Hiking in Utah: Part 2

The other half of our most recent hiking adventure was Canyonlands National Park. It’s one of the most stark, shockingly-untouched places I’ve ever seen. It struck the kind of primal fear in me I don’t feel very often as an urbanite – that realization that in places like this, nature WILL win if you’re not very, very careful. Parts of Canyonlands take hours and hours and hours to get to, and you have to have everything you’ll need for multiple days just to DRIVE there, not to mention the hiking part. This is the place that the guy in 127 Hours got pinned in a slot canyon by a boulder and had to cut his arm off to escape after several days of, well, dying. We spent our time in the closer-to-Moab parts of the park.

On our way to the remote visitor center and trail heads, we passed “Newspaper Rock,” a rock face on which Native Americans told their stories. I learned that a lot of times these rock art panels are found near water – they were placed there to signal the presence of water to others, as well as tell stories and remember.

One of the big attractions in Canyonlands is the Needles, a network of giant sandstone spires. They look tiny in these photos, but they’re gigantic.

A nearby hiker said these rock formations looked like pudding.

We started with a 4.3-mile hike, which was probably one of my favorites on the whole trip. Chesler Park Trail is much longer, but we did what we could in order to see a lot in one day. I loved this trail because it felt like the Land Before Time, and the elevation kept changing in bits, not just up or down. We went from up on the tops of these spires down into the valleys, twisting and turning, squeezing through narrow slots between rocks, through tiny passages, across flats and dry creekbeds, and up and down steps carved into the stone. I know hikers pass through this place all the time, but it felt totally untouched, and it was amazing.

This one looked like a chicken pot pie to me!

This last one might look all warm and fuzzy with Dad’s arm around me, but he’s really just trying to keep me from falling off the edge behind us. He won’t let either of us get within 10 feet of a big cliff. It’s pretty funny!

The rest of our time in Canyonlands was spent hiking lots of shorter trails. On Roadside Ruin Trail, we saw a granary – a food storage bin – built hundreds of years ago by Native Americans. Kept animals out of the corn and grain stores.

We saw a natural spring on Cave Spring Trail. It was cool and damp under there, and moss was growing where water seeps out of the rock face. This area had ruins of a cowboy cattle camp – pens, camp furniture, iron stuff. They settled here because of the reliable water source.

Apparently they weren’t the first ones – we saw some cave paintings and hand prints on the overhangs.

We climbed up a couple of ladders to hike around on the tops of these mushroom-type formations. The spring and cattle camp are underneath. From above, we could see so far!

One of the trails with the most grand vistas was the aptly-named Grand View Trail, which basically takes you 2 miles down and around the top ridge of a big peninsula-type island. It took a long time to drive to because you were driving to the edge of the “Island in the Sky” plateau, of which this trail is at the tip. The cement we parked and walked on in the parking area there was all orange, the color of the earth there, because it was so much easier to use what was there than to haul it so far into the wild. From here, you could see everything we had been to, all the landmarks.

The last couple of trails were tied together, Upheaval Dome and Whale Rock. Some sort of phenomena, either a meteor or salt dome, created this giant hole in the earth, and the force pushed back several ringed ridges of rock and earth around it. The first trail took us over a couple of the ridges so we could see the hole up close, and the second took us along the crest of the outer ring.

Whale Rock was actually a little scary, although nothing compared to the rock fins in Arches. We walked along the top, and the sides sloped off on either side. It made Dad nervous, of course, so when I asked him to pose for a picture, he went and stood in this tiny little 3-inch-deep crater in the middle of the ridge. Because those 3 inches would keep him safe. Too funny.

In all, we walked 25.6 miles in 3 days. We saw some amazing places, and there is so much more there that we just couldn’t get to. I hope to go back someday!


Hiking in Utah: Part 1

I met Dad at the airport, and he greeted me: “Welcome to the next adventure!”

We arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado, to the one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen out of an airport window – snow-capped mountains and dunes surrounded us, and the weather was cool and clear, perfect for outdoor fun. We drove 2 hours to Moab, Utah, a small resort town situated between two National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands. We spent three days between the two of them, resting at our hotel in Moab in between treks. I think it’s normally a quiet, quaint place, but a classic car show was in town, and the main drag was full of men showing off their babies, like this guy. It appears to be the motorcycle version of an El Camino.


Arches National Park was first up. Our first hike took most of the day and was basically a tour of many famous natural sandstone arches, created when time, wind, and water wear away all of a piece of rock except for an archway. This one, Landscape Arch, is the longest natural arch in the world at almost 300 feet, and the trail under it is now closed because pieces keep falling off. It may not be around much longer (historically speaking).



The Devil’s Garden Trail took us on a tour of a bunch of these, and they were all beautiful! Some were harder to get to than others…after Landscape Arch, the trail gets considerably harder, and you have to scramble up and over these ridiculous rock “fins,” which is like climbing along the edge of a giant nickel planted in the ground – sheer drops on either side of a thin walkway in the shape of a half-moon (on this picture, I’m on top of one, and you can see others off in the right corner).


This was definitely the scariest thing we did. I had a really hard time getting over a seam/crack in it – not only a drop on both sides, but you had to jump over one, too! I was horrified, but as soon as we got off the end of it, a bunch of school kids on some sort of sanctioned school trip got on it to go the way we had just come. I couldn’t believe anyone would send kids on that thing!

Here’s another one – it started off innocently enough and got scarier the further up the fin you went!

The arches were beautiful, and although there were some other scary moments (like shuffling along a slick, 1-foot wide ledge for about 60 feet overlooking a 20-foot drop-off – at least – onto solid rock), we had a great time. One of the coolest was this double arch – you can see the scale of this by that guy in the bottom left.

The arches below are called “The Window,” and you can see through them to a whole other area of the park otherwise obscured by massive walls of rock.

We came back to Arches our third day of hiking to see the most famous one, Delicate Arch, the one on all the license plates and postcards. The hike there isn’t super long, but it’s strenuous because you have to trek up this GIGANTIC slickrock mountainside first. Dad is the green dot below, and you can see part of the trail we took to get to this spot, kind of in the middle left. We had to stop several times to rest!

Then we moved through this area that kind of feels like the surface of the moon. Very smooth and bleak – I think I read it is ancient sand/sea floor.

Then comes the part I was a little worried about after our fin “adventure” the first day. You have to walk along a ledge, about 4 feet wide, for about 200 feet, and it takes you along a wall overlooking a several-hundred-foot drop-off down to the moonscape below.

THEN you finally see Delicate Arch. It’s unique because the others have portions of wall on either or both sides, and this one has worn away differently, so that it’s just an arch. Nice view of the mountains behind it. You can’t tell from this, but behind us, between us and the arch, is a couple-hundred-foot drop. To get to the arch, you have to climb over this lip and go along the top edge of a pretty severe slope and over to it. Many people have died simply walking here, falling to their deaths. You can see the ledge a little better behind me in the second photo.

Arches was a very diverse place, even though the arches were the main feature. There was also Balancing Rock…

And there was Park Avenue, named because it reminded someone of walking down a New York avenue, flanked by skyscrapers. The walls were sheer and massive. We got caught halfway down the half-mile trail in a lightning storm. The sound the thunder made echoing off those walls was just awesome, in the full sense of the word. We made it to the car as a flash flood stream began pouring off the rock wall in front of us and across the dry bed a few feet from our car. I know it’s hard to tell, but that is not a small rock formation, and that is not a little bit of water.

Arches was an amazing, unique place, and there was so much we still didn’t see, even though it’s a fairly small park by comparison. Can’t want to go back. Coming up, Part 2 – Canyonlands National Park, where the 127 Hours guy cut off his arm!

Fried Okra a la Griffith

I joined a community garden today because my backyard garden has failed me two years in a row. Either there’s not enough sun, the squirrels are eating all my seeds and seedlings, or I’m doing something horribly wrong. I stopped by the garden at Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Oak Cliff to see the plot, and the pastor told me to take some okra while I was there because they had too much. And he really wasn’t kidding. There were three plots completely full of 4-foot okra plants, so I took a good amount. I cooked it up for dinner tonight according to Boyfriend’s mother’s recipe, and it totally worked! I’ve never made it before at all, so I was glad it turned out edible, much less good. It’s not a total coating like in restaurants. I did learn that if okra is hard when you pick it, it’s going to be tough and gross when you chew it, like the tough ends of asparagus that get chopped off. Use the okra pods that are a bit spongy, and you’ll get a lovely result.  Here’s the “recipe,” which actually came from his paternal grandmother.


*Slice okra into rounds

*Season cornmeal/polenta with salt and pepper

*Roll okra rounds in seasoned cornmeal

*Heat oil in pan

*Fry okra in batches small enough for pieces to spend time on the bottom of the pan, for a few minutes, until soft

*Drain on paper towels before serving

Top 5 Fabulous Things of the Month

1. I’m editing for a couple of new reality shows premiering on HGTV this summer and fall. The sneak peak for the first one was last week after Design Star, and I had some family and friends over to watch it. This was the pilot, so my name wasn’t in the credits, but it will be for the next episodes airing in September. Great network, great people to work with, fun subject matter. Loving it. Check out Donna Decorates Dallas, Saturday nights at 9:30 Central!

2. My mother had a cake made for my father and uncle’s birthdays, and it was BRILLIANT. My dad is “over the hill,” and my uncle, 3 years younger, is following close behind. I have half a mind to send this to CakeWrecks, except that I loved it so much and don’t want my mother to think it wasn’t AWESOME. Also, note their combined age of 127.

3. My lovely grandmother died recently, and we are all working through that. I was graciously given her diamond ring, and it’s just so beautiful. I’d rather have her back in a second, obviously, but WOW is it fun to wear diamonds. The stone has been in my family for over a hundred years. My maternal great-grandfather bought it for his wife, and it got passed down to my grandfather, who wore it in a ring until he died when I was a teenager. At that point, my grandmother, who had never had a diamond before, had it re-set in an engagement-ring-type setting and wore it until she died this June. The setting is an “adjust-o-shank,” meaning it can get larger or smaller to fit over swollen old knuckles. It’s super sparkly and fun to wear, but the greatest part is knowing I have a jewel that has been in my family since before motorized automobiles even existed!

4. Sarah moved to Fort Worth when she got married, so I don’t get to see her quite as much. She hosted a girls night, though, where we cooked, ate, played games, and watched Noises Off on a giant projected screen in her media room whilst lounging on comfortable couches and chairs. The best part was watching her try to figure out all the technology involved in getting the DVD player to play on the screen! She had to call her husband.

5. I recently served on an industry Q&A panel for a local kids movie-making camp. It was an honor to be sitting up there among among some very important people in the Dallas film and video scene. We spoke to questions and concerns from kids and parents of kids who are interested in some part of the process, from acting to writing to editing. The highlight for me was when the man next to me who owns one of the major post-production houses in town deferred to me to answer an editing question! I had a couple of families come up afterward with additional questions, and I felt like I was able to give back a little to the community and next generation of folks in my business.

Hope you’re having a great month!


A few days ago, we buried my grandmother’s remains in a family cemetery in South Texas. We made the nearly-10-hour journey, picking her vault up in Temple on the way down. It’s a trip I’ve made, until last summer, every summer of my life, and every summer of my mother’s life. Cumulatively, I’ve spent about five months on the shores of South Padre Island and about 8 months at my grandparents’ house in Harlingen.

I didn’t have a fractured childhood. Through health, luck, and determination, my family stayed together as I grew up and now, into my adulthood, we remain much the same. I lost two grandfathers as a teenager, before my adult mind got to know and appreciate them. Over the last 15 years, though, I got to know my maternal grandmother, Jane Schmoeller, after whom I was named, quite well. I’m heartbroken that she’s gone. I’m also heartbroken that her stories, memories, and unique voice are gone from the earth forever. What we know of her, the traits we inherited from her, and some photographs and ashes are all that exists of her here. And that’s just a shame, because she was so Much.

She taught me many things. She showed my by word and example that I was expected to respond to any need with a “Yes” and a smile.  That there is no excuse or time for self-pity. That prayer is for good times and bad. That any leftovers can be made into soup. She bred function and sunshine into my family, and I will be forever grateful for her influence in my life.

Hard Things

Hard things I did this weekend.

-Watched my mother throw dirt onto her mother’s fresh grave

-Stood in the waters of South Padre Island with my family for the last time

-Slept in the same room with my grandmother’s ashes in a vault

-Held my baby sister while she cried

-Stood on my great grandmother’s grave, surrounded by other dead family members, while we said goodbye to Grandma

Sucky-ass weekend.


Top 10 Fabulous Things of 2010

It’s been a pretty awesome year, if I do say so myself! Here’s a top-10 highlight reel!

1. My father and I hiked the Grand Canyon.

2. After hiking, we drove to Las Vegas to meet Mom and Lindsey to celebrate Lindsey’s 21st birthday in style!

3. Grandma lived with my parents for a year, and the level of care she needed finally made it unfeasible. So we threw her a party, made all her favorite foods, invited everyone over, and then the next day, we moved her to an assisted living facility in Temple, TX, which my cousin directs. She’s been there about a year now, and she’s doing well. We visit frequently, and I miss her very much, but I know she’s in the right place.

4. Since Grandma doesn’t live in South Texas anymore, our annual trip to South Padre Island moved to Galveston. The beach was surprisingly nice, and the hotel was gorgeous. I was pleasantly surprised.

5. I did some editing for four episodes of a nationally-broadcast reality show. It was a silly, silly show on CMT, but seeing my name on national TV just never got old. So. Much. Fun.

6. I got to go to Washington, D.C. for work. I hadn’t been there since the school trip in 8th grade, and I didn’t remember much. I got to interview a director at FEMA, which was very cool, and he told me about their response in Haiti. I did a LOT of walking in my 48 hours there – went to several Smithsonian museums, including the National Holocaust Museum. The best part, though, was seeing Julia Child’s kitchen. It was behind plexiglass, but it was still so neat to see all her cookbooks, VHS copies of her TV shows, all her cooking implements, and her custom-made tall countertops.

7. This is the year of wedding – my sister’s and my two best friends’. Beth and Deanna got married September 23, and it was the sweetest homemade wedding. Beth either made herself or got on Etsy all the decorations, flowers, and accoutrement. We had so much fun, and the service was original and lovely. I had a great time playing Maid of Honor, a role I will be playing twice again in the coming months.

8. The preparations for those weddings are humming along nicely. I just bought my MOH dresses yesterday at the same store, so that’s out of the way. Both Sarah and Lindsey have found their dresses, and it was fun helping them look. I’ve spent a LOT of time at bridal salons this year.

9. My father and I loved the Grand Canyon so much that we decided to attempt Guadalupe Peak in West Texas. At 8751 feet, it’s the tallest point in Texas, and it was a beast to climb. The view was spectacular, though – from this point, you could see into Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico in different directions. Pretty amazing. The second day, we hiked McKittrick Canyon, which really looks more like New England than Texas. We rounded out the trip at Carlsbad Caverns, one of the most amazing places I’ve been. Truly spectacular.

10. Just after Christmas, Barry and I celebrated our one-year anniversary. I forgot to bring his Christmas present to him, though, so on the 26th, we had a Christmaversary! It’s been a wonderful year of fun, learning about each other, and making memories.