I don’t think I’ve ever flown First Class; I certainly have never paid for it but might have been upgraded once on a short flight. So I was pleasantly surprised by the warm wash cloths, heated nuts, and other little touches we were spoiled with. Our entrées turned out pretty well, although I’ve also had good food back in coach. I purchased WiFi access for each of us through the Gogo service, so we could track where we were at along the flight and could access many internet services, although streaming video was out of the question. We mainly kept ourselves entertained with Kindle books: Wendy was reading Honky Tonk Samurai and I was finishing Ellison’s Invisible ManI was startled to see some stills from Claude Rains’ Invisible Man movie inserted into the text; some editor had foolishly confused Ralph Ellison with H.G. Wells! That oversight only drove home the point of Ellison’s masterwork on issues facing African Americans.

I always gave Wendy the window seat, both out of chivalry and because I’ve flown several times since she took a flight. So she had fun looking out at the passing clouds, wind farms, rivers, and mountains. It was thrilling to see magnificent Mount Hood to our left as we flew into Portland. I knew we’d be seeing it from ground level from Portland and again, closer up, a few days later when we drove along the Columbia River Gorge.

Mount Hood

Wendy snapped this view of Mount Hood from our airplane

Our flight ended with a mint, served on a tray with a glass bubbling vapor in fun recognition that we had landed in the Cascade Range. We would start near volcanic Mount Hood, later drive partway up Mount Saint Helens to view the caldera where it erupted in 1980, drive over by Mount Rainier, and circumnavigate the Olympic peninsula, with Mount Olympus at its distant center. There are massive volcanoes all over the PCNW, and we would repeatedly note how we were walking about on ash. It is a sobering reminder how that lovely, moist, and cool region is on occasion wracked in volcanic violence with fiery fury. Thankfully all of the mountains remained dormant throughout our honeymoon, which would commence in earnest the following day with us visiting downtown Portland.

SLIDESHOW | PHOTO ALBUM

Keeping It Simple (Our Wedding)

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2016 in photos, travel

 

Keeping It Simple

At age six, I was a ring bearer at a wedding

At age six, I was a ring bearer at a wedding

Meador PostThis month I am turning 50 years old. At my age, a birthday requires relatively little planning. I’m content to share some time with my closest friends. When asked what I might like for a gift, I can honestly say their company would mean more to me than any other gifts they might bestow.

But I started this month with getting married for the first time, and a wedding requires much more planning. The most elaborate wedding I’ve participated in was when I was a ring bearer at age six, decked out in a white tuxedo with a yellow ruffled shirt; yes, it was the 1970s. I remember how the rings were tied to the pillow I held, so I wouldn’t drop them as I fidgeted through what seemed an interminable ceremony. Wendy, my beautiful bride, remembers being a train bearer at her older sister’s ceremony in the 1980s. Those early experiences formed our childhood impressions of what weddings were like.

When faced with planning our own wedding, we realized that at our stage in life we wanted to dispense with almost all of the usual fanfare. We did want to involve my parents, so we opted for a ceremony near their home in Oklahoma City. Rather than burden our friends in Bartlesville and Tulsa with a long road trip to attend a wedding, we kept the ceremony very small and simple. A high school friend, with whom we had connected at my 30-year high school reunion a few years back, kindly offered to be our officiant.

We brought our own roses since Oklahoma City no longer has a rose garden

We brought our own roses since Oklahoma City no longer has a rose garden

I know that, at age 49, I was very lucky that both of my parents could be there

I know that, at my age, we were very lucky that both of my parents could be there

With one of my uncles and his family graciously assisting, we were only a party of eight at a gazebo at Will Rogers Park. We had booked the park since Wendy loves roses, and it was the home of the Sparks Rose Garden. However, we later discovered that a blight wiped out the roses some years back, and it is now the Sparks Color Garden. One thing we Oklahoma teachers know is how to adapt to shortcomings, so in addition to a rose corsage and boutonniere, I surprised Wendy with a bouquet of large red long-stemmed roses in a tall vase that was front and center for the ceremony.

I’m frankly flabbergasted that the average wedding now reportedly costs $25,000 to $30,000. Do most couples take out a loan these days? Our wedding certainly did not cost much. Wendy is even more frugal than I, so we were both content to only have to pay for our wedding outfits, the roses, and the park rental. Our engagement rings became our wedding rings. My folks bought us all lunch afterward, with my father offering a toast that fit us to a T, as in trails:

Tapping on a glass I would like to raise a toast to the newlyweds. Here’s to Wendy and Granger: Using a phrase, not coined by me, but one seen many times in your posts and blogs, Charli and I wish you many Happy Trails as you begin a great new adventure together.

Our wedding reflected our relationship: simple, loving, and direct. Our honeymoon, however, would be a bit more elaborate. We would stay in eight hotel rooms over 18 days in three different states and one foreign country, traveling over 3,300 miles by plane, 1,200 miles by car, and 50 miles by ferry. Our travels will be the subject of the next posts.

Our wedding included no gift registry, as we aren’t youngsters just starting out. We also had no reception but plan to have an informal get-together at the lake with friends. We recognize that for us what matters most in life are people, not possessions. I am grateful for my parents, my extended family, my friends and co-workers, and, most of all, for my beautiful wife. I agree with the sentiment on a shirt Wendy received at a bridal shower: “Happy wife, happy life.”

Granger and Wendy Meador

Granger and Wendy Meador

Honeymoon, Day 1: Planning for Portland and Beyond >

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2016 in photos, roses

 

Kite Trail Wildflowers in the Wichitas

Hike Date: May 14, 2016 | SLIDESHOW | PHOTO MOSAIC

Meador PostWendy and I spent much of the spring working on Meador Manor to prepare it for her move here in late June before our marriage on July 1. That meant we were unable to hike on multiple weekends, save for brief outings on familiar trails at Skull Hollow and the bike trails at Osage Hills. But in mid-May we did manage to hike a trail new to both of us: the Kite Trail in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

We took a break from housework to visit Lawton, in southeast Oklahoma, where Wendy’s brother was stationed at the Fort Sill army base. He and his family would soon be transferred to the east coast, so we met up with them for lunch. Then Wendy and I took advantage of our proximity to the wildlife refuge to take a nice walk.

I selected the Kite Trail, which is part of the Dog Run Hollow Trail System which I visited on Christmas Day in 2010. On that previous outing I had come in from the north and trekked south on the Bison Trail on the west side of West Cache Creek as far south as the canyon called the Forty Foot Hole. This time we would start from the south on the Kite Trail, which heads along the east side of West Cache Creek to Lost Lake and then back, in what turned out to be a very pretty 2.75 mile hike. In the future, I’ll favor the Kite Trail over the Bison Trail, although the challenging Narrows Trail farther east remains my favorite.

KIte Trail (click trail track for slideshow)

We took Highway 62 west from Lawton to Cache, and then drove north on 115 into the refuge. Turning west on 49, the main road in the western part of the refuge, we passed Quanah Parker and Burford Lakes before turning south to drive past Lost Lake and finally dead-end at the Boulder Picnic Area. At the farthest end of the loop is the Kite Trail’s south trailhead.

Wendy and the Wildflowers

Indian Blanket

The vegetation was lush and green from recent rains, so I expected the creek to be running well. We were happy to find the granite hillsides covered in flowers, including large numbers of Indian Blanket, which back in 1986 was designated as Oklahoma’s state wildflower. As we travelled north near the creek, we encountered Indian Paintbrush, Spiderwort, Purple Poppy Mallow, many more Indian Blankets, and fields of yellow flowers.

I posed on the trail as we approached the Forty Foot Hole, with small waterfalls visible below us in the creek just south of the canyon. Then we reached the Forty Foot Hole.

The Forty Foot Hole

Forty Foot Hole Waterfalls

This crevice carved by the creek is quite beautiful, with more falls on its north end. Some adventuresome boys provided scale in a photo and a brief video, and I shot a close-up showing the vertical bedding planes. As Wendy and I snacked above the falls, more young hikers passed by and made their way down. I got a shot of the Forty Foot Hole from its north end, with more falls to enjoy.

We travelled onward through the wildflowers, occasionally guided by old metal markers that revealed the Kite Trail is named for the bird, not the wind-borne toy. While Wendy took snaps of more wildflowers, a lizard carefully posed for me on the rocks. Wendy accidentally pressed the wrong button on her iPhone, but I liked the resulting Ansel Adams-style photograph of me shooting amidst the granite confusion.

Lounge Lizard

Farther upstream, a large smooth boulder in the creek urged contemplation. A tree had thick bark that reminded me of scales, and there were prickly pear cactus blooms beginning to open. Wendy got a nice shot of some impressive Antelope Horns milkweed. Near Lost Lake, water running off a granite slab had brightened the vegetative border.

We passed the Lost Lake dam, and nearby sharp-eyed Wendy spotted a beautiful Catclaw Sensitive Briar bloom. We headed for the picnic area and a welcome bathroom break before turning back.

Wildflower Trail

The view back toward the dam made it resemble a huge mirage pool. I steered us on a higher side trail for some variation on the way back, with us blessed by more wildflowers strewn along the way.

It had been a wonderful hike, something we could both reflect back on over the next few hectic weeks as we brought the academic year to a close.

SLIDESHOW | PHOTO MOSAIC

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2016 in day hike, photos, travel, video

 

Looping Lake Leatherwood

Meador PostHike Date: March 17, 2016 | SLIDESHOW | PHOTO MOSAIC

On Saint Patrick’s Day 2016, Wendy and I circumnavigated Lake Leatherwood near Eureka Springs, Arkansas on a 4.1 mile hike. Far less hilly than our trek a day earlier on the Dogwood Overlook Trail, this hike was a beautiful walk through the forest in one of the largest municipally owned parks in the nation.

Beautiful Lake Leatherwood (click image for slideshow)

Lake Leatherwood Hike

Leatherwood Park

Leatherwood City Park is 1620 acres and was developed in the late 1930s under the Soil Conservation Service and Works Progress Administration with labor from the Civilian Conservation Corps. A limestone-covered dam impounds the 80 acre lake, and the old cooking pavilion, diving platform, and bathhouse remain in service. What piqued my interest was that 25 miles of hiking and biking trails have been developed around the lake area, and the city has a nice online map detailing them.

Beacham Trail and The Point

It was a 15 minute, 9 mile drive from Sugar Ridge Resort to the park, with a long and winding road to the Beacham Trail entrance. That trail circumnavigates the entire lake, but I was disappointed to find the trail on the east side of the lake is a rutted and rocky road. So we took the Point Camp turnoff to escape the monotony. That led to a nice point out on the lake, where we could get a panoramic view of the dam and the surrounding forest. We saw groups of hikers making their way across the dam in the distance.

Point Camp Panorama

Wendy hunts for crystals

Leaving the point, we diverted onto the Fuller Trail, which was much more to my liking. It led across a rocky streambed, where Wendy delighted in hunting for pretty rocks and crystals while I clambered upstream. I reached the Beacham Trail and turned back. When I rejoined Wendy, who was still busily sniffing out rock treasures, she made it clear we must return to this spot in the future. I happily agreed.

The Fuller Trail led past another creekbed and approached the lake shore. A fisherman in a white shirt and his boat gleamed out on the lake. The trail then ended, and we were back on the Beacham, which was now more trail than road as it approached the dam.

Lake Leatherwood Dam

Down the face

Before we took the straight shot across the top of the dam, I peeked around the back side, pleased to find a trail leading down past its eroded limestone blocks to the spillway. The dam is actually built of concrete and covered in hand-cut limestone blocks quarried nearby, making the erosion less worrisome. The water roaring down its rocky face was quite impressive, and we enjoyed the view from below and from above. The tranquility across the lake to the south contrasted with the roaring water toppling over the edge of the dam to the north.

Crossing the dam, we soon reached the limestone quarry, which was a cut from a rock ledge. There were a number of large stones still waiting in the quarry, decades after they were cut.

Calm After the Roar

I enjoyed the quiet and isolation of the narrower stretch of the Beacham Trail on the east side of the lake, with plenty of lake views. We passed a peace symbol made of rocks, bringing to mind my childhood visits to Eureka Springs and the hippies that hung out there back in the 1970s. Today it is still a bohemian oasis in the Ozarks, welcoming alternate lifestyles.

Fording West Leatherwood Creek

Stranded bridge

The trail wound up and around three different entry creeks before reaching the floodplain of West Leatherwood Creek. The wide rocky creek bed was quite different from the forest trail we had been using. A wooden bridge stranded in the rocks tried to provide access. But the bridge we really needed had been swept away, so we got our boots and socks wet fording the creek. It was a shame the beavers had not felled some trees in a direction that would have helped us out.

We passed some cattails as our hike came to a close, with us walking past campsites and old rental cabins to return to our car. It had been a delightful hike. I look forward to returning here, both to let Wendy find more rock crystals and to hike the Miner’s Rock and Overlook trails on the hillside above the east side of the lake.

A Maelstrom at Crystal Bridges and The Open Road

Our brief stay in the Ozarks was drawing to a close. The next day we headed home, stopping over at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, where we admired a whirling mass of painted aluminum by the walkway. Maelstrom by Alice Aycock reminds one of a tornado vortex, or flower blooms, or a shell.

Maelstrom by Alice Aycock

The temporary exhibit, which we enjoyed for free thanks to our dual memberships in Woolaroc and its membership in the North American Reciprocal Museum Association, was The Open Road, a photography exhibit on road trips. I liked the grumpy-looking woman in front of a colorful wall in an untitled piece by William Eggleston. Joel Sternfeld’s McLean, Virginia, December 1978 was a standout with its portrayal of a fireman picking out a pumpkin as a house burns in the background.

Wendy and I were grateful for our short break in the Ozarks. Our next hike would be at the end of March, on the Skull Hollow Trail at Lake Oologah.

SLIDESHOW | PHOTO MOSAIC

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2016 in day hike, photos, travel, video

 

Above Beaver Dam: The Dogwood Overlook Trail

Meador PostHike Date: March 16, 2016 | SLIDESHOW | PHOTO MOSAIC

Wendy and I have been working most weekends since Spring Break on preparing for her move into Meador Manor with our marriage in July. So we passed on many weekends of good hiking weather, and I haven’t had time to blog about our hikes on Spring Break. Now that the city cleanup days are over and the Manor is almost ready, I can start catching up on my pending posts.

Wendy and I spent several days of our 2016 Spring Break at Sugar Ridge Resort on Beaver Lake in northwest Arkansas. We had previously stayed in the same cabin in June 2014 and March 2015. Previously we have hiked the short trail on the old railroad grade at Beaver town nine road miles northeast of our cabin and the Bench Rock Nature Trail four road miles southwest of our cabin. We again wanted to hike on this visit, and I selected a couple of nearby destinations that were unfamiliar to both of us. The first was only a couple of miles southeast of our cabin: the Dogwood Overlook Trail at Beaver Dam Site Park.

The Quest for Online Maps

I've created over 150 trail tracks since 2009

I’ve created over 150 trail tracks since 2009

I had read online that the trail was two miles over steep terrain, although I wasn’t sure if that was an out-and-back distance, a loop, or one-way. I could not find an online trail map, although I read that local Boy Scouts had created a new hiking trail map available at the Corps of Engineers office in Rogers. Ideally every hiking trail would have a map online in PDF format along with GPX and KMZ GPS files. But that is easier said than done; I have not been posting my own maps in those formats either, instead only creating trail track views in Google Earth from KMZ files exported from my iPhone’s MotionX GPS app, which I edit in Corel Presentations and upload in the photo albums for my blog posts. I’ve created over 150 of those suckers thus far. Starting with this hike, I’m adding links to my Trail Track images and GPX and KMZ files to my Day Hikes spreadsheet. Eventually I would like to find the time to add similar links for previous hikes.

Trail Track (click image for slideshow)

Time to Hit the Trail

Beaver Dam

We took our time getting started, enjoying watching Downy and Red Bellied woodpeckers at our cabin feeder. Eventually we were ready to head out, and drove the couple of miles over to Beaver Dam. The trail entrance was in the overlook area, which was not yet open to vehicle traffic. So we parked uphill at a recreational vehicle dump station and trekked cross country to the overlook. As we gazed down at the spillway, the siren sounded, indicating the hydroelectric generator was starting up and there would be increased flow downstream into Table Rock Lake.

We located a flight of stairs at the trailhead, where a sign told us the Boy Scouts did more than map this trail: Troop 136 in Bentonville, Arkansas built it. Later I read online that its construction was an Eagle Scout Service Project. Bentonville is 30 road miles southwest of the dam.

Elevation Changes

Backtracking at the Quarry

The stairs initiated the first of what would end up being five steep ascents on our journey. I logged the elevation changes, showing that we ascended 50 feet for a higher view of the dam spillway, following helpful tree badges. We spotted the trail’s eponymous dogwoods as we climbed the hillside to reach the edge of the large quarry. Highway 187 snakes around it on the south side of the dam. Wendy had me pose for a photo. There was one finished block embedded in the ground at the base of the quarry, and Beaver Lake was visible above the edges of the quarry as we gazed westward along the quarry’s old road. It turned out that the dump station we had parked at was at the end of that old quarry road.

Beaver Dam Quarry

The trail led up along the ridge on the east side of the quarry, with the land sloping off to the east and abruptly ending in the quarry’s edge to the west. We ended up climbing 100 feet to reach highway 187, where the trail faded out after reaching a gate. Lacking a map, I thought we might have missed a turn. So we backtracked down to the quarry, finding no side trails. So we trooped back up the hillside to the highway and crossed it, happily discovering a trail badge and arrow on a tree on the far south side. They need to put up signage on the north side of the highway to help newbies to this trail.

The Way Down Leads Back Up

Fan fungi

On the other side of the road, the trail made a steep 200 foot descent to reach its closest approach to the shores of Beaver Lake. The lake earns its name; we saw clear signs that beavers had downed and chewed a tree near the trail. We got a nice view of the lake below along with some tiny fan fungi which were growing on a log.

Bluffside trail

The trail turned and made a steep 90 foot climb to a bluff line, where some handy wood steps were built to allow us to ascend to walk alongside the bluff. Wendy posed for me, and we enjoyed passing by a small waterfall. I shot some video of it.

The trail has a number of benches, for which we were grateful given its propensity for steep climbs and dives. Along the 150 foot ascent from the bluff back up to highway 187, I relaxed on a bench, snapping a photo of a nearby dogwood bloom. Meanwhile, Wendy the rock hound scoured the area for geological finds. She laughed when she found a rock that had been slathered with some of the green paint from the bench. A branch farther along the trail had been slathered too, but its paint was lichen.

We reached the highway, where this time there was a nice large “Hiking Trail” sign on each side of the road, making it easy to spot this crossing.

Tree hole

The trail descended 230 feet on the opposite side of the ridge road, winding its way through the forest. We spotted a distinctive tree hole, and I liked the Dogwood blooms sprinkled across the forestscape.

We reached an old dirt road, which led back to the overlook area, with a gate marking the end of the trail loop. As we returned to the car, we could see the Sugar Ridge Resort perched across the lake. I used my superzoom camera to show our cabin to the right of the large unfinished Moon Stone Farm building atop the ridge.

Perseverance Pays Off

We enjoyed our hike, which gave us a good workout with its constant steep elevation changes. The steep hillsides made it seem longer than two miles, and admittedly our backtracking to the quarry stretched the hike to 2.6 miles. We also were both getting over colds, so we had hacked and coughed throughout our trek, blowing our noses regularly.

We weren’t hiked out yet; the next day we would have another great hike at Lake Leatherwood. More on that in the next post.

SLIDESHOW | PHOTO MOSAIC

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2016 in day hike, photos, travel, video

 

A change is gonna come

April 18, 2016

Sam Cooke’s old song, “A Change Is Gonna Come” is playing in my head these days. Not merely because of the struggles our nation still has with race, but because of the remarkable progress we have made in our treatment of gay people and other minorities. America grows ever more inclusive even as it struggles with political polarization, income inequality, and other troubles. But this post is about different sorts of changes that are most certainly gonna come.

A digital, rather than a political, revolution

Cell phones are often a distraction in the classroom

Cell phones are often a distraction in the classroom

Change is also quite evident in the impact of modern digital technology on our lives. The smart phone’s tremendous computing power, coupled to the mobility enabled by the cellular phone network, puts the world at our fingertips almost anywhere. But despite ingenious and powerful instructional uses, cell phones are still more of a distraction than an instructional tool at school. Their size and design promote content consumption, not content creation, and they are ill-suited for guided instruction. A larger screen and keyboard are vital to harnessing digital tools for instruction.

Meanwhile, I am dismayed to see my students lugging around bulging backpacks packed with huge textbooks in an era of e-readers and tablet computers. We should be providing our students with personal digital devices designed for school, but I recognize that our woefully underfunded schools could never afford to provide every student with an tablet or laptop computer, let alone support thousands of them. Or could they?

Even amidst our current school funding crisis, with its daily drumbeat of woe, there is hope for positive change. Inexpensive and very-low-maintenance Google Chromebooks could guarantee all students, even ours in Bartlesville, equal access to digital tools that are truly useful in almost every school subject. Our district is being forced to make the same deep cuts as others around our state, but we can still make things better for students and teachers using bond issue technology funds our patrons have already approved. It is illegal to use those funds for salaries, but we can certainly use them for student technology.

Chromebook

Chromebook

So next year we’ll be piloting Chromebooks in the 10-12 English courses at Bartlesville High School as a prelude to a multi-year rollout of a 1:1 computing initiative. Eventually each secondary student in our system will have his or her own Chromebook, taking the place of the traditional textbooks and putting a powerful content consumption and creation device in every student’s hands, all day long.

I’m going to be a part of that change, but not in the way you might expect. While next year I’ll be helping direct and support the Chromebook pilot project at our school, I won’t ever be using the new Chromebooks in my classroom, because after May 2017 I’ll no longer have a classroom. Change is gonna come…in fact, it is already here.

Curtailing my classes in 2016-2017

District newsfeed

District newsfeed

Earlier this month budget cuts led to the district not filling the Community Relations Coordinator’s job when she resigned for a job closer to her home. That propelled me into a new job role of District Communications, distributing district news via the district website’s newsfeed and social media. I’ll continue in that role next school year.

Folks have told me for years, “I don’t know how you do all of the things you do in the district and still teach.” They would be right to question how I could still teach four physics classes while I chair two departments, direct a $1.7 million grant to build STEM labs with additional courses at each secondary school, lead our union’s bargaining with the district, create and manage over a dozen websites, and now take on district news and the pilot project of Chromebooks.

The answer is that change is here in the form of a shrinking physics enrollment, the victim of continuing demographic changes. The decline may also reflect the success of the wonderful new STEM courses which I’ve facilitated but not taught. In 2016-2017 our district is going to change that downturn in physics enrollment into an opportunity to focus my physics teaching on three morning classes and free up my afternoons for the new initiatives and all of the other work I do outside the classroom.

Leaving the classroom in May 2017

Looking ahead to 2017-2018, when the 1:1 computing initiative will be taking off, I will have left teaching to occupy a new district administrative position in charge of both Technology and Communication. That position is highlighted on the third slide in an online presentation of district organizational charts for 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18.

So in August 2017 someone else will be teaching physics at Bartlesville High School, ending my 28 year tenure in that role. Fluffy won’t be in the classroom anymore – but she’s often missing anyway, thanks to treacherous catnappers!

2016-2017 will be my last year of teaching physics

2016-2017 will be my last year of teaching physics

I’ve had a good, long run teaching physics in this town. I will have taught over 2,600 students by the time I leave the classroom. When I graduated from college and was looking for a teaching position back in 1989, I turned down multiple job offers, holding out for a job teaching physics most, if not all, of the day. My dream came true when the job in Bartlesville opened up, where I could teach five classes of physics using the same curriculum I’d trained under at the University of Oklahoma.

Over the years my physics classes have fluctuated from 4 to 6 sections, with from 78 to 138 students in a given year. For several years our physics enrollment has not been enough to fill out a teaching day; the last year we actually had enough physics enrollment for five sections was 2011. I have avoided having to teach chemistry as a third science course by filling my time with many other duties, primarily the 20 years I have served as the chair of the science department for grades 6-12. But I’ve taken on many additional roles over the years. The chart below (click to enlarge it) shows major milestones and long-term roles in my work over the past 27 years, and illustrates how things will change by 2017-2018.

My career in the Bartlesville Public Schools

My career in the Bartlesville Public Schools

The call to serve

Chuck McCauley

Chuck McCauley

I have immense faith and trust in our new superintendent, Chuck McCauley, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with for 15 years in his various administrative positions. He has a vision for change and has asked me to help with two aspects of that vision. With his assurance that he is here for the long haul, I’ve decided to invest the remainder of my career in helping him make those changes happen.

I understand when parents, former students, and my colleagues tell me that my leaving the classroom to become an administrator is bittersweet for them. They know how I have served so long in so many ways, heeding the call to teach while working beyond my classroom to bolster our programs. I can assure them that the call to serve is still there, but now I need to heed a call to serve at another level.

Change is gonna come, because it has to

My work has kept me a very busy bachelor for over a quarter-century. But after this summer I will be 50 years old and married, and I recognize it is time for me to restructure and refocus my career. As I have contemplated my future with Wendy, the changes in our school over the past 27 years, and my retirement in 12-17 years, I realize that I cannot keep doing what I’m doing. I need to allow my professional life to evolve along with my personal one.

Even when I’m thinking back, I’m looking forward

The FutureWhen the end is coming, it is time for a new beginning. There are lots of reasons, admittedly both positive and negative, why I have agreed to leave the classroom after 28 years of teaching. But I am genuinely excited about the new opportunities to come. I know that I can make improvements in how our district communicates and how it uses technology. I know we need to change, and that change is gonna come for us whether we are ready or not. I want to help us to be ready for those changes and help make them happen. Change is gonna come, and I’m gonna be a part of it. The best is yet to come.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2016 in education, physics

 
 
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