Thursday, August 27, 1998

first day of middle school

I started 7th grade at Egan Junior High School this morning. This was my first day at a new school, so I was obviously pretty nervous. I had been in a special education program for almost six years because of my autism, so the transition was especially challenging for me.

On the other hand, there are many exciting things about middle school. One thing for sure is that it's a great place to make friends. I'm a bit embarrassed to say this, but there are many hot chicks at Egan. It's kind of awkward to talk to them, though, so I hope the other kids won't make fun of me for doing so. :P

All of the teachers and staff are extremely nice. I'd like to give props to the counselor, Mr. McClain, who was very helpful in addressing my concerns; he certainly made my transition to Egan a lot easier. Oh yeah, and the 7th grade science teacher, Ms. McLaughlin, is totally hilarious. I can't wait to be in her class again tomorrow!

Although this was only my first day at Egan, I really like it so far. However, it goes without saying that the 8th graders love to make fun of us "sevies." From what I've heard, one of their traditions is to put us in trash cans. I'm not sure I like the sound of that. *shrugs*

One odd thing about Egan is that each class period is normally 46 minutes long. You're probably wondering why the school didn't choose a more "rounded" number, such as 45 or 50. To be honest, I have no clue either.

In other news...

We invited Mrs. Carrie and her husband Ron to dinner at Chef Chu's last week. She did a lot for me when I was in her 6th grade class at Springer, so my parents and I thought this would be the best way to show our appreciation. I had really missed Mrs. Carrie, so it was nice to get back in touch with her.

Currently listening to: Deep Woods, Deep Waters by Douglas Wood

Wednesday, August 12, 1998

back from Yellowstone

My family just got back from our long-awaited trip to Yellowstone National Park. I've looked forward to going there for years, so this vacation was quite exciting. We were only free from the 7th to today because I have a summer reading class on Thursdays, but six days was still plenty of time. Below is the report of our amazing trip!

Day 1

This was the day I had been anticipating for ages. The three of us flew to Salt Lake City in the morning before renting a car there and beginning our long drive up north. There were many things to do in Utah's capital, but we decided to save them for the last day because Yellowstone was more important. On the way there, my parents and I came across a geothermal power plant in Ogden. Knowing that I was interested in how it worked, Dad asked if tours were available. The answer was no; the facility was not open to the public, so we went on our merry way.

We were supposed to reach the Lake Yellowstone Hotel at around 8:00 p.m. according to our plans. However, there was an unusual amount of road work along the way that delayed our arrival by several hours. To make matters worse, my father took a wrong turn near Jackson, and we ended up in the National Elk Refuge. Oh dear!

It was 1:00 a.m. when we got to the hotel, and I barely had the strength to even get out of the car. In hindsight, flying directly to Jackson or somewhere else near the park would probably have saved us lots of trouble.

Day 2

It was time to see what the park had to offer after some well-deserved sleep. The main highlights were the thermal areas, where we saw countless hot springs and geysers. It goes without saying that no trip to Yellowstone is complete without watching Old Faithful erupt, so we made sure to do that. Aside from enjoying the lovely smell of rotten eggs, my parents and I also went to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, as well as watched some bison. This was definitely the best day of the trip. Dad bought an album called Deep Woods, Deep Waters at our hotel's gift shop as he thought it would make a good souvenir. It was definitely a good choice because we loved the music.

Day 3

There were many parts of Yellowstone that we had not seen yet, so we continued where we left off the day before. One place I really wanted to go to was Norris Geyser Basin, the most geologically active area of the park. But because my parents were pretty tired when we got there, they opted to stay in the car instead. That wouldn't have been a problem, except I was too scared to go far by myself and saw only a small part of Norris. This is undoubtedly my biggest regret of the trip. :-(

The three of us were ready to explore the park some more after a short rest. The next stop was Mammoth Hot Springs as we had not been there yet. One thing that hit us hard was that we passed a motorcyclist who had been badly injured in an accident. It was a shocking scene, and we certainly hope he'll be all right. But there was nothing more we could do for him, so we carried on with our trip.

Mammoth was very different from the other thermal areas. The hot springs in this region were a lot less active, and there were no geysers. On the other hand, the mineral terraces were absolutely beautiful. We had seen about half of them when my father felt a raindrop and suggested returning to the car. I shrugged it off, thinking he was overreacting... until it suddenly started pouring. The three of us high-tailed it out of there, but it was raining so hard that we were soaking wet by the time we returned to the parking lot. Oops. I guess Dad was right!

It was getting late anyway - not to mention that we needed to dry off to avoid catching a cold - so we went back to the hotel for the evening.

Day 4

Our main stop of the day was West Yellowstone, a small community just outside the park. This place didn't seem to have any thermal features, but it didn't matter too much because we had already seen plenty of them. After all, our trip wasn't just about hot springs and geysers.

But West Yellowstone had very few attractions besides the restaurants and souvenir stores. The three of us mostly just browsed the shops, although we didn't buy anything because the stuff here was pretty expensive. That said, I still enjoyed West Yellowstone; small mountain towns often provide the perfect opportunity to escape from the busy city life.

Day 5

We stopped at the nearby Quake Lake before returning to Yellowstone. As its name suggests, the lake was formed following the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake. The visitor center had an entrance fee, but we went in anyway as geology is one of my major interests. Unlike museums, visitor centers usually have free admission. It seems folks in tourist areas will charge for anything. This place nonetheless had many neat exhibits, so I guess the money was worth it.

There wasn't much else to do in the area, so we headed back to Yellowstone. This was sadly our last day in the park. All of us would surely miss this wonderful place, so we bought two more souvenirs: a documentary video called Geysers of Yellowstone and Other Thermal Features and a "geyser pen" that bubbles when squeezed. I wanted to see a few more hot springs before leaving, so we took the time to revisit a couple of the closer thermal areas. The three of us then watched one last eruption of Old Faithful before beginning our drive back to Salt Lake City.

The route took us back through Grand Teton National Park, which we hadn't had the chance to explore yet. The scenery here wasn't quite as impressive as that in Yellowstone, but we still got some great pictures. Before leaving the area, my parents and I stopped at another gift shop and bought even more stuff.

Our original plan was to drive to Montpelier and spend the night there. From what we had heard, our hotel was supposed to be a rather nice one. The problem is, there was an insane amount of road construction on the return trip as well. The traffic was even worse this time because the route we had planned to take was completely closed. This meant we regrettably had to cancel our reservation at the Montpelier hotel. There was no other choice but to pick from whatever lodging that was available, and we settled upon Antler's Motel in Kemmerer.

Unlike the hotel we had originally booked, this one was far from luxurious. The walls were dirty and full of holes, and the bathroom looked disgusting. Good grief. Antler's Motel was just about the worst hotel we have ever stayed in, with its only redeeming feature being the low rate.

The worst-case scenario was that we would not find a place to stay until we reached Salt Lake City, but this was fortunately not the case. It was nevertheless already 2:45 a.m. when we checked into Antler's Motel. I happened to have a mild case of constipation, and it was well past 4:00 a.m. by the time I got into bed. Yikes!

Day 6

Salt Lake City wasn't too far to the south, so we took the time to explore Kemmerer for a bit. Despite being a small mining town, Kemmerer wasn't without its highlights: my parents and I came across the J. C. Penney mother store, and it was hard to believe the huge chain of department stores had all started here. This was a serendipitous moment for sure. It was a shame the store wasn't open as we would have loved to see what the original J. C. Penney was like.

Dad figured Salt Lake City would be more interesting, so we didn't stay in Kemmerer very long. Speaking of which, I noticed something unusual on the way to Utah's capital: the entire highway seemed to be filled with trucks as far as the eye could see. It was hard to tell how many there were, but it must have been in the hundreds. Where the heck did all those big rigs come from? This was certainly not something you see every day!

There was still a lot of road construction going on as well, but we didn't encounter any serious delays this time. Thank goodness for small favors. We actually arrived in Salt Lake City a bit earlier than expected due to the extra driving we did the night before.

Our flight wasn't until the afternoon, so there was plenty of time to look around. It turned out that Salt Lake City was indeed quite fun. We first stopped at the Taffy Town factory store to sample some locally-made salt water taffy. This stuff is apparently really popular around here. The three of us then went to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to see the famous Salt Lake Tabernacle organ. Our final stop was the Utah State Capitol for pictures before boarding our flight home.


To say the least, this was one of our best vacations ever. I loved every part of it despite the delays and other mishaps. Geology has always been one of my favorite subjects, so seeing the thermal features was by far the highlight of our adventure.

But the trip wasn't all fun and games; the instructor for the summer class had asked us to write a summary of the books we are reading, so I had to take notes on Wilson Rawls' Where the Red Fern Grows whenever I wasn't enjoying the great outdoors. While that took much of my free time, it did not make the trip any less fun. I'd say Where the Red Fern Grows was actually a good read; that book will surely remind me of our trip. Our next visit to Yellowstone will probably be many years from now, but the good memories from this one will definitely last years.

I've wanted to go to Yellowstone ever since I was very young. The first opportunity came about two years ago, when my paternal grandfather Bien-Chuan and his companion Mrs. Chen were visiting us from Taiwan. While my paternal grandmother passed away before I was born, I've long considered Mrs. Chen to be part of our family because she treats me pretty well. It has always been my father's dream to take Bien-Chuan to Yellowstone, so he planned a big road trip all the way to the Rockies.

That would undoubtedly have been very exciting. But it would also have been physically taxing - especially with two elderly folks in tow - so it was decided to fly there instead. Grandpa then became adamantly opposed to the trip as he felt bad about us having to spend so much; after all, those plane tickets were not exactly cheap. Because our finances were indeed tight at the time, the trip was canceled. I was ticked off then as I did not understand the magnitude of the situation.

The following year, I learned that Joan, one of my favorite teachers at the Morgan Center, had been to Yellowstone. Being good friends with Joan, I would constantly bug her with questions about her trip. One day she smiled and said something like, "Well, why don't you plan your own trip to Yellowstone so you won't have to keep asking me about it?" I could tell she was getting annoyed.

In any case, my family finally got to visit Yellowstone after all those years, so everything's all good. I think I'm going to call Joan in the next few days and tell her all about my trip. It might be a little hard to reach her because she recently moved to another state - I think it was Wisconsin - but I'll see what I can do.

August 15 update: I just called Joan to tell her about my adventures in Yellowstone, and we had a wonderful conversation that I'll never forget. I definitely owe my thanks to Cheryl, the head teacher, for being kind enough to find out Joan's contact information for me.

Currently reading: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls