21 July 2016

Estimating Size When Dropping a Clustered Columnstore Index

SQL Server 2014 introduced clustered columnstore indexes which have proven to be very handy in our shop for large data warehouse "fact" tables. The compression algorithm they use is very efficient and (dependent on data of course) can compress data down at ratios that make conventional B-tree row and page compression look pretty anemic in comparison. But, there's an ironic downside to this great compression performance...

Clustered columnstore indexes aren't great for running mass updates. They are best for relatively static data. So our BI team tends to drop the columnstore index and build conventional indexes (clustered or non-clustered) to support an update on one of these tables, then rebuild the columnstore after the update. It's a slow, painful process, but it works. However, every now and again somebody forgets just how great columnstore compression is and drops the columnstore index, effectively building a massive uncompressed B-tree heap. This operation can easily fill a drive if it is a large enough table and drive space has not been attended to. So estimating the size of the table uncompressed becomes essential.

Microsoft walks you through the process for Heaps, Clustered Indexes, and Non-Clustered Indexes. The non-leaf level index estimation requires a bit more complexity, so you're generally best doing it by hand, but for basic leaf-level/heap estimation, I decided to automate the process so you can just plug in your table name, and estimate the size of the uncompressed heap by examining the columns. It isn't ideal for a variety of things...obscure data types, sparse columns, and if you have a lot of variable data types you're better off computing the AVG(LEN(column)) manually to get a more accurate length of that column, on average. But for our tables, mostly with static length columns, it is pretty handy.

----ALTER THESE VALUES, RUN IN CORRECT DB----DECLARE @SchName SYSNAME = 'dbo';DECLARE @TblName SYSNAME = 'FACT_CLAIM_HISTORY';---------------------------------------------
DECLARE @IxName SYSNAME, @ExistingPages INT, @ExistingMB INT;
SELECT @IxName = name FROM sys.indexesWHERE OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(object_id)=@SchName AND OBJECT_NAME(object_id)=@TblNameAND index_id=1 and [type]=5;
SELECT @ExistingPages = SUM(a.total_pages) FROM sys.partitions pINNER JOIN sys.allocation_units a ON p.[partition_id] = a.[container_id]WHERE OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(object_id)=@SchName AND OBJECT_NAME(object_id)=@TblName;
SELECT @ExistingMB = (8 * @ExistingPages) / 1024;
'No clustered columnstore index on that table.';END
@TotalRows INT,
@TotalColumns INT,
@StatCols INT,
@DynCols INT,
@StatColBytes INT,
@DynColBytes INT,
@DynColBytesTracking INT,
@NullBitmapBytes INT,
@RowBytes INT,
@RowsPerPage INT,
@TotalPages INT,
@TotalSizeMB INT;

PRINT 'Table Name: ' + @SchName+'.'+@TblName;
PRINT 'Index Name: ' + @IxName;

--Total Rows
SELECT @TotalRows = SUM([rows]) FROM sys.partitions
WHERE OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(object_id)=@SchName AND OBJECT_NAME(object_id)=@TblName;
PRINT 'Total Rows: ' + CAST(@TotalRows AS VARCHAR(100));

--Total Columns
SELECT @TotalColumns = COUNT(*) FROM sys.columns
WHERE OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(object_id)=@SchName AND OBJECT_NAME(object_id)=@TblName;
PRINT 'Total Columns: ' + CAST(@TotalColumns AS VARCHAR(100));

--Total Static Length Columns
SELECT @StatCols = COUNT(*) FROM sys.columns c
INNER JOIN sys.types t ON t.system_type_id = c.system_type_id
WHERE OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(c.object_id)=@SchName AND OBJECT_NAME(c.object_id)=@TblName
AND t.name NOT LIKE 'var%' AND t.name NOT LIKE '%text';
PRINT 'Total Static Length Columns: ' + CAST(@StatCols AS VARCHAR(100));

--Total Variable Length Columns
SELECT @DynCols = COUNT(*) FROM sys.columns c
INNER JOIN sys.types t ON t.system_type_id = c.system_type_id
WHERE OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(c.object_id)=@SchName AND OBJECT_NAME(c.object_id)=@TblName
AND ( t.name LIKE 'var%' OR t.name LIKE '%text');
PRINT 'Total Variable Length Columns: ' + CAST(@DynCols AS VARCHAR(100));

--Total Static Length Column Bytes
SELECT @StatColBytes = ISNULL(SUM(c.max_length),0) FROM sys.columns c
INNER JOIN sys.types t ON t.system_type_id = c.system_type_id
WHERE OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(c.object_id)=@SchName AND OBJECT_NAME(c.object_id)=@TblName
AND t.name NOT LIKE 'var%' AND t.name NOT LIKE '%text';
PRINT 'Total Static Length Column Bytes: ' + CAST(@StatColBytes AS VARCHAR(100));

--Max Variable Length Column Bytes
SELECT @DynColBytes = ISNULL(SUM(c.max_length),0) FROM sys.columns c
INNER JOIN sys.types t ON t.system_type_id = c.system_type_id
WHERE OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(c.object_id)=@SchName AND OBJECT_NAME(c.object_id)=@TblName
AND ( t.name LIKE 'var%' OR t.name LIKE '%text');
PRINT 'Maximum Variable Length Column Bytes: ' + CAST(@DynColBytes AS VARCHAR(100));

--Total Variable Column Bytes with Tracking Bytes
SELECT @DynColBytesTracking = CASE WHEN (@DynCols > 0) THEN (2 + (@DynCols * 2) + @DynColBytes) ELSE 0 END;
PRINT 'Total Variable Length Column Bytes With Tracking: ' + CAST(@DynColBytesTracking AS VARCHAR(100));

--Null Bitmap Bytes
SELECT @NullBitmapBytes = 2 + ((@TotalColumns + 7) / 8);
PRINT 'Null Bitmap Bytes: ' + CAST(@NullBitmapBytes AS VARCHAR(100));

--Row Size Bytes (including header bytes)
SELECT @RowBytes = @StatColBytes + @DynColBytesTracking + @NullBitmapBytes + 4;
PRINT 'Row Bytes: ' + CAST(@RowBytes AS VARCHAR(100));

--Rows Per Page
SELECT @RowsPerPage = 8096 / (@RowBytes + 2);
PRINT 'Rows Per Page: ' + CAST(@RowsPerPage AS VARCHAR(100));

--Total Pages
SELECT @TotalPages = ROUND((@TotalRows * 1.0) / @RowsPerPage, 0);
PRINT 'Total Pages: ' + CAST(@TotalPages AS VARCHAR(100));

--Heaap size in megabytes
SELECT @TotalSizeMB = (8 * @TotalPages) / 1024;
PRINT 'Total Size, MB: ' + CAST(@TotalSizeMB AS VARCHAR(100));

--Current (compressed) values
PRINT 'Current (compressed) Pages: ' + CAST(@ExistingPages AS VARCHAR(100));
PRINT 'Current (compressed) Size, MB: ' + CAST(@ExistingMB AS VARCHAR(100));

--Compression Ratio, for fun...
PRINT 'Compression Ratio: ' + CAST((@TotalSizeMB*1.0/@ExistingMB) AS VARCHAR(100));


Here's some sample output:
Total Rows: 282749658
Total Columns: 79
Total Static Length Columns: 79
Total Variable Length Columns: 0
Total Static Length Column Bytes: 405
Maximum Variable Length Column Bytes: 0
Total Variable Length Column Bytes With Tracking: 0
Null Bitmap Bytes: 12
Row Bytes: 421
Rows Per Page: 19
Total Pages: 14881561
Total Size, MB: 116262
Current (compressed) Pages: 3211431
Current (compressed) Size, MB: 25089
Compression Ratio: 4.633983020447

01 July 2016

Giving Venison Its Due Respect

By way of introduction, I should clarify that I'm not a good hunter. I'm laughably bad at it. I wasn't taught to hunt at an early age; my first experience hunting was in my thirties. Even now after a couple years I'm still borderline helpless with things like wind direction and other high arts that are seemingly innate to the lifelong, skilled deer hunter. But my daughter, then five, tasted venison backstrap at a neighbor's house and subsequently issued a dictum to me that I must get her a deer, and I accepted the challenge, somewhat compensating for my lack of skill, knowledge, and experience with sheer force of bloody-minded will and patience. I learned to shoot a compound bow and crossbow in order to maximize potential opportunities for hunting seasons, and I gradually outfitted myself with all the required gear (and some, I discovered, not so required). My first season in 2014 I spent 100 hours in total from September to December, with no luck, but a lot of observation.

Last year, more of the same.

However, the first day of rifle season, a trio of does sauntered within range of my Enfield and at long last, success.

Thanks to a lot of self-teaching, I field-dressed the deer on my own, then hung it and processed it myself. In deference to the squeamish, the less said about that, the better. Finally, what I'd been after...a freezer full of venison.

Here's where things take a turn and where I differ in approach from a number of excellent hunters. I'll never be a great hunter, I know that. I can work to improve my odds as I learn from experience, but I'll never be that guy tracking a grizzly bear for days through the Alaskan wilderness or calling in bugling elk bulls with ease. However, what might be within my reach is to be a good cook. The tragedy of venison to me is that it is one of the finest meats available...the meat once reserved for kings...and in America, it tends to be ground up into burger, stewed into chili, or a variety of other serviceable and reasonable (but slightly mundane) culinary fates. (Perhaps that is not quite true, the more tragic thing for me is the unending parade of dead, festering deer left to rot on the side of busy highways...a much more wasteful and less humane end for a deer.) For some reason, every other hunter venison recipe I come across uses either bottled Italian dressing as a marinade, or canned cream of mushroom soup. I'm not sure how cream of mushroom soup and Italian dressing became the ubiquitous components of a the hunter's pantry...kind of an odd couple of anomalies in the space time continuum. Why those things specifically?

Anyhow, my intent was, in order to pay the most respect to this animal, to ensure that every meal I make with it would be a bit special, a sort of round-the-world tour for the deer. So without further ado:

Greek Roasted Leg of Venison

An entire front leg and shoulder were carefully marinated in a Greek marinade with lots of garlic, olive oil, and oregano, and then smoke-roasted whole on the grill. Served with a salad, hummus, olives, pita, rice, feta, and a nice white wine. In the future I might try this with a different cut...the many muscles of the whole leg were relatively tough and hard to get cooked evenly without overcooking, but the taste was excellent, similar to lamb.

Venison Pie

A variant of the English classic Shepherd's Pie, using (as is common for the original dish) shredded leftovers from the roast. Well-browned onion with minced carrot and tart apple go into the filling with the meat and a makeshift brown gravy, seasoned with Worcestershire and a bit of catsup, and stewed til tender, then topped with potato mash and Cheddar, and baked.

Venison Barbacoa

Having learned a lesson from the slightly tough Greek roast, the other front leg was broken down into sections, and then slowly simmered all day in a Mexican style broth with chilies, onion, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, and garlic. Once completely tender, it is deboned, shredded, and added back into the broth. Served with tortillas, rice, black beans, sour cream, pico de gallo, olives, lettuce, and homemade queso fresco.

Venison Liver Pâté

I went into this with some trepidation, not being a fan of liver, but having saved the large, intact liver from the doe, not wishing it to go to waste. After kicking around the idea of braunschweiger, I opted instead to go for a French pâté, albeit with venison liver. After soaking the liver in buttermilk overnight, I sautéed it with bacon and a good amount of shallots. Then after processing it with butter, cream, spices, and port wine, I packed in small (but not small enough...a little of this goes a long way) jars and baked it a bit further in a water bath. Served with a baguette my wife made, and the accompanying port is essential (by all means, take the upgrade to Armagnac if you wish). Takes fortitude to work your way through something as "richly flavored" as this, I admit.

Norwegian Grilled Backstrap with Gjetost Sauce

Finally I broke out the backstrap...the long, lean loin muscle on either side of the spine on the animal. This is one of my favorite recipes that I borrowed from Andreas Viestad...his original uses venison, but in years past I would use beef sirloin as a substitute due to my lack of venison, and I've always grilled instead of panfried in my version. Fennel and juniper are used to provide a rub, and after grilling to medium-rare (these ones look almost more rare, but venison is quite red to begin with, compared to beef), I made a sauce with some stock, sour cream, more juniper and fennel, and a fantastic albeit rare ingredient, Norwegian gjetost cheese. It is a caramelized brown goat cheese that adds a lovely almost sweet (but still savoury) flavor to the sauce. Spätzle isn't exactly authentic, but it pairs nicely enough.

Kung Pao Venison

Slicing some thin sections of meat off of a leg roast, I made a wok-full of this Szechuan specialty. Velveted the meat, and stirfried with vegetables and peanuts. As is my usual practice I ended up making it a bit spicy for the kids, unfortunately, and Debra was not a great fan of the mouth-numbing effects of the Szechuan peppercorns. Other than that, not bad at all.


Back over to Scandinavia for this Finnish specialty, translated as "Sautéed Reindeer". We're a bit too far south for reindeer or caribou, but whitetail is close enough for me. Strips of meat are shaved off a semi-frozen roast as thinly as possible, then it is sautéed with onion, salt, and pepper, and a bit of beer. In this case, homebrewed sahti, a very old unboiled, unhopped style ale from Finland that is brewed with branches of juniper. The meat is served on mashed potatoes and accompanied by fried mushrooms, lingonberry, and more sahti.

Venison Jägerschnitzel

A proper German "hunter's cutlet", thin breaded cutlets fried in butter, with a mushroom cream sauce. The acorn spätzle was no one's favorite except Peter who ate it with gusto...made with flour processed from white oak acorns, had a bit too much bitterness for our liking, but certainly edible. Doppelbock (not home-brewed...I tend to stick to top-fermented beers these days) to accompany.

Tacos de Venado al Pastor

Returning, as Jimi might say, "way down, to Mexico way", I marinated and grilled flank steak to make a rough equivalent to tacos al pastor, with grilled pineapple, salsa, guacamole, lime, smoked cheese, and marinated onions. Hadn't sliced it up yet in this pic, just fresh off the grill.

Venison Anticuchos

Thence further south to Peru for anticuchos. Anticuchos are marinated and grilled beef heart kebabs, essentially, and having achieved a double lung shot, the heart was in fine condition, so I kept it...carefully trimmed and cut up, it is more like steak than one's usual idea of organ meats. The marinade is a spicy concoction of smoked chilies, wine vinegar, and herbs...a bit spicier than my kids liked, but great flavor. Accompanied with grilled corn and potatoes, aji verde, and pisco sours.

Venison Pastrami

Lurching northwards up to the Jewish delicatessens of New York City, I took a leg roast and brine cured it for a few days, then cold smoked it for a few hours at refrigerator temperatures. Then a pepper-coriander rub, followed by hot-smoking until cooked. Thinly sliced on a meat slicer, and served with mustard and pickles on marble rye. The wine is, of course, completely ridiculous, but it completes the tableau, one might say...I couldn't find the celery soda (Cel-Ray is it?) served in many delis.

Venison Gulyás

The tough, collagen-rich shank is ideal for a pot of Hungarian gulyás, or goulash. Traditionally cooked outdoors over a fire in a bogrács (kettle), a great way to enjoy the early spring weather. Onions, peppers, carrots, various spices (but large quantities of paprika) go into this, and the meat is slowly braised into tenderness. Then near the end, in go the csipetke, small pinched pasta or dumplings.

Served with a cherry pálinka I first found in a Hungarian market in Chicago...similar to German kirschwasser and very aromatic.

Venison Bridie Pies

Forfar Bridies are a Scottish meat pie from the town of Forfar. I made mine with puff pastry, and a onion and apple filling with the meat minced by hand. The leftover bits of pastry I tossed on for decoration, realizing only later that they looked a bit like a St. Andrews cross...a lucky accident. A dessert of cranachan (without the usual whisky added, for the rest of the family), which is made from toasted oats, whipped cream, honey, and raspberries, and a glass of Islay whisky (Laphroaig, which is essentially a smoke bomb in a glass) for me. Wildly popular with the family.

I should also show one of my favorite new tools, used to slice frozen meat for my next recipe...my 4" Finnish-made puukko in carbon steel, an utterly lovely knife and certainly the best quality knife I've ever used.

Saseum Bulgogi (사슴 불고기)

That's about the extent of my ability to translate into Korean / Hangul. Sesame-marinated leg steaks of venison, grilled and then sliced, served in lettuce wraps with cucumber, scallions, rice, a dipping sauce, and gochujang, a hot pepper paste.

Venison Sukiyaki

Japanese sukiyaki is normally cooked at the table and eaten as you go. The frozen meat was sliced incredibly thinly (again, thank you, puukko) and we prepared a table with bok choy, mushrooms, tofu, noodles, and scallions, and then fried the meat initially in some sesame oil, adding the sweet soy/sake sauce after, and then adding the vegetables (noodles coming last to absorb the remaining sauce).

The kids enjoyed using their new chopsticks:

Venison Bobotie

I'm not too well versed in the various cuisines of Africa, having taken very amateurish stabs at Moroccan cuisine, and being interested but not experienced in Ethiopian cuisine. South African cuisine appears to be quite the melting pot, integrating native and colonial influences in much the same way that some Caribbean nations do (English, Boer, Bantu, Indian, and Malay influences are all there). Bobotie is an interesting and allegedly iconic dish of South Africa that is similar in some respects to a Shepherd's Pie, but topped with an egg and bay leaf mixture instead of mashed potatoes, and seasoned strongly with curry spices, dried fruit, and chutney. A very piquant dish, balancing sweet and spicy. South African yellow rice, and apricot blatjang (a chutney of sorts made from vinegar and dried apricots among other things) rounded it out, and a small Chicken of the Woods mushroom I found that morning while hiking was sautéed in butter and seasoned with Piri-Piri sauce.

Venison Pierogi

Pierogis are a sort of Polish ravioli, and in some ways surpass their Italian cousins. I did two versions...one, to please the family that clamors for such fillings, a bacon and potato filled pierogi (on the right), and the other, minced venison cooked with onion and dill, and blended with a homemade farmer's cheese. Handmade, boiled until they float, sautéed until slightly browned in bacon fat, and served topped with fried onion. All things in moderation, I suppose...

Poronkäristys Again

Back to Finland to give another shot at this fantastic dish. Another batch of sahti was ready by this time (a little less juniper character than I would prefer....only a few cones on the branches when brewing). Also served were karjalanpiirakat, Karelian savoury pastries made from a hearty rye flour and stuffed with a rice porridge, and pulla, a Finnish slightly-sweet braided bread made with cardamom.

Rajasthani Laal Maans

I've been a student of Indian cooking for many years, and it seemed unlikely that I'd happen across anything close to an authentic recipe for venison in India. However, in the desert state of Rajasthan, game would be taken and served to princes in this fiery, chile-rich dish (the chilies serving to mask any gaminess...which is not something I've noted with my deer). Nowadays Laal Maans is mainly made from goat, but I'm reverting it to its older variation. Served with basmati and layered kalonji paratha.

Hjortfilé med Blåbärsås

The tenderloin is, true to its name, extremely tender, owing to its location along the back on the inside of the vertebrae, where it does little work. We decided to do this one relatively simple using a Swedish venison recipe with a savoury blueberry and red wine sauce. Dill potatoes, cucumber, and some lingonberry ice cream, with it.

Gỏi Thịt Nai

Vietnamese grilled venison salad, with marinated backstrap grilled medium (was aiming for a bit more medium rare, but the children came outside and distracted me) sliced thin atop a bed of greens, peppers, shallots, herbs, and tomato. Served with a lime-soy dipping sauce and dressing, some fresh summer rolls, and a freshly-baked baguette (not pictured).

--To Be Continued...not out of venison yet!--

14 June 2016

Roadtrip 2016

Well we're back on the road again.

Day One: Fort Riley and Casa Bonita

So off we went today, after executing a surprisingly complex and semi-redundant packing and preparation plan. Into the car and out of Kansas City, making a first stop at very well secured but beautiful Fort Riley for a museum visit. We had to have background checks and provide multiple sources of IDs, they really have ramped up the security at these bases, no doubt in no small part due to things like Fort Hood. The US Cavalry Museum is here, as well as the museum for the 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red One. Peter and I went to gawk at the AFV park...

But it did not take him long to want to go inside the museum...getting a bit warmish. Chaffee light tank in the foreground.

The museum itself is lovely (and free...well, costs the taxpayers, of course). A great deal of historical artifacts and displays, and Gretchen, while this isn't really her thing, was at least interested in the equine aspect of cavalry. This particular display, from the WWI section, shows how horses had to be protected from new methods of war; when the Germans sent over a golden retriever freshly fattened on braunschweiger, devilled eggs, and pickled onions, even the horses had to put on gas masks. It just goes to show there was no depth of depravity to which the Hun was unwilling to stoop.

I took a lot of pictures, but because I have to blog about them if I post them, I'll spare my Dear Readers. Gretchen was 5 I think when I took very nearly the same picture. Still working on that salute...

After this we took a brief visit to the 1st Inf museum which as I said, is also quite nice and worth the visit if you are here. But shortly thereafter, we piled into the car, and exited the base. Some AH-64 Apaches on the tarmac, which I thought was cool.

The long slog through Kansas was, well, long and uninteresting. Then into Denver, nicely timed to hit the early rush hour, but still, it isn't west coast traffic. Yes...we were returning to Casa Bonita.

The kids were really excited. Debra and I less so, wondering what we could possibly eat there that would pose less of a threat to our gastrointestinal system. Still, you get a whiff of that dank, chlorine rich air and you think, ahh, what's a little microwaved Mexican TV dinner, it's CASA BONITA!

It's not that it's bad, exactly, just that it flirts on the line between bad and not bad. Kids liked it, mostly.

They really enjoyed the dive shows, and the sopapillas. The sopapillas are basically a deep fried oil sponge you pour honey onto, and they have historically been...unkind...to our family. I liken them to the dessert from Outback Steakhouse named "Chocolate Thunder from Down Under", not that they are chocolate or in any obvious way resemble that dessert, but that they are so profoundly capable of triggering the Chocolate Thunder from Down Under, if you follow (I can hear my readership declining to follow from here on out).

Puppet show got a lot of laughs from the kids. They both declined interest in visiting Black Bart's Cave.

A walk around waiting for the gorilla show...

And he finally came on stage. The kids loved it. After that, we were off again.

Up into the mountains, to Evergreen, CO. From here we will venture north to Rocky Mountain National Park. A lot less driving tomorrow, but some more aggressive hiking.

Day Two: Peak to Peak Highway, Lily Mountain, and Estes Park

Today we got up in the foothills west of Denver, and headed out towards the Peak to Peak highway, which links Colorado Springs, as I understand, to Estes Park. There's quite a lovely stretch on highway 6 that we took to link up to 119, and overall it was unsurprisingly scenic.

I pulled off the road when Debra spotted one of these...this is zoomed in of course, but Debra bade me not get too close. She took note of me, though.

Then she looked meaningly to my left and I spotted a good reason to not stick around too much longer...possible younger moose...seems a good size, but could be a calf? Still, didn't want to risk enraging the maternal instinct. Mind you, moose bites can be pretty nasty. A moose once bit my sister.

Stopped off at a beautiful Catholic chapel not far from Longs Peak...it was closed to entry to the parking lot but thankfully Catholicism does not have a doctrine that I know where taking a picture steals part of your soul. Not sure what ethnic group had that, or if it was just an apocryphal story.

There's Longs Peak. I think. Honestly, I don't know if this is it, but that's fine, as I shall never be in danger of needing to sort out how to climb up it. Maybe my tone of apathy and fatigue might impart a bit of foreshadowing...

We arrived and parked at the trailhead for the Lily Mountain Trail around, perhaps 9 or 10? I forget at this point (at this point I should dispense with the foreshadowing and just say, I'm beat. Mountain had my name, had my number, had my file pulled up on the terminal at its customer service kiosk when I stepped onto the trail.

Some lovely rocks. Debra enjoyed the geology.

Kids in the first quarter mile hadn't devolved into a whining mess. They look almost jovial here! We kept seeing dogs since this is one of the few trails around here that allow dogs, being slightly out of the RMNP borders. That in itself was a payoff to the kids, especially Peter.

We kept seeing the road get further and further down. The trail is only 2 miles long, with 2 miles back. Something we'd done with the kids easily before, although...1180 feet of elevation gain, tapping out just under the 10,000 mark.

Right around here, it was about 1 mile in, and we turned sharply to the south, and the REAL ascent began. You could see Estes Park from there.

The ascent was slow and grueling and errr, "some" of the children needed a lot of goading and encouragement. Some great views even before the summit, though. Not sure which mountain this is...one of the Twin Sisters across the highway?

At a point around noon, we reevaluated as we were running light on water (having taken a pretty substantial amount, at least it seemed to us), and the kids and Debra were leaning on turning around...but we compromised with moving just a little further, just before the REAL REAL ascent began, which was rock scrabbling. Few people are going to say, you know who I think would be the ideal person to climb a mountain? An IT person! With a sedentary job, and a penchant for cooking fancy dinners! But nonetheless I handed off the bear spray and went just a bit further, with the promise that if I hadn't summited in 15 min, I would turn back. That in itself was probably partly a mistake in that I headed into the steep climb with a bit more speed than was advisable and I was quickly winded on the light oxygen mixture that passes for air up there. But, I got there...technically I think the summit may have been a boulder six feet tall to my left, but climbing on top of that seemed like a bad idea, so I settled for this view, of the other side:

It was quite a view, but I knew I had to get down, so I stayed maybe a minute on top of the first "mountain" we've climbed (yes, I scoffed at that slightly looking at pictures...it seemed like more of a hill, but it has revised my opinion of that very sharply).

Family waiting patiently for me at the bottom of the hill, I was probably gone for about 20 minutes total. Some more water, and then...the long, long descent.

The aforementioned complaining member of the family brightened up on the descent. A lot easier going down, although harder on the ankles/knees. I would say we're getting old but I'm pretty sure this hike would have stolen my lunch money and administered the proverbial wedgie with gusto, when I was in my early 20s. We make progress, bit by bit.

They have a phenomenom called "false summitting"...well, I have heard people talk about it, but not seeing it when I google...the idea of seeing blue sky at some point and thinking, this is it, we're here! And then, no. A lot further to go. We experienced a lot of that. But almost more poignant and painful..."false parking-lotting"...coming round a bend or going over a hill thinking, we're here, we're finally off this bastard mountain!!! ...and then....no. Souls of mountaineers, we have not.

Then into the car, and a paltry 5 miles up into Estes. Debra is asleep, I've been downing glass after glass of delicious icewater, and the kids are watching Spongebob. We might go out to the pool later, as we were intending, but hopefully a bit of rest first...

Funny, because we have three (smaller) hikes planned tomorrow. We'll see how we do...

Day Three: Rocky Mountain and Capitol Reef National Parks

Well, at the end of the day, we realize our plan was a bit overambitious. Three hikes with rather a lot of elevation climb, two of which were at 11-12 thousand feet, after yesterday, just wasn't going to happen. Anyway, we popped some Ibuprofin for our aching appendages, and took a quick stop off at the hotel playground to satisfy the little ones. Nothing like old sheet metal playground equipment...come for the fun, stay for the first aid!

Our little 4-cylinder stiffened the sinews and summoned up the blood, or at least the "cheap" E-85 gas I gave it, and up into the mountains we went. We had to stop briefly for Gretchen's stomach to settle...snow still everywhere, with a musical burbling of the snowmelt streams. Gave us an idea of what we were in for.

This was still probably in the 10 to 11 thousand foot range, but the views were stunning. I was rushing a bit because I had heard on the television over our continental breakfast (and which continent they were referring to, I shudder to imagine, but still, complimentary is complimentary) that there was a major bike race on Trail Ridge Road.

Then we really started going up, well beyond the tree line, and snow was everywhere. We were dressed for summer, because we're Missourians of course, but we had the kids throw on jeans really quick, at Toll Memorial Trail, our first planned stop.

The brutal wind and cold proved to be too much for the kids and so we turned back after not too much ascent.

It's rather spartan up here...I spotted a marmot, although no pika or elk.

Then back into the car and onward, and we realized that in'shallah, the blighted cyclists were pedalling west to east, much to our relief. An easy decision to skip the next trail as well. We had promised a possible toy at the visitor's center to our kids, and so you can imagine the wailing when we arrived and found the visitor's center closed for another two hours. Still, we stopped off at a much lower visitor's center and the kids were outfitted with binoculars (which Peter promptly disassembled and broke) and some sort of survival multi-tool.

The cyclists were innumerable, a singular collective mass of silly helmets and Lycra. Sort of a Colorado cyclist Borg. The eastbound traffic had the worst of it, excepting those who simply felt they had a right to drive in my (westbound) lane for as long as it pleased them. But I was reminded of a classic Douglas Adams bit, from one of his novels:
He stepped out on to the street, where a passing eagle swooped out of the sky at him, nearly forcing him into the path of a cyclist, who cursed and swore at him from a moral high ground that cyclists alone seem able to inhabit. -Douglas Adams

Once down in the forests again we stopped to see some more moose by the road, and while driving a bit further down a dirt road to find a good spot to turn around...HI BULLWINKLE

That was fun, and Debra was only modestly fearful since we were all in the car still. Then the long sauntering down towards I-70. We stopped briefly in...whatever this town was, for Pete to run madly around this AH-1 Cobra in a city park.

Back on 70, we stopped in our usual rest stop (121, much trafficked these days) in Glenwood Canyon. The river was high and fast-moving.

Following that, several hours of driving through western Colorado and eastern Utah, where we gradually shed the icy chill of the morning for the burning hot desert sun. We finally trotted into Capitol Reef National Park in the early evening. Some mule deer by the road.

We skipped our final (and over-ambitious) hike in Capitol Reef and just visited the main area in Fruita and a few other spots. The fruit trees, that you are allowed to harvest a small amount from, weren't ripening yet.

Panorama Point on the western side is a usual stop and we always seem to take a picture with this old, dead tree. I'm sure there's something Silversteinian about that...

We sauntered about a bit more, but soon the gnats or whatever their desert equivalent got a bit overexcited at the prospect of experiencing the environs of my ear canal so we headed back to the car.

Then pizza at our "usual" spot and a hotel room at our likewise "usual" spot. Tomorrow, highway 12 to Bryce and Zion.

Day Four: Utah 12, Bryce, and Zion

So last night I had to fix a part of our car that has become a bit of an annual vacation tradition, such that I always carry large washers and a deep 10mm socket wrench in our car when travelling...fixing broken aluminum heat shields that break off and rattle. Still, the car was modestly priced.

From Torrey, the route to Bryce is the ridiculously scenic Utah Highway 12, one of my favourite, albeit not relaxing, drives. As we always seem to, we stopped at Larb Hollow Overlook, up in the mountains to the south.

As we gained in altitude the pines gave way to aspen, and I had Sibelius' Kullervo Suite running for as long as I could manage before the daughter staged a mutiny. Another stop as we made our way back down. We had spotted a few mule deer but this was the only chap that stayed around long enough for a portrait:

You could see the start of the more desert-like Grand Staircase region from here.

Then the usual interesting UT-12 drive, including the Hog's Back, which I never seem to photograph right, so I should stop trying. Stopped at a pullout for Gretchen to calm her stomach a bit, here.

As we pulled into Bryce Canyon, we spotted a group of at least six pronghorn antelope...a couple of them here.

This is around Sunrise Point, where we opted to try a bit of the Queen's Garden Trail, which leads down into the canyon amongst the hoodoos.

The photos tested my one-handed phone extraction, unlocking, and photo taking abilities as the other hand generally had a vise grip on one of the little ones. Not a trail to goof around on, although a group of high schoolers or college students were attempting to test that presumption. George Bernard Shaw I think said youth is wasted on the young, and apparently high-proof stupidity is wasted in no small measure on them, as well.

Pete liked to stop every 10 feet and gaze into the distance with his binoculars, looking into the objectives instead of the eyepieces. I've tried for years now to explain that he should do it the other way, but he has a touch of my stubbornness.

A bit further down we came onto some switchbacks that looked like they would be murder getting back up...so we happily decided to quit while we were ahead, take a picture, and head back up.

Some impressively cavernous dropoffs on the trail.

The Bryce Visitor's Center was hopping, but amusing, the actual geological exhibit area was mostly abandoned as the tourists flocked around the gadgets and knick-knacks to buy. The kids liked this prairie dog burrow.

Red Canyon on the way out, towards Zion.

And then finally into Zion.

We're holed up in Springdale, just back from the excruciatingly expensive market (which is still much cheaper than any of the excruciatingly expensive restaurants). We'll be here tomorrow, and do a mild hike or too...still taking it a bit easy, which I guess is what vacation ought to be...

Day Five: Zion

I woke up before dawn today, having set my alarm so we get an early start on Zion. However, the rest of the family needed a bit more rest. Oklahoma! was on PBS last night and Gretchen wanted to finish it, so a late bedtime. I kept walking in during surreal moments and Debra assures me it was a bit odd. Here's the view from our balcony this morning

We were on our way to the canyon before 7. The lines for the shuttle (yes, there were lines at 7) were still fairly short, but the wind made it quite chilly at that time. All in all though we realize that if anything, we were later than we should have been. The canyon heats up intensely by mid-morning, and the crowds really start to amass. We spotted a couple of turkey hens by the lodge midway up the canyon:

And then a moment later, Gretchen spotted a muley doe and her fawn, moving up-canyon, and dodging recreational joggers. That really set her in a good mood for the rest of the hike, thankfully!

Most of the trail (Emerald Pools, a Zion classic and not too gruelling...3 miles out and back, with 350 feet of ascent) was shaded while we were ascending. But the sun was on its way and lighting up the upper portions of the canyon.

The trail is fairly well trafficked but first thing in the morning, not too many other folks were here. My theory is that the early morning hikers (other than us) are the "serious" hikers, and Emerald Pools is much too popular and beginner-level for them, and the regular tourist folks prefer to sleep in a bit more, and have their skin torched off by the mid-day sun.

We reached the lower pool in short order (predominantly paved, and very mild...suitable for the elderly, persons with physical disabilities, and Linux administrators) and despite still being quite cool the kids were eager to be rained on.

The persistant patter of water on rock does tend to inspire a bit of thirst...I imagine moreso later in the day.

The local rock squirrels are, thanks to rule-shirking tourists, all but completely tame.

Starting to feel the warmth, but still a decent amount of shade. The dimensions of this place are staggering.

Made it to the second pool, and despite my efforts to remain unphotographed all vacation long, I joined my family at the kind insistence of a fellow tourist. This pool was still shaded and it was an idyllic spot.

A brief break here, before doing the final slog up to the third pool which involved the most elevation gain.

Almost as if there is a small pine forest located half-way up on a ledge, here. Pines and junipers have their troubles sometimes growing in Missouri but they seem to be the essence of near-impossible hardiness in regions like this.

Looking back towards the canyon, whence we came.

Finally, after some slightly more challenging parts to negotiate with an unfortunately fearless four-year-old, we arrived at the upper pool. The kids mostly played in the dusty pink sand.

This portion basically jutted up against the canyon wall, which towered up like a skyscraper.

Then, we raced the sun back down...hoping to get back below the line of steadily retreating shade, but no matter, it won that race. Gretchen did have a close encounter with a very small rock squirrel:

And once the sun was out, the lizards were active.

Back at the hotel now, planning a leisurely day by comparison...bit of laundry, perhaps time to play catch up with work emails, swimming at the pool, and carving up some more bread, cheese, meat and vegetables for sandwiches with my Finnish puukko, the finest cutting implement known to man. And that of course reminds me of a lovely little passage from Douglas Adams' (yes, again) "Mostly Harmless", which I will leave you with, quoted self-indulgently here at length:

There is an art to the business of making sandwiches which it is given to few ever to find the time to explore in depth. It is a simple task, but the opportunities for satisfaction are many and profound: choosing the right bread for instance. The Sandwich Maker had spent many months in daily consultation and experiment with Grarp the baker and eventually they had between them created a loaf of exactly the consistency that was dense enough to slice thinly and neatly, while still being light, moist and having that fine nutty flavour which best enhanced the savour of roast Perfectly Normal Beast flesh.

There was also the geometry of the slice to be refined: the precise relationships between the width and height of the slice and also its thickness which would give the proper sense of bulk and weight to the finished sandwich: here again, lightness was a virtue, but so too were firmness, generosity and that promise of succulence and savour that is the hallmark of a truly intense sandwich experience.

The proper tools, of course, were crucial, and many were the days that the Sandwich Maker, when not engaged with the Baker at his oven. would spend with Strinder the Tool Maker, weighing and balancing knives, taking them to the forge and back again. Suppleness, strength, keenness of edge, length and balance were all enthusiastically debated, theories put forward, tested, refined, and many was the evening when the Sandwich Maker and the Tool Maker could be seen silhouetted against the light of the setting sun and the Tool Maker's forge making slow sweeping movements through the air trying one knife after another, comparing the weight of this one with the balance of another, the suppleness of a third and the handle binding of a fourth.

Three knives altogether were required. First there was the knife for the slicing of the bread: a firm, authoritative blade which imposed a clear and defining will on a loaf. Then there was the butter-spreading knife, which was a whippy little number but still with a firm backbone to it. Early versions had been a little too whippy, but now the combination of flexibility with a core of strength was exactly right to achieve the maximum smoothness and grace of spread.

The chief amongst the knives, of course, was the carving knife. This was the knife that would not merely impose its will on the medium through which it moved, as did the bread knife; it must work with it, be guided by the grain of the meat, to achieve slices of the most exquisite consistency and translucency, that would slide away in filmy folds from the main hunk of meat. The Sandwich Maker would then flip each sheet with a smooth flick of the wrist on to the beautifully proportioned lower bread slice, trim it with four deft strokes and then at last perform the magic that the children of the village so longed to gather round and watch with rapt attention and wonder. With just four more dexterous flips of the knife he would assemble the trimmings into a perfectly fitting jigsaw of pieces on top of the primary slice. For every sandwich the size and shape of the trimmings were different, but the Sandwich Maker would always effortlessly and without hesitation assemble them into a pattern which fitted perfectly. A second layer of meat and a second layer of trimmings, and the main act of creation would be accomplished.

The Sandwich Maker would pass what he had made to his assistant who would then add a few slices of newcumber and fladish and a touch of splagberry sauce, and then apply the topmost layer of bread and cut the sandwich with a fourth and altogether plainer knife. It was not that these were not also skilful operations, but they were lesser skills to be performed by a dedicated apprentice who would one day, when the Sandwich Maker finally laid down his tools, take over from him. It was an exalted position and that apprentice, Drimple, was the envy of his fellows. There were those in the village who were happy chopping wood, those who were content carrying water, but to be the Sandwich Maker was very heaven.

And tomorrow, back into the car and westward towards California's central coast.

Day Six: San Simeon

This morning seems rather a long time ago, but it was the usual 14 hours, I admit. Woke up early in Zion to get out westward, early. This is one of my better early morning photographs of the place, again from the balcony. Before the cacophony of cars, shuttles, busses, and sweaty international tourists gets fully underway, with the cool morning breeze, there is a peaceful loveliness to the place.

This is where I'd insert a classic film montage as the majority of the day was driving through the sprawling hellhole of southern Nevada and the Mojave...none of which warranted taking any pictures. Las Vegas was as objectionable as usual...sort of the perfect antithesis of everything I love and respect. When passing gaudy buildings with gold plated windows, you think, how much more Trump could this place be and the answer is none.....more Trump.

We hit a bit of traffic but it seems like the Fruit Patrol has lightened its vigilance, they waved us through into California without even asking if we were smuggling melons. AND WE WERE, WE WERE!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA

Barstow and the surrounding desert regions were...disturbing, for mild mannered Missourians, who feel threatened by bullet-riddled shacks covered in graffiti as the major free standing structures in the area. But we got through it and visited Bakersfield, which was impressively built-up, perhaps with fleeing Los Angelinos. We dined excessively on El Pollo Loco. I have a lot of loyalty to the Californian institution of In-N-Out, but having improved my burger game at home (it may not sound like it makes sense, but a wok spatula, a griddle, and a ceramic mortar all figure into it) we don't require that as much. But El Pollo Loco...good grilled chicken, tortillas, salsa, cilantro...this is heaven, and we all ate with gusto. Then back into the car and towards the coast. Once at the coast we went north to the elephant seal rookery.

No one will call them the most beautiful creatures, nor the most sweet-smelling of beasts, but Gretchen loves them.

We checked into the San Simeon Pines, and the kids enjoyed our patio by the pool, with some odd (as yet unidentified) trees.

Then across the street, past the row of old pines, to the beach.

I've been a loyal adherent of this place since I was a teenager.

The tide was coming in, but we headed out onto the rocks. There were some 50, 60 year old couples (surprise, surprise!) hanging out there, and at one point a man lost his balance in a completely unexpected way and barrelled into me and Gretchen a bit, excusing himself by saying "I'm old...". I as expected took my usual awkward, crisis aversion role and laughed it off with a "no worries", whereas Debra gave him an icy DON'T YOU DARE ENDANGER MY KIDS stare and an acerbic statement along similar lines. A moment later I realized with mirth that his excuse of age had less to do with his own circumnavigations of the Sun, and more to do with the age of the many vintages of wine he had dumped into his gullet at that point in the evening. Ah well, we were all fine.

Some of the incoming waves were a little exciting. The inebriated elderlies were much impressed, judging by the cackling giggles.

We loved exploring the tidepools...anemones, crabs, mussels, etc.

Beautiful view to the north.

And likewise, to the south.

Then we walked along the beach, towards the boardwalk. Gretchen loved the gulls. She got fairly close before one of them swooped overhead and she panicked slightly, running back. Apparently they had a large fish over there they were picking over; Gretchen hasn't shown any love for sun-baked sushi yet, but the gulls didn't know that.

The squirrels are obviously well fed here, and tame.

This isn't a great picture, but we think we found a long-tailed weasel here. He kept hopping in and out of the boardwalk, until a squirrel came along and offered combat.

Then back to the hotel for croquet and shuffleboard...pictures tomorrow.

Day Seven: Solvang and Ventura

Some photos from last night as we enjoyed a bit of no-rules shuffleboard and croquet.

There is an idyllic bit of Pacific coastline across the street but if you ask these kids you can't do better than this croquet court. I played on it when I was a kid.

Pete's starting to get the hand of it.

Then in the morning, an early morning jaunt to the rocks before breakfast.

Speaking of breakfast, I had to take a picture just to sing their praises a bit. This particular hotel, which has a sentimental lease on my heart, has in recent years had a laughably bad complimentary breakfast...stale pastry and bread with Country Crock tubs, and some of the most sad-looking fruit I've ever seen, not exactly what you expect in California after driving through miles of orchards. But they have new ownership and are upping their game, good coffee, the ubiquitous waffle maker, actual butter, and excellent pastries. Worth a call-out...any improvement they make is welcome as I want this place to be around for a long, long time.

Back across the street...aside from the squirrels there is always a large quantity of rabbits in this area...Gretchen refers to it as "Bunny Haven".

On the rocks, the crabs are in abundance. State park, so no, no seafood opportunities here.

We'll be seeing a lot of this ocean today and tomorrow, so we bid farewell in the morning.

On our way up we spotted a small family of not-very-afraid-of-humans squirrels. No doubt made semi-tame by tourist feeding.

Then into the car and on to Solvang. We initially thought to go to Paula's Pancake House which is our usual stop for Danish pancakes, medisterpolse, and fresh-squeezed orange juice, but the excellence of our complimentary breakfast made us revise our plans, so we just did a bit of shopping. The kids spent a lot of time trying to decide what to get at the toy shop (Peter got a nerf gun and Gretchen, a plush hamster in a carrying case she has since named "Cheesy Puff").

I hunted around the various Scandinavian shops hoping for something Finnish but I was shocked and dismayed to find the cliquish Scandinavians blackballing Suomi...granted, it is supposed to be a Danish village, but Norwegian and Swedish stuff is ubiquitous, but a puukko or kuksa? Nowhere in sight. We Faux-Finns are highly offended.

Then down to Ventura where we stopped in at the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center. Some nice aquarium exhibits, and we chatted briefly with a nice half-British older couple with a chihuahua outside (the kids much enamoured of the little chap).

Then a slight bit down to Oxnard, where we ate an early dinner...I must confess...again, of El Pollo Loco. We can't speak highly enough of this fast-food adaptation of pollo asado. We would eat a lot more fast food if one of these were in Kansas City, so it's probably a good thing they remain a West Coast phenomenom. From their to our hotel, which we booked with points, trying to find some place nice close by the Island Packers harbour. This place is a bit surreal to me. It is a proper "resort" hotel, and I'm a little overwhelmed with it. I keep telling Debra, and she to me...we can't get used to this. This is the view from our private balcony over the courtyard.

After we went swimming in the pool (also an odd experience...bar service by the pool, lots of people, and music being piped in...), we dried off, got dressed, and headed back out again. Peter and Gretchen enjoyed the beanbag toss...simple pleasures.

On our walk towards the beach we saw a mallard land nearby.

Gretchen was off like a rocket towards the beach. Also not the sort of beach I am used to...plain sandy (not rocky) beach with no cliffs.

She absolutely loved it though.

Wading in the surf, she was beside herself. Some large waves that I never caught on camera, probably the tide coming in.

Cleaning the sand off, we walked back in, towards our room.

California annoys me because it has the most unusual, otherworldly plants, that grow just like weeds here. These succulents are pretty neat, and remind me slightly of black trumpet mushrooms.

It's a huge suite. I counted four sinks which is full-fledged ridiculous (two in master bath, one in wet bar, one in additional bathroom). Like I said...no getting used to this. We remember where we started on roadtrips...that being an Econolodge in Tucumcari New Mexico, where Debra smashed a hardboiled egg with her hands that ended up being undercooked, almost 10 years ago. Good times.

Our flirtation with ridiculous luxury comes to an abrupt halt tomorrow as we set sail for Santa Cruz Island where we will hike 5 miles and sustain ourselves on dried fruit, jerky, nuts, and lukewarm water. Hopefully we'll see some interesting wildlife while we're at it!

Day Eight: Santa Cruz Island

Night falls at the beach hotel in Oxnard. We slept alright...despite the surreal party atmosphere, the rooms seemed relatively soundproofed.

Then after an again, surprisingly upscale breakfast, we headed out from this almost-Trumpish palace of Californian excess towards the Ventura harbour, and boarded a catamaran due for the Channel Islands. I won't go so far as to say it was a pleasant voyage...cookies were tossed by members of various parties, including our own (Gretchen finally succumbing once again to the prophecy of always vomiting on vacation). Debra was a bit green about the gills later in the voyage, as well, but kept a firm grip on the cookies.

As a consolation prize, when I took Gretchen downstairs to a more stable portion of the boat...one that soon became a home for a variety of sea-sick folks (there was almost a spirit of cameraderie there)...we were in an ideal spot to view the dolphin pod that we ran across. Gretchen spotted a baby one, she said.

We disembarked by skiff at Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island, since the pier had been partially destroyed by a storm. That was a bit of an adventure in and of itself.

Then as we hiked in to Scorpion Canyon, we saw an island fox, these rare cat-like foxes that seem surprisingly comfortable around humans.

They wander about unafraid of us, almost unaware of us.

The adventure of odiferous pit toilets without running water or soap...at least they are well positioned under a beautiful old eucalyptus which acted as a sort of natural pot-purri.

Further up the canyon there was the other major species that lives only on these islands...the Island Scrub Jay.

Then the ascent towards Potato Harbour...the kids were already lagging and verging on melting down, as Peter exemplifies here. The sun was intense.

The view back to the valley was nice, showing our progress. The further up we got, the more ocean breeze we received, and the whining started to wind down as the heat and grade of ascent did likewise.

We walked westward towards Potato Harbour...getting close at this point, and enjoying the flat grade at the top of the ridge.

By the viewpoint of the harbour the ravens were large and if not in charge, then certainly swaggering about with a sense of authority.

Potato Harbour is so named because it is shaped like a harbour.

We then walked the rest of the way along the ridge, towards Cavern Point, and back to the anchorage. Some sea caves were visible...might be a fun place to kayak.

The wind kept it from being as torturous as the initial ascent but the kids were troopers...this was a 5 miler.

Another nice view with what look like sea caves.

Gretchen brightened up a bit as we invented some Tolkien-esque mythology along the trail about the Kingdom of the Ravens and their various factions and wars among themselves and the other animals.

Hiking around through Cavern Point.

Then back down to Scorpion Anchorage, and it was basically just in time to start donning life jackets and climbing onto the skiffs.

The ride back was lovely in comparison, no sickness whatsoever. Pete fell asleep before the ship was even underway, and Gretchen saw a number of whales...including a "feeding frenzy" of a pod of dolphins, innumerable gulls and pelicans, some sea lions, and several humpback whales.

Hard to see, but this is a tail of a humpback, as he dives deep.

I'm a rotten photographer from the get-go, but trying to keep a potentially sea-sick daughter stable, as well as myself, and not drop my phone (I know, I know...SERIOUS photography gear around here) into the drink, all helped to make bad photos worse, but gosh darn it, we saw whales, despite the bad photos.

Then a few hours on the 101 and the 5...yes, in California you use the blighted definite article, it is the way of things...towards Anaheim. We got into the hotel, made a few vain attempts to scrub the island dust and guano off of ourselves, and walked up the street to our favorite pizza joint here to meet some of my family here. We finished up just in time to walk outside and see the fireworks show across the street.

That was the "free" version, anyway. Late bedtime, actual paid-for Disneyland tomorrow.

Day Nine: Disneyland

Well, the Mouse cast his line out and reeled my wallet in. Our long-awaited and just plain long Disneyland day...

First up me and Peter hopped on board Der Fliegende Pachyderm and took to the skies:

Debra and Gretchen trailing right behind us.

Then onto Casey Jr's, the train ride around the Storybook Canal ride. Debra recognized the operator from years back and got a bit chummy, and perhaps as a result she offered to help us get onto Peter Pan quickly, the line for which extended back to San Bernardino county at that point. This is yet another time Debra's ebullience and Disneyphilia has netted us a nice benefit, the first being our free "California Adventure" tickets (see Roadtrip, 2013).

After riding the Alice in Wonderland ride, then back over to the Carousel:

We have almost this exact face in a picture of Gretchen on this ride. I'm sorry, KC Zoo, but this one is a bit more fun apparently!

Debra opted out of the Tea Cups for motion sickness reasons, so the three of us went a bit crazy. I had to wait 15 seconds for my eyes to stop moving before attempting egress from our cup.

We cashed in, rather sheepishly, our benefit for the Peter Pan ride and went straight to the front of the line. I'm not sure what the lesson should be...don't expect to get something in return for being nice and caring about others, even if you do get something...or be civil and friendly chiefly to get things in return...or maybe there is no lesson. I told Peter to pull his ballcap on a little tighter as we boarded in front of the sweaty masses who had been waiting patiently, to hide his hair, and spoke loudly of the "Make a Wish Foundation". Actually I didn't because Debra would have elbowed me sharply had I done so, but my version is funnier.

We went up to "Toon Town" which the kids love, but due to an error in planning and sufficient tree growth, feels like the surface of Mercury most days. We rode the Gadget's Go Coaster which is a short, kid-friendly roller coaster, and then Peter caught Goofy trying to escape for a potty break and he wouldn't take no for an answer, even as Goofy tried to tear himself away. Goofy eventually adopted a shame/submission posture which I still don't understand, but I don't know exactly what Peter said to him...

We did some sort of Roger Rabbit ride up there since no one else was there and therefore no lines, and then we headed back to eventually meet up with Debra's mom, stopping on Main Street to procure a couple churros for the kids and ride a horse cart.

The operator told us he was a French breed, and I noted his name was "Fin" which in French means exactly what we saw of him on the journey.

Gretchen of course loved him.

We then went into Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln which was a lovely respite from the heat and the throngs of people...sad that it is that unpopular but then, it's the first time I remember going, so... Anyway, it was quite a nice little biopic full of unvarnished, full-throated patriotism and love for liberty. One could call it slightly propagandistic, but compared to the political rhetoric and values of the day, I'll take it. In light of our orange would-be Fuehrer who can barely string a sentence together intelligently, Lincoln's actually meaningful rhetoric was quite refreshing. The final ridiculous pop song which was obviously added in the 80s or 90s took a bit of the shine off, but overall it's a nice exhibit.

We stopped off at the Magic Shop (or Shoppe?) where my uncle used to work back in the day.

Then we got Pete's silhouette cut out with Grandma, a tradition in the family, and headed over to do Pirates of the Caribbean. I kept arguing with Peter about whether or not the cannon fire was real (he insisted it was not, I kept neutral on the subject, yet he still made sure to keep his head down). Then onto the Jungle Cruise, one Gretchen quite likes.

We grabbed some pineapple whips and awaited the next Tiki Room show, always a highlight (air conditioning, seats, no sun...pretty sweet if you ask me).

From there we went to get lunch at Rancho Relaxo (actually Rancho Del Zocalo or something like that, but the Simpsons reference wins out in my mind every time). Gretchen made a "vegetable taco" with her celery, lettuce, and lime juice for the sauce...she was pretty proud of it.

Then we headed back across the street and eventually coaxed the children (or at least one of them) to take a nap during the heat of the afternoon. Late afternoon we headed back and this time it was Peter's stuff at the forefront...Star Wars Launch Bay in Tomorrowland.

There were a couple Meet and Greet opportunities we took advantage of. Kylo Ren was a bit much for Pete...the actor had the mannerisms and movements down, and Pete was utterly cowed and uninterested in getting any closer to the dude. Again I am reminded of, from my coinage of it last year, "kinderfaustenfreude", the amusement parents get when a usually dauntless child shows serious fear of something like this. I have some video which is pretty funny, but not easy to embed.

He was much, much, MUCH more into meeting Chewie.

The props and exhibits here are cool.

Stuff from the new movie...

The details on some of the props are very well-done.

Then we did Autopia which was a lot of fun...Gretchen was at first excited, then horrified when she realized she would be responsible for steering. Some minor panic set in at the beginning, screaming for me to take the wheel, but she eventually got used to it. Apparently Peter never second-guessed himself and took to yelling at the car ahead of him when they stopped in the road.

Then the Buzz Lightyear ride followed by the rocket ship ride that is basically Dumbo but with tandem cockpit configuration.

After a brief stop for pretzels and corndogs we did Star Tours, which both kids loved.

Then we rode the monorail, followed by Submarine Voyage which has been nerfed into some sort of video-based Finding Nemo ride, but at least it lives on in its bastardized form. I kept telling Peter to "FLOOD TUBESH THREE AND FOUR AND PLOT A SHOLUTION!".

Fireworks to end out the day.

Day Ten: Joshua Tree and Grand Canyon

Okay, so this is going to be a short one since it's a bit late....but we departed Anaheim this morning with all of us feeling rather spent. The island day, followed by a dawn to dusk Disneyland blitzkrieg, left us feeling rather leaden, but we eventually got on our way. Most of the parts of California we drove through we wouldn't necessarily offer as a recommendation. Still, I had been finagling a way to get us to visit Joshua Tree National Park for years and this year we managed to work it into the itinerary.

The geology of this place is something I've not researched but Debra and I are interested in learning more about...the mountains and hills seems more like piles of rubble, like Stalingrad in '42.

The "Joshua Tree" yuccas are everywhere. Shame that Gretchen was asleep but in the heat of the late morning there were no animals to speak of about.

Only place I actually got out was at Skull Rock. The sort of place you expect to find Captain Hook waterboarding Tiger Lily for intel on terrorist sleeper cells...did I mention we were at Disneyland yesterday?

It doesn't FEEL hot. But you know it is, as it comfortably wicks the moisture straight out of your skin. Still, I'm happy to at least have set foot in the place. Last time I was here, that I know about, was as an infant when my parents took an ill-fated camping trip here.

Gretchen felt pretty bad most of the day. Still not sure if it was a Disney-Brand StomachBug! or just motion sickness compounded by fatigue and the heat. She's been fine tonight at least, out of the car, so thank goodness for that. After an In'N'Out break in Kingman, AZ, we finally reached the south rim. We saw some elk on the way in which was fun, but I didn't get a picture. The canyon, however, was not moving.

It's a lovely view that feels almost overdone in some aspects. Not complaining at all, but it is the Grand Canyon, it is Grand by name and nature.

Deep into the canyon.

Climbing about next to the Lookout Studio.

You don't know how much better we all feel seeing and hearing this girl feel better.

The juniper berries here are ridiculous, huge, blueberry like things. If it wasn't a national park my home-brewed sahti could use a few of these branches...

Tomorrow, on up through Navajo territory into Colorado.

Day Eleven: Mesa Verde

We passed a much cooler night in the lodge (without air conditioning) compared to last year, although a later start than perhaps ideal. But we needed the sleep. Prior to departure, a quick stop off at the rim so Gretchen could feed a quarter to the telescope.

The European-fed squirrels...and by that I mean, or I hope I mean, squirrels that are handfed with various junk food by European tourists, not squirrels who prey and feast upon European tourists, but you never know...were extremely gregarious and a bit surly when it became apparent you were not offering food.

They kept doing the hands-out pose which makes me think they would do better in a service industry in a major city.

We piled into the car and headed east, through Navajo territory. We bought a lot of junk food in Tuba City, a wonderfully named town as I mentioned last year. Imagine the consternation and hostility one might drum up if one donned a Sousaphone and walked down main street. "We don't take to yer kind, round here..."

Finally into Mesa Verde, we broke the curse and by breathing repeated threatenings to Gretchen to look out the front window, she didn't get too sick on the drive up the mesa. We stopped first and bought a salad and a Navajo taco that we all shared. The Navajo taco was a goal of mine, last year, as a sort of food reconnaissance. Not bad. Tasting, I mean. It's terribly bad for you...a huge flat piece of bread deep fried, covered in chili and taco accoutrements. But in moderation, anyway...

We meant to tour the Spruce Tree House but the trail was closed due to rock falls, so this is as close as we got.

Back up the hill to the museum.

In the museum there are a few atlatls, an ancient dart throwing device I happen to own one of, and a legal method for hunting in Missouri. Personally speaking I tend to lean for the thing that will kill the most cleanly and humanely, with the smallest margin for error, but I did threaten to Debra that not only would I hunt with an atlatl, for authenticity I would pursue my quarry dressed exactly like the chap in this display.

On our way out I noted a highway sponsor sign on the eastbound onramp to...whatever highway is outside Mesa Verde...marked "In Memory of Rick James". I imagine its probably some other chap but I'm tickled by the idea that they meant THE Rick James. Give (your litter) to Me Baby!

Then north into San Miguel county. Beautiful mountains up here...these are all just out-the-window phone snapshots, but the place is breathtaking. I want a cabin here.

The green is a welcome relief. Everything's been very brown for a while now.

We'll be back to this part of SW CO I'm sure...in the Telluride area, a bit west.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison tomorrow. Time to do some laundry for now.

Day Twelve: Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Great Sand Dunes

Up the road from Montrose we visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a relatively new national park. Not necessarily a new canyon, it's been about for some time.

The Painted Wall, with pegmatite dikes throughout.

Quite a chasm...one of the steepest canyons in the world as I understand. Pinyon, juniper, and some sort of shrubby oak at the top.

Pulpit Rock is a nice spot for a canyon viewpoint.

Some parts of the canyon only get a half hour of sunlight per day due to the steepness of the canyon. The Gunnison River is still carving this out.

Then we moved sort of southeast, towards the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Along the way we ran into some nice mountain scenery. Maybe not quite as nice as yesterday but still lovely surroundings.

In the Great Sand Dunes visitor center, I saw an old friend...Ken-A-Vision Video Flex, probably a 7300 model. I worked there for 9 years and am rather familiar with these units. Odds aren't bad that I even printed the serial number label on the base of the unit, depending when it was built.

The world's largest catbox...miles of sand dunes stuck oddly next to a mountain landscape. I thought I'd hike to the top of one of the dunes, but I realized as we got closer, we didn't have the time...and there were other obstacles...

It was hard to find a parking spot by the dunes, half of Colorado wanting to come out on a Saturday and play around out here. We reached this point, me realizing there was a wide stream of water I'd have to get through (and I didn't have on hiking boots or sandals), when the mosquitoes really dove in for the kill. Shallow pools of water plus hordes of Coloradoans with accessible skin...this is more a recreational opportunity for the local mosquitoes than the people. So after a few bites we took a picture from a distance and gave it a miss, this time.

Driving north east towards Colorado Springs, I noted this perfect circle in the clouds, either God is going ice fishing or this is his Port-A-Potty.

We're at a hotel in Colorado Springs which is a nice enough town from the looks of it. In terms of large, "serious" Colorado cities, I like this one a lot better than Denver. We swam, then ate dinner thanks to the magic of canned food and a kitchenette. Tomorrow, onward to home.

Day Thirteen: Garden of the Gods and Home

Right-ho, last day of vacation. I rose at 5:15 and utterly failed to rouse the kids before 6:30, but no matter. Once we breakfasted, we drove a couple miles to a rather famous city park:

The Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, another oddity of Colorado geology, violently shifted cathedrals of sandstone.

We didn't spend long, just enough walk about one of the main trails a bit, and gawk at the massive formations. It's a popular park, full of cyclists, joggers, rock climbers, and the more sedate sorts of ambulators.

We spotted a number of rabbits and of course Gretchen was rather excited.

The fact that Kansas lay ahead had us cutting short our appreciation of the place and heading back to the car.

Driving out of Colorado Springs, we decided we liked, perhaps not loved the place, but it was "not a no" for us for some future reworking of our location. Pleasantly arid but still green, close to the mountains, good sized city but not Denver-crazy.

Then onto some various highways to jog up to 70 and then the long trek across Kansas (surprise! no pictures!). Back home and the kids are happily reunited with Mister Kitty as well as their toys. We're very happy to be home again as well, and lurching towards normalcy and routine once more, starting with me returning to work tomorrow morning (my 5:30 alarm equates to 3:30 Pacific/Arizona time, which fills me with a nameless dread). But it was a great trip, imparting both lasting memories, and a profound sense of relief to not actually be on vacation still. Gives you a refreshed appreciation for the normal routine of life, I suppose. I look forward to using normal sized soap tomorrow, like a normal human being. Until next time...