Monday, May 30, 2011

snow canyon

May 21, 2011:  Saturday morning brought us sunshine and the balmy temperature of 53 F.  Well, at least it was sunny.  We again had breakfast at the condo and packed a cooler, then headed off to Snow Canyon State Park, on the near side of Kayenta.  I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't what we found: Snow Canyon is spectacular!  Massive red rock walls, waves of chunky black lava rock, rolling white rock hills ... all just minutes from downtown St. George.  There are camping sites (hook-ups with water/electric, group sites and tent-only sites) with showers and restrooms, and more than eighteen miles of hiking trails.  We re-upped for our state park pass at the entrance and then cruised the West Canyon Road, scoping out where we wanted to stop.

Petrified Dunes, Snow Cyn SP

We first paused at the Lava Flow Overlook where you can see all three rock colors (red, white and black) from one vantage point.  Then we took a short walk up into the Petrified Dunes, crossing the Navajo sandstone formations and solidified red sand dunes - stunning under the (finally) clear blue sky.  Next we walked the Pioneer Names Trail, under a towering red cliff, to where there's some 1880s graffiti: names of pioneer folk written on the rock in axle grease.  Then, slightly chilled from the shade under the cliff, we strolled on part of the sunny Whiptail Trail as it meandered along the red sand dunes, spotting lizards, a bunny and tiny ground squirrels (?).  I walked back barefoot in the dunes, which were still cool underfoot - but which I imagine are scorching when it actually gets hot out.

H's folks stroll the Whiptail Trail

We exited the park at the northern entrance and, utilizing our new book, Utah Byways by Tony Huegel (picked up at the Zion NP gift shop), took backroads through Veyo, Gunlock (stopping to photograph an impressive waterfall coming out of the Gunlock reservoir) and a Paiute reservation (stopping to photograph a bunch of cattle and their calves crossing the river as cowboys drove them to another pasture).  Our destination was Mesquite, just over the border in Nevada.  There's really not much there, this little town carved out of the desert, but there are casinos so we stopped in at one, the Eureka, after snarfing our sandwiches in the car, and played the slots/low limit blackjack and had a couple of $2.50 (read: small) beers.  It was a good thing we went to Mesquite because it was there that we hit the high temperature of the whole trip:  82 degrees.

It was then a quick drive north on 15, back to St. George.  Since we got back with plenty of time before dinner, H and I changed into hiking clothes and went back to Snow Canyon SP and did the Three Ponds Trail, a 3.5 mile RT with rocky slopes and deep sand, ending up in a slot canyon where holes have been worn in the rock that hold seasonal rainfall.  Due to all the recent rain, those holes were full, and full of little frogs whose cheeping echoed off the 400-foot canyon walls.

That sand was not easy walking!

After we got back and cleaned up, we went to dinner at the Gun Barrel Steak and Game House (1091 N. Bluff St., St. George) where we had an amazing meal: tender, mesquite-grilled steaks and salmon, served with sugar snap peas, garlic mashed potatoes and the most incredible whole cooked mushrooms I've ever tasted (and I have no idea how they did them - but if you go, make sure you get the mushrooms).  The space is rustic, with a massive two-sided stone fireplace, and all sorts of taxidermied animals, and our server was great, the perfect combination of friendly and unintrusive.  A really fantastic dinner and the perfect end to our last full day in St. George.


Saturday, May 28, 2011


May 20, 2011:  After breakfast at the condo and packing a cooler for lunch, we headed off to Zion National Park (53 degrees F under partly sunny skies).  It's about an hour's drive from St. George, passing through the little towns of Hurricane, La Verkin, Rockville and Springdale.  Taking advantage of our national park pass, we cruised into the park and found a spot at the visitors' center lots.  From April through October, private vehicles are not allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive but they have a fleet of free shuttlebuses that go up and down the canyon, letting lookyloos and serious hikers off at eight different spots.

Looking out from under Weeping Rock

Our first stop was at Weeping Rock.  There's a short (.5 mile round trip) paved trail through the forest up to an overhanging rock with dripping springs cascading down the cliff faces.  In the heat of the summer, this must be a wonderfully cool and humid spot; at our visit, it was beautiful but a little chilly, especially when the droplets found their way down the backs of our necks.  Small tenacious plants cling to the cliffs, drinking in all the moisture, and it's an amazingly verdant spot in the desert.

We next got off at Big Bend.  There wasn't a walk there but an overlook of a big bend in the Virgin River rushing through Zion Canyon.  We could see large birds wheeling overhead on the updrafts: the narrator on the shuttlebus said that there was a sizable population of California condors in ZNP but we couldn't tell if those were what we were looking for or the more common turkey vultures.  Big Bend is right below the summit of Angels Landing, a trail so steep that early explorers thought only angels could land up there.  Nowadays it's a popular trail, although dangerous with long dropoffs: we've heard that someone falls off every year or so.

The cliffs above Big Bend (amazingly, not a cloud in sight)

The top of the scenic drive is at the Temple of Sinawava where the canyon narrows considerably.  There's a waterfall and a 1.1 mile paved walk along the river.  The River Walk leads to the Narrows Trail which continues along the river up the canyon, but the Narrows was closed due to high water.  We strolled the River Walk, shady and green, accompanied by the sound of the rushing Virgin River.  The clouds gathered and it rained on us just as we got back to the shuttle bus stop, so the bus was crowded and damp for several stops until we drove out of the rain.

After a quick tailgate lunch in the parking lot (quick because it started to rain again), we drove the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, running from near the visitors' center to the east entrance to the park, marvelling at the high cliffs, numerous waterfalls and the impressive tunnel cut through the mountains.  Having gotten to see all we could from the car - it was now 48 and raining - we left the park and checked out the historic sites in nearby Leeds and Harrisburg (mostly old buildings from the mid/late 1800s) and the ghost town at Silver Reef.  Silver Reef was one of the only places where silver was found in sandstone and at the town's heyday, there were 1,000 people living there.  Now, only a few mining ruins and a couple of restored buildings are left, surrounded by some truly hideous McMansions.

Back at the condo we had drinks on the balcony - bourbon slushes! - because the sun had come out for a bit.  Not enough that anyone wanted to try out the pools, but still, the warmth and light was welcome.  We dined that evening at another pub, then returned to the condo for some highly competitive Quiddler.  Then early to bed for the next day we were off to Snow Canyon State Park.

Too cold for swimmin'

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

st. george

H's parents arrived in town last Wednesday, their visit with us fortuitously overlapping with H's sister-in-law's work trip to SLC so we all went out to dinner at Stella Grill together.  There wasn't much late night catching up that evening, however: we were off to St. George for sunshine and warm temperatures first thing in the morning!  St. George averages in the high 80s in May and we were all looking forward to that, especially H and me after this dreary, wet spring we've had.

It was 41 and raining when we hit the road Thursday morning, after dropping B off at the kennel/groomer.  It rained the whole way down there (approx. 295 miles and just under 5 hours), only stopping for SNOW when we crossed the passes near Beaver.  H and I were incredulous: May 19 and snowing.  That's just not right.

Right around Beaver, Utah, on 5/19/11

We paused in Cedar City for lunch at Sullivan's Cafe - where I had biscuits and gravy, of course - a very local, family-food type establishment adorned with a decent amount of taxidermied game animals and the Wall of Fame/Shame photos from their burger eating contest.  (None of us entered, in case you were curious.)  It wasn't far to go after that and we arrived in St. George around 2:00 p.m., two hours before our condo check-in time.  So we cruised downtown St. George, with its pretty historic center and marked dearth of pubs, and then headed out of town to Ivins.

Ivins is home to the Kayenta "desert community" and Coyote Gulch Art Village, which a work friend had told me about.  A stunning planned community located under bright red cliffs, Kayenta's homes blend right into the landscape, with their large lots and native plantings.  It is gorgeous - and, unsurprisingly, really expensive.  Coyote Gulch is a little plaza with art galleries, studios, shops and cafes, located right in the center of things.  There wasn't much going on at the time we were there, but we poked around in a couple of the galleries and wandered through the Desert Rose Labyrinth and sculpture garden.

They made it, eventually

We got to our condo (Las Palmas at Green Valley) around 5:00 p.m., entered the combination to the door and walked right in.  Las Palmas seems to be the older development at the resort but it was just what we were looking for: two bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen/living area (ideal, so we could eat breakfast in and pack lunches) and a balcony overlooking the four (three outdoor/one indoor) pools.  H and I made a quick run to the grocery store for breakfast, lunch and beer supplies, then we all went out for dinner at a sports bar.

After that, there was just enough time for a couple of card games and cocktails before calling it a night.  Despite the poor weather - the high all day was 67 and that only lasted for a short time - we were all in optimistic spirits and looking forward to Zion National Park on Friday.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

we interrupt this postcast

Just an FYI: posting will be light over the next week as we have houseguests arriving and expecting to be entertained.  Apparently watching me type isn't that entertaining, so the posts will just have to wait.

On a related note: it snowed today at the house.  Just a dusting and it was all gone by mid-afternoon, but still.  Snow.  In the valley.  On May 17th.

corner canyon

We reversed our priorities for Sunday: play first, then chores.  The sky was clear and blue, the sun warm, the breeze just starting to pick up (it would be really, really windy by mid-afternoon) and we threw the MTBs in the truck and headed just south to Corner Canyon in Draper. 

Corner Canyon had been recommended to us by the guys at Fishers Cyclery as a good, not too technical place to ride.  Indeed, it's an awesome park, 1,021 acres bought by the city in 2005, and crisscrossed with miles of well-marked, cared-for trails.  When we got to the equestrian center parking lot (hikers, bikers and horses are all allowed to use the trails, and well-behaved dogs are welcome too), we knew we'd found the right place as nearly every vehicle had a bike rack.  We grabbed a trail map from the kiosk at the trail head and hit the dirt.

The trails are mostly single-track with some jeep roads mixed in for fun, winding up the canyon and foothills behind the Draper LDS temple.  We did the Lower Corner Canyon trail to the Canyon Hollow trail, to Brock's Point trail to Clark's trail for the return.  Let me just say that the first three trails I listed were all uphill, at least the way we were going.  Let me also just say that I ended up pushing my bike up a lot of that uphill.  I'm not a very steady cyclist and when I go very slowly (like, up a hill), I tend to wiggle my front wheel around and tip over.  Add the whole singletrack issue into it (i.e., narrow trails with trees and/or drop-offs) and I'm a total menace.  H was very, very patient with me.  I did much better on Clark's trail, which was all downhill, except for being pretty timid and going slowly.  But the trails were mostly hardpack so things weren't too squirrelly.

It was so much fun.  The trails we took were largely shaded and followed a creek bed for much of the way.  Everything is so green right now, it was really pretty.  There were lots of other folks out riding but I never held anyone up and managed to get out of the way.  Everyone was super-friendly, saying hi and making sure I was okay when I was walking (yes, I'm fine, I'm just not very good at this, thanks!) - I think it's difficult to be cranky when you're out enjoying such a nice day.

The only place the trails weren't well-marked was right at the end, and H ended up not exactly where he wanted to be, and got a flat tire from running over a vicious thorn.  I was far enough behind him that I didn't see where he went so I got back to the truck just fine, tires intact.  Flat notwithstanding, it was a great ride - way more fun than little Dimple Dell - and we're psyched to have it so close to the house.  Now if I could just manage to get up the hills!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

getting it done

Thank goodness we have houseguests come every few months or so - forces us to clean the house ' stuff.  The latest installment is arriving Tues/Wed so Saturday was mostly chore-day: yardwork (H - with the assistance of a friendly neighbor with a rototiller - worked on contouring the north side lawn (full post on that project later) while I weeded and weeded and weeded), planting of veg in the backyard gardens, vacuuming, dusting, massive laundrying, putting ski stuff away (snif), etc.  We also found time to run around town looking for a reservoir for an old Platypus (no luck) as well as a quickie MTB ride in Dimple Dell.  The weather wasn't fantastic - partly sunny in the morning; showers and thundershowers (enough to panic the dog) in the afternoon) - but we accomplished a lot and Sunday promised to be better weather.

Friday, May 13, 2011

heck on wheels

Ski season is over - now what do we do?  Sure, there's hiking and road-biking, but the trails are too wet right now way up in the canyons (and by "wet" I mean "buried in about fifteen feet of snow") and H is the only one of us interested in road-cycling.  I know: let's buy mountain bikes!

It's not like it was a snap decision or anything. H and I both had mountain bikes back east: his was a 1989 Trek and mine was a 1988 Gary Fisher, both fully unsuspended, making for filling-loosening rides, and both weighing about a kajillion pounds.  I'd been after H for a long time for us to get new MTBs: years ago, we did weekly fun rides with Portland area friends and I loved it, despite being a total menace and constantly accidentally running into trees and riding off the snowmobile bridges.  And I knew H secretly liked MTBing too, since he'd taken his Trek to Moab in 1993.

Not H's actual bike, but that's what it was - a dinosaur!

So, several weeks ago, H visited thirteen SLC-area bike shops to learn what he could about modern MTBs.  [Note: technically one of the thirteen was closed/out of business, and he turned around and walked out of three or four others due to poor service.  But he still went to a lot of them.]  He came home with several catalogs - Giant, Specialized, GT, Santa Cruz, Trek and Cannondale - and for 2-3 weeks more, pored over them and read everything he could online.  He narrowed it down to two (Giant and Specialized), decided he wanted the big 29-inch wheels, and then agonized over cross-country vs. trail models.

Finally, after we'd finished our backyard rock project, we headed up to Fishers Cyclery in Sugarhouse.  Wayne, the shop manager and guy H had talked to earlier, helped us.  He was super-friendly (yes, I know he's a salesguy and is supposed to be friendly) but didn't push us or rush us, and spent a lot of time with us.  We took a couple of Giants out for a test, the Cypher 3 for me and the Anthem X 29er 3 for H, and amazingly just let us take them without requiring ID or a credit card first.  H then tried the Trance X, with the old standard 26-inch wheels.  But it was too late: he already liked the 29er, those big wheels rolling effortlessly over the curbs and anything else in the way.

That was it.  2.5+ hours later, we put our new Giants in the truck and headed home, MTBers once again.  We took them for an inaugural ride in Dimple Dell on Sunday.  The new suspension technology is just wonderful, swallowing the jolts and bumps with ease.  The shifting is seamless; the disk brakes grippy; the frames so light!  My bike, designed for a woman, didn't tire my back or arms and I'm able to reach the brakes and shifters easily.  And I even managed my first time on clip-in pedals without tipping over (it'll happen, don't worry).

I'm wicked psyched about these bikes.  There are trails all over the place out here - I just have to figure out how to ride them.  I look like a total doofus in my helmet (proof below) and we sort of feel like matching dorks since both our bikes are white; in our defense, the models we picked did not have any other color options so we had to go with white.  But none of that really matters 'cause I'm back in the saddle again.

After the first ride in Dimple Dell

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

two tons of fun

Yardwork is my nemesis.  I have no talent for it nor am I all that interested in it.  I like to dig holes and plant stuff but then I don't like to have to actively maintain anything, other than picking tomatoes (for example) when they're ready to eat.  I loathe weeding.  When we bought this house, I was thrilled to leave behind a 2-acre lot in Maine, knowing that there are so many Utah activities H and I want to do (skiing, hiking, biking, fishing, exploring, etc., etc.) that a teensy yard, that requires so much less work, would perfectly fit our lifestyle.

So we bought this house, with its 0.25 acre lot, most of which is house.  The backyard (not including the deck) is about 675 s.f., fully fenced.  And, last spring, as the snow melted and the sun came up, we learned that the backyard was 675 s.f. of weeds.  I tried pulling them, and Round-Upping them, and I certainly didn't water them, but it was no use.  So I cut my losses and put down black weed-block fabric over most of the backyard, leaving a strip along the trellised wall for morning glories and some tomato plants (which would turn out to be truly prolific with very little maintenance - yay!).

This was after I'd weeded the path for an hour

The weed-block fabric stayed on all summer, fall, winter and into this spring. During that time, H and I came up with a plan for the backyard: some garden beds for homegrown veggies and herbs, and crushed rock for the rest of it. One April Sunday, when the skiing wasn't so great that we stayed up there all day, I dug out five gardens, ranging from 4x10 to 2x4. The beds were surrounded by cobbles that had been in the backyard already, giving them a rustic look, and I pinned down professional grade landscape fabric everywhere else.

On May 7th, H and I headed to West Jordan for crushed rock. We had no idea how much we'd need (other than roughly figuring how many s.f. we needed to cover) nor did we know how much this was going to cost us. How much is rock? A couple hundred dollars a truckload? The guys at Arrow Rock & Stone were great. There were at least eight different varieties of decorative rock for us to choose from, including one on clearance for $40/ton. Guess what we picked? They loaded us up with 1,840 pounds of clearance Fiesta stone and we took it home, then hauled it by hand, in 5-gallon buckets into the backyard. (There's a shed on the side of the garage and the gap between it and the fence is just enough to walk through, but not nearly wide enough for a wheelbarrow.)

Trucks is useful

After we'd unloaded it all, it was clear that we needed more for decent coverage, so back again to AR&S for another 2,180 pounds. H was awesome: a full bucket was too heavy for me to carry, so he did all of the shoveling and most of the carrying (I could lift a three-quarters full bucket), more often than not shuttling the buckets back and forth while I tipped them over and spread the rock around. His lower back was a little sore the next day, but after 2+ tons, it's understandable.

Two tons of Fiesa stone later ...

The project took us 4 hours, including the two trips for materials, plus my +6 hours earlier this spring, and cost us $126 ($40 for weedblock and $86 for the rock).  I've got tomato plants and packets of seeds just waiting for the threat of frost to pass us by - next weekend should be good for planting - and we're thinking a firepit might look good down there in the gravel.  Sure, it's not your typical backyard, but we live in the desert and now, in the backyard at least*, it looks like it.

* The lawn on the north side of the house is another post altogether.  Frickin' yardwork.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

maine's beale street has set a high standard (bbq#5)

I was so excited to tell H that I'd found a new BBQ joint: Terrapin Station BBQ, on 3300 South. We all piled into the car, swung by REI to pick up some special waterproofing detergent for our ski stuff, and then went to Terrapin Station, hopes all ablaze.

Run by a fellow who's been in the catering business for 30 years, the new restaurant is housed in a big, rustic space in the Ivy Place shopping center.  The space feels pretty spartan, simply because there aren't that many tables in there at this point.  It sure smells delicious, though, and you can watch the giant smoker through the north-side windows.  The menu has standard BBQ fare: ribs, 2- and 3-meat combos, shredded meat sandwiches, as well as burgers and some regular (non-BBQ) sandwiches; sides include coleslaw, cucumber salad, fries, BBQ beans, BBQ red potatoes and corn bread.  This is a non-alcoholic establishment, either by choice or by current unavailability of liquor licenses, and we don't know if BYO is allowed: they've got iced tea, lemonade and sodas, and iced lemon water available.

I went with the half-slab of baby back ribs, 'slaw and cucumber salad; H had the 3-meat combo (pulled pork, brisket and sausage) with fries and beans.  And here may I harken back to the title of this post: Terrapin Station's BBQ is just not great.  H said the sausage was really good and the brisket (again, sliced and not chopped) was okay, but the pulled pork was rather fatty.  My ribs were awfully fatty for baby backs, which makes me think that someone needs to trim the pork products a little better before sticking them in the smoker.  And maybe smoke 'em a little longer - the flavor was a tab light.  The sides were solid, however: the coleslaw was pretty good (hearty chunks of cabbage with a medium-weight mayo-based dressing); the cuke salad had nice rounds of cucumbers in a sweet vinegar dressing; H's fries were from fresh potatoes; and the BBQ beans were fantastic, with quite a kick to them.  Each entree also came with a solid little jalapeno cornbread muffin: nicely flavored but too dense and dry.

Who would ever think that a Maine BBQ restaurant would serve such amazing BBQ that all others, at least all others found thus far in Utah, would fall short?  We still have Q4U to try, but at this point, I'm not getting my hopes up.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

pawit royal thai

I love Thai food but haven't had any since I went to dinner with my former boss in Portland before we went west.  H asked a guy he works with, who did his LDS mission in Thailand, what Thai restaurants he recommended.  He said that there are several good ones in downtown, but if we didn't want to drive all the way back in, Pawit Royal Thai Cuisine in Holladay (1968 E. Murray-Holladay Road) was right up there with the best of them.

Housed in a former Pizza Hut, PRTC is warmly decorated in red, fuschia and gold, with a large fish tank in the center of the dining room.  They do have a bottled beer/wine license, although the beer/wine list is not included with the main menu.  I'm guessing if you ask, there's a separate menu but we just asked our server and winged it with a couple of Thai beers, Singha, a pale and slightly sweetish lager.

The menu is fairly long and it took us a little while to peruse it, finally deciding on an order of fresh and tasty Por Pia Sod (steamed spring rolls with veggies, shrimp and chicken) to start.  H had Pad Kee Mao ("drunken" chicken stir-fried with broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots, Thai basil and Thai chilies) and I went with Pad Gra Pow (beef stir-fried with garlic, Thai green bans (?), onions, bell peppers, Thai chilies, and Thai basil), both served with sticky rice.  Despite their seeming similarities, our dishes were very different.  H's was not spicy at all while mine ... ha!  When I ordered it, our waitress said to me, "Spicy?" and I thought she was telling me that this was a spicy dish.  So I said, yes, good, spicy.  After she'd left, H shook his head and said that she was asking me how spicy I wanted it.  Oops.  Mine came really, really spicy.  Not inedible, but enough to make me sweat a little bit.  As we were eating, Pawit himself came out of the kitchen to say hello to some other diners and on his way back, paused at our table to say hello and ask me if it was spicy enough.  Oh yes, thank you!

We will definitely be going back to Pawit Royal Thai Cuisine.  I've got my eye on the Som Tum (green papaya salad) or possibly a foray into the noodle dishes.  Hooray for Thai!

Monday, May 2, 2011

may day

May Day, a/k/a/ Alta's Closing Day, dawned clear, cool and sunny. With both anticipation and sadness, we loaded our gear in the truck and headed  back up to ride the lifts for the last time this ski season.  The forecast promised increasing clouds in the afternoon and we decided that we'd ski until those clouds rolled in.  Until then, it was a lot of fun.

The parking lot wasn't full when we got there around 10 a.m., but it soon would be. The Collins lift lines were long, relieved somewhat when they finally opened the Wildcat chair. While yesterday everyone was madly racing to grab the last fresh tracks of the season, today, in the sunshine, 80s tunes blasting from the ski shop, everyone was mellow and just glad to be out in the sun in their costumes. Because there were costumes on this Closing Day: a whole family of gnomes, lots of tutus, tigers-gorillas-bears, disco chicks in zebra print stretch pants, more 1980s era one-piece ski suits than we could count, cowboys, strapless ruffled ballgowns, Daisy Duke denim shorts, Mormon sunbonnets and gingham dresses, teleskiers in tan polyester suits ... it was awesome. Even though I'm not a costume kind of girl, I felt a little underdressed in my regular ski gear.

On Wildcat chair

The snow was amazing for May 1st, a little heavy, but still very soft.  We scored about a dozen runs, some in the Ballroom (not opened yesterday), off Wildcat, the trees to the right of Collins lift, High Rustler.  I was on my old Volkls, which meant I was skiing much better than I was yesterday - which was good, because some of the traverses were starting to get a little sketchy.  H made my day when, halfway down High Rustler, he said, "I still can't believe how steep the stuff you're skiing is" (High Rustler is really steep).  For the record, skiing steep stuff is much less scary when there's like 204 inches of snow on the ground.

When the clouds moved in a little before 2:00 p.m., we took one last run down through the Ballroom and then coasted out on the groomers, turning as many times as we could to prolong that final run.  As we drove out of the parking lot, the tailgaters smiled at us and waved, everyone happy and celebrating the end of the season.

Looking back at Baldy from the Collins angle station

And man, what an incredible season!  H had 55 ski days and I had 40, a new record for both of us.  And we've been so spoiled with the 724 inches that fell, the third second snowiest season they've had.  Later, at the Porcupine, we tried to pick out our favorite days and just couldn't: there were too many fabulous days, and the ones that weren't fabulous were awful damn good, except for just those very few when it was too cold or the visibility was nil.  We are both sad that the ski season is over - actually sad, and missing it already - and have reset the calendar until Opening Day.  'Til then, we'll just have to find something else to keep us busy on the weekends.  Since this is Utah, I'm pretty sure we'll come up with something (not yardwork).