A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about friedman

This is the Place: Ogden and Snowbasin


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

Choosing a ski resort near Salt Lake City was a real headache. There were several to choose from and they varied substantially in terms of cost, altitude, and suitability for beginning skiers. The most well known resort was Park City, which boasted the largest ski area in the United States and a reputation for catering to the rich and famous. Once I saw that the price for a child's full day ski lesson was four hundred dollars I quickly eliminated Park City from consideration. I had considered $150 to be quite high at Steamboat two years earlier and the only people I could imagine spending $400 were those who were so wealthy that they didn't even think about line items that were under four figures. Those people probably only skied at resorts with worldwide recognition like Park City or Aspen, but bragging rights weren't part of my calculations. I just wanted a good experience for the kids at a price that wouldn't leave me feeling like a sucker.

There was a cluster of smaller ski resorts in the Wasatch Range between Salt Lake City and Park City, and each had some advantages and disadvantages. Brighton had a great deal for families with free lift tickets for kids under ten, but the base altitude was 8700 feet and the summit was at 10500. This wasn't as bad as some of the Colorado resorts but I'm extremely risk averse when it comes to the kids and I didn't want to take any chance of them feeling sick and not being able to enjoy their time on the slopes. I'd chosen Steamboat for our first trip specifically because of the base elevation of 6900 but all of the kids had felt ill at one point or another as we traversed higher altitudes on the road to the resort. I was the only one who had gone to the summit of at 10000 feet and while I hadn't felt sick, I got winded very quickly trying to make my way down the more difficult slopes. Deer Valley was lower altitude and had the added bonus of prohibiting snowboarders, but it was also extremely expensive unless we took a limited option which only provided access to beginner slopes. It might have worked perfectly but it could also have significantly limited the kids progress. I was still weighing the options when I came across a mention of ski resorts near Salt Lake City's northern neighbor, Ogden. There were actually three choices in the mountains east of Ogden and the most promising seemed to be Snowbasin, the closest one to Salt Lake City. The lessons were particularly reasonably priced compared to the SLC reports. My only concern was that there seemed to be a relative paucity of beginner slopes at Snowbasin which might mean that Mei Ling and the kids would be skiing the same terrain over and over again. Ultimately I decided that it was more important to focus on technique than variety on the green slopes and we committed to Snowbasin.

It was an hour's drive from Park City to the small, isolated subdivision outside of Ogden where our Airbnb was located. There's no accommodation at the ski resort so this was the closest option and I think we were lucky to find it. The basement of a good-sized brick house had been converted into an Alpine-style lodge with wood beams, shaggy carpeting, and a gas-powered fireplace. It was the kind of place you might have seen a family base themselves for a ski vacation on a TV sitcom, totally classic. In the morning we admired the view of the snow-covered Northern Wasatch Mountains behind the houses on the opposite side of the cul-de-sac.
large_IMG_3431.jpglarge_c7f53f50-deb8-11ec-8418-55826b75b2ac.JPG

For our first day on the slopes everyone but me was enrolled in lessons. It was a much easier process to get things going that it had been at the Steamboat and Killington mega resorts on our previous ski trips. For the first time we had rented our equipment from the resort and everything fit perfectly based on the information I'd provided online. Hardly anyone else was competing for the attention of the staff and we got everyone connected to their ski instructors and on the slopes quickly. I could probably have benefited from lessons myself but at this point I'm more focused on staying in one piece than skiing faster or on more challenging terrain. I expect within a couple of years the kids will pass me by and I'm perfectly happy with that. Instead I used that first day to familiarize myself with the trails so that hopefully I'd be able to guide my family to the safest routes on the last two days. Snowbasin has a fairly simple layout with a gondola that leads from the base lodge straight up to the top of the mountain. There were no lines at all and I had a relaxing ten minute ride up to the Needles Cirque, a couple hundred feet short of the Needles Peak. From the top of the gondola there were impressive views of the stony cliffs leading up to the peak as well as the snowy panorama of the valley below.
large_IMG_8877.JPGlarge_IMG_8880.JPGlarge_IMG_8882.JPG

I didn't have much difficulty getting accustomed to skiing again. It had only been three months since our last trip and the slopes were in good shape considering how late it was in the season. Over the next few hours I explored pretty much all of the intermediate trails on Snowbasin, taking one short break to stop at the base lodge and check on the kids while they were having lunch. Mei Ling was so focused on her lesson that she didn't want to take a lunch break. The best views on the mountain were from Strawberry Peak at the southernmost edge of the resort. From here I could look west past the town of Ogden and across the Great Salt Lake all the way to the Newfoundland Mountains projecting out of the salt flats. The wind was so strong here I felt that it was trying to knock me off the ridge as I skied down a narrow path to the intermediate slope. I made a mental note that it probably wouldn't be wise to bring the family to this side even if they were ready for the blue trails.
large_IMG_8891.JPGlarge_IMG_8885.JPG

By early afternoon the temperature had climbed well into the seventies and I was just trying to kill time until the lessons were over. As I've mentioned before I'm rather indifferent about skiing and only got back into it so that the kids would learn at a young age. My main goal is to help them get better and avoid getting injured, a task I failed at miserably at Killington a few months previously when I detached my right biceps tendon trying to hold a chairlift that was about to carry Cleo back down the mountain. Fortunately I didn't need to have surgery and pretty much retained full use of my arm but I took it as a warning that skiing is a relatively dangerous sport that can change someone's life in a matter of seconds. I got another reminder of this on my very last day when the snow at the bottom of the mountain had become wet and heavy under the sun's relentless glare. A simple turn on a nearly flat stretch of the trail turned into a cartwheeling wipeout when my rear ski caught in the snow instead of following its partner. The detached skis came to rest several yards away as I slowly inventoried my body parts and found them to be intact. I resolved to be much more judicious with my speed at the bottom of the trails over the next two days.

Once the family was reunited it seemed that everyone was very happy with their lessons and their progress and we decided to proceed with our plan to ski independently for the final two days. We treated the kids to dinner at a Japanese hibachi restaurant called Kobe Teppanyaki which was in the outskirts of Ogden not far from our Airbnb. It was a bit of a drop in cuisine from the previous two nights but it was worth it to see the kids. astounded expressions as the chef executed his repertoire of tricks at the grill.
large_4523c8b0-e437-11ec-b6e8-25003fc3382b.JPG

On our second day at Snowbasin all of us except Spenser took the Needles gondola to the top with some trepidation. I was pretty comfortable with the route I had chosen which involved taking the narrow traverses that connected the easier intermediate slopes. Cleo was the strongest of the three so I let her forge ahead while I hung back with Mei Ling and Ian to steer them away from the outer edge of the traverse. If they had gone over the edge it wouldn't have been like going over a cliff but it was still a fairly steep incline of ungroomed snow. When I looked back down the traverse Cleo was nowhere in sight so I took off after her fairly quickly. I reached the intersection of the traverse and the advanced intermediate slope without having spotted her and tried to figure out which way she had gone. The traverse continued on the other side of the trail but it seemed unlikely she had seen it and gone all the way across without me. Finally I heard her calling and realized she had diverted onto the intermediate slope and was about a hundred yards downhill, way to far for her to clamber back up to where I was. There really was nothing else to do at this point but for the three of us to join her. The problem was that the place where she was now stopped was the beginning of Sweet Revenge, the steepest intermediate trail I had encountered on the previous day's exploration and the slope I was specifically trying to avoid by taking the traverses. We grouped together at the top and peeked over the lip at an incline which looked even steeper than I remembered. Mei Ling and the kids were terrified but there wasn't really any choice except to go down. I kept everyone together and coached them to make the widest possible serpentine descent with sharp turns to avoid gaining too much downhill speed. For the most part it worked although Ian had some trouble completing his turns and had to wipe himself out to avoid losing control of his descent. It was rather painful the first time but the trial by fire was effective and for the rest of the day there wasn't any terrain that could inspire fear in the kids. We even went down Sweet Revenge three or four more times and each time it seemed less steep than the last.
large_IMG_3486.jpglarge_IMG_3575.jpglarge_94c28730-e43c-11ec-a4b6-298b0c2cb1c1.JPG

Ogden doesn't attract many tourists for anything except the great outdoors, but it did have one area that I was interested in exploring. Historic 25th Street is a restored main street at the center of downtown Ogden that captures some of the style that characterized the city when it was an important junction on the Transcontinental Railroad in the mid 19th century. We did feel as though we'd entered a time warp, perhaps not so much traveling back to the 19th century but possibly the mid 20th. The street was lined with quirky bars, small restaurants, and a surprising diversity of craft stores and galleries. As we've become accustomed to in Utah, an imposing stretch of mountains loomed majestically at the far end of the street. I realized I was probably looking at the very peaks from which I had gazed down upon the city the previous day.
large_IMG_8910.JPGlarge_IMG_8918.JPGlarge_IMG_8917.JPG

After walking up and down the entire length of the street we stopped in one particularly intriguing gallery where an artist was sketching in charcoal. She kindly stopped her work to explain the process to the kids while Mei Ling and I browsed the characteristic Western paintings of landscapes and wildlife. Afterwards we stopped by an interesting restaurant we had noticed earlier with a sidewalk patio. It had filled up considerably since we had first passed by and at first the hostess couldn't seat us. As we stood outside calling the the restaurants on my Ogden list trying to find an open table on Friday evening she took mercy on us and found us a great table with bench seats right up against the bar. It was very fortunate we hadn't walked away because Table 25 was an awesome find both for the quality and diversity of the food as well as the atmosphere. The restaurant was less than a year old, another sign of the revitalization of this fascinating street.
large_IMG_3519.jpglarge_IMG_8919.JPG

On our final day of skiing Mei Ling and the kids were more confident and familiar with the terrain so I worked with them on their technique, particularly on keeping their skis parallel and controlling their speed with turning rather than by snowplowing. Ian seemed to have become temporarily fearless and a couple of times he had spectacular wipeouts blasting downhill after failing to complete his turns. I found this so terrifying that I had to threaten to ground him at the base if he couldn't keep his skiing under control. He managed to straighten things out and for the rest of the day we explored the remaining territory of the resort. We even made it over to Strawberry Peak although the snow wasn't as good quality there as it had been when I went there alone on the first day. We had lunch at the Needles Lodge near the top of the mountain for a change. The view was good but the food choices weren't as good as at the base lodge. By afternoon the temperature was close to 80 degrees and we had had to deposit our ski parkas at the base. We saw some people even skiing bare chested. The snow was pretty heavy at the bottom of the mountain and the kids didn't argue when I suggested we call it a day with an hour to go before the lifts closed. We picked up Spenser who had really enjoyed his three days of ski school and made a lot of progress towards joining us on the intermediate slopes. Over the three days my family had really impressed me, especially Mei Ling who had to overcome a fear of heights as well as the usual fear of falling that everyone has when skiing. I was really glad that I had chosen to introduce the kids to this exciting sport, even if I personally would rather be spending winter vacations in warm climates.
large_IMG_8904a.jpeglarge_b0471950-e51b-11ec-bb08-5bca009e015c.JPG

Even though we were more experienced three days was still the perfect amount of time to be on the slopes. I think we were all relieved not to have to go back for a fourth day. Instead we piled back into the car and drove back to Salt Lake City where we checked into our next Airbnb, a dated apartment with a walk-through bedroom and cracked porcelain bathroom fixtures. From there we hopped back on the interstate and drove to the eastern edge of the city where small roads snaked off into the canyons among the Wasatch Mountains. Above us in the hills were rows of low-profile homes that were hardly distinguishable from the surrounding landscape in the dusk. We took the turn onto Mill Creek Canyon Road which soon felt as isolated as any mountain road hundreds of miles from the nearest city. As the darkness deepened I started to wonder if the restaurant we were seeking could possibly be located in this forsaken wilderness. Google Maps showed it a few miles ahead but was it possible that I had accidentally entered the wrong information? Perhaps we were actually headed to the Log Haven hiking trail instead of the Log Haven restaurant. We had no cell phone signal and therefore had no choice but to proceed to our destination. Soon enough we were relieved to come across a well-lighted wooden mansion that was clearly the restaurant we were seeking.
large_IMG_8935.JPG

Log Haven is a former private estate built at enormous expense by a local businessman using logs that were shipped in from Oregon and hauled up the canyon by horse-drawn wagons. The property went through several cycles of ownership and underwent its most recent restoration in 1994. It is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in Utah both for the setting and the cuisine. Once I discovered it during my pre-travel research I was sure to reserve a table well in advance. Our final dinner of the trip proved to be a worthy complement to the other extravagant dinners we had had on this short vacation. Large portions of game and local fish were served with creative vegetable sides in the western style we had grown accustomed to over the past few days. Log Haven had an exceptionally beautiful interior with a wood motif that was maintained down to the construction of the dining chairs. Few think of Utah as a marquee dining destination but I was hard pressed to think of any journey where we had eaten so well so consistently.
large_IMG_8937.JPG

Our flight back to Miami didn't depart until mid afternoon which gave us ample time to have a leisurely breakfast and do one last bit of exploration. We headed back to the Wasatch Range and this time we drove up Emigration Canyon to Ruth's Diner, a historic and beloved breakfast spot set amid the snowy foothills. Despite the remote location the large parking lot was rapidly filling with cars, making me thankful we had pushed ourselves into an early departure from the Airbnb. We had a hearty and filling traditional American breakfast to prepare us for the arduous trek back to Miami. As we left we saw that a substantial line of prospective customers had already formed outside.
large_IMG_8939.JPG

I had spotted a viewpoint on Google Maps so we drove along the canyon road a few miles further until it ascended a hill with a couple of hairpin loops. We parked in the lookout and gazed over the reservoir and the furrowed hills beyond. On the opposite side of the road was a dirt path that ascended to the top of the hill. From here we had even better views of the mountains and some small clusters of mansions that nearly blended into the countryside. We gazed around and bid farewell to Salt Lake City for the second time in a year.
large_41e61c50-e6c8-11ec-8ed9-51d59ba4c0db.JPGlarge_IMG_8948.JPG

Our flight home also required a connection but we didn't have the nerve-wracking deviation from the scheduled route that had complicated our outward itinerary. As we flew from the area I craned my neck painfully for one last look behind the wing at the densely populated valley and the vast, surreal lake that gives Salt Lake City its name. I had a strong feeling that this visit wouldn't be our last.
large_IMG_8958.JPG

Posted by zzlangerhans 01:11 Archived in USA Tagged road_trip skiing utah family_travel salt_lake_city friedman tony_friedman family_travel_blog Comments (0)

Waterfalls and Glaciers: Geldingadalur Volcano & conclusion


View Iceland 2021 on zzlangerhans's travel map.

Having been originally settled only a thousand years ago, Iceland does not have a long and complex cultural history compared to continental Europe or Asia. The most fascinating story of Iceland is in the physical birth of the country itself about sixty million years ago when mantle plumes uncovered by the separation of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates spewed vast quantities of lava onto the ocean floor. The lava eventually rose to sea level to form a large island and the volcanic activity generated by those same plumes continues to shape the coastline and the interior of Iceland to the present day. Virtually every piece of rock in Iceland is of volcanic origin, mostly various forms of basalt. Not long after Iceland made its appearance at the ocean surface another story began to write itself. This was the story of living things, a green wave that transformed the island from shades of black and grey to patchworks of lichen, carpets of thick moss, valleys of low-lying plants, and even birch forests. Although most of the trees were destroyed by the original Norse colonists the greenery of Iceland remains just as remarkable as its geology. However, the ancient tale that Iceland and Greenland were given their oxymoronic names to confuse pirates is probably an urban legend. Although the origin of the term Iceland is uncertain, the country is most likely to have been named for the glaciers and frozen fjords that the original settlers first came across when they arrived from Norway.

Over two weeks in Iceland we had witnessed countless manifestations of Iceland's diverse and changing geology, from glaciers and canyons to thermal pools and geysers. While many of these places are in rapid evolution from a geologic perspective one can be relatively certain that they won't disappear between one year and the next. On our last day in Iceland we had an opportunity to have an incredible experience that might only occur once in a lifetime, a hike within a few hundred meters of an erupting volcano. The eruption of Geldingadalur, also known as Fagradalsfjall, began in March 2021 after a series of minor earthquakes. It was the first volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula in eight hundred years. Unlike the typical explosive volcanic eruption like the famous ones at Pompeii or Mount St. Helens this was an effusion of lava from a magma dike that had extended to the surface. It wasn't spectacular enough to get much attention on a global scale but it was also perfectly safe to get within a close distance of the main cone and the lava flow. We had seen one of the crowded parking lots from which people were embarking on the hike to the lava when touring the peninsula on our first day in Iceland. My research hadn't given me a very clear picture of what that hike would be like or what exactly we could expect to see at the end, but we had a time slot open on that final afternoon and the weather was good so we decided to head to the beginning of the trail and see what came of it.
large_69666280-8cf0-11ec-96d3-c5abb397b42c.png

From the parking area we could see a line of people snaking up a trail that went up to the top of a tall hill that was almost barren of vegetation. Although we were comfortable in our hoodies I insisted on packing the winter parkas, knowing how quickly the wind and temperature could change. As we set off I decided to intercept a small group of returning hikers to glean more information about what to expect from the journey. One member of the group was practically bouncing with exhilaration. He told us that there would be three hills, each one taller and steeper than the last, and that even if we thought we had achieved an adequate view of the volcano we should keep going because the next overlook would be an order of magnitude better. He kept on repeating that it was a life-changing experience and was so effusive that I eventually had to detach myself politely from his enthusiastic recapitulation. It was a relief to learn that we wouldn't be disappointed in our experience that day as I had read that on some days the lava didn't seem to be flowing at all.

Just as we had been promised we could already see the cone and the lava flow once we reached the top of the first hill. It was an amazing sight and more than I had expected as I would have been satisfied with just a trickle of lava. The wind was much stronger at the top and the temperature had begun dropping as well so I was grateful for my decision to bring the heavy coats. We could see a long walk ahead of us along the ridge to the base of the second hill and there's a good chance we would have turned back here if not for that chance encounter with the exuberant returnee. Given what he had told us we had no choice but to keep going.
large_IMG_8060.JPGlarge_IMG_8045.JPG

The view from the crest of the second hill was similar to the first but a little closer and more intense. I was so focused on watching the bursts and waves of lava flowing over the sides of the cone that I didn't really pay much attention to the third hill until we were almost at its base. This was a much steeper climb than the prior two hills and the trail switched from a straight line to a series of switchbacks. Even with that modification it was very difficult to get purchase on the muddy slope and I had to teach the kids to brace their feet against the rocks that were embedded in the mud. Even so we were constantly slipping and our boots and pants legs became caked in mud. The temperature continued to drop so that the wind chilled us even through the winter coats. The struggle to get to the top of the final hill seemed interminable but eventually we made it and had an absolutely stupendous view of the cone from the shortest distance possible. The sight of the glowing red lava sloshing around and overflowing from the cone was hypnotizing especially with the knowledge that just a splash of that molten rock would be enough to incinerate us. Overhead a helicopter circled precariously through the plume of smoke that emanated from the cone. I had given some thought to this ultra-expensive way of seeing the eruption but learned there was a weeks-long waiting list despite the prodigious cost. At this point I was very glad we'd had no choice but to do things the hard way as the whole experience had been quite rewarding.
large_IMG_8059.JPGlarge_IMG_8051.JPGlarge_IMG_20210821_165941.jpg

Once I was sure we'd absorbed everything we could from watching the cone there was no choice but to return. I wasn't thrilled about retracing the whole trek but at least there would be more downhill than up this time. When we got to the bottom of the third hill we saw that several people had clambered down the side of the ridge and were standing at the edge of the recently solidified lava flow. This was quite far away from the flowing red lava and didn't seem particularly unsafe so we decided to get a closer look as well. This was the lowest section of the ridge and it was easy to get down at this point. The fresh lava was truly remarkable, a substance with a shape and texture I had never experienced before. At the bottom it looked like congealed black mud but was dry and hard to the touch. This seemed to be lava that had flowed underneath an older upper layer which had cracked and fragmented and resembled the mature lava fields we had seen except without a speck of vegetation. I was nervous about climbing on top of the lava, knowing that there was molten rock flowing underneath the benign-appearing upper layer, but it seemed unlikely that it extended all the way to the edge. Others were venturing out much further and I hoped they wouldn't find out the hard way that mother nature can be very unforgiving.
large_IMG_8103.JPGlarge_IMG_8070.JPG

My instinct was to climb back up to the ridge and return to the car the same way we had come. It wasn't very exciting but at least we knew exactly how long it would take for us to get to the car and we did have a dinner reservation in Keflavik although we still had plenty of time. On the other hand Mei Ling wanted to follow the lava trail along the bottom of the ridge. I had some misgivings because I wasn't sure exactly where that route would take us but she was insistent and I gave in. At first this seemed like it had been the right choice because we got a much better look at the river of glowing red lava from the lower level.
large_IMG_8095.JPGlarge_IMG_8099.JPGlarge_IMG_8104.JPG

As we made our way along the base of the ridge some uncomfortable developments began to take place. The route continued to progress downward while the ridge next to us became taller and taller. The ground became more slippery and irregular and a light rain began to fall which worsened the muddiness of the ground and the coldness of the environment. It seemed that continuing to follow the lava might take us further and further away from the car and actually deposit us in a completely different parking area. From there I had no clue how we would eventually make it back to where we needed to be. I looked at the side of the ridge and while it seemed like a daunting climb it appeared doable. People were making their way along the top of the ridge and I ached to be back on a familiar path so we decided to set off up the slope. At first we did fairly well on the grassy area but as the footholds disappeared and the steepness increased parabolically we began to lose our purchase on the ground. I realized that even though the top was temptingly close the climb was only going to get more treacherous and would ultimately put us in serious danger of injury if we continued. Regretfully I made the decision to turn around and descend back to the trail down by the lava. The thought of returning all the way to the spot where we had originally left the ridge was unbearable so there was no choice except to continue onward and hope for the best.
large_IMG_8094.JPG

For the next three quarters of an hour we straggled along the muddy path under the cold rain. I have to give credit to the kids for continuing onward although they frequently slipped and were obviously suffering. We helped them as much as we could and Mei Ling eventually put Spenser on her back. The other two were just way too big to be carried. Finally with an enormous sense of relief I could see that up ahead the trail led to a flat area across from which was the base of the first hill we had climbed. We were going to get back to our car after all. We were all totally muddy, chilled, and exhausted but I knew we had completed a once-in-a-lifetime experience none of us would ever forget. Not only had we seen an erupting volcano but we had done it the hard way with blisters and scrapes to show for it. Even though we technically weren't allowed to take any souvenirs I did pocket three tiny fragments of that fresh spongy jet black lava for the kids as a memento of their enormous accomplishment that day.

Thanks to the long detour and our failed attempt to scale the ridge we had barely enough time to make our dinner reservation. We piled into the car without even changing and raced down the peninsula as fast as I dared. When we arrived at the hotel restaurant it was still raining and I stopped under the hotel canopy so Mei Ling could bundle the kids inside. I parked across the street and realized my muddy hiking pants and boots were completely unacceptable. I changed into jeans and shoes in the rain next to the car, way past caring about what passing drivers might have thought. I needn't have worried as the dreary wet street was devoid of traffic. Mei Ling had already ordered once I finally made it inside. I saw the kids were also way too muddy for an upscale hotel restaurant so I returned to the car and unpacked clean pants and shoes for each of them as well. I shuttled them individually to the restroom and got them changed. It was a process but it was the last time we would be dealing with the consequences of Iceland's unpredictable terrain and capricious weather. Dinner was the typical underwhelming presentation of old standards we had become accustomed to with a tasty sweet reward for the kids at the end.
large_IMG_8106.JPG

Our final night in Iceland was spent in a grungy motel in the colorless town of Keflavik. There was one final formidable obstacle to overcome, one that we had absolutely no control over. Living in Florida I'm used to keeping a watchful eye on the paths of hurricanes during the summer but ironically the one that was presenting a problem for us now wouldn't even have been on my radar at any other time. Hurricane Henri had started out in the mid-Atlantic, nowhere near Florida, but was projected to make a direct impact on Boston right about the time that our plane would be arriving there. It would be the first hurricane to hit Boston in thirty years which left me feeling quite unlucky even though we'd had plenty of good luck so far on the trip. I had no idea if our flight would even take off so I was constantly refreshing the hurricane tracker as well as the airline site to see if we would find ourselves spending an extra day or two in Iceland. When I awoke at dawn to make sure everything was packed and prepared I saw that the hurricane's impact had been pushed back a couple of hours which gave us a much better chance of arriving in the US as scheduled. Our flight from Boston to Miami was another matter entirely but at least we wouldn't have to worry about being stranded in a foreign country with expired COVID tests.

Mei Ling was unperturbed about the probable disruption to our return, perhaps because there was nothing we could do about it anyway. We returned our car smoothly and the agent failed to notice a scraped bumper on her cursory inspection. The kids got a thrill after boarding when the flight attendants recognized them from the volcano hike and got them some special treats for their toughness. Our flight took off as scheduled and upon landing in Boston we learned that the hurricane had made a last minute turn inland which had caused it to fall apart fairly quickly. It seemed the weather was no longer a threat and we had another uncomplicated flight on the domestic leg. It was a final stroke of good fortune in a trip that had seen several potential disasters culminate in miraculous positive outcomes. Being back in Miami was quite disorienting at first because over two weeks in Iceland it had begun to seem like we had always been there and our previous life in Miami had been a dream. Now we were looking at Iceland in the rear view mirror and that experience seemed completely unreal. Had we really walked on a glacier, rafted a turbulent and freezing river, and gazed upon an erupting volcano or had it been some kind of wild virtual reality experience? I couldn't really compare this two week journey to our month-long road trips in continental Europe but it seemed like this might have been our greatest short trip yet. The only one that might have been comparable was our tour of Sicily four years previously. There weren't enough memorable meals to rank them but the outdoor experiences more than made up for the lack of culinary pleasures.

10. Ásbyrgi Canyon
9. Reynisfjara black sand beach
8. Rauðhólar red hills
7. Downtown Reykjavik
6. Rafting on the West Glacial River
5. Fjallsjökull glacier walk
4. Snaefellsnes
3. Eldfell crater hike on Vestmannaeyjar
2. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
1. Geldingalur volcano

I chose these ten out of at least sixty individual outdoor sights and adventures that we had in Iceland, a stunning number for a trip just two weeks long. Even though we managed to circle the entire country I know we missed many amazing places between lack of time, lack of knowledge, and lack of courage. Will we be back? I certainly hope so, but probably not until the kids are all in their teens and ready to tackle the more challenging exploration of the interior. I don't know if we'll ever be up to doing the famous multi-day hikes but I would certainly love to see places like Askja and Þórsmörk. Of course there's so much of the world left to see it's really hard to look that far into the future. I feel that between Iceland and the incredible road trip we took in the American Southwest immediately beforehand our family made enormous progress in terms of our ability to explore and appreciate the natural world along with the cities and restaurants that typically form the backbone of our trips. That opens up an entire new dimension of travel for us both in Europe and in the developing world.

Posted by zzlangerhans 17:13 Archived in Iceland Tagged road_trip family_travel travel_blog friedman tony_friedman family_travel_blog fagradalsfjall Comments (0)

Waterfalls and Glaciers: Blönduós and Húsafell


View Iceland 2021 on zzlangerhans's travel map.

large_e0c4ddd0-5040-11ec-b17e-59bea39f6b26.png

My kids had never been river rafting before this summer, and here we were on our way to do it for the third time. I had carefully planned these adventures to begin as mildly as possible and slowly progress in difficulty once I was able to see how they managed the excitement. The first trip in Utah had been more like a float and they had enjoyed the second which had some light grade II rapids. My understanding was that we would be in for some grade III rapids today on Vestari-Jökulsá, the West Glacial River. The fact that they allowed six year olds on the raft allayed my nervousness to some degree but I still wondered if I was really making the best judgment of risk versus reward in scheduling this activity.

The stretch of Ring Road from Akureyri to Varmahlíð had an eerie beauty that morning. A low fog obscured the mountaintops and merged into the milky sky. At times it seemed that we were about to drive into pea soup and I steeled myself for a near-total loss of visibility but the mists always seemed to clear at the last moment. Fortunately for my nerves there was almost no traffic in that rather unpopular region of Iceland in the early morning, despite the fact that we were on the main road that circled the country.
large_IMG_20210817_153055a.JPGlarge_IMG_20210817_082240.jpg

When we arrived at the headquarters it was clear this was a more serious endeavor than the rafting trips we had taken in Utah. Our guide took a lot more time to give us instructions and informed us we would be wearing dry suits and helmets. The dry suits were a particular challenge to struggle into and at the end the kids looked like a band of Oompah Loompahs that had escaped from the chocolate factory. A short bus ride brought us to the departure point and as soon as I saw the river I wondered if I'd made a terrible mistake. The rafts were on the bank of a river that was completely white with churning foam and the water seemed to be moving as fast as any I had ever seen. It almost reminded me of the waters of Jökulsá á Fjöllum just before they went off the edge of Dettifoss, not the most comforting memory. I was relieved to learn that the guide who had given instructions to the whole group would be navigating our raft as he seemed to be the most confident and experienced. As soon as I had a chance to talk to him privately I made it clear that I didn't see any of my kids getting pitched into the water as part of the adventure. I wanted him to do whatever he needed to do to keep us all in the raft. He seemed to get what I was saying and told me not to worry. They'd had plenty of young kids on the rafting trips before and never had any serious problems.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that we all ended up surviving the rafting trip. The water was fast and the rapids were certainly rougher than anything we had experienced, but we never came close to getting tossed out. I did notice our guide steering us away from the most turbulent sections but fortunately our kids weren't old enough to notice they were getting a softer treatment. The kids also didn't seem to mind when I declined the offer to jump in the water although the Icelandic teenagers on the raft ahead of us seemed to enjoy it. I was very relieved when it was over and everyone had enjoyed themselves without injury. We had lunch in a cafe attached to a service station in Varmahlíð, which isn't as bad as it sounds. In fact this was our third service station lunch in Iceland and the offerings can be quite varied and substantial. As Varmahlíð was barely large enough to qualify as a village the cafe was also our only option.

Swimming is something of a national pastime in Iceland thanks to all the geothermal activity that allows natural heating of pools. Some of the most small and remote towns have the most renowned sundlaugs, or swimming pools. The pool in the miniscule village of Hofsós is often rated as the top swimming pool in all of Iceland. I thought this reputation was worth checking out and it's never hard to convince the kids to go to a swimming pool. We drove about a half hour north partway up the western coast of the Tröllaskagi Peninsula to Hofsós, a typical Icelandic coastal village with a blue-roofed church and a backdrop of mountains shrouded in mist. The unique feature of the pool was its infinity design but a rim of land around the far edge detracted from the illusion of continuity with the fjord beyond. I think the kids would have preferred slides like the ones in Höfn but they still enjoyed themselves.
large_IMG_7758.JPGlarge_IMG_20210817_162115a.JPG

A fringe benefit of the detour to Hofsós was that we got to drive Highway 75 which traversed the innermost point of Skagafjörður. The landscape is always more beautiful closer to the water. We crossed the base of the Skagi Peninsula before arriving in Blönduós, a tiny town that I had chosen mainly for a restaurant owned by two well-known Icelandic chefs. I had selected our guesthouse despite my concerns about a community bathroom but when we arrived it was clear that the only bedroom we weren't using would be vacant that night. Being the only occupants made the guesthouse more like an inexpensive, oversized Airbnb with substantial common areas. The COVID precautions that were prominently displayed seemed somewhat eccentric. Avoid contact with stray animals in market areas in Iceland?
large_IMG_7766.JPGlarge_IMG_7767.JPG

The coastal town was bisected by the mouth of a river and most of the hotels were packed into a quaint little corner on the southern bank of the river right next to the fjord. I hadn't even realized that our guesthouse was next door to the restaurant so we only had a two minute walk to dinner. Our hotel was adjacent to a classic little Icelandic church and a horse pasture.
large_IMG_7763.JPGlarge_IMG_20210817_184905.jpg

Brimslóð Atelier seemed like a prime candidate to provide our first exceptional dinner in Iceland. The owners have published several cookbooks and are among the most well-known chefs in Iceland. The particular attraction of the restaurant is that the set menu provides locally sourced dishes with the atmosphere of a home-cooked meal. The kitchen was indeed continuous with the dining area although largely blocked from visibility by cupboards, and with two long communal tables there was actually more seating than some of the other restaurants we had visited. We proved unlucky with the evening menu as the appetizer was tomato soup and the entree was Arctic char, a dish we had seen on almost every dinner menu and were trying to avoid. The fish was well-prepared and tasty but I couldn't describe the dinner as a memorable experience from a culinary perspective.
large_IMG_7762.JPGlarge_IMG_7761.JPG

Our Ice Cave Tour in Húsafell didn't start until three so we needed something to do in the morning. Unlike in southern Iceland, where there were always enough waterfalls and canyons and Ring Road sights to fill an entire day, exciting activities in northern Iceland were somewhat sparse. I couldn't find anything worth seeing en route so it looked like we'd have to hang out in Blönduós for a bit. We went back to Brimslóð Atelier for breakfast which we oddly found more enjoyable than the previous night's dinner. It seemed Blönduós had a decent swimming pool with slides like the one in Höfn. The kids had just been swimming the previous day in Hofsós but there hadn't been any slides so they jumped at the chance to go again. As it turned out the slides were even longer than the ones in Höfn so they had a blast. I was going crazy trying to keep track of all three of them because they kept stopping in the middle of the tube and I was imagining one of them getting stuck on something inside. Fortunately there was no one else around to hear me frantically yelling into the tube every two minutes. The most amazing part is that entry was completely free for the kids and our only expense was renting a towel to dry them off with. In the lobby they were selling ice cream but I found the brand name somewhat unappetizing.
large_IMG_7776.JPGlarge_IMG_7775.JPGlarge_IMG_7777.JPG

We'd already seen what passed for an old town in Blönduós by walking a few steps from the guesthouse to the restaurant. The only other distinguishing feature of the town was the uninhabited river island of Hrútey which is protected for nesting birds. It is open for hiking all year except for the spring. A footbridge connects the island to the northern bank of the river.
large_IMG_7778.JPGlarge_IMG_7780.JPG

When we arrived we discovered that there was an avant garde installation by an Icelandic artist called Shoplifter on the island. Colorful tufts and towers of synthetic fiber were strategically placed close to the path that circled the island. Our walk quickly turned into a competition between the kids for who could be the first to spot the next composition. Some were obvious but others were hidden behind other features of the landscape. Our progress was regularly slowed by the profusion of wild blueberry bushes that surrounded us. We were so entranced with the island that we almost forgot our itinerary and had to rush through the final leg of the path to stay on schedule.
large_IMG_7795.JPGlarge_IMG_7788a.JPG
large_IMG_7792a.JPG

The two hour drive to Húsafell was fairly bland relative to the scenery we had seen on the southern coast and the wild northeast. Nevertheless we had some pleasant views of fields dotted with wrapped hay bales and occasional clusters of Icelandic horses. We drove as quickly as we dared given Iceland's strict photo-enforced speed limits and arrived at the departure site of our next tour in sufficient time to wolf down a quick lunch before rushing to the bus.
large_IMG_20210818_134543.jpglarge_IMG_20210818_123448.jpg

One of the few disadvantages of visiting Iceland in the summer is that the natural ice caves that form under the glaciers every winter are too unstable to visit. The next best thing is the man-made ice cave that was built under the glacier Langjökull in 2015. The bus drove us to the edge of the glacier, Iceland's second largest, where we were outfitted in waterproof outfits and boots. A specialized glacier truck then drove us over the icy surface for forty minutes until we reached the mouth of the tunnel. We had seen plenty of desolate volcanic landscapes in Iceland but this was a completely different kind of bleakness. The ash-stained ice extended around us to the horizon in every direction and once again we felt like we had taken a spaceship rather than an airplane to this singular country.
large_IMG_1778.JPGlarge_IMG_20210818_172905.jpglarge_IMG_7802.JPG

The entrance to the tunnel was like the open mouth of some giant glacial worm. We quickly reached a chamber where we were provided with crampons to give us footing on the wet ice of the tunnel floor. For the next hour or so we gingerly plodded through a network of neat rectangular tunnels with glistening, lumpy white walls. We occasionally stopped at points of interest such as illuminated chambers, a bottomless hole, and streams of meltwater which could be caught and drunk from a bottle. It was somewhat interesting and fun for the kids but probably not comparable to the beauty of a natural ice cave. At the end we clambered back into the glacier truck and reversed the process until we were back at the departure point in Húsafell.
large_4c632de0-5040-11ec-b17e-59bea39f6b26.JPGlarge_IMG_20210818_165828.jpg

We had just enough time to squeeze in a visit to Hraunfossar on the way out of Húsafell. The unique feature of this wide waterfall is that it emerges from below the edge of the enormous Hallmundarhraun lava field when it reaches the Hvítá River. The water originates in the nearby glacier but is completely invisible until it reaches the river because it flows underneath the pahoehoe lava. A walking path provides different perspectives on the waterfall and eventually leads to another waterfall named Barnafoss where the river churns through a twisting passage of sculptured basalt.
large_IMG_7806.JPGlarge_IMG_7819.JPGlarge_5fe88fa0-505d-11ec-a72d-63a23d2d45e1.JPGlarge_IMG_7820.JPG

Soon we were gazing once again at marshmallow haystacks dotting green fields on the forty-five minute leg west to Borgarnes, where we would be having dinner and spending the night. It felt good to be back on our normal hectic schedule after slowing down our pace on the northern coast. From the looks of things we were going to be pretty busy for the next three days as well.
large_IMG_20210818_193030.jpg

Posted by zzlangerhans 10:20 Archived in Iceland Tagged road_trip family_travel travel_blog friedman 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.

large_3da69310-8f82-11ec-8b9e-b9bcefa276f8.png

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.
large_IMG_0413.JPGlarge_IMG_6993.jpgIMG_6985.jpg

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.
large_IMG_6989.jpglarge_IMG_6991.jpg

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.
large_IMG_6994.jpglarge_IMG_6998.jpglarge_IMG_7004.jpg

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.
large_IMG_7005.jpglarge_54c52e90-89b4-11ec-a8cf-2b17218eba8e.jpglarge_IMG_20210711_100039.jpg

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.
large_IMG_7011.jpglarge_IMG_7009.jpglarge_IMG_7010.jpg

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.
large_IMG_7013.jpglarge_IMG_7016.jpglarge_WLYT6664.JPG

.
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.
large_IMG_20210711_130343.jpglarge_IMG_0460.JPG

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.
large_37414e70-8f82-11ec-8b9e-b9bcefa276f8.pnglarge_IMG_20210711_134313.jpglarge_IMG_20210711_134430.jpg

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.
large_IMG_7027a.JPG

.
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.
large_IMG_7030a.JPG

.
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.

.
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: The Low Road to Taos


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

large_a31a3d40-4424-11ec-9b4e-837eb6f64835.png

The highway north out of Santa Fe is a pleasant drive through dusty, brown hills studded with juniper bushes that passes by the traditional pueblos of Tesuque and Pojoaque. At Pojoaque the so-called High Road takes off into the mountains but we held our course on the Low Road until we arrived at Vivác Winery, located right next to the highway. We had never known there were wineries in New Mexico, but apparently the Spaniards began planting vineyards soon after they colonized the region in the early seventeenth century. The modern era of winemaking in New Mexico began with the discovery that hybrids of French and American cultivars grew well in the dry, high altitude environment. Despite the proximity to the cars racing by it was a very idyllic place with rows of orderly grapevines and heavy bunches of unripe grapes hanging from a wooden trellis. They grew a surprising variety of red wine grapes, many of which were totally unfamiliar to us, and we shared a flight of single varietal wines and sampled the tantalizingly beautiful chocolates that were made on site.
large_IMG_6463.jpglarge_IMG_6462.jpglarge_IMG_9058.JPG

We took a short detour from the Low Road down Highway 75 to the tiny town of Dixon which was reputed to have a thriving artist scene. We found what seemed to be a completely deserted ghost town with a couple of closed galleries and a row of beautiful adobe buildings. We strolled around the dry, gravelly streets for a while and saw no signs of human life whatsoever.
large_ENWU0878.JPGlarge_IMG_6466.jpg

At this point it was just another half hour dive to Taos so we decided to go for it. I had scheduled a night in Taos on our original itinerary but ultimately decided that there wasn't enough of interest to merit the additional eastern detour. Now here we were going there anyway on a day trip. Although the name is legendary among ski resorts the only place of particular interest to us in the summer was Taos Pueblo, which we knew to be closed for COVID. We decided to see if we could drive by the pueblo anyway and at least see it from the outside. Taos proved to be a disappointment, seemingly an average colorless midwestern town albeit with more art galleries than one would expect. We drove around for a while hoping to find some area that was quaint or alluring but ultimately found it far less interesting than Steamboat Springs, where we had spent our only ski vacation. The access road to Taos Pueblo was closed denying us any opportunity to even get close.
large_IMG_9084.JPG

I hadn't done much research on the Taos area since I'd stricken it from our itinerary, so I scrambled to find an alternative to justify the journey as there wasn't anything in Taos that seemed worth getting out of our car for. Fortunately I stumbled on mentions of the Rio Grande Gorge and the Earthships Community, which proved to be very worthwhile destinations. The Rio Grande Gorge is a deep canyon through which the great Rio Grande flows for about fifty miles through northern New Mexico en route to Texas. The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is a steel arch bridge that is one of the highest in the US highway system, six hundred and fifty feet above the river at one of the deepest parts of the gorge. There are parking lots on either side of the bridge and it's a short walk to the midpoint with great outlooks over the narrow chasm. Just as with the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, it is hard to comprehend how such a slender ribbon of shallow water was able to carve such a ferocious trench in the earth. It provides some humbling perspective on the tiny flash of our existence on this earth when compared to the millions of years nature needs to effect real change on the landscape.
large_IMG_6472.jpglarge_IMG_6471.jpg

Just a couple miles past the bridge on Highway 64 is Earthship Biotecture, the original community of sustainable buildings that were christened Earthships by the visionary architect and founder Michael Reynolds. From the highway it appeared as though we were approaching a colony established on a distant planet, as the buildings looked like nothing else I had seen in our own world. The only thing I could compare the architecture to is the Gaudi creations of Park Güell in Barcelona, although I think the resemblance is purely accidental. The ingenious design of the buildings becomes more apparent as we approached closer on foot. The main principle of Earthship construction is that the homes should be as environmentally sustainable as possible. Towards that end they rely largely on solar and wind energy for climate control and power and on recycling of waste for building. The basic units of construction are discarded tires filled with compacted earth and walls or bricks made of recycled bottles and cans, with the gaps filled with concrete or adobe. The final result is extremely different from traditional architectural aesthetics but also very beautiful in its own way. Water conservation and sustainable organic food production are other important elements of Earthship life. While the community of sixty buildings we were now visiting was the original assemblage of structures created and inspired by Michael Reynolds, the concept has spread around the world and there are now Earthships on five continents. We had arrived too late to see the interior of the building that is open for self-tours, but we greatly enjoyed studying the whimsical and colorful exteriors. If we ever return to Taos, we'll strongly consider staying in one of the Earthships that is open for short-term rentals.
large_IMG_6478.jpglarge_IMG_9123.JPGlarge_IMG_6483.jpglarge_IMG_6476.jpg

I had planned on taking the High Road from Taos back to Chimayo but somewhere along the way Google Maps switched me back to the Low Road and by the time I realized we were off course it was too late. Instead we retraced our course on the Low Road all the way back to Española and then headed east on Highway 76. It was an interesting drive through wooded working class residential areas interspersed with the occasional art gallery. Our destination was Rancho de Chimayó, a legendary outpost of New Mexican cuisine. We already had a dinner reservation in Santa Fe but we hadn't had a real meal since the farmers market and we were starving. The restaurant occupies most of a sprawling, colorfully decorated hacienda on the outskirts of the small town. The large parking area was already filling up but we were fortunate to be early arrivals and we were shown to an outdoor table on an upper level. Mei Ling suggested I cancel our reservation in Santa Fe but I had been highly anticipating that dinner at one of the city's most recommended restaurants. Instead we restrained ourselves and ordered just enough food to assuage our hunger. We ordered modest portions of salsa and sopapillas and followed them with salad and trout. We then had to rush back to the highway to make our dinner reservation and missed our chance to see the town's other landmark, the Santuario de Chimayo church. And of course, Mei Ling was right as usual. The highly recommended tapas restaurant near the plaza proved to be barely average.
large_IMG_6486.jpglarge_IMG_6484.jpg

Posted by zzlangerhans 01:47 Archived in USA Tagged taos chimayo family_travel travel_blog friedman tony_friedman family_travel_blog earthships Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 33) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 » Next