It's been a long time. And I've been around. Since I last posted a little over a year ago, much has happened. Mostly work, but also the Sister and her BF moved to Houston. Then a hurricane arrived (Ike). Sister and BF got jobs. I went on a field trip to SE New Mexico and W Texas to look at ancient carbonates and eat wonderful enchiladas and hot sauce in Carlsbad. Over Thanksgiving Sab and I drove out to New Mexico and camped and hiked our way up through the state. It was cold and it got dark early. Over Christmas I flew back to Michigan to visit the fam. Debi drove up and stayed at her time-share at Boyne Mountain, where I also spent a few days. We both hit the slopes and went to a fancy Christmas dinner at the lodge, which I quite enjoyed. Returning to Houston I was bumped from my flight and received a $500 voucher (not enough). At the end of January I met up in Salt Lake City with my friend Erik from Tucson. We stayed at a nice cozy suite hotel and hit the slopes for few days. It was Erik's first time snow skiing.
My $500 Continental voucher was burning a hole in my pocket so I began to shop for cheap flights. Eventually I chose to go to Munich at the end of March. I'd never been to mainland Europe (just the UK and Ireland). I spent about 11 days in southern Germany and Austria. It was a bit cold and rainy at times, but the sun set late enough to allow me full days. I started in Munich after a long annoying flight with three connections. A few days in Munich and I went south on the train to Fussen, gateway to the Konigschlossen. I stayed at a quaint and tidy lodge in Pinswang, Austria and, the next day, hiked over the mountains, through the snow and mist, to see Ludwig's castles. The most romantic of approaches -- thanks Rick Steves! After being unable to find a car for rent in Fussen I moved on the next day by bus and train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and rode the cog railway and cable cars to the top of the (German) Alps: the Zugspitze. A sprawling complex complete with email and restaurants sits on top. This took nothing away from the stunning, breath-taking, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping scenery. I literally gasped with amazement when I stepped off the cog railway. After a day in uninspiring G-P I again trained to Salzburg, via Munich. Salzburg was a delight! Situated on a fast-moved, channelized mountain river, the city offers flat riverbank strolling and some craggy highlands right in the city. It's completely walkable and a joy to explore, with Mozart landmarks and wurst stands at every corner. In Salzburg I met up with my friend Erin from U of A and we enjoyed an evening at a beer hall, a bike ride out into the countryside (to see Sound of Music sights), and a trip to a salt mine on the outskirts of town. Finally I spent a day in Nurnburg, which was charming, but also housed a number of disquieting architectural relicts from the Nazi era.
Just before the Germany trip I'd been reassigned to a new group at ConocoPhillips. In April, the entire group had the chance to go on a trip to Minneapolis and Utah. Minneapolis / St. Paul is a lovely metropolis -- and is a city of bridges across the sizable upper Mississippi River. After a few days at a swank hotel in Minneapolis we flew to Salt Lake and spent some pleasant days examining the geology of the Book Cliffs. Our trip ended in Grand Junction, a place I want to live. Four geologists from my group rented a car and drove across the state of Colorado to Denver, straight through the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Twas a lovely week at work.
A week after this trip was Memorial day which I spent in Southern California. I flew to LA, picked up a car and headed out to Joshua Tree National Park. Spent a couple days there soaking up the desert beauty and snapping hundreds of pictures. Getting up at first light each morning I was able to pack in a number of hikes each day. Leaving JT I went north across vast expanses of the Mojave desert and over the color-striped mountains to Death Valley. The temperature reached a breath-robbing 110 F, but still I set out on a number of hikes through my beloved desert, reveling in the colors are bareness of the rocks. Picture-taking was good. Camped at the still-free campground just off the main highway out of the park. Following day, after an early-early morning hike up Mosaic Canyon, west again out of the park through some more remarkable scenery -- great expanses of craggy volcanic rocks jutting out high above wide salty desert basins. Over the next hill came a big surprise -- the scenery improved to a heaven-like level as I entered Owens Valley and the east front of the Sierra Nevada rose up before me. Like on the Zugspitze, my jaw hung open for some minutes. I've been to Owens Valley before, on what seems like a magic field trip about 100 years ago. I camped at the same place as we had then -- among the granite domes on BLM land just outside Whitney Portal. Hiked up to the portal in the fresh cold piney air with humongous white walls of glacier-polished granite blocking the sky on either side. Finally trekked back to LA, stopping off first at the Pinnacles near Trona, the only low point of a trip full of big highs.
Not long after, I got the travel bug again and began cruising the Continental website. I planned to take off the week of Independence Day, and I found a temptingly cheap ticket to Tokyo. After a few days of hemming and hawing I decided to go. I flew into Tokyo and took the shinkansen (bullet train) down to Kyushu. This trip was shorter and not as well planned as my earlier European excursion. Still, I had a nice time visiting Hakata, Nagasaki, Kumamoto and Hiroshima (again). Everywhere I found surprises but I also found a lot of uninspiring 3-story concrete architecture. However, what stands out are the endless miles of nearly cultivated rice fields; the green jungle hills of Nagasaki; the fog, rain and stinking mists of Onsen; the hot, milky waters of the public bath; the beauty of the sea off Kumamoto; the park/castle at said town; and the rivers of Hiroshima. Unfortunately it was the rainy season, which wasn't too bad, but on this trip I remembered a rule of travel: trains bring you to cities. If you want to get out into nature and hike and see the mountains, the US is a great place to do it, because you really need a car.
The end of Summer 2009 has been a bit slower for travel. My carefully sheparded vacation days (4 remaining) are waiting so I can take off Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks. Still, we get one flex day per month, and I used mine last weekend to visit friends and family in the San Francisco area, which I haven't visiting in about five years. More on that later.