Wednesday, June 30, 2010

utah arts fest '10

Rats!  This was supposed to post on June 30th - I don't know why the automatic post elf fell down on the job.

Lest those of you from other states think that we Utahns are utter cultural heathens, I should probably let you know about the 34th annual Utah Arts Fest that took over downtown SLC last weekend.  It's the largest event of its kind in the state with over 78,000 attendees over four days, featuring over 140 visual artists showing and selling their wares, food vendors and demonstrations, indie film, dance, street theater, spoken word performance, "urban art" and oodles of musical acts.

I managed to squeeze in a couple of early hours there on Saturday, which unfortunately was before everything - like the music, poetry, film - kicked into gear, but the artists and artisans in their little tents were fantastic and varied, including glass-blowers, jewelry-makers, photographers, painters, sculptors, guitar-makers, shoemakers and potters.  I think my very favorite was Fred Conlon, a metal worker from right here in SLC, whose yard art/sculptures of charismatic frogs, pigs, robots, bugs, lawn gnome-eating goblins and tiki-torch-wielding skeletons were just fantastic - kind of like if someone were to hand Tim Burton a blowtorch and tell him not to take himself too seriously.

I was specifically looking for one vendor: the Revinylize Project.  They reclaim local billboard coverings, cut them up and repurpose them into uniquely patterned tote bags, messenger bags and other accessories.  I found them and bought a red, black and white tote bag ($20).  I wish I knew what the billboard advertised but I have no idea: on the back of the bag is a red O, or maybe a zero, on a white background.  You got me.  But it's a genius idea and a cool product, and I'm pleased to support them.

Several folks from work were going to the Arts Fest in the evenings for the music: Michelle Shocked, the Cowboy Junkies, the Salt Lake Jazz Orchestra, celtic rock (Stonecircle and Wagger), alternative cajun (Swamp Boogie), bluegrass (Ridin' the Faultline), gypsy soul/pop (La Farsa) ... seriously, check out the performance schedule and see what all there was.  I tell you what, next year I plan to get my act together ahead of time and really take advantage of this festival.  Cool stuff here in the scorching desert.

Monday, June 28, 2010

mazza star*

The other night H was tied up at work, so I went out to dinner with my work neighbor Jody and her husband Steve.  Jody is a native Salt Lakian as well as a foodie, so she's a great resource when the question is "where should we go out to eat tonight?"  That night, the answer was Mazza, serving Middle Eastern cuisine on 9th and 9th in SLC.  Mazza also has another location at 15th and 15th, but the restaurant there is tiny-tiny and we figured we'd have a better shot at getting a table at the other one.

This Mazza has some outside seating - which makes for great people-watching in the trendy 9th and 9th neighborhood - but as it was again in the 90s, we opted for inside which was pleasantly (not overly) air conditioned.  They have wine and beer, including some local micros, and this location also has booze.  I had a Cutthroat pale ale and Steve had a Uinta Golden Spike hefeweizen, while Jody went with the non-alcoholic but refreshing homemade limeade, flavored with orange blossom water (which she thought tasted a bit like soap).

For a starter, we split an order of hummus b'lahmeh (seasoned fried ground beef - supertasty), served with warm, pillowy pitas.  Jody got the lamb and rice dolaa, which she thought she had had before and loved but which ended up bland and the least tasty of the three entrees; Steve had the musakhan, a flat bread stuffed onion, chicken, herbs and spices and served with a very garlicky sauce; I had chicken and cauliflower kabseh, a sort of hybrid Middle Eastern/Indian dish with curry tomato and onion sauce, fried raisins and pine nuts, and served with rice and a cucumber-garlic (not too garlicky) yogurt.  The portions were ginormous: I ate about a third of my meal, taking the rest with me.

We even got dessert.  Steve loves chocolate cake, so he and Jody split a piece of that, four layers high.  I went the traditional route of kanafeh cream pudding, topped with shredded phyllo (reminiscent of shredded wheat, frankly), chopped pistachios and a light orange blossom syrup.  Yum!

I thought Mazza was great.  There's lots of variety on the menu so H will be able to find something he wants to eat when we go; for the vegetarians, vegans and gluten-intolerant, Mazza has plenty for you as well. Good stuff, this Middle Eastern restaurant in the middle of the American West.

*  Those of you who listened to alt-rock in the 1990s will hopefully get the play-on-words in this post's title.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

tin angel

Last week four of us from work went to the Tin Angel Cafe for lunch.  I had noticed the restaurant a couple of weeks ago when H and I were driving around looking for parking during the SLC Saturday Farmers' Market at Pioneer Park; the Tin Angel is located just south of the park.  It's a very funky and very tasty place.

There are seating options for everyone at the cafe: inside, out on the open patio and under the covered patio.  It was really hot (90+) on the day we went so we opted for the covered patio, which was just perfect: warm - which was much appreciated after the icebox-like air conditioned temperature at our office - but not sweaty.  The furniture, china and silverware were all mismatched, in an eclectic, consignment-store kind of way, and there were lots of nice container plantings all around the small patio.  There was also an awesome mural of a skeleton angel on the wall (the skull had eyelashes!) and if I didn't have a dinosaur of a cellphone, I totally would have taken a picture of it.

The food was good too.  I had the vegetarian baguette (hummus, cucumbers, feta cheese, sprouts and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar) and a mesclun mix side salad with house-made lavender dressing (could have used a little more dressing); the others at the table had roasted lamb with feta cheese and pesto on ciabbata bread; a ham and cheese croissant; and the house soup, creamy spinach and fontina cheese. 

The restaurant makes a point of buying local products, which is awesome.  They're also open for dinner (reservations recommended) and brunch on Saturdays (which I imagine is a ZOO in the summer what with the market just across the street).  I'd like to go back for dinner sometime with H: I think he'd like it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

time to put those skis away

After 199 days, the Utah 2009/2010 ski season has come to a close.  We stopped skiing in April - prompting a Porcupine bartender to recently scold us for not heading back out for the May storms - but Snowbird, amazingly, just shut down its last lift this past weekend.

It was an odd season, apparently - not usual in terms of snowfall: there was hardly any early snow; then it was quite cold (for here) and a lot of snow; then in March, there wasn't any new snow (except for down south) and it was pretty warm; then April brought a bunch of snow, which was awesome; and then May brought a TON more snow.  But what did we know from normal Utah years?  We still thought it was excellent.  Anytime I get to ski in snow up over my waist is excellent.

We haven't bought next year's season passes yet but we've at least narrowed the field down to two resorts: Alta or Solitude.  H is pulling really hard for Alta - amazing terrain, mellow vibe, no snowboarders, cool reputation - and I like it too, although there's quite a lot of traversing required.  My only hesitation with Alta is that Little Cottonwood Canyon tends to close for avalanche control more often - and then what do you do?  Solitude has solid terrain, especially back in Honeycomb Canyon (except for that flat run-out), has no crowds whatsoever and Big Cottonwood Canyon Road rarely closes.  We'll see.  Plenty of time for debate.

Where are you skiing next winter?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

kouing aman

A couple of months ago I was flipping channels and landed on the Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate show.  The theme was "salty" and husband and wife chefs from someplace like Tennessee came on, positively raving about this sugary, salty, crunchy, flaky, gooey pastry called a "kouing aman" ... from Salt Lake City.  It was so complicated - so many layers of pastry pounded with butter - that they would never attempt to make it themselves so they only had it when they were in SLC.  Which was not very often, obviously, being from Tennessee and all. 

Ever since I saw that show, I wanted one of those kouing amans.  I knew where the bakery, Les Madeleines, was and everything - right next to the public library - I just never got around to stopping by.  But when I went out to lunch on Friday with my work-neighbor Jody, and she suggested we stop in at Les Madeleines afterwards for a treat, I knew exactly what I was going to get.

They're not cheap, these kouing amans.  It takes 9 hours to make them (according to the girl who boxed them up for us in the cutest little white winged boxes) and it comes out in the $5 pricetag.  Still, when I dug in, it was so worth it.  Crunchy with the carmelized sugar on the outside, the pastry pulls apart in layers that are sweet and slightly salty and soft in the center.  The salt keeps it from being overly sweet and the butter ...  Well, let's just say there's a lot of butter in there.  Soooooo good.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

snowbird brewfest

 Despite the gorgeous weather, we did not go hiking because when H got back from his bike ride Friday night, he noticed that his rear wheel was out of true.  Upon closer inspection this morning, the rim was actually cracked - something that had to be addressed before he could get back on his bike.

So while H cleaned his bike (it's embarrassing to take your bike into a bike shop when it looks like you don't pay attention to it), I walked my 3 mile loop; and while he took his bike to the shop, I weeded in the backyard.  He was gone about an hour (because he was talking with the bike guy about mountain bikes - soon!), or about four buckets' worth of weeds, and I was completely over the whole yardwork thing.  What to do next that was cooler temperature-wise and had beer?  Go to the second annual Brewfest at Snowbird, of course!

It was 84 at the house when we left but by the time we found a parking spot at Snowbird, it was down to 67 - you truly do get cooler up in the canyons.  There was live music, jewelry vendors, a food tent and twelve beer tents featuring local brewpubs:  Moab, Bohemian, Epic, Hopper's, Wasatch, Red Rock, Desert Edge, Uinta, Ruby River, Four +, Rooster's and Squatter's.  For the record, H and I are on first name basis with nine of these brewers;  the ones we didn't know are : Epic, which is brand new to SLC and we haven't gotten there yet; Ruby River is up Ogden-way; and technically Four+ is a branch of Uinta.

Admission was free.  You had to show I.D. for a 21+ wristband and beer tokens were $1 each - one 3 ounce sample of beer cost 1 token.  Except for the Epic beers which cost 2 tokens ... so we didn't bother with them.  We made the rounds at Moab, Ruby River, Desert Edge, Hopper's and Red Rock before deciding that of the beers available, Desert Edge's Utah Pale Ale was the best of the brews.

It was a gorgeous day: everybody mellow, listening to tunes, sipping beer.  The people-watching was fantastic (many age-inappropriate outfits).  There were even a fair number of skiers and snowboarders coming down off the mountain, getting some last runs in before the resort finally turns off its lifts on the 2009/2010 season.  I can't say that I wish I'd skied today, but a couple of hours at the Brewfest certainly made the effort spent weeding worthwhile.

Friday, June 18, 2010

run rabbit run

Not to be outdone by the poor, devastated Gulf, Salt Lake City decided to have its own little oil spill: 33,000 gallons of Chevron oil pouring out of a broken pipe and into Red Butte Creek, and thence into the pond at Liberty Park and the Jordan River.  Clean-up is on like Donkey Kong and they think they caught it before it reached the Great Salt Lake, which is host to like a gajillion migratory birds right now.  But because of all the clean-up work at Liberty Park, my normal post-work running route is all muddled: there are trucks and tanks and booms and porto-potties and men in hard hats strewn all along the running paths, plus the air smells pretty strongly of oil.

So I opted for a new run tonight, entering the Bonneville Shoreline Trail behind the U by the trailhead to the Living Room.  There, the BST is pretty much a superhighway, wide and well-packed and heavily traveled.  It's also a LOT hillier than the Liberty Park loop (which is totally flat) and I had to walk up some of the steeper, longer pitches, in part because I haven't exercised in a week.  The evening was gorgeous, though: clear, sunny and 70.  There were quite a few other folks out taking advantage as well, mostly mountain bikers - and I smugly noted that I, on foot, was pretty much keeping up with one guy, on a bike, on the uphills.

When I got to my turn-around, I saw a small rabbit (cottontail, I think) dash across the path and then stop, sit up and look at me.  He was joined by another one, and then two more bounded up the hill to check me out.  They were all fairly fearless - especially for wild rabbits - allowing me to get within five or so feet of them before scampering into the sagebrush.  Super-cute and an unexpected bonus to a lovely evening.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

pizza wars

We've been here eight months and are still in search of the best pizza in Salt Lake City.  It's not like we're going out and making an effort to track down and try all the different pizzerias in town, but if you know us at all, you know we like to make lists.  Thus, once you've had pizza at more than one place, you have to start keeping track.  In addition to the regular restaurants where pizza has been consumed (the Porcupine, Hog Wallow, Lumpy's and Fratelli), there have been three pizza joints attempted to date: Wasatch Pizza (carry-out only), Smoky Mountain Pizza; and most recently The Pie, perennially voted Best Pizza in SLC.

The Pie has multiple locations from Ogden to South Jordan; we went to the Midvale one, around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday.  There were a fair number of other customers there for both take-out and eat-in, those eating in raptly watching the Celtics* v. Lakers game.  We were gratified to see beer on tap (both Uinta Cutthroat and Evolution Pale for the local representation) and got a pitcher of Evolution to go with our pepperoni and black olive pie.  The crust comes in three thicknesses: standard, thick-crust and thin.  I figured that H would go for thin crust, which is his favorite and which has been difficult to find out here, but he opted for "standard" instead.  Because that way we'd know the baseline.

The baseline is pretty thick, Cabin Pizza-style, for my Bath, Maine, readers.  The pizza was good but not great, with plenty of toppings but really too much cheese, which the thin spread of sauce completely failed at keeping on the crust.

For me, Wasatch comes in first (their sauce is loaded with oregano - really flavorful), then Smoky Mountain, then The Pie.  I'd like to go back to The Pie and try their thin crust version, however, because both the others have thick crusts too and the difference just might be enough to move up a place or two in the rankings.  Stay tuned - I'm sure the search will be expanded soon!

* Out here, Utahns seem to be rooting for the Celtics - but in a "we hate the Lakers because they beat the Jazz" kind of way rather than any sort of real fandom.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

hodge podge day

Silly, silly people - we just don't learn.  On June 6, we say that the weather has turned and summer is here ... and on June 11 (and 12 and 13) it's in the mid- to high 50s and raining.  With 1-3 inches of snow accumulation in the mountains.  I've been wearing long pants, fleece and wool socks all weekend.

Because of the chill and the weather - rain and thunder storms on and off all weekend - H and I were a bit at a loss for what to do this weekend.  Hiking is less fun when there's (a) no view and (b) a good chance you'll get hit by lightning; similarly, there's no point in taking a scenic drive when you can't see the scenery.  Today we just hunkered down and did home stuff, but yesterday we at least got out and about, even if it was a hodge-podge sort of a day.  For example:  post office; then ATM; then H's work so he could email a file back east; then back home to get the security badge that would let him inside his office building; then back to H's work where he could actually go inside to email a file back east.

After those chores were taken care of, we went to the Downtown Farmers Market, happening at Pioneer Park (which must annoy all the homeless people to no end, having all these booths and people milling about while they're trying to sleep) every Saturday morning between June 12 and October 16, and also Tuesday afternoons from August 3 through October 12.  It's a big market, with lots of booths of local produce, meats, eggs, preserves and baked goods, arts and crafts, drum players, hula dancers and food vendors.  Even on this cool and dreary opening day it seemed well attended and I can only imagine how crowded it will be in nicer weather.  Living as far south as we do, I probably won't go to the Saturday market much, because we'll want to be out doing stuff on Saturday mornings, not driving all the way back in town. I will, however, most likely patronize the Tuesday afternoon sessions after work, so that's good.

We went to get our history on with our next stop: This Is The Place Heritage Park.  TITP is a Sturbridge Village for Mormon history: a "living history" museum with both relocated and replica historical buildings, populated with period-costumed volunteers brimming with information and stories on how this part of the west was won by Brigham Young and his followers.  We spent a couple of hours there, going into every building we could, talking with mountain men and tin smiths and firemen and pioneer women, everyone cheerful and friendly despite the cold and wet winds that were gusting to 40 m.p.h.

After pausing for a couple of Full Suspension ales and some pub food at Squatter's, we headed south.  Amazingly, I was able to convince H to swing by the IKEA in Draper - not because we really need to buy anything, but because I'd never been to one and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  He was a good sport about it - mostly because it was a rainy day and we really didn't have anything else on the agenda - and we traipsed through all the showrooms, and then through the "Marketplace" and the Self-Serve Warehouse, before escaping.  It's overwhelming, really, and I can only see going there with something specific in mind - there's far too much for a browsing sort of shopping trip.  That being said, I loved some of the lamps (although they were really too modern style-wise for our house).

That was it, that was our day out.  We went back home, took B for a little walk in between rain showers, and then watched the US v. England game which we had taped.  It was fine, and we did some stuff that we wouldn't normally have done ... but I really hope not to have too many more weekends like this.  I miss the mountains!

Thursday, June 10, 2010


A little while ago, a couple of work friends and I decided to have a girls' night out.  We all live fairly close to one another - south and east of SLC - and so the task was to find a good (but not super expensive) restaurant somewhere in our vicinities.  Jody, a lifelong Salt Laker girl and self-professed foodie, suggested several options; Susan and I landed on Stella Grill (4291 South 900 East).

We met there at 6:30 p.m. and man, the joint was jumpin'!  I had to circle around several times before snagging a parking spot on the road.  Susan had gotten there a little early and put our names in for a table, so by the time I straggled up ten minutes late, the hostess sat us right down.  The restaurant is much bigger than it looks from the outside and even has a small outside patio that was packed on the night we went, due to the nice night.  The building is a converted garage and they've kept the big rolling doors - which would be super-cool if they opened during scorching summer evenings (cannot confirm this).  The decor is sleek and painted trendy earth tones: soothing yet fun.

The menu is "eclectic," with wide-ranging New American cuisine: grilled chicken sandwiches, burgers and salads; tacos, enchiladas and fajitas; dinner appetizers, including crispy duck rolls, roasted pepper and goat cheese timbales and crab cakes; and entrees like prawns and pancetta, coriander-encrusted salmon and local lamb tacos.  We split an order of the crab cakes (served with a spicy aioli - mmm).  My two companions each got the lamb shank with a mint reduction and asparagus risotto which was dee-licious (I scored a bite - my friends are the best!).  I was tempted by the prawns and pancetta (served with fettuccine) and the local lamb tacos but decided to Be Good, since I hadn't been running much, and went with the grilled southwest chicken salad, which was full of avocado, jicama, pepitas and queso fresco.

Stella has a full bar and we girls ran the gamut: a tart and tasty pomegranate martini for Jody; a pretty pink rose for Susan; and a pale ale for me - Stella is owned by the same restaurant group as the Desert Edge brewpub and so has all their beers on tap.

The restaurant was not too noisy to talk, even with how busy it was; the service was good and friendly; and the prices pretty reasonable.  H and I have been looking for a solid go-to restaurant for when folks come to visit: nicer than a dive bar (not that there's anything wrong with dive bars) but not out to break your bank.  Something like the Front Room from back in Portland.  Stella is the closest thing I've found to that so far - I just have to go back with H and see what he thinks.  Hmm - maybe this weekend ...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

water water everywhere

For the last couple of days, SLCo has been caught in the throes of an unexpected flood. Because of the very late and heavy spring snowfall which left the canyons’ southern faces deep in snow, coupled with the recent jump to high temperatures, the snowmelt has been at least three times what it normally is this time of year. Big Cottonwood Canyon Creek, with a flood stage of 4.2 feet, hit 4.1 feet Monday night and crested at 4.0 last night; Little Cottonwood Canyon Creek’s flood stage is 5.7 feet, which was easily surpassed by Monday’s crest at 6.29 feet and Tuesday’s 6.1. Homes and businesses have been flooded; many of the backyards of the rich folks who could afford to live creekside have been eroded by the frigid, rushing waters. Luckily, the creeks seem to be going down, at least for now, until the temperatures climb again and/or more thunderstorms move in.  Like, tomorrow, for example.

Also, we have succumbed to neighborhood peer pressure and turned our sprinklers on. We had a repair guy come out to fix a broken sprinkler head and cap off one pipe in the backyard, as well as troubleshoot the system and show us how to program the fancy timer for every third day for fifteen minutes at 1:00 a.m. We really hate even the idea of watering (such a foreign concept coming from Maine where there’s about 40 inches of rain/year) but until we dig up all the sod and xeriscape the front yard, we need to keep up appearances – at least enough so that we’re not the worst lawn on the street.

Monday, June 7, 2010

just grand

Since we had learned the day before that access to Millcreek Canyon was free all weekend, we returned to that canyon Sunday morning - after breakfast* at Millcreek Cafe & Eggworks - to bag another summit, this time Grandeur Peak.  Our hiking books call it "the most accessible and the easiest of the major peaks overlooking the Salt Lake Valley" but since we had conquered one of the more challenging ones last Sunday, we thought this hike wouldn't hurt our trail cred too much.

Looking back down from whence we came

Starting from the Church Fork picnic area - the very popular and beautiful first picnic area in Millcreek Canyon - it's 2.75 miles to Grandeur Peak, with an elevation change of 2,619 feet.  Like the trail to Mount Aire, the trail begins in a well-shaded canyon, following the streams before emerging onto exposed switchbacks that lead up to a saddle.  From there, it's another half mile and 680 feet up - much steeper than the lower section.  The footing was comfortable, only rocky in a few sections, and although it was hot, both on the more humid sections by the streams and out in the bright sun (it hit 90 in the valley!), we made good time and didn't feel as though we were ever overdoing it.

The view from the summit is much like the views we've been seeing on our recent hikes: 360 degrees of the Salt Lake Valley, the Oquirrhs to the west, the Uintas to the east, the Wasatch crags over the canyons to the south, etc.  Just because we've seen it a lot lately doesn't make it any less impressive.  And Millcreek Canyon has more deciduous trees than BCC and LCC do, so the early summer green is quite vibrant, especially against the cloudless sky.

False summit - keep going!

We didn't stay too long at the top, not wanting to get too sunburned or drink all our water too long before getting back to the car (I drank about 1.5 liters on this hike, a new record for me).  Crazily enough, on our descent we actually ran into someone I know: one of my coworkers and her husband.  They're big hikers and backpackers and as we chatted on the trail for a bit, they pointed out some other peaks on the southern wall of the canyon that they thought H and I might like to try (Mt. Raymond and Gobblers Knob).

These colors are just overwhelming in person

H had had the foresight to pack a small cooler before we left the house, so after we got back to the car we changed out of our sweaty hiking boots, grabbed the cooler and found a shaded and unoccupied picnic table up the canyon a little ways.  Sitting by the rushing creek, devouring our apples, granola bars and cold water, we deemed it a very grand day indeed.

Apres:  the Hog Wallow for Uinta Cutthroat pale ale.

* New rule for A: no more egg- and cheese-heavy breakfasts before hot summer hikes.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

mountain aire

We think that the weather has finally turned for the better and this weekend was the proof of it: hot, dry and largely cloudless.  On the negative side, I think we're finally going to have to turn on our sprinkler system.  On the plus side, days like Saturday and Sunday for hiking.

Saturday mid-morning we drove up to Millcreek Canyon. Although the canyon itself is National Forest, the access road is maintained by Salt Lake County and there is a $3.00/vehicle daily fee. Except not this weekend: Saturday was National Trails Day and in honor of same, Millcreek Canyon was free for the whole weekend. We drove up the canyon as far as we could - mindful of all the runners, walkers and bicyclists also heading up - and found a parking spot across just down from the Maple Grove picnic area. The upper canyon is closed from November 1 through July 1due to snow, so we had to hoof it on the road for 1.5 miles before we even got to the trailhead. The incline is steady but not too steep, and the road is shady, so we looked at the extra three miles as bonus, easy-on-the-knees exercise.

Looking south-east-ish from the summit of Mount Aire

The Elbow Fork trail up Mount Aire was where we were headed, a 3.8 mile (not counting the walk on the road) out-and-back.  We followed a small creek up a forested canyon for the first mile or so; it was rather steep and surprisingly humid - we were sweating like we were back East!  After reaching a ridgeline saddle, however, the trail was exposed and drier.

 What's with all the dang clouds?

We turned right from the saddle and followed the switchbacks up to the summit of Mount Aire, then continued along the sandstone ridge to its end.  The views to the north, east up Parley's Canyon and south to the jagged peaks rising over Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons were spectacular.

Apres:  Full Suspension pale ale at the Porcupine to celebrate eight months of living in Utah!

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Being old and broken, H and I were still pretty sore on Memorial Day Monday and my hike request was for "something easy."  And breakfast first: we thought we'd give the Silver Fork Lodge a try.  I've lost track of how many people said "you've just got to try the Silver Fork" (many-many) and we kept passing it this winter every time we skied at Solitude and Brighton where it seemed busy no matter when we drove by - so I had a feeling it was going to be good.  Busy too, what with it being a holiday and all.  The outside deck - which will be glorious come summer-time, overlooking the stream below - was full, despite the chill in the air.  We sat inside since there wasn't a wait for a 2-top table there plus see above re: chill in the air.

Service was good, efficient and friendly.  H had a chile verde omelet - good-sized and served with crispy hash browns and sourdough toast - and I had their famous sourdough pancakes, made with a 50-year old sourdough starter.  There were three ginormous pancakes, served with a warm apple compote: the pancakes were light, fluffy and flavorful and I came very, very close to polishing them off.  Our server was impressed; I think H was slightly horrified.  I don't normally order pancakes since I find they're often soggy and tasteless - but not these - they were really good pancakes.

After breakfast we needed to walk a little and, keeping my "something easy" request in mind, H found us a very short hike to Willow Lake, just up and across the road from the Silver Fork.  Our guidebook told us how to find the trail: up a residential drive and when the pavement ends, the trail begins.  It went up gently but steadily through aspen groves that will be lovely this fall, to a meadow with a beaver dam-choked lake. 

We headed down across the meadow and started to bushwhack through the woods instead of returning the way we'd come up, following footprints in the snow.  Soon enough we came upon a fairly well-used trail and, following that down, soon came across quite a few other people heading up towards the lake.  When we got to the road, we were surprised to find a sign announcing the Willow Heights trailhead, as well as parking places and an official map.  Apparently the residents of the drive we walked up got fed up with hikers traipsing up their driveway and made a new Willow Heights trail.  What's curious is that the sign for the trailhead was dated 2001 and our edition of the hiking book is from 2008 - perhaps the author needs an email before the next printing!

This was actually our least favorite hike in terms of the view because it was all still winter-kill: spring has not yet arrive so far up Big Cottonwood Canyon - and the lake, although punky, was still iced over. It will be interesting to try again later this summer as I suspect the meadow is full of wildflowers.

P.S. - The Silver Fork is also open for lunch and dinner (and has recently instituted a no corkage fee BYO policy even tho' they have a full bar, so we'll have to go check that out) and have eight B&B rooms on the second floor as well.  It's a cool little place for sure.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

mount olympus

I'm writing this on Monday and my quadriceps are killing me.  So are my calves.  My knees hurt a lot yesterday.  All this is because I got it into my head that we should climb Mount Olympus on Sunday.

I just love the sky out here

Mount Olympus is a pretty big mountain, visible from our house, located between Millcreek and Big Cottonwood Canyons.  It's quite busy because of the location but most of the foot traffic is limited to the lower part of the hike because this puppy is steep.  It's seven miles round-trip, with 4,060 feet of elevation gain (that's comparable to Mt. Washington for you east-coasters), starting from 4,966 at the trailhead.  Our book said this about it:
Physically, it's a steep, demanding trail capped by a Class 3 scramble to the rocky summit where exceptional views await ... [i]t's not the final rock scramble, but the steep trail to the saddle that eliminates unconditioned and unprepared hikers.
The book also said that hiking time would be 5-7 hours and at this we scoffed, seeing how we regularly and easily beat the predicted hiking times.  This hike?  Took us just under 6 hours with twenty minutes at the summit.  It is so steep that our descending time equaled our ascending time; the footing is difficult and rocky for much of the trail to the saddle, combined with having to walk on soft snow and in seasonal creekbeds adding to the slipperiness.  This was by far the most difficult hike we've done since we've been out here, but oh, was it ever worth it.

Looking east/south towards Big Cottonwood Canyon

Although the ascent to the saddle is long and steep, it's quite beautiful, switching in and out of gambel oak groves and following the stream in Tolcat Canyon.  The view off the back of the saddle (east and south) into the Mount Olympus Wilderness area is amazing, steep cliffs and dramatic crags dressed in conifers.  But just because you get to the saddle doesn't mean you're done - not if you want to summit.

That's Utah Lake out there behind me

Most of the people we saw hiking with their dogs - Tolcat Canyon is not a protected watershed so dogs are allowed, and the abundance of water, at least this time of year, makes it a good (if challenging) dog hike - did not attempt the summit.  The "scramble" is extremely steep, with loose scree underfoot in some places while others entailed clambering up slabs and over boulders with handholds often over my head.  The scramble trail is not well-marked and the book just says to retrace your steps and try again if you find yourself in an impassable spot.

View to the north/west, with the city and Antelope Island

The views from the top (still snow-covered) are spectacular, 360 degrees.  You can see the Uintas to the east, into the Cottonwood Canyons and down to Utah Lake to the south, over the Oquirrhs to the Stansbury Mountains to the west, and up to Francis Peak to the north.  We picked the best weather of the weekend to do this hike and everything was just glorious. 

H, pausing in his descent to take in the view

The descent, as I mentioned, took a while.  The scramble down ended up not being as bad as we feared, although we did have to back down in a couple of places.  From the saddle back to the trailhead seemed interminable, however, due to the sketchy footing in (many) places and by the time we'd gotten back to the car, our knees were screaming and we were beginning to feel as though we'd been out in the sun a little too long.

Right on!

We stopped in at the Hog Wallow, sitting inside at the bar rather than out on the patio (see above re: too much sun), to rehydrate and recap the day.  I think the bartender must have thought we were goofballs because I'm pretty sure we grinned at each other like fools the whole time we were there, feeling a little like gods for having conquered Olympus.