Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Best Snow on Earth and Other Highlights of Our Christmas Trip West

...are in Utah. More specifically, the best place to ski (if you just want to ski with other skiers without snowboarders) is at Alta.

John and I were pretty lucky -- we skied the only day it snowed while we were in Utah. His parents live about 30 minutes from the parking lot at Alta, so we had fresh snow to play in pretty quickly.

Utah is essentially a desert, so the snow on the mountain is powdery and lofty. I learned how to ski during a blizzard, so I'm much more comfortable skiing while it's snowing or when there's fresh snow on the ground, than when there's not.

I had a good first day until my knees decided to give out. John seems convinced that I have the green slopes down cold, and that I should try the blues. Maybe next time because my second day didn't last long at all due to the pain and dysfunction in my legs. It frustrated me so much that I cried on the mountain. I've worked very hard on rehabilitating my legs all year, so I was devastated by the disappointment. Now that I'm back home in NJ, I've been working even harder at getting my legs back up to snuff.

This is the view coming back down the mountain. Salt Lake City is the valley sitting in the middle of the Wasatch mountain range. At night, you can easily see the huge Mormon temples lighting up the landscape.

Since we were there during Christmas, we did see a lot of colorful lights and seasonal decorations.

When there aren't any snow storms, Salt Lake City suffers from an "inversion." You may know this as smog. Because it sits in a valley, the city's polluted air is trapped within the mountains. When we first flew into Utah, we saw the yellow smog ring settling on the city. I always get a headache the minute we land.

Because I probably wouldn't be able to ski again this trip, we told my in-laws that if they wanted to go to Vegas, we could go with them. They were originally going to be in Vegas when we arrived, but because John's Aunt Pris died, they had come back to Pennsylvania for the viewing and funeral instead.

They were relieved to be getting out of town, so we left for Vegas the day after Christmas. I'd never been before, so the trip was full of firsts for me.

Most likely, the highlight of the trip for me was visiting the Hoover Dam. If you haven't been, you ought to go because the U.S. government is building a bypass road (a marvel in itself) that will avoid the dam and cease all traffic over it. In the photo on the left, you can see the Colorado river on the Nevada side of the Dam.

What you don't see here are the massive power lines and erector-set-like structures wired up and over the dam.

On the Arizona side of the dam, you can walk by the overflow area. It looks like the ultimate skateboard trick park. In this photo, you can see the Arizona side of the dam, with it's clear, blue-green water and salt line showing how deep the water has been in the past.

While we were at the dam, the weather changed from sunny to rainy, with 20 mph winds. These same winds kept us from seeing some of Vegas' typical sights later in the week.

One thing that John and I didn't expect to see were at least four Geodetic Survey buttons pressed into the concrete, both on the Nevada and Arizona sides of the dam.

We usually see these when we tour and hike the national parks. Don't bother asking at the visitor's center if they have pins or patches of these for your collection. They don't have them.

The fun thing about the dam is that you can stand on the timeline between the two states. Arizona is an hour behind Nevada.

It's a good thing we went first thing in the morning (as recommended by Fodors) because when we left the Hoover Dam, there was a line of vehicles stretching for at least 5 miles into the next town.

Between now and the end of next week, I'll post more items on our trip west. One will be an open letter to Wolfgang Puck regarding our lunch at Spago at Ceasar's Palace. The other will be a photo diary of the Vegas sights.

Finally, I'll also be posting another fun and easy recipe for biscotti from a recent issue of Gourmet.

I'm looking forward to a visit with Mom and Dave tomorrow. With the loss of John's Aunt Pris, family continues to become even more precious.

Hope you have a great weekend.

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