Saturday, July 07, 2012

When the Mood Strikes, Head for the Hills

A photo journey through Snowbird, UT

I have been craving shooting lately. The tame kind, with a camera, you know. For some reason, we have not gotten out this year to just take in, on digital space, the beauty of all that is around us. Call it busy life, call it laziness, whatever it is, we have not been shooting in a while.

About a week ago, I was in one of my “let’s pick up and leave” moods that strikes still, luckily, every now and again. Because I always want  to make the most out of my very limited time to travel, we decided to go somewhere close (so we can get there comfortably right after work on a Friday) but somewhere new. As hard as that sounds to believe, there are still plenty of “new” places for us, right around our county.  So, we ended up in Snowbird.

Known to skiers as one of their favorite getaways, Snowbird is now being advertised as “a winter and summer resort”. And that tagline is not a lie: there are plenty of things to do in the summer, for old ones and little ones, for the more active kinds and for us, the more laid back, lazy ones, too (make sure you see the whole album for all the possibilities).  

The drive up the mountain from The Utah Valley, on winding roads and around piney slopes is a thing of beauty and a dreamlike experience: as you drive higher and higher and the terrain becomes taller and taller, and more remote, you have a very surreal and yet very material sort of sense of leaving every piece of the noisy world behind and stepping into a new universe – of peace, solitude, freshness and awesomeness.

Once you make it to the resort, you feel like a new world, very small, very contained and yet very sufficient has swallowed you whole. The resort is not very big and it’s nested in the heart of Little Cottonwood Canyon. It has several hotels, several restaurants with world renowned chefs and hostesses, a grocery, store, a pharmacy, several gift shops – you know, everything you can possibly need in a short stay.

 The grocery store was called 'General Gritts'. Reminded me of The South. 

Unlike the semi to very high end resorts around Park City, Snowbird gives you a feeling of normalcy and down-to-earthness. You’re not blinded by the super rich, nor made feel uncomfortable. The crowd is very diverse here and it takes literally all kinds: families with (many or not so many) kids, singles, on mountain bikes, young couples or retirees. There is something everyone finds to do, and everyone seems to go about doing it, without hindering everyone else.

On our first night, to add to the serenity, we were welcome by this beautiful moon, while eating on the patio of the El Chanate (“Blackbird”) restaurant, outside The Cliff Lodge:

 And speaking of El Chanate: I have had Mexican fried ice-cream before, but this plate was beautiful: 

And the churros (on top) were delicious. I have never had them and the waiter told me they’re like donuts. But they are not. They were doughy and not very sweet, but very tasty – a balanced taste of chocolate and cinnamon, and if you know anything about me you know I hate both – but these were well balanced, even for my taste!

The resort was built in the 70’s and early 80’s. And the buildings and some of the d├ęcor still has that same wood panel – kind of vibe to them.  But some of the restaurants, like The Aerie and The Atrium have had some overhaul re-dos, and they have a more contemporary, simplified, and slick feel to them.

This is the sit-down dining room at The Aerie (they also have an all couch and armchair lounge):

The architecture of the whole place is somewhat interesting. The buildings copy the physique of the mountain for the most part, its incline and tallness. It is slopey, and every single floor has a beautiful view of a mountain valley and of vegetation up close, at the same time. At any given floor you can be at level 5 or ground level, simultaneously. And then, you have trails that lead you to the bottom of the valley, or to another altitude level / floor where you have more facilities. The architecture mingles in well with the natural beauty of the surroundings. Nothing pops as out of context – it’s all a beautiful marriage between god-made mountain and man-made abode.

I have seen some of the most interesting mountain architecture in Snowbird and Alta (its neighbor city to the North) alike: 

 The Cliff Lodge, in Snowbird

 Store by the roadside in Alta

 Rental shop in Snowbird

On Saturday, we took the aerial tram (sort of like a gondola, but bigger) up Hidden Peak – which, at 11,000 feet, is the tallest mountain of the resort. You "climb" up from 7000 ft to the top in less than 9 minutes. Be prepared for your ears to pop!

The views from up there were amazing! We could see all the way down to Utah Lake and the Salt Lake Valley … mountains and winding roads and streams and the whole world as far as your eyes could see! It was a crystal clear day, with almost no clouds in the sky so the visibility was endless! 
More than anything we did this weekend, just looking at the mountain and taking every piece of its beauty in was my favorite!

Vistas galore! Your eyes will hurt from staring at such beauty!

Snow is still melting, even in July, on this mighty hill! Some parts of it were thicker than 5 feet:

From the valley, you see just barely traces of snow, but up here, they become bottomless pots full to the brim of the white stuff:

I really loved getting back to shooting nature, in its close-ups and distant beauty!  Although we didn’t meet with the moose nor the mountain lion, just finding bugs and insects and beautiful, fragile wild flowers was enough. Everything up there was fresh, lively and so excited the sun was finally out and the earth was warm.

 My husband took a picture of this lady bug 

After exploring Hidden Peak for half and hour or so, we decided to climb down about half a mile, to The Peruvian Express station – one of the chair lift stations on the mountain. The hike was very easy, and it was all downhill:

You can see the Peruvian Express Station (the blue building) in the valley - we are atop Hidden Peak while taking the picture

 Once we made it to The Station, we also found the Peruvian Tunnel, a 600 ft tunnel that pierces the mountain to provide access to the Mineral Basin, or the other side of the mountain. There is always something awe-inspiring when in the heart of the earth – and this tunnel was no different, although it was not as closed in and claustrophobic as a cave or a mine proper:

For the first time in my life, I think, I was a bit nervous on the chairlift! I am not sure what it was, whether the distance to the ground was bigger, or the architecture of the chair itself was different, more tipped backwards than other chairs – I am not too certain, but I was almost shaking all the way down the lift, as we approached the resort: 

 The ride downhill was scary (for me), but always worth it!

One more word about the wildlife! They had signs everywhere picturing a moose and warning us not to feed them! They should replace the moose with ground squirrels, though, as they were everywhere and they were friendly as all so they can talk you into feeding them. Lots. As you can tell, by how close I could get to them, they were not in the least shy:

Once we were back in the valley, we just took everything at a slower than slow pace. We walked around, we people watched, we ate snacks and had drinks on a patio, we spent some time on our own balcony, drinks in hand and mountain on top of us. We read, we surfed, we napped. We had dinner at The Aerie and for those of you who love fresh trout – it was delicious, on a very yummy polenta cake. 

On Sunday morning, we had a  beautiful and plentiful brunch on the patio of The Atrium, where, for the first time in my life, I had two plateful of fresh sushi for breakfast. Talk about decadence and being on vacation!

More than anything, this weekend, we breathed in and unwound! The pace was slow and the possibilities were endless to just … be.

Click on the picture for experiencing the whole album. 
Enjoy and, if you can, go and check it out yourself.

What could be more relaxing in life than just hearing the wind through the pines and watching the butterflies hop and skip the rocks in a mountain stream?! Not many things, if you asked me.

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