A Travellerspoint blog

April 2011

Winter Olympics & Sundance Film Festival - Park City, UT


overcast 65 °F

When I wrote about hiking on Antelope Island, I mentioned several times how beautiful the mountains looked off in the distance. It is now time to go into those mountains and up to Park City.

Megan originally got me interested in Park City because of an article written in National Geographic Traveler. This edition focused on places to visit during the winter, and the article focusing on Park City described it as a top ski destination. The article also mentioned the art scene, the shopping, and the lively nightlife. When doing my own research, I found something the article missed when talking about Park City that certainly would have piqued my interest. Park City was also the location for filming the Aspen scenes in Dumb & Dumber.

Driving into Park City, it is obvious that the area is big on skiing. When Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, it only made the skiing more popular. Who wouldn't want to ski on the same slopes as Olympic athletes? As you get closer, apartments built for the Olympics begin to line the side of the road. Three different skiing areas are right next to one another, one set of slopes ending directly in town.


Just like Salt Lake City was surrounded by mountains, Park City is surrounded by ski slopes. The picture above doesn't do a great job illustrating the view, but look at the slope furthest to the left. See the big jumps?


I did a double take when I first saw the giant mounds, thinking that some type of optical illusion was taking place. I wasn't even close to the slopes and I thought the jumps were humongous. I squinted to try and see if anyone was actually stupid enough to go off those jumps, but it looked like there was no activity on any of the slopes. Everything looked closed, I guess it was just late enough in the season for conditions on the slopes to be unfavorable.

We continued into town and found a place to park just off Main St. The main strip is full of colorful looking shops and people walking everywhere. The largest independent film festival in the country, the Sundance Film Festival, is held here every year. Every building becomes a theater and other temporary theaters are built in any open space. Most stores had pictures of the street during the festival, and it looked like people were standing shoulder to shoulder up and down the street. It was still crowded when we were there, despite the ski slopes being closed and there being no film festival.


It was already getting late in the afternoon, so we wanted to check out some of the art galleries and the Park City Museum before they closed. The museum was at the top of the hill, so we started making our way up Main St. Megan made a big deal of me getting her cowboy boots in the picture, so make sure you notice them.


We did some window shopping on the way up Main St. Clothing stores lined both sides of the road, while a hot sauce shop that gave free samples and a cheese shop added some variety to the scene. People were standing outside the bars and restaurants. Then Megan saw it, the store named with her own personal catch phrase, "Livin' Life" (spend a day around Megan, you'll hear her say it).


The museum looked like another store front from the outside, but the National Geographic Traveler article spoke highly of it. We only had an hour before the museum closed, and the lady at the front desk spent 10 minutes telling us all the stuff that we had to see while we were there. We moved away slowly from the front desk (the lady was still yammering on about the Pony Express exhibit and how 30 elementary school kids contributed blah blah blah) and began going through the exhibits. The first exhibit was a train that you entered to hear an intro about Park City and watch various scenery go by (I guess it was supposed to be like riding the train into the city). I only lasted 5 minutes into the video, I was feeling the time crunch too much to sit through a somewhat interesting video.


The museum was much larger than it looked from the outside, and was actually 3 separate floors. The main floor talked about the history of Park City itself. Its migration from mining town, to ski resort, to hosting an international film festival and Olympic games. We stepped off the train and entered a recreation of an old grocery store. There was a display of people wearing ski equipment from the past 100 years (originally just strapping a piece of wood to your boot). There was a video showing the city during the Sundance Music Festival which described how people camped out just to get a ticket to any showing.


Park City is surrounded by mines. Rich veins of silver run through the mountains, and mine after mine was commissioned to extract it. The museum had a two story model of how a mine looked, and it was incredibly detailed. We followed the model to the floor below. Here were the real hands-on exhibits. You can actually climb into an old mine cart and see how people descended thousands of feet below ground. Megan sat in an old subway car that used to carry mine workers, and was later converted into an underground ski lift.



They explained how the mining process worked and how the silver was extracted from the ore. They had a huge cart full of unprocessed silver ore so we could see it in its raw form.


The best part of the mining section was the drill and TNT simulators. Watch the videos below of me mining for ore using the drill and Megan blowing up the mountain with TNT.

The museum was also built on top of the old jail, so there was a whole section dedicated to the prisoners (who were typically union strikers). It certainly would have been a miserable place to be locked up.

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We finished looking through the rest of the exhibits, and started to head out of the museum. Just as the lady at the front desk began to open her mouth to talk more about the exhibits, we dashed out the front door.

Megan had been excited to check out some of the bars and restaurants in the area. There is a whiskey distillery in Park City that has a restaurant, so we headed there to try the local spirits. The restaurant was so packed that we couldn't even get in the waiting area. We went over to the bar, and after waiting 15 minutes without so much as even getting noticed by a bartender, we left. We then tried to go to a bar that made their own beer and served bison burgers next. There was hardly any room to walk inside, much less a place to sit down. We walked next door to another bar that was almost entirely empty (which is never a good sign). We ordered two local beers, and upon realizing that they were $7 a piece, we decided to leave. Park City was nice, but it was also a ski resort town and therefore twice as expensive as it needed to be.

Deciding that the crowds and prices weren't worth hanging around for, Megan and I headed back towards Salt Lake City. A heavy rain started to fall, and it was nearly impossible to see driving down the mountain. While the rain didn't help with visibility, the main issue was the lack of street lights and reflectors on the road. I guess roads that get plowed frequently don't have reflectors, and it would have been a pain to put street lights through the mountains.

When thinking of a place to eat dinner, we decided to go with what we knew we liked. We went to the same place as the night before, Red Iguana. Megan took just as long to pick out what she wanted, the food was just as delicious, and we enjoyed our meal just as much.

We made it back to the hotel and watched a movie until we fell asleep. We had left the window open because the hotel had not turned on the AC yet, and the next morning our room was freezing. Overnight, six inches of snow had fallen. Yesterday had been in the 70s, while today was below freezing. Thankfully we were able to make it back to the airport without any issues, our road trip out west had come to a close.


Posted by Mike.Flynn 16:51 Archived in USA Tagged mountains museum Comments (0)

The Great Salt Lake & Antelope Island



Resting our legs after hiking in Arches National Park, we drove out of the flatlands and made our way into the mountains. It wasn't as steep as driving through the Rockies, but the snow covering the ground made it feel like we were even higher. At one point while driving through a mountain pass, a huge wind farm sat directly in front of us. The blades were lazily turning, and although installing these "eyesores" in the North Carolina Appalachians has been a controversial debate, it was mesmerizing to watch them spin. It may have just been the little kid in me remembering playing with a pinwheel.

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We passed through Provo, which was a disaster. The main interstate was under construction, and our GPS nearly blew up trying to calculate the remaining time on our trip as we crawled foot by foot. We had already been driving 9 hours, and it was only another hour to get to Salt Lake City. We got off the interstate and decided to follow some back roads to bypass the city. Other than the congested highway, the city was beautiful. Scenic farms with mountain backdrops were only a mile from the city. A mix of rustic barns and the colors of spring were able to take my mind off the traffic momentarily. We looped back to the highway just in time to see some crazy people jumping off cliffs wearing parachutes.


We entered into Salt Lake City in the early evening. You can't help but admire the gorgeous views from the city. Snow-capped mountains surrounded the city to the east, while the lake borders the city to the west. It was very pleasant outside, and the grass was a rich green (which was a stark contrast after staring at sandy-brown dirt and shrubs for the past week). I could see why Brigham Young selected this spot as the home for his community and his church after conflicts forced the church to leave Illinois.


We drove right through the heart of the city to reach our hotel. As we aproached the end of the drive, I was surprised that we got such a great location while booking a hotel through Priceline. We passed the Utah Jazz NBA Arena and turned onto Temple St. The GPS had said we reached our destination at this building.


This is the Salt Lake Temple, the largest temple of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Obviously this was not where we were staying. After consulting the hotel confirmation and the map, we figured out the error. The address for the hotel was 2100 Temple St, but the "2" was covered by a paperclip, and Megan had entered the address of 100 Temple St. Since we weren't staying within walking distance of the arena or the temple, we took in the beautiful gardens surrounding the temple while we were there. A crowd of people were walking into the arena, apparently a big game since the Lakers were in town (about 1/3 of the people had Lakers jerseys on).

I was amazed at how wide every street in Salt Lake City seemed to be. Even down side roads and through neighborhoods, roads were easily 5 lanes wide. Apparently Brigham Young had designed the city streets to make sure that you could do a U-turn in a horse and buggy on any road in the city (or at least that is what I was told by a local who overheard Megan and me talking about it).


Megan and I got back in the car and headed towards the hotel. Good thing the roads were 6 lanes wide, because 4 of them were closed to construction (although I didn't see a single person working on the two mile stretch of road). I nearly went blind from all the reflective strips on the construction barrels.


Although Mexican cuisine had been a frequent choice for a meal on this trip, we had been told that the best place to get dinner in Salt Lake City was the Red Iguana. The place was busy, as expected on a Friday night, so we got seats at the counter/bar. The specialty at Red Iguana was their variety of mole sauces. I'm not sure how many of you have ever been with Megan at a restaurant, but she needs time to consider each choice on the menu, and many choices means a lot of time to decide. We were given 9 different types of mole to try, and she began the scientific process of deciding which one she liked the best. A basket of chips later, she had finally made her selection. Only then did she open her menu to decide what food to put the sauce on. The waiter saved my sanity by suggesting a combination that sounded appetizing to Megan. The food was fantastic, and well worth the wait. As good as the food was, Megan was even more excited by the mango margarita.


We woke up early the next morning to drive out to the Great Salt Lake and do some hiking on Antelope Island. The Great Salt Lake has several islands in it, and Antelope Island proved to be much larger than I had expected. The island received its name from the wild antelope that live on the island. In addition to the antelope, there are also herds of bison on the island. We drove down the land bridge that connects the island to the mainland (the Great Salt Lake is only around 35 feet at its deepest point, and has an average depth of about 13 feet). The view from the island was amazing.


You can see how the water line seems to be pretty far from the shore. Since the lake is so shallow, its size can change drastically. A lot of the snow has not melted yet, so less water is flowing into the lake. I had wanted to swim in the lake, but it was a little cold to do that. And since the water was so far from the shore, I didn't even get a chance to dip my finger in.

We drove up to the visitor's center to get some information on the trails. There are a lot of different trails, and we wanted to make sure we went on the one where we would most likely see antelope and buffalo. The visitor center had a display of the two animals living in the Great Salt Lake (something does actually live in it), the brine shrimp (seamonkey) and salt flies. They had information on how the lake was formed and the types of animals living on the island, but not any information on which trails would be best for seeing wildlife. I found a ranger and asked her where we would should go, and gave me a look indicating I had just asked a stupid question and replied, "Anywhere but the visitor center."


We left the visitor center and headed out to a trail that led up to a lookout on top of a hill. The trail was short and steep, but it did have great views of the lake and the rest of the island. They even had telescopes mounted at the top to allow you take a closer view. I scanned everywhere for bison and for antelope, but didn't see any. Disappointed, we hiked back down to the car to get to the next trail. Our disappointment didn't last long, a couple miles down the road we ran into our first group of buffalo.


The bison probably look like ants in the picture, but they were only about 70 yards away. We got out of the car and watched them for a while, but they didn't do much except slowly make their way across the field grazing on the grass. I wanted to get closer to them, so we figured we would head out to the most remote trail in the park (and theoretically where the most wildlife would be).

Our destination was Garr Ranch, the home of the people who originally used the island as grazing land for cattle. Although the land is now a park, the ranch is still in use as a ranger station. No cows are on Antelope Island anymore, but a different type of livestock is raised here now. The park actually introduced the bison, and annually round up every single one to do vet check-ups. They try to keep the number of buffalo around 400-700, and sell off the extras. The island really was pretty big. It took nearly 25 minutes to drive to Garr Ranch on the other side of the park.


In one of the barns next to the ranch, a museum of old tools and signs are on display. Utah didn't become a state until almost 1900, the US government not ready to accept a state that allowed polygamy. In fact, Brigham Young had to be removed from his position as governor by the US Army because he was becoming so influential and powerful. The museum was OK, but we were more interested in seeing something that was still alive.

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It didn't take long in our hike to see our next bison. He was huge! It was as close as I had been to one since I saw buffalo in Deer Park in New Zealand, only this time I wasn't in a car.


As the trail came over the rise of a steep hill, we saw our first antelope. They turned and ran up the hill as soon as they saw us.



The trail was 5 miles long to the top, and it offered great views down both sides of the ridgeline that divided the island. More buffalo were visible on the sides of the hill. A fire was visible across the lake, the tall orange flames clearly visible even from miles and miles away.



We walked back down the trail to the ranch. Earlier in the day we had been the only car on the road. Now other cars and cyclists were winding their way through the park. It was a beautiful day, and it seemed like everyone was making the most of it. We passed more antelope and bison visible from the road as we left the park. Since we had enough hiking for one day, we sat in the car to appreciate the scenic view and the grazing animals.


Eventually we made our way out of the park and back into the city. It was time to explore the urban side of Salt Lake City.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 15:26 Archived in USA Tagged mountains animals hiking state_park local_food Comments (0)

Arches National Park


sunny 75 °F

Plateaus, canyons, mountains, forests, deserts, and one giant salt lake. National parks, national monuments, national forests—over 65% of the land is owned by the federal government. One of the most beautiful states in the nation. The final stop in our western road trip takes us to the state of Utah.


After my narrow escape with the law at the end of our trip through Denver, we continued east through the state of Colorado. I had finally made it to some real mountains, going right through the heart of the Rockies. Snow covered the ground in every direction. We passed the ski-towns of Aspen and Vail. Not long after the sun rose over the mountains, we decided to pull off the interstate and grab a bite to eat. Our options were pretty limited, not many restaurants lined the sides of Interstate 70. After days of eating hotel waffles, breakfast burritos, and fruit for breakfast, I wanted a taste that only McDonald's could satisfy, a southern-style chicken biscuit. I walked up to the counter, mouth watering with anticipation, and ordered. The McDonald's employee looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. After a quick scan of the menu, I realized that, for some reason, this McDonald's did not serve chicken biscuits. I mean really, what's the point of making biscuits if you are not going to put a piece of juicy chicken in the middle? Severely disappointed, I ordered the sausage biscuit instead. When I unwrapped my biscuit in the car, my disappointment sank even lower. The biscuit wasn't even fresh made, but rather was a mass produced frozen biscuit that is just plopped in the oven. Western Colorado probably doesn't even know what it is missing. The whole experience reminded me of when I realized there are no biscuits in Australia. Come on down to North Carolina, and you'll never be able to go long without a real biscuit again.

We came down out of the mountains of Colorado and entered Utah. To the right (northeastern direction), stretched elevated plateaus. To the left (and southwestern direction), snow capped mountains dominated the landscape.

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There was absolutely nothing in the area. Miles and miles went by with hardly even encountering a sign on the side of the road, much less an exit or intersection.

Our destination was Arches National Park, which contains over 2,000 arches in the 80,000 acres of the park. The Moab Fault also lies next to the park, adding to the unique landscape. The park was humongous, and we wanted to see it all.

The nice thing about Arches National Park is that it has roads that can take you close to the biggest attractions, so you can see a lot more without having to hike all day. Excellent viewpoint areas allow you to see large portions of the park at one time, which is important since most of the arches are gigantic. Our first stop was called "Park Avenue" since the rock formation looked like a city skyline.


We hiked into the valley between the towering rock skyscrapers. The picture above is a little of an optical illusion. We are actually on top of a lookout overlooking the valley (which is cut out of the picture, you might be able to see the people hiking in the valley behind Megan). The rocks are actually hundreds of feet tall. Megan spotted a rock along the top of the rock ridge she thought should definitely be called "Balanced Rock".


Looking out of the canyon between Park Avenue, you could see snow-capped mountains way off in the distance.


We left Park Avenue and drove through the expansive middle portion of the park. We stopped at a couple lookouts for 360° views of an area known as the Petrified Sand Dunes. In fact, sandstone covers the majority of the Arches National Park. The area was formed by an evaporated sea leaving a thick salt bed, which was then covered by layers and layers of sandstone from different time periods (leaving different colored layers in the rock). Rain filled holes in the rock, slowly chipping away tiny bits. The wind cleaned out the cracks, allowing the rain to penetrate even further. Eventually the softer sandstone eroded leaving arches of rock. These arches are still being carved out, as one of the main arches in the park fell down in 2008. Another portion of the largest arch in the park has also fallen recently. I tried to not think about thousands of tons of rock falling on me as we began exploring the arches closer.


Passing the Petrified Sand Dunes, we went further into the park towards the first set of arches. We came across the real "Balanced Rock" as named by the park service. Megan thought her rock was better, and I agreed just so I didn't have to enter an argument on which rock was "more balanced".


After 15 more minutes of driving, we finally reached our first arches. We parked the car, and started out on the trail to get to Double Arch. It was very impressive, the arches were huge!


We didn't just stop and look at them, we climbed right up into the middle of the arches.


I climbed up to the top of the second arch to see the view back toward Park Avenue. The wind was gusting and a little chilly as it was funneled through the window of the arch. The view wasn't anything to write home about, it was pretty much the same view view from the ground, but the climb was still pretty cool.


I climbed back down to the entrance of Double Arch to take Megan's picture under the main arch. I have pictures that are more zoomed in, but I think this picture really shows the true size of the arches. Megan is standing in the middle with her arms raised, can you see her?


I took another picture of Megan's preferred technique of getting down out of the arches. While most people used walking sticks or balance to help them get back down the steep incline, Megan preferred the "butt crawl" technique. She intentionally slid down the steepest portions on her butt.


We hiked away from Double Arch and headed towards The Windows. Here two arches allowed easier access and offered viewpoints to the mountains in the background. We walked up to the first arch, and then hiked down a trail to see the other arch.


The last arch on this trail had a specific name, but I can't remember it because Megan kept referring to it as "OK Arch". Megan thought it looked like a hand making the okay symbol.


Megan hiked inside the middle of this arch and back again without having to use the "butt crawl" once.


We got back into the car and drove further into the park to see the most famous arch, Delicate Arch. Although not the largest or most impressive arch, Delicate Arch is the most picturesque. The mountains in the background create a cool backdrop for viewing the arch.


We hiked back down the trail and again headed deeper into the park. We drove past Fiery Inferno, a series of cool-looking rock formations, but opted to skip that hike since it was getting later in the day. The last trail we wanted to tackle was a several mile path that offered viewpoints to a number of different arches. The park was starting to get crowded, and parking spaces were at a premium. We began down the sandy trail, passing kids playing in the shady canyons. Various arches were viewable off in the distance, and it was neat seeing the far end of the park. Towards the end of the portion of trail we were on, we encountered the most impressive arch in the park, Landscape Arch. Landscape arch is nearly 300ft long. It is amazing that the rock stays in place. It is the second longest arch in the world. Who knows how long it will remain standing, as 3 large sections of rock have fallen away since 1991.


On the way out of the park, Megan hijacked an earth-mover that was being used to stabilize a series of steps. All it took was a stern look from the park ranger for her to jump off. It was time to say goodbye to the arches, we still had another 4 hours of driving to get to Salt Lake City for dinner.


Posted by Mike.Flynn 07:02 Archived in USA Tagged hiking national_park Comments (0)

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