Every August Jason and I head up to Park City for my chapter of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists’ annual seminar and golf outing. This event takes place at the Hotel Park City and we usually stay in one of their cottage suites while I attend. (We get a great deal so why not.) The cottage suites are definitely snooty with private Jacuzzis, patios, 3 fireplaces, and so forth and so on. Naturally you’d think that my snobbish slumber in their enormous beds, some or the most comfortable beds I’ve ever laid in, would be peaceful and perfect but no, that’s not how my night’s rest at this thing ever goes and therein lies my single grievance about our yearly Park City excursion. This event would almost feel like a retreat if it weren’t for the cruel scheduling. I have a great time but I come home feeling like a zombie in a golf skirt. Allow me to run through the proceedings at this function and explain while I complain.
The view from our cottage was, as always, beautiful.
The first bit of this outing is all about education through presentations. Yippee! Those who know me understand that I am hopelessly curious. I’m happy listening to lectures for hours while furiously scribbling notes so I was predictably engaged by this year’s talks. After a full afternoon of learning about preservatives and how to make nasty sunscreens taste sublime, our entire 50+ group headed downstairs to Ruth’s Chris for an excellent dinner. Jason decided to join us for this meal. He has always been hesitant to come to supper with this crowd even though he’s continually invited and the food at Ruth’s Chris is delicious. I think my particular brand of geek intimidates him a tad because the only circuits we care about are those generated by our evaporimeters but this year either he manned up or the thought of tasty food got the better of him. It turns out he was right to be wary of these chemists though. Our table had a 20 minute discussion about the fragrances used in Fabreze that forced Jason into the realm of cosmetic nerdery at a head-spinning pace. However, a tender fillet and big blob of mashed potatoes seemed to reduce the shock of it all on his system. Our feast wasn’t over until about 8:30 but that still left me and Jason ample time to pull out our books and relax for a few hours, something we are too occupied to do often at home.
Our golfers were numerous. It took nearly 50 carts to seat us all.
This all sounds like a rough experience, right? Lots of excellent food and unwinding with a good read in a fancy hotel room. We scientists have a tough life that is for certain. While this may sound like the lap of luxury, let me assure you that luxury knows no alarm clock. The golfing on the second day of our meeting starts absurdly early and that’s what always gets me. I’m up in Park City. I’m staying in a super nice room with a bed that’s feathery and soft but I never sleep well because I know I have to get up at 5:00 AM or thereabouts. The ease of it all is kind of lost when you wake up in the middle of the night and realize you have to be up for real in an hour.
My golf team was not lucky to have me among them but I did contribute a few good swings to our cause.
Despite my grumblings about its timing, the golfing is surprisingly enjoyable every year. I am a pretty horrendous golfer, make no mistake, but I don’t take myself too seriously so I can still enjoy that which I suck at. The lessons I took last summer and the couple visits Jason and I have made to the driving range this year have definitely helped me play less awfully. I know how to stand correctly now and grip my clubs but I am still a beginner with a capital B. Regardless, I always have fun with whatever team I am placed on and occasionally my shots do end up being useful.
The SCC summer outing in Park City is a strange mix of recreation, learning, leisure, and exhaustion. Instead of being cooped up in the office I get to practice my swing in the sweet sunshine but I don’t get to enjoy my fluffy bed like I would on a real break. It’s being on the brink of a vacation without actually getting all the perks of one that’s the killer. Sometime I’d like to stay at the Hotel Park City when I don’t have to rise before the sun’s even thinking about it. Until then, you can all keep rolling your eyes at my “hard” life.
When I was a kid a trip to “Dinosaurland” in Vernal was about the most exciting prospect for a Saturday imaginable. The sculpted dinosaur replicas at the museum there thrilled me as much as if they were originals.
Last weekend we decided to recapture some of that childhood dino magic with a group camping outing to Eastern Utah. Our friends the Bresees, Rowleys, and Ashleys all joined us. Now “camping” in this case shouldn’t conjure up images of a lean-to rigged together in some desolate wilderness 40 miles from anything. No, we weren’t exactly roughing it. We stayed at the Vernal KAO; the Rowleys brought their RV and Jason and I took advantage of the campground’s “cottage.” The cottage was an upgrade from the cabin that the Bresees and Ashleys shared because this baby had a small kitchen area and, most importantly, its own tiny bathroom. The plumbing alone convinced me that the extra cash for the cottage was a worthwhile investment even if that bathroom was so little I could only fit one of my butt cheeks in at a time. With a private restroom, microwave, fridge, stovetop, and TV, our accommodations may sound rather plush but, in my opinion, our plywood bed was practically worse than sleeping on the ground and definitely uncomfortable enough to justify that liberal camping classification.
Our cottage was basically a trailer. Its wheels were visible through the lattice around its base.
The stones of Red Fleet were stamped with 200 million-year-old remnants of a dino block party.
Our trip was packed with excitement, education, and educational excitement but also chaotic disorganization. Our group was a bit too large and kid-laden for schedules and rendezvous to really work, which made our museum expeditions a little tricky. Still, unraveling the ancient mysteries of this corner of Utah kept me generally satisfied with my situation even if our crew had to make more bathroom stops than a bus full of prune eating contest winners.
Impersonating our prehistoric predecessors, including the Utahraptor, required lots of teeth and vicious fingers.
Friday night we went to Red Fleet Reservoir with the Bresees to check out the trackway: hundreds of dinosaur footprints embedded in the sandstone near one area of the shore. Hunting around on the hillside for tracks was quite entertaining. It made me feel a bit like a paleontologist detective. (Note to self: you should never consider a career in paleontology. You can’t even tell the difference between a rock and an old acorn.)
I'm a squeaker so trying to be a squawker wasn't too difficult for me.
The quarry wall at Dinosaur National Monument was so unbelievably packed with fossils that it was hard for my brain to process it as reality.
Our Saturday was also filled with prehistoric intrigue. We started out at the Utah Field House of Natural History Museum. This is the place that dazzled me when I was a youngster. The museum had moved into a much nicer and bigger building since I’d last been there but they still had their life-size dino replicas outside, much to the delight of my youngish heart.
Here's most of our bulky group plus a bulky stegosaurus.
Next we were off to Dinosaur National Monument to check out their quarry wall filled with over 1,600 bones from hundreds of dinosaurs. Awesome! A hot hike on the Fossil Discovery Trail later we were more than ready to hit the murky waters of Steinaker Reservoir. Steinaker is located just a few miles out of Vernal and is touted for its nice sandy beaches. Despite optimistic accounts, we found more mud than sand on those shores but that didn’t stop us from jumping in. The kids quickly transformed themselves into filthy creatures and the adults willingly waded through sticky muck in order to hold cannonball contests off a floating platform. After all, a little lake slime never hurt anyone, at least not anyone outside a B-grade horror movie.
The kids were rather happy with the quantity of high quality mud they found at the reservoir.
The two Rowley boys, Milo and Silas, wasted no time sheathing themselves in a protective mud coating at Steinaker.
That evening our “camping” status compelled us to roast wieners and marshmallows around a roaring fire. Dang that camping for having such stringent terms of service! It was a yummy dinner and one of the highlights of the weekend. Chatting around flames + combusting marshmallows = one of life’s essential pyro delights.
No one can resist a good wiener roast, except maybe a self-preserving stick.
Hooray for Vernal! After a twenty-year absence, my dino buddies and I were able to get reacquainted. Our weekend was occasionally eye roll worthy but all in all we had a pretty great stay. In another 200 million years we’ll have to do it again.
About 7 weeks ago I messed my bad ankle up playing laser tag. Whether I undid my surgeon’s tendon reconstruction handiwork with this booboo remains unknown. I got an MRI on it this morning though so hopefully I will have some answers on that front soon. (I’m crossing my fingers for the “right” answers.) But that will be the subject of another post’s ramblings.
In the meantime I got my doctor’s approval to undertake a feat that few attempt even when they aren’t one ankle shy of cooperative legs.
In between two vertical challenges a sprawling meadow gave our legs a little break.
Mount Timpanogos is not Utah’s highest peak, it’s not even on the top-ten list for the state, but it dominates the Utah Valley landscape with its 11,749 feet and is one of the most popular climbs around. We made plans to conquer the 16 mile trek to its top with our friends Adam and Abigail a couple of months ago but then my ankle injury left the feasibility of this conquest a little uncertain. Finally, last week my doc said if I wore my brace I should be able to scale this behemoth unscathed thus we decided to still go for it. Of course, what the doctor exactly said was that my ankle would be very sore but taking on this twelve-hour hike wouldn’t do any permanent damage so he had no medical objections to the activity. Since I am pretty much the most stubborn person alive, pain but not permanent injury was good enough of an endorsement for me.
The trail up Timp travels through diverse vistas. Each region is so different it's hard to conceptualize the entire area as a unit.
When we stopped at the saddle for a snack break Adam immediately fell asleep and started snoring.
The last time I hiked Timp I was a teenager; I’m not going to confess how long ago that was. Adam too hadn’t traversed this trail since he was an adolescent and Jason, despite his years as a scouter, had never made it all the way to the top. Since the thought of ascending Timp hadn’t ever even occurred to Abigail, we were all kind of green to the experience and oblivious to the suffering we were about to endure.
The blooming wildflowers were everywhere. They painted the landscape with stripes of color.
The climb from the saddle to the peak was pretty rough. Wobbly rocks and dizzying heights made the going slow.
We began our climb around 7 AM to give ourselves plenty of time to get up and back down the mountain before it got dark, which was wise because construction on the trailhead parking lot forced us to park near another connecting trail instead and hike in nearly a mile to get to the actual start of the trail. We ended up doing nearly 2 more miles of climbing than we had anticipated; that’s over 17 miles in total for those of you who can’t count.
The wedge-shaped peak looked intimidatingly severe even from the saddle.
This ugly shack marks the top of Timp. It may not be much to look at but the view from it sure was.
The scenery along the Timpooneke trail is beautiful and constantly changing. First you travel through thick growths of pines and aspens with the occasional waterfall offering you its flowing chatter until you end up in a boulder-strewn grassland. Then, a sharp climb through pine covered precipices later, you find yourself in a stretching alpine meadow full of brilliantly colored wildflowers with the starkness of the triangular peak looming in the background. Once you leave those blossoms below the landscape becomes harsh. From the saddle up the terrain is nothing but rock. With lots of loose stones and over 1000 feet of vertical gain that last ascent is a bugger.
The panoramas from the ridge were spectacular and otherworldly.
We crossed paths with a herd of mountain goats; we counted over 40 in total. A few of them let us approach surprisingly close.
The weather during our trek was perfect. A nice breeze and some afternoon cloud cover kept us pleasantly cool for the most part. Mother Nature was in a good mood and her hillsides of vibrant blooms, which are apparently prettiest this time of year, seemed to echo that cheery humor.
The steps to the stony summit seemed never-ending.
The trail passed a few mossy waterfalls as they gracefully cascaded toward the valley bottom.
How did our group and my ankle fare? I’d say overall things went rather well. All of us made it to the top and that counts for a lot. I think Adam and Abigail got a bit more from this hike than they were bargaining for though. Adam, who proudly admits that he hasn’t exercised in years, struggled a little on the steep slopes from the saddle to the peak. He lagged behind us on the way back too and was so exhausted he actually fell asleep on the side of the trail when he stopped to rest for a minute. Luckily, Jason randomly decided to backtrack to find him right about then or we may have tramped all the way to the bottom without realizing that Adam was snoring in a grassy patch hours from finishing his descent. Abigail didn’t close her eyes unexpectedly mid-mountain but I don’t think she was the happiest of campers the last few hours of our expedition; she just wanted to be done. I guess when you’ve never hiked that far before you don’t realize that throbbing swollen feet, achy knees, and utter fatigue are the price you must pay to see your world from an extraordinary perspective and obtain some bragging rights. As for my ankle, I was proud of it. It gave me grief the last few miles and its aggravation didn’t subside when the trail ended but, since I was expecting more resistance, I was pleased with it all things considered.
Jason, as always, was a trooper. He didn't whine even though his backpack was hurting him and left big welts on his back.
Both Jason and I are glad we trudged into the wilderness. Achieving that mountaintop goal was a highly satisfying and breathtaking experience. I’m not sure Adam and Abigail feel quite as enthusiastic about their accomplishment but I’d like to think that with time, after the torturous aspects of our adventure have been forgotten, they’ll realize how beautiful the slopes and valleys they were so eager to leave behind actually were and decide that the misery of their extreme workout was worth the chance to view one of nature’s unaltered masterpieces.
Birthdays this, birthdays that, more birthday stuff blah, blah, blah. Thought you were done hearing about the 20 ways Jason and I celebrated our birthdays eh? Well, looks like this old girl’s got one more in her yet.
My family, like Jason’s, has no shortage of July birthdays. (I think the birthday quota for July has officially been met so could you people please have a few kids during different months just to shake things up a bit?) As they have in the past, this year my family held an ultimate July birthday extravaganza collectively for me, Jason, my sister Tonya, and her husband Ryan. This party went down at my parents’ house last week and involved: chile rellenos, freeze tag, cake, pant wettings, dog fights, beans, cello serenades, blanket forts, cowboy hats, and poetry readings. In other words, it was just a normal night for our crazy crew.
Drew and Simone brought birthday gear for the guests of honor. We wore our largely embarrassing hats with pride.
My mom made one of my favorites, chile rellenos, for our dinner along with her typical assortment of way more food than a zoo full of stoned monkeys could consume. Beans were a part of this great feast too of course because, no matter what the meal occasion, with my family there is always room for beans.
Wesley informed us that he was a miner during dinner and contorted his stern face to prove it. That was just seconds before his brother shafted him by stealing his "mining" light.
We ate in the backyard, as is our custom during the summertime. It was an agreeable evening for lounging in the shade while enjoying some tasty grub but before our plates had been emptied the usual mayhem began. Between my mom’s and brother’s dogs streaking around people’s legs as they wrestled each other’s ears and our niece Isabelle having an unplanned bladder evacuation, even the dull moments weren’t dull. Following dinner the birthday squad blew out their candles, with the help of a number of transfixed children, and opened what seemed like a never-ending pile of presents. Once all that normal birthday stuff was out of the way a group of the youngins halted their picnic table blanket fort construction to enlist me and Jason in a series of tag games that required some pretty fancy dog poo dodging skills on our part while our nephew Benson brought out his cello and recited a few well-rehearsed pieces to the other adults.
My parents gave Ryan an authentic cowboy hat for his birthday. It seemed to suit him just fine. I guess you can take the lawyer out of the honky-tonk but you can't take the honky-tonk out of the lawyer.
Ah yes, the melodious sound of screaming kids harmonized by the mellow vibrations of the cello and the sharp accents of yapping dogs. It was like a birthday symphony commissioned by the primal god Chaos. But that’s how family is supposed to be, right? A messy jumbled filling smothered in a shell of love?
All this merriment and bedlam marked the conclusion of our birthday festivities and, yes, I promise that is the end of the birthday party posts, at least until next July when a whole lot of birthday jiving and mayhem will be going on once again.