Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Return, and Discovery

Since coming back from this trip I've begun to understand why some people say you need "a vacation from your vacation."  Our trip was structured and fast-paced, so we didn't have much time to relax. We were up early every day (which, if you know us, is really saying something) because we had so many things to see and not enough time. 

Oh...and check out a good assortment of additional photos here, on my photo blog!  (I sorta tried to put different photos on the blogs, because different people read them, but there is some overlap.)

For the first full day of our trip, we drove through the south part of Wyoming and headed north into the Tetons. I was pretty stoked to see the Tetons, and let me tell you why. When I was young and bored, I had a stamp collection. Quite the hobby it was. One of my all-time best stamps was a longish one with a painting of the Tetons on it! The sunset was glowing on those tall, jagged, craggly peaks, sharp like razors slicing through the clouds. The Tetons always looked so much better than the Colorado mountains I was used to seeing all the time. Those ones were like dull butter knives, soft and swaying in shape. But the THOSE were some serious mountains.

As we got close to the park, I still hadn't seen them, even from a distance. I was looking SO hard for them. Then, just for a split second as we wound our way through the town of Jackson, I saw them jutting through the green butter-knife hills, sharp as they were on the postage stamp...

This is what they looked like when we got closer.  Aren't they absolutely breathtaking?

We spent a day in Teton and a day and a half in Yellowstone. From there we drove to Seattle, stayed for three days, then camped in Olympic National Park.

Our first campsite ever, in Teton National Park.
This one's in Yellowstone. 
And here we are camping in Olympic National Park, just a few steps away from the Pacific Ocean. Can you see how insanely tall those trees are??

Before we left, I was pretty excited to see Yosemite, especially Half Dome. Well, it turns out I had Yosemite and Yellowstone backwards in my mind MY WHOLE LIFE.  Or maybe I thought they were two parks in one...? But I was recently informed by my husband that Yosemite was in California.  I didn't know what was in the real Yellowstone except for buffalo and Old Faithful, which didn't excite me all that much.

But having visited it, I can now say that the real Yellowstone is about the most epic and unreal place I've ever been to.  I don't know how many times I gasped and said, "I've never seen anything LIKE this before!" and "I have never imagined anything like this!" Sometimes it was like being on the moon, with white, chalky, barren cliffs.  Then there were psychedelic ponds of steaming neon colors, and bizarre "bacterial mats," these bright orange streaks, like flowing lava. Oh, I'll just show you, even though these photos are also on the other post.

There were also a lot of waterfalls, which tend to really look a lot alike after the first few. One thing I firmly believe: if the water never actually falls (ie, if it is just running down a hill), it is NOT a waterfall and should not be billed as such.

Anyways, after packing up our Yellowstone campsite, and after a full day of driving, we arrived in Seattle, Washington.

On the way, we crossed the Columbia River, and pulled over at an overlook for this magnificent view:

Here are a few highlights of our three days in Seattle: taking a tour of Seattle's (pretty bizarre) underground...
This, friends, is a crapper. Really, that's what it's called. One thing we learned on our Seattle Underground tour is that the modern toilet was invented by a chum called Thomas Crapper, and this is one of the original versions. Who knew??

We ate dinner at the Space Needle, which rotates around so you can see the whole city...(I liked watching the waiters go about their business, because it was funny to me that they had to ignore the city behind them.)

Here's the view of Seattle from the observation deck, right below the restaurant.  The natives said they hadn't had this clear of a day in months!

I had seared ahi tuna with jasmine rice, wilted greens, and a heavenly spicy blackberry sauce. There was also a soy-ginger sauce.  This might have been the best meal of my life. (It was served as quite the presentation, but I immediately dug in and then was like OH NO, take a photo!)

We also climbed a very old watertower...

and hung out at the Pike Place Market quite a bit...including THE original Starbucks! Look at me!

Oh, and then there was more amazing food.  We arrived on July 4th, and like any good American we ate a hearty Irish dinner at a little place near our hotel.  After that we ate salmon, clam chowder, pasta, pizza, burgers, French pastries, Russian pastries, and a whole lot of really good coffee.

Oh yes...our hotel! Somehow we lucked out on this place. We were on the 7th floor of a very old building in the heart of downtown, overlooking Puget Sound.  We had high ceilings and large windows (sorry, forgot to take photos!). But after a few days of camping, a hot shower and a soft bed felt pretty great too. And it was really inexpensive...our hotel in Sidney, NE cost quite a bit more than this gem! 

After we were done in Seattle, we had to take a ferry across the sound, to get to Olympic. On the way, we drove to Hurricane Ridge, another view that required a movie clip to capture it all. It was very windy.

You wouldn't believe our campsite. It was like a jungle. We were also only yards away from the Pacific Ocean. Here is me, stepping in the Pacific for the first time (it was pretty cold water).

Some more photos from our campsite area and beach...

a driftwood collector's paradise...

We'd bought salmon and scallops at the fish market before leaving Seattle that morning. You never tasted anything so fresh. Because I am THAT cruel, here are some photos of this neon-red-fresh Copper River salmon, and these perfectly seared scallops (probably my favorite food ever)...we fried it all in butter with salt and pepper, and that's it. Beautiful.

Let's have one more shot of those perfectly-carmelized, almost-as-big-as-your-palm, fresh-as-rain scallops.

We also visited a rainforest, though only for a few hours. It was also pretty spectacular. It was like where the hobbits lived, green and mossy and primeval and mysterious.  Above: something accurately named The Big Cedar Tree. (Just look at that thing!) Below: a giant spruce tree.

Hey look, we're in a rainforest!

These trees all started growing on a fallen tree when it started to rot. Then the fallen tree disintegrated and left this row of trees with tall, cave-ey roots.  There were lots of rows like this.

Cape Flattery, Washington. The northwesternmost point in the continental U.S. (Doesn't sound so awesome with all those conditions.)

We couldn't see them, but there were PUFFINS out there!

Driving back to our campsite that evening, we stopped to check out some beaches at low tide:

When we were in all these amazing places, I kept imagining what it'd be like to discover something. And I don't mean being the first European to "discover" it. I mean being the first human to make it to the top of that ridge for that surreal, monstrous vista. Hearing the water for miles as you walk along, and suddenly, there is the crashing, raging waterfall. Sludging your way through the woods only to be startled by a vast flower-covered meadow slanting up to meet the mountains in the sky.  What would that be like, to find something of such profound beauty? I think that is what Heaven -- or should I say, the new earth, redeemed and restored to its first beauty -- will be like.

I read the book "Heaven" by Randy Alcorn a few years ago. Justin hadn't read it yet, so before our trip we downloaded the audio version and listened to it in the car. If you haven't read it before, you need to!  This book emphasizes the reality that our eternal home won't be some boring, vague, glowy spiritual existence. God will restore this very earth to its initial perfection, just like he's planning to restore the physical bodies of all who have trusted in Him.  The entire creation will once again be as he intended. The pollution and havoc we've wreaked upon God's creation will be swept away.  Disease, heartache, betrayal, disappointment and grief will be distant memories. And no more evil, and no more separation from God, no veil between this world and the spiritual one. Can you imagine it??  It is what every heart yearns for, why things seem so beautiful and yet so horrible at the same time. We belong to this earth, this same exact one we're on now, because God always intended for us to live here. And one day, it'll again be as it was supposed to be.  

What if we were always imagining what eternity be like, sincerely and honestly looking forward to it? What if we could hardly wait?  Will the mountains be higher? The water bluer, deeper, multicolored? The planets and stars all visible to the naked eye? All the animals and flowers that have ever been extinct? A hundred new colors?  Music coming from the sky? Discovery, new vistas around every corner, as though you were the first native to stumble across Old Faithful.  Learning, finding, and finally knowing, finding answers and reality as we always knew it should be. And God is there, enjoying it all with us, and we brilliantly see his divine signature in every fraction of the universe and in our own selves.

That is what eternity will be like. What if I was just as stoked for that, as I was for this vacation?

Do go check out Heaven by Randy Alcorn. (You can get the iTunes version for $10.) It might just shake up your perspective...which, I think, is always a good thing. Thanks for reading about our trip, and about Heaven! :)

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