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USA

This is the Place: Salt Lake City and Park City


View Salt Lake City 2022 on zzlangerhans's travel map.

The kids just get a week off school for Spring Break but somehow we've managed to work some of our most memorable trips into that short interval. Five years ago we took an extra week to tour Sicily and Malta but since then we've managed to stay within the confines of the school vacation to see Buenos Aires, Louisiana, and Belize. Late March is a great time of year to visit Central America and I had anticipated tackling Costa Rica, but the kids had made so much progress on their second ski trip in Vermont over New Year that we decided it would be a better idea to keep building on it. We had Southwest Airlines vouchers from our canceled trip to Belize in 2020 that would expire over the summer which meant flying to either Salt Lake City or Denver. Denver would have been a direct flight but frankly I'd found the city to be as boring as dirt on our first ski trip at the end of 2019. We'd already been to Salt Lake City as well on our huge Southwest road trip the previous summer but I liked the vibe there more and I had a couple of ideas for things to do on a return visit. Salt Lake City also had a profusion of ski slopes within an hour of downtown that catered to every budget and level of proficiency.
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There was a huge price difference between departure days for the flights so I decided to cut our trip down to five days. I figured it wouldn't really matter since three days was as much skiing as I could tolerate and I could only think of a day's worth of other activities in Salt Lake City. It felt strange to be sorting through all our ski clothes again so soon after our last trip. Making sure five sets of ski parkas, ski bibs, balaclavas, goggles, gloves, wool socks, warm hoodies, and long underwear are safely packed is not a trivial task. One large suitcase was full before we even turned our attention to the regular clothes and sundries. The only significant annoyance of the flight out was having to make a connection in Houston. Oddly enough, the first time I ever used the in-flight tracking app was the first time we ever deviated significantly from the planned route on a domestic flight. Instead of heading directly across the Gulf of Mexico to Houston we were headed northwest towards St. Louis and the app showed an arrival time an hour and a half past schedule. I kept expecting to see our flight path curving back south and we kept heading in the same wrong direction. Rather than bother the kids who by now were cocooned in charging cables and ear phones I waited for a flight attendant to come by, an event that didn't take place over the next hour. By then the app showed that we were practically over St. Louis, a huge detour from our expected route. I wondered if our plane was destined to disappear over uncharted ocean like that Malaysian Airlines flight. When an attendant finally passed by I flagged her down with barely suppressed anxiety. She seemed a little puzzled by my question and told me that we were going to be arriving late and an announcement had been made at departure. I was sure I hadn't heard anything. A couple of minutes later the captain came on overhead and said that we'd made a detour due to weather and we'd be arriving a almost an hour and a half behind schedule. This would give us less than an hour to make our connection to Salt Lake City which I could see in the app was scheduled to leave on time.

When we finally arrived we hustled off the plane but fortunately we were in Houston's smaller Hobby airport and our next gate was just a hundred yards away. We still had enough time to grab sandwiches before the next flight. On the news I saw that there had been a storm and even tornadoes in Louisiana that afternoon so clearly our detour had been justified. We had actually been lucky to have such a long layover in Houston that we were never in serious danger of missing our connection but it was another reminder that nonstop flights are almost always the best option.
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I hadn't made a dinner reservation for our first night in Salt Lake City, figuring there was a good chance the kids might be sleepy or just beat up from the travel, but everyone seemed in good shape so I made a couple of calls and wound up with a table at Bambara. We picked up our SUV from Alamo and arrived at our Airbnb close to the state capitol uneventfully, quickly dropped off our bags and headed to the restaurant downtown. I generally don't think twice about what I wear to a restaurant in most American cities, especially in Miami, but when I walked into Bambara I felt a little self-conscious about our sloppy travel clothes. The bistro occupied the space of a former bank lobby with a travertine marble floor and a central kitchen that dominated the space. We arrived just half an hour before their closing time so I can't imagine the staff was thrilled to see us but they were very pleasant and didn't betray any sign of annoyance at the sight of the kids. I wasn't surprised when our orders were taken quickly and our food arrived even quicker but we were on the same page regarding getting through the meal with no time to waste. The food was excellent, including creative preparations of regional specialties like elk and salmon. We were thoroughly stuffed after ordering about half the items on the menu and we had an eye-watering bill as a souvenir.
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In the morning we took an early leave of the Airbnb and drove a short distance to the Oasis Cafe for breakfast. This was an upbeat little restaurant with a bohemian flair that shared its building with a bookstore. The windows extended from the floors almost to the ceiling which made us feel like we were eating in the atrium of a hotel. We ordered the usual suspects for a filling breakfast such as waffles and breakfast burritos and left quite satisfied.
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The fueling up was necessary because we were about to hike to the top of Ensign Peak. This was a trail we'd accidentally discovered on our first visit to SLC over the summer but couldn't attempt because of the triple digit July temperatures. Now that it was March we were dealing with far more comfortable weather for walking. It seemed like an easy hike from what I'd read but I wasn't going to take anything for granted so we packed plenty of water. The trail was steep in a couple of places but it proved to be fairly short and we reached the summit quickly. There were great views of the State Capitol and the short skyline of Mormon office buildings. To the east of the valley were the majestic peaks of the Wasatch Range and to the west were the more modest Oquirrh Mountains. According to local lore when Mormon leader Brigham Young first entered the valley he uttered the words "This is the place", indicating that he believed it was the valley in the Rocky Mountains that their prophet Joseph Smith had instructed him to find. A monument at the summit commemorated the moment in 1847 when Young and eight associates gazed over the empty valley and laid out their visions for a new city. Directly below us were the beautiful mansions of the Ensign Downs neighborhood that we had admired on our last visit. On the way down we noticed a few patches of snow whose heavy contents were perfect for packing. Ian lagged behind with me and was able to surprise his siblings with a snowball in his hand once we were close to the bottom.
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We had already knocked out most of the things I could find to do in Salt Lake City on our first visit. All that was left on my list was the city's botanical garden, Red Butte Garden. To visit the garden we had to drive all the way past the University of Utah to the eastern border of the city, where expansion was limited by the rising foothills of the Wasatch front. The garden is designed to merge almost seamlessly with the untouched wilderness of the mountains. It was a pleasant place to explore and stretch our legs but the time of year meant that almost nothing was in bloom so it felt more as though we were in a park than a botanical garden.
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We still had time to kill before our dinner reservation in Park City so we decided to stop off at Woodward Park City to check out the facility and look at their snow tubing runs. The kids had enjoyed snow tubing on their first ski trip in Denver but my research had told me that once spring came the quality of the runs deteriorated due to the melting snow. I hadn't wanted to commit to the activity and then find out that we would be dragging our tubes down the last half of the slope. Woodward also has ski slopes although these are geared more towards freestylers. The boys had fallen asleep when we arrived so Cleo and I went inside on our own. As I had suspected the tubing didn't look that great. Hardly anyone reached the end of their runs and I saw lots of people getting out and dragging their tubes. Even so there were a fair number of people lining up to participate. I figured there would be a chance to do it better wherever we went to ski the following winter. The inside of the huge, warehouse-like facility was partitioned into different areas for skateboarding, trampolining, and bike tricks. We watched kids skateboarding over ramps and flipping into a foam pit for a while, which I found somewhat terrifying even though it clearly wasn't particularly dangerous. I'm not sure how I'd feel if any of my kids decided they wanted to get into those kinds of sports.

Since we'd passed on the tubing we arrived in Park City a full two hours ahead of our dinner reservation and I really wasn't sure what to do. It's an attractive, narrow little town surrounded on either side by steep hills. The town originally came to prominence in the late 19th century after large deposits of silver were discovered, but by the mid 20th century the silver was exhausted and Park City was a ghost town. Just thirty years later a new boom developed in the form of recreational skiing and mountain biking and Park City experienced a rebirth. The residential side of town is filled with modest homes on the hillside that might be typical of any small town in the western United States. There's a sharp demarcation at the beginning of the historically-preserved Main Street where the homes give way completely to a profusion of restaurants, boutiques and galleries that characterizes upscale resort cities from Aspen to Sedona. Despite it being so late in the season, the sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians who looked like they had just returned from the slopes. A few had bright pink sunburns, a consequence of failing to appreciate the power of the spring sun at high altitude.
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For the next two hours we made our way north on Main Street, sliding into any galleries and shops that looked sufficiently interesting. Much of the artwork in the galleries referenced the town's history with display cases made from antique mining lockers and plenty of silver work. Our favorite establishment was a combination bookstore and gelato cafe that also served up a mean cup of coffee. It was the perfect way to keep up the kids' spirits without messing up their dinner.
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Dinner was at Riverhorse on Main, which my research had indicated was the best choice for our single evening in Park City. Not only did the food have a great reputation for quality and creativity, but the entrees included several varieties of local wild meats such as venison, elk, and trout. This would be our second round of elk in two days but as far as we're concerned there's no such thing as an excessive amount of game. For the second night in a row we got carried away with the ordering and we were so preoccupied with making sure that we didn't leave anything too expensive behind that we almost forgot to enjoy the meal.
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Once dinner was complete we had a one hour drive via the interstate to Ogden, which would be our home for the next three days as we completed the skiing portion of our vacation.

Posted by zzlangerhans 09:52 Archived in USA Tagged road_trip skiing family_travel travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog Comments (0)

A Southwestern USA Expedition: St. George & trip conclusion


View Southwest USA road trip on zzlangerhans's travel map.

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I had never heard of St. George but we needed one last place to spend a night between Zion and Las Vegas. St. George was big enough to have some decent restaurants and there were a couple of interesting things to do in the morning, and that was all we needed. Our Airbnb was in the residential suburb of Ivins west of town. The parkway that connected the cities was regularly interrupted by traffic circles containing landscape installations with marvelous sculptures with western themes. The Airbnb was on a quiet street with small, utilitarian houses that had gravel yards and an interesting mixture of palms and evergreens. A red massif provided a formidable background to the end of the street. The 117 degree temperature when we arrived in the late afternoon was the highest I had ever experienced by far. I was anxious enough about it that I made sure to have the house door unlocked and then hustled the kids straight from the interior of the car to the interior of the house in less than ten seconds. I don't know if I expected them to burst into flames spontaneously but it felt like walking through a gauntlet of ovens that had just been opened. I commemorated the occasion with a photograph of the thermometer on the front porch.
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We cowered indoors until the sun began to go down and then ventured out to dinner in St. George. We had a hankering for Asian food now that we were back in a real city but the highly-rated Korean restaurant we chose turned out to be a dispirited cafeteria-style place where we ordered and received our food at a window. It was still quite good so it felt like a success, and then we drove to a restaurant on top of the huge bluff on the west side of town for dessert and the view. Even though it was dusk it felt like we were being slowly baked in the heavy, torrid air on the patio. We could see the entire expanse of the city in the flat valley surrounded by a ring of buttes. Most of the buildings were just one or two stories tall with the exception of a solitary church-like structure that glowed gold in the dusk. I made a mental note to look it up and discovered later it was the city's Mormon temple.
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In the morning it was substantially cooler, although the temperature still hovered around the century mark. We decided to play it by ear and see as much as we could around town, knowing that it would be unbearable outdoors after noon. The entire northern side of St. George is defined by a large protected expanse called Red Cliffs National Conservation Area which is filled with scenic wilderness and trails for hiking and biking. It's not a bad place to have on one's doorstep. At the southern edge of the conservation area adjacent to the town is a more orderly section called Pioneer Park which is filled with natural red rock formations to explore and also contains a unique botanical garden called Red Hills Desert Garden. The garden was created from a featureless area of arid red desert in 2014 and displays countless species of cacti and other water-efficient plants in a well-manicured plot with its own stream and a replica of a slot canyon.
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Next door at Pioneer Park we found a safe-looking chunk of rock to scramble up. As always in the southwest I was amazed by the prioritization of naturalness over safety, not that I objected to it. I kept a watchful eye on the kids as there were numerous wide fissures on the rocky surface and it wasn't easy to tell the difference between a change in grade and a drop-off. We had no protection from the sun here and the heat quickly became uncomfortable so it wasn't too hard to convince the kids to head back to the car.
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The outdoor portion of our morning was essentially completed by ten. Anything else we did in St George would consist of hustling between air-conditioned environments. The other area of interest to us was a neighborhood called Kayenta in the northwest corner of Ivins. The Kayenta Art Village is an aggregation of interesting galleries with fascinating collections of southwestern sculpture, paintings, and photography. It also contains one of St. George's most celebrated lunch restaurants, Xetava Gardens Cafe. We browsed the galleries and chatted with some artists while we waited for the restaurant to open. The restaurant was designed and decorated in that unmistakable southern Utah style with red rock elements and Native American themes. Lunch was delicious and refreshing, especially the homemade lemonade.
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The residential area around the Art Village looked interesting so we went for a drive along the black asphalt roads that curved through the desert landscape. The crumbling red cliffs of the conservation area formed a grandiose background. The homes around us all had a similar aesthetic, adobe ranches with a large footprint yet unobtrusive. Many were almost hidden by the low scrub that enveloped them, partially due to the sloping ground and partially because of the foundations having been poured lower than the surrounding land. We had stumbled upon a very unusual planned community. It was clear that these were expensive, luxury residences yet the location was so isolated we wondered what could attract people here when there were so many other options. Later we came across a video that helped explain the draw of this particular community, although it seemed like there were plenty of completed homes and lots that remained unsold. There was even one street that ended abruptly in the desert as if funding had evaporated in the middle of the job. It definitely wasn't a place we could ever live but it was beautiful in its own way and I hope the community survives and prospers in that parched and secluded spot.
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St. George had proved to be an unexpectedly interesting city, and even more surprisingly the insane temperatures hadn't prevented us from seeing everything we had planned and more. We had one final task which was to check out the Mormon temple we had seen from the restaurant patio the night before. When we arrived we found that the temple itself was closed for renovation, just like the main one in Salt Lake City, but we could still see it through the windows of the visitor center. There were some interactive displays in the visitor center as well that the kids had fun with, as well as an impressive shelf of copies of the Book of Mormon translated into dozens of languages.
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By mow we were disappointed if we weren't surrounded by amazing landscape on our drives between cities, and the first part of Interstate 15 that passed through the northwestern corner of Arizona was no disappointment. Massive dark cliffs loomed on either side of the curving highway, almost devoid of vegetation. Once we entered Nevada our surroundings reverted quickly to nondescript flatland. We passed close by one of Nevada's most celebrated natural attractions, the Valley of Fire, but it was far too hot to consider any hiking and I had plans for our last few hours in Las Vegas.
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We returned to Las Vegas from the north, passing through a seemingly endless flat expanse of warehouses and commercial buildings. The relative compactness of the Strip belies the enormousness of the sharply defined Las Vegas metropolitan area. We drove straight to Area 15 to try out Particle Quest, the augmented reality scavenger hunt we hadn't had time for on our first visit. It felt strange to be back in the same place a month later having completed the huge itinerary that had stretched before us on our first visit. Area 15 had the same avant garde energy as before although the 110 degree heat meant that virtually no one was around the outdoor installations. The game was entertaining, especially for the older kids, although it was a little confusing and lacked much of a payoff for solving the puzzles. I hope the Area 15 concept will spread to more cities since it's a fascinating, although expensive, alternative to the typical forms of entertainment available in large cities.
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One of the few things I remembered about visiting Las Vegas as a kid more than forty years previously was getting taken to Circus Circus. Most of the entertainment on the Strip is designed for adults but this casino's selling point is the entire floor devoted to arcade games and circus acts. Parents will drop their kids off in the arcade and gamble for hours, and hopefully will find their kids still there when they finish. I wanted to finish the trip with a fun and memorable experience for the kids so this would be our final stop of the journey except for dinner. We got off to a great start when Cleo miraculously won a large stuffed animal for placing first in her first game, a Roll-A-Ball horse race. I never expected her to win because there were several adults among her seven competitors so I didn't bother to take a video. Much to everyone's amazement her balls kept dropping in the highest scoring holes and she finished comfortably ahead of the next contestant. Afterwards I videoed every game she played in the hope that lightning would strike again but it wasn't to be.She got interested in another game in which the goal was to launch chickens into pots by hitting a lever with a mallet, but it was clear she wasn't strong enough to achieve the required distance. I took the game over and I was able to win another small prize so that Ian wouldn't have to leave without anything.
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Our timing worked out well because just as our prepaid cards ran out of funds it was time to head over to the stage for the hourly show, a talented acrobat performing on aerial silks. I don't think anyone would have mistaken it for Cirque du Soleil but it was another nice piece of entertainment for the kids to leave them with good final memories of the trip before the long flight home.

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Our last dinner was at Trattoria Nakamura-Ya, the first Italian Japanese fusion restaurant we've ever encountered. It was a cool concept and some of the dishes were good, but it didn't meet our expectations of being one of the best meals of the trip. With that our itinerary was complete and there was nothing left to do except drive to the airport and check in for our red eye flight back to Miami. At the time all I can remember feeling was a huge sense of relief that we'd made it through all those challenging environments without any injuries, illnesses, or other disasters and COVID had only resulted in some minor inconveniences. It was only after I had time to reflect on everything we accomplished that I realized that this journey was at least the equal of any of the long road trips we had taken in Europe. Of course it's hard to compare national parks and Southwestern Americana with the rich and historic atmosphere of major European cities, but in terms of the thrill of adventure and new experiences this trip was unparalleled. One of my favorite ways to cope with annoying aspects of daily life such as traffic jams and dental cleanings is to cast myself back mentally to a period of travel, and lately I've found myself choosing episodes from the Southwest trip more than any other. The ten greatest experiences were scattered around all four states and from the beginning to the end of the journey. There were so many incredible adventures that even the Grand Canyon didn't make the top ten, although I think if I extended the list to eleven it would have been on there.

10. Shiprock
9. Rafting the Sevier
8. Fishing in Lake Powell
7. Jerome, Arizona
6. Exploring Albuquerque
5. Antelope Island
4. Las Vegas Strip
3. Bisti Wilderness
2. Low Road to Taos
1. Bryce Canyon and the Hogback

With that trip we've explored most of the iconic regions of the United States, having already done the Deep South, Pacific Northwest, Southern California, Great Lakes, and New England. If I ever need to make an itinerary for a month-long summer road trip in the US again I will probably do Appalachia with a focus on Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, and the Virginias. However I truly hope we don't have to take that trip this summer, as I'm more than ready to return to continental Europe after a four year absence due to COVID.

Posted by zzlangerhans 22:22 Archived in USA Tagged road_trip family_travel travel_blog friedman tony_friedman family_travel_blog Comments (0)

A Southwestern USA Expedition: Zion National Park

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For the third morning in a row we were up at the crack of dawn. The reason this time was that we had to reach the parking lots at Zion National Park by eight in the morning or we might not be able to find a spot. I wasn't sure what would happen then and it I didn't want to find out. The other factor was that temperatures in the park were projected to reach 108 and we needed to be done with anything involving physical exertion before noon. We had an easy half hour journey along an empty highway from Kanab and then a beautiful drive to the Visitor Center once we had entered the park. We were surrounded by massive cliffs of striated sandstone in every direction. Towards the end we drove right into a mountain via a tunnel and emerged into a set of tight switchbacks surrounded by breathtaking landscape.
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We arrived at the parking lots right about eight and had to drive to the farthest one before we found some open spots. We made our way to the shuttle bus station and realized that we wouldn't be allowed on the bus without masks, which I had forgotten in the car. I had to jog all the way back to the parking lot which by now was completely full just twenty minutes after we'd arrived. We had cut it a lot closer than I had realized. Fortunately there wasn't much of a line for the buses, despite the horror stories I had read. In fact there had been a reservation system in place to cut down on crowding up until a month before we arrived. I had been prepared to get up at midnight to be among the first to reserve our place once the July schedule opened, but they ended up canceling that system before it became an issue. The shuttle is the only way to travel along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, as private cars are forbidden. The most famous Zion hikes, Angel's Landing and The Narrows, originate from the last two stops on the route. We had no intention of attempting either of these so we got off the bus at the Zion Lodge stop, about halfway to the end, to tackle the Emerald Pools Trail. I'd done a good amount of research and the hike to the lower of the three pools seemed fairly easy and straightforward, with the option to continue onward to the other two pools if the heat wasn't overwhelming. We passed by the lodge and crossed a wooden bridge over the Virgin River to reach the trailhead.
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The walk to the lower pools was an easy, shady stroll without much change in elevation. At one point the path went underneath a gentle waterfall that emanated from the edge of the cliff above us and fed the lower pools. The spray of cool water was even more welcome when we returned at the end of the hike.
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We hadn't expended too much energy getting to the lower pools so we decided to continue on as far as we could. As I expected, the route to the middle and upper pools was steeper and less protected but we still managed to complete it, although the kids were clearly getting tired and uncomfortable towards the end. The shallow pools of water didn't really live up to their romantic name, but the massive sandstone cliffs and the views of the unspoiled wilderness around us more than made up for that. The satisfaction of completing the hike made the hard work totally worth it.
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It was only ten thirty by the time we got back to the shuttle but the temperature had increased dramatically. My other goal at Zion was to see the beginning of the famed Narrows but I wasn't sure if we would be able to withstand the heat on the one mile trek to the trailhead. Fortunately the one mile Riverside Walk was an easy, paved path sheltered from the sun by the towering cliffs on either side of us. It was a long walk but eventually we got there and we got the iconic view of the beginning of The Narrows and all the hikers with their water shoes and walking sticks starting to disappear up the river. We hung out for a while soaking up the energy and the excitement of all the people around us getting ready to set off on the journey or just enjoying the view like we were.
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The last thing I wanted to do before leaving Zion was see people walking along the ridge that is the final section of the Angel's Landing hike. This is a hike I would never consider doing myself, let alone with the kids. I don't think of myself as tremendously afraid of heights but I'm not exactly comfortable around them, and being on a narrow walkway with thousand foot drops on either side is absolutely out of the question for me. Nevertheless an enormous number of people complete this hike every day and since 1908 there have been only seventeen deadly falls, far fewer than at the Grand Canyon. We took the shuttle back one stop to Weeping Rock and got out to peer at the top of the cliff on the opposite side of the river. Of course we couldn't make out the ridge from ground level so I just stared at the top of the cliff as hard as I could. Just as I was about to conclude that there was nothing to be seen I realized that a couple of the tiny dots I had assumed were bushes were unmistakably moving. I tracked them for a while as they made their way along the top but the sight of the colossal, impassive cliff reinforced my conviction that I would never find myself up there personally.
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Zion is one of the most iconic and beloved of America's national parks but we aren't at a level where we could take full advantage of it. I can't say we felt the same euphoria at Zion that we had experienced at Bryce Canyon or Arches or Canyon de Chelly but it was still a beautiful and rewarding morning. By noon we were already in the town of Springdale, just outside the west entrance of the park. Despite being even tinier than the other National Park towns we had visited there was a sizable collection of restaurants and galleries to feed the bellies and minds of the throngs of park visitors. Virtually all of these were strung along the main road that provided access to the park. The prodigious and colorful cliffs of Zion were still in view and provided an inspiring backdrop to the modest businesses on the road. We'd barely eaten anything that morning so our first stop was a Mexican-inspired grill where we had a pretty satisfying lunch.
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The art galleries in the southwest are always amazing so we visited a couple of those and enjoyed some landscape paintings and an endless variety of beautiful and creative ceramics. Afterwards we browsed through an awesome outdoor rock shop for as long as we could withstand the heat before getting back on the main road that followed the Virgin River west.
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We still had the whole afternoon ahead of us and we didn't want to arrive in St. George too early , since it was going to be far too hot to do anything outdoors. Instead we hooked a right at the barely noticeable town of Virgin and embarked on the Kolob Terrace Road, another well-known scenic drive. We had a very enjoyable and solitary forty minute drive through spectacular landscape to the Kolob Reservoir, where many people were spending the weekend camping and kayaking. From here I had hoped to continue north all the way to Cedar City but there was no cellular signal to be had and I could not find a route on Google Maps without the GPS. Instead we had to return to Virgin the way we came and then continue westward to St. George.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 00:47 Archived in USA Tagged road_trip hiking utah family_travel travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog springdale kolob_terrace_road Comments (2)

A Southwestern USA Expedition: Lake Powell and Kanab


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We had dealt with plenty of hot weather thus far on the trip but the town of Page was a dry furnace. We drove straight towards the restaurant we'd chosen for dinner and parked as close as we could to the entrance. Even the short walk to the front door felt suffocating in 106° heat. The Japanese restaurant had a promisingly cool vibe but we found the food to be pretty grim.
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Once we got to the Airbnb, a featureless cube of apartments in the center of town, our mission was to get to sleep as early as possible to minimize the pain of waking up before four for our Lake Powell fishing trip. The older kids really enjoy fishing and I've never been able to take Spenser because it's too much to manage three inexperienced kids on a charter trip. Spenser is also a handful. One of my priorities for the itinerary was finding a nice fresh water fishing trip where we wouldn't need to worry about Mei Ling getting seasick, and Lake Powell turned out to be the perfect spot. I'd arranged a charter trip before we left and now we'd finally arrived at one of our most anticipated adventures. Our captain had wisely insisted we get going by five in order to be safely back at the dock before the real heat of the day began rolling in. After experiencing the atmosphere in the late afternoon the previous day I was grateful for the timing, although I wasn't looking forward to prying the kids out of bed well before dawn.

I fortuitously awoke on my own around three thirty, which was much more pleasant than being torn from deep sleep by the alarm. I had plenty of time to clean myself up and get ready for the boat before we had to wake up the kids, which proved somewhat easier than I anticipated. We drove the fifteen minutes to Wahweap marina in near darkness and took the long walk down to the bottom of the boat ramp just as the first rays of light began to illuminate the sky. As dawn broke we began to see the brownish cliffs that lined the marina and the multitude of houseboats anchored close to shore.
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Our captain wasn't at the bottom of the ramp where we were supposed to meet and we had an anxious fifteen minutes or so when he didn't respond to calls or texts. He did show up eventually and we clambered into the boat and quickly took off. Lake Powell is an enormous dendrite-shaped reservoir created by the flooding of Glen Canyon by the construction of a dam in the 1960's. We had to ride for an hour through the channel between Antelope Island and the mainland to reach the first fishing spot. We passed countless large yachts of a similar design, many of which were rented out as summer homes for family groups. We could see the high water line on the cliffs far above the current level. Lake Powell water levels have been in a choppy decline since the beginning of the new millennium and are currently at their lowest level ever, just 30% of full capacity.
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I had reminded the kids several times that catching fish was no guarantee, but coming home empty-handed would have been a serious downer. Fortunately the striped bass, commonly known as striper, started biting fairly quickly after the captain anchored up at his chosen spot. They aren't enormous fish but they fought reasonably hard and a few of them were big enough to eat. Everyone got some chances to feel their rods suddenly dip as the fish took the bait and then hoist the beautiful fish into the boat. I think we caught more than twenty and kept the two largest for dinner. I would have been happy to try for another species in a different spot but I knew it wouldn't make much difference to the kids so we stayed there until they had caught so many they were actually getting bored of it.
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Even though we hadn't used our full allotment of time we decided to return to the marina to be sure we didn't get too much exposure to sun and heat on the return trip. We got back on land before ten in the morning and the marina was a hive of activity. Anyone going out on the lake at that time was a hardier soul than us, as a heavy blanket of heat had already descended upon us. We only stopped at an overlook on the road back to Page for some pictures of the beautiful lake with its chalky walls before returning to the apartment for a well-deserved nap.
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Having decided to save our fish for dinner, we ventured out in the afternoon for lunch and a quick exploration of Page. Big John's Texas Barbecue was a much bigger success than the restaurant we'd had dinner at the previous evening. We withstood the furnace that Page had become just long enough to pose with the giant smokers and bits of Americana outside the restaurant before racing inside for cooler air. I'm not the biggest barbecue fan but there was no arguing with the tenderness and flavoring of the meat at Big John's, nor with the cold beer that I washed it down with. I bought a shirt that said "I Like Pig Butts" and we were on our way quite pleased with our choice.
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There was nothing to see in Page and entertainment choices were quite limited. The only game in town was a dive bar with a bowling alley that looked like a leftover set from a Coen Brothers movie. It was the kids second time bowling and I probably should have requested the lane with the blocked gutters, but I figured they should learn to bowl the hard way. About thirty gutter balls later we'd given up on bowling and we were at a ping pong table with a saggy net that could barely withstand the ball's impact. Afterwards we made a quick stop at the supermarket for dinner supplies.
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Back at the apartment Mei Ling got to work on the striper filets while I worked on setting up a slot canyon tour in Kanab for the next day. A slow afternoon had helped me realize that there was nothing at all left for us around Lake Powell, and I hadn't set anything else up. I wasn't optimistic that I would find anything on such short notice, but I did get through to someone who offered us a tour the next morning. The only catch was that we would have another super early wake-up call, although not quite as brutal as the one for the fishing trip. The fish was quite flavorful and tender although the kids mostly focused on the pasta we had bought at the supermarket.
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We finished up dinner early enough to head back to Lake Powell for sunset. There was a large resort with a patio overlooking the lake at Wahweap Marina where we had met our guide. The rock formations around the lake looked even more alien and formidable at dusk than they had at dawn. We had a very successful visit to Lake Powell but I don't see a houseboat rental in our future. It's hard to imagine how we would have occupied ourselves if we'd spent more than a couple of days there.
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In the morning we had another stroke of good luck when I woke up ahead of my alarm again and realized I had forgotten to account for the one hour time change between Arizona and Utah. We actually had to leave an hour earlier than I had planned in order to make our slot canyon tour. I woke up Mei Ling and we rushed around madly getting ourselves cleaned up and the bags fully packed. Finally we hoisted the groggy kids out of bed and poured some cereal down their throats before tossing them into the car and tearing back out onto the highway. We made good time and arrived at the departure point a few miles north of Kanab right about the scheduled time. Our guide, a friendly fellow with a ZZ Top beard, helped us get kitted out and then showed us to our UTV. These vehicles are operated like cars with steering wheels and foot pedals and also have a reinforced cab to protect passengers in case of rollovers. We told the guide we were up for an exciting ride but probably not the most hair-raising that he was capable of, and shortly afterwards we were off. The UTV bounced and careened madly through the undulating hills of sand but I could see that he was avoiding some of the rougher terrain.
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Our tour included a stop on the dunes for sandboarding. It's a pretty simple concept: get on a skateboard deck at the top of a dune and slide down without falling off. We all attempted it with varying degrees of success, after which we had to trudge back up the hill through the sand if we wanted to try it again. It was all good fun until Cleo suddenly asked me if I had any nausea medicine. Before I had a chance to respond she threw up into the sand. It was kind of a shock since she'd seemed perfectly fine up until that point. I had a Zofran tablet in my wallet and I put it under Cleo's tongue. Meanwhile the boys at the top of the hill were reacting as expected, screaming and laughing about Cleo's gastrointestinal distress. I figured she had probably overexerted herself in the sun and I let her sip Gatorade until she was feeling better. When we began to make our way slowly back up the hill I saw that Ian was on his hands and knees in the sand throwing as well. Mei Ling yelled down that Spenser had also tossed up his breakfast. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Our kids get sick once in a while, but probably less than other kids and certainly never all at once like this. I was racking my brain to try and figure out what was going on. The ride to the dunes had been plenty rough, but that was already half an hour back and none of the kids had gotten motion sickness for years. Was it the fish we 'd caught and eaten the previous night? Mei Ling and I had eaten much more than any of the kids and we felt fine. A stomach virus? Hitting all three of them within a couple of minutes? The good thing was that Cleo and Spenser now seemed to be fine, but Ian was clearly still miserable even after he'd finished with his bout. I only carried one Zofran in my wallet, although I had more back at the car. We decided to press onward to the canyon but soon after we got inside the UTV Ian started vomiting again in the back seat. That was just too much and I decided it was time to pull the plug on the tour. We still had to endure the rough ride back to the departure point and then Mei Ling changed Ian out of his dirty clothes while I slipped a tablet under his tongue. We called the hotel to see if we could check in early but they couldn't accommodate us until noon, so we still had to kill a couple of hours in Kanab. Fortunately the town had a public library so I took Cleo and Spenser in there while Mei Ling waited in the car with Ian, who had fallen asleep.
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The library was a pleasant, air-conditioned place to hang out with a small section of books for sale, allowing us to make one final restock of our depleted supply of unread books. It was an enormous relief when Mei Ling and Ian joined us browsing, with Ian a little subdued but otherwise apparently recovered. That marked the end of the anomalous vomiting episode, which I have resigned myself to never understanding. Fortunately nothing like that ever happened before and thus far it hasn't repeated itself. After the library we visited an art gallery with some beautiful polished wood and rocks and then had lunch, where I had to hold Ian back from devouring half the restaurant. The motel on the edge of town had pleasing rows of wooden cabins with a backdrop of striated brown cliffs.
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I would have probably written off the slot canyon as a loss and never thought about it again, but Mei Ling is built a little different than I am which is one of the reasons we do so well together. Before we lay down for a nap she called the tour outfit and they agreed to let us give it another shot at the slot canyon that afternoon. I was rather apprehensive about this but Mei Ling doesn't like to get defeated by circumstances. When we arrived back at the departure point, we found we had the same guide who didn't seem at all troubled to be once again taking on the family whose last attempt had ended so ignominiously. He even offered to take us sandboarding again, an invitation that we unanimously declined. I watched Ian anxiously as the UTV tore once again through the hills and dunes but as far as I could determine behind the helmet and goggles he seemed to be doing fine. I was quite relieved once the ride was over and all the kids still had smiles on their faces.
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Slot canyons are another iconic feature of the southwestern USA landscape, especially in southern Utah. We had been close to Antelope Canyon, the most famous of them all, the previous day in Page but the tours had been closed due to COVID. These narrow chasms are formed over millions of years by the passage of water through cracks in solid rock, resulting in gradual expansion and polishing of the passage. Magnesium and iron deposits in the stone account for the swirling colors that make the canyons so memorably photogenic. Despite the high temperatures it was shady and fairly cool between the stone walls. It was an easy and short walk through the canyon and yet another remarkable interaction with geology on this incredible journey. We returned to Kanab with a sense of satisfaction, having overcome another unforeseen obstacle to complete our mission.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 14:28 Archived in USA Tagged fishing road_trip arizona family_travel travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog Comments (0)

A Southwestern USA Expedition: Bryce Canyon


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Panguitch wasn't any bigger than the other bland country burgs we'd passed through on our southward journey through Utah, but proximity to Bryce Canyon National Park meant they had a real Main Street with hotels, restaurants, and retail businesses. Our Airbnb was located above one of these, a colorful gift and supply shop called Thunder Horses Mercantile with an attached cafe. We arrived in town too early to check in and decided to press on ahead to the park, a half hour journey that took us through a beautiful area called Red Canyon that we didn't have time to explore.
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Bryce Canyon is set up similarly to the Grand Canyon and Canyon de Chelly, with a main road that passes along the rim that provides access to several overlooks. The main difference with Bryce is that there's only one rim, which somewhat simplifies the task of getting the full experience. As with the other canyons we found Bryce to be busy but not unpleasantly crowded. For example, my guidebook had advised beginning the day at the furthest outlook in order to make turn-offs to the right on the way back, to avoid having to wait for pauses in traffic to make the turn-offs to the left. There weren't enough cars on the road to make turning left an issue but it was easy to imagine both lanes jam-packed due to visitors not having the foresight to do things that way.
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The first thing to understand about Bryce Canyon is that it is not a canyon, a term that only applies to a chasm formed by the erosive action of a river. There's no river at the bottom of Bryce Canyon, which is centered around a bowl-shaped depression which has become known as the Amphitheater. The Amphitheater is the main draw for visitors and it's a very difficult sight to describe. I had read about it and seen some pictures but I really didn't grasp the magnitude of what we would be seeing when we approached the rim. My research had indicated that the best spots to view the Amphitheater were Sunrise Point and Sunset Point, adjacent outlooks about a ten minute walk from each other along the rim. It was a little difficult to find parking at Sunset Point in the early afternoon but eventually something opened up and we proceeded to the rim where there was a wide viewing platform. We had already experienced a bounty of incredible views on this road trip but there was no doubt that this was the most amazing thing we had seen thus far. Irregular rows and clusters of rusty, white-capped hoodoos projected from the hillsides as far as the eye could see. Although on first glance they seemed uniform, closer inspection revealed variety in their rippled surfaces and the shapes of their caps and spires. Some almost appeared to have faces and it was easy to imagine having stumbled upon a stadium filled with attentive members of a gigantic alien race. It was an awe-inspiring and hypnotizing sight that kept us on the platform for a good fifteen minutes. What finally got us off the platform was our desire to get a closer look at a steep trail that a line of people were using to descend between two steep walls of hoodoos.
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The trail turned out to be the Navajo Loop and it was one of the coolest looking trailheads I could have imagined. The descent was a series of short switchbacks that had been carved out of the compressed sandstone dirt that formed the hillside between two cliffs. I wasn't really thinking about going down there because we hadn't come prepared with our hiking boots and the afternoon heat was fairly high. It was Mei Ling who convinced me that we could tackle the trail that afternoon and give ourselves more flexibility the next day. We began slowly picking our way down the switchbacks. The drop-offs weren't very high but I still kept myself between the kids and the edge of the path as best I could as the sandstone walls rose higher and higher around us. Despite being in sandals we didn't find ourselves slipping on the gently-graded dirt surfaces.
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At the bottom we had a completely different perspective on the hoodoos and spires that now towered above us. The next stage was a short passage through Wall Street, the park's only slot canyon, which soon passed us into the forested base of the depression.
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We continued on the Navajo Loop through the base of the Amphitheater among stately Ponderosa pines. This part of the hike was quite easy and enjoyable. There was some remarkable interplay between the trees and the sandstone formations, especially one enormous pine that had been nearly uprooted by a flood and prevented from falling by a cliff that it now embraced as it continued to grow.
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Of course what goes down must eventually come back up if it expects to return to its car, and we completed the loop with an exhausting ascent up another series of switchbacks without anywhere near as much protection from the sun. On the bright side we got a close look at a group of some of the most amazing goblet-shaped hoodoos in all of Bryce Canyon.
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Once we were done hiking we had a fairly stark choice. We could go back to Panguitch, settle into the Airbnb, have a leisurely dinner and get to bed early. Alternatively we could drive for an hour and a half to the Hell's Backbone Grill, one of the best-regarded restaurants in southern Utah, in the town of Boulder. The added benefit was that the second half of the drive along Highway 12 was reputed to be an breathtaking scenic drive through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The downside was that it meant an additional exhausting three hours of driving on top of the driving we'd already done that day. In the end we decided it would be better to get the drive done that day when we had the additional motivation of an excellent dinner, rather than leaving it until the next morning and then having to drive an additional two and a half hours to Lake Powell. There were dirt roads that would have shortened the distance between Boulder and Lake Powell but I had been advised that these were not safe to drive without a high clearance four wheel drive.

The first half of the drive was regular western countryside, pleasant enough but not particularly memorable. It wasn't until we passed Escalante that the landscape really began to open up around us. Colorfully stratified ridges and canyons began to appear around us and the road began to swivel between impressive formations. At one point the ground on either side of us dropped away completely and we found ourselves driving along a winding ridge with no guardrails and steep dropoffs that began at the shoulder of the road on either side. I later learned this stretch was called the Hogback. I was so focused on making sure I didn't drift from the center of the road that it was hard to enjoy the amazing views of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that we had from the ridge.
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Not long after this white knuckle section of the drive was completed we arrived at Hell's Backbone Grill. Based on the name and the location in the middle of nowhere I was expecting some rough-and-tumble barbeque joint and I was quite surprised to find an idyllic farmhouse with a covered wooden patio and an attached farm stand. The restaurant was quite busy as well and it was fortunate we were early or we might have had to return to Bryce empty-handed. We were seated after a half hour wait and had a very enjoyable meal of farm-to-table bistro type food. I'm not sure the food itself was worth the three hours of round trip driving but it was a suitable finale after the amazing views from the Hogback.
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As we finished our desserts the sun had already commenced a rapid descent and we realized that the last thing on Earth we wanted to deal with was driving back across the Hogback in darkness. We peeled back onto Route 12 with every intention of getting back to Bryce in record time but the views of the Grand Staircase under the setting sun were so incredible that we couldn't resist pulling over a couple of times to admire them. We completed the stretch just as my visibility was starting to suffer and then had a boring hour long trip through darkness between Escalante and Panguitch. Getting into the Airbnb was a confusing and tortuous process that required locating an unmarked door in pitch darkness and then utilizing two different pass codes, but the apartment itself was very modern and spacious. There was no time to enjoy it as we still had to unpack and get the kids ready for bed, knowing that we'd be checking out in just nine or ten hours.
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The Thunder Horses Mercantile had a pretty decent cafe along with some fascinating hunting goods on display. Between some slow service at breakfast and dawdling in the store we got a later start on our second visit to Bryce Canyon than I had hoped. As recommended by the guidebook we drove to Yovimpa Point at the end of the road and then worked our way backwards through the various viewpoints. Along the way we saw incredible natural formations such as a giant goblet hoodoo and the Natural Bridge.
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As advertised, the best views of the Amphitheater came at Inspiration Point. From here we had a sideways view of the basin filled with endless rows of hoodoos, a dizzying canvas of wavering lines and bands of color. The location lived up to its name in every way.
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Eventually we ended up at Sunrise Point where we planned to descend to the base for the second time, this time via the Queen's Garden Trail. We were all kitted out now in our hiking outfits and better prepared to tackle the trail than we had been the day before. The trail had beautiful views over the park and got us close to some amazing formations, but it also had some frightening drop-offs that we hadn't needed to worry about on the Navajo Loop the previous day. It's pretty difficult to enjoy a hike when I'm completely focused on spotting upcoming threats to life and limb and trying to herd three kids away from them. Once we reached a particularly uncomfortable series of drops which appeared on alternating sides of the trail I had had enough and we decided it was best to head back to the trailhead. At this point we'd already seen Bryce from every possible angle and another hour of walking through the basin probably wasn't going to add very much, so we returned to the car and got ourselves on the road to Lake Powell.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 14:23 Archived in USA Tagged road_trip family_travel tony_friedman family_travel_blog panguitch boulder_utah Comments (0)

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