Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Diving the Underwater WWII Museum of Truk Lagoon

Truk Lagoon, Chuuk, Micronesia, FSM, Diving, Truck, Shipwreck
I've been a scuba diver for about 10 years now. That's not to say I've done a ton of diving, or that I'm the best diver everrrrr, just that I've been in the process of becoming comfortable in the water for some time. Somewhere along the way I heard about Truk Lagoon, a World War II graveyard of Japanese ships to explore. Micronesia was occupied by the Japanese during WWII. On February 4, 1944, the US Navy did a reconnaissance fly by and were spotted, leading to the evacuation of most of the Japanese naval fleet occupying what is now the state of Chuuk. What remained two weeks later when the US launched Operation Hailstorm were mostly Maru, merchant class ships converted for wartime efforts. The US Navy bombed the hell out of these ships, sinking around 40 ships and several planes. Subsequently, Truk Lagoon was a cemetery until about 45 years ago when the human remains were removed and the lagoon was opened for diving. The wrecks are in great shape due to a protective barrier reef that prevents currents.
Truk Lagoon, Chuuk, Micronesia, FSM, Diving, Truck, Shipwreck
Many of the ships are super deep, meaning they are technical dives requiring a lot more experience and bravery than I have. Most of what I dove was in 90 to 120 feet of water at the deepest points. Mike did one dive to 160 feet, which is about 20 feet deeper than I've ever been. Diving is really good in Chuuk. There are some amazing soft and hard corals, huge schools of tiny fish and overall healthy ocean which is surprising for a few reasons. The first, of course, is the shear amount of iron and steel rotting in the depths. Next is the oil, coal, gunpowder and whatever else was released into the water 70-odd years ago. Lastly, the population of the state is low, which is its saving grace. Otherwise, there would be trash everywhere. Chuukese people are very very poor. There is not much work to be had and a lot of the population is unemployed with little pride in their community. Heaps of trash surround nearly every house. Old broken cars line the road of the town. Those who work at the resort which is the major employer on the island, along with the airport, work 12+ hour days every single day. The people here are very hard-working, shy but kind.
Truk Lagoon, Chuuk, Micronesia, FSM, Diving, Truck, Shipwreck
Blue Lagoon Resort is my type of place in a few regards: no phones, televisions, and nearly useless internet available only in the lobby. Rooms are simple and clean with amazing ocean views. Food is mediocre, which was great for preventing me from pigging out. Diving. We did 14 dives on 11 ships and 3 planes. Wreck diving can be dangerous and technical depending on where and how you penetrate the wreck. Yes, penetrate is the technical term, which makes for really ridiculous conversation. Most of what Mike and I did was simply dropping into open cargo holds and a bit of swimming through passage ways and upper deck spaces. Swimming into a hallway through a dark doorway would've once been more than I could psychologically handle, but experience has made me a bit more brave. Cautiously brave, not stupid. Many of the ships had huge torpedo holes ripping the hulls apart, which gave me a new perspective on the weapons I worked on at Keyport. It's hard not to picture the chaos and terror that the two days of bombs and fire must have brought.
Truk Lagoon, Chuuk, Micronesia, FSM, Diving, Plane, Emily Flying Boat, Shipwreck
During my underwater tourism, I saw lots of cool stuff. Spare periscopes on a submarine tender, a tank on a deck, huge bow guns encrusted with sea life, a cargo hold full of planes, another full of ammo, an expended torpedo engine and propeller, a huge bomb, an engine room that looked like the machinery could start, remnants of trucks from the late 30s and early 40s, and the general overtaking of machinery by the sea were just a few of the man made variety. As for natural, two sharks, several eagle rays, sting rays, pipe fish, soft corals, lion fish were just a few.
Blue Lagoon, FSM, Micronesia, Truk, Chuuk
The first four days we dove with two brothers ages 68 and 71. They were fantastic! Bob is the elder and a firecracker of energy and excitement for all things adventure. Rick is his younger brother, more reserved with a presence about him that suggests he's used to running the show. Rick lives on Oahu so he let me borrow his regulator for the last two days. We met him and his wife for dinner when we returned to trade pictures and return the reg. It was so cool to me that even in their 70s they were out adventuring together and had such a tight relationship. I hope that's me and my sisters in 40 years. On that vein, it turns out most scuba divers are middle aged white guys with beer bellies. Maybe that's just who can afford dive trips. Without further ado, here are my favorite wrecks we did and what we saw:
Truk Lagoon, Chuuk, Micronesia, FSM, Diving, Truck, Shipwreck
Shinkoku Maru - an upright tanker wreck with beautiful sea life all over it. We saw a shark, an eagle ray, big schools of fish, lots of hard and soft corals. Swim through for operating table with bottles and bones, bathrooms with urinals attached. Super structure is covered in life. This was probably my favorite wreck.

Betty Bomber - This is an upright plane laying in the sand between islands. It's big enough to swim through the fuselage. I saw pipe fish for the first time. These are cousins to seahorses. The engines of the plane came to rest 20m away from the rest of the wreck.

Nippo Maru - Another favorite. This is an upright freighter with a small tank on deck. There are a few remnants of old trucks on the deck and the seafloor below. This boat also had a really cool sea life encrusted bow gun. The towers are still upright and covered in coral.
Truk Lagoon, Chuuk, Micronesia, FSM, Diving, Gun, Shipwreck
San Francisco Maru - Mike and Bob did this one. I chickened out. The wreck starts at 140 feet. There are three tanks strapped to the deck, some old trucks in the hold, and a bunch of marine mines on the bow. No pictures because it's too deep for the goPro housing.

Gosei Maru - Rick and I dove this freighter. It's another with a big torpedo hole on the starboard side. The hold contains the remains of the Mk 14 torpedo that took her down. A few small easy swim throughs, but mostly sea life on this one. The propeller was too cool. Mike did a bunch of free diving and didn't miss out on anything.

Emily Flying Boat - This awesome wreck finally settled upside down in the water. It's broken into several pieces, but still recognizable with lots of fish, coral, crabs, and other creatures.

Fujikawa Maru - Super cool passenger cargo ship. She's upright in the water with one hold full of Zero planes, another full of machine gun bullets and magazines. The bow and bow gun are covered in sea fans, coral, and anemones. So cool!
Truk Lagoon, Chuuk, Micronesia, FSM, Diving, Truck, Shipwreck
Sankisan Maru - Another favorite. This one is unbelievably awesome. It's an upright freighter that took a bomb straight to her aft hold that was full of weapons. So, the front end of the ship looks totally normal (for a shipwreck). Mid-ship and the holds have some cool old trucks that are mostly just chassis. One in the hold still had part of its motor and a steering wheel. As we swam to the back, the deck was ravaged and buckled and suddenly just ended. Part of the stern is upright a ways back. Apparently if you're intrepid you can find the rudder about 500 feet away.  The wreck itself is covered in coral with lots of fish. We even saw a sleeping shark. This was a super powerful wreck. We ascended up one of the towers that was a stunning coral reef ending just above our safety stop. Fabulous! Normally safety stops are boring. Not this one.

Hoyo Maru - The last wreck we dove is upside down naval tanker. It had a bomb hole into the engine room so we swam in to take a peek. Otherwise the wreck is covered top to bottom in coral, sea fans, and anenomes. The bottom of the boat, which is the top of the wreck was covered in big coral heads. We spent the whole time looking for octopi.

I made a video with from what we took on the GoPro. Check it out here: https://youtu.be/j4jXPhfM7Wg

Monday, February 12, 2018

There is More to Nevada Than Vegas

Las Vegas attracts a bazillion people per year looking to engage in all forms of debauchery. It's a glittering wild place that juxtaposes high end luxury with sleazy stripper clubs and curbside drug dealers. I fly in there a few times per year. I have family in one of the surrounding desert communities. I usually take a trip to the strip to see a show and have dinner, but I prefer to explore the desert around Las Vegas.
On the most recent trip to Nevada, Mom took Mike and me to Red Stone State Park with big rock formations jutting out of the sand contrasting with soft silver greens of the desert flora. We climbed over and under, explored some wind made cave systems, posed for silly pictures and enjoyed the golden light of the setting sun and the cool winter day.
The desert oasis also has some amazing cycling trails that run all over the place. We borrowed bikes and rode about 20 miles through the Wetlands along a river, which sounds flat if winding. It's not. Instead, there are some gnarly hills, made worse by the fact that I wore sneakers rather than cleats and clips. It was super dry and the temperatures were in the high 60s or low 70s. What a perfect day!
The best part about traveling to Nevada in the winter is that my likelihood of seeing slithering bottom dwellers that rattle is pretty low. Despite several long treks through the desert, I saw no reptiles. Yay for me!
Our one visit to the strip was to see Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque Du Soliel, which was fabulous! I had great tickets from a Black Friday deal. Wayne took us all out to eat and we explored the Bellagio before heading to the show. The Conservatory was decorated for Chinese New Year with dogs of all sorts. Double dates are wonderful!
Cycling and hiking are not the only things to do besides losing money and watching ladies jiggle. Previous trips have included a tour of the Hoover Dam and gorgeous bridge that spans the canyon, drives around Lake Mead, rock climbing at Red Rocks. My favorite parts are time with family: cards with Grandma, dinners with cousins, walks with Mom and her doggies.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Big Family Fun in Kauai

Each Hawaiian island is completely different. If you think going to Maui or Oahu means you've experienced the whole state, you're missing out. Where Oahu is packed full of activities, city life, and adventure, Kauai is rural and loaded with free ranging chickens. It is exactly what you picture when you think of Hawaii: lush forests, huge tropical plants, giant trees draped in vines with big leaves, perfect beaches with turquoise water and sea turtles. It is an idyllic place.
I convinced my family to come to Hawaii for a week to celebrate my mom's 60th birthday (and step-dad's birthday too). All three of my sisters flew over, two with significant others in tow. We stayed in a big, beautiful Princeville home on the North Shore and stocked the fridge with food from Costco.
Kilauea Lighthouse
Wailua Falls
Waimea Canyon
Lithified Cliffs
Queen's Bath
Poipu Beach Park
Kilauea Mini-Golf

Sleeping Giant (4 miles)
Hanakapi'ai Falls (8 miles)
Okolehao (4 miles)
Pu'u Okila Trail (3 miles)
Kaluapuhi Trail (2 miles)
Sleeping Giant was probably my favorite hike. We woke early and started the hike before dawn so that we would be at the top for sunrise. We reached the top just before the sun crested the horizon. It's not a long hike at only four miles. The sun broke through the low hanging ocean clouds scattering golden light throughout the valley and kissing the tops of the waves coming to shore. It was glorious!
The next greatest hike was Hanakapi'ai Falls which is the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail with the addition of another two miles following the river to where the canyon ends in a huge gorgeous waterfall. This one was fun with only two miles of really rough elevation gain, which are the miles on the Kalalau Trail. Those two miles have spectacular peek-a-boo views of the Na Pali Coastline, which is even more scenic in the winter with the waves crashing on the shear cliff faces. The boys swam in the pool under the falls, but it was friggin' cold so I skipped it.
Kilauea Lighthouse is a bird sanctuary and national wildlife refuge (or as the park ranger told me, "the bastard little brother no one remembers exists where it's perfectly ok to yell things like 'look at those boobies' and 'frigate!'" *snicker* Anyway, it's a beautiful place high on a cliff surrounded by crashing waves, and home to albatross, nene (the Hawaiian goose and state bird), red-footed boobies, and frigate birds.

The Lithified Cliffs are an shoreline of petrified sand dunes on the South shore of Kauai near Poipu Beach Park. They're like white lava rock: sharp with exotic shapes. We saw a huge turtle here after snorkeling and watched a great sunset.
Queen's Bath is a serene and beautiful pool in the summer time. In the winter, the surf turns it into a raging whirlpool of waves and currents. It's unbelievably beautiful and intense and should be handled with extreme care. Many people have died there. We all survived, but there may have been a scary moment or two. I'll protect some dignity and keep that story close. No picture because my phone died in that incident.

For mom's 60th birthday we took a little road trip to the other side of the island to see Waimea Canyon. This is known as the Grand Canyon of Kauai. It's a huge rift in the earth. The major difference is where the Grand Canyon of Arizona is dry and arid. This canyon has walls dotted with green. It's alive and thriving with a big waterfall. Along the winding road through the park are vistas of the canyon, hiking trails, and rest stops. And the best part, no snakes! Yay Hawaii!
In the park, we hiked Pu'u Okila Trail at the Kalalau Overlook. It's a 1.7 mile trail out along the ridge above the Kalalau Valley. It's mind blowing. The valley fills with clouds, overflows the trail, clears, and cycles again. It's stunningly beautiful, saturated with color, and has amazing ocean views.
For the most part, we ate a ton of yummy food we made in our big kitchen, drank pina coladas with scavenged coconuts and oranges, and played games. The house had a resident gecko that takes care of any bugs and randomly skitters across the wall. We went to the beach and played in the water even getting Anne, who usually stays out, in with some snorkeling gear.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Shelley's Wedding and Shoshone Falls

In a super whirlwind, tiny ceremony in Idaho, my beautiful baby sister married her sweet man. I found out about this wedding about a month prior. Originally planned for June, the wedding was reconfigured to be parents only as his mother is ailing and they wanted her to be a part of their celebration. Two weeks later, I received a call that the invite list now included siblings. Holy crap! I scrambled to buy a ticket with a little bit of freaking out about the price and schedule and layovers. After a minor melt down calmly readjusting my thoughts, I found what I needed and booked it.

In no time at all, I was falling asleep on a red eye flight to Salt Lake City. Emily picked me up in the morning, we brunched, picked up a cake and began the journey north. The wedding was held at Kelton's parent's farm in Burley. It was a three hour drive of fields and farmland and snow flurries. We stayed at the Marriott, all four girls in two adjacent rooms. So much noise, so much sass! Anyway, Mom made lasagna and brought pumpkin pie for dinner at the farm. We overwhelmed his family with wildly told stories about Shelley and how she was the cutest kid ever. Kelton told us funny stories about growing up the youngest of seven. I'm ever glad to have been first.

Wedding day Anne, Emily and I woke up at an uncivilized hour to go check out Shoshone Falls at sunrise. The falls are about 45 minutes west of Burley. We piled in Anne's little Beetle and drove down the road singing our favorite late '90s and early 2000s jams. So much talent, you wouldn't believe it. We arrived at the falls just as the sky was lighting up. The falls are part of a reservoir on the Snake River. It's an incredible spot!! We found every available overlook and angle to take pictures from.

On the drive back, we stopped at a super tall bridge spanning the gorge cut by the river. The bridge is called Hansen Bridge. Fitting, no? It's super rad! We walked along the rim of the canyon with Emily joking that Anne is Jon Snow with her black mane of curls spilling out over her puffy winter coat, black of course. So many "Winter is Coming" jokes. (Game of Thrones, if you've spent the past decade under a rock.) Anne doesn't read my blog. So, Lord Snow, Em and I enjoyed the heck out of that place taking pictures and hoping we didn't slip on the snow dusted rocks and fall to our deaths. Ok, it maybe wasn't actually that slippery, but it really was that far.

The three of us made it back with time for everyone to shower, do hair, makeup, dress, and freak out that Shelley had disappeared. She returned to frenzy of activity. Anne did hair, Emily did make up. I moved stuff to the room Shelley and Kelton were staying in that night. I'm the hired muscle, not the one with artistic talent, obvi. Anyway, Anne and I took pictures while Emily helped Shelley into her dress. She looked stunning. The makeup was lovely, the hair impressive, but Shell glowed, and it had nothing to do with either.
I had the honor of driving the bride to the farm (add cheauffer to my list of skills!) and we set up first look pictures. Kelton came out looking dashing in a black blazer, kilt and tall black socks. We made him turn around and wait for the arrival of the queen...I mean bride. The first look was everything we all hoped for. He had an "allergy attack" on seeing her, immediately bursting into tears.  Soooo sweet!
A friend of theirs was ordained just for the ceremony. Jordan, like Kelton, wore a kilt and tie. He did a fantastic job. Wayne sang "Can't Help Falling in Love" by Elvis Presley as everyone walked down the aisle. Jordan gave a sweet and heartfelt sermon on love and commitment. Anne was photographer and took about a million pictures. They're lovely, by the way.

Afterward, family photos were taken and we went to a nearby daycare facility for lunch. It sounds weird, but it's really just a large warm space. Warm was important since I could see my breath for the full ceremony. Kelton's siblings had prepared a wonderful taco bar and decorated tables in a fall theme. There was a huge cake topped with flowers and a Deadpool silhouette that everyone said was yummy to go along with it. Shell and Kelton cut the cake. She stole the first bite and made a giant mess of Kelton's nose giving him the next taste. He was planning to be sweet, but she deserved the cake face. It was all smiles. The gluten intolerant girl (me) cut and passed out the cake to everyone. It disappeared remarkably fast. Dad gave a heartfelt toast. Shortly there after, everyone packed up, gave hugs, and went their own way. Short, sweet, beautiful.
Em and I drove back in a bit of a blizzard. Utah/Idaho snow is dry and easy to drive in. So I did just fine!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Exploring the island paradise of Lana'i

Lana'i is a tiny Hawaiian island near Maui. It has one small idyllic town located in the center of the island. Paved roads radiate out in only three directions. Despite its small size, it's a wonderful place. People are friendly and welcoming. There are no chain retailers, gas stations, or restaurants anywhere on the island. The exception to this rule is the two Four Seasons resorts.

We took a friends trip over a three day weekend. At first it seemed that three days may have been too many for such a small place. Most people explore it as a day trip from Maui, if at all. In the end though, none of us was ready to leave. We rented an Airbnb, one of the few on the island, and a 4x4 Jeep via text message from a guy named Bart (sounds legit, right???). I was a little apprehensive that the Jeep would actually be at the airport, but there it was, sitting right out front.

Our first stop was the Lanai Cat Sanctuary. Hawaii has a major feral cat problem. This facility rounds up the strays on lanai, spays/neuters, and provides the cats with a safe, comfortable life. There were 593 cats in residence when we visited. Most were super friendly, which is uncommon for feral cats. The constant stream of visitors petting them and playing with them helps a lot. The goal is adoption, but the rate is low. Instead, most of the animals are kept fed and free roaming in a giant pen with cat beds, hideouts, baskets, and any number of places for cats to curl up. They're given shots and cured of diseases. Mike's goal was to pet them all. I bet he made it close to half. They loved him!

Next we followed a rich red dirt road to a 4x4 road leading to the ruins of Kaunolu Village site. Here was a historical loop detailing a typical Hawaiian village. There was also a big cliff (60') at the top said to test the might of warriors and the morals of criminals. If one survived the jump, he was declared innocent of the crime. It was nice and windy up there. Mike's shirt was protecting my shoulders and blew off the edge but stuck to the rock part way down. He climbed down to get it. YIKES!!

We checked into the Airbnb where the neighbor suggested a visit to the cultural center up the road. We walked and realized it looked pretty dark. I opened the door and looked around, setting off the alarm. The door was locked, but hadn't shut properly. I promptly shut it and we waited for the police to show up. Instead, one of the curators let us have 30 minutes since it was closed for the weekend. He was a wealth of knowledge. We really enjoyed looking around and learning about the island.

That evening, we went to Sweetheart Rock to watch the sunset. It was lovely and is a nesting ground for some sort of awkward ground bird. I say awkward because we almost stepped on several in the dark on the way back. The first seemed damaged waddling very low to the ground. Turns out, that's just how they are. hmmmm... We took a few minutes to explore the gorgeous Four Seasons resort and made guesses at the room rates for a night. None of us was even close. I looked up a random weekend in January and the cheapest I could find was $2550 for two nights. YIKES! The best part about that whole thing was realizing how amazing the stars are from Lana'i. I stopped on the side of the road away from all the lights and we spent some time searching for usually obvious constellations. It's AMAZING when there are just so many stars that the few brightest don't seem so obvious.

Day two was a trip out to Shipwreck Beach on the northeast edge of the island. There are about two miles of dusty dirt road leading to the beach with the best view of the wreck. We parked and walked another mile or so in toward the ship. It's a cool old hulking mass that was run aground in 1954. From the beach, both Maui and Molokai looked close enough to paddle to. Also near the beach is a big rock with a ton of petroglyphs. Some are clearly very old. Others look to be a bit more recent... Or maybe really recent.

Once we got back to town the rain started to come down. It absolutely poured! This meant no Munro Trail or most of the loop we'd planned for the day. We'd already been warned the 4x4 roads were too muddy for most of it to be passable. Instead, we showered, ate and went to the newly renovated theater to see the latest Thor movie, because he's super pretty (this might have only been my reasoning:)) We followed the movie with dinner at Lanai City Bar and Grille which was clearly the fanciest place away from the resorts. They had live music. It was clean and fun with good food.

When we walked back home, there was lightning all around. I LOVE lightning storms, but I haven't lived anywhere that has them since I left Utah. It's just not very common on O'ahu or Western Washington. We piled in the car and drove out of town looking for the huge herds of deer that roam the area at night. We found them! They were very shy of our headlights and their glowing red eyes were a bit eerie as they scattered. We stopped the car at a clearing and watched the lightning storm in silence.

The last day was the Garden of the Gods. This is what I'd been most looking forward to. It's this bizarre lunar/Martian landscape in a huge wildlife preserve. There are big round, red rocks everywhere. The dirt is a swirl of colors from a pale mint green to purple to the abundant rust red. Long grasses swirled in the breeze on hillsides on one side of the road. It's a beautiful place and it was all ours. We saw one other Jeep. The road was pretty smooth, but had one section that was really muddy from the night before. It felt a little like surfing to drive in it.
Frisbee in the park, playing on the jungle gym and swings, and some moose tracks ice cream rounded out the day. Gas for the Jeep was $4.68 per gallon at the solitary gas station. We returned the car and amused the TSA folks in the one room terminal by playing Heads Up, where a word lights up a phone screen placed on the "it" person's forehead and everyone else has to hint or act it out. My favorite round was dance moves. Utterly hilarious! A 30 minute jumper flight had us home in no time. What an amazing trip! Rachel, Brad, Camille, Thomas, and Mike, THANK YOU for the adventure!!!