|The kids are having a blast because of a piece of ice at Red Rock Canyon, Nevada.
|From the top of Red Rock, one can observe Charleston Boulevard
cutting through many miles of Las Vegas, Nevada.
In December, most of Lisa's sports were still off limits, hence there was not much of a chance to
ski. This, however, had not prevented us from getting ready for the same — which consisted
of long debates, what car we would buy next, and subsequent realization that a car that we would
want, does not exist. And that we would have to work it out anyway, given our bus which easily
carries all our skis, does not have a four-wheel-drive; our Subaru, however, can't take all the
skis. A roof-rack can take four pairs — leaving three more pairs of cross country skis and
fourteen poles to be stuffed INSIDE.
The problem got eventually resolved by purchasing a coffin. Getting it was not complicated; we had
waited until Thanksgiving sales and just bought one which still fits on a Subaru, but has capacity
for my hundred-eighty-five planks. We had them install the coffin on the roof, and proudly headed
home. There we discovered that the car with the coffin can fit in the garage, so far so good.
Until the moment we took the coffin off, and we realized that we had no place to store it. We had
originally vaguely expected to place it on beams in the garage's loft, but that would likely break
off grapples on the coffin's belly. And so we were gaping at a monster stretching across half of
our garage and felt like some clumsy characters from a home improvement cartoon.
Fortunately, my husband is an engineer, who kept rumbling for a while, then he drew some zig zag
sketches on a piece of paper, and eventually left for a store and returned with hooks, pulleys
and a rope. He finished by installing these into the roof of the garage, and so now we have a very
sophisticated system to hoist the coffin above the car, and lower it down again onto the car, as
|On a comfortable trail to the lookout to Zion Canyon, we
were soon to encounter a surprise.
|A ram appeared on the horizon.
Our friends mostly planned a skiing week between Christmas and New Year, alas, on Diamond Peak,
which is a tiny resort in Nevada, meaning a long drive from home — and we hold season passes
for Kirkwood. With regard to Lisa we concluded that we were going to be better off on a road trip.
Then our friend Igor chimed in, about taking his kids to Kirkwood at the end of the year, and we
moved our Christmas trip to a winter break week BEFORE the holidays.
On Saturday we threw all our stuff into our bus and headed out to Barstow. Our obligatory stop at
Basil Thai for lunch in Paso Robles earned us a dessert after an excellent meal, as the server seems
to like us. And that was a very good thing, for the subsequent dinner in Barstow was horrible.
A pizzeria recommended by a hotel dude turned out to be a formica hell with freely dithering and
floor-rolling, Spanish-speaking pre-schoolers. And I can't have pizza myself, and ordered a very
tired green salad — at least they served beer there.
On Sunday we relatively quickly crossed the remaining leg to Las Vegas, and invited ourselves to
an afternoon visit at the Hobbit's. It was easy to chat away the afternoon and evening with Richard,
Hilda and Michelle, and we arranged for shooting on the next day. There is this awesome outdoor
range in Boulder City, with a lot of space, and therefore relative freedom to move and do what you
want. Only Lisa does not like shooting, and she read a book in the car; fortunately it was a sunny
day — despite being frosty in the desert, she coped well.
|Wild and rare bighorn sheep stood only a few paces away from us.
|So you came to gape?
Richard had to work in the afternoon, and we ventured to Red Rock park, to our favorite Calico Tanks
trail. There, we began to fully realize the advantages of traveling outside any major holidays and
seasons. Naturally there were still heavy throngs of people at the park's entrance, right next to
huge Las Vegas, but this time we had no problem parking. Even the count of hollering morons on the
trail was bearable. The desert was rich on water this time — in the canyon where the trail
ascends, it manifested in the number of frozen puddles and waterfalls.
We had planned to extend our stay in Las Vegas originally, but since we managed to cover both
attractions in one day, on Tuesday we moved on to the neighboring Utah — closer to Zion NP.
Utah has a different time zone, depriving us thus of one hour of the day. We reckoned a shorter
hike would do best, and picked the Canyon Overlook. A second advantage of traveling outside peak
tourist time manifested itself there — a herd of bighorn sheep moved over the rocks there.
Finally we had an opportunity to see cousins of Sierra, the plush sheep bought in Colorado (where
we did not encounter any of the shy animals). The kids were besides themselves and managed to track
and photograph the sheep for an hour or so. The very Overlook of the canyon turned much less of an
|Altogether flat three miles to the lookout were decorated by views opening to Mystery Canyon.
|Our sheep in Zion National Park, Utah.
Then we wanted to visit Weeping Rock, but it was off limits for ice. We felt it was a rather stupid
excuse, but we couldn't do anything about it. A family of desperate people made this stop
interesting for us, as they had locked keys inside their car. There's no cell signal at
that parking lot, and thus they had dispatched their grand-dad to take a shuttle to the lodge to ask
for help — which we had subsequently provided — from the depths of our bus, we fished
our telescopic campfire roasting poles, and pulled their backpack through a gap in their door window
so that they could liberate those keys and unlock their car. For this Good Samaritan deed we
rewarded ourselves with a dinner in the only true Italian pizzeria in USA that we know, one named
The Flying Monkey, in Springdale, Utah. The kids and Sid could eat pizza, and I, perforce, ordered
a burger. And beer. We moved on to our hotel in La Verkin, where we begun to ponder upcoming weather
— beginning Thursday, it was supposed to get generally nasty over half of the continent, and
we reckoned that we were thus left with one more useful day in Zion, and would have to turn back
Taking in a recommendation from a chap in tourist informations, we toured to Observation Point.
The destination can normally be reached over a five-mile hike, scaling a crazy elevation, from the
bottom of the main park canyon. Yet he suggested a short-cut — one begins on the other side,
actually outside the park boundary, and from there it's three miles more or less over flat country.
The dude apparently goes there in summer — now, between snow storms, dirt roads had turned
into squelchy swamps, and in a spot where it led among foot-deep slimy ruts steep down-hill, we gave
up — we could have possibly slid down, but how to get back up? Eventually we had found an
alternative, parallel road, which was not as rutted, and took it.
Having parked at the trailhead, we faced another problem — what to wear. There was mud and
snow, both roughly ankle-deep, so sneakers were out; kids were issued winter rubber shuffle-boots,
and I donned old trekkers. The thing is, I had been walking in barefoot shoes for a few years now,
which stop my deformed hip joint from aching (the logic is that walking impacts get bounced off
at the foot bones and don't carry up to large joints in knee and hip), hence binding my feet in
stiff sole boots was not pleasant for me at all. But I told myself I would survive, as it trumps
losing thin shoes in a swamp. I had been wrong about that, for after coming back my feet we catching
cramps and it hurt like hell. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Three miles to the overlook were perhaps the longest five kilometers I had ever walked. Mostly
because of alternating muddy trail sections with icy ones; one had to keep paying attention where
to place every step, and still it often was two steps forward, sliding one back. But the incredible
became reality and we stood on the lookout to the whole Zion Canyon. This rock cliff towers high
above the famous Angels Landing, and you can see both Temple of Sinewava and Hidden Canyon from
there. I can certainly recommend this hike! (but perhaps in some other season).
|A view from The Observation Point towards Angels Landing and The Organ.
On our drive back home, we stopped for one more night in Las Vegas; originally we had thought to
subsequently visit Kelso (with its sand dunes), but the forecast did not fail; it rained horribly.
Thus we had reached our house one day earlier than planned. Honestly, not one of us was sorry.
Hippo had saved one day off, going to work on Friday, and I had time to do shopping — and
making the main Christmas present for Sid. You see, in our family, Hippo's traditional complaint
used to be that he owned no tutu (tulle skirt, often worn by ballet dancers) — for example,
when I complain that I have nothing suitable to wear, I face the accusation that he, too, has no
tutu. Alternatively, he floats a wish to receive tutu as a birthday present or some such, being
firmly convinced that no tutus are made to fit his hippopotamus figure.
But — Lisa and I had surreptitiously purchased a few feet of tulle and a ribbon in Las Vegas,
and on Friday afternoon, kids cut the tulle and I bound stripes to the ribbon in the length matching
the XL form. This is one of the very positive aspect of preparing Christmas with older kids —
we all get to have fun with crazy stuff.
|Switchbacks into Hidden Canyon in the opposite slope, where we
had hiked a couple of times with our kids.
At our Christmas Eve dinner, Tom made a remark that both Lisa and I were wearing lipstick, and Sid
announced that would he have a tutu, he, too, would perhaps wear make-up. I was proud of my
children, who both managed to keep dead-pan, while I fought the urge to fall off my chair and ROTFL.
We managed to keep it a surprise, but it was close. I hope you can imagine that this Christmas was
really merry in this family. I must have been the nicest of the children, for I got a new computer.
The rest of the family, too, got electronic gadgets (Sid and Lisa got smartphones, Tom got a new
Kobo/e-reader, as he got a phone for his birthday already) — and the children had played the
most with Lego, how else.
|Family at the Observation Point.
We spent the rest of the holiday in rather domestic way. Hippo went back to work, and we kept
visiting the stables and our goats and Neddie. The we ceremoniously lowered our coffin onto the
roof of our subaru, loaded it with skis and stuff, and set out to the mountains to spend four days
with Igor and his children. With a stop at Giant Burger, we had reached Kirkwood rather late, and
an unpleasant surprise awaited me there. Sure, I had been aware that I had gained weight during the
previous year, but I would not have guessed that I absolutely would not fit into my ski pants!
I donned my thin cross-country gear, and for the ensuing two hours kept shivering with cold.
Fortunately we had arrived so late that the closing hour on the lifts approached quickly, and
besides, we would not last much longer on this first day of the skiing season anyway.
|The back side of Kirkwood's Backside.
On New Year's Eve, we first skied with Igor and his kids. They stayed in the resort until the
evening celebrations; we drove off to our hotel. On our way we stopped in Hope Valley,
season-renting cross-country gear for our children, and ran around on it a bit. We had dinner
at our room, followed by a hot shower, and we put on all clothes we had brought along to survive
the frosty evening outside.
Igor had originally planned to join with the kids a Christmas torch parade, but
they had given up, and we ended up looking for them in the lift line in vain. We found them at the
bonfire, thus forming a pleasant company to wait with. I must say that the sliding snake of skiers
waving flashing light-sabers is much less impressive than the one with the real-fire torches they
used to have. The fireworks remained beautiful as ever. Coming back to the hotel, we spotted Kovars'
car in the parking lot — and indeed they had come too.
We had planned to skip the New Year's Eve partying by having a toast by nine o'clock and going to
bed, but Igor was resolute in celebrating in big style. I had forgotten since my school years that
New Year in Russia was the main winter holiday event — the communist regime had suppressed all
religious context, and all the tree decorations, giving presents and pompous parties operated to
the occasion of upcoming date change. Lisa and Sasha had decorated a tree, and Tom with Ivan went
to make a bonfire. In the cold of truly Siberian proportions, it was not a bad idea — and a
campfire in snow was a truly non-traditional, albeit rather aromatic experience for us, as it
impressed onto both our memories and all the clothing we were wearing. Nevertheless we had gone
rather stiff after ten o'clock, leaving Igor's family to their own devices. After all, they had
skied for the whole week already, and planned to take it easily on the next day; we were still eager
for the winter sports and wanted to get up in the morning.
|Daddy had finally got a tutu!
Our original arrangement counted on letting us ski, and getting together with Igor at Red Lake,
but it was very cold outside, a weather front was rolling in and an icy wind was blowing.
Igor did not last at Red Lake, and we faded away at Kirkwood faster too. I had let them sharpened
the edges of my skis on the previous day — after some six years that I had been using them,
I could not be more surprised. I enjoyed so much that they suddenly turned and steered where
I wanted. Still thinking positively, I decided to drop my family off at the hotel and return to
Grass Lake for a bit of cross-skiing. In the icy wind, my hands had frozen stiff before I even
disentangled my skis out of the coffin, and approaching athletes had warned me that if I did not
have my sails in good order, I should not set out on the lake at all. And they were right; one could
move alright through the woods, but once in the open space, all tracks were blown over, and it was
impossible to ski against the wind. I had my fill after a half hour, and so I drove back and took my
family to South Lake for a dinner. Alas, our expectations that a Sunday evening would be more open,
turned out to be quite incorrect; we still had to wait about forty minutes to just get a table at
a restaurant. Hippo had suggested to try walking two blocks down to another Thai place, but we
were not luckier there. We just got colder while outside.
|Cross country skiing in Hope Valley.
Back at the hotel I was still rattling on my bed from the cold, and I certainly did not feel like
supervising the children, who insisted on making another bonfire. I wanted to stay at my room in
quiet. Three days later I went down with a horrible cough, and so perhaps the whole idea with
cross-country skiing in a blizzard and general frolicking without my heavy ski pants did not prove
clever after all.
|New Year with friends in a blizzard.
It was snowing heavily on Monday morning, and a decision came to skip skiing altogether, and to
try to get back home before they close the mountain roads for snow. Going to Hope Valley, we hit
a traffic congestion behind a truck, and it slowed us noticeably. We talked Igor and his kids into
getting out for a while and to check out kids snow bunker they had built earlier on the meadow. Tom
and Lisa and I could drift over the crust on our skis, the rest had to walk. Still the weather kept
getting worse and with it the nervousness of our respective drivers, thus we wrapped it up by noon
and headed back over the mountain range, with stopping at Kirkwood to fetch the kids'
skis — after my joy from the sharpened skis, we thought to had theirs sharpened as well.
A continuous stream of cars was leaving Kirkwood and Lake Tahoe, and since the road conditions
required chains, we crawled with them at twenty-five mph (we don't do chains in our subaru, but were
out of luck in this bumper-to-bumper line). Thus it took about twice as long. Fortunately, under the
mountains it was only lightly raining, and the whole cavalry picked up speed; we came home at
More pictures are at the gallery.