When I was wee, in the summers, I would pack up the tackle box and sit by the front door, rods in hand, and wait for my dad to get home from work. We’d head to the shoreline and cast out until the sun set.
I love fishing.
But sadly, I haven’t done much of it in the past few years. So, I was thrilled when my dad said he wanted to go on a fishing trip for his birthday.
I plotted a route that would take us through four of the eight states remaining on my checklist – Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming – a week of fields and streams, mountains and lakes. We rented a cabin, went horseback riding, and ate what we caught. It was great.
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They call it big sky country.
Indeed, it is. A magnificent canopy stretches over it all, brilliant and blue, seemingly farther and higher than the mind can fathom.
We toured Yellowstone National Park, a stunning landscape like no other, steaming and bubbling, gushing and sputtering (did you know that two-thirds of the earth’s geysers are located here?). There were times I wasn’t sure I was still on our planet.
I walked through a breathtaking basin swirling with colors, a porcelain crust floating on a sea of boiling, sulfuric water. I marveled at a lake exhaling a rainbow. At the Continental Divide, I stumbled upon a quiet pond among the pines, full of waterlilies, verdant and lush. And, I witnessed Old Faithful send its famous, feathery plume high into the air – faithfully, of course.
Bears, elk, moose, and bison, we saw them all. It was a land teaming with life, a lovely escape to the untouched and untroubled amidst an economically woeful episode in our country’s history.
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We dropped down through Grand Teton National Park, where we hiked and climbed, boated and fished, all with a breathtaking range of peaks looming before us. Otters playfully swam by, teasing us with their sleek ease in the water. Cutthroat trout ran the steams early in the morning.
We chased waterfalls.
We watched storms crawl across the sky, sometimes sweeping right over us, cooling us off with a momentary downpour.
And we toodled around Jackson Hole, amused by the over-priced tourist traps and “million dollar” cowboy dives.
After dinner each night, we’d head back into town for ice cream and a turn about Jackson Town Square to see what we could see. We found huckleberry ice cream at an unnamed stand across the street from the one-movie theatre (currently, “Harry Potter” at 4:45, 7:00, and 9:40, in case you’re curious), and excellent “maple roasted-walnut” ice cream from Moo’s Gourmet Ice Cream, the only place I know where you can buy a brownie and a paintball gun together.
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Viet Pham, co-chef and co-owner of forage in Salt Lake City and one of this year’s Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs, had messaged me on my way out west, encouraging me to drop by to meet him, if I had the time.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t squeeze in a dinner at his restaurant. But, with a couple of hours to kill in Salt Lake City before my flight home, I managed to drop by to personally thank him for mentioning my blog in this year’s Best New Chefs issue. He and his partner Bowman Brown invited me to hang out in their small kitchen while they prepped for service. We quickly chatted away the time. Thanks guys, for your hospitality and humility. I hope to make it back to Salt Lake City soon for dinner.
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Will wonders not cease this year? 2011 has been a remarkable journey for me thus far, and I add this trip to its unbelievable itinerary. I am blessed.
Happy birthday, dad. Thanks for letting me stand on your shoulders.
Photos: Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming; Cows in a field, Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Artist’s Painpots, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming; Viet Pham in the kitchen at forage, Salt Lake City, Utah.