Monthly Archives: October 2014


29 Oct

Conned Again

Posted by on October 29, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Super fandom requires super commitment. Therefore, Jason and I attend an impractical number of geeky conventions every year. Our latest of these was Salt Lake’s second annual comic con. Here are a few of the highlights from that gathering.

John Barrowman and Stephen Amell? Now that's a super pair.

John Barrowman and Stephen Amell? Now that’s a super pair.

This year Salt Lake Comic Con again broke records with 120,000 attendees. Woohoo! These numbers weren’t without their tribbles though. The first night, a Thursday, turnout exceeded estimations by 30,000 and people had to wait up to 4 hours just to get inside the Salt Palace. Fortunately, Jason and I had picked up our registration early so we avoided that fixed point in time.

My precious!

My precious!

Among the show’s highpoints were its many excellent panels. John Barrowman, Stephen Amell, Bruce Campbell, and Alan Tudyk all entertained us onstage. Bruce Campbell turned his session into a game show, Alan Tudyk gave away signed stuff from his bag o’ crap (including a pair of Prada sunglasses), and John Barrowman sang to his audience. Be still my geeky heart!

Stephen Amell's panel was great. He came across as a nice and grounded person.

Stephen Amell’s panel was great. He came across as a nice and grounded person.

Jason and I met our long-lost siblings at comic con.

Jason and I met our long-lost siblings at comic con.

The smaller panels at SLCC were definitely much better this time. We learned about ways superheroes can keep the feminine while adding the -ism, tricks for photographing cosplay, and techniques for generating novel plots. That may be more nerdy knowledge than the average person wants to assimilate but my positronic matrix has been hardwired to crave it.

The band at the Evermore Park booth was fantastic. Upon seeing my Star Wars dress they played an impromptu cantina song for me.

The band at the Evermore Park booth was fantastic. Upon seeing my Star Wars dress they played an impromptu cantina song for me.

Evermore's Osiris was quite the winged beast.

Evermore’s Osiris was quite the winged beast.

The exhibit hall was enormous this time, taking up every inch of the Salt Palace’s 670,000 square feet. We bought Doctor dolls, Elven earrings, and leather goods in its congested space. We also purchased nerdy t-shirts and cool prints but that’s kind of a given. I was excited to see the first SLCC exclusives emerge this year, like newborn Uruk-hai ready to snuff out everything around them. Yes, special-edition toys are a sure sign that your con has amassed the power to take over the world.

FarAway Creations created this sweet starry setting.

FarAway Creations created this sweet starry setting.

All comic cons are exhausting, this one was no exception but we rallied on Friday night with the help of friends and food. We caught up with Lee, Steven, Meggie, and Ben over a pizza dinner and listened to recounts of their con happenings. Not all nerds think or drool alike so this was a fascinating discussion.

These Weeping Angels were convincingly creepy.

These Weeping Angels were convincingly creepy.

Salt Lake Comic Con was tremendous as usual. (I can say that now because it’s been around long enough to have a usual.) Nerds always need a good reason to brush their teeth and get out of their mom’s basement. Thanks SLCC for providing incentive for good oral hygiene and an opportunity to don super garb.

19 Oct

The Family Stone Part II: Other Spouters and Splashers

Posted by on October 19, 2014 at 11:51 am

The next day, we all jumped in our respective vehicles, forming a caravan of familial trippers, to journey around the park. We saw everything from a dragon’s maw to an acid lake during that gradual loop through Yellowstone. The following is an account of our round.

Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, was difficult to see under its shroud of steam but the intense bacterial mats surrounding it were hard to miss.

Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, was difficult to see under its shroud of steam but the intense bacterial mats surrounding it were hard to miss.

We began by heading east from Old Faithful, toward Fishing Bridge. At Fishing Bridge we paused for an extended time to allow for multiple unsynchronized potty-stops and to purchase extra layers of clothing. Why the extra layers you ask? Yellowstone was cold! Although it was August, the temperatures never rose above 50 F and they definitely drifted a lot lower. Most of us were not prepared for this unseasonal preposterousness and the omnipresent rain didn’t help our readiness.

It was neat to have a group of family members traveling with us.

It was neat to have a group of family members traveling with us.

However, the disagreeable weather didn’t stop our convoy from continuing north to the Mud Volcano area. The Mud Volcano region is stranger than fantasy. There you will see hillsides cooked by steam, lakes as acidic as stomach juices, and seething masses of ashen mud. Your nose will constantly be assaulted by the pungent aroma of hydrogen sulfide gas, something akin to a rotten egg reek. Yes, it’s a putrid, bizarre, and magical place.

Lower Falls is twice the height of Niagara Falls. It roars 308 feet down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Lower Falls is twice the height of Niagara Falls. It roars 308 feet down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

After Mud Volcano, we stopped for a picnic at Otter Creek. Our table was situated in a lovely spot near the Yellowstone River but the chilliness encouraged our eating to proceed rather speedily.

Acid-loving thermophiles have transformed the runoff from Pinwheel and Whirligig Geysers into these streams of green.

Acid-loving thermophiles have transformed the runoff from Pinwheel and Whirligig Geysers into these streams of green.

Following our quickly-consumed meal, we checked out the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River from Artist Point. Lower Falls plummets 308 feet into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Between the emerald tint of the gushing water and the red hues of the rusting canyon, this chasm is definitely a keeper.

Vixen Geyser, so named because of its temperamental disposition, erupts for seconds to nearly an hour at internals that range from minutes to hours.

Vixen Geyser, so named because of its temperamental disposition, erupts for seconds to nearly an hour at internals that range from minutes to hours.

The majesty of the falls persuaded most of the members of our group to seek a better look via Uncle Tom’s Trail, which leads to an unparalleled view of the waterworks from 500 feet down into the canyon. Uncle Tom’s Trail is not recommended for those with heart, lung, or other health conditions…or little brothers with acrophobia. This short but strenuous route travels over 300 stairs made of perforated steel sheeting, AKA holey metal, which means that you remain quite aware of the extreme drop-offs beyond your feet as you descend it. Drew was not thrilled about the vertical vertigo produced by Uncle Tom’s but he managed to make it to its terminus with some motivational chiding from his child.

Porcelain Springs in Norris Geyser Basin is colored by silica.

Porcelain Springs in Norris Geyser Basin is colored by silica.

We spotted this elk near the road.

We spotted this elk near the road.

Our last stop on the way back to Old Faithful was Norris Geyser Basin. This utterly wacky region was mesmerizing. Norris is one of Yellowstone’s most acidic and fieriest stretches. The water in many of its hot springs maintains temperatures above the boiling point and its colliding colors are nearly as extreme. We lucked out and saw Constant and Vixen Geysers shooting their stream as we wandered past them but even without those interesting bursts Norris would have been a rare treat.

Vibrant groundcover paints Biscuit Basin as well.

Vibrant groundcover paints Biscuit Basin as well.

The next morning, before Jason and I headed back to Utah, we toured the Black Sand, Biscuit, and Fountain Paint Pot areas. We were still eager to discover more of Yellowstone’s spurted secrets. We saw Fountain, Clepsydra, Cliff, and Spouter Geysers explode but Black Sand Pool was probably the most interesting feature we encountered that a.m. The natural plumbing feeding Black Sand Pool periodically shudders and groans like strained pipes before it shoots a wave of bubbles to the surface of the pool. The ground literally shakes beneath your feet. We weren’t expecting this and it was pretty dang cool.

The Fountain Paint Pot is a peculiar area in the Lower Geyser Basin where acidic waters have dissolved stone and created pools of bubbling sludge.

The Fountain Paint Pot is a peculiar area in the Lower Geyser Basin where acidic waters have dissolved stone and created pools of bubbling sludge.

Yellowstone’s bubbling springs, blasting geysers, and polychromatic streams are incredible and beautiful. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the most visited national parks. Got some family and/or some time? I’d recommend checking it out.

9 Oct

The Family Stone Part I: Upper Geyser Basin

Posted by on October 9, 2014 at 9:18 pm

My family has not gone on vacation together for almost twenty years. This fall we attempted to remedy that, sort of. Jason and I traveled to Yellowstone National Park near the end of August with my parents and my brother Andrew’s family for an extended weekend overflowing with hydrothermal masterpieces.

Old Faithful is probably Yellowstone's most famous feature. Its show are pretty predictable, every 45-125 minutes, and last 1-5 minutes typically. Old Faithful discharges boiling water up to 185 feet in the air during these spectacular happenings.

Old Faithful is probably Yellowstone’s most famous feature. Its show are pretty predictable, every 45-125 minutes, and last 1-5 minutes typically. Old Faithful discharges boiling water up to 185 feet in the air during these spectacular happenings.

While we were in the Upper Geyser Basin, a buffalo wandered very close to our group. He even kindly posed for us.

While we were in the Upper Geyser Basin, a buffalo wandered very close to our group. He even kindly posed for us.

Isabelle did not fancy walking on her own much so Andrew frequently strapped her on his back like a babe.

Isabelle did not fancy walking on her own much so Andrew frequently strapped her on his back like a babe.

Thanks to our well-timed reservations, made nine months in advance, we were all able to secure accommodations in the Old Faithful area. Jason and I, along with Drew’s clan, stayed in the frontier cabins adjacent to the lodge and my parents resided at the Old Faithful Inn. The cabins were definitely a relic of a bygone era. They by no means were sophisticated. However, despite their simplicity, they were tidy and, more importantly, literally a minute away from Old Faithful and the other geological oddities of the Upper Geyser Basin.

One side of this cabin was ours during our stay. No, it wasn't spacious or super comfortable but it was very convenient.

One side of this cabin was ours during our stay. No, it wasn’t spacious or super comfortable but it was very convenient.

Boardwalks are quite common in Yellowstone due to ground instability, thermophilic organisms, and scorching runoff.

Boardwalks are quite common in Yellowstone due to ground instability, thermophilic organisms, and scorching runoff.

Morning Glory Pool, beautiful at 158 degrees, has repeatedly been the victim of vandalism. Leave it to the idiots of the world to treat a unique and delicate spring like their personal wishing well.

Morning Glory Pool, beautiful at 158 degrees, has repeatedly been the victim of vandalism. Leave it to the idiots of the world to treat a unique and delicate spring like their personal wishing well.

It’s difficult to describe Yellowstone to those that have never been there because it seems unbelievable even as you are witnessing it: the pockets of steam peppering the horizon, the vibrant pools and stinky mudpots, the streaks of living color turning the ground into a rainbow, and, of course, the fickle geysers. The Upper Geyser Basin holds the majority of the world’s active geysers. From Old Faithful, which erupts roughly every 90 minutes, to Giant, which hasn’t erupted since 2010, Upper Geyser’s performers are a fascinating natural phenomenon that will keep you hurrying down boardwalks in search of the next upsurge surprise. During the afternoon we spent in the area, we watched some spectacular steam and spout explosions. Grotto, Turban, Spasmodic, Sawmill, Lion, Anemone, and Old Faithful all showed us their geyser stuff. We were really trying to catch Grand Geyser’s routine too but we missed it by minutes.

Grotto Geyser discharges about every 8 hours on average. Although it only shoots water 10-40 feet, its sinter shell, formed by coated tree stumps, makes these events very cool.

Grotto Geyser discharges about every 8 hours on average. Although it only shoots water 10-40 feet, its sinter shell, formed by coated tree stumps, makes these events very cool.

The Firehole River winds through Upper Geyser Basin forming a strip of normality amidst the remarkably odd.

The Firehole River winds through Upper Geyser Basin forming a strip of normality amidst the remarkably odd.

Sawmill erupts roughly every 1-3 hours. It was named for the humming sound it makes during these events.

Sawmill erupts roughly every 1-3 hours. It was named for the humming sound it makes during these events.

The Upper Geyser Basin was extraordinary. It’s amazing how nature’s genius can transform a little groundwater and some magma heat into an assortment of majestic and powerful spray displays. I wish we had had another day to spend near Old Faithful but we had other park wonders to see. You will hear all about those marvels next week. Will you be able to quell your boiling curiosity until then?

2 Oct

Going Glacial Part III: Day 5 & 6

Posted by on October 2, 2014 at 10:35 pm

The day after our long journey to Grinnell Glacier, we decided to slow our pace a little while technically speeding it up.

This Long Ranger traveled at 150 MPH. We covered a million acres of the park's spectacular terrain during our one-hour flight.

This Long Ranger traveled at 150 MPH. We covered a million acres of the park’s spectacular terrain during our one-hour flight.

We chose to hit the skies surrounding Glacier’s imposing peaks in a Long Ranger, a helicopter that reaches around 150 MPH. During our airborne hour, we got up-close views of several glaciers that are nearly impossible to see otherwise, along with breathtaking glimpses into the park’s backcountry nooks. Wow! I didn’t mind the heights or the sometimes abrupt course changes. Not everyone in our helicopter was equally unruffled though. One of the ladies in our group became so nervous she wouldn’t even look out the windows. Jason also objected a little to our rotorcraft’s occasional sharp movements, or at least his wimpy belly did, but he loved the adventure regardless.

Going-to-the-Sun Road, completed in 1933, is an engineering marvel with hand-excavated tunnels and arch bridges.

Going-to-the-Sun Road, completed in 1933, is an engineering marvel with hand-excavated tunnels and arch bridges.

Following our flight through Glacier’s jagged heavens, we hit Going-to-the-Sun-Road again but with less distance in mind than on previous occasions. We took it at an unhurried pace, stopping for viewpoints, photographs, and a couple of hikes.

St. Mary Falls surged with beautifully blue water.

St. Mary Falls surged with beautifully blue water.

The first trail we scaled led to St. Mary and Virginia Falls. This 3.6-mile trek seemed relatively laidback after our Grinnell scrambles. The two cascading features we encountered gave very different accounts of waterfalls. St. Mary’s spill was abundant and gushing while Virginia’s was slender and graceful.

Surprisingly, bear sightings seem to be quite common in Glacier. We chanced upon a number of the beasts but we never had to whip out our bear spray.

Surprisingly, bear sightings seem to be quite common in Glacier. We chanced upon a number of the beasts but we never had to whip out our bear spray.

We decided, after those surging diversions, that we still had enough oomph for one more walk. We chose to expend that remaining energy by hiking to a viewpoint overlooking Hidden Lake. Hidden Lake is situated almost directly on the Continental Divide. Its altitude and position make it a frequent target for drastic weather swings, as we regrettably discovered.

The trail to the Hidden Lake Overlook wound through rolling hills topped with alpine flowers.

The trail to the Hidden Lake Overlook wound through rolling hills topped with alpine flowers.

When we left our car to begin the 3-mile journey to Hidden Lake, the skies were a little cloudy but calm. We strolled contentedly up through alpine meadows carpeted with cheery wildflowers but, by the time we reached the overlook, our endpoint, the pleasantness of our surroundings had dissipated. Sprinkles began to fall and they quickly thickened and fattened. Within minutes, they amassed themselves into a torrential army of aggressive water.

The blurriness of this picture wasn't caused by a camera malfunction but a weather blip, AKA buckets of rain. Hiking back from Hidden Lake felt a lot like going for a dip in a muddy swimming pool with your shoes on.

The blurriness of this picture wasn’t caused by a camera malfunction but a weather blip, AKA buckets of rain. Hiking back from Hidden Lake felt a lot like going for a dip in a muddy swimming pool with your shoes on.

It had showered on us every day we had been in Montana. Our rain jackets, which we had wisely thought to pack, had, up to this point, adequately helped us avoid too much of a soaking but this tempest was different. This was the kind of storm that blinds you. The sort that turns tiny mountain trickles into powerful muddy currents within minutes, and creates rivers in your undies and streams through your shoes. Even with our raincoats, we were completely sopping before we had dashed a fraction of the distance we needed to travel to get back to our car. To make matters worse, thunder and lightning started to assault us as we scurried down that raging mountain. Granted, those flashes never strayed dangerously close but, after our experience on Wheeler Peak last summer, I’m pretty suspicious of any and all rumblings. When we reached our vehicle, following what seemed like an eon of wetness, we had to change every stitch of our clothing and yet we remained uncomfortably damp for the entire hour-long ride back. Two days later, when we were packing up our suitcases to return home, our shoes were still soggy from this experience.

When we were riding back from Hidden Lake, we encountered several unexpected travelers on the road ahead of us: a black bear mamma and her two cubs.

When we were riding back from Hidden Lake, we encountered several unexpected travelers on the road ahead of us: a black bear mamma and her two cubs.

Although our Hidden Lake drenching was not planned, the next day getting wet was on our agenda. We decided to do a half-day whitewater rafting trip down the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Do our amazing ideas for amusement ever cease? We floated through scenery and over rapids captured in the Meryl Streep movie The River Wild. We defeated many segments of whitewater like Bone Crusher, Tunnel, Pumphouse, Jaws, Repeater, CBT (Could Be Trouble), and Narrows. It was in one of those bumpy sections that our boat slammed up against a rock. At that point, our guide instructed everyone in the vessel to lean toward the boulder to keep from overturning but, thanks to a heavy dose of confusion, we all leaned the wrong way and our raft tipped. In slow motion, I saw Jason and the guy next to him fall into the water and then it was all over for me. Brr! Glacial runoff is…glacial! Jason popped out of the river much later than I did and seemed quite disoriented. He started swimming away from the raft and I had to coax him back to its buoyant safety. It was quite the experience but, at least, it made this paragraph pretty exciting, didn’t it?

Our raft may look rather waterlogged here but in other photos it's so splashed and submerged that you can't really tell there's even a boat there.

Our raft may look rather waterlogged here but in other photos it’s so splashed and submerged that you can’t really tell there’s even a boat there.

Even with our turnover, oddly, water was still on the menu for us that evening. After rafting, we took a mellow boat tour around Lake McDonald, the biggest lake in Glacier. Lake McDonald is 10 miles long and 1.5 miles wide and, with a 472-foot depth, it’s pretty frigid. So I’m happy to report that all of our hands and feet remained securely inside the DeSmet, a 57-foot historic craft that has glided through Lake McDonald since the 1920s, and no clever rocks coaxed us into doing any hasty flips.

Bone Crusher conquered!

Bone Crusher conquered!

Our Glacier trip was fantastic. We hiked over 28 miles in total during our vacation, a decent tally. We also soared in the heavens and wallowed in the water. The continual onslaught of precipitation was a bit disappointing, as were the below-average temperatures, but at least they kept the crowds away. I’d recommend Glacier National Park to anyone that likes exploring the outdoors. If you do want to check it out, I’d suggest not waiting too long. Thanks to man’s impact, the park’s once 150 glaciers now number only 25 and by 2030 there will most likely be zero. Way to go numbskulls! So see those waning spectacles soon before they’re going, going…gone.