Annual Preakness Party 2013 (Plus the Most Insane Cheesecake Ever)

As I have previously mentioned, my husband and I throw a party for the Preakness every year. This year was no exception.  We had one of our smaller crowds in recent memory this year, but it was still fun. We served up two different versions of Black-Eyed Susans: a recipe from the Washington Post and the previous official version served at Pimlico. This year they had a new official version, but my husband didn’t want to buy/make the appropriate ingredients for it so he improvised. I believe four people tasted the test glass of that said it was gross and it was never to be spoken of again. I’m sure it would have been better if he actually made it appropriately.

I also whipped up a batch of pulled pork which is always a hit. This year’s big draw though was the most ridiculous cheesecake ever. Someone I know posted a link to the recipe on Facebook several months ago. I decided I really wanted to make it, but needed an occasion to do so. I decided to make Preakness that occasion. Despite the long sounding list of ingredients and recipe, it only wound up being slightly more labor intensive than making a regular cheesecake. The cheesecake is made with a brownie on the bottom as the crust. As soon as the brownie comes out of the oven you sprinkle it with chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and cut up Reece’s peanut butter cups. Then top with the peanut butter cheesecake batter. Once that is all cooked decorate with a chocolate/peanut butter ganache and halved peanut butter cups. It was delicious.

A couple comments on the recipe. As mentioned in the blog post the recipe is found in, the recipe for the ganache makes way more than needed. I would go ahead and halve that and you will have more than enough. Second I used a 9-inch springform pan as suggested, but I had a ton of cheesecake better left. I wonder if it might not work better in a 10-inch pan. The crust would obviously be thinner and you would need to adjust the baking times to account for the larger pan, but it might work better to fit all the batter. Also although I’ve heard about the trick before this is the first cheesecake recipe I have ever used that specifically called for it to be baked inside a pan of water. Supposedly that helps the cheesecake from cracking. This is the first time I’ve ever actually tried it, and it is also the first cheesecake I have ever made that didn’t develop a large crack down the middle so I’ll probably try that again in the future with other cheesecake recipes.

Chocolate peanut butter brownie cheesecake
Chocolate peanut butter brownie cheesecake

In addition to eating we of course enjoyed the race as well. Some people got into the spirit with fancy hats. Tracie and Abby win for the cutest outfits. Apparently all they win is getting a mention in this blog post, but at least that’s something I guess.

Tracie and Abby
Tracie and Abby

We did bet on the races as well. I’m not a bookie so there was no real betting, but you could throw $2 in and draw the name of a horse out of a hat. As there were only 9 horses in the race we had two pools going so there were two winners. Obviously no one went home with crazy winnings, but it was still fun. Sadly it was yet another year with no chance for a Triple Crown winner. I’m always disappointed when that happens as are the people who run The Belmont Stakes I’m sure. I’ll be hoping for one again next year.

Utah Vacation: Zion National Park Edition

Previously on Adventures in Utah…Salt Lake City and Bryce Canyon.

It’s a quick 90 minute drive from Bryce Canyon to the East entrance of Zion National Park. Once you are in the park though it is still a 12 mile drive along the Mount Carmel highway to the Visitors’ Center. It is an amazingly beautiful drive though. The difference between Zion and places like Bryce Canyon or the Grand Canyon is that the park itself is actually down in the canyon so you are staring up at these amazing rocks instead of down into them. It’s a whole different experience. I found the scenery along the Mount Carmel highway to be the most breathtaking in the park. There’s a 1.1 mile tunnel along that highway. Most likely you will have to stop and wait to drive through it. The reason for that is because the tunnel was built back in the late 1920s before vehicles were so big. The tunnel can’t accommodate two-way traffic when buses or RVs are driving through it, which is quite frequently so they stop the traffic going the other direction when drives through.

Though Zion National Park is amazing and I would highly recommend a trip there, I liked it slightly less than Bryce Canyon essentially because it was more crowded and more touristy. Bryce Canyon felt a little bit more off the beaten path. Zion is definitely the place to go though if you aren’t big into hiking (but also if you are), have mobility problems, have small children, etc. I will say that I was impressed by the fathers I saw carrying their babies/toddlers in hiking packs on their backs and doing some of the trails that we did. I was trying to imagine my brother-in-law doing that with my niece and gave myself a good laugh. There are a lot more paved areas of the park and the rating scale for the trails is way different in Zion than in Bryce. I doubt almost any of the trails we did in Bryce would have been ranked on the Easy scale according to the rankings in Zion where the easy trails were almost all paved and had relatively little elevation change.

Unless you have a special pass (which as far as I can tell you can only get if you’re staying in the Lodge) you can’t drive on the main canyon road in the park. You have to take a free shuttle from the Visitors’ Center which will then stop at many places along the road where you can get on and off. There are also free shuttles into the park from Springdale, and I gather during the busy season that unless you head into the park bright and early you will have to take one because the parking lot in the park will be full.

Food and Lodging

The town of Springdale is right outside the South Entrance to the park and is where most people stay if they are not camping inside the park or staying at the Lodge there. There are also campgrounds and RV parks in Springdale in addition to some motels and a lot of little bed and breakfasts and inns. I tried to stay at one of the small little places, but couldn’t get a reservation anywhere so we wound up at the new La Quinta Inn. It was so new in fact that some of the buildings are still being built. The area, like in Bryce Canyon, is growing as evidenced by the new hotels being built. There was also a Hampton Inn that looked like it wasn’t too far from opening.

View of the mountains from our hotel room.
View of the mountains from our hotel room.

You have a lot more restaurant options in Springdale than you do at Bryce Canyon. We ate lunch after we got into town at a place called the Flying Monkey which had pizza, sandwiches and salads which was pretty good. Dinner that night was at the best place we ate while there. It’s a Mexican restaurant built into an old gas station called The Whiptail Grill. It was absolutely delicious. If you ever find yourself in Springdale, Utah do yourself a favor and eat there. We decided to pack our lunch into the park on Thursday so we grabbed some bread, cheese, and fruit from the little grocery in the town. That night we ate dinner at Oscar’s Cafe which has a wide variety of American and Mexican type foods. It was decent, but definitely not as good as the Whiptail Grill.

Hiking

After we got to the Visitors’ Center we decided to do one of the hikes that starts from there. We did the Watchman Trail which is 2.7 miles with an elevation change of 368 feet. The one nice thing about hiking in Zion is that since you’re starting at the bottom of the canyon generally you’re hiking up on the first half of your hike and then get to do the easier part of the hike on the way back. I wasn’t overly excited by the views from this trail. None of the trails that leave from the Visitors’ Center have super great scenery comparatively. I did get a couple of nice pictures of some flowers along the trail though. Also I apologize if not all the pictures are segregated to their appropriate trail. I had a lot harder time figuring out which pictures went with which trail compared to the ones I had for Bryce Canyon, where the trails were a bit more distinctive.

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The second hike we did in Zion turned out to be my favorite. It was the one hike that was off the Mount Carmel highway and not off the main canyon road. In addition to the many easy trails in the park, Zion also has a number of very harrowing trails including Angel’s Landing, which has a steep, narrow climb to the summit. Something like 6 people have died on it since 2003 or something like that. I’m pretty sure that all the trails that have the icon of a person falling next to them in the guide are trails that people have died on. So you know, that’s comforting. The Canyon Overlook Trail is not one of those trails, but it felt like the most dangerous trail we did. It’s probably safer than some others though because there are railings up. I really would not have wanted to go around some parts of that trail without the railings there. The trail is 1 mile with an elevation change of 163 feet. It had some great up close views of beautiful rock and over the Mount Carmel highway. As you can see I took a lot more pictures of from this trail than almost any other on the whole trip.

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On Thursday morning we started off with a loop trail that you can create by combining 3 different trails (the Kayenta Trail, the Lower Emerald Pool trail, and the Grotto Trail). You can also add the Upper Emerald Pool trail on as a spur, which we did. There used to be a Middle Emerald Pool Trail as well, but it must have washed out or something because it is closed and no longer shows on the trail guide though you do run into it if you’re doing this loop. Doing the trails as a loop with the spur is about 3.1 miles if I’m doing my math right. The elevation changes range from a small 35 feet on the Grotto trail to 200 feet on the Upper Emerald Pool Trail, but you also have to add that to the 150 elevation change for the Kayenta trail which is also pretty much straight up and leads into the Upper Emerald Pool Trail. The Lower Emerald Pool Trail is paved and was thus a lot more crowded than the other parts of this loop. There were some pretty views along this combination of trails as water always makes things more interesting. We also got to see some wildlife along this trail. Spot the frog and the wild turkey in the photos.

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Next we stopped off the shuttle to do the Weeping Rock Trail, which only has an elevation change of 98 feet, but it rises that much over only .2 miles (making the trail .4 miles round trip), which means it is pretty steep. It is also paved though. It takes you up under an overhanging rock where water seeps through and drips on you. The other trail that starts from that same location is the Hidden Canyon Trail, which is a 2.4 mile trail that rises over 850 feet in elevation. It is listed as strenuous on the trails guide and has the scary picture of the guy falling off the cliff next to it. We weren’t originally planning on hiking it because I had automatically ruled out any of the strenuous trails, but after zipping through the short Weeping Rock Trail I decided we should give it at least a partial go. We only made it about halfway before turning back for a couple of reasons. One the hike was steep and rather killer in that respect, especially on top of the hikes we had already done that morning. Second it was apparent a storm was blowing in and it was not a trail that I would have wanted to be hiking in the rain. Too steep and too slippery. We pretty much made it back down just in time because it started raining after we got onto the shuttle after making it back down. The temperature probably dropped 20 degrees from when we boarded the shuttle to when we got off.

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Our next stop was the trail at the end of the shuttle run. When we got off it was raining, but there was a shelter with benches for people waiting for the shuttle so we sat down there and took the opportunity to eat our lunch. We probably waited another half hour or so after that for the rain to let up before starting the Riverside Walk. That trail ends in the Narrows trail where you actually hike through the river. It’s recommended that you have appropriate gear for that (i.e. either a wet suit or dry suit–we saw people in both though the guy on our shuttle back said he wouldn’t have wanted to do it in a wet suit). Needless to say we did not do that hike. The Riverside Walk itself is normally a completely paved trail that runs for 2.2 miles round trip with an elevation change of 58 feet. I say normally because they were doing maintenance on part of the trail and thus forced you off the paved path onto a dirt path that ran right along the river for a portion of it. I actually preferred the way we wound up having to do it because it got us much closer to the river and felt like more of a hike than just walking on a side walk. It also got us close to some ducks in the river. I did feel bad for the number of people I saw in wheelchairs going up the trail on our way back though because there wasn’t much of a trail before they would have to turn around and go back thanks to the trail closure. This was the most crowded trail that we were on and thus my least favorite. Pardon my pictures from this trail as I smudged my camera lens without realizing it.

The final trail we did in the main part of the park was the Archeology Trail, which is a short .4 mile hike rising 80 feet in elevation. You start it off the parking lot from the Visitors’ Center. We had a bit of a problem finding the trail head, but we eventually got there. Supposedly you can see the outlines of some prehistoric buildings on the trail, but even with the sign I can’t say it looked like anything to me.

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We did our final trail of the trip on Friday on our way back to Salt Lake City. Kolob Canyon is about an hour away from the main portion of Zion National Park. It is still part of the park though. There are three trails there. One is a strenuous 14 miles trail with an elevation change of over 1000 feet that we never would have done. If we had more time we would have done the 5 mile trail. As it was we just did the Timber Creek Overlook Trail, which was 1.1 miles round trip with an elevation change of 100 feet. This was a fairly easy trail, but I was happy I put back on my hiking boots just because it was super muddy. There were some great views from this trail. We had a super clear day so supposedly we were supposed to be able to see all the way to some plateau on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I must have seen it, but your guess is as good as mine to what far off thing in the distance it actually was. Even if you don’t want to do any hiking, if you happen to be driving this direction the scenic 5 mile drive through the canyon is really pretty. (Note this is still part of Zion National Park so you are expected to have paid the national park fee to enter though it’s kind of on the honor system since there’s nothing forcing you to go into the visitors’ center to pay or show that you have already paid the park fee though we did).

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That brings us to the conclusion of this trip to Utah. It was absolutely beautiful and a wonderful vacation. There are a number of other parks out there that we didn’t get a change to visit during our short time there, so maybe I’ll be back one day.

Utah Vacation: Bryce Canyon Edition

Previously on Adventures in Utah

We headed down to Bryce Canyon on Monday morning. It’s about a 5 hour drive from Salt Lake City to Bryce Canyon. It is also kind of a boring drive. Once you get out of the Salt Lake City area there is a long portion of the drive before you get to the Bryce Canyon area where you’re just driving along interstate 15 and aside from some mountains in the far off distance it feels like driving along an interstate. It gets very rural so there isn’t much to look at in the way of anything but some scrub brush and some occasional little towns. As a city girl, I am always fascinated by the people who choose to live out in these places in the middle of nowhere. Let’s just say I was really happy our rental car had satellite radio.

Other highlights from the road trip include watching two sheriffs chasing a calf that escaped from somewhere down the side of the road with a lasso. Also we passed the end of interstate 70 in Cove Fort, Utah. Well technically the town is about 10 miles away from there, but there is nothing at that point so I guess that land is incorporated into that town. At any rate this is only interesting to me because the opposite end of interstate 70 is in Baltimore and I drive on it all the time. There is a sign in Baltimore that lists the mileage to Cove Fort on 70.

I know, I know you’re saying get on with it. I don’t care about your lame road trip stories. Fine. Let’s move along to actually getting to Bryce Canyon.

2013-05-07 09.57.47Food and Lodging

First let’s just say there is not much around Bryce Canyon. There’s two hotels, a couple of little old motels, a lodge inside the park and if you don’t manage to find somewhere to stay at one of those there are plenty of campgrounds and RV parks. If you don’t want to camp or stay in an RV I would suggest booking your lodging early, especially if you’re going during prime season.

I hate people so I like traveling on shoulder season. It usually means the weather isn’t too bad and there are far fewer people to deal with. In this case we didn’t see too many Americans, but I think all of Europe must have been traveling to Bryce Canyon while we were there. I’m pretty sure I heard more people speaking French and German than I did English the entire time we were there.

Traveling at non-peak time was definitely also beneficial for eating on this particular leg of the trip as there are also only a handful of places to eat. The first night we ate at Ruby’s, which the restaurant in Ruby’s Best Western. They had a buffet or menu you could order off of. I wound up eating off the buffet, which stood about on par with eating off a Shoney’s buffet. Sorry middle America but my palate is slightly more refined than that, and I can’t say I really enjoyed anything I ate there.

My recommendation for anyone who is discerning about food is to eat at the Lodge inside the park. We had both lunch and dinner there our second day and they actually served fresh food, so it was a vast improvement over the previous night’s dinner even if it was more expensive. They do a sandwich, soup, salad buffet for lunch or you can order off a menu. I enjoyed the buffet there and was happy to eat some soup for lunch as it was snowing outside (Yes, snowing. More on that later). For dinner they start you off with some nice warm rosemary bread, which was delicious. I had the swordfish special for dinner, which was fantastic. I didn’t want to stop eating it despite the fact that they of course gave me way more fish than I needed to eat.

Hiking

If you like to hike I would definitely recommend Bryce Canyon. It is incredibly beautiful and there are some great trails. It’s also a park that definitely behooves you to hike down into the canyon. There’s some great views from places on the rim, but I really liked the experience of being down in the canyon. If you aren’t in shape or have any kinds of mobility problems for whatever reason I wouldn’t say it’s a great park for spending much time in. You can still drive through the park and stop off at the 13 viewpoints, which are all beautiful, but there aren’t many flat or paved trails. One of the flattest trails we hiked was at the far end of the park and at over 9,000 feet in elevation so you still have to have some stamina to do it. If you’re planning on hiking any of the trails I would highly recommend hiking boots for most of them. Even most of the more level trails aren’t paved and can be rocky. The support around your ankles in addition to the treads is key as you really wouldn’t want to sprain an ankle on the uneven terrain. Not to say that I didn’t see some people hiking in ridiculous shoes. I saw a woman hiking the hardest trail we did in the park in loafers.

After we arrived on Monday afternoon we did the Queens Garden Trail, which is supposed to be the easiest hike into the canyon. I actually thought it was slightly more difficult than the one we did the second day because parts of it felt steeper even though overall the elevation descent and climb is smaller. This was also my favorite of the 5 trails we hiked in Bryce Canyon. I thought it had the best views.

The weather while we were in Bryce Canyon was all over the place. We pretty much experienced every kind of weather possible. During this hike we got thunderstorms and hail. Luckily for us it was tiny little hail. It was actually ideal because it was pretty much only hailing. There was not much rain. As all of this started just as we were getting to the bottom of the trail, there wasn’t much to be done but hike on through the storm. The fact that it was hail meant we didn’t get soaking wet, and the fact that it was tiny meant it didn’t really hurt when it hit us.

Hail
Hail

Enjoy some additional pictures of the Queens Garden Trail.

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Tuesday morning we started off with a short hike outside the main gates of the park. It’s about a 3 mile drive from the main entrance to the Mossy Cave trail, but it’s worth going a little out of your way to hike. It’s the one part of the park with a river running through it and it has a waterfall, so there’s some nice views. There is a fork in the trail. One side takes you up to the titular mossy cave, which is moss covered in the summer and filled with ice during the winter. It wasn’t much of either while we were there, though there was evidence of both. The other side of the fork takes you over to the waterfall. It’s a short trail, only .8 miles round trip. The elevation change is 300 feet, which now that I see it seems crazy since the Queens Garden trail is a 320 foot elevation change but seemed way harder than this one.

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We then drove to the far side of the park and hiked the Bristlecone Loop, which is a short 1 mile loop with an elevation change of only 195 feet. This one is fairly level though there is a bit of climbing. It’s not just steep up and down like the hikes into and out of the canyon though. You are at over 9,000 feet elevation for this hike though so if you have trouble breathing even this hike probably isn’t for you. Bryce Canyon is also part of a national forest, and this hike takes you into the forest. You do get some views out into the canyon at some points, but this was my least favorite trail because most of it was just looking at trees, which I can do on hikes at home.

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Just as we were finishing up our hike of the Bristlecone Loop it started to snow oh and thunder too. It was also really windy so it was not a nice gentle snow. It was a frigid pelting you in the face snow. Even more so when you tried to look down into the canyon and the snow was flying out of the canyon at you. As we were at the far end of the park when the snow started our plan was stop at the various lookout places along the drive back. We still stopped at most of them, but gave a couple a pass because we couldn’t bear the thought of getting out of the car and out into the blowing snow. My pictures don’t really do the snow storm justice, but you can see the snow in some of them.

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As I already mentioned we stopped at the Lodge for lunch and decided we would see what the weather held for us once were done. Happily it quit snowing while we were eating so we continued on with some additional hikes. We started off with the Navajo Trail, which is normally a loop trail, but one side of it was closed down while we were there. We were still able to hike down one side and back up that same side though. This trail was the one trail categorized as moderate. It was about 1.2 miles the way we did it and with a descent and climb of 550 feet. The trail has a lot of switchbacks though so I never felt like it was as steep as the Queens Garden Trail was. You can see two parallel natural bridges near the bottom of this trail. I did hear someone who had done the trail before say that she liked the other side of it better, so I wonder what we missed due to that part of the trail being shut down.

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After we finished the Navajo Trail we finished off our hikes with a quick jaunt on the Rim Trail. The Rim trail just as the name would suggest goes along the rim of canyon. The entire trail runs for 11 miles, but we only did a small part of it. We had done about a mile or so of a different section the first day after finishing the Queens Garden Trail. The Rim Trail is the only trail in the park that is partially paved. That is the part we did after finishing off the Navajo Trail. It’s a short 1 mile round trip trail. It’s definitely not a very exciting trail, but is probably the only trail many visitors to the park see.

Bryce Canyon was absolutely beautiful and if you ever get a chance to go there I would highly recommend it, especially if you like to hike.

Utah Vacation: Salt Lake City Edition

As I mentioned in my last post I just got back from a trip to Utah. I’m going to spend my next few posts talking about that trip, so buckle in and get ready for the ride. We started out in Salt Lake City, drove down to Bryce Canyon, then over to Zion National Park, and then back up to Salt Lake City. Most people who hit southern Utah tend to fly into Las Vegas, which I don’t blame them for. First it’s closer, and second it’s cheaper. I however got into my head that I wanted to see Salt Lake City for some reason. Plus, I’ve already been to Vegas more than once and will be going back next summer for a conference so didn’t really care to go there again. Also, most people bundle that version of the trip with the Grand Canyon, which I have also already been to. So Salt Lake City it was.

We got in on a Saturday evening, checked into our hotel, and then found a restaurant within walking distance of our hotel. We wound up going to Red Rock Brewery where we both enjoyed the food, my husband enjoyed the beer, and I enjoyed being able to order a locally brewed cream soda. It also happened to be prom night in Salt Lake City so there were a lot of large tables filled with high school kids in prom attire. Apparently big, fluffy dresses are in this year, at least in Utah.

We serendipitously happened to be in Salt Lake City on a Sunday, which meant that we were able to go see a live performance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which I recommend if you happen to be Salt Lake City on a Sunday morning or a Thursday evening (they have open rehearsals on Thursday nights). I don’t agree with much of the Mormon doctrine, but they do have a fantastic choir. They do a live broadcast of something they call Music and the Spoken Word, which is what we attended. I was going to throw in a YouTube video of the performance we attended since they also put them up on a YouTube channel, but for some reason there are 3 weeks of performances missing and the one we attended is one of them 😦  You will have to settle for these still images instead.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Close up of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Close up of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

When you leave the performance they have Mormon missionaries waiting to show you around Temple Square and of course share something about the Mormon faith with you. They have missionaries there from all over the world who can speak in many different languages. Even if you don’t agree with the idea of it, their evangelism efforts are rather impressive. I wasn’t entirely clear on the process of picking up a missionary. There are missionaries standing in a big circle rotating around in front of a microphone telling you to find a missionary to get a tour. At first I thought we had to wait for one of the people in the circle, but the circle just kept going around. Then I realized we could ask any of the other ones that were milling about, but I tried that twice and they kind of walked away. Obviously they weren’t very good at their mission. We finally sidled ourselves up next to some group of Canadians and joined their already in progress group. Though while we were waiting for our guide to get a portable mic since we were such a large group some other missionary who is good at her job tried to offer us a tour.

The tour itself wasn’t very exciting in my opinion. I was expecting more history than I actually got. After the official tour was over we wandered around the square a little bit on our own and looked at the miniature replica of the Temple. I liked that they had that since you actually aren’t allowed to tour inside the Temple itself. It gives you a good idea of what the Temple looks like on the inside. Though I do have to say that I was honestly less impressed with the outside of the Temple there than I am every time I see the Mormon Temple that seems to jump out of nowhere as you go around a curve on the DC beltway. It always seems surreal to me every time I drive by it.

Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City
Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City

After we were all Mormoned out, we decided to try and look at some of the stuff from the Salt Lake Olympics. Much of what is left to actually look at is not really in Salt Lake City though. We did swing by the stadium where they held the opening and closing ceremonies and saw the torch. The little museum there was closed on Sundays though.

 

Olympic Torch from the Salt Lake City Games
Olympic Torch from the Salt Lake City Games

We decided to drive up to Park City to take a look at the Olympic stuff that was there instead. After we got out there we walked around the town a bit, had lunch, and then went to the museum. Not that I would ever be invited to attend, but I really would never want to be in Park City when Sundance is going on. I have no idea where all the people fit or even where they actually show all the films. There’s just not that much there. The traffic must be insane, but as I said nothing I will ever have to worry about.

View of the bobsled track from the Salt Lake City Olympic games
View of the bobsled track from the Salt Lake City Olympic games

Our final destination of the day was a trip to The Great Salt Lake. It was too cold to actually get into the lake, but I did stick my hand in. My takeaway from the Great Salt Lake is, a. It is very salty. You have to walk across a bunch of crusty salty dirt to get to the water. b. It smells bad. c. It is much shallower than I thought at least around the edges. A guy walked out with his dog into the water for a really long way and never got deeper than his waist. d. I’m glad I live somewhere I can get to an actual beach easily and don’t have to swim in that for my summer fun.

The Great Salt Lake
The Great Salt Lake

Sunday night we decided to give another local brewpub, Squatters,  a try at the recommendation of our friend Kevin. Do not listen to Kevin. Nothing about that experience was better than Red Rock Brewery. The food wasn’t as good. Oh and did you actually want to try any of their beer on tap?  Too bad because they were out of half of it. Same for their house made root beer. Paul did get an IPA in a bottle, but wasn’t really impressed with it.

That brings this exciting installment of what did Danielle do on her Utah vacation to a close. Stay tuned for future episodes coming to this blog soon.

Operation Visit All 50 States: Mission Accomplished

Sorry this blog has been quiet for a little while, but it was with good reason. I spent the last week on vacation in Utah, which incidentally was the last state I needed to visit before I could officially say that I had been in all 50 states. And now mission accomplished!

I visited or lived in a number of states before I started this goal, but eventually made it a real pursuit. I’ve lived in 8 states (Ohio, Georgia, Massachusetts, Texas, North Carolina, Illinois, Florida, and Maryland) so I obviously have been to those states. Moving also lent itself to travels to surrounding states where I was living. My mother has also been to all 50 states (my dad is only missing North Dakota, ha, ha Dad). When we were living in Massachusetts and getting ready to move to Texas she took my sister and me on a day trip to Vermont since none of us had ever been there and it only made sense to go to Vermont while we were still within driving distance.

I also picked up a number of states on various road trips. The major road trip that got me all those upper midwestern states that people don’t tend to get to was a trip my mom took my sister and me on when we were 12 and 13. We were not so enthused at the time, but now I appreciate it. If I ever have the time to take 3 weeks and travel across the country and back it won’t be until after I’m retired. My mom grew up in Montana, South Dakota, and Washington so she wanted to take us to the places where she lived. We also hit many other states I had never been to along the way including Wyoming, Idaho, and a small detour into Nebraska just so we could say we had been there.

Eventually I got down to a handful of states that I had never been to and started taking conscious trips to add them to my collection. North Dakota was a big get. It is hard and expensive to get there and there is absolutely no reason to go there. Anything you think might be in North Dakota is actually in South Dakota. As I mentioned it is the one state my father is missing and will probably never get just for that reason. My husband and I went to a wedding St. Paul, Minnesota a number of years ago and took the opportunity to drive the 3.5 hours to Fargo, North Dakota, stay the night, and then drive back. There wasn’t really anything to do there. We did go the Roger Maris museum (he was from Fargo), which turns out to be some memorabilia in glass cases along a wall in the local shopping mall. We also discovered that the bar located in our Best Western hotel was definitely one of the big places to hang out in town on weekend nights.

In my continued effort to collect my final states, my now husband and I went on a trip to New Mexico for my 30th birthday. It is incidentally where we got engaged. Three years ago we took a trip to Alaska. I always thought that would probably be the final state I got because it would the most difficult, expensive, and grandest trip to take. (People always thought Hawaii would also be one of the states I was missing as an adult, but I actually picked that up as a child. My father’s company had some business thing there so we went on a family vacation there at the same time). We wound up going to Alaska much earlier than I planned though. Last May we took a long weekend trip to Oklahoma City and spent one of the afternoons we were there driving up to Witchita, Kansas for lunch and then driving back.

After that trip Utah was my only remaining state, which as I mentioned I added this past week. There will be much more to come on the specifics of that trip over a series of posts throughout this week, so you can stay tuned for that. Just because I’ve been to all 50 states now doesn’t mean I will stop exploring our great country. There are some places I’ll never go back to (sorry North Dakota) or probably won’t go back to unless I happen to driving through again (sorry Iowa), but there are many other states with places and things I would like to do and see that I haven’t yet. I of course wouldn’t mind going back to Hawaii and visiting some of the other islands (we only went to Oahu). I have several friends from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan who swear by its beauty. It’s somewhere I wouldn’t mind checking out. I obviously have only been to not very exciting parts of Kansas in an effort to knock that state out in combination with Oklahoma. I hear that Kansas City is worth seeing or at least going to in order to eat the bbq. Though now that I say that I guess it’s actually Kansas City, Missouri that’s the Kansas City people actually talk about. Despite having been to Missouri I haven’t ever been to St. Louis other than a layover in the airport. I have a cousin that lives there as well as friends that split their time between there and Virginia so that’s totally a trip we should take at some point. These are just a handful of reasons that I’ll continue to keep traveling, but for now I am happy to say that fulfilled my goal of visiting all 50 states.

WTMD’s First Thursdays Concert featuring The Lone Bellow (and more)

Every summer WTMD, Baltimore’s NPR music station out of Towson University, sponsors free concerts in the park by Baltimore’s Washington Monument on the first Thursday of each month. Last night was the first one of the 2013 season. It was also the first one I have ever been to. Thursday nights are my regular night to work the late shift on the reference desk at the library, so I have been unable to go in the past. Most years the bands are more local and less well known bands that I have never heard of, so I haven’t bothered taking off work to go. However, when I heard the lineup for last night’s concert I made sure that I could get out of work to go.

The concert last night featured Bobby Long (who I like), The Great American Canyon Band (who I don’t really know), and The Lone Bellow (who I love). The music was great and the weather was perfect. I can’t say much for the rest of the set up though. I understand that the popularity of these concerts has grown over the years and WTMD definitely upped their game with the bands that were playing last night and having never been before I can’t really say how the crowd compared to other years but I suspect it might be slightly larger than in the past. At any rate it was really too many people in my opinion and the biggest problem was the speaker set up. They only had a couple of speakers up at the front by the stage, so if you weren’t in the front section of the park you couldn’t really hear the music and even when up front it was hard to hear the bands when they were just talking and not playing music.

My other problem I admit is just my own. If you have been reading this blog at all in the past you know I am very into music, and as I mentioned I was very excited to see this concert so that is what I was there for. I gather most people were not there for that reason. They were there to enjoy a nice night hanging out with friends with some live music in the background. Most of them were not paying much attention to the bands and I heard a number of people asking who was playing because they really liked the band when The Lone Bellow were on. So I guess good for The Lone Bellow in perhaps picking up some new fans, but bad for someone who was already a fan and was a having a hard time watching everyone not really pay attention to the bands on stage. Seriously the biggest cheer of the night came from a crowd up people trying to get a beach ball out of a tree when it got stuck up there.

Anyway, as I said the music itself (or what I got to hear of it) was great. I got there earlier than most of my friends and grabbed a little spot off to the side but up near the front and listened to Bobby Long. I enjoyed his short set and wouldn’t mind seeing him play again in a different sort of venue. After his set ended I found out that one of my friends had already staked out a spot elsewhere in the park, so I found her and then the rest of our friends showed up. Unfortunately, this spot was near the back of the park, which would have been completely fine with me if one could have heard the music at all from there. Sadly you couldn’t really. There was the faintest sound of music so that you could kind of tell someone was on stage, but that was about it. They really needed to set speakers up on the back side of the square as well.

Aside from hearing something about The Great American Canyon band on NPR music at some point and learning that they are a Baltimore based band, I didn’t really know anything about them or their music. As I mentioned at that point I couldn’t hear anything coming from the stage where we sitting so I still don’t.

When The Lone Bellow came on I told my friends I was moving up closer to the stage. I came to see The Lone Bellow and I wasn’t going to stay sitting there where I couldn’t actually hear them. Everyone decided to come with me so we made our way much closer to the front and became the annoying people I hate at a concert who decide to shove their way up front when the band comes on in front of all the people who were there early to stake out their spots. I hate those people and had I been able to hear from where I was I never would have been one of them. So sorry people around me. I’m usually not that rude at concerts.

The Lone Bellow was fantastic though. They put on a great show. As they said they only have one album out right now and they had to play for 90 minutes so they played everything off the album and then filled with some covers, a couple new songs, and were just having fun. The new songs were great and I was highly amused that this folk rock band played covers of Brian McKnight’s One and Mariah Carey’s Always Be My Baby. I love when bands get silly with their cover songs and go cross genre. They had the crowd up and dancing with their own music by the end with their upbeat rhythms. I can’t wait to see them again in July at The Newport Folk Festival. I briefly contemplated going to see them and Brandi Carlile at Wolf Trap the Wednesday before we leave on that trip, but I’m also seeing Dawes in concert that Tuesday night and thought it might be a little excessive. Though having now seen both of those acts live I can tell you that will be one amazing concert.

Here’s a couple of photos from the concert last night. That would be Baltimore’s Washington Monument in the background of the stage, and I might add the original Washington Monument. We always feel compelled to throw that in there to make sure people know we have that over DC. There’s also a couple of videos from last night, which I did not take, of The Lone Bellow singing their first single and current hit You Never Need Nobody, which I wrote about on this blog once before and Bleeding Out, which is one of my favorite songs from the album.

Early Contenders for Pop Song of Summer 2013

Every summer it seems we have a pop song that becomes the song of the summer. Last year it was undisputedly Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe. There are a couple of things that make a song a good contender for pop song of the summer. It has to be upbeat and something you would want to listen to while driving around with your windows down. The song also has to have staying power. This means that it both has to be good enough for people to want to listen to it over and over again but not something that grabs you at first only for you to get sick of hearing it.

It’s still very early in the season, but there are a couple of songs on my radar that I think might just be contenders for the title of Pop Song of Summer 2013.

1. Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

I’m a little bit late to jump on the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis bandwagon. I just couldn’t make myself get fully behind Thrift Shop. The song has a fantastic beat, but I could never get over the dumb lyrics. In addition, there is something about the first 20 seconds or so of that song before the horns kick in that really irks me. Thus, if I caught it from the beginning I would immediately change the channel. Same Love is a wonderful song that adore both for it’s music, lyrics, and message but sadly I suspect for just that reason it will never be a pop radio hit. Can’t Hold Us however is an almost perfect candidate. The song has a great beat. It’s catchy, and it makes you want to get up and dance. Most importantly it has a chorus you can easily sing along with, which is key for this song as most people aren’t going to be singing along with the rap verses.

2. I Love It by Icona Pop

Icona Pop has put out a great pop song in I Love It. Again we’re talking about a song with a great beat that makes you kind of want to jump up and down and dance around. It also has a slight edge over Can’t Hold Us in that the whole song is something everyone can sing along with and it’s also the perfect song to not only sing along but shout the lyrics out. I can totally picture a car full of teenage girls driving around with the windows down shouting out this song. I do fear that this song doesn’t have staying power though as there’s something about it that might make people tire of it well before the summer is over.

3. Next to Me by Emeli Sandé

While Next to Me, may not be my personal choice for Pop Song of Summer 2013 the world may have other ideas. I do think it’s a great song, it’s just not bouncy enough for it to be my personal summer anthem. Amazingly no one put me in charge of deciding though, and this song cannot be ignored. Scottish singer Emeli Sandé seemingly burst on the U.S. scene with Next to Me a few months ago. I listen to a lot of non-commercial radio and it is rare that a song breaks out on non-commercial radio and commercial pop radio simultaneously as this song did. A lot of times there is never any crossover, but if there is I’ve usually heard the song on non-commercial radio for months before it appears on commercial radio. This song I started hearing in both places at almost the exact same time, which means that it has huge appeal. Also, although the U.S. is just starting to familiarize themselves with Emeli Sandé, she is already a huge star in the U.K. Just this week Our Version of Events, the album this song is from, bested The Beatles long held record for most consecutive weeks (63 weeks at this point) in the Top 10 on the U.K. charts for a debut album. All of this combined makes me think Next to Me isn’t going anywhere any time soon and may just wind up being our Pop Song of Summer 2013.