Wednesday photo: The Oktoberfest way of saying “I love you”

Oktoberfest will be coming to close at the end of the week. There are many things I will always associate with Oktoberfest and one of them is the Lebkuchen. Lebkuchen is gingerbread, and at Oktoberfest, the gingerbread is made into heart-shaped necklaces with messages of love.

Lebkuchen, or gingerbread hearts, with many ways of saying “I love you” at Oktoberfest.

Of course, your sweetie should give you one, but I could not resist buying one for myself that did not have a message of love. It simply said, “Oktoberfest.”


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Changing focus

I have spent the last few days writing about Utah. I have lots to say after living here 11 months and I decided a blog dedicated to traveling Utah would be a better place to show off this beautiful state. I do not want this blog to end, because I have so many stories about so many other places I have traveled to that I hope to someday tell, and I plan to occasionally repost something about Utah here.

So please visit travelin’ utah and read about my drive through the Wasatch admiring the fall colors. Later this week you can read about the Spiral Jetty, an earthen sculpture in the northern part of the Great Salt Lake.

Changing leaves near the Sundance Resort

As always, happy travels!

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Wednesday photo: Curling season begins

The snow level has dropped below 10,000 feet, the ski pass is purchased and curling begins. This means the winter sport season is fast approaching.

Two curling stones from a personal set of 16 with traditional handles.

This season will not end without a run in a bobsled or on a luge or skeleton sled, all of which are possible at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City.

There will be other winter adventures, of course. Keep reading for all the stories to come.

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‘Wicked’ on the cheap

Tonight begins my quest for a $25 “Wicked” ticket. I’m practically perfect in this endeavor and I hope my streak continues this evening.

I’m talking about the “Wicked” lottery that happens between two-and-a-half hours before showtime and two hours before where winners get deeply discounted seats to the musical about Glinda, Elphaba and the Wizard of Oz.

After I won my ticket to “Wicked” on Broadway.

My streak, though, is for every production I saw on Broadway while I lived in Brooklyn in 2008. Most shows on Broadway have a drawing for these tickets, or sell last minute seats or standing room only tickets.

“Wicked” continues this tradition on the road, which I am quite thankful for, because nearly every show in Salt Lake City is sold out, and the tickets that are left are $150-$190 each. Now, do I want to fork out the big bucks or try my luck at a $25 orchestra seat?

The “Wicked” theater in London.

I know I might not succeed, but I live 15 minutes from downtown and have over two week’s worth of performances left to try to attend. I can easily try again until my name is drawn from the hat.

The Land of Oz map on set.

So wish me luck.

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Wednesday photo: Bighorn sheep

Seeing a bighorn sheep from a distance is pretty cool. But seeing a flock only 50 feet away is an awesome event.

I had just mentioned to Jon that the Checkerboard Mesa area of Zion National Park, which we were driving through, is home to about half of the sheep in the area. We come around a bend, I complain about the tourists parked on the road, and then I see them. I’m giddy with excitement because any animal I see that does not live in Ohio is worth seeing to me. I find a spot in a pull off, which all visitors should do, and we head to check out the sheep.

Bighorn sheep on the Checkerboard Mesa at Zion National Park.

After a few minutes, the sheep were tired of the spectacle and moved on, but not without the head male showing off his horns to the crowd.


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Heading homeward

I’m heading back to Ohio for a short visit. It will be my first visit since heading west to Utah in October. My family heads to the beach of Lake Erie every July and I couldn’t pass on an opportunity to continue the tradition with my family, albeit missing one because my brother isn’t stopping by from Boston. A few days with my family, plus hours of sitting on the pier at the beach, eating lots of ice cream, watching beautiful sunsets, food cooked by my mother and grandmother, and a visit from my friend Caitlin will be wonderful.

The point of this post isn’t just to tell you that. It is to share with you one of my favorite YouTube videos. It is called the Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video. Maybe you have already seen it and are wondering why I would share such a video. It is because I love Ohio, will always love Ohio and will always defend Ohio, even through terrible stereotypes, jokes and departures, and especially through really funny and generally true jokes like this video.

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Photo essay: Slot canyons in Robbers Roost Country

My grand introduction to technical canyooneering took place in Robbers Roost Country in southeastern Utah in an area west of Canyonlands National Park and east of Goblin Valley State Park. The area is called Robbers Roost because it is where robbers would literally roost, hiding from the law. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were particularly fond of this area.

On day one we hiked and rappelled through West Fork of White Roost Canyon. Day two was the Little West Fork and Main Fork of Blue John Canyon. Blue John Canyon may actually sound familiar to you. If you’ve seen the movie 127 Hours, heard of Aron Ralston or read his book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Blue John Canyon is the place where he got stuck between a chockstone and a wall and had to cut his arm off to survive. We did not go through the particular slot he was in, but curiosity will get the best of us someday and we will go check it out because his chockstone is marked on the map. To read more about my experience canyoneering, click here: Learning to grow.

Neither of these canyons can be seen from the road, which makes the sights even more awesome. These are cut through the ground, so you do not see them until you are there upon them, looking down. They are like Bryce Canyon National Park or the Grand Canyon; you are driving along the top of the plateau and then suddenly the ground opens and the sights unfold in front of you.

Bryce Canyon National Park Inspiration Point view

But to truly appreciate these places, you must go down to see what they look like from there.

Slot canyons are still a bit different from these because they are narrow and viewing them from above gives you very little of the picture. There are slot canyons where you don’t have to go down and do not require gear and therefore are not technical, like Little Wildhorse Canyon, a lovely, free and easily toured slot north of Goblin Valley.

Little Wildhorse Canyon

Little Wildhorse Canyon

The most famous slot canyon in the world is like this too. Upper Antelope Canyon is entirely at ground level and easily toured. Lower Antelope is like the Robbers Roost canyons, except that stairs have been built to get down and then up so that tourists can visit. Antelope Canyon is located on Navajo land and requires a fee and guide.

And now, here is what was beautiful about my first adventure into technical canyoneering.

West Fork of White Roost

West Fork of White Roost

West Fork of White Roost

West Fork of White Roost

West Fork of White Roost

Little West Fork of Blue John Canyon

Little West Fork of Blue John Canyon

Jon pulling down the rope in Little West Fork of Blue John Canyon

Little West Fork of Blue John Canyon

Main Fork of Blue John Canyon

Main Fork of Little Blue John Canyon with the group ahead for a size comparison.

Looking down the Main Fork of Little Blue John Canyon from the top

While we were canyoneering the second day, Jon and I encountered an owl flying directly at us, which we unfortunately do not have a picture of. The owl was stunning. But nature’s next surprise of the day was a beautiful sunset with more clouds than we had seen in a week.

Sunset on the way back to the highway from Robbers Roost

Sunset on the way back to the highway from Robbers Roost

Sunset on the way back to the highway from Robbers Roost

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Learning to grow

Without Jon, I would not be where I am today on many levels. He turned my eyes from the salty city I love in Austria to look west, past the Mississippi River that I had not crossed before 2010, to the West, a land of red rocks and cacti, of deserts with tumbleweeds and sand dunes. A land that I said looks like Croatia, the only land I had ever seen that wasn’t mainly used for growing crops or covered in forests. (Side note: Croatia looks so much like the West that it was used for location shots in German author Karl May’s Western novels [Winnetou, etc.] when they were turned into movies.)

But I digress. I realized how much I have grown since arriving in Salt Lake City when I found myself not falling after both of my feet slipped off holds on a route at the climbing gym. There I was, dangling by my hands from strength I did not know I had. Then I put my feet back on the wall and completed the route.

That crux was in addition to a weekend of new adventures that was pretty much type three fun. Don’t know about the three types of fun? I did not either before Jon, so check out The Dirtbag Diaries’ “Fun Divided By Three.”

Here are the basics:

  • Type one sounds like fun and provides fun.
  • Type two sounds like fun but then you curse the person who got you into it (usually yourself), and then it is fun to talk about.
  • Type three doesn’t sound like fun, it sucks while it is happening, but there are great stories afterward. There is guaranteed suffering because if it sounds terrible, it probably is.

Of course, what falls into each of these categories depends on the person. So the two days of canyoneering in which I just partook were type three fun to me and type one fun to Jon.

What made canyoneering not sound like fun included lots of reasons:

  • I had never canyoneered.
  • Jon and I were not in charge of the planning because we were meeting one of his friends and his and his girlfriend’s friends, which means I had no control over the situation.
  • I do not like trying things in front of strangers.
  • I was nervous about rappelling, which I had done on only three occasions, and only one of those times involved vertical rock.

    Rappelling on day one

  • We did not know if the canyons would be wet, and if they would be, there was no way for me to get a wet suit.
  • It was bloody hot out (100 degrees plus in the Robbers Roost area).
  • There is a point of no return when canyoneering.
  • The destination was so remote there were not even pit toilets.
  • Cell phone reception was extremely limited, which meant calling someone for help would be near impossible.

And it pretty much did suck while we were canyoneering. What were described as beginner canyons were not what Jon had in mind for my first canyoneering adventure.

My look of fear and annoyance

The first canyon was worth cursing because the walls came so close together in parts it was impossible to walk. This meant we had to “stem,” something else I had not done before. To stem, you lean back on one wall and stick your feet out to the other. The pressure between your back and feet keeps you from falling. To move, slide your hands and feet in the direction you need to travel. Its like a crab walk that is elevated. Moving down was the worst because we were using sandstone walls that have been rubbed smooth by millions of years of erosion and there was limited grip.

Nile waiting to catch me on a downclimb

Day two began with a couple of rocky moments brought on by the point of no return and more stemming. After that, the canyon was easily traversed until the exit. The easiest way out was to ascend another entrance to the canyon, rather than something like day one’s hike up a rocky horse path. This meant we had to climb/mostly stem our way up 100-foot walls.

The practice uphill stem before the big push. This photo is blurry because I’m yelling at Jon to drop the camera because I would rather he have free hands to save me than a photo of my ascent.

The ascent was broken up by five chockstones and ledges of varying size, from one with just enough surface area for four feet to one that could have easily held our party of seven. The only good part of having such a large party was evident here. There were enough guys to rig ropes for me to be belayed on or hold on to and they provided plenty of shoulders, knees and hands to help me get to the top.

Jon tried providing me with reasons why canyoneering was so great during one of my moments of frustration. I do not even remember most of what he said because I shot them down instantly. But his key point of this trip being an opportunity to grow as a person was easy to remember, because everything I do with Jon is a new experience and an opportunity for growth.

I suppose the blood, sweat and tears (yes, all literally) were worthwhile. I tried something new that a good portion of the people on this planet do not even know about. I got to see some beautiful works of nature, too. And I did not have to be left behind in either canyon.

Will I try canyoneering again? Probably, because Jon has assured me there are easy canyons without stemming.

Check back tomorrow for what I did find beautiful.

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Wednesday photo: Utah wildflowers

Wildflower season is lengthy in Utah thanks to the constantly changing elevation. Flowers at a lower elevation bloom earlier, of course, than flowers high up in canyons. Blooms were varied at in the foothills around Salt Lake City in mid-May, but there was still plenty of snow in Little Cottonwood Canyon, especially up by the ski resorts, so there was nothing in bloom yet. Flowers are starting to bloom there now, but it is still not peak season. This past weekend, though, I did find an area that had quite a wildflower show: the Observation Point trail at Zion National Park that finishes at 6,850 feet of elevation and has been snow free for months. Here are a couple of blooms that really stood out on the 6.4-mile round trip hike up the cliffs of Zion:

Blooming cactus along Observation Point trail at Zion National Park.

Indian Paintbrush along Observation Point trail at Zion National Park.

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Postcard arrival: Germany and Iowa

As I am trying to post more often, I’m going to start with an easy one: postcards from postcrossing.

First up is one sent from Wiesbaden, Germany, and shows the Altstadt of Lüneburg in Lower Saxony. The sender says that it is the time of the year where he can sit outside like the people in the photo. It’s that time of year here, too.The second card is from Iowa of Duffy Lyon and her first butter cow at the Iowa State Fair. Lyon died last summer, but her cows sculpted of butter continue to be made. The sender picked this card for me because I like cheese, and a butter cow was as close as she could get from her plethora of postcards. I know she has a plethora because she has sent the second highest amount of cards in the group of American postcrossing participants. Also note on the backside that she drew a fencer for me!

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