Out West

Last month Ashley and I set out on a road trip of the west with a final destination of San Diego. Starting at Salt Lake City, we drove about 1200 miles, batted just over .500 with Mexican food, and took in the natural wonders of the American west.

We woke early on Saturday and headed out for southern Utah. Shortly after getting on the road, we wanted to take some pictures of the snow capped mountains around the Salt Lake City area. For some still yet undetermined reason, Ashley’s camera was bricked. We certainly weren’t going to spend several days in some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world without properly documenting the experience. So we stopped at the nearest Wal-Mart to try and pick up a replacement camera and thus began the debacle.

I hate buying any piece of electronics without research, but at this point I had to just pull the trigger. After finding a camera that seemed to fit the bill, we came to find out that the store was out of that particular camera. The sales associate was nice enough to call several other stores in the county, however they were all out of that particular camera.

We were losing valuable time and still had 4 hours to drive. It was well before 10:00 in the morning so our only other option was Office Max. We bought a Kodak M753 that was on sale. We hurried back to the car and got back on the interstate. After a couple attempts to bring the original camera back from the dead, we opened the new camera and attempted to charge it. Kodak engineers might have missed the mark on this model. The only way to charge the camera was through USB. I guess laptops are mandatory equipment from here on out on vacations.

Traveling south we were quickly leaving civilization. After several calls to friends and family to locate a possible camera seller on our route, we decide to drive about 30 miles out of the way to Richfield, UT. At yet another Wal-Mart, we were finally able to find a camera to suit out needs. I purchased the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS and have been extremely satisfied with it.

With camera in hand, we got back on the road and finished the drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. We were originally going to do the Fairyland Loop hike, but because of our late arrival and the morning chaos we decided on the Navajo and Peekaboo loops. Bryce might be the most intimate national park I have visited along with Kings Canyon. The trail took us through a variety of Bryce’s hoodoos as well as canyon forests. Thor’s hammer and the Wall of Windows make Bryce seem otherworldly like no other place.

Due to a late flight the previous night, lack of sleep, and the morning stress, the hike took a toll on both of us. We managed to hobble back to the car and drive another hour of so to our lodgings. Utah had received plenty of rain at that time and the entire valley was lush against the rusted rock formations that served as the landscape’s wallpaper. We stayed at Historic Smith Hotel Bed and Breakfast in Glendale, UT. It is run by a husband and wife. The wife is a master gardener so the grounds around hotel were well kept and peaceful.

At our hosts recommendation, we walked next door for dinner and ate at the Buffalo Bistro. The restaurant did have one vegetarian item on the menu, but they seem to cater to carnivores needing to rebuild muscles after a day of punishment on the trail. We split an appetizer of rattlesnake/rabbit sausage that was one of the best sausages I’ve ever had. They were out of boar ribs, so we shared a order of buffalo ribs served with grilled potatoes/squash and a salad. The food we excellent and exactly what we needed after the first day. I have to give a thumbs down the beers I tried from the Utah Brewers Cooperative. The Wasatch Hefe-weizen was arguably the dullest Hefeweizen I’ve ever tried lacking acidity and brightness.

The next morning we set out for Zion National Park. We arrived around noon, both sore and hobbling as we made our way to shuttles that take you into the canyon. We got off at the last shuttle stop and hiked the paved portion of Zion Narrows. There are hanging gardens everywhere creating lushness that makes Zion unique compared to many other desert canyons. The trail continued several miles, however you would have to hike in the river and we lacked the necessary equipment. It seemed that you could rent gear (boots, walking sticks) for hiking the river, but our time was short and I think we would have had to dedicate an entire day to hiking the Narrows.

The disappointment of not being to hike Zion Narrows quickly abated as we set out for what is said to be one of the best day hikes in the world, Angels Landing. The trail is about five miles long with 1488 feet of vertical. We researched the hike previous to the trip and had some misgivings about the exposed hiking. Several people told us to do at least the first section of the trail and then decide whether to make the final ascent (with chains) to the top. The flight, lack of sleep, and the previous days hike whipped us pretty good, but we slowly made the climb up the bottom section that finishes with Walter’s Wiggles.

The make or break point is called Scout Lookout.  Its impressive vista provides satisfaction enough to turn back, while at the same time giving a sample of the reward at the top. Scout Lookout is also the first point where you truly see what you must surmount to receive that reward.

We both ventured up the first section, which was a short steep climb using the chains. At this point, the view of the what lie ahead and a girl coming back down in a mask of tears gave us both serious doubts about proceeding any further. Ashley stayed behind and I decided to press a little farther. I continued to gain confidence and I decided to press on to the top. I did ask a descending hiker to tell “the girl in the Red Sox hat” that I was going all the way. I ended up hoofing it up the rest of the way with a small group, even finding the nerve to take the “leap of faith”.

I took a few minutes to enjoy the spectacular pinnacle, knowing that I needed to quickly descended to meet Ashley. Once I was back down and had experience the entire hike, I knew it was something Ashley would and could do. It only took a little convincing, and we proceeded to finish the climb. The only consequence form the whole hike were a couple of blisters from the descent that dwarfed the pinkie toes on which they resided.

We drove onto Page, AZ, hugging the Grand Staircase all the way to the state-line. We entered Page at sunset. The owner at the B&B recommended what they called, “the best Mexican food he had ever had”, at a restaurant called Fiesta Mexicana Family. It might have been the build up, but it was disappointing and I am bitter to this day.

The next day we mostly driving to Flagstaff, AZ, with a few hours spent at the Grand Canyon, Wupatki National Monument, and Sunset Crater National Monument. We headed downtown for dinner at the Beaver Street Brewery. Rock solid soups, average entrées, and respectable beers.

Tuesday was all about knocking out miles and getting to my aunt’s in Corona, CA. Our route took use through Sedona, AZ. We stopped at another Native American ruin site, the Tuzigoot National Monument. The scenic route took us to the mountain gem Jerome, AZ, an art community in a former mining/ghost town. We continued to Prescott and up over the mountains into the desert for a long hot ride with only an army of cactus soldiers guarding our way. Traveling in excess of 70 miles an hour, we found a town that you would truly miss if you blinked, Gladden, AZ. The sign out said, “Adults Only”, which in the middle of the desert with dust devils as the only witnesses, seemed a little scary.

The thermometer registered a high of 113 degrees that day. It occurred at Blythe, CA, and coincided with the best Mexican food of the trip at Lalo’s Mexican Food. Do not be deterred by the outside appearance. The had hands down the best stewed chicken I have had for the burritos. I chatted with a truck driver from Texas who said that Lalo’s reputation was spreading among the truckers. We were now one for two on our trip.

With the exception the time spent with my wonderful aunt, Wednesday’s trip to Catalina Island was a waste. The ferry ride is overpriced and the island is boring, forcing you to spent money and overpriced tours. Avoid Catalina Cantina at all costs. They have wonderful waitresses that will gladly spill iced tea into your day pack and forgo the wasteful breathes of an apology. It was a two-bite restaurant. That’s all I could handle of their Chicken of the Sea fish tacos with just that hint of rancidity. It drags us down to 2 out of 3 on the Mexican food.

Bidding my aunt farewell, we headed to San Diego and spent the remainder of the being touristas. We visited Coronado, Seaport Village (had great tacos, put us back at .500), and the Gaslamp District. That night our friends had a bonfire at Mission Bay. San Diego in July and we needed jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.

The next day was spent at the San Diego Wild Animal Park about 40 minutes north of our hotel. It is an outdoor zoo that focuses on breeding of animals for other zoos. In addition, it has some extremely rare (one of twelve white rhinos left) and unusual (the Okapi) animals. The highlights for me were the obscenely big male gorilla and the majestic Secretary Bird.

Friday night was the rehearsal at University of San Diego and a solid dinner at Acapulco, which closed out our Mexican culinary tour at a batting average of .600. After dinner, we stopped by the brides parent’s house to give the groom a hockey stick putter as an extra gift. It was a Red Wings putter and even though I had to scrub myself in the bathtub for several hours to get the shame off me, it was worth it. The bride’s father had peek at the gift after it arrived and the look in his eye tells me he’ll be getting one in the near future.

Saturday was the wedding with the reception at the El Cortez Don Room. I like to think the groom was looking out for me when he put picked sushi as an appetizer, since it has been source of temporary obesity for us in the past. The trip ended with us seeing our friends rush off in state of exhaustion tempered bliss which made us very happy.