Kanab

Now playing in Kanab, Utah.

Now playing in Kanab, Utah.

For years after it was settled by Mormons in the mid-19th Century, Kanab claimed it was one of “the most isolated cities in the nation.” Today, even though it sits as the hub on a wheel of magnificent natural wonders, with numerous national parks and outdoor destinations a short hop, skip, and jump in every direction, and with a major state highway bisecting the town bringing countless visitors through annually, this “city” of about 4,000 residents still feels cut off from the rest of the nation, both literally and figuratively. With Springdale to its west and Moab to its east, both flourishing from several decades of tourist boom, Kanab still seems like a¬†forgotten step-child – unwilling or unable to catch up.

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White Pocket

White Pocket - an alien world

White Pocket – an alien world

When I asked William James, manager for Dreamland Safari Tours, which day tour he recommended, he quickly replied, “White Pocket. It’s an alien planet!” We’d been pondering signing up for one of the rare day passes given out by lottery to Northern Arizona’s famous The Wave, but the chances of winning that, along with needing a permit and a four-wheel drive vehicle (neither of which we had), had us taking a look around and what else was out there that could offer a similar experience as the Wave without needing a permit or locating an off-road vehicle of our own. “Definitely White Pocket,” said James.

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Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument

On a very wet and windy day that saw flash floods in Zion Canyon and portions of Interstate 15 washed out between St. George and Las Vegas, we found ourselves driving up Utah State Highway 148 along the edge of Cedar Breaks National Monument. Northwest of Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks is every bit as beautiful and engaging as its big sister, Bryce Canyon, only smaller in size. It’s also less well known than Bryce, so not nearly as busy, and every bit worth the visit.

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Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Following a now established ritual of beginning our daily treks with coffee at The Rock Stop in Orderville, we decided to spend the next two days in and around Zion National Park. It had been over fifteen years since I’d last set foot in Zion Canyon, and driving into the park from the east via the Zion – Mount Carmel Highway brought back a host of memories.

When I was last here in late spring of 1998 the Virgin River was overflowing with fast-moving murky brown water from recent heavy rains, making any attempt to hike up The Narrows an impossibility. I spent most of my time camped under the impressive gaze of The Watchman, lost in thought, writing in notebooks, relaxed in the majesty and serenity of the park. And while The Watchman, The East Temple, The Sentinel, and all the other sovereigns of Zion remain as mighty and stoic as always, everything at their feet has changed dramatically in the intervening years.

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Bryce Canyon

Just a few of Bryce's amazing hoodoos

Just a few of Bryce’s amazing hoodoos

Our third day will forever be known as The Day We Found Good Coffee in Utah! Deciding to spend the day in Bryce Canyon, while driving up Highway 89 through the tiny hamlet of Orderville we sped past an adobe building called The Rock Stop, where I caught a sign out of the corner of my eye that said “Espresso.” Espresso? ESPRESSO! Queue brakes squealing as we hastily turned the car around to investigate. A mere twenty-file miles from where we were staying, finally we had found some decent caffeine!

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Toadstools

Toadstools

Toadstools

The afternoon of our second day in Southern Utah was spent, again, in Arizona, hiding out from a driving rain and windstorm in Page, after stopping off at Glen Canyon Dam. Before the winds blew us back across the border, and before we’d fight our way westward again while doing our best to avoid being run off the road by a car sporting Florida plates and a driver determined to run off just about everybody he passed, we spent the morning off Highway 89 just past the Pariah Ranger Station hiking into The Toadstools. It’s a relatively easy hike back into a small valley of surreal hoodoos and balancing rocks, and it was a bit crazy to think it was such a short distance off the highway yet felt like you had arrived on a different planet entirely.

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Grand Canyon

View from Walhalla Plateau

View from Walhalla Plateau

Our first full day in Southern Utah found us on the road once again… to Arizona. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon to be exact. Neither of us had been to the Grand Canyon before and a morning spent driving in, around, over, and through some of its scenic vistas seemed the perfect way to inaugurate our arrival. Inside the park entrance, bison lingered while dozens of cars pulled off to the side of the road to photograph them munching on grass. After a short hike out to a very windy Bright Angel Point, holding on tight as we stood at the look-out that cantilevered over the edge of the canyon. We took a late lunch in the North Rim Lodge’s dining room, listening to the waitstaff tell each guest about their “delicious hot and cold buffet bar” in monotone and robotic voices. It felt like we were in a scene straight out of Twin Peaks.

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Forever – One Reporter’s Opinion

“I went into the desert seeking shelter from my enemies, and there the desert made me strong.”

-Arabian proverb

Evening sky from the patio at the Dog House Tavern, Kanab, UT.

Evening sky from the patio at the Dog House Tavern, Kanab, UT.

For the past several years Kim and I have been lucky enough to be able to travel to some far-flung corners of the world, chasing adventure while working on behalf of causes we feel strongly about. This year, instead of seeing how many passport stamps we could acquire, we decided to load up our car and travel to the gorgeous, otherworldly vistas of Southwestern Utah. The impetus for this year’s sojourn was running into people on our previous travels who inevitably would ask us if we’d been to volunteer at Best Friends Animal Society’s¬†sanctuary outside Kanab, Utah. We hadn’t. In fact, we weren’t even aware it existed (something I felt ashamed about with hindsight, being a son of the Beehive State). Everyone spoke glowingly of both the place and their work, and soon enough we decided that 2014 would be the Year of the Desert for us.

Kim had never been to Southern Utah, and it’d been sixteen-plus years since I’d last been through. A road trip would also provide the chance to pay long overdue visits to both family and friends, along with affording us the opportunity to travel to numerous national parks.

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Los Angeles by Tastes

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

-Julia Child

Hamachi Tostada at Animal

Hamachi Tostada at Animal

As I was researching restaurants for our weekend in Los Angeles, I found I was as overwhelmed as I was when researching dining options in San Francisco. There seemed to be no shortage of intriguing dining experiences. Originally, Trois Mec stood out as a must-at-least-attempt-to-get-reservations choice, but as I was practicing and preparing for the one shot I’d have at purchasing “tickets,” our evening took a different turn when a special screening of 20,000 Days on Earth – complete with a solo performance and Q+A with Nick Cave – was announced for the very same night and we decided to put our ticket purchasing efforts towards that.

I was really looking forward to trying Trois Mec, but Nick Cave will always trump anything else, so my first choice restaurant had to go by the wayside. One needs to have their priorities straight. Unfortunately, Trois Mec is only open Monday through Friday, and Friday night we had tickets for another Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds concert, so a multi-course tasting menu was out of the question.

The research would have to continue.

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San Francisco by Tastes

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”

-George Bernard Shaw, “Man and Superman.”

Chefs at work at SPQR

Chefs at work at SPQR

Traveling down the west coast to follow Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on tour this summer provided the perfect excuse to try out some of the most noted and notorious restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles. After all, a girl’s got to eat and I figured I might as well do it up right. I started with San Francisco and began my research months in advance so I’d have plenty of time to exercise my reservation-making mojo. What was I looking for? I wanted creative chef-driven food served in a relatively informal atmosphere. I wanted food that would tell me a story, and I was open to a challenge if that’s where destiny took me. But while my selection criteria was simple, making final decisions in this world-class food city was not. I did a lot of hemming and hawing because there seemed to be an overwhelming number of options. Luckily, I had a couple of limiting parameters: two of the four nights required early meals before heading out to rock and roll shows so that eliminated restaurants with multi-course tasting menus, and one night I would be solo and wanted a restaurant with a chef’s counter where I could sit comfortably on my own and watch the action. Michelin stars were not a requirement of the selection process, but they proved hard to resist and ended up being a common thread.

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