Sunday, June 29, 2008

Utah: The Land of Milk, Honey, and Glorious, Glorious Motorcycle Roads

Each summer, the several hundred people that comprise the Utah Festival Opera Company travel from all ends of the US and beyond and joyfully agree to be overworked, underpaid, and housed in dreary student apartments for the privilege of spending two months making exquisite music amidst what must be the most beautiful and bountiful place on earth. I am one of those lucky, lucky people. You'd think by my sixth year here, I'd be a bit blase about the whole thing, but I never fail to be stunned on my drive from Tucson to Logan. Every shade of green, from the mysterious dusky color of pines, to grass so luscious I want to get on all fours and join the livestock in their serene grazing, to the magic silvery blue green of sage bush (my personal favorite) is represented in nearly every vista. The mountains and canyons range from brilliant reds and oranges to a lovely coral pink (again, my personal favorite), mixed with all the wonderful aforementioned greens. All this, and snow-capped mountains, too. And the water - some of it is so blue it's just plain freakish. Take Bear Lake, on the opposite end of the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway from Logan. The lake is hidden from view until you crest the final hill, and - RazzleBlueDazzle! - there it is - a total traffic hazard. There should be a warning sign. The lake is so big, and so electrically turquoise blue that, if it doesn't stop you in your tracks every time, there is seriously something wrong with you. If that's just too unnatural for you, there are plenty of glassy steel bluish green ponds and streams for you to gaze upon. This is the kind of landscape that makes such silly phrases as "this great country of ours" pop into your head and ring true.

I think I've made my point that Utah is beautiful. Now on to its bounty. It's hard to visit the Cache Valley Gardener's Market without at least one tear of joy slipping down my face. Unlike many markets I've seen in this country, this one actually features, gasp!, food! This week I came home with all sorts of succulent greens, new potatoes, sweet spring onions, garlic scapes, garlic and rosemary lamb (yes, local and pastured) sausages, eggs (local and pastured with day-glo colored yolks) and, the big treat - strawberries. These berries are what all other strawberries wish they could be. How can I describe the taste? I can't. So I won't. You're on your own for that one. Good luck. I look forward to further purchases, including honey (they even have the bees in a little enclosed glass hive for you to view), cheeses of all sorts, grass-fed beef, fresh cut flowers, and more fruit. This year I've joined a CSA at the market, and for an embarrassingly small sum, I bring home my portion of the Craft Farms weekly harvest. If I had to pick the crown jewel, it would have to be the fruit. There's actually a 10 mile stretch of US 89 designated as Utah's Historic "Fruitway." Strawberries, cherries, plums, apricots, blackberries, raspberries - each one being the very model from which all others should be (but, alas, are not) created. Last summer I canned jars and jars of the stuff, and enjoyed my bottled sunshine all year long. The jars returned with me this year, and are eagerly awaiting refilling. If you're not the sort that deals with the actual preparation of food, and only the eating of it, there are plenty of options here in Logan. Most notable are Le Nonne (Italian), Happy Sushi, Indian Oven (sadly moved from its gas station beginnings next door to my apartment to an official restaurant setting a whopping five minute drive away), La Ranchera Market (home of excellent $1 tacos), Aggie Ice Cream (home made ice cream just a short pleasant stroll away). All of these are really fine representatives of their cuisines - fine enough to more than please all the big city palates that form the UFOC. Opera folks are known for their appreciation of good food.

All of this, and I still haven't said one word about motorcycling. Utah is just crisscrossed with designated scenic byways, national forests, twisty mountain roads, national parks - all the features that make you think that God must be a sport touring motorcyclist. Seriously, it's that good. My little 130 mile "I-gotta-get-out-on-the-bike-but-still-must-get-some-serious-work-done-today" loop is comprised of the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway, the Oregon Trail-Bear Lake Scenic Byway, US 36 through Strawberry Canyon and a small part of the Pioneer Historic Byway (to be fair, some of this ride is in Idaho). Ho Hum. All this just outside my door. If I have the time to go further (I always have the inclination) there's the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway in the Uinta Mountains, Highway 226, a little secret happened upon a few years ago, and that motorcycle mecca called Highway 12 (perhaps only rivaled by AZ 191, but that is for an entirely different post). If you find yourself in Torrey, UT on Highway 12, beg, borrow or steal the money for a meal at Cafe Diablo. There's excellent "tall food" (i.e. - fancily presented, often in tall intricately built forms) to be had there. I particularly recall the Rattlesnake Cakes appetizer. All within striking distance, if one has a few days, are the Grand Tetons, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Dinosaur National Monument, Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, Craters of the Moon National Monument and more. It's that just ridiculous? Not coincidentally, the way from Logan to all these wonderful places happens to be paved with more, glorious, truly glorious motorcycle roads.

Don't even get me started about the hiking here...

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