Utah Day 1 - Landmarks, Lagers, and Late Night Mics
Today started with me being scared shitless by the scarecrow outside my cowboy themed hostel. I’m not a morning person, but I think it’s fair to say it’s always too early to be surprised by something like this:
After regrouping from my morning scare, I had a very healthy breakfast of leftover Easter candy, which also served as a helpful illustration of the temperature change up from Arizona as the chocolate bunny had melted on the ride up and totally solidified overnight. It was very odd looking but it still tasted just as good.
I then got some coffee nearby in the town of Kenab at Jakey Leigh’s Coffee Shop and Bakery, a cute local spot. I’ll be honest my preconceived notions of Utah being so heavily Mormon made me a little bit worried about finding coffee, but like most regional assumptions I made before starting this trip, this was happily disproven.
My next stop was a rock shop called the Rock Shop that was also a rock shaped shop (say that ten times fast)
Beyond the wonderfully literal building design, the Rock Shop had lots of fun rock related knick knacks, including a replica of Fred Flintstone’s Car, beautifully hand-carved knives with stone blades, lots and lots of fossils including truly frighteningly large megalodon teeth, and incredibly textured sandstone sculptures. The other interesting not-rock thing the shop is known for is especially good coffee. I didn’t know when I’d see another rock shop where I could get coffee, so I wanted to try it out, but I still had a lot of my morning joe left over. I ended up getting a nice shot of espresso, and fashioning myself a homemade redeye which was an awfully tasty extra dose of caffeine.
After rock shopping about, I went to explore one of the defining features of southern Utah, incredible state and national parks. I set sail for Bryce Canyon, but along the way I encountered the first of many of a special geologic feature known to this region as hoodoos. These incredible and incredibly strange looking rock formations are also called fairy chimneys, earth pyramids, and tent rocks which are a bit more descriptive of their weird spindly nature, though lack some of the mysterious charm of hoodoo. They’re created by uneven weathering processes resulting in spires of softer rock with hard rock on top. They’re so strange looking but sort of majestic. These were the first ones I came across, and I think the car in the photo does a nice job giving a sense of their scale, though I read that some of the largest recorded hoodoos are over 10 stories!
The road I took to Bryce took me through Dixie National Forest and past Red Canyon Trail which made for some beautiful scenery that led to me pulling over at just about every shoulder to snag a photo.
I didn’t end up going into Bryce Canyon, because they charged by the car not the person, so it felt a bit steep for just me. I hadn’t purchased a national parks pass yet, but Utah would soon teach me what a good investment they are. Luckily just outside of Bryce, is a small but impressive canyon trail called, Fairyland Point. It was aptly named because it looked like something out of a fantasy book. The canyon was positively filled with hoodoos of all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors. It was really dazzling, and the most magical part of all was that it was free so I still got some quality hiking without Bryce.
This one was my personal favorite rock formation, because I thought there was really something cool about how the random holes in the middle caught the sun and sort of framed the trees and rocks behind it. As the good doctor, Dr. John once said, I been hoodood.
After hiking, I intended to go to the nearby visitor center, but it was unfortunately closed. It was still worth the trip though if only for this truly incredible sign that I really would have hoped wouldn’t be necessary.
After not urinating in any alcoves, the next stop on my landmarks tour was Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument, which actually refers to over a million acres of momentous peaks, plateaus, and valleys. For a bit of a comedy connection, Grand Staircase is where David Letterman goes horseback riding at the end of one episode of his new Netflix show after learning that the monument has been decreased in size by nearly 47% due to a presidential decree from President Trump. Unsurprisingly Letterman wasn’t a big fan of that decision, and he wanted to see the monument in its current glory before anyone tries to shove oil pipelines through it (perhaps the President will try to use that newly acquired land to build affordable housing for refugees but something tells me my first hypothesis will be closer to the truth).
While all of the national monument was beautiful to behold, two peaks in particular really stood out to me. I’m not sure if the single majestic hoodoo poking out of above a plateau has an official name, but I think the strikingly pink mountain way out in the distance is called Canaan Peak. Before this trip, I assumed deserts were largely different shades of brown, but the southwest has shown me otherwise with really incredible displays of vibrant rock colors.
No where was the vividness of that color on finer display than my next stop: Kodachrome Basin. The basin is so known for it’s vividly red, white, and orange sandstone spires intermingled with surprisingly lush greenery, that National Geographic Society actually contacted the Kodak film company to use the name of their signature color film for the state park because they wanted to use the name in a special full color spread about the park in a 1948 issue of Nat Geo. Color film was still relatively new technology at this point, so considering the colors in the park still blew me away in 2018, I can only imagine how shocking they must have been when the magazine dropped. I didn’t do any hiking around this park, just the driving loop, but I did have to stop every few minutes just to pick my jaw up off the ground. The only real downside was that for the rest of the day I had the Paul Simon song Kodachrome stuck in my head.
Of course my favorite part of the park though, was this wildly phallic spire that I like to refer to as Father Nature.
After Kodachrome, I went to refuel at Bryce Canyon Coffee Co. a cozy coffee cabin that fills a valuable caffeine niche for the nearby camping lodges. It was really charming, the barista was super friendly and fun to joke around, and beyond just having great coffee, they also had some mighty fine cinnamon coffee cake that was really calling my name.
Refueled and pastried up, I began the trek across most of Utah to my first open mic of the week. Before I got very fart though, I was distracted by a sign for a Mossy Cave Trail and Waterfall which was too much to resist. The trail was beset by weird and wild hoodoos and other rock formations that kept the walk interesting at every turn.
The waterfall however was just a tad underwhelming, coming in at more of a trickle than a roaring typhoon. Perhaps it just a bit shy around visitors. My phone died before I could get a picture of the actual mossy cave, but rest assured it was both a cave and heavily covered in moss.
Lastly before I made my way to the Salt Lake City region, I wanted to just give a shout out to some of the more impressive ways that roads were able to find away through the startling rock formations. The tunnels in particular were really a trip to drive through.
I drove for the next three hours and change across most of the length of Utah to a small-suburb of Salt Lake called Midvale. When I got there I was pretty hungry since I’d only eaten Easter candy and coffee cakes today, so I made a bee-line for a place called Bohemian Brewery, a proud family run Czechoslovakian brewpub, intent on bringing old world food and drink to a nice cozy modern setting. Everything there was uniformly hearty and excellent. I started out with a flight of their house lagers including 1842 Czech Pilsner, the 1841 Viennese Amber, the Cherny Bock Schwartzbier, and the Dusseldorfer Altbier. The darker Altbier and schwartzbier were perfectly up my alley with the maltiness of more traditional dark beers, but a lighter drinkability more characteristic of standard lagers. It’s a wonderful balance, I’ve only come across in these traditional Eastern European style beers and I wish it would catch on even half as much as IPAs have in the craft beer market. The pilsner and the amber were also quite good, with a real refreshing quality each. For food, I feasted upon a plate of pierogies and bratwurst. The bratwurst were fantastic sausages, but the pierogies stole my heart. Perfectly fluffy potato pastries filled with cheese and topped with bacon? I was in heaven. I probably could have done with a vegetable or two, but who’s complaining?
The night’s open mic didn’t start until 10pm so I had some time to kill and I wanted to stay sharp so I got some more coffee at a place called Red Eye Coffee, a fun coffee shop with a real punk rock aesthetic. They specialized in really strong creative espresso drinks with very punk confrontational names like “Not a Fucking Carmel Macchiato”, “White Privilege”, and my personal favorite “Snicker Fucker”. I was caught off guard in the best possible way, and obviously got a Snicker Fucker, which was espresso, chocolate, caramel, and a hint of peanut syrup all blended to perfection. The quality definitely equaled the ridiculousness of the name, and they had especially comfy couches (less punk, but much appreciated) so it made for a fun spot to sit and do some writing for a bit.
After coffee, I decided to go to the bar the mic would be at and hang out for a bit even if I was a little early. The bar, the Ice Haus, was actually in the next suburb over, Murray, and it was a nice mix of homey and divey. The bartender was a very fun guy who someone ended up in Midvale from Australia and he gave me some good local beer suggestions. I was particularly fond of the Evolution Amber and Golden Spike Hefe from Wasatch Brewing and Uinta Brewing respectively.
I had about an hour and a half or so to kill before the mic, but luckily there was trivia going on and a pinball machine on the top so I was pretty well entertained. Eventually the host of the mic, a really nice guy named Joe Everard, turned up and I hung out and chatted with him for a bit. He gave me some pointers for where to head later in the week and explained that a new mic had started earlier on Mondays, so there might not be as many people here tonight as there usually were.
His words proved true, and only about a handful of comics and audience members braved the late hour, but for a smaller show everyone was still pretty attentive and supportive and the comics all got longer than average sets which gave people room for more experimentation.
John Vigil- People like to argue about Picard vs. Sisko, but here’s the breakdown: Captain Picard had sexier pajamas, but Sisko looked sexier in his pajamas
Blaze Sanchez - *he tried an interesting idea called a joke and roast, where he would read a one liner and invite the audience to then roast the joke. It had varied results, but I think in a larger room it could have gone over really well.
Holly J - I like chasing after older men. They’ve got weaker knees so they’re easier to catch.
My favorite bit of the night though went to a comedian who just went by Carl, who did an extended impression of Christopher Walken having sex with a women that very surreally became a long monologue about war and the nature of man in very solid Walken-ese all juxtaposed with unrelated miming of different sex acts. It was really an impressive commitment to a very silly bit, that Carl pulled off flawlessly.
My own set went about as well as it could have, it was nice to stretch out a bit and try some silly one liners because a small room like that is a good litmus test on whether those kind of jokes can really work at all. All in all it was a fun mic, and when I got back to my air bnb it was late enough that I just passed right out which was much needed.
Favorite Random Sightings: Hog Canyon; Wild Bryce! (not a wild sounding first name); 2 Lazy 2 Ranch; Too Pooped to Pump (it’s crazy that i saw those signs so close to one another); 1-800-Law-Tigers (first off, insane. second off, that’s definitely too many letters); “Youngerize your body!”
Regional Observations: In some of the more barren stretches of central Utah, the speed limit (the limit!) goes up to 90mph and it’s amazing.
Albums Listend To: Shades of Blue by Madlib (Blue Note Records gave hip-hop producer extraordinaire Madlib free range to remix their expansive jazz catalogue, and the resulting instrumentals are sweet and funky mix of old and new); Shame Based Man by Bruce McCulloch (a really great album that so few people know about of songs and skits by one of the absurdist masterminds behind Kids in the Hall); The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman (it was considered pretty blasphemously avant-garde when it came out, but it’s a testament to its influence that it sounds like relatively normal jazz now); Sheffield Steel by Joe Cocker (a favorite of my dad’s, with some songs I really like and some that are just a touch to 80s for me); Sheik Yerbouti by Frank Zappa (an expansive double album combining all of Zappa’s best and worst tendencies, blending fantastic solos and sharp commentary with absolute toilet humor and misogyny, it’s an uneven ride but one I still find more enjoyable than not); Shia LaBeouf Live -Single by Rob Cantor (the internet took a single dumb joke and took it to its logical extreme in the best way possible, just watch the video); Shinebox by the Gourds (just Gin and Juice)
People’s Favorite Jokes:
Did you hear about the Brigham Young statue in the center of Salt Lake? He’s got his ass facing the church and his hand facing the bank!
Songs of the Day: