Our friends Mark and Madeleine invited us to Utah over New Years, so on Boxing Day we flew Virgin to Las Vegas. Susan loves Vegas, and my friend Ewan also recommended it for children. We stayed (at the Aladdin) only one night, and enjoyed the Bellagio fountains, and had a hard-sale experience at an Argentinean steak house that turned out to be pretty good.
I had jet lag and wandered the Casino at 4 am. It seemed as busy as at any other time of day. We did not do any gambling. The malls overpowered me at first, but I went with the flow. We did not manage to see the indoor storm.
The flight in to Vegas was geologically mesmerising.We saw Lake Mead and Hoover Dam as well as eerie Mars-like landscape. I wanted it all explained, preferably with fossils, so we went to the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History. There is not much there: a few lizards, some native American displays, and a small xeriscape garden. No rocks, no bones. There is another natural history museum in Vegas -- maybe it is better.
We also saw a baseball stadium from the plane, and a man in the aisle seat told us that the team is called the 51s, after Area 51, which seems witty.
It was a long drive up to Deer Valley, mostly on I-15. The landscape was like the cover of a Sci Fi novel: black shrubs, purple earth, yellow trees. And before long, white snow, a lot of it, so that driving slowed to 30 mph. We did not arrive until late, having stopped in a suburb of Salt Lake to spend a small fortune on rental equipment.
Ice vampires were occasionally a problem, but swiftly dealt with.
Madeleine has a great house, a short walk from the ski lifts. We bunked cosily downstairs. In the kitchen/living area there was a welcome gas fire.
Hey, see my green coat? I bought it used in Kathmandu 20+ years ago, and it was still too warm to zip up out on the 10,000 ft. mountains. And by now most of the bugs in it are dead, too.
All the children had skiing lessons the first day, but Griffin and Claire did not enjoy them. Ross took another day. Meanwhile, Mark and Madeleine took time to instruct us down a few slopes (Madeleine has led snow survival courses and is happy in a snow cave). On Jordanelle (a double blue) Patricia and Claire suffered extensively. This later became Ross's and my favorite run, but the rest of our clan stuck to the green trails for the rest of the week.
We enjoyed our lunches at Empire Canyon Lodge. The whole resort is pretty posh: not crowded, free ski valeting, boxes of tissues at the end of every queue, tasty food. One morning Ross and I were skiing with Griffin, who seemed uncharacteristically subdued. I took him to the Silver Lake Lodge, where he barfed in the immaculate toilets, apologised for inconveniencing us, and was ready to get back to the snow. Instead I made him sit at the chess table and play a game with me, while sipping some water. Griffin is fond of chess, and has a fine instinct for planning attacks.
A more happy memory was a lunch of fondues, both cheese and chocolate, at the Goldener Hirsch. And we enjoyed the silly raccoon and bear statues on the houses near the "Last Chance" trail.
Speaking of food leads us naturally back to the house, where our hosts' cellar and cooking were unparalleled. My birthday was celebrated with roast lamb and a Léoville Las Cases, as well as Christmas Crackers with orchestral prizes. Oh, and Wittamer chocolates. We also had evenings with other friends and relatives: one night we numbered about 20. This was great for Ross, when he was alone in the nearby sauna with three bikini-clad girls of about his age.
Possibly Ross had even more fun with P's Pentax Optio W20. I bought this for her after my Nikons (D70 and Coolpix 5200) had both malfunctioned due to grit, dust and water. This this first time we had tested the W20's waterproofness and it felt wrong to lower it into the steaming, chlorinated pool. But it worked really well, as you can see. Of course, you couldn't see a thing in the preview screen underwater at night, so Ross had to aim and hope for the best. From above, I watched the flash reach out to light them, with the moon above and the frosty fairy-lit trees round about.
For the New Year we danced like Egyptians, and only stayed up until midnight GMT.
On our last day in Deer Valley we sought out and found the Kitty Cat Cache. On the way we had to jump a few barbed-wire fences. Also, gloves were lost and found again. And we admired the feathery snow crystals - P says they are artefacts of the salt lake.
Then it was goodbye, as our family headed back toward Bryce Canyon. I even drove the last few hours to Ruby's Inn at the park entrance. The Endangered Species cache is right here.
The inn has petrified wood and stuffed cougars and a huge general store. The latter was useful because the restaurant smelled "worse than school food", so we picnicked in our rooms and watched Borat. I have to admit that I liked the bear scenes the best. Later on NPR we heard Sacha Baron Cohen, who went to the same school Ross is attending.
Griffin got a great owl puppet, that has eyelids and an owly neck.
We were almost alone in hiking down the Bryce trail. In fact, there seemed to be more foreigners than Americans in the national parks in general. I think we were lucky to visit in the off season.
To the right you see the "hoodoo" that looks like Queen Vic. Amazing, no?
On the drive to Zion, P sped through a forgotten town and got a summons from the state of Utah. Oops.
At Zion we had two cute attached cabins, with gas fires and dim lights. There were signs saying not to feed the deer, or else they would bite and trample. The scenery was less filigreed than Bryce, but vaster.
We had to reserve a table at the lodge's only restaurant, and even then there was a wait, as there were only two servers. But the food really hit the spot (spicy Buffalo wings, prime rib, choco sundae), and Stephen our waiter was a romantic: when I asked him which hike to do, he said that the Angel's Landing route was what made him move to Zion for two years.
We settled for doing the temple of Sinawava, which doesn't narrow as much as we had hoped, and the Emerald Pools trail, which was excellent.
On the way back to Vegas I visited several used book stores. I have never seen so many westerns and religious books. :-( P had better luck buying fabric in quilt stores.
Back in Vegas we watched O at Cirque du Soleil (tickets $140 each!). The stage was impressive, with deep water, divers, platforms, and so on.
Claire and I found the Convention Center Hotel Cache.
We spent nearly a full day at an outlet mall. We also got Claire a guitar tuner at a huge guitar place (£40 for the tuner in England, $25 in the US).
This time we stayed at the Flamingo, and had a huge buffet, which the kids loved. Griffin and I also had room service, his favorite. His Caesar salad was good, but my buffalo wings did not live up to Zion.
We duly visited the Venetian and marveled at the gondolas. We bought a magic trick here: remind us to show you how we can spin cards in mid-air.
Before dropping off the rental car and returning to the airport we ate at In & Out, whose burgers come wrapped in passages from revelations and Nahum, (Nahum?). Mine had a big hair in it.
Then we visited one last quilt store, before starting the long long ride back to London.
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