My wife Rebecca and I just got back from a great trip out west!  We took advantage of her spring break to head out to see some of our great  National Parks.  The trip was awesome.  I had been to Arizona before so I had seen some desert landscapes.  And I had been to Utah before but that was for skiing.  But there is no preparing for the beauty of these parks.  They were unlike anything I had seen before. 

You can read the stories below, or just look at the pictures included, all of which were taken with my camera.  If you click them, they get bigger!


After spending a quick night near the airport in Las Vegas, we hopped in our cool rental,  a blue Chevy Malibu.  In about two hours we arrived at Zion National Park.  Our first stop was the campground to find a place to sleep.  We got a nice spot with a fantastic view!  It was March 31 and Zion’s official season started on April 1.  That meant it was the last day that cars are allowed on the scenic road through the park.  So we decided to take a car-tour of the park.  We stopped at the Court of the Patriarchs, Weeping Rock, and a few other stops, eventually making our way to the Temple of Sinawava.  The sites were great all along the way.  Dinner was Rebecca’s famous (well,  famous for us) Campground Pizza cooked on the open fire.  The next morning I made us omelettes with fresh bell pepper and cheese (on the camping stove) and we headed out for Angels Landing.  This is a great day hike (1500 ft climb in 5 miles, about 4.5 hours including a 45 minute lunch break).  A lot of people tried to scare us off this one saying it was too scary and dangerous.  That’s because the last 1/2 mile is a steep hike on narrow cliffs.  There are permanently anchored chains to help you hold on.  But in the end we didn’t think it was too scary at all.  That didn’t take away from the fact that it was an amazing hike.  After an exhausting hike up the steep lower portion of the trail we got to the even more steep “Wiggles” which brings you to the first great scenic overlook.  This is where a lot of people end their day but we continued on the true peak.  Scrambling along the rest of the way with the help of the chains was a lot of fun.  And the view from the top was well worth it.  It was a great place for our lunch.  Not a good place to be if you are scared of heights but otherwise great.  The hike down was much quicker but pretty tough on the knees!


  Our second night was fun, we had an easy dinner… mac and cheese.  The sky was again very clear with an almost full moon.  The next morning after pancakes we were off for Bryce Canyon National Park.  Bryce is hard to explain, you just have to see it.   Bryce is full of Hoodoos, these crazy rock formations that.  From a distance, you’d swear must have been man made.  After once again pitching our tent on an incredible camp site, we headed off to the scenic drive to check out the awesome vistas.  After an early dinner (I made sauteed chicken and red bell pepper with couscous on the camp stove) we headed back to Inspiration Point (I kept thinking of Ritchie Cunningham…”I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill”) to watch the sunset.  After a “chilly” night at around 30 degrees, we   went out for a day hike of the “Figure 8″, an 8 mile (I think) combination of three trails:  The Navajo, Queens Garden, and the Peek-A-Boo Loop.  It goes right through the heart of the park’s natural “amphitheaters”.  On this trail we got to explore the Hoodoos that we had admired from above on the previous day.  The sun was bright and hot, it was hard to believe  the temperature was only in the 50’s all day.  Also, we have learned that the key to solitude in these parks seems to be the longer day hikes.  You start out with a lot of people but if you hike out a little bit the crowd thins as most people don’t do the 4-6 hour hikes that we like.  So we did have some quiet, peaceful time out with the Hoodoos.

After another night camping around the freezing mark, we packed up and headed down to warmer climates at Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon Recreation Area.  Since the lake was about 1/2 way to the Grand Canyon, we figured we’d spend a day there.  After a quick stop to check out the Glen Canyon Dam (a pretty cool dam) we pitched our tent at the campground overlooking the lake.  Since the previous parks did not have showers, we figured this would be a good time to wash up.  We grabbed a handful of quarters and hit the “pay” showers.  All cleaned up, we were off to the town of Page for lunch.  Unfortunately, we quickly discovered there wasn’t anything to do in Page and the Lake didn’t offer much entertainment without a boat.  Uh oh, time for a change of plans… we are outta here.  We decided to bail on this stop and head for the Grand Canyon.  This would give us an extra 1/2 day there to explore.  There are really only a few decent hotels near the Grand Canyon in Tusayan (I knew the ones inside the park itself were already sold out).  I called all 5 of them and got lucky on the last one, getting a room for the night.  By the time we checked in there were no vacancies left in town so I think we got lucky!  (We changed hotels the next day to the one we had booked previously) From here on out, we are no longer camping.  Hotels, restaurants, and climate control!


  Our first view of the Grand Canyon was from the Eastern entrance by the watch tower.  Of course we  had big expectations and the Grand Canyon did not disappoint.  It is huge. It is beautiful.  It is amazing.  There is no question why it is one of the 7 wonders of the world.  We stopped along the way a few more times to check out the vistas (it is a long drive into park) and before long it was near dusk so we stopped one last time to check out the sunset.   We spent our first full day at the Grand Canyon hiking the South Kaibab trail (6 miles round trip, very steep, no available water).  Unfortunately we planned this trip too late so we could not get a permit to hike to the bottom and camp overnight.  But the Kaibab trail was a great way to go part of the way down into the canyon for a short while.  It was pretty crowded until the first rest area where most people quit.  We pushed on and made it to Skeleton Point where we could see the Colorado River for the first time.  We had lunch and relaxed before the hard part, the hike back up the canyon.  That evening we caught  up with Rebecca’s friend Shaine and her husband Brett who drove in from Colorado to spend  some time with us at the Canyon.  Brett used to guide hiking and rafting trips in the Grand  Canyon so spending the day with him is like having a personal tour guide.  It was very educational and a lot of fun for me since I like a lot of facts.  Since they have a four-month old baby Rosie, we were limited to the rim trails for the next day but the views were incredible and we saw a lot of the canyon, staying now mainly to the west side of the park.  We also had the treat of several California Condor sightings. 


The next morning we headed back to Las Vegas for one night before our flight home on Sunday.  But I’ll write more about Vegas, it deserves its own post.

Once again Rebecca and I had great adventure.  We met a lot of nice people along the way, saw many, many incredible sights, and had a lot of fun together.   I am already looking forward to our next trip (which has yet to be planned)!   Also, I am planning on posting some more pictures on the web soon.

Meeting Date: March 29, 2007

Philly.Net has expanded.  We now host meetings in the Philly Suburbs,  Philadelphia (Center City), and now…South Jersey.  Thanks to Travis Laborde for getting the new South Jersey branch going.  Tonight’s meeting was a huge success.  It was standing room only with about 50 attendees which is pretty impressive for a first meeting.  Pizza and location provide by New Horizons Training Center.  Plus, Travis’ wife Jessica treated us to a cake to celebrate the start of Philly.Net in NJ.  It was a great meeting.  Please read on…

Presenter:  Travis Laborde, Data Deluxe

Topic:  Developer Testing

Not only did we learn a lot from Travis’ presentation but we laughed a lot too.  Travis always does a great job to make sure his presentations are fun.  Tonight he talked all about developer testing.  And typically for Travis, he included bunch of great tools.  He demo’d the basics of NUnit, a FREE tool that assists with executing test classes.  He also showed MBUnit which he dubbed “NUnit on steroids”.  This tool allows you to execute similar tests as NUnit, but introduces the RowTest attribute so you can run the same test in multiple iterations, passing in different parameters each time.  Next he went through testing for “Code Coverage” via TestDriven.Net and NCover.  He ended up with some quick demos of SeleniumIDE, a very cool FireFox add-on that allows you to record steps in the Browser so you can play them back.  This gives you the ability to test an ASP.Net UI over and over again automatically.

If you are into free tools and tips for .Net development, check out Travis’ clipmarks site where you can read about all kinds of cool stuff.



Presenter:  Scott Watermasysk, Telligent Systems

Topic:  ASP.NET Tips & Tricks

Scott has been posting ASP.Net tips and tricks on his blog for a while.  Tonight he went through a bunch of them for us.

It is hard to summarize Scott’s talk because he talked about so many items.  The good news is that most of the content is up on the web, check out the links included in my text. He provided us with a ton of tips for everyday use.  Some tips provided for controls:  Try to use <asp:Literal> control instead of <asp:label> and use <asp:Repeater> instead of <asp:GridView> where possible.  Some general ASP.Net tips included:  use Page.IsValid from button event handlers, use the AppOffline.htm page when you are doing “construction”, use the new VirtualPath class to convert relative paths to absolute ones.  And Scott also spent a lot of time talking about State Management and Caching tips.  He also recommended a few articles:  one by Fritz Onion on Control State and “A Matter of Context” by Susan Warren.  I’ll update this blog post and include his slides as soon as I can.

As a special bonus, Scott provided free copies of CodeSmith Professional for all attendees.  This certainly went over big with the crowd.


Meeting Sponsor:    

Additional Door Prizes courtesy of:  and Microsoft

I’m a big fan of anything that makes my daily grind easier.  Some time ago I was turned on to a cool VS2005 add-in for C#/ASP.Net developers:  ReSharper.  There are so many great features packed in to this tool.  Check out the complete list of features on the JetBrains site.

Here are a couple of the features that stand out to me:

Quick Fixes – When ReSharper detects a problem in your code, it suggests a solution.

Status Indicator and Marker Bar – ReSharper keeps track of whether or not your code will compile and reports the answer with the Status Indicator located at the top of the Marker Bar.  Within the Marker Bar are color coded stripes that link to all of the errors or warnings ReSharper finds in your code.

Refactoring - ReSharper includes a list of cool refactoring functions to help the coding process.

Navigation and Search- Ctrl-Click any symbol in your code to go to its definition.  Or Alt-F7 to find all usages of a variable.

Unit Testing and NUnit integration – If your project includes NUnit tests, ReSharper will put some icons in the left gutter of the VS editor.  Clicking on these icons will give a few options to run the tests.

Using Directives - ReSharper tells you when you need to add a using directive.  It also tells you when you can remove using directives that you included but no longer need.

Many, Many More – I could go on and on here.  There are so many great features.  I don’t know how I ever worked without this.  Check it out for yourself.  Then convince your boss to buy it for you.  But it isn’t too expensive.

Time for all of us to confess.  I know that don’t do a good job of it.  Once in a while I copy a bunch of files from the hard drive on my PC to a portable USB drive.  I try to do a better job with photos so when I push them to my PC I also put them on the portable drive.  But it is easy to get out of sync.  Well, that is hardly a “backup plan”.  I really need to come up with a better strategy.  Scott Hanselman had a post about this topic and it got me thinking.  

I am planning to install Vista in the next few weeks.  Vista seems to have some cool backup features built in so maybe that will help.  Once it is set up I will blog about it again to tell how well it is working.

Isn’t it odd that we put a lot of thought into this for our clients and employers yet for our own data we are pretty lazy?  Good luck to us all.

The other night after the Philly.Net meeting I was talking to Peter Laudati about my new blog.  He suggested I check out Windows Live Writer (Beta).  Basically, it is a Windows application that lets you edit/save your blog posts on your PC and publish them too.  It has some pretty cool features that I am pretty sure will make my blogging easier too.

For instance, I added this picture of the Colosseum very easily (yes, I took the photo).  OK, that’s no big deal.  But this made it VERY easy to adjust the appearance including the size, border, margins and add the water mark.  Plus, it was easy for me to wrap the text on the side of the picture.  I couldn’t do that with my web interface.


Another cool feature is that you can add maps and aerial photos in!  This is all done with So I added this map.  I tried to do an aerial photo of my house but each time I inserted it, it changed to a picture of someone else’s house!  So I guess that is why this is called Beta software.  But otherwise this is a really nice tool.


So if you are blogging, check out Windows Live Writer (Beta)