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Heading inland to Zion

Written by Chaz on 2 October 2011

Ambition became reality when we awoke at 3:30 a.m. to take quick showers and ready ourselves for the long drive east to Zion National Park. Everything was in the car and ready shortly afterward, and by 4:02, Dorothy was pulling away.

Los Angeles had one last chance to confuse us with its freeway system, but we were ready for it. By 5:30, we had maneuvered from the 405 to the 105 to the 605 to the 10 to the 15, making an essential stop for coffee along the highway. We watched the sun rise over the California desert.


Interstate 15 winds east from Barstow through the Mojave Desert to the Nevada border. And as we approached the Silver State, it became clear that the casinos and outlets started immediately across the border. In fact, the town of Primm, Nev. is right up against the border, positioned as a first temptation for gamblers coming from California or a last hope for those leaving Vegas.


Shortly afterward, around 8:30, we arrived in Vegas, where we stopped for gas, a bathroom stop and a good look at the casinos. It was my first time in the city, and my initial reaction was that it reminded me so much of Macau — which was ironic, since Emmy’s reaction to Macau was that it reminded her of Vegas.

IMG_5560IMG_5573IMG_5582IMG_5583IMG_5584Wynn casinoLeft: the Wynn casino in Las Vegas. Right: the Wynn casino in Macau.

Northeast of Vegas, I-15 cuts through the rural northwestern corner of Arizona and winds through the Virgin River Gorge, a dramatic rock formation created by the same river that made Zion.


We pulled off the highway in Washington City, Utah for a last supermarket stop and lunch at In-N-Out, which we had missed in California. From there, it was only a short drive into Zion, where we parked Dorothy at our campsite in Watchman Campground and walked back to the visitor center. To reduce congestion, you can’t drive into Zion Canyon, the heart of the park — you have to park and take one of the frequent shuttles. As a result, there aren’t any parking problems in the canyon, and the views are unspoiled by heavy automobile traffic.


Zion was given its name by Mormon farmers who discovered it and believed it to be close to paradise. I really liked the idea that the park was preserved because people saw it and said to themselves: wow, this place is close to God.

After checking in at the visitor center about our best course of action, we hopped on a shuttle and rode to the Weeping Rock stop to begin exploring. The beauty of the canyon was readily apparent.


We hiked from the shuttle stop up a steep trail toward something called Hidden Canyon. As we ascended, the views of the canyon became even more picturesque and panoramic.


The weather was visibly deteriorating, and when we got to Hidden Canyon (surprise — it was a hidden canyon), we quickly turned back around, not wanting to get stuck on the steep trail once it became wet and slippery. We took a short detour to Weeping Rock, and as it had begun to rain, the weeping was even greater than usual.


We walked back to the shuttle and rode up to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava, where we took a soaked stroll up the paved Riverside Walk along the Virgin River. The canyon gets too narrow for the road to continue, and at the end of the path, it gets too narrow for the path to continue. But, we learned, many people rent special boots to wade through the Narrows, as the section of the river is known, starting above the canyon and hiking through the water back down. It sounded really cool, and it definitely made my next-visit list.

We had to wait a few minutes for a shuttle back to the campground, as the heavy rain had apparently caused a mudslide on a section of the road. Sure enough, we passed a park ranger directing traffic around the debris in the road. According to our shuttle driver, the rainstorm was “one for the record books,” and the subsequent mudslide was “unprecedented.” When we got back to our campsite, we took advantage of a momentary lull in the rain to set the tent up at a record pace, and fortunately, the rain mostly held off for the rest of the evening.

Our campsite at Zion was one of the nicest we stayed, with a beautiful view of the canyon. We settled in to enjoy some appetizers by the fire before dinner. Naturally, given our early wakeup, we were getting quite tired.


As the sun began to set, Emmy whipped up some apple chardonnay chicken sausage with mixed fresh vegetables.


After a round of s’mores, we were more than ready for bed.

From the PCH to the freeways of LA

Written by Emmy on 2 October 2011

We woke up in Pismo Beach on Thursday morning, packed up the tent and headed into “downtown” Pismo for a quick stop at Old West Cinnamon Rolls before hitting the road. The spot had been recommended by one of our books, so naturally we obliged and ordered one with pecans and one with almonds.


Continuing our drive, we passed through Lompoc, where nearly three-quarters of the world’s flower seeds are grown, and drove by an enormous air force base. We drove through the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara, where we gave ourselves a self-guided tour. We parked in Santa Barbara and took a brief stroll along the city’s historic State Street. We considered taking a hike into the hills but the morning fog was still obscuring the view. So instead, we went to lunch.

We were far enough south to get authentic Mexican food and so we visited the acclaimed La Super-Rica Taqueria, a brightly colored but tiny restaurant on a street filled with tacos.


Always eager to prove that we can, in fact, handle spice like the natives of any cuisine, we ordered a selection of authentic items from the menu and enjoyed them with a triad of homemade salsas. Chaz tried two different types of taco, while I sampled two less common items — chorizo super rica, a baked casserole meant to be wrapped in tortillas, and a spicy bean gordito.


From Santa Barbara we drove to Ventura, where we stopped by the visitor center for the Channel Islands. Channel Islands National Park is, as the name suggests, in the middle of the ocean. Even though we couldn’t visit the actual park, Chaz still got a stamp in his national parks passport.

From Ventura, we continued down the coast on Highway 1. The scenery was still beautiful, though far less isolated than the hills we’d driven by the day before. We passed through Malibu and its oceanfront homes and eyeballed a few more beaches before turning off PCH in Santa Monica.


From here we hopped from freeway to freeway. I have never seen so many highways in one place before, and they were all SO FILLED with cars.


Back in an urban metropolis, we conducted a few errands. Chaz’s pillow was a casualty of our stay in the Bay Area, so we headed to IKEA in Burbank to pick up a new one. We visited the first ever Trader Joe’s in Pasadena, where Joe himself apparently shops. And then, because it’s hard to resist a giant supermarket, we strolled through the largest Whole Foods I have ever seen.

After another hour of freeway driving, we arrived at our friend Joanna’s house, where her parents graciously hosted us for the evening. We showered and did laundry, the simple luxuries of life, and had a delicious dinner of steak, quinoa, roasted peppers and fresh corn with the Wohlmuths. We ended dinner with fresh figs, which were incredible.

We unpacked and repacked Dorothy, filled her with gas and headed to bed early in order to prepare for our big drive the next morning.

Another city of angels

Written by Chaz on 6 September 2011

My visits to Sweden and Long Island were followed by another long flight over to our friend Joanna in Los Angeles. I was there for four days, and we packed a lot in.

We relaxed on the beach after a long bike ride.


We witnessed Carmageddon. In fact, I arrived in the middle of it.


Actually, that picture is totally misleading. Media reports that Carmageddon was a total non-issue were completely right. People really did stay off the roads, and there wasn’t any traffic at all.

We went for a beautiful hike in Temescal Canyon, overlooking central Los Angeles, the shoreline and the Pacific Ocean.


We visited the amazing Getty Museum. Joanna and I took an art history class together in the spring, so we’re sort of experts in the field, and the museum was really neat. Our visit to the “free” museum began with a $15 parking fee and a tram ride up a steep hill to the beautiful campus.


The museum is spread through a few buildings, and the setting and architecture are as notable as the collections. The museum is wrapped around a large garden that is itself an art installation.


Of course, the food tour continued, too. We sampled the local cuisine at one of Joanna’s favorite Mexican restaurants.


And the other, equally important local cuisine, too.


Most notably, though, I made my triumphant return to eating Asian food in the U.S., with visits to a great Thai place and a Korean barbecue. Los Angeles was a great place to restart my ethnic eating. The city actually has the largest Thai population outside of Thailand in its Thai Town neighborhood. We ventured in past signs written in a familiar but incomprehensible language to Sanamluang Cafe, whose namesake I guess I visited, though I wasn’t aware of it at the time.


We started with a papaya salad, which was one of my favorites in Thailand but only thanks to Emmy’s affinity for it. In fact, I’m not sure I had ever had it in the States. And while this papaya salad was delicious, retaining the tangy spice of the original, it definitely wasn’t quite as good as the real thing. We also had crab rangoons, which were very good, though I’m always skeptical of how amazing something deep-friend can be.


My yellow curry, though, definitely matched the best curries we had in Thailand, and its spice had me sweating. Joanna’s pad see ew was also state of the art. I guess both dishes are relatively easy to export, since they’re not too complicated.


We left Sanamluang very satisfied, and I was particular reassured about my culinary future in America. Even after being in Southeast Asia, I’m still perfectly happy to eat what’s available right here.


The Korean barbecue was not only also a great eating experience but also a new adventure of sorts. I had never had Korean barbecue before, and the restaurant we went to — Hae Jang Chon, in the heart of Koreatown — was like nothing I’d ever seen before.


Hae Jang Chon serves all-you-can-eat barbecue that you cook at your table on a little stove. We chose four meats to start from the list of nineteen choices, and though that was more than enough food for the two of us, a larger group could easily have kept ordering.


They started us off with a couple little appetizers and a whole host of sauces and other accompaniments for our meats. Of course, we immediately had to ask for a tutorial, and our main course — the one we were supposed to cook ourselves — hadn’t even arrived. The young Korean couple seated nearby looked on with glee.


Once our meats arrived, we got to it. We ordered beef brisket, short rib, barbecue beef, and chicken. At first, we didn’t really know what we were doing, but we figured it out before too long. It didn’t hurt that really all you had to do was keep checking the meat to see if it was done.

IMG_4032The two in the background were putting us to shame with their barbecue skills.

The meats were delicious, and the only thing I regretted was that we were only two people. The entertainment aspect of the experience would have lasted much longer if we had had a larger group and thus, the stomach capacity required for more courses. But the meats we did have were very interesting, and very different from anything I had had before. Like steaks in the U.S., everything about these meats was designed for them to be eaten alone, and yet the flavor was as full as anything you would find in a more composed food. The flavors themselves were very different than I’ve tasted in other Asian food, too.

After our meats, and after our waiter teased us for not ordering a second course at an all-you-can-eat restaurant, he prepared fried rice for us right on our little personal stove. It was delicious, though at this point, I really couldn’t eat much more.


Los Angeles was a great reintroduction into ethnic eating in America after my time abroad, and a wonderful place to visit too. Thanks, Joanna!