Whew! It was quite a vacation! We arrived in Mesquite on the 30th, and spent the evening resting, relaxing, and playing with my nephew Jake, who was visiting my parents.
On the 31st Greg, me and Jake drove to Valley of Fire National Monument and hiked for four hours. I tried my hand at identifying desert flora for Greg (Mohave desert is quite a bit drier with less diversity than Sonoran desert). We looked at petroglyphs, played hot lava with Jake, made believe we were walking on Mars and hiked deep into one rugged canyon just in time to see the sun set and light up the red and yellow sandstone.
We went out to dinner and a movie that night.
The next day, New Year's, we drove to Hoover Dam and took the tour. We actually got to go down into the dam and look out the side of it. We got to see the generators in the powerplant and we were innundated with facts and figures. For example: Lake Mead is the largest man-made lake in the country. It is capable of holding 28 million acre feet of water. The generators in the dam produce more than four billion kilowatt hours a year. However, the docents took great pains to explain that although the sale of electricity since 1936 has more than paid for the cost of the dam, generation of power is ancillary to the reservoir and flood control functions of the dam. Simply put, electricity is a mere by-product. On the day we visited, only four of the 17 generators were running because they were only releasing a minimal amout of water.
We got to see models of how the generators work, and walk in one of the four original diversionary tunnels, left over from when they built the dam. I also got the answer to a question that has been bothering me for years, "What happens to the fish"? It turns out that the intakes for the turbines are located 250 feet under water, and the fish in Lake Mead only swin to a depth of about a hundred feet, generally.
Anyway, it was a fun trip.
On the 2nd Greg and I got up and drove to Brian Head in Utah to ski. I have limited knowlege of ski resorts as I have only skiied one other time, and that was last winter at Snow Creek here in Missouri (an eeny weeny hill). Forging ahead through my ignorance, I dare to say, that Brian Head is a really cool place to ski. There are two mountains linked by lifts. One is almost entirely easy and intermediate, and the other is intermediate/expert. Since it was not the weekend, the place was uncrowded, rates were reasonable, lines were short, and I got a lot of practice.
Poor Greg was very patient with me. I took a turn or two down the lower slopes and then demanded we go all the way up. When we got to the edge and looked down, I froze. He had to talk me down the mountain. It took half an hour. One thing that really helped, other than Greg's tireless paitience and understanding, was watching the three and four-year-olds who were taking lessons. They skiied all the way down, fearlessly, no poles. I kept telling myself I could do better than a four-year-old and eventually I got going. The next trip down was a little slow, but by the third time, I was whizzing along. Towards the end of the day, Greg and I split up. I wanted him to have a chance to have some fun without babysitting me. So he went off to the intermediate slopes, and I kept practicing, up and down the mountain. I fell once or twice, nothing serious, until the last run. Those damned kids did me in. So there I was hurtling down the mountain, and I wanted to drop some speed. Unfortunately, I couldn't make any wide sweeping turns because there were six or eight kids spaced out along this steep part all along the edges and I didn't want to hit them. So my turns were pretty narrow and I wasn't killing speed. Finally, I decided to just brake as hard as I could and right at that instant my ski caught on something and I went bouncing and cartwheeling down the mountain. I know I was very entertaining for the people on the chairlift right above me because when I finally slid to a stop on my back they told me so, with cheers and applause.
At that point there were about ten minutes until the lift closed. I finished going on down, but decided that was my last trip for the day.
I really enjoyed skiing, and can't wait to go again! Some things Greg and I learned: Brian Head is about 2 hours from my parent's house. We played it safe and rented a room in Cedar City which was a good deal because the motel offered a decent ski package. However, on future trips, we decided we can just drive, ski, and drive home and save that money. We did love our motel which is the Crystal Inn, Cedar City. They had a lot of amenities, free internet terminals in the lobby, hot tub, snack store, friendly staff, excellent hot breakfast free, etc.
One thing we really enjoyed was the restaurant attached to the motel, called the Bard something or other. Cedar City, Utah is home of the Utah Shakespearean Festival, which does some really good theatre. It's winter now, and they are between seasons, but as a result of the town's exploitation of all things Bard related, our motel has a British food, Shakespeare-themed restaurant attached to it.
As a rule, despite both heritage and upbringing (my mother is British, I was born in England, and spent considerable time there as a child), I cannot stand British cuisine. Living in Germany for nine years gave me a taste for an undending diet of pork, onion, and potato, probably helped alot by my paternal genes, but the British food just didn't take. I watched in horror as Greg worked his way through a huge plate of bangers and mash, but I chose the American and very tasty, pasta dish.
Looking over the menu, the food for the most part seemd very authentic; there were pastys and shepards pie, trifle and bread pudding. I did order the scones for dessert and enjoyed them tremendously, despite the lack of cream. They were big lumps of dough with jam and butter, and seemd authentic enough. I swiped a menu for my mother in case she ever goes to Cedar City.
The next morning we drove to Zion National Park one of the most beautiful parks in the country. I have camped there before and dream of doing so again. Now that my parents live so close, I will be packing my tent when I come to visit. In summer the main drive is closed to vehicles. Shuttles only ferry people through the park. In winter the road is open so we drove the main sceninc drive of Zion. We hiked the Emerald Pools trail, some three miles each way, I think.
The trail takes you by the lower, middle, and upper pools, and is a sort of a loop. The first trail took us to the lower pool, after which the trail was closed because to continue further would be to walk under a frozen waterfall that was dropping pieces of ice as big as my head. We hiked back to the parking lot and started the trail again, this time going left instead or right. That trail enabled us to see all three levels, and I am very glad it did. Three miles later and several hundreds of feet up, we came to the upper pool where the water initially seeps out of the rock. It was all frozen; the water hanging in huge icicles four to six feet in length about a hundred and fifty feet above us. Because of the warmth of the day, the icicles were melting and breaking. About every two or three minues, one would snap off and plumment to the ground below. The crash bang echoed off of the rocks around. It was very riveting. We spent at least half an hour sitting and watching. In all that time we had the little box canyon all to ourselves. It was perfect.
That evening we spent with my folks. Dad, and Greg, Jake and I went to the movies, while mom stayed at home. This whole trip, the scheduling was working out really nice. My dad has been working nights, so Greg and I do our little day trips and get home right about the time Dad is waking up. We spend the evening with him and Mom for about five hours, and then he goes to work and we go to bed.
But now we were embarking on a bit of a road trip. The morning of the fourth we get in the car and drove to Flagstaff, a five hour drive. Mom and Jake drove to Phoenix, a six hour drive. Once in Flag, we got a room and I got to see my best friend from high school, Amy. We spent the afternoon with her before my mom arrived from Phoenix with Jake and Patricia. We all went out for dinner together, then hit the sack. In the morning, mom headed back to Mesquite whilst Patricia, Jake, Greg, and I go play in the snow. We drove out of Flag in the middle of a snowstorm to one of the area's snowplay places. The kids sledded, and we all got in a snowball fight, then we headed back into town to the Lowell Observatory to take the tour. Greg and I had hoped to go the evening before when they opened their 24 inch telescope to the public for viewing, but the storm was already moving in by that point and it was too cloudy to observe. It's a small hill from downtown to Lowell observatory, but it was not plowed and Greg and I both had opportunities to nearly go off the road!
After the tour we drove to Phoenix with Jake and Patriciato drop them off and visit my sister. Debi had to work late that night unfortunately, but I cooked dinner (schnitzel) and invited Matt and his girlfriend over. We made a merry evening. My sis got home around nine and we spent some time together before bed.
So up the next morning and back to Mesquite. Nothing of note there except between Kingman and Hoover dam on 93, Greg and I left the freeway searching for a ghost town. We didn't find it, but after some hiking we ame across an abandoned mine and expored a bit.
On the 7th we rested. We meant to go to St. George and rent mountain bikes, but all the driving caught up with us. Instead we explored the desert behind my parent's house. My parents live on the Nevada-Arizona borderand the fence of their backyard is the state line. That part of Arizona is BLM land, so as soon as that line is crossed it goes from town immediatly to desert for miles. We hiked around for an hour or two. That night my parents took Greg and I out to dinner to celebrate our engagement. The restaurant was a very swanky steakhouse. Dinner was amazing. I had tempanade bruschetta for the appetizer, and filet mignon for the main meal. The chef even cooked it enough for a change! Dad chose the wine and it was excellent. Dessert was chocolate mousse with whipped cream and a chambord sauce.
God I love food.
The next day we got on a plane and came home.