October 25, 2014 – Jim Kendall’s 70th birthday party

It’s hard to believe that our friends are turning 70. It is not too far down the road for John and me as well. Luckily 70 is the new 50 and we are all eager to continue with our lives at a high level.

Ali and Van have planned a lovely party for Jim’s birthday. Sara and Wouter have flown over from Europe and many friends new and old are in attendance. We all have a nice walk down to the overlook of the Golden Gate bridge, have a delicious dinner and listen to Jim rock out some of his hits accompanied by his ubiquitous guitar.

Eli and his new sister, Vea, are up for the party and are as cute as ever!

Jim grabs a beer and it's party time!

Jim grabs a beer and it’s party time!


Wouter and Kelly deep in discussion

Wouter and Kelly deep in discussion


Eli has a snack with his friend, Jones

Eli has a snack with his friend, Jones

The view from the nearby overlook

The view from the nearby overlook


Vea and Eileen enjoying the outdoors

Vea and Eileen enjoying the outdoors


Jim with Ali and Sara

Jim with Ali and Sara


Jim rockin' it out

Jim rockin’ it out

October 22, 2014 – Mustaches!

Since John and I have been away and are going away again, we want to get over to see Nathan and Sam. I accomplish this by inviting ourselves over to dinner at Jon and Ryan’s. John is working today so I spend the day doing some shopping, having lunch with Sarah, and chilling in her apartment before it is time to go over for dinner.

Jon is home when we arrive. It is apparent that he has gone to some trouble with our dinner. He has made red beans and rice as the main course and his delicious chicken liver pate for before-sies. Wine is chilling in the refrigerator and the table is set. What a sweetie! We’ve brought along a salad and some Halloween goody bags for the kids.

When the rest of the family arrives home, we are greeted with hugs. John and Sam have a long discussion about our upcoming trip, looking at maps and even playing a map game. Nathan is still very excited about characters in his video games and talks about them as if they are real.

We have a nice dinner. Sam even eats some of the superfood salad. Then after dinner they open their goody bags. There is Dove candy which they zero in on right away but also some squirt string, glow-in-the-dark fingernails and a selection of mustaches.

We all enjoy the mustaches and take pictures of ourselves with them on.

Ryan, Jonathan and Leigh sporting mustaches

Ryan, Jonathan and Leigh sporting mustaches


Sam joins in the mustache fun although it looks like he is going for a mono-brow

Sam joins in the mustache fun although it looks like he is going for a mono-brow

John and I in our silly mustaches

John and I in our silly mustaches

October 10-17, 2014 The rest of our visit to St. George

The rest of our visit to St. George entailed traveling back from Las Vegas via the route around Lake Mead, more tennis playing, a trip to Springdale for shopping, lunch, and Zion views, packing up, cleaning the house, and the trip home which we made over two days. Here are some pictures…

The water in Lake Mead is very low. The drought is impacting water for drinking, agriculture and recreation.

The water in Lake Mead is very low. The drought is impacting water for drinking, agriculture and recreation.


Where the white rock stops is the old high water mark.

Where the white rock stops is the old high water mark.


We take a trip into Springdale where we always have lunch at Oscar's.

We take a trip into Springdale where we always have lunch at Oscar’s.


I order a chicken sandwich which I have to take apart since there is no way to fit this into my mouth!

I order a chicken sandwich which I have to take apart since there is no way to fit this into my mouth!


The views of Zion N.P. are beautiful.

The views of Zion N.P. are beautiful.


Another view

Another view


We leave for home on October 16. We are catching our first view of Las Vegas as we head south down I-15. The air in Las Vegas is hazy as usual.

We leave for home on October 16. We are catching our first view of Las Vegas as we head south down I-15. The air in Las Vegas is hazy as usual.


We change drivers in Baker, CA but do not stop at the Mad Greek for lunch.

We change drivers in Baker, CA but do not stop at the Mad Greek for lunch.


It's a good chance to take a picture of Baker's claim to fame, the world's largest thermometer. It is finally working again after being out of commission for at least five years.

It’s a good chance to take a picture of Baker’s claim to fame, the world’s largest thermometer. It is finally working again after being out of commission for at least five years.


What's not in commission is Rock-a-hula, a defunct waterpark. The faded coke can and a few derelict buildings are all that's left.

What’s not in commission is Rock-a-hula, a defunct waterpark. The faded coke can and a few derelict buildings are all that’s left.


The CA ag station waves us through. I still don't know if groceries bought in Utah count as contraband. After all, the produce probably was grown in California.

The CA ag station waves us through. I still don’t know if groceries bought in Utah count as contraband. After all, the produce probably was grown in California.

Nothing much ever changes along the ride home but here's something new. Bravo Farms is a fairly large complex at the Kettleman City exit. Wonder how long it will last.

Nothing much ever changes along the ride home but here’s something new. Bravo Farms is a fairly large complex at the Kettleman City exit. Wonder how long it will last.

We make it home around noon on Friday and get ready for visiting with family and friends in the two weeks before we are on our way to Europe!

October 9, 2014 – Dinner at Sage, Aria, City Center, Las Vegas

Jon, John, and I make a reservation at Sage, a restaurant at Aria in City Center, Las Vegas. We do this by a complex series of eliminations. Sage has made the short list once before and we decide to indulge ourselves with the shorter of the two tasting menus. Really, it’s a bargain at $89. Before I get into the dishes we eat, I’d like to say that this is one of the best dinners ever from a savory food viewpoint. The parts that are disappointing are the service which is very off-hand and not gracious for a fine dining restaurant and the desserts which are not good. My dessert is basically inedible but I don’t really care because I am not a dessert person. The rest of the dinner is really, really good and more than makes up for the bad desserts.

So the food –

First we get the fancy butter plate

First we get the fancy butter plate


This followed by the roll guy who comes around offering different breads

This followed by the roll guy who comes around offering different breads


Then there's the amuse bouche which is pork pate with citrus and caviar (it is merely okay since the pork has an offputting texture

Then there’s the amuse bouche which is pork pate with citrus and caviar (it is merely okay since the pork has an offputting texture

I think I order best. This dish is the star of the show it is a Foie Gras Custard Brulee, with Apricot Chutney/Toasted Cocoa Nibs/Salted Brioche. It is fabulous.

I think I order best. This dish is the star of the show it is a Foie Gras Custard Brulee, with Apricot Chutney/Toasted Cocoa Nibs/Salted Brioche. It is fabulous.

John has Vancouver Island Kushi Oysters with piquillo pepper and tabasco sorbet and aged tequila mignonette

John has Vancouver Island Kushi Oysters with piquillo pepper and tabasco sorbet and aged tequila mignonette

Jonathan rounds out our first courses with Wagyu beef tartare with crushed caper aioli, slow poached eggs and crispy chocolate

Jonathan rounds out our first courses with Wagyu beef tartare with crushed caper aioli, slow poached eggs and crispy chocolate


Of all the starters mine is best by far it is all I can do to let anyone even have a taste.
For the second course Jonathan and I have scallops with braised oxtail, wild mushrooms and salted caramel reduction

For the second course Jonathan and I have scallops with braised oxtail, wild mushrooms and salted caramel reduction


John has grilled octopus with garlic puree and beech mushrooms, chorizo and bell peppers. He thinks it is cosmic.

John has grilled octopus with garlic puree and beech mushrooms, chorizo and bell peppers. He thinks it is cosmic.


John and I both have the 48 hour beef belly with root vegetable puree, pickled sweet onions and buckwheat polenta. It is melt-in-your-mouth-delicious.

John and I both have the 48 hour beef belly with root vegetable puree, pickled sweet onions and buckwheat polenta. It is melt-in-your-mouth-delicious.


For his third course Jonathan has a flat iron steak with foie gras roasted chanterelles, creamy potatoes and a red wine bernaise sauce. It is good but not as good as the 48 hour beef belly.

For his third course Jonathan has a flat iron steak with foie gras roasted chanterelles, creamy potatoes and a red wine bernaise sauce. It is good but not as good as the 48 hour beef belly.


Now dinner comes to a grinding halt. We wait and wait but dessert does not appear. They offer us more wine. Still we wait. Finally a course that is definitely not worth the wait.
Milk chocolate and earl grey panna cotta with madeleines  and blackberry scalded milk gelato. Both John and Jon say this is meh.

Milk chocolate and earl grey panna cotta with madeleines and blackberry scalded milk gelato. Both John and Jon say this is meh.

My dessert is a ricotta cheesecake with smoke graham crumbs, white chocolate pearls and blueberry basil gel.  This is a really odd dessert. It is salty and not sweet. The texture is off. I cannot eat it.

My dessert is a ricotta cheesecake with smoke graham crumbs, white chocolate pearls and blueberry basil gel. This is a really odd dessert. It is salty and not sweet. The texture is off. I cannot eat it.


Would I recommend this restaurant? Yes, yes, yes. The savory courses are great and if you don’t really care about dessert it is well worth the tasting menu price. If I were to go back, I would probably just order the foie gras brulee and the 48 hour beef belly and call it a night.

It is really a great night for the three of us. In the morning we take Jonathan to the airport and he flies off to North Carolina for SoJam. John and I make our way back to St. George for another week before we leave for home.

October 2-9, 2014 – Jonathan visits St. George

Jonathan loves to visit with us in St. George and we love to have him. He is a non-stop dynamo when he is vacationing here. He plays tennis. He plays golf. He plays pingpong. He writes music. He cooks. He eats. John and I play tennis with him and then when he leaves for golf in the afternoon, we nap. Here are some pictures from his visit. Our fancy dinner at Sage is a separate post.

While John moves slowly towards the ball...

While John moves slowly towards the ball…


Jonathan reaches new heights in trying to retrieve a shot.

Jonathan reaches new heights in trying to retrieve a shot.


Jonathan is at the stove making his special dinner for us.

Jonathan is at the stove making his special dinner for us.


John is happy to have a night off from cooking and so am I!

John is happy to have a night off from cooking and so am I!


The finished dish scallops with braised leeks and mashed potatoes garnished with asparagus and mushrooms in a beurre blanc sauce. Yum!

The finished dish scallops with braised leeks and mashed potatoes garnished with asparagus and mushrooms in a beurre blanc sauce. Yum!


Jon outside one of our favorite lunch spots, Mad Pita Express.

Jon outside one of our favorite lunch spots, Mad Pita Express.


Jon inside Mad Pita!

Jon inside Mad Pita!


We always take a trip to the Zion Shops when Jon visits. Here he is wearing a new shirt and pants.

We always take a trip to the Zion Shops when Jon visits. Here he is wearing a new shirt and pants.


Jon's trip ends with a trip to Las Vegas. Here the guys peruse the bar menu before dinner.

Jon’s trip ends with a trip to Las Vegas. Here the guys peruse the bar menu before dinner.

September 15, 2014 – Palo Alto

Nathan’s third grade class does some poetry recitation and interactive games for an adoring audience of family and friends.

Nathan looks a little apprehensive as he waits to participate in the class recitation

Nathan looks a little apprehensive as he waits to participate in the class recitation


Nathan, on the left, is getting into character

Nathan, on the left, is getting into character

The kids enjoy making tableaux with the poetry

The kids enjoy making tableaux with the poetry

Nathan receives flowers for his performance and shares one with Sam

Nathan receives flowers for his performance and shares one with Sam

August 23, 2014 – to Reno

There is a fierce storm overnight and our off-roading trip today is cancelled. We head out across the barren Utah landscape with the road stretching in front of us.

UT-21 stretches out before us

UT-21 stretches out before us


Our original idea for today is to go to Great Basin National Park via some dirt roads, spend some time at the park and then head to Ely and spend the night. As we enter Nevada and see the Pacific Time Zone sign we realize that we didn’t factor in the gain of an hour today. Maybe we won’t have enough to do to fill the time until check-in at Ely.
Welcome to Nevada! Please use the sign for target practice.

Welcome to Nevada! Please use the sign for target practice.


We get to Great Basin National Park before 10 AM and look inside the Visitor Center. Things to do here are a cave tour that you need a reservation for, a two mile hike to an arch, and the scenic road up towards Wheeler Peak. We watch a film about the Park and decide that maybe we could do the drive and then perhaps take a walk on the Bristlecone Pine Trail.
This National Park is quite out of the way.

This National Park is quite out of the way.


Wheeler Peak is over 13,000 feet in elevation with the top being above the tree line.

Wheeler Peak is over 13,000 feet in elevation with the top being above the tree line.


We take the scenic ride and stop at the overlooks. At one overlook there is a plaque honoring Stephen T. Mather, first Director of the National Park Service. John’s high school is named after him. Their team is the Rangers. Of course, we have to have our pictures taken with the plaque.
John and the plaque

John and the plaque


A fellow traveler offered to take our picture

A fellow traveler offered to take our picture


Up and up we go. We pass elevation signs. The hike at the end of the trail is seeming less likely.
We are living the high life now!

We are living the high life now!


The huge peak is looming larger and larger in front of us.
Wheeler Peak

Wheeler Peak


We get to the end of the road which is over 10,000 feet. Leaving the car the wind is blowing and the temperatures are in the high 40′s. We are dressed for 60 degree weather. We walk over to the description of the various trails. I really would like to see the Bristlecone Pines but the nearest one is a mile and a half away. I am not sure that I can hike mostly uphill for three miles in thin air and cold weather. We retreat to the car and drive back down the road.

Now it’s shortly before 11 AM. We are in Ely by noon. What to do? We cancel our reservations and decide to spend the night in Reno. We head off down the loneliest road in America. We reach Reno around 6 PM and finish our trip home the next day.

Highway 50 in Nevada

Highway 50 in Nevada

August 22, 2014 To Beaver

Before leaving this morning we have an early breakfast at Hell’s Backbone Grill. Everything
seems a bit super-sized, giant toast, thick bacon. We are quite full from what we could eat of it.

Good thing because circumstances transpired to keep us from lunch until 3 PM.

Our original plan had been to take a combination of scenic byways and dirt roads to Beaver, UT. When he was checking out John asked the proprietor about the condition of the dirt roads due to some rain recently. He was warned not take the dirt roads due to extreme downpours in the region. so now we have to rethink our day.

Signposts for the Boulder Mountain Lodge

Signposts for the Boulder Mountain Lodge


Sunflower at Boulder Mountain Lodge

Sunflower at Boulder Mountain Lodge


We start off traveling north on UT-12. As was true yesterday the scenery is spectacular . We pull into many viewpoints where as usual people feel compelled to talk to me. Tidbits from today – one woman is so excited that we are from St. George because she is from Cedar City. Cedar City is 50 miles north of St. George. We are not neighbors. Another lady who was in the lady’s room at the same time as I explained that towels were better than hot air machines since the air can blow the flora from your hands up to six feet away. She also mentioned that she was a scientist. I have some weird attraction that makes people want to talk to me. They can’t help themselves.

Any way, the trip over Boulder Mountian is beautiful and we see deer and chipmunks scurrying across the road and cows on the verge looking at us balefully.

View of the land that we traveled over yesterday from atop Boulder Mtn.

View of the land that we traveled over yesterday from atop Boulder Mtn.


It is really chilly up here

It is really chilly up here


A cow gives us a look

A cow gives us a look


Coming down the other side of Boulder Mtn.

Coming down the other side of Boulder Mtn.


Our new plan is to visit Capitol Reef NP. We stop for photos along the way and drive the scenic drive. We have to avoid the washes since there are flash flood warnings.
Twin Rocks - the two on the left look like they are gossiping about the one on the right who is yelling

Twin Rocks – the two on the left look like they are gossiping about the one on the right who is yelling

View

View


At the Visitor's Center

At the Visitor’s Center


Another view

Another view


The only other place we stop at on our ride to Beaver is Antimony because who can resist a place named after an element. John thinks the town motto should be, “Antimony-It’s elementary.”
Antimony - It's Elementary!

Antimony – It’s Elementary!


Antimony probably has a population of about 40 people, no wonder the USPS is going bankrupt!

Antimony probably has a population of about 40 people, no wonder the USPS is going bankrupt!


We drive and drive and drive. There is no place to eat lunch. Reaching Beaver around 3 PM we have a quick lunch and scope out the town. There is no place to eat dinner. We finally decide on a trip to the local liquor store, Beaver Liquor, and the grocery store and end up eating dinner in the room.

Tomorrow we are off for Great Basin NP in Nevada!

August 21, 2014 – To Boulder, UT

Today we start to take the long way home. I am the first driver. As we head north on I-15 and past our usual exits I notice a sign that I have never seen anywhere – speed limit 80! Now I am no stranger to pushing the legal speed limit to somewhere between 75 and 80 but now I am allowed to? It seems too fast to be allowable.

After a quick breakfast in Cedar City, Utah, John takes the wheel. He always drives when there are high places involved and as we will be climbing UT-14 to 9000 feet, it is possible that I could get a little freaked. As we ascend we get our first glimpses of Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Cedar Breaks National Monument from UT-14

Cedar Breaks National Monument from UT-14

We stop at an overlook to view the panorama looking back towards Zion NP. We are at the top of the staircase that starts with the pink rock of Cedar Breaks and Bryce Canyon and ends in the ancient rock at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Panorama from near Cedar Breaks NM back towards Zion NP

Panorama from near Cedar Breaks NM back towards Zion NP


A lot of the evergreens here have died due to bark beetle infestation. Opportunistic aspens take over.

A lot of the evergreens here have died due to bark beetle infestation. Opportunistic aspens take over.


By noon we reach Bryce Canyon NP. After a quick stop at the visitor’s center so John can get his National Parks book stamped we head out to Bryce Point. The park is fairly uncrowded. Most of the visitors appear to be Europeans as American children are back to school and have already been assigned to write what they did on their summer vacations. We take the walk out to the point. At 8300 feet we notice we are a bit breathless negotiating the small hills. The views are astounding. The rock formations called hoodoos fill the colorful landscape.
John at Bryce Point

John at Bryce Point


View from Bryce Point

View from Bryce Point

The Wall of Windows which are actually mostly alcoves

The Wall of Windows which are actually mostly alcoves

Here's a free standing window

Here’s a free standing window

Another view

Another view

One more

One more


We decide to have lunch at the Bryce Canyon Lodge. We have managed to arrive at the moment when the computer goes down. We wait over half an hour for a salad and a sandwich which are mediocre. Certainly the time would have been better spent looking at the incredible formations in Bryce Canyon.

Lastly we take a look at Fairyland Canyon. Once more there are beautiful views. As we turn around to head back to the car, the sky is looking ominous. Being out on an exposed point with an electrical storm approaching is not a good place to be.

Mary at Fairyland Canyon

Mary at Fairyland Canyon

View from Fairyland Canyon with sinking ship formation

View from Fairyland Canyon with sinking ship formation

Uh oh

Uh oh


We hop back in the car to finish the drive to Boulder, UT where we will spend the night. Along the way there’s more fabulous scenery and REALLY scary stretches where the road is on a spine between two canyons. The two lane road takes up the whole space between the canyons. We stop once to look at Powell’s Point. On his second expedition Wesley Powell mapped this area. It was the last area in the continental U.S. to be mapped.
A view looking towards Powells Peak

A view looking towards Powells Peak

Close up of Powells Peak

Close up of Powells Peak


We make it to Boulder just as the rain drops start to fall. We are staying at the Boulder Mountain Lodge. There is a restaurant here called the Hell’s Backbone Grill. After resting up for a while we go to dinner. By Utah standards the dinner is really outstanding. What is especially good are the vegetables that they grow on their farm a mile or two down the road.

Tomorrow we hope to do some off-roading on the way to Beaver, UT

August 12, 2014 – Roadtrip to St. George, Part II (Tonopah, NV to St. George, UT)

After having typical night-in-a-motel kinds of sleep, we are up early to continue on to St. George, UT. There’s no fear of traffic jams today as we will be traveling through some of the most uninhabited land in the West. The good part is that you can pretty much go as fast as you want on the roads. Only thing to watch out for are cows wandering across the street.

We are off around 7:15 AM after a less than impressive breakfast of pre-made rubber western omelets, sausages with a lot of filler, toast from the anemic toaster and coffee with milk which is just a little too old. There’s really nothing much to keep us in Tonopah. (Pah in Paiute means water. There are a lot of names out here with “pah” in them such as Pahrump, NV. A natural hot springs spa near St. George is Pah Tempe Hot Springs.)

Tonopah in the early morning light. The "T" on the hillside helps you to remember where you are.

Tonopah in the early morning light. The “T” on the hillside helps you to remember where you are.


I love being on the road early in the morning. It really speaks of vacation to me. We head east. We are the only ones on the road which stretches out like a thin silver ribbon through the desert.
Go straight for about 60 miles.

Go straight for about 60 miles.


Since this is John’s first long car trip since his hip replacement we are careful to stop about once an hour to stretch and change drivers. Our first change comes at Warm Springs, NV. Warm Springs was settled in 1866 but since has become a ghost town. There is a stream that runs through this old town that is full of minerals and is steaming in the early morning temperatures.
Warm Springs defunct bar and cafe. The white stuff in the left of the picture is mineral residue from the spring.

Warm Springs defunct bar and cafe. The white stuff in the left of the picture is mineral residue from the spring.

The warm spring

The warm spring


Turning the corner here in Warm Springs we leave U.S. 6 and begin our ride on NV 375, The Extraterrestrial Highway. This road skirts Area 51. It used to have Extraterrestrial Highway signs at both ends and in the middle. The only sign left is the one in the middle near Rachel but it is so covered by stickers and graffiti that it is unreadable.
We turn right onto NV 375, The Extraterrestrial Highway

We turn right onto NV 375, The Extraterrestrial Highway


We tear along the road towards Rachel. The suggested speed is 70. John is driving now so we are closer to the posted limit. I will make up for that later. All along the road are the warning signs of “Open Range” with jaunty looking cows. Open range means that there are no fences and the cows can wander across the road. I keep a sharp eye out. If you hit a cow and survive, you have to pay the rancher. I guess if you hit the cow and both you and the cow die, your estate has to pay the rancher. There are two types of cows on the signs. In Nevada they are mostly jaunty beef cattle. In California and Utah they are drawn as stolid dairy cows with udders. You’d think from a survival point of view that beef cattle would be a little less happy looking.
Jaunty open range beef cattle

Jaunty open range beef cattle


Sixty miles have come and gone. Time to change drivers at Rachel, Nevada’s newest town founded in 1973. It’s claim to fame is the Little Ale-e-inn. There’s lots of E.T. and UFO kitsch here.
The Little Ale-e-inn in Rachel is always worth a stop

The Little Ale-e-inn in Rachel is always worth a stop


I’m the driver now and we really zip along to our next stop, Crystal Springs. Things out here don’t change much so it is pretty exciting that an Alien Research Center has been built here recently with a giant alien out front. Crystal Springs is also the best place to get E.T. Fresh Jerky.
The Alien Research Center in Crystal Springs. Snoopers welcome!

The Alien Research Center in Crystal Springs. Snoopers welcome!

Alien Fresh Jerky

Alien Fresh Jerky


We’ve been on the road about three and half hours when it is definitely time for some coffee. Being creatures of habit we always stop in Caliente, NV at the Sinclair station for a mixture of coffee and cappuccino. Caliente is famous for its hot springs and its Mission Revival style train station. Once trains became diesel-powered Caliente was no longer a stopping point. The train station was turned over to the town and has been repurposed. In another bit of notoriety, according to testimony given in the criminal case, Utah v. Warren Jeffs, the Hot Springs Motel located in Caliente is the site of several forced marriages between under-aged girls and older men. Hot times!
Caliente train station

Caliente train station


Me with the Sinclair dinosaur

Me with the Sinclair dinosaur

John fueling up

John fueling up


Yay, we’ve reached Utah! And what’s that in the corner of the picture? Yes, a stolid dairy cow!
Welcome to Utah!

Welcome to Utah!

Here's a close-up

Here’s a close-up


We decide to take a side trip down the main street of Modena, Utah. Modena is a former railroad town and home to the Righteous Branch, a fundamentalist sect of Mormonism. It’s pretty dilapidated.
Main street in Modena, Utah

Main street in Modena, Utah

The Last Chance Saloon in Modena

The Last Chance Saloon in Modena


Picture of a reported UFO sighting over Modena in 2005

Picture of a reported UFO sighting over Modena in 2005


We are getting close to St. George now, only about 45 minutes away. We pass by the entrance to Mountain Meadows. This is the site where 120 men, women, and older children on their way to California from Arkansas were killed in 1857 by a Mormon militia. The Mormons in the Utah Territory were afraid of an invasion and had been educated to fear outsiders. Seventeen young children were spared since they would not be able to remember what had happened.
Mountain Meadows Massacre site

Mountain Meadows Massacre site


One more town to go before we reach St. George. The town of Veyo in volcano country is known for its cindercones.
Cindercone in Veyo

Cindercone in Veyo


This volcano's caldera is apparent

This volcano’s caldera is apparent


We are traveling down Utah 18 now and coming around a bend we are treated to spectacular views of Snow Canyon. Snow Canyon State Park is about a mile from our house and has scenery and hiking that rivals the bigger national parks in the area.
A view of Snow Canyon from Utah 18

A view of Snow Canyon from Utah 18

We can see that its raining over Snow Canyon State Park

We can see that it’s raining over Snow Canyon State Park


We head through the gate and turn onto our street. We’ve been away for over two months and I am always a little apprehensive until I see the house. Everything seems in order, though, and we are happy to be in our home away from home.
Through the gate...

Through the gate…


Down the street...

Down the street…

and home!

and home!

(Update: Everything was not quite right unfortunately. Our air conditioning system broke and has to be replaced. With temperatures forecast in low 100′s this weekend. We are hoping that the new system can be installed quickly.)

August 11, 2014 – Roadtrip to Saint George, Part I

Sometimes a drive is just a drive, but sometimes it is a ROADTRIP! John and I have probably made this trip 50 times over the last 11 years, but there is always something new and interesting every time we go. Today’s trip starts at home and ends up in Tonopah, NV. We will go the rest of the way to St. George, UT on August 11. Rather than a lot of text, our journey is narrated with pictures.

Since we need to break up the trip about an hour at a time, first stop is for some breakfast and gas in Oakdale, CA.

Since we need to break up the trip about an hour at a time, first stop is for some breakfast and gas in Oakdale, CA.


The Kiwi Tavern in Chinese Camp has been for sale for several years now.

The Kiwi Tavern in Chinese Camp has been for sale for several years now.


This is the first time we've ever stopped in Groveland. It's too early in the day for the Iron Door Saloon.

This is the first time we’ve ever stopped in Groveland. It’s too early in the day for the Iron Door Saloon.


Groveland is at the top of the Old Priest Grade, a really steep narrow road with a scary drop next to it.

Groveland is at the top of the Old Priest Grade, a really steep narrow road with a scary drop next to it.

There are even old timey wood boardwalks in Groveland. We stop at the Firefall Coffee Roasting Co.  and pick up a couple of sandwiches for a picnic later in the day.

There are even old timey wood boardwalks in Groveland. We stop at the Firefall Coffee Roasting Co. and pick up a couple of sandwiches for a picnic later in the day.


Reaching the entrance to Yosemite National Park, it is time to stretch our legs again.

Reaching the entrance to Yosemite National Park, it is time to stretch our legs again.


In the park there is still a lot of evidence of the Rim Fire from a couple of years ago.

In the park there is still a lot of evidence of the Rim Fire from a couple of years ago.

One of the perils of traveling through the park is that you can be held up by road work for 20 minutes at a time.

One of the perils of traveling through the park is that you can be held up by road work for 20 minutes at a time.

Although the scenery is spectacular, we are now in a long line of cars

Although the scenery is spectacular, we are now in a long line of cars

Storm clouds begin to gather

Storm clouds begin to gather

The park is packed. It is hard to imagine enjoying the wilderness with all these people!

The park is packed. It is hard to imagine enjoying the wilderness with all these people!

Uh oh, it's starting to rain and there's another traffic delay due to roadwork

Uh oh, it’s starting to rain and there’s another traffic delay due to roadwork

Finally we are out of the park and taking the scary road down to Lee Vining.

Finally we are out of the park and taking the scary road down to Lee Vining.

We've been here when the snow is still deep during the summer.  This year there are just a few patches left at higher elevations.

We’ve been here when the snow is still deep during the summer. This year there are just a few patches left at higher elevations.

After passing Mono Lake and driving the exciting rollercoaster road, we arrive in spooky Benton where we have never seen anyone at this park.

After passing Mono Lake and driving the exciting rollercoaster road, we arrive in spooky Benton where we have never seen anyone at this park.

There's a playground here that we've never seen any children play on.

There’s a playground here that we’ve never seen any children play on.

The basketball nets swing quietly in the breeze. No one shoots hoops.

The basketball nets swing quietly in the breeze. No one shoots hoops.


Here's what is left of Coaldale, NV. Over the last 10 years it has fallen into more and more disrepair.

Here’s what is left of Coaldale, NV. Over the last 10 years it has fallen into more and more disrepair.


Yay, we are finally in Tonopah, NV! It is after 5 PM. This has been an unusually slow trip. I think we'll pass up the Clown Motel.

Yay, we are finally in Tonopah, NV! It is after 5 PM. This has been an unusually slow trip. I think we’ll pass up the Clown Motel.

Wouldn't you?

Wouldn’t you?

We are staying at the BW Hi-Desert Inn. You always need reservations in Tonopah these days. A solar energy project and gold mining has made this place a boom town again.

We are staying at the BW Hi-Desert Inn. You always need reservations in Tonopah these days. A solar energy project and gold mining has made this place a boom town again.

There's only bad food in Tonopah. We settle for bar snacks at the recently renovated Mizpah Hotel.

There’s only bad food in Tonopah. We settle for bar snacks at the recently renovated Mizpah Hotel.


The hotel and bar has a real Victorian feel to it.

The hotel and bar has a real Victorian feel to it.

Time for bed. We still have about 5 hours to drive tomorrow!

June 23, 2014 – John’s total hip replacement

Today John goes into the hospital for a total hip replacement. I am staying up in Brentwood for the next few nights since Kaiser does all orthopedic surgery in Antioch. We arrive at the hotel on Sunday night and the next morning John is scheduled for 7:15 AM.

He is taken in and prepped for surgery. He is nervous but excited about a new life without constant hip pain.

John looking spiffy in his pre-surgery duds

John looking spiffy in his pre-surgery duds

The surgery goes smoothly and he is in his room by around 1 PM. He has some serious pain medication on board.

John in his room after surgery

John in his room after surgery

I am writing this almost three weeks after the surgery. The first two weeks of recovery were hard. John has been very good about doing his PT and keeping after the pain. The most difficult thing for us is sleeping. Starting after the first two weeks his stitches came out and he was given a cane. His mobility has increased rapidly and his pain level is low. There is light at the end of the tunnel!

June 21, 2014 – Summer solstice celebration

Since Sarah, John and I were not home at Christmas this year, we decided to have our celebration on summer solstice. Everyone bought into the idea and the kids got to have a second Christmas. All such celebrations must include hors d’ouevres (ala Pilat Eve), a tasty bread product (mimicing bagels and lox Christmas morning), gifts, and a festive dinner with a fancy dessert (Jon usually hosts Christmas dinner.)

I think we manage to hit all the high points. Jon brings chopped liver pate and pimento cheese for hors d’oeuvres, Sarah makes pretzel rolls for our tasty bread product, John and I grill a festive dinner, and Leigh makes a buche de Noel for dessert. And of course there are gifts.

Nathan and Sam are ready for some presents

Nathan and Sam are ready for some presents


Nathan is very excited to get a recycled iPad

Nathan is very excited to get a recycled iPad


Sarah's pretzel rolls

Sarah’s pretzel rolls


Our festive dinner - not sure whether Sam is in terrific pain or is smiling for the camera

Our festive dinner – not sure whether Sam is in terrific pain or is smiling for the camera


Our fabulous Buche de Noel by Leigh (with Sam)

Our fabulous Buche de Noel by Leigh (with Sam)


There is talk about making this a permanent holiday. We’ll see….

June 1- June 8, 2014 – Jonathan visits St. George

While Ryan, Leigh and their folks take the kids for an exciting week in SoCal, Jonathan joins us for a week in St. George.

We start early on June 1 and go Jon’s favorite way – through Yosemite NP, up and down roller coaster road, lunch in Tonopah, and a brief stop in Rachel, NV.

Jon at Olstead Point looking at...

Jon at Olstead Point looking at…


looking at Half-Dome in the distance

looking at Half-Dome in the distance


A stop at the Little Al-e-inn in Rachel, NV

A stop at the Little Al-e-inn in Rachel, NV

After reaching St. George we spend the week playing tennis, pingpong, swimming, hiking and playing golf (just Jonathan for golf.)

Jon on the tennis court

Jon on the tennis court

Jon and John at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead

Jon and John at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead

The guys taking a break

The guys taking a break

Jonathan enjoying the view at trail's end

Jonathan enjoying the view at trail’s end


The view

The view

We ended our trip to St. George with an overnight in Las Vegas and a special dinner at Alize. We all agreed that the dinner and the service were spectacular.

Jon and John before our dinner at Alize

Jon and John before our dinner at Alize


The three of us after dinner with Las Vegas lit up through the windows

The three of us after dinner with Las Vegas lit up through the windows

Every trip we have taken together has been really wonderful. I am looking forward to many more.

May 25, 2014 – Sam’s graduation party

Where has the time gone? Sam is five and graduating from preschool. Kindergarten is on the horizon. It seems like just yesterday he was a baby.

Here are some pictures from his graduation party.

Sam in his pink Darth Vadar cape

Sam in his pink Darth Vadar cape


Sam's party has a "Dem Bones" theme. Auntie Leigh supplies the cake.

Sam’s party has a “Dem Bones” theme. Auntie Leigh supplies the cake.


Sam peers through the slits for a zoetropic effect

Sam peers through the slits for a zoetropic effect

May 19, 2014 – Bourges – The Final Judgment

I am calling this last day of our sightseeing The Final Judgment. I think it’s been building up to this – a devil here, a leviathan there, a pot of boiling souls, thumbs up, thumbs down, you’re saved, you’re damned. Today at the Cathedral of St. Stephen, judgment is everywhere.

Imagine yourself in 13th century Europe. Most of the things that even everyday citizens knew was lost with the fall of the Roman Empire. Knowledge was for the few and the privileged. Religion gives you hope for a better life in the hereafter. You walk into this amazing cathedral full of light with beautiful windows and carvings telling you how to achieve eternal bliss and how to avoid eternal damnation.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral was built in the late 12th century as a replacement for a mid-10th century structure. That 10th structure was probably a replacement for a Gallo-Roman church and before that a Roman temple. Architecturally it is surprising. There is no transept, the cross part of a church. It is light an airy. Buttresses have been built to support a bell tower and the fragile glass walls.

St. Stephen's Cathedral i Bourges

St. Stephen’s Cathedral i Bourges


Heavy early Gothic style buttress to keep the tower up

Heavy early Gothic style buttress to keep the tower up


Flying buttresses to support the glass and stone walls

Flying buttresses to support the glass and stone walls


Interior of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Bourges

Interior of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Bourges


My 13th century self wants to know how to behave and what is the penalty for breaking God’s rule. It is all over this church. And it is scary.
Souls damned to hell in a pot of boiling oil tended by demons (part of the original rood screen)

Souls damned to hell in a pot of boiling oil tended by demons (part of the original rood screen)


The Leviathan having a munch on sinners (part of the original rood screen)

The Leviathan having a munch on sinners (part of the original rood screen)

All men have to struggle with devils (13th century stained glass)

All men have to struggle with devils (13th century stained glass)

St. John in Revelations tells of the Last Days with Jesus and his double edged sword

St. John in Revelations tells of the Last Days with Jesus and his double edged sword


If you sin, it's into the pot with you ( 13th century stained glass)

If you sin, it’s into the pot with you ( 13th century stained glass)


Here's the Leviathan again with more damned souls (13th century stained glass)

Here’s the Leviathan again with more damned souls (13th century stained glass)


Out on the tympanum of one of the portals, the Archangel Michael weighs souls and the devil gathers up those not going to heaven (12th century)

Out on the tympanum of one of the portals, the Archangel Michaels weighs souls and the devil gathers up those not going to heaven (12th century)

It's into the cauldron for sinners (12th century)

It’s into the cauldron for sinners (12th century)


Another interesting aspect of the 13th century stained glass windows is that many of them are sponsored by local trades. The tradesmen want to make sure that everyone knows who paid for the window and how they have obviously bettered their chances of getting into heaven. Most windows are read from the bottom up so the advertisement for butchers or masons is the first thing you see.
This window brought to you by carpenters (l.), coopers and wheelwrights (r.)

This window brought to you by carpenters (r.), coopers and wheelwrights (l.)


This window brought to you by butchers

This window brought to you by butchers


This window brought to you by tanners

This window brought to you by tanners


Needless to say we do a pretty complete inspection of the cathedral. We decide to skip lunch and have a little relaxing time in the hotel while we wait for the afternoon’s sites to reopen at 2 PM.

After non-lunch we visit the palace of Jacques Coeur, Steward and Director of the Mint for Charles VII. During the 15th century he amassed an enormous amount of wealth, enough to build a fleet of armed vessels to trade all over the Mediterranean and India. He used his wealth to build a splendid palace. Unfortunately he fell out with the king, was sent on a crusade and died. His wife got to live in the palace but not Jacques Coeur.

Jacques Coeur palace

Jacques Coeur palace


Statue of Jacques Coeur (with Clark and Lewis)

Statue of Jacques Coeur (with Clark and Lewis)


We are pretty tired out from all the walking about today. We decide to partake in the quintessential French relaxation, sitting in a cafe. Since we’ve skipped lunch we share a croques-monsieur and watch Bourges pass by.
John has a Floreffe Belgian white beer

John has a Floreffe Belgian white beer


In the picture before, over John's right shoulder is a half-timbered house

In the picture before, over John’s right shoulder is a half-timbered house


I did not realize that a croques-monsieur had cheese on the outside!

I did not realize that a croques-monsieur had cheese on the outside!


Tomorrow we won’t be doing anything other than getting back to Paris to catch the plane on Wednesday so we treat ourselves to one final French dinner at La Bourbonnoux.

Great day, great trip! Looking forward to being home.

May 18, 2014 – Le Puy to Bourges

John and I wake up early. It has been a difficult night for sleeping. We are on the first floor (U.S. second floor) and since the air conditioning has not been turned on for the season yet, we have the windows open. All night long there is revelry going on in the square below. Around 5:50 AM I give up and read the news. John wakes up shortly thereafter.

Shortly before 7:15 AM there is a noise at the door. There is no knock. Someone is putting a key in the lock. They open our door which is around the corner from the bed so I can’t see who it is. I call out, “Hello?” A man says “I am sorry” and leaves. So some man has used a pass key to get into our locked room with the Do Not Disturb sign on the door. We are mightily disturbed.

We call down to the desk. No one knows anything. The manager comes up and talks to John. He says, did you lock your door? There is no way to lock the door any further because the door locks automatically and can only be opened with a key. The night manager’s voice sounds suspiciously like the voice we heard when the man who came in spoke.

We are pretty freaked by the whole thing. When we leave there is no explanation, they are just sorry we had a problem. We feel like the people at the front desk know what is going on. Who else would have a key to our room? And why would they want to get into our room at 7:15 in the morning? It wasn’t the cleaning people who are women and were not even working yet.

This has put a real damper on the day. We drive through beautiful countryside on the way to Bourges, talking periodically about what has happened. We stop for lunch at a rest stop on the highway. They have a map and we are smack dab in the middle of France. We have plates full of vegetables and bread.

We reach Bourges around 3 PM. John and I, exhausted from the activities of the day, decide to just have some quiet time until dinner. Our room is fine and has a pretty view of the garden in the back. We have all day tomorrow to explore what looks to be a very beautiful city.

Our room in Bourges

Our room in Bourges


View out our back window

View out our back window


Around 7 PM we take a walk around the old section of the city. We are eager to explore the cathedral and the palaces tomorrow. There are also a lot of well-preserved half-timbered houses. We will have to check in at the Visitor’s Information bureau to see if there is a walking tour.

We find a restaurant that the hotel has recommended. It has a few Americans, some Australians and French couples out to dinner. I figure that the hotels have all decided this is the best offering for a Sunday night when almost all the restaurants are closed. (ditto for Monday)

We start our dinner with an amuse bouche and a couple of salads. My salad has vegetables in it. John’s salad has salmon in it. Both will make a reprise in the second course. John and I share a dessert. That’s a rarity since I don’t really like sweet stuff and I definitely don’t like to share.

Looking forward to a full and interesting day tomorrow.

May 17, 2014 – Le Puy en Velay

(I have gotten behind in posting so John has been gracious enough to help me out.)

John here.

Today we bid farewell to St. Remy en Provence (and to our very kind hosts, Katrien and Filip) and set out for Le Puy en Velay, home of the green lentil of the same name. We get to the A7, head north for about 70 km, exit at Montelimar, and take the N102 towards Meyres where we hope to have lunch at a restaurant Mary has found on the internet.

Jack, our GPS, has other ideas. Despite all the signs directing us to continue on the N102 towards Aubenas and Le Puy, he keeps trying to take us a better way. We know better this time and selectively disregards his errant suggestions.

We proceed up (and steeply so) the valley of the Ardeche River. It is beautiful country despite having what appears to be a thriving logging industry. The road is very twisty with broad vistas of farms and mountains.

We finally get to Meyres and actually find the restaurant, Auberge du Pont. Mary has a salad and a roast beef plate, I have calamari Provencale style and fish Normady style. Mary’s beef and fries could have been materially improved by a sauce and some ketchup. We also suspect that the cattle had grazed on lavender. The owner is very pleased when we say that we found his website, which he apparently designed and implemented himself.


On to Le Puy (again no thanks to Jack). We find our hotel and decide to take a little walk around town to see the cathedral, one of the few large purely Romanesque churches left in France, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot plus being a major stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Campostela in Spain.

What we had not realized is that the cathedral is in the Upper Town and that up is REALLY up. And then the church itself has another hundred steps to get in. Serious exertion to say the least. Inside there is interesting art from the 11th through 17th centuries. Stepping out back, we get a view of the giant statue of the virgin made of melted captured Russian cannons from the Crimean War, perched on the very top of the peak.

Cathedral Notre Dame du Puy

Cathedral Notre Dame du Puy


St. James, patron saint of travelers

St. James, patron saint of travelers


Cathedral interior -the Romanesque structure shows in the massive columns and small windows

Cathedral interior -the Romanesque structure shows in the massive columns and small windows


Notre Dame de France

Notre Dame de France

(I have finished Clark and Lewis and am now taking over from John. Thanks, sweetie!)

What is more perilous going up those hundred stairs or down them and then steeply downhill on cobbled streets? I have to say down. My knee just does not like doing down.

Looking down the hill from the cathedral

Looking down the hill from the cathedral

We make it back to the hotel and flop in the room for a while. Then we go down to the Tavern here for dinner. We must have lentils in Le Puy! My meal is unsuccessful. John’s is more successful and reminds us of the giant pork knuckle we had Prague. Today is my day for ordering badly. Tomorrow I am going to decide what to order and then eat something completely different.

Short stay in Le Puy en Velay. Tomorrow we are off to Bourges.

May 16, 2014 – Arles, Nimes and the Pont du Gard

We have a lot to accomplish today and we are out of the apartment by 9:30 AM. Our first stop will be Arles to see the Roman theater and amphitheater and maybe Van Gogh’s little yellow house.

Arles is kind of a big city with lots of industry, really not what we were expecting at all. We find a great parking space right next to the amphitheater and make our way in. The amphitheater is impressive from the outside but not so much on the inside. There are a lot of bleachers set up which hide the original structure. The original structure itself has been renovated and reconstructed over time. We read that there are bullfights in the arena as well as other modern activities. Today some school kids are learning history first hand.

The amphitheater in Arles

The amphitheater in Arles


The teens look fairly bored by the costumed Roman

The teens look fairly bored by the costumed Roman


The middle schoolers are much more into it

The middle schoolers are much more into it


We peek through the gates of the Roman theater in Arles. It is not nearly as complete as the one in Orange so we decide to keep our 13 euros and move on to our next destination.

Is it possible to get lost with a GPS? We are caught in a rabbit warren of tiny streets trying to get out to where Jack, our GPS, says “Proceed to the highlighted route.” We try to follow his original route but he keeps wanting to take us down a road that is shut off by bollards. No matter what, he wants us to turn around and go to the bollarded road. So we keep pushing on and the streets are getting smaller and smaller. At one point John has to make three maneuvers just to get around a corner.
Sometimes we wish we had a smaller car.

Chevy Orlando and John

Chevy Orlando and John


Finally we break free and are on our way to Nimes. Once there and parked we have no idea where we are. We decide to eat lunch and ask the waiter where the Roman ampitheater is. Oh, only about 200 meters away in the only direction we haven’t looked. This is a big structure. Hard to miss.
Roman amphitheater in Nimes

Roman amphitheater in Nimes


Inside it is much like the one in Arles. It’s been refitted for modern events. Here, though, instead of school kids on field trips, there is a large Trojan horse.
Trojan Horse

Trojan Horse


One more sight to see is the Maison Carre or square house. It is a very intact Roman temple. Originally dedicated to the Princes of Rome, the emperor family cult, today it is another site for field trips.
Maison Carre

Maison Carre


John and I have been tired all day and now it is around 3 PM and we need to make the decision, Pont du Gard or go back to the apartment? Pont du Gard wins. Having seen the amazing aqueduct at Segovia, Spain, I want to see this one. It is a magnificent three tiered structure. There is a short movie about it and many other activities that one could do on the site. We look at the aqueduct and take a short walk on it.
Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard


1000 year old olive tree near the Pont du Gard

1000 year old olive tree near the Pont du Gard

John  and the Pont

John and the Pont

View of the aqueduct from the adjoining road

View of the aqueduct from the adjoining road


Last thing on the list for today? Stop at the grocery store to buy the ingredients for tonight’s dinner. We make penne with a cacciatore sauce. And now I think I’ll go to bed.