Saturday, June 27, 2015

Utah to Arizona to Utah to Arizona to Utah

We left the hotel at 9am to visit the ATM, Whole Foods and Bed, Bath and Beyond for some cash and a few last minute items.  We are finally on the road to Page AZ by 10am. There was heavy traffic from Salt Lake City to Provo and a few construction zones on I15 south of Provo. With our turn onto Utah 20 (heading toward Bryce Canyon), the traffic and construction disappeared. We passed by Bryce Canyon because we had been there in the 90's and are setting our priorities to take in new sites. Still we are not deprived of the red rock pinnacled landscape.  US 89, the route to Page, passes by Grand Staircase Escalante National Park and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Each, with their colorful red cliffs and impressive vistas, are well worth dedicated visits by Red Rock lovers (we're talking to you Steve Oliva) but we only paused for a few photo ops as we continued on to Page. 

The Red Cliffs of Grand Staircase Escalante
Along the way we experienced something totally remarkable in this day and age. There was no way to pay by CC at the gas pump and there was no need. We were indeed instructed to pump first and then go inside and pay. 

Page is home of the Glen Canyon Dam and the Lake Powell National Recreation Area. And Page is in Arizona (bordering on Utah). Hence, upon arriving at our accommodations we set our clocks back to MST. In the evening we enjoyed the sunset view over Lake Powell from the Wahweap Overlook north of the dam — a nice combination of color and shadows.

Sunset over Lake Powell
Sunset looking west from Lake Powell. Note stair-cased landscape.
Friday was a busy day. First we scheduled our tours. Then we drove a few miles to Horseshoe Bend Overlook. The views and photos were well worth the short walk even in the heat. 
Horseshoe Bend. Note: That water is roughy 900 feet down from the top of the cliffs.
Despite the increased popularity of the area, we had managed to schedule a tour of the Upper Antelope Valley Slot Canyon for noon, the best time to catch the sun's rays penetrating through the openings in the cliffs above. Note: Per Wikipedia, a slot canyon is a narrow canyon formed by the wear of water rushing through rock.It is significantly deeper than it is wide. Some slot canyons can be less than 3 feet across and more than 100 feet deep.

Our guide, Charles, was informative and good at helping folks get good photos, capturing the sun beams and the twists and turns of the rock formations
Upper Antelope Slot Canyon -- yes those are people at the base.
And that is a sun ray shining into the canyon.
The access to Upper Antelope Canyon is via a open-sided shuttle vehicle. All was fine on the route out but on the longer return route we were sandblasted by the loose sand thrown up by the vehicle.

We next toured Lower Antelope Canyon which is accessed via a walk and several ladders down from the surface. Interesting with more entrancing swirls in the rock walls, but it couldn't match the Upper Canyon with the great midday lighting. Our observation: you could likely just go to either but one is enough. In our case, we wish we had opted for kayaking in the Lake at the end of Antelope Canyon over touring the Lower Canyon. 

The top of Lower Antelope Canyon

Bill's research turned up the Blue Wine Bar as a great possibility.  However we were initially baffled in locating it. Google Maps showed us the Blue Shushi Bar but no Blue Wine Bar. We finally realized that they are indeed distinct places but share an address. The flat bread and meatballs hit the spot.  

While there, we got to talk to some locals. Specifically guy who had moved there in the 50's when his Dad came to help manage the construction of the Dam. He has certainly witnessed major changes in the area which was basically barren when they arrived. Nowadays when folks ask him "What is the lowest that you have ever seen the water?", he chuckles and reminds them he was there when is was just a river.

Saturday morning we left early (6:45) for the "Float" down the Colorado River to Horseshoe Bend. The views up the 900 feet cliffs and the petroglyphs were well worth the sacrifice of an hour of sleep. 
800ish year old petroglyphs
Upon our return we scheduled a tour of the Power Station and then walked along the bridge for views of the river, lake and dam. 

We enjoyed our lunch (a large Pizza at Strombolli's) and expect to enjoy more pizza tomorrow after our tour of Monument Valley. During lunch we chatted with a family reflecting three generations of residents (grandma age 73, dad, and daughter). Later we returned to the dam for our tour. 
Power Generators at Glen Canyon Dam
Sunday we were On the Road Again. This time to Monument Valley. We enjoyed our mid-afternoon lunch including the Navajo Fry Bread at Goulding's Lodge. (Navajo Fry Bread is made from white flour, baking powder, and warm water. The dough is deep fried to make a light and puffy bread. It is often served with stew or as a Navajo taco.) Pat had the bread straight with the green chile on the side (a recommended combo), Bill had it taco style, stuffed with ham, cheese and fixings. It was huge and apparently also good. He nearly cleaned up every crumb. After lunch we checked in and were pleased to find a very spacious room with a great view of Monument Valley.

Monument Valley is fully within the Navajo Indian Reservation. The main entrance is in Utah but the scenic loop road is mainly in Arizona. Hence we returned to Arizona again BUT this time there was no need to adjust our watches. The Navajo Reservation uses Daylight Savings Time (unlike Arizona).  

The 17 mile Valley Drive is open to anyone who pays for access to the reservation. The Deluxe Tour includes the scenic loop plus areas open only to those with Indian guides. We took the late afternoon deluxe tour. Our guide pointed out the "named" rock formations, took us to see more petroglyphs and pointed out good photo ops. Along the way we also saw Navajo homes, wild horses, and grazing cattle.

The Skyline of Monument Valley

Pat and the Left Mitten Mound
Pat's Cliche shot at John Grey Point
The Thumb of the Left Mitten looks like a guy in a top coat.
"Ear of the Wind" framed by dead tree
Women's Hogan (the Men's Hogan has a long narrow entry and a smaller round main area.)
We checked out the sunset from our room as we enjoyed our leftover Pizza from Stromboli’s in Page. We also got up early to see the sunrise...but we shouldn't have bothered. The sun rises behind the monuments so they are basically silhouetted at sunrise.
Sunset from our window.
Sunrise from our window.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Salt Lake City

Sunday morning we enjoyed the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, both in rehearsal and for their weekly broadcast from the Tabernacle. Very impressive! During the broadcast we could see the monitor showing what was being broadcast and observe how it compared to what the gantry camera located just in front of us was recording.  (There were at least 4 cameras capturing the performance from different angles.) 

Choir & Orchestra...note changing lighting effects above the organ
Later we took the tour of the flower gardens in the Temple Center. Lunch options are limited in SLC on Sunday. Shopping options have improved but the luxe City Center shopping center that neighbors the temple was closed. In any event, we found Cafe Molise nearby and enjoyed a spinach salad with a sausage and pepper panini for lunch...and being bread pudding lovers, we succumbed to having dessert and dessert wine. 

In the evening we returned to their sister property. BTG (By The Glass) to sample more wine and tapas.

Monday we drove to Park City via the Guardsman and Empire Passes...some very narrow winding roads and a many photo ops..if only there were "ops" to stop. And, yes Bill is finally talking to Pat again…he had thought that after that drive in the wine region of Croatia in 2013 that she would have known to avoid the STEEP twisty-turny routes. Yet here we were again. We survived. We fueled up (gas, food and wine) and our attitudes improved. We lunched at Bistro 412 and then strolled and shopped along the  main street. Pat found yet another irresistible shirt and deemed the visit a success. 

View enroute to Park City

The "skyline" of Historic Park City
The trip back via the highway went quickly and calmly. Later we settled in for the evening with some popcorn, blue cheese and wine.

Learning more about the Mormon beliefs and their “history” in the western hemisphere was very interesting.  We spent much of the morning in the Conference Center and North Visitor Center admiring the art picturing the history of the religion and their way of life. Who knew that the Book of Mormon is about the VERY early Mormons who came to the Americas around 2200 BC to AD 421...  We had no idea but artwork surely looked pre-Columbian, note the Jaguars, and then our host told us more about the Book of Mormon.

Mormon appealing to the natives
The Conference Center can hold 21,000 guests...which requires some massive beams and "ground-breaking" architecture. Yet they managed to add great sky lights like this. 

The roof also accommodates a huge prairie garden with large trees and natural prairie plants. The views from there are nice as well.

Lunch at the Copper Onion consisted of steak fries, blistered Shishito Peppers (YUM!), grilled asparagus and a Cuban sandwich with a delightful Cote du Rhone wine.

Blistered Shishito Peppers - we've got to figure out how to replicate this.
Later we went to the “Meet the Mormon’s” video, stories about the lives of six Mormons. Very well done. Touching but not enough so that we converted. In the evening we went back to the Tabernacle to observe the Choir as they rehearsed for their upcoming East Coast Tour.  

A busy last day in Salt Lake City started with visiting the Red Butte Garden and the adjacent Natural History Museum. The gardens were beautiful with many types of flowers and greenery. 

"Distant drums" rose.  Love the changing colors.
The museum included exhibits on local native culture, the geological history of Utah and the prehistoric animals of the area with many actual (not replica) skeletons.

And there were more papoose carriers with the latest in baby safety features.
We went to a local wannabe shopping area (Trolley Square) for lunch at a brew pub (more Amber Ale for both Pat and Bill). The trout and nachos were also quite tasty. However, the real reason for visiting this area, was to visit Whole Foods and Trader Joe's to stock up for the visits to Page AZ and Monument Valley. We also stopped at the local State Wine Store and were really impressed by the number of wines the carried from all over the world.

What Lake?  Unless you were arriving in Salt Lake City by route by I80 from the west or flying into the airport you could miss the lake entirely. We had to see the Lake. The options were a 60 mile drive to Antelope Island (north of the city) or west on I80 to the south of the Lake. We chose the latter and visited the Great Salt Lake State Marina and nearby Great Saltair for a view of the lake and to learn of it’s history.

Bill documenting the fact that there is a Great Salt Lake
Pat really wanted to visit the Kennecott's Rio Tinto Copper Mine to see the HUGE equipment mining the copper and other ores. But it isn't open to visit currently. However the marina is near the Kennecott smelter and there was a series of signs about Kennecott's process.

Can you read the sign? The smelter stack is taller than the Empire State Building  (without it's antena).
And it is the world's cleanest smelter (this ignores the detail of just how clean is the competition...)
And this is the smelter in "real life"...
As mentioned above, we learned about the history of the area. And we learned that we should have paid more attention while at the "Great Saltair", a fomer resort and now concert venue/gift store. Walking through the facility we saw a huge replica of an extremely ornate, Indian (East Indian) looking facility that appeared to be what the current resort aspired to be. In fact, it was what it had been...until high waters. And this latest incarnation is actually the third version because the second was also destroyed by nature.

The very boring looking third incarnation of a resort that was
extremely popular and far more beautiful in the 19h Century
We returned to BTG (By the Glass) for a light evening repast and sampled their new menu (Seared Scallops and Brussel Sprouts with bacon) with a bottle of Cremant (sparkling wine from Burgundy) and finished the evening with two dessert wines, a Viognier and a Tokai.

Miscellaneous Note
The weather is apparently unusually hot. In Salt Lake City it reached the low nineties, And in Page AZ (our next destination) it was forecast to be around 100F, however we got lucky and mostly it was in the 90's. Fortunately there is low humidity although it seems to be somewhat higher than the even the locals are used to. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A brief visit to Boise and onto Salt Lake City

Thursday we said good bye to Kurt and Alison and headed East from Seattle through Yakima, WA, Baker City OR and on to Boise ID. Our decision to stay in Boise was driven (pun intended) mainly by the distance but we were interested in seeing the Birds of Prey Center.

We stopped in Baker City at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center for a little history lesson on how the Northwest was populated. After more than 150 years you can still see the ruts made by the wagons. Note: The Oregon Trail begins in Independence Missouri. The trek took 6 months and of course could only be made in spring through fall. 
Pat on the Oregon Trail
Diorama at the Oregon Trail Center
We stayed at the Modern Hotel & Bar and enjoyed our smoked trout salad, gnocchi (with garlic pesto, mushrooms and spinach) and tortellini (with house pork sausage, sage and parmigiano) and a Liveli Passamante Negroamaro (from Puglia, in the heel of the Italian boot), followed by an intense chocolate pot de creme. All very tasty, Pat's gnocchi was extremely light and she proclaimed it the best she has had. (The chef is a James Beard nominee.)

Up in the morning to go see the The Peregrine Fund World Center for Birds of Prey just outside of Boise. They specialize in assisting in the rejuvenation of endangered species of raptors, including the California Condor. 

A rare Aplomado Falcon - the male and female hunt as a team
with each using their special skills

Lunch at  Bitter Creek / Red Feather consisted of a lettuce wedge, smoked trout and polenta fries (great texture) and a local wine, Cinder Viognier. The crowd was noticeably young - 30-something or less - with a 2 or 3 tables of us more "mature" folk.

A short walk away was the Basque Block of Boise. Here at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center we learned more about the Basque people (from NE Spain & Western France) and their history in the US. Two items of note:

  • the Basques were often employed as sheepherders. We had thought this tied to a skill they brought with them. But in fact they choose to be sheepherders because it took no special skills (other than coping with long periods without social contact.) 
  • they brought with them a game played on a two or three sided ball court (a Fronton) with a ball (pelota). Folks who travel to Florida probably know this game as Jai Alai.
Oh, did we mention that the Basque is renowned for it's food...and yet there was none to sample at the Museum. Sigh.

A map of the Basque Region
Note the location on the map of Europe in the background.

Between Boise and Salt Lake City we shared the highway with numerous trucks, many with three trailers. We also observed many small & large farms with MANY silos.

In Twin Falls we stopped at the Perrine Bridge and had a great view of the Snake River Canyon.  The Canyon is wide enough there to host a golf course!!  Slightly up river are the Shoshone Falls where we enjoyed the view and picnic lunch. The falls are 45 ft higher than Niagara.
Shoshone Falls (& Rainbow) 

We arrived in Salt Lake City in the late afternoon. We visited Eva's Bakery to stock up for breakfast.  Aside from our purchases they gave us a loaf of sour dough bread, two chocolate cookies, and a blueberry muffin. Since they (as are many businesses including restaurants) are closed on Sunday these would have been thrown out.  And since it was also way to much for us, we gave the loaf of bread to a homeless lady who rewarded us with a huge (nearly toothless) smile.  Dinner was a Valter’s Osteria. Dinner started with a three part appetizer, gnocchi with Arrabiata sauce along with one spinach and one squash (best of the group) ravioli. The main course for Bill was a very meaty and tasty lasagna. Pat enjoyed her veal scaloppini with roasted potato and green beans. Complimentary cups of the richest chocolate ever were delivered to us following the meal.