Monday, August 24, 2009

Caves, Waterfalls, and Aliens

These last two weeks have been full of adventures!

My latest task at the YMCA was to be a counselor at I-CARE camp. This is a camp for elementary aged school children to teach them about being "green." As a result I was responsible for about 15 children for 10 hours/day (kindergarten age) as we went around the city and participated in various "green activities." We went on hikes, ate organic foods, picked up trash, and watched "green movies." We also went to the dump here which is euphemistically called an "Eco-station." The idea with this dump, is that about 40% of the material that comes in, is recycled. Also the administration building is a "green" building. The floor is made of cork (like the corks found on top of wine bottles. The light bulbs last forever and don't use very much power. The toilets hardly use any water. The building is powered by solar power (with huge solar panels on the side of the building). Worker's desks are tall so individuals can stand up while they type. The blinds are made of a special insulating material that keeps the heat from coming inside. And even the paint is made out of special kind of material that doesn't give off any smell. On the one hand, I like the idea of being "green" and then other times I think spending so much money on "organic" food is getting a bit ridiculous, but I'm still figuring out what I think.

That weekend Oliver and I planned to go to Tent Rocks National Monument. We planned on it being a short day trip, however it turned out to be a bit longer than expected. Our GPS that we have come to love and trust finally let us down. Instead of taking the well traveled freeway, the GPS led us down an old unmaintained forest service road. As we continued along the road at about 15 mph we were forced to drive through deep ravines and jump out the car to move stones (so our tires wouldn't pop). We also had to drive around 2 dead trees that had fallen across the road. We wanted to turn back, but by this time our gas was getting low and we had no choice, but to go forward. About an hour and a half later we started seeing some civilization. However, as we drove down the the windy mountain path we saw that the road we had been driving on for the last 2 hours was completely blocked off at the entrance to the city. We got out of the car and walked down to a farmhouse in the town. Luckily there was a lady and her son working out in the garden. She sat us down and called around to see who had a key to the gate. The forest service said they would send someone out to unlock it and so we patiently waited for them to come. Time kept ticking, so we started helping the lady tend the enormous garden they had. About 2 hours later we were still at the farmhouse. The son said there was actually a path that 4 wheelers would take around the road block sign and if we had four-wheel drive we might be able to take the same path. So Oliver, with his incredible driving skills, drove at about a 75 degree angle up the mountain and down the other side. We were incredibly lucky that we made it out without a popped tire or a rolled car (good thing our car is already totaled from the hail storm). The lady and her family then gave us a bunch of produce including a zucchini about the size of baseball bat and sent us on our way. We arrived at the monument about an hour and half later (6 hours to get there in all), and despite the hard time getting there the hike was incredible! (see Oliver's pictures). All around us were these formations called "tent rocks". They looked like children's building blocks stacked on top of each other. It was beautiful!

Then this weekend we made a wonderful trip to Southern New Mexico. On Friday we went to our "stake temple consecration day". We got to take a family name and do all the ordinances for the individual in one day. It was a neat experience. We then took off to make the 6 hour drive to Carlsbad. This involved driving through incredibly long stretches of absolute nothing. At one point we realized that we were nearly out of gas. Sure enough the gas light went on and when we looked up the closest gas station (on our GPS) we were about 35-40 miles away from the closest one (and or course we hadn't seen another car for ages, it's was about100 degrees outside and our cell phones didn't weren't in range). Luckily, just in time we ran into a tiny town with a gas station that the GPS hadn't picked up. Phew.

The next town we hit was Roswell. This town is famous for a supposed flurry of UFO activity that occurred there in the 1950s. It's a very eerie town. There are pictures of aliens all over the place and even the street lamps are shaped like alien heads with two slanted black eyes on them. We stopped there for dinner and then continue on our way to the camping ground in Carlsbad where we were staying the night.

We arrived at the camping ground at about 11:00PM. The town where it was located was completely dark (no street lamps) and the campground we had found on the internet was located behind a house. An old man came out to great us and told us where we could stay. We felt like we were camping in his back yard. Everything was VERY creepy, because it was so dark! The restrooms were located inside a large building with dining areas and a speaker system etc. But no one else was around. It seemed like an old abandoned place. Everything was also decorated with crosses. Come to find out, the place is an old Christian retreat, which usually caters to large church groups, but we happened to be the only ones staying there that weekend.

Anyways, we got up the next morning and drove the remaining 15 miles to the caves. These are some of the most amazing natural formations I have ever seen! The caves cover over 8 acres underground! And they're huge and wide open. Mt. Timp's cave seems a bit pathetic compared to this one. At one point there is 315 feet between the bottom and top of the cave. It was about 50 degrees and 90 % humidity in the cave and it's dimly lit with a paved walking path the entire way.

After the caves we came back to the blinding light of the New Mexico sun and drove to a place called "Sitting Bull Falls." This is one of the tallest falls in New Mexico and really is an oasis in the middle of the dessert. We swam a bit there and then took off to make the 6 hour drive back to Los Alamos.

This was our last weekend in New Mexico, as we will be heading back to Provo for school this next Friday. It's been a blast of a summer, but we're also excited to get back to Utah to see family and friends and start school again. However this last week will be a bit stressful for Oliver who is trying to work through tool malfunctions at the lab to get his experiment results by the time we leave this next weekend!

Well we can't wait to see all of you very soon!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Savoring the Last Few Weeks of Summer

Hello dear friends and family,
This last few week has been a good one for Oliver and me. We're starting to realize we only have a few short weeks before the leisure of summer ends and we return to the every day (sometimes) drag of school. However, we're excited to get back to Provo and see friends and family (in addition to having more people our age to hang out with).

This was my last week working with the YES Corps. However, next week I'll be helping with the "I-care" camp which involves working with kids from the age of 5-11 years old. That will be an adventure.

About 2 weeks ago there was a small and harmless spill at the division where Oliver works. Of course they shut down the entire division and no one can perform any work with chemicals whatsoever until every safety procedure is reviewed and tested. This means that about 400 very expensive employees have now been twiddling their thumbs at work not being able to do anything. It's especially frustrating for Oliver who needs to get results to his various tests before we leave here in 2 1/2 weeks. We're hoping the ban is lifted soon.

On Friday we were graced by Katie and Heather with her two very active kids. It was great to see them and Oliver made his famous "Pastel de chocolo" (A chilean dish), which is my favorite! It's made up of ground beef, chicken, olives, raisins, and a corn topping. It was delicious!!! We then took Katie and Heather to the overlook. I've posted picture of it below.

Saturday was a busy day! Los Alamos had their annual parade at 10:00 and Oliver (who is becoming a fantastic cook!) made some banana walnut pancakes and surprised me with them when I got home from my aerobics class. We then ate pancakes and watched the parade from our front lawn. I have to admit however, West Jordan must have spectacular parades because this one in comparison was kind of lame. It only lasted about 15-20 minutes and there weren't any floats. However, it was fun all the same.

Later that day we went to the fair which had a huge arts and crafts section. There were local jewelers and other artists selling their crafts. I bought some earrings shaped out of a yellow stoplight. We also purchased some home made apple-cinnamon jam and enchilada sauce.

After the fair we decided to make use of our last day pass to Bandeleir National Park. Upon our arrival we gave the receipt that had been sticking to our windshield all week to the park guard, but we realized that all the ink had completely worn off during the week, and he had a hard time believing that we had just come the week before. Luckily, he let us in we got there just in time to hike the 3 mile round trip to a waterfall. It was beautiful, but we couldn't stay there long for fear of getting stuck in the park since it closed at 7:00PM.

We finished off the day by going to the local diner for dinner. We were both appalled when we asked for shakes, and they told us they didn't carry any! What diner doesn't serve shakes? Isn't that the definition of a diner!? Anyways, we settled for country friend steak and banana cream pie instead.

That evening we went home and were resting up when around 10:00PM our neighbor knocked on our door. He had gone out for a smoke break and locked himself out. We tried to get a hold of the manager, but she didn't answer and so Oliver tried to use some floss and an electrical cord to jimmy the door open. It wouldn't budge, but luckily the manager finally answered her phone so the guy didn't have to sleep on our couch.