Apr 19, 2015

Death Valley National Park

On March 23rd, as part of vacation to southern Nevada, we did a day trip drive through a portion of Death Valley National Park. The park is made up of over 3 million acres and you could spend several days exploring the whole thing. As well as being a natural wonder, it also has a rich history of man's ability to adapt to any environment.
For a guy born in the foothills of Cascade Mountains of Oregon and raise in a temperate rain forest in Alaska, I sure do love being in the desert. Maybe because it's different than my usual surroundings, but whatever the reason, the desert certainly has a beauty to it.
We started our day in Las Vegas. We got an early start to maximize our time in the daylight hours. Being late March, we knew the temperatures would be too bad. The warmest it got was 95 degrees. Not that 95 degrees isn't hot...  But it's a lot cooler than the 116 degrees it averages in July.
We drove to Pahrump and hit a few geocaches before continuing onto Death Valley Junction, crossing the border into California in the process. From Death Valley Junction, we headed to north to Furnace Creek, where the National Park has a visitor center and campground. On the way we made a short stop at Zabriskie Point which has a great view of the valley below.
At the Visitor Center we picked up an America the Beautiful Pass. This pass is good for one year and provides access to more than 2,000 areas managed by five federal agencies including the National Park Service, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. We had a couple of more National Parks on the agenda for our trip, so we know we'd get the use out of it.
Part of the history of Death Valley includes man's attempt to survive and thrive in it's extreme conditions. Borax mining used 20 mule teams to haul the borax out. It traveled with two trailers for the borax and 1,200 gallon tank trailer full of water for the mules. But even 1,200 gallons was not enough to last for the 165 miles the mules would pull the 73,200 pound load. Water had to be replenished at springs along the way.
From the Furnace Creek Visitor Center we started our drive down Badwater Road. Traffic was fairly light, so we could take our time as we wanted to. If you ever do this drive, I 100% recommend you do the detour on Artist Drive. It's a one-way loop road that takes you through some amazing rock formations. It was a highlight of the day!
You can see the map of our route here... Overall our drive was just under 300 miles. We continued down Badwater road to Shoshone, California. This was our dinner stop, at the Crowbar Cafe. For a little place in the middle of no where, they had some really, really good food.
From Shoshone, we crossed the border back into Nevada and came back into Pahrump. We had some more geocaching planned for here. There was a series of caches strung out through the desert east of town and we hit as many as we watched a beautiful sunset. We didn't mind driving back to Vegas in the dark, since we had driven through the same route that morning in the daylight.
The beauty of Death Valley is a vastness that makes you realize just how small you are.
We spent a lot of time in the desert on this trip, and previous trips. The amazing thing to me is the variety of different environments that you see. From sand and cactus to rocky landscapes to salt flats. To just say "desert" is a very broad term..
Speaking of salt flats... We took a short side trip the Devil's Golf Course. This was an amazing spot!! Death Valley was a prehistoric lake, and as the water evaporated it left behind the salt, which formed in this jagged, bizarre landscape. And I do mean jagged. I did a little walking around, but had to be very careful about it. If a person fell, you'd cut yourself up pretty bad.
From a distance, the salt flats looked the tidal mudflats we have here in Alaska.
You almost expected to see the tide come in... And when we stopped, I was anticipating that smell that tidal flats have.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point on the North American continent, coming in at 282 feet below sea level. there's a natural spring here, but because it's in the middle of a salt flat, it's too salty to drink and couldn't be used to water animals.
This is a popular spot for people to walk out on the salt flats. As people have walked out, they've ground the salt into a fine powder that looks like a developed trail.
On the rocky cliffs above, you can just barely make out a sign marking sea level. You can click on any of these pictures to enlarge them.
I feel very blessed to have been able to experience some amazing places, and Death Valley is certainly one those places. I hope some day to make it back to explore even more.

Apr 15, 2015

Prison Ministry Update

In April of 2013 while at the Alaska Ministry Network Conference in Anchorage I had a discussion with Reverend Jim Duncan, the statewide chaplaincy coordinator for the Department of Corrections. The state was preparing to open the newly built Goose Creek Correction Center which would eventually house over 1,500 inmates, most of whom would be transferred back to Alaska from a private prison out of state.
This move provided an incredible opportunity for ministry and Chaplain Duncan was looking to recruit. I had been coordinating Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University in churches and the Mat-Su community since 2007 and have seen over 200 people be a part of the class. I’ve always had a desire to see the class conducted in a correctional facility but the right door had never open before.
 In July of 2013 I began coordinating my first Financial Peace class at Goose Creek. Dave Ramsey is the leading teacher of personal financial management and hosts the 3rd most listened to talk radio show in America. The Financial Peace class teaches the basics of money management, including getting on a budget, saving for the future, getting out of debt and investing for retirement.
We know that 94% of all inmates incarcerated today will eventually be released, with most inmates serving less than 5 years. The tragedy is that 66% of those released will reoffend and be back in jail within two years. While there are many things that contribute to the recidivism rate, the inability to handle money is one of them.
Financial Peace University is a faith based video curriculum. A key part of the class is the workbook that each student is required to have. Initially I had no idea how I was going to cover the $22 per workbook cost, so I turned to social media. A blog post and a few Facebook posts later and I had a wide range of people and churches donate enough to cover workbooks for my first class, plus the next one. Since then I have a few regular donors continue to make tax-deductible contributions through the Alaska Ministry Network for purchasing the workbooks. I am incredibly grateful to the Alaska Ministry Network for their support in these ministry efforts.
To date I’ve had 109 inmates complete the 12 week course with 15 inmates enrolled in my 7th class. Originally the class was only available to inmates in the Faith Wing program, but is now open to all inmates in general population. Classes are held on Friday afternoons for 12 weeks. I am grateful that my boss allows me to work longer days Monday through Thursday and then leave early on Friday to head to the prison.
In addition to Financial Peace University I’m also the service host for the Friday night God Behind Bars video service. This service uses a video service provided by Central Christian Church in Henderson, Nevada to present a worship time and preaching. We see between 60 an 100 inmates attend this service each week.
In December an inmate inquired about getting a bible. The supply in the chaplain’s office had ran out and he was looking to get a New Living Translation. It being just prior to the Christmas season, I knew I’d be putting in an Amazon order and saw that for less than $4 per bible I could add them to my order with the free shipping. Thinking that others might be interesting in doing the same thing, I threw out a challenge on social media, hoping to get 30 or 40 bibles. Within a few weeks I had 288 bibles donated, providing access to the Word of God to those who are seeking.
God is moving among the men at Goose Creek. We are seeing salvations, baptisms and the inmates growing in their walks with Christ. The inmate population at Goose Creek represent every region and many villages of Alaska. It’s my prayer that as they return home, they will carry that fire of revival back with them.