‘Angels in America’ at KC Rep – A Review

Angels in America

“Angels in America” (Photo KCRep)

What’s playing in Kansas City…

Tony Kushner’s two-part Angels in America is receiving a sturdy revival at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s downtown Copaken Stage.

This sprawling two-part epic, subtitled A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, is at turns surreal, whimsical, hallucinatory, bitchily funny, poetic, brutally blunt, and ultimately quite moving.  [Read more...]

New York: The 9/11 Memorial Museum

9/11 Museum in New York City

The New York City skyline, with One World Trade Center standing tallest, seen from a ferry on the Hudson River.

NEW YORK — Last year, at my sister’s request, we visited the World Trade Center site, aka Ground Zero, to see the memorial reflecting pools and other features, but this year, with the 9/11 Museum now open, she wanted to return to see the new facility.

So, we did just that.

The museum’s entry is via an elegant multifaceted glass pavilion, which admits lots of light.

IT9_11Museum10a

The elegant glass pavilion that gives entry to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, seen on a glorious September day.

The museum itself is underground, reaching down about 70 feet to bedrock and extending out under the two reflecting pools that sit atop the footprints of the Twin Towers.

The museum had to go below ground because it is obliged by law to preserve the last remnants of the original World Trade Center, which are at bedrock level, and to give the public “meaningful” access to them.

9/11 Museum in New York City

Foundation Hall, at bedrock level in the 9/11 Museum. The slurry wall, which survived the 9/11 destruction, is seen, along with the last steel beam to be removed from Ground Zero. Its removal marked the end of a nine-month recovery effort.

As a result, visitors see surviving parts of Twin Tower foundations and a retaining wall, called the slurry wall, built to keep the Hudson River from flooding the area. The slurry wall held after 9/11 and saved the city much additional destruction.

It is, of course, a sobering experience to see the 9/11 Museum. My sister and I visited on a gorgeous sunny September day, a day just like Sept. 11, 2001. Even the sun seems somber in such circumstances.

The first things any visitor sees on entry are two 70-foot-tall steel pieces recovered from the Twin Towers and now rising in the pavilion’s atrium. Called tridents because each has three prongs, they were two of many such pieces that were part of the exterior design of the towers.

9/11 Museum in New York City

Tridents, two steel pieces salvaged from the Twin Towers, seen in the glass pavilion that gives access to the 9/11 Museum’s underground exhibits and artifacts.

The tridents together look like an elegant piece of modern art — if you don’t focus on their provenance. Or, they can be seen as hands reaching skyward in supplication.

It’s important to know that the facility’s core exhibition occupies much of the museum’s bottom level. It is called the “September 11, 2001, Historical Exhibition.” We nearly missed it.

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Shaw Festival 2014

peach_celebrationThe picture-postcard-perfect town of Niagara-on-the-Lake was abuzz with shoppers and theatergoers when we arrived on a resplendent summer day. You could be very happy just strolling the streets of this upscale village, admiring homes straight out of a glossy magazine, or shopping in the chic boutiques, or dining in the many fine restaurants, or visiting the shore of Lake Ontario. But most people had come for the theater, as had we.

The Shaw Festival was founded in 1962 with the mission of paying homage to the prolific British playwright George Bernard Shaw. Perhaps one motivation was to provide a counterbalance to the older Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s concentration on “The Bard of Avon,” but that’s mere conjecture on my part. The Festival’s purview was later refined to encompass plays written during Shaw’s long lifetime (1856 to 1950), although lately the bounds have been stretched a bit with the inclusion of popular musicals of more recent vintage as well as some contemporary plays.

The Festival comprises four theaters, from the grand, 856-seat Festival Theatre to the compact, 200-seat Studio Theatre. All are within a short stroll of one another and the plays on offer rotate daily with frequent matinees so that during a short stay a visitor can see a good many plays.

For theater of this caliber, ticket prices are surprisingly moderate and, since prices are in Canadian dollars, American visitors in 2014 will enjoy a discount of about eight percent thanks to a favorable exchange rate.

For the 2014 season, the Festival is mounting ten productions, including two by Shaw, The Philanderer and Arms and The Man. We managed three in two days during a brief layover en route to Stratford.

Cabaret, the Kander and Ebb smash, is getting a solid revival under the direction of Festival veteran Peter Hinton. Deborah Hay is terrific as Sally Bowles and Juan Chioran’s Emcee is very much his own, borrowing nothing from his storied predecessors in the role. Not every element of the production works as well, however, and – let’s face it – the subject matter is downright depressing. So if it’s a lighthearted musical you’re looking for, look elsewhere.

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Another offering on the heavy side is Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, about the trials and tribulations of a family during Ireland’s Civil War – not the one fought against the British but the one the Irish fought against each other after winning a peace that partitioned Ireland. Not everyone thought that was a good idea then; some still don’t think so.

Shaw_Juno_WebGallery3

If you thought the “dysfunctional family” was a recent invention wait until you get a load of the Boyles. Dad (the “paycock” or peacock) is a drunken braggart, son Johnny’s a shattered IRA veteran with PTSD, daughter Mary is looking for love in all the wrong places. Mother, the Juno of the title, is a tower of strength.

It helps to have a grounding in the history of the period and the program notes are a must-read for those who don’t. For those who think the Irish are a hard-drinking but jolly race, this play will be an eye-opener. It’s a glimpse into the darker side of the national character, one that continues to divide families to this day. A laugh riot it ain’t and because of its length it can be heavy going for some; a good number of folks packed it in at the intermission. Those who stick it out, however, will be rewarded with some truly solid acting.

Fortunately, we ended on a happier note with a blissful production of Arms and the Man, one of Shaw’s most popular plays, and deservedly so. This romantic farce requires a sense of high style to work just so and the cast, under the sure hand of Morris Panych, deliver nicely.

Man (and woman) does not live by great art alone, of course, so we were glad to get an usher’s recommendation for Il Gelato di Carlotta, a few doors down from the Royal George Theatre on Queen Street. This is the best gelato I’ve had this side of Rome. It’s on the pricey side, but once you tuck in, I doubt you’ll be complaining.

For dinner, we were lucky to chance upon Grill on King, which has a sidewalk seating area perfect for people watching and spotting the occasional Festival star at a nearby table. They adhere to the locavore aesthetic that seems to be de rigeur at most of Ontario’s better restaurants these days and their Village Salad, a sort of Greek salad minus the lettuce, was impeccably fresh.

I succumb too often to Tagliatelle Carbonara on menus and am usually disappointed. This was the best I’ve had since a memorable meal in Chamonix in the French Alps. My wife’s mahi-mahi was also tasty, with the lightly grilled vegetables giving the fish some strong competition. The lamb shank, meltingly tender, was roundly praised by a fellow diner.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of those ever so slightly out of the way destinations that keeps luring us off the Queen Elizabeth Way, the main route from Buffalo to Toronto. I have every expectation that it will do so again.

The Shaw Festival
Tickets from $35 to $113
(800) 511-7429
www.shawfest.com

Il Gelato di Carlotta
59 Queen Street
(905) 468-8999
www.gelatodicarlotta.com

Grill on King
233 King Street, just off Queen.
(905) 468-7222
www.grillonking.ca

Along Kolob Terrace Road

Smith mesa off Kolob Terrace Road.

Smith Mesa off Kolob Terrace Road.

Here’s another post in our series on Zion National Park. Other articles include: Exploring Zion National Park, Exploring Zion Canyon, Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, and Exploring Kolob Canyons.

For another angle on Zion’s natural splendor, take time to drive the 20 or so miles up Kolob Terrace Road, an unassuming paved trail that snakes north from the tiny town of Virgin off State Route 9, about 13 miles due west of Springdale. You can pause to hike if you wish, but don’t be ashamed to take a break and just enjoy the ride.

There are no services on this route so be sure to stop for a packed lunch before setting off. In Springdale, Café Soleil (205 Zion Park Boulevard, not far from the main entrance to Zion) is a good choice and their chipotle chicken wrap is a winner. If you’re approaching from the west, Kokopelli Deli (390 W. State Street) in Hurricane is your best bet; they do a terrific take on the classic Reuben.

Your drive up Kolob Terrace Road begins unassumingly enough, through a modest residential area and into barren scrubland framed by Zion’s less spectacular backside to your right. But soon the road takes a short rise at the top of which the vista opens out to spectacular effect.

Off Kolob Terrace Road -- Zion National Park

View off Kolob Terrace Road.

Here you are on a narrow ridge between two canyons. On your right, you will see the enticing entrance gate to Sunset Valley Ranch. Alas, it’s private, but do pull off to peer over the edge at the lush green horse farm below.

As the road rises steadily (you will ascend some 3,000 feet during your journey), you will enter Zion National Park, greeted only by a sign. Along the way, various trailheads give access to some of the park’s more strenuous one- and two-day hikes.

Take note of the turn off to Smith Mesa Road on the left, but save it for your return trip when the afternoon sun is bathing the walls of Zion in theatrical lighting.

As the road winds in and out of park boundaries, pause frequently to admire and photograph the towering rock formations and distant vistas to the east.

Lava Point off Kolob Terrace Road.

View from Lava Point off Kolob Terrace Road.

At about the 20-mile mark on your odometer, you will reach, on your right, the turn off to Lava Point Campground and the Lava Point Overlook, a little less than two miles away along a seriously rutted dirt road. If there have been heavy rains recently, this stretch may prove impassable to the standard rental car.

If the weather cooperates, you will reach one of Zion’s loftiest viewpoints (nearly 7,900 feet in elevation) and be rewarded with a picnic table that overlooks a jaw-dropping, 180-degree panorama — one that extends to Arizona on a clear day. An interpretive sign aids you in spotting points you have already explored in Zion Canyon.

Smith Mesa off Kolob Terrace Road.

Another view of Smith Mesa off Kolob Terrace Road.

Retracing your route, you will discover that the return journey offers new and unexpected angles on the scenery you passed just a short time ago. This time, take the sharp right-hand turn onto Smith Mesa Road. Again, exercise caution if there have been recent rains. Even in dry weather, this road has some moments that will give you pause if you are only used to driving on well-paved roads.

While the drive up to Smith Mesa can seem like a mini-adventure, the real reward comes when you turn around after a few miles and descend. If you have timed it right, the sinking sun will be showcasing the canyon walls to the east in their perfect light.

Kolob Terrace Road -- Zion National Park

The moon over Kolob Terrace Road.

It’s an exhilarating end to a smashing scenic drive.

Continue to explore Zion National Park

Intro to Zion National Park

Exploring Zion Canyon

Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

Along Kolob Terrace Road (You Are Here)

Exploring Kolob Canyons

Exploring Kolob Canyons

Hanging valley at Kolob Canyons.

Hanging canyon at Kolob Canyons.

This is part of a series by Kelly Monaghan and Sally Scanlon on Zion National Park. Check out other articles here and here and here.

A 45-mile drive from Springdale, in the northwest part of the park, Kolob Canyons offers different rock formations and a much quieter experience than its cousin to the south, as relatively few Zion visitors appear to make the trip. Unless you elect a backcountry hike, you’ll probably see these canyons mostly from the 5-mile scenic drive on a red roadway that matches the color in some of strata of the canyon walls.

Pause about midway to admire a spectacular series of sandstone formations that feature so-called “hanging canyons.” Carved by centuries of snowmelt, these lush, green, v-shaped niches in the rock wall are canyons in the making.

Timber Creek Overlook Trail, a rather steep mile-long (round trip) hike accessed from the parking lot at the end of the scenic drive, offers spectacular views.

Timber Creek Overlook at Kolob Canyons.

Timber Creek Overlook at Kolob Canyons.

Kolob Canyons has its own Visitors Center near the entrance, just off I-15, complete with restrooms, a shop, and knowledgeable rangers. There’s a picnic area near the beginning of the Timber Creek trail with several tree-shaded tables. Packing in a picnic lunch is highly recommended.

Timber Creek Overlook Trail -- Zion National Park

Vista from the end of Timber Creek Overlook Trail.

Perhaps because it is less visited, you have a better chance of seeing wildlife here, especially if you venture along the trail system. When we visited, signs warned that a mountain lion had recently been spotted in the vicinity. Our own sightings were limited to birds, lizards, and squirrels.

To get to Kolob Canyons, drive west from Springdale on State Route 9, then north on State Route 17 and Interstate 15. The entrance to Kolob Canyons is at Exit 40.

Kolob Terrace Road -- Zion National Park

Along Kolob Terrace Road.

 

 

 

 

Continue to explore Zion National Park

Intro to Zion National Park

Exploring Zion Canyon

Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

Along Kolob Terrace Road

Exploring Kolob Canyons (You Are Here)

Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.

Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.

This is part of a series on Zion National Park by Kelly Monaghan and Sally Scanlon. Check out other articles here and here.

Twelve miles of State Route 9 cut through the southeastern corner of the park, connecting the park’s south and east entrances (and requiring payment of Zion’s entry fee). The stretch is designated a scenic highway, and it more than lives up to that name. The road climbs steeply from the canyon floor, passing through Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel on its way to Checkerboard Mesa and the park’s east entrance.

The 1.1-mile tunnel was the longest in the U.S. when it was completed in 1930. Its two lanes were plenty wide enough for two-way traffic back then, but a single lane can’t accommodate vehicles 11’4” tall or taller or 7’10” wide or wider.  As a result, most RVs, campers, trailers, and the like require “one-lane traffic control,” which means rangers at either end allow only one-way traffic until the large vehicle passes through. Visitors requiring that service in 2014 pay a $15 fee per vehicle in addition to their entry fee. The fee is good for two trips through the tunnel (for the same vehicle) in a 7-day period.

Sliprock along Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.

Sliprock along Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.

Once through the tunnel, the landscape changes dramatically. The drive showcases sliprock and “checkerboard” rock formations you don’t see on the Zion Canyon trails we hiked. Unless you are traveling on to Bryce Canyon National Park, you will turn around just before you reach the park’s east entrance.

Checkerboard mesa.

Checkerboard Mesa.

In addition to enjoying spectacular views from the many observation turnouts along the road, you can take a “moderate” hike on the rocky, mile-long (round trip) Canyon Overlook Trail. Accessed from near the east end of the Tunnel, the trail offers yet more views and lets you get up close and personal with the canyon flora. From its end, visitors can look down on the twisty road that brought them up from Zion Canyon. The Canyon itself lies ahead and far below them. Careful! The trail is sometimes steep and narrow with long drops to the floor below; not advised for those who have a fear of heights.

Canyon Overlook: View at end of trail.

Canyon Overlook: View at end of trail.

This drive can be done as part of a day in Zion Canyon.

Continue to explore Zion National Park

Intro to Zion National Park

Exploring Zion Canyon

Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (You Are Here)

Along Kolob Terrace Road

Exploring Kolob Canyons

Exploring Zion Canyon

Along Pa'rus Trail.

Along Pa’rus Trail.

This is another in a series of articles by Kelly Monaghan and Sally Scanlon about Zion National Park. Other articles include: Exploring Zion National Park, Along Kolob Terrace Road, Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, and Exploring Kolob Canyons.

First stop: The lanes where you pay your entrance fee ($25 per passenger vehicle in summer 2014 and $12 for pedestrians) and pick up your glossy full-color park map and very useful newspaper-style guide. Your entrance pass is good for seven days. Older adults get a great break: $10 for a lifetime national park pass if you can prove you are 60 or older. You need only one pass per private vehicle. Most entry and exit lanes moved surprisingly quickly on the three mid-June days we visited.

Next stop: The parking lot if you’re visiting April through October. Use of canyon shuttle buses is mandatory and included in your admission. The parking lot has special sections for RVs and other oversize vehicles. Onsite campers and guests of Zion Lodge can drive to their respective sites by showing the required permit. As noted above, Zion offers free shuttle service between Springdale and the park. Shuttles run from early morning to around sunset.

Exploring Zion Canyon

Zion Canyon, the 229-square-mile park’s biggest draw, boasts 13 trails, ranging from 0.4 to 9.4 miles in length round trip and in difficulty from “easy” to “moderate” to “strenuous.” We chose to skip the “strenuous” trails, among them the hike to Angel’s Landing, one of the park’s most popular (and thus crowded by mid-morning). Instead we explored several “easy,” “easy-moderate,” and “moderate” trails.

By far the easiest is the Pa’rus Trail, a 1.7-mile walk (one way) on a paved path between the Visitor Center and the second stop on the up-canyon shuttle. Walking south toward the Visitor Center, you can stop at the park’s Human History Museum (the shuttle’s first up-canyon stop). It screens a film about the park and its geology as well as some background on the indigenous populations, early explorers, the Mormon settlers who named the area Zion (because it promised them a peaceful life after persecution elsewhere), and the area’s 1909 designation as a national park by President William Taft. The Pa’rus is the only trail in the park that’s open to bicycles and pets; the latter must be on a leash less than 6 feet long.

Virgin River from Pa'rus Trail.

Virgin River from Pa’rus Trail.

Truth to tell, the trail segment from the Museum past the South Campground to the Visitor Center isn’t particularly interesting in itself, but it provides views of both the Virgin River, the area’s life-giving waterway, and the canyon’s stunning sandstone walls. Park rangers say it also offers an especially lovely view of the walls at sunset.

The waterfall at lower Emerald Pool.

The waterfall at lower Emerald Pool.

The trail to the lower Emerald Pool from Zion Lodge (the fifth of eight up-canyon shuttle stops) is an easy walk of well under two miles round trip on a paved path. It provides views of the river, vegetation, cliff walls, waterfalls that vary from wispy to spectacular depending on the season and rainfall, and the eponymous pool, as well as access to the river from several points for those wanting closer views or a chance to wade. The path was crowded in midafternoon, but appealing nonetheless.

Hanging gardens along Riverside Walk.

Hanging gardens along Riverside Walk.

 

Zion Canyon -- Zion National Park

Rock squirrel at Riverside Walk.

The easy and very popular two-mile round trip Riverside Walk begins at the Temple of Sinawava, last stop for the up-canyon shuttle. An early-morning start put us ahead of the crowds. Bird song filled the forest. The river ran below us. Lizards and a rock squirrel scuttled near the path and interpretive signs offered information about the many varieties of plants growing beside the trail.

Best of all, as we turned a corner, we spotted three young mule deer bucks relaxing in the high vegetation beside the trail, the intensely colored canyon wall providing a spectacular backdrop. The trio seemed unbothered by the humans who stopped to photograph them. They were still there, and grazing, when we passed by an hour later on our return.

Riverside Walk -- Zion National Park

Mule deer graze beside Riverside Walk.

Riverside Walk ends at the river. From there, the more intrepid can hike The Narrows, a 9.4-mile, moderate-strenuous “trail” through the Virgin River into the upper reaches of Zion Canyon, where the walls narrow to just 20 feet apart in some places.

Entrance to the Narrows.

Entrance to the Narrows.

Signs warn Narrows’ hikers to equip themselves with a hiking stick, hard-toed shoes, and a fleece or windbreaker (among other things) and to be prepared to swim in places. Returnees we met later said it was a wonderful experience.

The canyon walls at sunset from the Watchman Trail.

The canyon walls at sunset from the Watchman Trail.

We hit the steep, “moderate,” 2.7-mile round trip Watchman Trail an hour or so before sunset. The trail, which starts near the visitor center and the river, climbs rapidly in a series of switchbacks. The 0.9-mile loop at its end, high above the canyon floor, offers views into the far distance. We watched the last rays of sunlight climb the canyon walls to the top of the Watchman formation before heading back down in the dimming light.

Tip: If you plan to linger much past sunset, bring a flashlight to ensure a safe return hike. It’s a long way down if you should fall from the trail.

Another view of the Watchman at sunset.

Another view of the Watchman at sunset.

Continue to explore Zion National Park

Intro to Zion National Park

Exploring Zion Canyon (You Are Here)

Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

Along Kolob Terrace Road

Exploring Kolob Canyons

Kamloops: Beyond the Railroad Station

Late-afternoon view across the Thompson River at Kamloops in British Columbia.

Late-afternoon view across the Thompson River at Kamloops in British Columbia.

KAMLOOPS, British Columbia — I wouldn’t have thought about visiting Kamloops in western Canada if it hadn’t been for the railroad.

In this case, the rail company was the Rocky Mountaineer, which operates a number of tourist rail journeys in

The railroad station at Kamloops, British Columbia.

The railroad station at Kamloops, British Columbia.

Canada, plus one itinerary that goes to Seattle.

In the fall of last year, a friend and I joined the rail operator’s two-day trip from Vancouver to Banff, meaning the town inside Banff National Park in Alberta province.

En route, we overnighted in Kamloops, arriving a little before 5 p.m. on a sunny day, which gave us some time before dinner to walk around the small city (population: 85,000), which bills itself as Canada’s tournament capital.

The Japanese Garden in Kamloops’ Riverside Park.

The Japanese Garden in Kamloops’ Riverside Park.

We headed straight for the aptly named Riverside Park, which surprised us with a small Japanese garden, plus a rose garden.

We were greeted there by members of the Kamloops Mounted Patrol, an organization of local volunteers who have assigned themselves the task of welcoming out-of-towners. It was as if an information booth had sought us out.

In fact, the mounted greeters, wearing 10-gallon hats and other traditional western gear, had met our train, too.

Riverside Park faces the Thompson River, with low mountains on the opposite side. It was September, but we

A water skier roars along the Thompson River, passing under a railroad bridge in Kamloops.

A water skier roars along the Thompson River, passing under a railroad bridge in Kamloops.

found ourselves watching a water skier race up the river.

In fact, given its location on water, amid mountains and near countless lakes, Kamloops is a fine destination for vacationers looking for a variety of outdoor activities, which may include hiking, fishing (including through ice in winter), mountain biking and various water sports. Kamloops also offers First Nations experiences.

These options don’t even take into account the more than 115 tournaments that the city hosts each year.

Our visit was a one-night stand and, as a result, time was too limited for any of that.

We therefore took the sightseer’s course, with a Kamloops map in hand.

Rock art in Riverside Park, apparently inspired by the traditions of the world’s aboriginal rock artists. The piece, by Bill Vazan, is called “Raven’s Nest.”

Rock art in Riverside Park, apparently inspired by the traditions of the world’s aboriginal rock artists. The piece, by Bill Vazan, is called “Raven’s Nest.”

First, about the park: Its Japanese garden reflects Kamloops’ sister-city relationship with Uji in Japan.

We also spotted six boulders, atop a small knoll, covered with rock art that can be understood as a modern iteration of ancient rock-art traditions and forms. The boulders comprise a piece of art created in 2002 by artist Bill Vazan as part of a Kamloops Art Gallery sculpture project.

On leaving the park, we found our way to a few historic structures — a church, cigar factory, courthouse, railroad station and school. Another such site was the 1904 Bank of Commerce building, now home to the Brownstone Restaurant, the perfect spot for our sole Kamloops dinner.

The Brownstone Restaurant, housed in a historic 1904 bank building in downtown Kamloops.

The Brownstone Restaurant, housed in a historic 1904 bank building in downtown Kamloops.

Or so we thought. The restaurant was closed on Mondays despite the fact the Rocky Mountaineer brought a trainload of passengers/diners to town each Monday during its spring-to-autumn season. We were puzzled.

(An update: According to the restaurant’s website, it is now open for dinner daily.)

On the other hand, we were delighted to stumble onto an alley with a few very

Wall mural, part of Kamloops’ Back Alley Art Gallery project. Fittingly, this one welcomes visitors to a shoe store.

Wall mural, part of Kamloops’ Back Alley Art Gallery project. Fittingly, this one welcomes visitors to a shoe store.

detailed murals painted on the walls, the result of the city’s growing Back Alley Art Gallery project.

Finally, we were impressed by the look of a pedestrian bridge that passes over the town’s railroad tracks, and again amused, this time, by the sign that greeted us after we climbed its steps:

The pedestrian bridge in Kamloops, B.C., which welcomes strollers to the top with a cheeky sign, saying, “Congratulations! You made it to the top.”

The pedestrian bridge in Kamloops, B.C., which welcomes strollers to the top with a cheeky sign, saying, “Congratulations! You made it to the top.”

“Congratulations! You made it to the top.”

 

This article and its photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

An Introduction to Zion National Park

The Watchman from Pa'rus Trail

The Watchman from Pa’rus Trail.

Cactus flowers.

Cactus flowers.

By Kelly Monaghan & Sally Scanlon

Tucked into Utah’s southwestern corner, not far from the Arizona and Nevada borders, Zion National Park draws over two million visitors a year, a testament to the spectacular beauty of the park’s Zion and Kolob Canyons, its many hiking trails, and other opportunities for outdoor adventure.

Don’t let those visitor numbers discourage you. Arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon and you’ll find popular trails fairly quiet, even in summer. You won’t have them to yourself, but there’ll be few enough people on them that you’ll often feel as though you do.

Canyoneering, rock climbing, and multi-day backcountry hiking opportunities also abound—some of them in Zion and Kolob Canyons and others scattered around the park. Visitors looking for less strenuous options can drive three scenic routes through and adjacent to the park—though not up Zion Canyon Scenic Drive itself for seven months of the year. To minimize traffic and carbon emissions, the canyon road is closed to private vehicles and serviced by complimentary shuttle buses April 1 through most of October. The shuttle ride from Zion Canyon Visitor Center at the South Entrance to the end of the drive and back takes about 80 minutes. Buses stop at the park’s museum, Zion Lodge, and trailheads.

View from Kolob Terrace Road.

View from Kolob Canyons Road in the northeast corner of Zion National Park.

Lodging & eating: The park offers accommodations in Zion Canyon (in Zion Lodge and two campgrounds with a total of 309 campsites but no showers or laundry facilities) as well as in six campsites on the upper Kolob Plateau off Kolob Terrace Road. Its only food service is in the lodge. Wilderness camping is allowed but requires a permit and payment of a fee.

Zion Lodge, Zion National Park

Bridge near Zion Lodge connects visitors to trails.

We did not stay in the lodge, but the buzz is that the place is all about location, location, location. Accommodations are somewhat dated and the walls can prove distressingly thin. The restaurant, however, gets high marks.

For those who prefer softer beds, hot showers, and a variety of restaurants, art galleries, and shops within walking distance, Springdale, Utah, located just south of the park’s Zion Canyon entrance, has plenty to offer—plus frequent, free shuttle buses April through October to take you to and from Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

Springdale is also a great place to refuel after a strenuous day of hiking and exploring Zion, and many eateries get rave reviews. We were so taken by Café Oscar (948 Zion Park Blvd, 435-772-3232) on our first visit that we never bothered to sample other fare. Their Southwestern dishes like Chili Verde Tamales and Pork Chili Verde Burritos are addictive and the Murder Burger is, to coin a phrase, to die for. Wash it all down with a hearty pint of Polygamy Porter. Then come back for breakfast and try the Pork Verde Breakfast Burrito. Why mess with success?

Getting there: Las Vegas, 163 miles to the southwest, and Salt Lake City, 307 miles to the north, offer the nearest major airports. We chose Vegas.

Driving east from the Nevada border, we were greeted by mostly gray hills with interesting rock formations. Then, a few miles from the entrance to Zion Canyon, the sandstone hills take on varying shades of red, russet and pink, which blossom into a spectacular array of colors and shapes as you turn north to enter the park.

Zion Canyon wall, Zion National Park

One of Zion Canyon’s colorful walls.

Continue to explore Zion National Park

Intro to Zion National Park (You Are Here)

Exploring Zion Canyon

Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

Along Kolob Terrace Road

Exploring Kolob Canyons

A Restaurant Review: AquaKnox at the Venetian in Las Vegas

Aquaknox Tower Dining Room

Aquaknox Dining Room

What would a Vegas casino be without an opportunity to win a small fortune and immediately spend it on a single meal?

While the Venetian Resort Casino on Las Vegas’ fabled Strip has a number of marquee names in its stable of restaurants (Batali, Bastianich, Lagasse), you would be hard pressed to beat the cuisine at AquaKnox, just a few steps from the casino floor along the Venetian’s Restaurant Row. The chef, Steve Aguglia, is not a star, at least not yet, but he is turning out some astonishingly good meals.

AquaKnox, as the name suggests, is known for its seafood. Starting a meal off with the AquaKnox Plateau

Aquaknox Sauteed John Dory

AquaKnox Sauteed John Dory

($79 for two) is an excellent introduction to their quality standards. It’s hard to believe that in the middle of the searing Nevada desert you could find fresh oysters, mussels, shrimp ceviche, lobster, and king crab like this. A highlight of this indulgence are the Ponzu oyster shooters, sheer heaven.

Aquaknox scallops

AquaKnox scallops

Other seafood we sampled included New Bedford Scallops ($42) on a bed of creamed corn and polenta garnished with crispy chicharron and Wild Alaskan Halibut, ethereally light over a shrimp, corn, and edamame succotash.

Seafood graces the appetizer selection as well with the Ahi Tuna Tartare ($18), flecked with Asian pear and spiced with Korean hot bean paste, a standout. But don’t overlook the Desert Bloom Squash Blossoms ($18), sourced from a local organic farm that apparently creates miracles in the desert sands.

Don’t care for seafood? Fear not. AquaKnox has some of the best beef I have ever tasted. I sampled them all — New York Strip ($49), Ribeye ($59), and the superb, buttery Filet Mignon ($54). Other non-fish dishes, which alas we didn’t have the opportunity to sample, include Tandoori Spiced Free Range Chicken ($30) and a vegetable Ratatouille with a black rice risotto ($26)

You will be pleased to know that portions are not overwhelming, which leaves you no excuse to skip dessert

Aquaknox dessert!

AquaKnox dessert!

($12 to $13). There’s a very nice take on Banana Cream Pie but the star of the show, for my money, is the Butterscotch Bread Pudding, a seemingly humble dessert raised here to sublime heights.

If you really want to pull out all the stops, call ahead to arrange a “Tour of the Menu,” a four- or five-course tasting menu with optional wine pairings. The staff will discuss your dietary dos and don’ts and will put on a smashing show. Expect to pay up to $200 per person with pairings for this very special experience.

Aquaknox Wine Tower

AquaKnox Wine Tower

Wines by the glass range from $10 to $23, and the selection is excellent. Their Tavistock Pinot Noir, available nowhere else, is a personal favorite and pairs beautifully with the steaks. Choose a bottle and the prices quickly become stratospheric.

The wide-open entrance and the hip bar at the front only hint at the quiet elegance to be found in the restaurant’s interior. The seating is plush, the tables widely spaced, and the noise level blissfully muted. For extra calm request one of their discreet semi-circular booths.

The servers are extremely knowledgeable about the menu and you can trust their suggestions for wine pairings with your entrée. The service is friendly and familiar without being overbearing or intrusive.

AquaKnox will be a special occasion sort of place for most of us, but if you are a high roller you could do a lot worse than make it your dining headquarters during your Vegas stay.

AquaKnox, Global Water Cuisine
At the Venetian Resort Casino
(702) 414-3772

http://www.aquaknox.net

Photos courtesy of Tavistock Group.