Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Windows with a View -- Grand Teton Mountains

Rising 13,770 feet, the jagged, snow-covered peak of the Grand Teton Mountain is an amazing sight to behold. Link that impressive peak to nearby Mount Moran (at 12,605 ft.) and a number of other slightly smaller mountains, and you have a 45-mile range of mountains that fill the horizon from end to end.

The Grand Teton National Park is unique among national parks. The star of the show in this park -- the spectacular mountain range – is visible from almost any spot within the park. That’s saying a lot considering the park covers 485 square miles.

The photo with this article is one of my favorites from our recent trip to Wyoming. This "window with a view" is in The Chapel of Transfiguration, which sits in a valley with one of the most beautiful views in the world – the Grand Teton Mountain range. The cross planted in the center of this amazing view reminds me of how God is the center of all things, and how all things are held together by His great power. "For the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof," I Cor. 10:26.

Grand Teton National Park stretches from just above the town of Jackson at its southern tip, 45-miles north to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Entrance fee is $25 per car and is good for seven days. There is ample lodging available in Jackson, and also within the park. Moose Visitor Center, not far from Jackson, is open year round, 8-5 p.m. (307-739-3399). Be aware, however, that heavy snow can be expected from early November through the end of March. We were there May 27, and it was cool – a great time of year to visit.

Recommended Things to See and Do in the Park (listed north to south):

(1) Jackson Lake Lodge: Located just northwest of Jackson Lake Junction. The Lodge has 60-foot tall picture windows in the huge lobby, with amazing views of the beautiful mountains beyond the lake. The lobby has numerous comfy sofas and chairs, fireplaces, and lovely paintings of the wildlife where you can relax and enjoy the view. There are also restaurants, coffee shop, grill, and gift shops in the Lodge. It is pricey to stay there (around $275. If you can afford it – go for it!), but you can certainly pop in for the incredible view and perhaps a meal.

(2) Signal Mountain: Signal Mountain Summit Road is a five-mile road that circles the mountain and takes you to a scenic area 800 feet above the valley floor. It’s very windy on the summit, but the view is amazing. The entire mountain range spreads from one end of your horizon to the other, with Jackson, Leigh, and Jenny Lakes in the foreground. A helpful note: Just as in the old days when the mountain was used for the lighting of a signal fire (hence the name "Signal Mtn"), these days it still provides a signal – for cell phones that is. It’s the best place in the surrounding area to get a signal.

(3) Jenny Lake Scenic Drive and Scenic Overlook: This is a 3-mile, one-way drive along the shoreline, with only one scenic Over-look, which is easy to miss. Pull into the parking area and walk along a stone pathway to view the stunning "Cathedral Group Turnout" which rises above the lake. This is a close-up view of majestic rocky mountains that are almost too amazing to be real.

(4) Hidden Falls: Curve to your right as you come to the end of Jenny Lake and park at the far end of the Jenny Lake Visitor Center lot. You have three choices here: either walk the Cascade Canyon trail to Hidden Falls (2 miles each way-free), or take the shuttle boat across the lake, with a ½ mile hike ($9 adult, round-trip), or mix the two modes of transportation. The last ½ mile is a rocky, mostly uphill walk. The trip is a neat experience and well worth the effort. You are at the base of the Teton mountains, among the rocks and trees with a mountain stream rushing along beside you. At Hidden Falls, there is a gushing waterfall tucked away on the side of a mountain – quite lovely. You also pass an enormous rockslide area. Altogether, the jaunt took around 2 hours.

(5) Chapel of the Transfiguration, and Menors Ferry and Homestead: These two places are reached from the same parking lot, just north of the Moose Visitor Center. There is a short path to the small, rustic Chapel (ca 1925), that features not only the amazing view, but also lovely stained glass windows, peace, and inspiration. A slightly longer path in the opposite direction leads to the simple, whitewashed log homestead of Bill Menor, built in 1892. I sat in a rocking chair on the plank porch enjoying the pungent fragrance of woodsmoke, and gazing at the same spectacular view Bill had enjoyed – the Grand Teton Mountains to my right, and the fast-running Snake River to my left. Inside, the docent had the big, black wood stove fired up, providing heat for the interior that still has no electricity. There is a small museum (free), and a gift shop inside. During peak season, visitors can ride a replica of Menor’s Ferry, that was used to take people from one side of the Snake to the other.

(6) Antelope Flats Road: When you get to the junction of Teton Park Road with Highway 26/89, turn left, then right onto Antelope Flats Road. Drive about a mile or so, and you will probably see wild bison grazing in the fields. An old, plank barn sits to the right. This is a favorite photographers spot for snapping pictures of the barn with the mountains in the background. You can end up capturing your very own "postcard" picture.

The town of Jackson, at the southern edge of the Park, is an authentic western town (although they do obviously cater to tourists) and the perfect place to find lodging. We stayed at the Sundance Inn, which is in a great location on Broadway (888-478-6326). The motel is not fancy and the rooms are small, but it was clean, convenient, and the price was right (less than $100). The owners are friendly and provide a great continental breakfast. On the morning we were there it included homemade pumpkin bread warm from the oven, freshly sliced strawberries, and Bing cherries, along with cereals, breads, and such. The town is easily walked, and features the longest running "shootout" in the country. It’s played in the town square since 1957.

There is more to see and do at Grand Teton National Park, but this is a sampling that makes for a well-rounded visit, and can be accomplished in a very full day (or two days, if you prefer a leisurely pace). Check out the park’s website Due to rugged winter conditions, always confirm your plans.

After a visit to the beautiful, snow-capped Grand Teton Mountains, you will surely agree that they are among the most spectacular mountains in our nation

Windows with a View -- New Bern

Relax and enjoy the view from my condo window overlooking the peaceful green lake at Fairfield Harbor in New Bern, NC. Ten miles away, the charming seaport town of New Bern offers things to do and wonderful, historic buildings to tour. With more than 150 sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this second oldest town in the state is drenched in history and southern hospitality. Later, I would spend a day roaming its picturesque streets, but first, I needed to recharge my inner batteries by enjoying my Room with a View.

On a warm, sunny morning in late October, autumn has painted the hardwood trees with color and muted the green of the pines. The air is still, the silence broken only by a chorus of birdsongs (and occasional “sounds of freedom” from the jets at nearby Cherry Point Marine Corps base). Other condos such as the one in which I’m staying can be seen among the trees around the lake. Their weathered board construction blends into the natural setting. Most of them are empty during this time of off-season.

A paved walkway weaves through the trees and pine-straw carpet, following the gently curving shoreline of the large lake. It is a most pleasant place to walk. A closer study of the lake reveals many small fish darting among the reeds, along with ducks and geese paddling their way along the surface and occasionally poking their heads underwater for a bite to eat.

This is what I see from my window. This is all I want to see from my window. I immerse myself in this still scene, and that unwanted entity “tension” evaporates away. Like Henry David Thoreau when he lived in the woods beside Walden Pond, I want to just sit, soaking in peace like a thirsty sponge. I borrow words from Thoreau, who wrote, “I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, I was reminded of the lapse of time.” I, like Thoreau, “silently smiled at my incessant good fortune.”

I do like Thoreau, but let’s peek at what I wrote in my journal: “As I gaze from my window, I feel as if I have been transported into a Monet painting. Soft green pine needles and reddish-gold oak leaves float across the top of the picture, their reflection a smudged wash of color on the lake’s surface. The still, green water provides the perfect palette for a master painter. Monet, however, is not the creator of this work of art. God Himself has touched this lake and the trees surrounding it creating a living picture of peace and beauty captured in autumn colors.”

Most of us have a strong desire for peace. I believe that even adrenaline-junkies long for peace deep in their souls. When I checked out the word “peace” in a thesaurus, lovely words like calm, serene, tranquil, placid, and harmony appeared. I love these words, don’t you?

“…He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul…” (Ps. 23:2-3). I am so thankful my soul was restored along these still waters. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is found in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

--Helpful Info:
My “Room with A View” was unit #5041 at Sandcastle Cove, at Fairfield Harbor on Broad Creek Road, New Bern, NC (252-633-1151). For info on visiting New Bern, call 1-800-437-5767, or go to
--Photo credit: Sandra

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Windows with a View - Virginia Beach, VA

Welcome to a view from the sixth floor of a hotel in Virginia Beach. Join me as we gaze out upon a sea that is as old as time itself. Sand and sea come together along the tenuous shoreline, creating a lovely picture that is ever-changing. And yet, there is permanence to the scene that is also comforting.

First of all, I’ll describe the basics: a wide, sandy beach stretches from the boardwalk to the Atlantic Ocean. The city has worked hard to reclaim what had once deteriorated to a narrow band of beach. The system they installed has been successful at enlarging and protecting this fine beach. In fact, it can seem quite a trek trudging through the sand to get to the water’s edge, but that’s a good thing and I won’t complain. The picture shows an empty beach – not something you’ll see in the summer.

The boardwalk sits just below my window, a wide concrete walkway and bike path that spreads out nearly three-miles along the oceanfront. Quirky sculptures, palm trees, and sea grasses add to the attractive scene. Even in the chill of autumn, joggers, walkers, bikers, and the frequent “dog straining at the leash nearly pulling its owner’s arm from socket,” are fun to watch from my cozy digs.

If I stand on the balcony, I can look down the beach to the right and see a 26-foot bronze statue of King Neptune beside the boardwalk at 31st Street. It’s a grand statue, depicting the upper half of the mighty man, rising from the sea with a javelin in one hand and a giant sea turtle in the other hand.

Looking to the left after dark, I see tiny lights twinkle in the distance, spreading across the edge of the dark ocean like white diamond chips. This is the 17-mile engineering marvel called the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, linking Virginia Beach with the Eastern Shore.

Along the distant horizon of the ocean, I see many ships crossing the water – just as they have for centuries. Cargo ships from distant lands, naval vessels – including an aircraft carrier, and pleasure craft, float across my vision. The largest Naval Base in the world lies off to the left in Norfolk, along with huge commercial ports that load and off-load goods as fast as machinery and men can move.

One day I sight a three-masted sailing ship in the distance silhouetted against that light blue area where ocean meets sky. I imagine how unchanged this view is from 400 years ago when, in 1607, three such wooden ships sailed across that very same horizon on their way to Cape Henry. Only a few miles down Atlantic Avenue, a large cross at Cape Henry marks the spot where the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery brought the first settlers to our shores.

A window provides a living picture of one little corner of the world in which we live. We consider a “Room with a View” to be a special place because that living picture is either beautiful, or interesting, or in some way provokes our imagination. It also changes with seasons, weather, and even time of day. These windows to the world can also become windows to the soul. Pondering the world in front of our eyes, can throw light on the world within ourselves.

When we arrived at Virginia Beach in early November, the effects of Hurricane Noel were being felt. Winds that nearly knocked my feet from under me gusted along the boardwalk. I gazed out from the safety and warmth of my room and watched the mighty display. Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

“The Atlantic Ocean churns with all the power that only God can stir up within the ocean’s depth. White froth rolls in wave on top of wave, grabbing at the shoreline like a hungry beast. Far out into the ocean, along the horizon, curly ribbons of white break the dark gray-green surface. The restlessness of this vast sea of water is caused by the passing of Hurricane Noel – hundreds of miles to the east of this pounding surf.”

As is often the case, my vision turned to introspection and I wrote: “Thoughts of the distant hurricane remind me of how far-reaching can be the influence – not only of a powerful storm – but, also of the way a person lives his/her life. In this shrinking world in which we live, our words, actions, inactions, and life, can influence people near and far. We can encourage roaring surf or calm, healing waters. What sort of influence do you have on the world around you?”

I am reminded of the verse in Psalm 93:4: “The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.”

Here's another great verse that captures the moment also -- Ps. 33:6-8 “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap; he layeth up the depth in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him."

Helpful Info:
My “Room with A View” was #604 at the Four Sails on 33rd Street and Atlantic Avenue. This article is not meant for advertising purposes, but if you want to enjoy a similar view of the Atlantic Ocean and the many enjoyable activities in Virginia Beach, call 1-800-822-3224 or visit for more information. Virginia Beach is truly a great place to visit, with lots to offer and beautiful scenery.
--Photo credit: Sandra