Thursday, October 27, 2016

snowbird appreciation

I had been back east*, visiting family for a week and returning to SLC late Friday night.  Saturday morning I wanted to stretch my legs and H suggested going up to Snowbird.  The last two weekends in October are Snowbird customer appreciation weekends: bring a food or monetary donation for the Utah Food Bank and get a free tram ride.  We thought instead that we might hike up the mountain and then ride down, getting the benefit of the exercise but also saving our knees.

Looking at Superior from about halfway up

We waited a while for the sun to get up above the mountains before heading up the canyon.  The weather was mild and mostly sunny with a light breeze.  There were some cars up there but we didn't expect crowds like we had seen for the final weekend of Octoberfest.  After double-checking that the mountain was now closed to MTBers, we started heading up the Big Mountain Trail, which is a downhill-bike-only trail in the summertime, winding its way up the Gad Valley to the top of the ski resort.

Coyotes are allowed in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Within minutes we had warmed up and I had to delayer, then shortly thereafter putting on my arm warmers for an optimal outfit.  The trail covers a lot of ground via long switchbacks; because of all the switchbacks it is never really steep although you do gain ground steadily.  They put a lot of work into this trail, augmenting it with plank bridges and smoothly bermed corners.  It was good to walk on too, with not too many rocky sections.  I had been a little concerned about re-acclimating to the Wasatch after a week at sea level but the gradual ascent made it easy.

After we got above the mid-mountain Mid-Gad lodge, the trees opened up and we were traversing an open bowl.  There were tons of deer hoofprints everywhere, in the dirt/mud/snow, but we didn't seen any of those critters.  We did, however, see a coyote.  S/he saw us too, stopping to stare for a moment before continuing on down the mountain.  After that sighting, we saw its pawprints along the trail as well - all the animals take advantage of the human-installed trails, it seems.

Atop Hidden Peak

The Big Mountain Trail comes out under the last tram tower, with the steepest portion being that final short push to the top.  We had only seen five hikers on our way up but there were lots of folks milling about at the summit, having taken advantage of the "free" tram ride.  One guy asked us if we'd come up all the way from the bottom and then told us "good job!" when we confirmed that we had.  He asked us how long a hike it was and when we told him 7+ miles, he seemed markedly less interested in going down that way.  Hike stats:  7.2 miles (all up); 2,500 feet elevation gain; about 3.5 hours because we weren't trying to break any speed records, plus we had to watch that coyote for a while.

*  PS - This is what fall near my family's house looks like:

Monday, October 24, 2016

h takes another walk

More snow, please

H had taken the whole week off when our friends G&T were in town and thus had to entertain himself again on Thursday, when I was at work.  This time he went up to Lake Blanche.

Aspen grove

We haven't done this hike for years now: because the Mill B trailhead in Big Cottonwood Canyon is one of the most popular in the canyons, we have avoided it at all costs.  Even on a Thursday in mid October, H was surprised at how many people were out hiking.

I love this photo

He did it pretty quickly, charging steadily up the hill, which is steeper than I always remember it to be, but took his time walking around all three of the lakes up there.

There are actually two moose in this shot

The foliage is on its way out around here but there are still some few stands of aspens refusing to let go and glowing golden against the dark hills.  There are also some moose still hanging around at the higher elevations before the snow convinces them to descend.

I love this photo too

Saturday, October 22, 2016

h takes a walk

G and T left Wednesday morning, heading south for Bryce Canyon National Park before their family rendezvous in Las Vegas.  This left H with the whole day ahead of him and he chose to spend part of it doing my favorite Alta loop hike: up through Catherine's Area, across the top to the Supreme lift and down through the ski area.

Lake Catherine from Catherine's Pass

When he was done, he'd put in 1,800 feet of climbing and seven miles, and seen twenty-two people and two deer.  Plus scenery.

Sunset Peak from Catherine's Pass

It wasn't a blue bird day but it sure beat going to work.

Devil's Castle

Thursday, October 20, 2016

visitors: city stuff (plus)

Since G and T were new to the greater SLC area, we thought we should do a little civilization touring along with all the woods and mountains.  After an exceedingly pleasant breakfast on the deck at the Silver Fork Lodge, we drove up and over Guardsman Pass - although T was not a huge fan of how that road drops off to the outside - to the Park City side.

Taking advantage of the continuing gorgeous (if blustery) weather, we did a short walk in the Round Valley foothills to stretch our legs before heading to Park City's Main Street,  Since we usually find ourselves in Park City on weekends and/or during big sporting events, it was quite refreshing to find uncrowded streets, not to mention available parking in the free garage.  We strolled up and down Main Street, window-shopping and going into art galleries, before stopping in at the No Name Saloon for refreshments.  Again, it was nice to be in there when it wasn't bursting at the seams.  There is definitely something to be said for the shoulder season.

The next day I had to go back to work, but H, G and T ventured north to Antelope Island State Park.  It has been several years since we've been up there but the biggest change, frankly, was the damage done to the big barn at the Fielding Garr Ranch: recent high winds peeled off the roof, while leaving the ranch houses and giant trees unscathed.  H reported that you could also see the burn scars on the mountains from this past summer's massive wildfire.

 Lone wolf bison

After Antelope Island, H thought it would be a good idea to introduce G and T to Crown Burger, which apparently went over quite well.  Next on the list: Temple Square.  They found a friendly missionary who took them into the Convention Center, the Visitors' Center and the Tabernacle, answering all their questions.  They made it back home not long before I did and it was fun to hear their impressions of the day.

Monday, October 17, 2016

visitors: alta

The next day was another gorgeous one and we all wanted to stretch our legs a little bit.  We drove up to Alta, where the Summer Road is still open, and parked in the lot near the Catherine's Pass trailhead.  There were several other cars there but while we did encounter other hikers, it was refreshing to not be battling the crowds that had flocked there all summer.

Mellow moose

The trail up to Cecret Lake was a little muddy in spots, a little icy in others, but generally in good shape.  We spotted two moose (presumably a mother and her calf) when we were about halfway up to the lake; they were lying on the snow, in the shade, and cared not a whit for anyone else in the vicinity.


Cecret Lake itself was down a bit and ice-free, amazingly.  After some time appreciating the surroundings - and getting some photos without other people in them - we headed back down the way we came.  Some hikers on their way up said there were two different moose just off-trail closer to the parking lot, but we never spotted them, try as we might.

H and G on the shores of Cecret Lake

Despite the wind picking up, we paused for a post-walk beer back at the truck.  And it's a good thing we did: we had thought to stop by Snowbird on the way out but it was the final weekend of their Octoberfest and with the gorgeous weather, the place was packed.  We were all incredulous at the number of vehicles heading up the canyon - literal droves of cars, as if it were a powder day instead of a mid-October Sunday.

So we opted to take a pass on Snowbird and instead camped out on our patio with cocktails when we got home.  And if we hadn't done that, we never would have been able to witness a hawk chasing down and nabbing a dove right in our driveway.  Nature can be cruel but it sure is fascinating.

Someone's getting dove for dinner

Thursday, October 13, 2016

visitors: sundance

We've had house-guests in town: G, H's friend since kindergarten, and T, his awesome wife.  They came in late Friday night and despite our keeping them up even later, got up and were ready to go explore northern Utah.  Since they live practically at sea level, they did ask us to take it easy on them with the hiking; it's been so beautiful out that we were happy to oblige, just glad to get a few more days in the sunshine before the weather turns its thoughts to winter.

On Saturday, we took them over Traverse Ridge and up American Fork Canyon, driving the Alpine Loop through its gorgeous groves of golden aspen.  We landed at Sundance which was super-busy: it was the last weekend of summer activities, so there were lots of MTBers and sightseers riding the chairlift.  In addition, since we were last at Sundance they have put in an amazing zip line park - with the third longest span in the country - and there were tons of people doing that too.

We opted to simply ride the chair up and take a short mid-mountain hike, chatting with the zip line operators and watching the zippers fly around overhead.  While it did look like fun, some of those spans were REALLY high above the ground.  Sundance's zip lines put both Snowbird's and PCMR's to shame.

Motley crew

We were in need of sustenance at that point and scored a corner table in the Owl Bar.  Some beers and an amazing order of nachos later (seriously: those nachos were superb), we headed home for the rest of the afternoon and evening which we spent catching up.  Both G and T said they could feel the effects of the altitude so we wanted to ease them into it - we had plans to take them up to 10,000 feet the next day!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

your patience is appreciated

We have house guests!  And, as such, are too busy entertaining to post.  But there will be posts ... please stand by.

Monday, October 3, 2016

seven years

Another October 3rd, another move-iversary.  Seven years (as a reminder: our "year" goes from October through September, corresponding with our arrival in Salt Lake City) here and once again, this past year has just flown by.  Sometimes it doesn't seem to be going quickly at all - like when I'm doing my morning commute, which has gotten slower as the valley traffic increases - and then we look at the calendar and realize that we are only weeks away from ski season, when it only just seems like the lifts stopped turning.  To recap, here's what we did this past year:

October 2015 - trip to Bryce National Park, Cedar Breaks, Moab and surrounds; MTBing

November 2015 - annual Sol-Bright hike; final MTB of the season; ski season opens; Cold Turkey run Thanksgiving morning

December 2015 - skiing, with H's switch to telemark skiing nearly full-time

January 2016 - skiing; boozy milkshakes for A's birthday

February 2016 - skiing                              March 2016 - skiing, including H's run down Main Chute

April 2016 - last month of skiing

May 2016 - Moab trip, including camping at Needles District; home turf MTBing; rain

June 2016 - first gin and tonic of the season; A's personal best at the Crack of Dawn race; weather got hot; MTBing; Wasatch Front hiking begins

July 2016 - hiking on almost all new-to-us trails; MTBing; wildflowers

August 2016 - MTBing, including 54+ mile rail trail ride; wildflowers; Tour of Utah; visit from H's folks; Salt Lake Bees game; hiking, including 16+ mile Alta Dry Fork/Mineral Basin loop

September 2016 - hiking, MTBing, New Mexico trip

And another October means another year ahead of us.  What will this one bring?  Check back here and find out!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

new mexico: santa fe to abq

On our last full day in New Mexico, we got up, repacked everything and then walked back towards the Plaza for breakfast at Tia Sophia's, a Santa Fe institution since 1975.  Breakfasts were huge - A had a blue corn enchilada with scrambled eggs, green chile and a tortilla; H had huevos rancheros - and a little heavily laden with cheese, but it all tasted very good.  We strolled back to the car and headed out of town.  I would like to go back to Santa Fe sometime: we spent hardly any time in the city so I don't think we got a good feel for it, but there was so much ground we wanted to cover, we had to settle for a survey course this time.

Bundled up on the Crest Trail

Again taking the longer/scenic route, we drove through Madrid - a crazy, funky, tiny, arty little town, blink and you'll miss it, except for how brightly it was painted - and Golden en route to Sandia Peak.  Sandia is the mountain that looms over ABQ and there are two ways to get up it: from the tram on the city side or driving up the Sandia Peak National Scenic Byway, past the Sandia Ski Area base.

View of ABQ from Sandia Peak

We drove up and parked in the national forest lot, utilizing our annual parks pass yet again.  There is a cafe and gift shop at the top there, along with a view area that lays ABQ out before you.  It was very windy and pretty chilly so we put some long sleeves on before venturing out on the Crest Trail that would take us to the top of the tram.  There are actually quite a few different trails up there, some hiking only, some mixed use, and all well-signed.  It was 1.5 miles to the tram on a very nice, mostly dirt trail and the closer we got to the tram-end, the more people we met - folks who had ridden up.

Riding these chairs would be like riding back in time

The tram is in use year-round and is a way for ABQ-based skiers to get to Sandia Ski Area without having to drive all the way around the mountains.  Three 1960s-vintage chairlifts - all doubles - bring skiers to the top from the base area.  There is a peak lodge and restaurant in addition to the tram building, all perched on the ridgeline with 360-degree views.  It had a very retro feel to it and looked like it would be a hoot to ski.  That tram, though, was smaller than Snowbird's and frankly looked terrifying; it was opened in 1966 and when the cars pass each other at the midpoint, they are 1,000 feet above the ground because of the way the terrain falls away.

Way scarier than the Snowbird tram

We made our way back along the Crest Trail, had a quick beer (I was so chilled in the wind that my goosebumps had goosebumps) and then continued on our way.  At first we had thought to do an elongated loop, heading a little east and way south before coming back up to ABQ.  But then we noticed Petroglyph National Monument right there inside city limits and aimed for that instead.

Love all the retro signs

The best thing to do is stop in at the Petroglyph National Monument visitors' center and talk to a ranger who will ask how much walking you want to do and explain how to drive to the various sites along the 17-mile long escarpment.  We went to two:  Boca Negra and Piedras Marcadas.  Unlike most of the petroglyphs we've seen in Utah, these are not etched into cliff walls but instead are found decorating tumbled boulders along the walls of shallow desert canyons.

And the weather begins to change...

Boca Negra had three short paved walking paths from which to view the petroglyphs, including one that climbed steeply up the canyon side.  Unfortunately, vandals have added their own graffiti to some of the rocks, which is impossible to remove without damaging the petroglyphs; I suppose that given how close to the city and how unprotected the sites are, it's a wonder the damage isn't worse.

The "macaw" of Boca Negra

Piedras Marcadas was a longer walk on sand.  The wind was really whipping at that point and we could feel it getting in our ears and teeth.  But with the high volume of petroglyphs in this area, it was well worth the weather.  Most of the images were created 400 to 700 years ago and no one really knows what they mean or what the people who created them were trying to express.  Anyone's guess is really as good as anyone else's.

Literally parked behind a gas station

The trails here were not well-marked at all and so we don't think we ended up walking the whole thing.  But when it began to rain in addition to the wind, we figured we'd seen a good representation of the canyon's images.  On the walk back to the car, there was some discussion on whether to go to the hotel and clean up before going out for a beer or whether to stop on the way.  When in doubt, stop along the way.

This one was unique in that it wrapped around
instead of being on a flat face

Windblown and sandy, we found the ABQ location of Kaktus Brewing and had ourselves a couple of their wonderful IPAs.  There were a few other patrons in the joint, some of whom seemed to be on some sort of dine-around program as the cute hipster bartender was explaining all the samples she was bringing out to them.  H and I didn't need to taste other beers: that Kaktus IPA was the best New Mexico micro we'd found all week and we toasted to being able to start and end our week with such a tasty brew.

This one seemed cheerful to me

The rest of the trip - checking in, getting dinner at a neighboring hotel bar, driving through just a portion of ABQ in order to gas the car before returning it - was sort of a slow weaning from vacation.  If we felt like we didn't get much of a feel for Santa Fe, we really didn't get a feel for Albuquerque - except that it is pretty big.  (Next time: we should do a Breaking Bad tour!).

Kaktus Brewing, Nob Hill

It was a fantastic road-trip vacation, an overview of northern New Mexico with a little bit of everything: native ancestral ruins, national parks and monuments, mountain and desert hikes, old towns, ski areas, beers and green chile.  We didn't have enough time in any one place to really immerse ourselves but instead got just a taste, and enough of that to know what we'd like to return to and explore further.  Until we do, however, I have GOT to figure out how to get more green chile into our regular meal rotation.