Friday, July 17, 2009

Close to the Clouds

For me, this place of intimate knowledge has been the area around Park City, Utah. For some years before I had children, I had the privilege of traveling into Salt Lake City in the Spring and again in the late Summer. I cannot say which is my favorite time of year- it is impossible to choose. I love traveling there alone, and I love sharing its infinite beauty with others close to me. My last trip there was special as I was three months pregnant with Wren, and figured it would be one of my last visits for a while. All the different times spent there blend into one long wonderful memory and it is sometimes a challenge to separate the visits into neat little chapters. Places you love do that to you...they increase your good feelings to such a height that it is almost as if you spend your time there in some sort of emotional nirvana. I would rush to the airport at the earliest flight time catching the plane at an hour before which I was usually ever awake just to make it into town by lunchtime. Once in that plane seat it was like my mind completely renewed itself because it knew what lay in wait. I stayed at the same little inexpensive inn every time I went. I adored the owners and it was right in the city of Salt Lake seated neatly below the university. I would fall into bed exhausted there and rise with an urge to run out the door and do it all over again. Most times coming off the plane I would pick up a four wheel drive vehicle and head straight out to Park City not bothering to even drop off my bags at the hotel. My usual lunch spot was always the same that first day- Main Street Pizza and Noodle for their bow tie pasta in a vegetable cream sauce. It was just the thing to energize a quick stroll through town and not heavy enough to prevent my indulgence in the most enormous caramel apple you ever laid eyes upon. A huge copper cauldron of hot liquid aroma lures you in from the sidewalk at the RMCF (Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory) in front of Dolly's Bookstore. Apple in hand, the stroll down Main Street is just that much sweeter. The altitude can get to you on the first day off the plane, especially when coming from sea level. I always try to get a good nights sleep and return to Park City the next day to meet up with a guide at Red Pine Adventures. There is no better way to explore the area around the Canyons than on the back of a large but gentle horse.

There are numerous footpaths that run along the mountain sides right in Park City. I developed an intense love for Utah's wildflowers along these paths and would often walk them until the sun began to fade away. Indian Blanket Flower, Columbine, Lupine, Indian Paintbrush, and Stone crop dance like an impossibly intricate Impressionist painting everywhere the eye falls. A quick jaunt up Main Street and out of town brings you to Guardsman Pass. Breathtakingly beautiful, it delivers you right up into the clouds. If you have a good vehicle this road will take you all the way out to Brighton and Big Cottonwood Canyon. Then just a few miles outside of Brighton is a little shining jewel. I never could pass Silver Fork Lodge without stopping in for a meal. Small in size but large in ambience, Silver Fork Lodge is a place frequented by true Alpine Lovers. It is a bit of the old Utah prior to the mayhem of the Olympics and the serious obnoctiousness that has become the Film Festival. Both Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood Canyons offer unbelievable scenery and the chance to hike, boulder, and climb your way into physical exhaustion...the good kind. Keeping the windows down allows you to hear the rushing of the snowmelt in the creeks, and provides the opportunity to stop and watch the dance of a flyfisherman casting his line above the sparkling water surface.

My permanent choice of staying at the City Creek Inn was made after the first time I checked in. It lies at the heart of everything. One route leads out of town and toward Park City, another leads into that heavenly drive along the Cottonwood Canyons, and yet another leads to the impossibly beautiful Sundance Resort owned by Robert Redford. It is possible to travel to Sundance along two routes, one being the highway which takes you past amazingly high waterfalls and a lazy floating river. The other, and it is a bit of a secret, is to travel the back route in summer via the Timpanogos Cave winding road. You will be stopped at a certain point well into the route and it is extremely important to tell the Ranger that you are just passing through. Otherwise they politely tell you to turn around. It is an incredibly remote road which is closed at first snowfall until well past Spring, and passes right through a private camp before landing you on the entry into Sundance. Sundance in the summertime is a marvel, and far too beautiful to put into words. Lunch at The Foundry is a perfect way to ease into the day. Wood fired pizza can be devoured and the extra wrapped up neatly in your knapsack. The chair lift will take you to the top of the mountain, but I much prefer to hike it along Stewart's Falls and into the valley of Mount Timpanogos. This valley is remote in every sense of the word and I fully expect to come nose to nose with an ambling black bear here someday. The valley leads into a thickly forested area along a winding path, from which if you know what to look for, you may catch a glimpse here and there of Mr. Redford's main house. I think he is fully aware hat he has landed in heaven a bit early. From here, you can catch the chair lift down or simply follow in the well worn paths of the mountain bikes. I have not been as lucky as my friends whom I have sent to Sundance, who on their first day were served ice cream from the Sundance Kid himself and asked to join him at his table for dinner. Their German heritage was a plus as Mr. Redford's wife is of German descent, and he was grappling to learn her language. I have to say this made a huge impression on my friends who on the same trip bought an alpine house up the road from Sundance. I think he, and the place, have this effect on people.

I have hiked areas in the Wasatch Mountains that make you feel like you may just be the last living person on Earth. You may see and near no one, or you may come around the bend and find yourself in the company of a Mama moose and her little one. I met these two way up in the mountains above Jordanelle Reservoir. I had heard of the dangers of moose, but this one seemed unfazed to share the trail with us. Nevertheless, I gave her a lot of space. Each trip into the wilds here demands that you prepare to be there for days, even if your intention is a few hours. Weather here in the mountains can change on a dime leaving you stranded in a pair of shorts at freezing temperatures if not careful. It is this volatility that makes the area so rugged and awe inspiring. It is also one of the main reasons I will wait until my little ones are a little older to return to my beloved Utah. I once foolishly asked a Ranger if there were accidents with children along these impossibly steep and high altitude footpaths. Only a few times came the reply, but that was enough for me.

1 comment:

mama bear said...

I want to go! Maybe, when the kids are older (but then, unfortunately, so shall I be!) we can take that trip.