Sunday, July 31, 2011

Amazing Utah - SB Highway 12

I sometimes worry I won't be in Utah long enough, or alive long enough, to see all the beauty out here.

Do you know that Utah has 6 National Parks, is the gateway to 5 other National Parks, has 7 National Monuments (areas of protected natural beauty similar to parks but without all the park infrastructure), and 6 National Forests?! Check it out for yourself. It makes my head explode when I fully grasp everything that is here.

And then there are the Scenic Byways, many running near and through these parks, monuments and forests. Utah has 8 National Scenic Byways and 21 (!!) State Scenic Byways. I've seen a few and they are are incredible drives.

Last week we drove Scenic Byway Highway 12. You pick up Rt 14 off of Interstate 15 near Cedar City (north of St. George), and head east over mountains and through the Dixie National Forest. You can spot Zion National Park from the back. Then  you take Rt 89 N to reach Rt 12 East. Rt 12 takes you through parts of Bryce Canyon National Park, then on through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, one of the most amazing places I've seen. (Thank you President Clinton for protecting this area, giving it Monument status back in 1996.) From there you head north and past the town of Boulder and over beautiful mountains to the town of Torrey at which point you can head east to the Capitol Reef National Park and on to more parks, or north back to Salt Lake City.

Here are just a few photos from one small stretch - the Boulder to Torrey portion of this beautiful drive.

Cattle herding the free ranging cattle in the mountains between Boulder and Torrey.

Vista from the top of the mountains.

This stretch of highway was the last one, completed in the 1970s.

The mountains are full of pines and then aspens at the top.
Mountain wildlife.
The other side of the mountains.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Beautiful Utah Skies

TV at the Gas Pump?

Does your gas station have television at its gas pumps?

Seriously, what is this? I had never seen this until I moved to Utah. This is from the gas station around the corner from my house.

I don't want to be watching tv at the gas pump!

At least it wasn't Fox news.

Then I would have had to vandalize the pump.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hasta La Vista

Wishing you a happy weekend with travels and adventures on your Byway. xo

Boulder, Utah - snapped on Tuesday on another Byway adventure

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Utah Scenes

Utah is so amazingly gorgeous. I can't stop taking photographs of the landscape and the changing skies. We took these driving between Bryce Canyon and Boulder, Utah - some of it driving near the Escalante Grand Staircase National Park. If your Byway hasn't brought you out to Utah yet, get your behind out here! There are so many parks and beautiful scenes, it will blow your mind.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

MSB Photo in Travel & Leisure!

Recently I was contacted by Travel & Leisure about using one of my photographs from the Scipio, Utah Flying J petting zoo - one of my favorite stops on Route 15 south in Utah. They found my blog and the photos and wanted to use one for a little piece they were writing up about the petting zoo in their "Kitschiest Roadside Attractions in America" series. For an amateur blogger and photographer, this was quite a compliment. Of course I want to share the love and spread the news of this kitschy roadside attraction!

You can check out the little write up by clicking the Travel & Leisure link here. And if you are a traveler like me, you should explore the site. I knew of Travel & Leisure magazine, but I had never checked out their website before. The site has a lot of great travel and site seeing tips - something we all want to help guide us on our Byway adventures. Happy Travels!

For more petting zoo information and photos from My Scenic Byway, click on the links below:

Best Gas Station Petting Zoo

Back at the Gas Station Petting Zoo

More From the Scipio, UT Gas Station Petting Zoo

Latest from the Flying J Scipio Petting Zoo

Love the Llamas and the Alpacas

Save Our Desert from Large Wind Development

Over the weekend the Byway took us back down to the Mojave Desert to attend an important community meeting. It was a long way to travel to attend a meeting, but this meeting was that important. We were meeting with friends and neighbors from the Pioneertown and Pipes Canyon communities to discuss the unexpected bombshell that hit these communities with the discovery that the US Government, particularly the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has leased local government land, specifically two beautiful flat-topped mesas (Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Butte - two of the four only flat-topped mesas in California) to a potential wind developer - Black Lava Butte Renewables, a subsidiary of Element Power in Oregon.

How did the community learn about this? Only when helicopters and trucks came in and set up wind testing towers on the buttes. No one knew anything about this. How is that for the Government and greedy corporations "cooperating" with landowners and residents in the communities that will be impacted? Please take note of this lack of transparency. You may not be a part of this community, but keep in mind that allowing this kind of thing to happen in one community only gives strength to it happening later in other communities, possibly yours.

Don't get me wrong - I am a supporter of renewable energy. I work with renewable energy every day in my job! But the kind of renewable energy I work with, and support, is smaller scale, and the kind that local communities themselves are seeking to develop so that they, with no power, can finally have power. Our work involves communities and gives them what they want.

In the case of what is happening now in the Mojave Desert, we are talking about the development of a HUGE wind farm - 4000+ acres, with hundreds of wind turbines taller than the Statue of Liberty, on top of two majestic buttes. And this power wouldn't be developed because the neighboring communities wanted it and it probably wouldn't even go to the surrounding communities. This is power that would go to Los Angeles. We are talking big investors from Wall Street (apparently Goldman Sachs is involved). Large corporations stand to make a lot of money from government subsidies and the Mojave Desert and its communities will be screwed. You can say farewell to one of the few remaining beautiful, pristine areas in our desert wilds. There are other ways for the State of California to meet its noble goal of 33% power from renewable energy sources.

I do not support this kind of renewable energy development. I could write a few pages about why a giant wind farm is not good energy planning and why this is bad for the surrounding environment (environmental, health, safety, economic reasons) - but that is for later. Right now I just wanted to make you aware of the "Save the Desert" group that has been formed to fight this big wind development in this pristine desert landscape.

Please visit the "Save our Desert" website for more information -

We are seeking interested parties to help with our effort to protect the desert and stop this commercial wind farm development. If you are interested, contact me and I can share more information with you. If you have government, media and environmental connections who would be interested in assisting our efforts, please contact me.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and consider your support. I hope to hear from you.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ducks and Bunnies and Chickens Oh My!

Happy Friday! Enjoy your weekend.

Liberty Park, Salt Lake City

I am grateful for urban parks. Thank you to the dreamers, the city planners and government officials, the communities,  and the wealthy individuals who have made beautiful urban parks a part of most city landscapes here in America.

Liberty Park is a popular 80-acre urban park in Salt Lake City and one of my favorite places to visit here. I recommend it to residents and visitors alike.

It is Salt Lake City's second largest public park. In 1860 the land was the property of Brigham Young. In 1881 the city of Salt Lake purchased the land from the Young estate.

Liberty Park has something for everyone - a pond where you can rent little boats and feed the ducks, a great tennis center, picnic areas, large grassy areas for hanging out, horse shoe pits, fields for team sports, a jogging and roller blading path, a swimming pool, amusement rides, basketball and volleyball courts and on and on. The Chase Home Museum of Folk Arts is located there, along with the Tracy Aviary which opened in 1938. The city zoo was once located there but it moved in 1931 and became the Hogle Zoo.

Liberty Park is a great place for walking. It is popular, but never too crowded. On recent visits I've spotted stick fighters costumed in some kind of dungeon and dragon fantasy world garb, practicing tight rope walkers, drum circles and a guy practicing the bag pipes. I like a place that has crazy goings on.

Photo from Wikipedia

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Utah's Confusing Liquor Laws

As a newcomer to Utah, here is an interesting topic and one that is often brought up by friends who don't live here. To help you understand what goes on here, you can refer to a recent article in the New York Times about the confusing status of liquor laws in Utah. Click on the link to see the article entitled: Utah Liquor Laws, As Mixed up as Some Drinks. You can also click here to go straight to the source.

The situation in Utah is mixed up and confusing, especially as it has been changing over the past few years. Many of my friends still assume, or assumed until I corrected them, that Utah is still a place where bars are set up as private clubs that you have to join in order to enter and buy a drink. I am not sure when that changed, but since I have been here (May 2010) that is not the case. There are bars and brew pubs everywhere and many restaurants serve alcohol. You have no problem going out to dinner and having a drink or out for drinks at a bar and finding a place to do so. I believe that the liquor laws started easing up during/after the 2002 Winter Olympics were held here, and then the easement of restrictions has continued (somewhat) due to such an increase in state tourism.

I guess the things that have been most noticeable and different and frustrating for me about Utah and its crazy liquor laws are as follows.

1) In any place where you might order a drink, bartenders have to strictly measure the pour. This means that every glass of wine is going to be poured to a measured line and never more. Forget about a generous pour of a good glass of wine by a generous bartender every once in awhile, and forget about a stiff cocktail. Unless you want to make them at home. Most of the time you don't notice this, but sometimes you do when you order a weak cocktail or notice the puniness of your expensive glass of wine.

2) As noted above, all beer, wine and liquor is sold in state controlled liquor stores. The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (UDABC) has regulated the sale of alcohol in Utah since 1935, two years after prohibition. Utah is one of 18 control states meaning the state has a monopoly over wholesaling and retailing alcoholic beverages.Other states besides Utah control the sale of their liquor this way, so that is not that unusual. Even in Virginia where I lived for many years you have to buy your liquor in a state store. But you could always buy beer and wine at grocery stores and wine stores.

Surprising to me, you can buy beer here at the grocery store. But it is some weird version of your brand name beers with less alcohol (no more than 3.2%). I couldn't believe all these beer companies make a special version that has less alcohol. Is there a larger market for this kind of beer than in Utah? I had never heard of this before I moved here. I am not a huge beer drinker and it doesn't taste any different to me, but it just seems odd. You can buy normal beer in the liquor stores.

I don't drink much, so I don't mind going to a state store to buy liquor and beer, but I do hate having to go there for wine. I love, love, love wine and was spoiled by living in the Washington, DC area for so many years with its fabulous selection of specialty wine stores. I love a good wine stop and a manager who really loves and knows his or her wine. Shopping and often tasting in places like that was such a nice treat. No more of that living out here. You don't get tastings. You don't get special deals. You don't get a very good selection and variety. It isn't horrible, but it isn't very good. I would say out of all of the differences with liquor laws out here in Utah, that is the only one that really bothers me. I don't care much about the others.

The NYT article references a blog called Drink SLC - two guys trying to visit and report on all of Salt Lake City's 118 bars. This could be a good reference to newcomers like me, and possible visitors/tourists like you, to figure out where to go in this town. We don't go out much, and mostly just for dinner, so we don't know much about the bar and nightlife here.

So, no more misinformation. Some of the seemingly abnormal restrictions you will find here you will find in other US states. You can drink in Utah. Utah has liquor stores. You can find nice bars and restaurants just like in every other state and you don't have to join a private club. Just don't expect a generous pour, a stiff drink, or a great selection of wine. Unless you are at my house.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Tracy Aviary - Must See in Salt Lake City

Today I finally visited the The Tracy Aviary, located in Liberty Park in downtown Salt Lake City. I expected it to be a small, simple thing, but it far surpassed my expectations. I love birds and this is the real deal. I loved this place, can't wait to go again and would recommend it to those living in, or visiting, Salt Lake. After my visit today I am currently entertaining the idea of signing up as a volunteer for the place...

The Tracy Aviary is one of two free-standing aviaries in the United States. Who knew there were only two like this? It has been open to the public since 1938, started by a charitable act of Salt Lake City banker Russell Lord Tracy who donated his private bird collection to Salt Lake City and its children. That donation started the aviary which today sits on 8-acres of land in Liberty Park and has approximately 400 birds representing 135 species, many of them rare or endangered.

The Tracy Aviary has been expanding since 2005 guided by a master plan for all bird exhibits to represent bird habitats north and south along the Western Hemispheric Flyway - the migratory route used by bird species that frequent the Great Salt Lake and other Utah areas.

Here are some photos from today's visit to the aviary. Enjoy!

Cloudy Drive Route 15 Vegas to Salt Lake City

Spotted Leaving Las Vegas on Monday Morning...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The King...and I

Elvis was my first love. He really was.

When I was a little girl I was very aware and very upset that I had missed my chance - I was too young to ever have a shot at being Elvis' girl. I am pretty sure I also realized that the Elvis I loved, the dashing young man from the silly movies I would eat up, was no longer around, having aged into the real Elvis that was still very much present in the pop culture of my childhood in the 1970s.

Still, I was heartbroken to know that he would never be mine, and heartbroken when he died. And to this day I love his music and I still think he was one of the hottest celebrities ever. The man was just pure handsome and pure sexy. Those of you who are younger than me may not get all of this. He was still a major force when I was young - still performing and very much a super star in spite of his weight and drug and alcohol problems. His movies were on TV all the time.

You have to appreciate his ability to generate global appeal and adoration and that this global appeal and adoration continue to this day - decades (34 years now) after his death. You know you are going to find Elvis songs on karaoke machines around the world - and crowds of people who know the words to the songs. You still see Elvis merchandise everywhere. I bet Graceland still pulls in the crowds (I have never been and it is on my list). Occasionally you can still catch his films (so deliciously bad) on TV and you can probably see them all on Netflix. Finally, you know you will continue to find Elvis impersonators - good and bad - around the world - performing shows and even weddings.

Elvis has always been synonymous with Vegas. He performed there at the Hilton Hotel in the late 1960s and into the 1970s (his last performance there was in 1976; he was scheduled to perform again in 1978, but he died in 1977). To this day you continue to have Elvis impersonator shows in Vegas and you even now have an Elvis-themed Cirque du Soleil show - Viva Elvis.

This past weekend some of my family met in Las Vegas to celebrate my mother's 70th birthday and we stayed at the Hilton. The Hilton is off the main strip and was at one time one of the big places to stay in Vegas. It is a very different experience than staying at one of the themed, newer places on the strip - an older, less crowded, more mellow crowd. We were delighted to discover that the Hilton hosts an Elvis impersonator show. We had to see it.

Trent Carlini - calling himself "The Dream King," has been impersonating Elvis Presley since the real Elvis' death. He was winner of ABC television's "The Next Best Thing." I never saw that show but understand it was about impersonators. He has been performing various Elvis shows in Vegas since the 1990s and now performs "The King" most nights at the Shimmer Cabaret Theater at the Hilton.

It is a small show, in a small, intimate cabaret scene - bar, cocktail service, small stage. It is the kind of show that gets better when you have a really great audience and the performer can feed off of and interact with the people. Unfortunately he did not have a great audience that night - present company excluded. When we walked in I was mortified to see such a small audience on a Saturday night. I felt very uncomfortable for him as a performer. What does it feel like to walk on stage and see hardly anyone in the audience? Deflating and energy sucking I am sure. And those that were there - most of them were pretty old and lacking in energy. Was our night a fluke? Or does this happen often? Perhaps he has been playing there too much and for too long?

I wondered if part of the problem is the time of the shows. The setting seems appropriate, but the shows are too early - one a night around 6:45. That seems too early for this type of cabaret show. Who wants to rush to this kind of show at that time? This show needs to be at 8 or 9 or 10 at night.

In spite of the sadness I felt about his small audience, he was a really great performer. He really looks like Elvis and he has a great singing voice and sounds like Elvis. He has it down. He is a fun performer. If you are an Elvis fan, you will appreciate it. Our small group of six did what we could to liven up the show with lots of clapping and cheering and moving around to the music. We had a great time and I would recommend the show. However, I should add that we had complimentary tickets from the hotel (thanks to my sister). The prices on the website note $37-$70. I would probably pay the lower end to see it, but not $70 because it is a very small show.

Regardless of the disappointing audience, he really looks and sounds like Elvis and is very entertaining. For an hour or so I could lose myself in that music from my childhood and fantasize that I was seeing the real Elvis - my first love.