Friday, October 12, 2007

How the West Was Won(derful)

After a nearly two hour departure delay, and then an additional delay getting out of Chicago, we finally touched down in Salt Lake City around 12:30 a.m. on Saturday. We picked up our rental car – no wimpy Suzuki this time – Mustang, baby! – we checked into the posh (not) Airport Hotel Inn for a few hours of sleep. We got our free breakfast (bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast) and hit the road. The rainy, foggy, cold, 40-degree road. Unbelievable weather this day. The mountains, when we could glimpse them through the fog, were covered in snow. We had the heat and defrost on in the Mustang pretty much all day as we toured SLC and its various neighborhoods, reveling in the easily-navigable gridded streets.

Before we’d left on our trip, we’d seen an ad for the PBR’s next-to-last regular season event … in SLC! So we stopped by the E Center and managed to get tickets for that night’s final. (I love the PBR: the cowboys are wicked cute and also completely insane to do what they do for a living.) We also grabbed a hotel room right next to the arena in scenic West Valley City so we wouldn’t have far to go after the event. After a late lunch at the Red Rock Brewing Company (in downtown SLC) and an after lunch additional beer at Squatter’s (the Salt Lake Brewing Company, just around the corner from the Red Rock), we watched Aussie Brendon Clark out-ride the biggest names in the PBR (Justin McBride, Mike Lee, JW Hart, Guillermo Marchi, Adriano Moraes, et al.) on the rankest bulls. We stopped by The Puck, A Bar, for a post-PBR beverage (not PBR, thank you very much). TPAB is one of SLC’s private clubs for members only; folks like us can still drink there by buying a temporary (3-week/$4) membership. Utah’s alcohol laws are a little strange but not insurmountable.

Sunday dawned clear (yay!) and cold (frost on the Mustang). We consulted the handy Insider’s Guide to Salt Lake City and found a most excellent place for breakfast, Ruth’s Diner in Emigration Canyon: huevos rancheros, great coffee and gigantic homemade biscuits. Fantastic! After gorging ourselves, we made a beeline for the Bonneville Salt Flats, an amazing otherworldly place, and while there, we discovered that the Mustang can easily do 110+ mph (don’t tell Budget). We stopped along the shore of the Great Salt Lake on the way back to check out the State Marina and the Saltair, the remains of a lakeside resort. We then headed east, up a canyon, to Huntsville, home of the most excellent Shooting Star Saloon (complete with a stuffed St. Bernard head) and snowy Snowbasin ski resort - both locations adorned with Sugarloaf stickers! We got a motel room in Ogden and had dinner at Rooster’s Brew Co. & Eatery on Historic 25th Street.

After continuing our breakfast streak at the No Frills Diner (I had sausage gravy and biscuits – mmmmmm), we went to Antelope Island, the state park in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. Antelope Island is 26,000 acres, well-mountained and full of bison, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep and coyotes. (The coyotes look quite well-fed: there are also many wild rabbits, apparently.) We spent several hours on the Island, including a fair amount of time at the Garr Ranch, the oldest ranch in the state and probably the one with the most gorgeous view of the Wasatch Mountains, glistening white across the Lake. Our next stop was Park City, as glitzy and over the top as Snowbasin was mellow. We toured the Olympic Center where the freestyle aerials, bobsled/luge and ski jumping events took place in the ’02 Winter Games, then we car-toured the three area ski resorts: the Canyons, Deer Valley and Park City Resort. These places are huge and decadent, piled high with glamorous condos. The trails look pretty dang impressive too. We strolled up and down historic Main Street in Park City, stopping to admire the Town Lift – from sidewalk to slope, no waiting! – and then stopping for a beer at the outstanding No Name Saloon. Dinner was at the Wasatch Brewpub. Pumpkin ale is in season!

Tuesday morning was warm and sunny, so we headed to Provo (meh) where we found the best bacon (and also some eggs) at the very local Nate’s Diner. It was rather apparent that we were not locals; at least the food was warm if the other patrons’ glances were not. With full bellies, we delved into the Uinta National Forest, taking a 35-mile scenic drive alongside the impressive and snowy Mt. Nebo, complete with views of a recent forest fire, a mini-Bryce Canyon, plenty of road cows and Lake Utah. After a little misdirection, we found the road into Little Cottonwood Canyon and our route to Alta and Snowbird. Mr. Mouse was thrilled to learn that Alta had gotten 20 inches of snow on the day we arrived in Utah; we could see that folks had been hiking up and skiing down, tracks crisscrossing the trails. I really liked the laid-back vibe at Alta and Snowbird (as well as at Snowbasin). These places really seem like people come here to SKI, not shop or party or be part of the scene like the Park City resorts. Later, since this was our last night in SLC, we splurged a little and stayed at the old-fashioned and fairly luxurious Little America Hotel in downtown. And, since there was no reason to break our streak of brewpubs, we walked back to Squatter’s, this time to eat (jambalaya for Mr. Mouse and fish tacos with chile verde for me) as well as to enjoy their brews.

We discovered our final Utah diner in the Cheap Eats section of a city magazine – The Other Place, where I had amazing scrambled eggs with feta cheese, tomatoes and onions – then finally walked all through Temple Square, admiring the Temple, the Tabernacle, the Beehive House and the statue honoring the Utah state bird, the seagull. Yeah, you heard me: the seagull. I come from Maine, where gulls are sneaky, mean, disgusting garbage-eaters. In Utah, however, they are revered for having devoured a plague of crickets that was about to decimate the Mormons’ crops. There’s a golden statue in Temple Square and everything. I have no words.

After exploring the Square, we were out of time. We brought the Mustang back to the rental place; we waited while our plane was delayed some hours out of SLC, and then more hours out of Chicago; we got home and fell into bed around 2:30 a.m. And that was our not-too wild, wild Western trip. Utah is very cool. I can’t wait to go back – there’s a lot more to see.


  1. my dear friend mouse,i had so much fun reading your trip to the west,especially your visit to see the bull riders! I 've watched them on tv. couple of times and believe it or not, I just love it!,goodfor you guys, I can't wait to see more pictures.Love you both,and happy birthday to my bro.I'm wondering if he got our lovely "feliz cumpleanos",song.

  2. Mouse...AWESOME pictures. I can't wait to see more. Will you be posting additional pictures in the near future.