Monthly Archives: December 2008

Landscape: Home Sweet Snow

vail-liftsI watched the Colorado snow reports from my laptop in Louisville, Kentucky during the week I spent there before Christmas. At one point, the tally was showing 49 inches of snow in Beaver Creek during a 7-day period, and 41 inches for Vail. Don’t get me wrong—I love my parents and was overjoyed to spend time with them, but I also ran laps in their neighborhood and dreamed of the snow that would await me when I returned to Vail. Now that I’m back, I can soundly say—yes!—the winter ski season is in full swing, the town is packed with tourists, and there’s a jolly feel in the air.

I often ski by myself and get wrapped up in the beauty of this place. Skiing, the activity, is good fun in itself, but the greater joy for me comes in exploring how the mountain changes from day to day. Finding secret sweet spots on a hill. Getting up high and seeing the peaks on a clear day:


And watching the sun set down valley from my front porch is the perfect ending to such charmed days:


Life: Kentucky Bourbon

jim-beamEver wondered where the bourbon in those holiday bourbon balls comes from? I won’t create a cliffhanger here. It’s likely from Kentucky, and probably from somewhere near Bardstown—“The Bourbon Capitol of the World.” Bardstown is just south of Louisville, a geographic location known for its limestone-filtered water and families that have bourbon in their blood. The Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam distilleries, among a handful
of others, are in the area. I know this not because I’m a big boozehound, but because I graduated from high school in Louisville and return regularly to visit my parents. The bourbon industry is unmistakably a part of Kentucky culture. Billboards are everywhere, and the distilleries now contribute to Kentucky’s tourist economy. There’s even something called the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which lays out a plan for bourbon tourists to follow in exploration of this drink’s history. Of all the distilleries I’ve visited, Marker’s Mark is the best.


When I went on the Maker’s Mark tour, a cute Kentucky gent led us through, sparkling-eyed and with a serious Southern drawl. He walked us into the welcoming house, explaining how bourbon is made from corn (around 70%), wheat (and/or rye), and malted barley. The main ingredients are mixed together and then put into massive barrels, where the mixture ferments. At this stage, it’s called sour mash. It stinks and bubbles in a lively way:


The mash is then distilled and put into charred oak barrels for aging. During this process, it gains color and flavor from the wood. Distilleries have elaborate methods of rotating barrels, and some have identified “sweet spots” in their storage buildings—areas that produce the best bourbon.


If you’re touring Maker’s Mark during the week, you’ll see the workers individually hand-dipping bottles into the red wax that seals the cap. And if you visit during the holidays, you’re in for a treat. Wreaths and red bows add to the already festive atmosphere.


But no matter what time of the year you visit, be assured that at the end of each tour, you’ll get a complimentary drink!

The details:
Maker’s Mark Distillery
3350 Burks Spring Rd.
Loretto, Kentucky 40037
(270) 865-2099

Literature: Holiday Pick

Book: The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits // Author: Les Standiford // Publisher: Crown // 2008 // p. 256

dickens-book1Between wrapping gifts and stuffing my face with sugar cookies, I’ve been reading. For some reason—why, I’m asking myself now—I set up three book reviews for this month. Unfortunately none of them are the kind of books that get a person in the holiday mood, but I did come across this one last week at the Rocky Mountain News book critic holiday book frenzy: Les Standiford’s The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits. I picked this book up as one within the limits of my gift allowance, and I’ve been thumbing through it on breaks from other projects. Most of us know the Christmas Carol story, but this book gives readers the story behind the story, and it’s quite inspiring. When Dickens wrote it in 1843, he was 32, and his career as a writer was on shaky grounds. Dickens had already written several successful books, but the three he wrote right before A Christmas Carol hadn’t been selling well. He had a family to support and wasn’t sure of his future. In a mere six weeks, Dickens reversed his fortune by writing the 30,000-word manuscript that became The Christmas Carol. This story has become a part of Christmas culture, influencing the ways we relate to the holiday as a time for giving and for sharing with family members. And—who can resist watching the Disney version when it comes on TV? In short, I recommend this book for literature lovers who want to dwell in the holiday spirit a little bit longer.

Landscape: Ghost Town, Utah

Cisco Utah Ghost TownI’ve developed a fascination for Cisco, a collapsing town in near-middle-of-nowhere Utah. This modern ghost town sits along Utah’s State Route 128, not too far off of I-70—but along a route that people in a hurry wouldn’t bother traveling. I’ve watched Cisco become more ramshackle over the past few years since I started taking frequent trips to southwest Utah from Colorado. The first time I passed Cisco, I remember being alarmed at its buildings collapsing so near the road. I slowed down as I passed by so that I could stare at its remains, but I didn’t get out of my car. I’ve since stopped a few times and walked around the ruins closest to the road, but I get a spooky feeling when I do—as if people are still there, somewhere. I’ve rooted around for more information about this place and still have not met anyone or confirmed whether or not real-live people live in Cisco year round. A person I know in Moab told me that some folks may live there in the summer and sell supplies to river runners. But on my recent late-autumn visit, the town looked pretty abandoned to me:

Cisco Utah buildings

I read that the town’s demise came after steam locomotives stopped making regular stops there. The railroad tracks are right across the road, and evidently Union Pacific still uses a rail siding there.

railroad near cisco utah

I couldn’t resist taking this photo in November just after the elections. Evidently there are a few Obama supporters hanging out in the area, though the rest of the state is overwhelmingly Republican:

obama supporters in cisco utah

And even though I drove the Subaru on this last visit, I stopped in Cisco last autumn on a van trip:

VW van cisco utah

One of the reasons why I love taking the Old Lady—my 1970 VW van—out on the road is that she pretty much sputters along. Slowly. And this is the best way to take in places like Cisco that you’d otherwise miss with the blink of an eye.

Life: Slickrock

The steedThere’s mountain biking. And then there’s mountain biking in Moab. I haven’t been anywhere that comes close. A sense of infinite openness comes with being in this part of Utah, and mountain biking on slickrock, sandy trails is an experience in itself. Moab is an outdoor adventurer’s delight—with rock climbing, river running, canyoneering, and mountain biking all right there (okay…there’s also the motor-engine off-road enthusiasts swarming around…but I try to ignore the fact that Moab is a nesting spot for them, too).

Moab’s Slickrock Trail is a 10-mile loop that rolls up and down over smooth, red sandstone. My pal Dermot and I decided to ride to the trailhead directly from Moab, so we had to climb up a few switchbacks on pavement, but for some reason riding in this way made me anticipate what we found when we got there:


The trail goes from being cruisy to being outright gnarly, with a few power climbs that require more than a bit of balance to keep rubber-sides down. Here’s Dermot about to hop off his bike on a long masher, with gray clouds looming in the background:

Climbing uphill at slickrock

The reward for all the effort? Canyon country, of course. From the top, you’ll be catching sight of these stunning Colorado River views. It cuts through the canyons, shimmering in the sun.

Colorado River from Slickrock

Traci and gray skies at slickrock

I kept looking over my shoulder on this trip—the gray clouds finally caught up with us, and we got drizzled on a bit. No lightening, though. It was dark by the time we got back to town (without headlamps). Perfect time to recover—and hydrate—at the Moab Brewery.

Literature: Advice from Abbey

“…one word is worth a thousand pictures. If it’s the right word. The good word.” –Edward Abbey

utahhhhhIf you’ve ever read any of Edward Abbey’s books, you’ll find it impossible to wander around in Moab, Utah without thinking about him. Abbey—author and famed desert anarchist—worked as a seasonal park ranger at Arches National Park and based Desert Solitaire on his 1956 and 1957 summer seasons there. Abbey claimed he earned only $1.95 an hour, and with a wife and a child to support, he must have felt compelled to justify his choice of employment besides its financial rewards. “I like my job,” Abbey says in Desert Solitaire, “The fringe benefits are priceless: clean air to breathe (after the spring sandstorms); stillness, solitude, and space; an unobstructed view every day and every night of sun, sky, stars, clouds, mountains, moon, cliffrock and canyons; a sense of time enough to let thought and feeling range from here to the end of the world and back; the discovery of something intimate—though impossible to name—in the remote.”

Abbey was vehemently opposed to the idea of having cars—“steaming shells of steel and glass”—driving through the national parks, but whether or not he liked the idea, a ribbon of asphalt was rolled out in Arches anyway, and for a $15 entry fee, visitors can drive right up to their pay-per-night campsites (those are $10 a night). I guess I like my wilderness a bit more on the wild side, but I also want others to have the opportunity to experience the mind-blowing beauty of places like Arches National Park. So I can’t complain that there are now sinks and toilets and other amenities at Arches. I’m thankful for writers like Edward Abbey, however—writers who don’t mind viciously defending the natural world and inspiring others to keep what remains of it intact.

Some more advice from Abbey:

“If we could learn to love space as deeply as we are now obsessed with time, we might discover a new meaning in the phrase to live like men.”

On literary rejections:
“…my policy was, Always reject rejections. Apply unremitting pressure until the editors crack and yield.”

“[Americans] see wilderness disappearing, slipping away, receding into an inaccessible past. But they are mistaken. That world can still be rescued. That is one reason why I myself am still willing to write about it.”

He’s kidding…but it’s still funny:
“Speaking for myself, I write mainly for the money. Only a blockhead would write for anything else.”

“I’m willing to listen to reason. If I hear any.”

“When the situation is hopeless, there is nothing to worry about.”

Quotes from Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire (1968) and Abbey’s Road (1979).