A Festive Staycation

Doug had another set of days off last week, but after a bunch of long-distance, long-haul travelling and a particularly gruelling “hitch” (days on), we decided to go the “staycation” route and hang out close to home.

This turned out to be a good thing since here in Southwestern Wyoming we got hit by a week of frigid temperatures and a couple of decent snowstorms. So we hunkered down, got stuff off of our to-do lists, and tried to generate body heat at the gym (where snow was blowing in under doors).

During the two-day clear weather window last week, though, we did head out to Park City and Salt Lake City, just across the state line in Utah. The roads were good, our Visa was paid off, and the sales were on at Tanger Outlets, so we left Riker at the kennel and drove west.

2 1/2 hours later we were in Park City right as the outlets opened and were the first through the doors at Columbia. We blitzed through a couple of stores, loading up on cold weather gear like snowpants (Doug got his for $18!) and a knee-length down coat to keep my thighs from freezing when I walk the dog. Then we headed over to the Red Rock Brewing Co. where both of us immediately zeroed in on the Kobe Burger on the specials board. I tell you, every once in a while I think I should go veggie, but it is meat-a-licious meals like this that keep me from it (I did keep my fingers crossed that it was ethically raised and slaughtered and said a little thank you to the cow that gave up its life. Mostly I thanked it for being so delicious, though…).

After lunch we drove to Salt Lake City to check out spinning bikes at a couple of fitness equipment stores. Some of you may recall that a few months ago I was a little afraid of group cycling classes (aka Spinning). Well, I have been converted to this awesome workout that now regularly kicks my butt. And Doug decided that indoor training might be preferable to risking life and limb on the icy sidewalks so we started talking about a home gym for the new place in Edmonton. Treadmills are too noisy and crap out more quickly because of the beating they take (makes you wonder about your knees!) and ellipticals are large and very expensive. But with our budget we could get a pretty good mid-level spinning bike that will likely last 10-15 years because of the activity’s low-impact nature.

We’d found some pretty good deals online but wanted to actually get on the bikes to check them out. So we stopped in at two places in SLC and were immediately icked out by the used-car-salesman vibe we got from the people there. So we decided to go for the person-free transaction of online shopping and free shipping to our doorstep. It’s supposed to arrive in a week or so – review to follow!

The main reason for stopping in SLC was to get the Mini brake pads checked out. The light had come on a few weeks before but everything seemed fine, so we just kept driving it until we had time to make it to the Mini dealership 300 miles away. Another reason I can’t wait to move to Edmonton: there Mini is right in town!

$400 later our rear brake pads were fixed and we were ready to drive back to Park City to check in to our hotel, The Yarrow. We’d booked it through hotwire.com, our go-to for killer deals on hotels and for $70 it was more than decent. My only complaint is that they’d had the heating turned off in our room and so it was probably hovering around 10 degrees when we arrived.

This wouldn’t have been such an issue if we could have just turned on the heat and headed out to dinner, but our Visa had been declined at the front desk and so Doug wanted to figure out what was going on before eating. Well, that turned out to be a huge hassle (which it tends to be when the Schlumberger Employee Credit Union is involved). Thirty minutes later after calling multiple phone numbers and only being able to get through to a live person after saying “help” repeatedly (and pitifully) into the handset, we were both ready for a stiff drink.

Instead, we ended up walking uphill in snow into a stiff wind on Main St. But it was all worth it when we arrived at the Riverhorse . It was decorated in a sparkling, festive way and had classic holiday tunes playing. The staff was attentive, knowledgeable, and most importantly, the food was amazing. The chef sent out an amuse-bouche just as our glasses of red wine arrived. Then came the cranberry-walnut bread from a local bakery. We decided to share the appetizer sampler: smoked salmon on crunchy potato latkes, chicken satay skewers, and to-die-for goat cheese wontons. Doug’s lamb was perfectly done and his butternut squash and fig risotto – heavenly. My pear/praline/blue cheese salad was also incredible and then we topped it off with a warm apple and toffee cake. It sounds like a lot of food (okay, it kind of was – hence the spinning bike), but the portions were just perfect. Unlike so many restaurants these days, the Riverhorse really focuses on quality over quantity!
Pleasantly full, we endured the cold once again until we got back to the room, now warm. The hotel boasts a heated year-round swimming pool and hot tub, though, so it wasn’t long before we squeezed ourselves into swimwear. While there is nothing quite as nice as sitting in a hot tub when it’s chilly outside, it is also true that stripping down and getting to said hot tub when it’s

-20 is probably one of the worst! Nevertheless we did it, loved it, and Doug showed off for the other patrons by periodically getting out and rolling in the snow…

Friday we got up early (okay, I got up early and bullied Doug into waking up) and went to the hotel’s restaurant, the Mountain Grill, for breakfast. It was pretty chilly in there too, but we snagged a seat near the fireplace and by the time we tucked into our carafe of coffee and our breakfast skillets, we were warm and happy.

Then we split up – Doug to Best Buy and other places and me to the outlets to continue my hunting. By noon our budgets were exhausted and we were hungry again (Again?!!). I’d read about a neat-sounding restaurant called the Hapa Grill, that did a Japanese-Thai-Hawaiian fusion, and it exceeded our expectations. The Miso soup was fantastic, our fried calamari with Hawaiian salsa exquisite, and the California roll scrumptious. Doug also ordered a wrap he only got halfway through that was tasty (and spicy!) and the fries that came with were awesome. Surprisingly they really do it all!

Our last stop on our foodie adventure was to pick up supplies at Whole Foods, a supermarket that specializes in organic and yuppy-hippy foods we love. Our neighbour had given us a shopping list as well, and we managed to drop a pretty penny on curry stuff (that we shared with friends the next night) and some goodies for our own personal Christmas celebration later this month. I feel like I already got my presents, though!

Colorado, When Can I See You Again?

On Monday, July 13th, Doug had to go to Denver for two days of oral exams to move from the training/apprenticeship stage of his job to full-fledged Field Engineer status. The company would have paid for his flights, but we got the go-ahead to drive there instead (only 5 hours) and so set off around noon from Green River, WY on the I-80 eastbound and then headed south at Laramie for the more scenic drive down to Denver through Fort Collins.

The company had us (and the other candidates) set up in the downtown Sheraton, smack dab on the 16th Street Mall, an open-air pedestrian mall that stretches for over a mile. We were on the 16th floor (lucky number?) with this incredible view of the downtown core and the Rockies beyond. Our first day in town, Doug had a full day of interviews so after we had breakfast at the Delectable Egg I went for some much-needed pampering at the Body Massage Wellness Spa a few blocks from the hotel, then grabbed some lunch at Cook’s Fresh Market, a gourmet deli/grocery store, before heading out to my hair appointment (more pampering!) at Shear Productions. Then I walked the 16th Street Mall from one end to another, stopping in at some of the stores for some air conditioning and big city fashion.
Doug had told me he was to have dinner with the company people, so I took myself to Earl’s upstairs patio for mojitos, food, and people watching. Soon afterwards, though, Doug called me to let me know his group were headed my way, so I saved tables and got to meet some of the other folks.
The next morning Doug had his final round of chats and a wrap-up session, so I decided to hit the streets while it was still cool for some exploring. Right around the corner from the hotel are most of Denver’s museums, art galleries, and civic buildings. They weren’t open yet, though, so I didn’t make it inside but I fully plan to check out the Colorado History Museum, Denver Public Library, the Molly Brown House Museum, and the haunted Brown Palace Hotel on my next trip to Denver.
I did make it to one museum, though, the Black American West Museum, about a 30-minute walk from the hotel. It’s off the beaten tourist track in the Five Points neighbourhood, often called the “Harlem of the West” because of its proliferation of jazz clubs in the 1920s-1940s where Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington played before integrated audiences. Now it’s got a more hispanic flavour, but the museum is a testament to the neighbourhood’s, Denver’s and the West’s Black past. It’s housed in the former residence of Dr. Justina Ford and gives a great overview not only of Denver’s first Black doctor, but also Buffalo Soldiers, Black cowboys and settlers in the West, and the utopian Black colony of Dearfield, Colorado. This is an area of history not often taught and my knowledge is sorely lacking. My visit was very enjoyable and I picked up a copy of Charlene Porter’s historic novel, Boldfaced Lies, about race relations, the KKK, and identity in Colorado which I can’t wait to read.
That afternoon Doug slept while I enjoyed the roof-top pool and then we headed out for dinner at Ling & Louie’s, where the spring rolls are divine and they serve up cool twists on classic cocktails like the Ginger Cooler (sake, ginger beer, lemon and lime and crushed mint). After walking off our considerable dinner by heading over to the Tattered Cover Bookstore in trendy LoDo (Lower Downtown), we went for dessert at The Cheesecake Factory where they have 20+ different kinds of cheesecake on the menu. Yum!!
The next morning, our final foodie stop was for breakfast at Sam’s No. 3 restaurant, which has been around since the 1920s. If you’re ever in Denver, you need to stop here: their early-bird (before 10am) specials are around $4 and you will get enough food to last you to lunch and beyond! Then we packed our stuff into the Mini and got on the I-70 west for a four-hour drive through the Rocky Mountains past all those ritzy ski areas of Golden, Vail, and Aspen and into the wine and fruit-growing region of The Palisades, just east of Grand Junction. There we bought a couple of the juiciest peaches ever from a road-side vendor, and sampled wines at the Grand River winery.
By this time, it was 5 p.m. and the car’s thermometer said it was 38 degrees celsius. The original plan was to go to the Colorado National Monument and hike into a primitive camping spot. We were melting standing still, though, so there was no way we were going to load up our packs and head to a lower elevation with higher temps. So we decided to wing it and jumped back in the car, headed north toward Rangely and agreed that when the temperature dropped under 30 degrees we’d start looking for a place to camp (it’s mostly public lands up the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway).
This happened around 6:30pm at Douglas Pass, where the elevation was about 8,000 feet. After climbing a gravel road switchback, we stopped the Mini by a clearing where we startled a mule deer. We walked 10-minutes down to the spot and set up camp right over where the deer had been bedded down.

The view from our tent – and no bugs either!
Colorado is known for its microbrews (not just Coors anymore!) and so we picked up a mixed case of Denver-based Great Divide beers in Grand Junction, which just happened to still be cold when we set up camp. Nothing goes better with freeze-dried curry than a good beer!
Friday morning, after sleeping under a blanket of stars (well, a lot of tossing and turning for me. Were there bears here? I couldn’t remember!) we continued north to Irish Canyon – named for the three Irishmen who robbed a saloon and stopped at this location to consume part of the take – for a little hike. We didn’t go for long, though, as it was high noon and the sun was beating down on us!

Doug, doing his best Spiderman impersonation in Irish Canyon, decided to climb up a sheer rockface and hide from me. As every hiker knows, though, it’s always harder to get down than it is to get up. Don’t worry, I guided him to safety….
After Irish Canyon we drove to Browns Park, a nearby wildlife refuge along the Green River near the borders of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. It also has a one-vehicle swing bridge which Doug thought was pretty cool (and so had to drive over).
Then we headed home through Flaming Gorge Recreation Area, with a quick stop in Manila, Utah for sandwich fixings and an ice cream treat. Now Doug’s back at work for the next two weeks and I’m settling into a post-book/new project schedule. But Colorado, you and I will definitely meet again….

Photogenic Salt Lake City


Holy Mecca for the LDS (Church of Latter Day Saints) aka Mormons. This area is called Temple Square for good reason.

Brigham Young, who led the Mormons to Salt Lake City from the east. I have no idea why they wouldn’t have stopped in the high desert country of Western Wyoming (where no tulips are in sight – see below left)

The flowers were certainly out in force while Doug and I were there – helped along, no doubt, by
the bountiful rain we experienced the entire weekend. But we were able to get inside and warm up. The Saturday night we went to see the Off-Broadway Theatre production, Transmorphers: Mormon Meets the Eye, which was absolutely hilarious. And brought back all sorts of 80’s flashbacks!

Then of course I took advantage of Salt Lake City’s shopping centres to find outfits for my upcoming book tour – I can’t go around wearing my normal ‘work clothes’ of hiking pants and hoodies! So off I went to The Gateway, a chic outdoor mall (where I actually didn’t end up buying anything since I know I can get it cheaper at the outlets in Park City!). I also visited Fashion Place Mall, Nordstrom Rack, the Burlington Coat Factory, and Talbots before collapsing at a Borders (where the ‘barrista’ took forever to get my cup of overpriced tea and I listened to some guy using the cafe as his personal office, shouting into his cell phone and typing away on his laptop!). Don’t worry, Doug was not dragged around to all these shops – he was off scuba diving near Logan, Utah and joined me later!

Doug and I also took refuge from the rain at the Beehive Tea Room, which is supposed to be an iconic spot where generations of brides have come to plan their weddings, host bridal showers, etc. We went in because it was one of the only places to eat near our hotel (the very cool historic boutique Peery Hotel) that was open on a Sunday (the city rolls up the sidewalk apparently)! It is such a cute place and they serve the biggest, moistest pieces of cake ever. I only got about 1/8th of the way through mine, but Doug finisher ‘er off!

We also ended up eating at two of Salt Lake City’s other traditional establishments without realizing it: the Lamb’s Grill Cafe and the Market Street Grill (they’re all about their grills in SLC!). The service at Lamb’s was absolutely terrific but the food was a little bland. They did have a live pianist playing, though, and apparently it’s the place where company execs always go for business lunches. The Market Street Grill also had terrific service – when I said how much I liked the bread and how there weren’t any bakeries in our area, the waiter brought us a whole loaf to take home! The food was quite good too, but a little pricey. I would say always go for their specials – definitely the best deal!

Our final morning, we went in search of the ultimate breakfast (can you tell we’re foodies?) and found it at the Original Pancake House, where a ‘normal’ sized breakfast is 6 pancakes. I got the half order of the blueberry pancakes and they were the fluffiest ever! Doug got their specialty, a plate-sized oven-baked pancake covered in apples, cinnamon and brown sugar. He ate half and we split the other half later as a dessert. Good thing we pounded the pavement all weekend 🙂
© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.