A year ago today, while hiking in the heavenly Bavarian Alps, Jack Welch and I ran into German President Horst Köhler after having a lunch with Bishop August Schubert and his wife and grandkids at the Obersee above the Königsee near Berchtesgaden. This is a remarkably beautiful area of the world, as anyone who has been privileged enough to visit will attest. For mountain lovers there is little to dislike about Bavaria’s rugged alps, alpine villages, and clear rivers and streams. Königsee is a paradisiacal fjord-like lake cut deep and rugged between steep imposing cliffs. And you never know who you will run into on these alpine hikes. We were certainly taken by surprise when President Köhler appeared on the trail ahead of us, flanked by his secret-service-equivalent body guards. This is, admittedly, a trivial claim to fame, but it was an exciting experience to have this encounter in such a magical setting. President Köhler was gracious enough to let us take this picture with him. He even graciously acted interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls/Qumran Exhibition that was being hosted at the Salzburg Ward at that time and that would be traveling up to Berlin later on. Did anyone notice if he popped in to see it in Berlin?
And, speaking of magical setting, take a look at this view of the Obersee from the trail. We took this picture before the encounter with President Köhler. It was in that meadow shown in this picture that we had a picnic lunch with Bishop Schubert’s family and then ran into President Köhler. What a day that was! Choose ye this day where you will vacation, but for me and my house (when we can manage it) we will vacation in Bavaria! (and not just because I once met President Köhler on a mountain trail there.) It is an idyllic setting and one that is hard to leave when it is time to return home. Luckily, we have a taste of such alpine beauty right here in and around Salt Lake City with the Wasatch and High Uintah mountains at our doorstep. Still, their aesthetic appeal, although magnificent, is not equal, in my opinion, to the emerald beauty of the Bavarian Alps.
Don’t get me wrong, though, the Utah mountains might score higher in other areas. I say this after coming off a week of camping at an altitude of 10,360 feet in the High Uintahs where the temperature varied between 42 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit despite 100 degree weather in Salt Lake Valley. True, the rain and hail were perhaps not the ideal way to introduce my young daughters to camping, but then they didn’t seem to mind too much, except for backpacking out soaking wet! When it comes to camping in the outback, I must admit that Utah probably has Bavaria beat out. For example, there have been protests recently in Bavaria over the killing of the first wild bear seen in Germany in 170 years. Apparently, the bear wasn’t able to resist poaching from local farmers’ herds and had to be killed. Campers in Utah’s mountains, however, know to be on the lookout for bear, cougar, deer, moose, elk, and many other species of wild animals that one simply cannot see in Germany’s Alps these days. In fact, just last week a BYU student encountered a wild bear near Provo peak, an extension of the Wasatch mountains very close to civilization indeed. (Not that an encounter with a wild bear in Utah’s mountains is something to desire or look forward to; rather, we were all praying pretty sincerely that we would not encounter any wild carnivors on our backpacking adventure.) Thus, even though I have Alp-envy, I am never embarassed to show German friends around the Utah outback and feel proud that America still boasts real outback where animals Europeans can only see in zoos actually roam around living their lives in nature.