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Moab, Day 2, Part 1: Ken’s Lake & Moab Diner

I had just woken up at 7am and written the blog entry for the previous day, but I was intent on getting started quickly and making the most out of my time on vacation. Leena woke up before I finished writing the “Day One” blog, and came over startled. “I feel awake,” she said. “Do you know what the last time was when I felt awake at 7am? High school.”

Taking advantage of our mutual energy, we decided to hike around the nearby lake. It was a casual two mile loop that seemed like the perfect way to start the morning, especially considering that the 7am weather was about perfect: crisp and comfortable. The lake quickly provided some excellent views.

Submerged trees just a few minutes around the Ken’s Lake loop.
Some of the beautiful red rock this territory is famous for.
One of a bazillion amazing views from around Ken’s Lake.

Just as we got to the end of the trail, where it should have looped back to a nearby camp site, we started losing the trail. After a few minutes of searching, I realized what had happened; we should have paid more attention to the submerged trees. Our trail had flooded, and the only way across now was to either turn back (another two miles) or make our way across the shallow water. Guess which one we chose?

Leena, testing the water for me.

We made it across the first stream only to find a second, and then found our way blocked by dense foliage that was never intended as a possible path. Pushing our way around the plants and stepping on all kinds of prickly things (our shoes still being clutched in our hands, since we didn’t want to get them wet in the stream).

After we broke our way through and made it back to camp, we headed to Moab Diner. Moab Diner is like a cheaper, better version of Denny’s, and it’s a definite local favorite. Despite my narrow dietary preferences (more on that later), I found myself stuffed by the end of the meal. Better yet, between my toast, oatmeal, hash browns, and V8 and Leena’s grilled cheese and hash browns, the total came to $13.

The aforementioned diner.

Then, after a detour to pick up insect repellent and fill our water containers, Leena and I made our way to Arches National Park. Which I’ll continue in my next entry!

The Moab Adventure Begins

There’s something that feels morally wrong about writing a blog entry in a campsite. That’s especially true considering that every direction I look yields a view artistically mixing layered sandstone cliffs, juniper trees, a lake, and rocky red mountains. I had no idea when I got here last night – late enough that all the scenery looked blackwashed, as if wiped down with a thick layer of coal dust – just how scenic my campground was.

But that’s Moab for you. This territory prides itself on being other than the norm for Utah. Its artsy and adventurous culture, its nearly mythological vistas, and its simple proximity to the edge of the state make that resolve easy to buy into. Despite the five hours of driving it took to get here, it feels well worth it.

But then, it really shouldn’t have taken five hours. A stop by Spanish Fork to introduce today’s adventuring companion (Leena) to a couple of my favorite sites – the Sri Sri Radha Temple (a Hindu temple of the Hare Krishna Consciousness Movement) and Glade’s Drive-In (an American temple to fantastic milkshakes).

The Lotus Temple in Spanish Fork
Glade’s: Best. Milkshakes. Ever.

From there we made our way to Highway Six, verifiably one of the most dangerous highways in America. I wondered, winding down the sharp bends in that road, if the views might be partly to blame. I certainly had a hard time keeping my eyes off the landscape, which mixed stone the color of bleached sand, amber orange, and grapefruit red, and in bursts came alive with sage and forest green plants. It became especially hard when the sun began to set, making everything around look like it was glowing gold.

One of many beautiful moments along highway 6.

At long last we made it to Moab, and both Leena and I agreed that food was in order. We stopped by Fiesta Mexicana in the nick of time to grab a late dinner. The $10/plate price here reflected not only excellent food but a generous plate size; after the long trip, we were up to the task. The marguiritas were also phenomenal. Mine, the Fiesta, was a quality marguirita that had just the right mix of sweet, sour, salty, and bite. Leena’s, the Italian, was made with Amaretto, and was perfect for a girl like her who prefers her drinks on the sweet side. The Italian certainly drank smoothly, though to my tastes was excessively sweet on the back end.

Our meal at Fiesta Mexicana.

Drowsy and relaxed, we drove south toward the Canyonlands where we were planning to camp. After about fifteen minutes and forty consultations with a map, we figured out we’d taken the wrong road and were, in fact, nowhere near our campground. My spirits lifted again, though, when Leena saw a campground sign – and led us here, to Ken’s Lake (“Why doesn’t Barbie have a lake?” said Leena, with her adorable self-amused grin). Not only is it more convenient to town, but the camping is free and the views are disgustingly pretty.

We set up camp here in the dark and fell asleep shortly thereafter (approximately 1am), but something about the campground woke me up thoroughly at 7am. As much as I could blame the discomfort of sleeping in a cramped tent or the unfamiliar animal noises outside, I prefer a more optimistic line: the day ahead looked too beautiful to not seize it from the very start.

[Written in the Ken’s Lake Campground at 7am, 7/16/11]

The Grassroots Shakespeare Triple-Header

Tucked away in eastern Provo is an outdoor performance stage known as “The Castle.” Today’s adventure? Finding my way to that castle to watch three Shakespeare plays performed by the Grassroots Shakespeare Company.

The address provided for the venue, as I would soon find, pointed to the nearest cross-street – not the location itself. That meant that the four blocks from the bus stop I was expecting turned into a twenty minute walk.

Once to the castle, you can lounge against sun-heated stones and watch the performances. In this case, the shows were As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Romeo and Juliet. The cost for access to all three? $5.

I showed up part-way into As You Like It.

Orlando being schooled by Rosalind in the art of love.

I didn’t know much about Grassroots Shakespeare, but it became quickly apparent that this wasn’t the sort of theater I was used to. The audience was jeering, cheering, interacting, and otherwise becoming a part of the whole experience. Between scenes and shows, musical numbers, dance routines, juggling competitions, and more would take place – and often with a modern twist.

The Grassroot’s Shakespeare Company performing Poker Face by Lady Gaga

As You Like It was as charming as the show always is, but the cast brought a level of energy that’s rare to see, especially from younger Shakespearean actors. The Rosalind (on whom I’m now working on a fledgling crush) and Orlando of the show were especially impressive, although Le Beau and Silvius certainly earned the majority of the laughs.

Before the second show, I was more thoroughly introduced to the rules: When someone does something villainous, you boo. When something romantic happens, you awww. You cheer whenever appropriate, answer the questions posed by the actors, and yell your own questions and comments as you see fit. This, they said, was the sort of Shakespeare that Shakespeare would have enjoyed.

Staying especially true to Shakespearean practices, the next show – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – was performed by an exclusively male cast.

The Lovers

The entire cast brought enthusiasm to their roles, and I was especially impressed by the versatility of the actors. The Le Beau of As You Like It playing Helena and a gravelly-voiced Robin Starveling was the most impressive, but a similar adaptability and commitment to new roles was shown by the entire cast.

Special highlights of the performance included Puck, whose role was laden with Zelda references, and the entire Pyramus and Thisbe scene, which was a hilarious delight from start to finish.

Pyramus and Thisbe

From there we moved into the Shakespeare’s famed tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps the funnest part of the performance was how much food was thrown at Juliet’s father for his villainous lines and behaviors. However, while the players initially went with the comedic overtones that were common in the other performances, the play settled in to a touching dramatic performance. I even managed to buy into Romeo’s love, which I rarely do. (As I screamed during the play at one point, “She’s thirteen years old!” And, as my father, the Shakespeare professor, could tell you, that was more than a decade younger the average age of marriage for women in Shakespeare’s day.)

But it was convincing, even a little heart-breaking, despite a lack of fancy props, sets, and costumes. To see a heartfelt, somber performance right after two comedies, and in the midst of a heavily humorized R&J, showed how much raw acting and creativity can do – even without a budget.

The tragic conclusion of Romeo and Juliet.

The Grassroots Shakespeare Company has no costume designer (actors create their own costumes), no long rehearsal schedule (with some plays being put up in under two weeks), and no director (the actors, as the official website says, “directing themselves”). Stripping away the extras so often brought to modern theater did more than lower the budget, however. It made the performance more personal, more tangible, and more fun.

The actors were passionate, and real Shakespeare came bursting through the seams. While this triple-header is the end of the company’s summer tour of their plays, there will be more productions in the future. I can’t recommend checking them out enough. It was a fun, family-friendly activity on a low budget that exposes people to how enjoyable Shakespeare can really be.

Three things I learned from this adventure:

1) Grassroots Shakespeare is awesome.

2) Don’t trust the addresses listed for obscure amphitheaters that are tucked away in the private back-roads of Provo’s foothills.

3) The buses don’t run at midnight, which is when these shows were over. If you’re going to be out past the last bus, make other plans for transportation or be willing to pay the $15 cab fare.

Until next time,


Sunday Hiker: The View from the Y

The Y – view from the base camp.
The sky above me is rich topaz blue as far as the eye can see, and the sun shines with a polished amber light. Despite what’s largely desert terrain, the mountain I’m hiking is lush, with five different shades of green within touching distance, not to mention rows of plants that each bare dozens of saffron-yellow blossoms. But all of that is far from my mind as I gasp for breath, swallowing an accidental snack from the cloud of gnats gravitating toward me.
Looking up the mountain from the trail.
I check my heart-rate. I’m hiking at a casual pace and hitting 150 bpm. That’s what you get when you choose Oreos over exercise for eight months. I take a moment to fantasize about the good old days, 30 pounds ago, when this hike would have been simple.
The steep trails going up to the Y.
This is the Y hike. It’s short – just about nine-tenths of a mile up – but the sort of steep that makes your calves hate you in the morning. With my fitness being what it is, we have to take three breaks before we hit the top. That’s not such a tragedy. Each time, resting in the shade, is a chance to look down into the heart of the valley.
A look down at the valley from the Y trail.
You can see the mountains, Utah Lake (from here a mirror blue), Provo proper, then Orem to your right and Springville to your left – all within your range of vision.
Up the mountain, the craggy dark-tan stone shelves, matted between the green of the mountain and the blue of the sky, warrant some sort of melodramatic travel-writing cliché. Idyllic? Picturesque?
A mountain shelf viewed from the trail.
Finally, some time after the eleventh turn on the trail, the steep slope levels out and I see it: the white cement in the distance. The top of the Y.
The first up-close glance of the Y.

I sit down next to my hiking buddies, my kid sister and brother, and relax. We’re resting on the white-painted cement of Brigham Young University’s symbol of school pride – a giant “Y” plastered on the mountain. Even from a distance, people looking at the Y can see little dark specs. Hikers. Us.

And we’re looking down – into the valley and along the contours of the mountain we just climbed. We point at places we know. There’s the stadium. That’s the bell-tower by the BYU Museum of Art. That’s where my dad’s office is. My parents’ house would be somewhere in the mix of trees and buildings around there.

Utah Valley: The view from the Y.
The mountain we just conquered.
The way back down is easier, partially because the sun is half-obscured by the mountains – halting its relentless assault on my fair skin – but also because going downhill is much more … down-hilly. In reverse, it’s steep enough that jogging is both easy and fun. It becomes a game of balance.

I get distracted by the view of the sunset, which my camera simply can’t capture. The tangerine glow of the sunset silhouetting the distant mountains, the way Utah Lake is shining silver-blue, are beyond the capabilities of a camera-phone lens.

The sunset from the Y.
I also get sidetracked trying to snap pictures of the dozens of dragonflies that are soaring around. While they comfortably fly within two feet of my face as I walk down the trail, the moment I try to get a shot they’re about as camera shy as Bigfoot.
My dragonfly friends.
By the time I get back down, I feel more recovered than I have in weeks, maybe months. My heart feels like it was cleaned out, and oxygen tastes fresher. It’s also easier to drive through the streets of Utah Valley without feeling trapped. As with so many things in my life, this valley is a mixed bag. Nostalgia, difficulty, adventure, pain, experience, peace – but in the end, beautiful enough to be worth it all.

Three things I learned from this trip:
1) Jeans are awesome casual wear. They also weigh a lot. Swapping out for something more … hikey … is a good idea.
2) Despite the 8 megapixel status, the Evo’s camera phone just isn’t a travel photographer’s companion. Looks like I’ll need to upgrade if I want to be serious about this.
3) One 16-ounce bottle of water is not enough for a hike, even a short one, when it’s 85 degrees outside.
Today’s adventuring companions:
Jules Young

Jules, my little sister, who jogged a good portion of the way up the mountain – especially impressive because she wasn’t wearing socks.

Special credit goes to Jules for the idea of hiking the Y.

Misha Young
My little brother Misha – the always tough personal trainer in training – who enthusiastically skipped down the mountain and befriended a dog on the trail.
Thanks for the adventure, guys! Until next time,

The First Campaign: Explore Utah

Like many who have resided for years in their current location, I have yet to explore most of the actual sights in my area. However, unlike many who live in New York or Boston or San Diego, I have an excuse: I’ve lived the majority of my life in Utah Valley – a.k.a., “Happy Valley,” so named for the saccharine friendliness of the local Mormons and their less-than-friendly hard-right politics.

But there’s got to be more here than what I’ve seen, and there’s a lot I have seen that I’m not taking enough advantage of. While many of the items on the Utah travel checklist are already on my “have done” list, I think that anything dated earlier than the turn of the millennium may deserve a second glance.

I’m going to compile a list of activities I want to do and then write about. It will give me a chance to refine my travel writing while building a portfolio there, and – far more importantly – it’ll be, like, way fun, dude. To help with this, I’m tapping into the following resources:

Any other suggestions on resources, of course, are welcome.

While I haven’t made that list yet, I know where I’m going to start: The things I know. Moving into something I can predict will help on a few fronts, including getting my body warmed up to things like hiking through red-rock trails and swimming in green mirror lakes. Then I’ll escalate the challenge and see what I can do about exploring new places – historic sites, hiking trails I haven’t yet tussled with, snowboarding when the season changes, or those obscure activities in Utah that only tourists do.

The Utah adventure begins today. I’ll be hiking the Y and watching the sunset in the good company of my kid brother and sister. You’ll be receiving a post shortly, but why don’t you go out and have your own adventure in the meantime?

Let the Adventure Begin

Step one: Have parents who drag you to Hawaii when you’re seven, around Europe when you’re nine, and who call getting lost for five hours when trying to find a cabin an “adventure.”

Step two: Get memories inscribed in permanent ink on the whiteboard of your mind:

Cerulean blue waterfalls rushing down moss-covered mountains, surrounded by tropical trees; the sound of the water barreling into the lake below, foaming marshmallow white; the hot, heavy moisture that makes it feel like you’re sweating by the gallon; the smell of life pressing in from every corner.

The light coming down through the windows of Saint Chapelle, lighting up everything in gold, scarlet, blue, white, and every other color that brings new definition to the idea of holiness; the way the musty old church creates a sanctuary out of the ancient.

The gilded candle-holders and gold baroque designs along along the ivory-white staricase of the hermitage; the statues of adonis-like men and venus-like women, carved out of the stone here; the irony of these portraits given the location’s history in the Bolshevik revolution; the taste of grease with a side of what’s allegedly beef, known in the Hermitage’s restaurant only as the “jumburger.”

Step three: Turn down trips with the family to China, to Guatamala, to Paris, to London – knowing you can’t afford to miss work – before you start boiling over with jealousy.

Step four: Realize that your new job as freelance writer might just make it possible to turn travel and work into the same thing.

Step five: Buy $100 of travel magazines so you can get a taste of what today’s travel writers are putting out.

Step six: Eat an entire tray of Oreo peanut butter crème cookies, hate yourself a little, and feel generally discouraged that the task you’re taking on may just be impossible.

Step six (take two): Write a list of goals that may help you develop a portfolio for travel writing. Include things like “Start a travel blog,” “Read through all those travel magazines you bought,” “Have a weekend adventure every weekend,” “Write about everything,” and “Find adventure in your local area.”

Step seven: Let the adventure begin.