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Ever a Sunset

During the summer of 2010, I embarked on a mission to find the best place in the valley to watch the beautiful sunsets we are so sweet-spoonful-of-sunoften blessed with in Cache Valley. Eventually, I raced atop Old Main Hill at Utah State University and saw one of the more epic sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. Since that day, I kind of gave up on trying to find other places to see the sunset from an unadulterated, unobstructed area. I guess, someday, I will have to pick up where I left off. I’m sure there are plenty places out there.

It seems that most times when a great sunset is in progress I’m driving, or at home — with or without my camera — and never in a good enough place to get a shot without trees, houses, or other buildings or objects in the way. Nowadays, with winter fast approaching, the sunset happens so fast that if you’re not ready for it, it’s come and gone before you know it.

This is the time of year when it gets dark by 5 p.m. We also experience that wonderful weather phenomenon referred to as the inversion; and while it may bring some slightly unhealthy air days, one of the advantages to having it is the higher frequency of brightly colored, attractive sunsets.

sunset-perfect-ending1For those of you who like a good sunset, look to the west any given evening just before the sun ducks behind the Wellsvilles, and you may get lucky enough to catch the brilliant pinks, reds and oranges glowing through the clouds. I’ve noticed there’s really only a 5- or 10-minute window of truly magnificent brilliance, and then the sun is gone and the sky looks just like any other fading memory of the day.

In Cache Valley, this time of year, I’ve noticed most people have already assumed to say it’s winter, even though we are actually supposed to have another month of autumn. Honestly, I can’t say I blame them. It has, after all, snowed half a dozen times and the temperatures are usually in the single digits at night.

I take comfort in saying, though, that I’m completely OK with this. Somewhere along the way, I’ve grown to appreciate the cold weather. Perhaps it was the few years I spent in southeastern Utah, living in the desert. Maybe it’s the beautiful, temperate Cache summers that wouldn’t be so appreciable without a few months of snow and bitter cold.

Either way, there’s nothing like walking outside on a sunny winter morning and seeing the sun glistening off of the snow-covered Wellsville mountains. For those who have only seen pictures of this, I invite you to visit us in the winter.

Many will tell you to stay far away from here this time of year. They’ll say it snows all the time and your car will freeze to its parking space overnight. I can’t say this is a lie, but I can say, with a warm chuckle, that it’s good cause to curl up with a warm mug of hot cocoa or chamomile and enjoy the cold winter sights from the warmth of a cozy living room.

In the wintertime, that’s the best place to see the beautiful Cache sunrises and sunsets — from the warmth of my home. Come by and I may just invite you in for a cup of herbal tea or hot chocolate. We can chat about capturing that elusive perfect sunset photo and all of the other reasons Cache Valley is a great place to be in the wintertime.

I’d like to talk a little bit about something I’ve heard, both from people who’ve lived here for a while and people who have not. I regularly hear the utterance “There’s nothing to do in Logan,” or “It’s northern Utah, there’s nothing to do here.” For the past few weeks, I’ve wanted to blog my response to this misinformed sentiment. Perhaps I realize all of the great attributes of the area because I am lucky enough to have a job as blogger for the Cache Valley Visitors Bureau. Doing this forces me to go out and find things to do. Perhaps my wide range of interests allows me to be easily entertained — my sometimes childlike curiosity provides the impetus to become more involved with my surroundings.

I can confidently say, though, there is actually a lot to do around here. I have a hard time believing anyone who says, “This place is boring.” First of all, it’s hard to walk outside and not see a mountain peak — or several — somewhere on the horizon. Where there are mountains, there are things to do. Hiking, camping, birding, sight-seeing, photography, videography, rock climbing, mountain climbing, snowshoeing and hunting are just a few of the options mountains make available to people of all ages and levels of outdoors experience. Anyone who likes to get out of the house for a bit and breathe fresher air should consider doing so in either the Wellsville or Bear River mountains that surround Cache Valley to the west and east, respectively.

A short drive through Logan Canyon, Providence Canyon, Hyrum-Dry Canyon, Green Canyon, or any of the nearby canyons I haven’t mentioned, can afford a lifetime of fun, outdoors experiences. I’ve personally attested for some time to the concept that Utah — just about any part of Utah — can make a great photographer out of even the least visionary of individuals. Just check out the CVVB blog for a handful of ideas for places to go.

Aside from the list of naturally occurring places to visit locally, I’ve also begun to showcase several of the eateries, restaurants, shops, shows and events that are indigenous to Cache Valley. I’m also considering checking out a few of the entertainment venues located on campus at Utah State University. The university alone has an art museum, anthropology museum, various lecture series and a few different concert halls and theaters. In the surrounding metropolitan area there is also the Ellen Eccles Theatre, which I’ve covered a couple of times, the Logan Art House and the Old Barn Theatre, and near Bear Lake there is the Pickleville Playhouse. Eventually I’d like to investigate all of these places — and I will.

Cache Valley is also home to a wide variety of food-oriented attractions such as places found on the Cache Valley Food Tour and the seasonally popular local gardeners markets throughout the valley. I have scratched the surface in this realm, but I have a lot of work — and a lot of eating — to do, before I’ve truly become acquainted with all of the wonderful homemade creations local to this area. In the spring, I plan to head to Richmond (just north of Smithfield) to visit the Rockhill Creamery, which just recently received a historical award. The creamery produces artisan cheeses, among other tasty creations, and I intend to learn all about them.

The fact is I could spend the rest of my life writing for the Cache Valley Visitors Bureau, and I’d probably have a hard time exhausting all of the possibilities. I promise all of the wonderful people who have continued to follow this blog that I will do this as long as I’m allowed to. I hope to see you all out and about, checking out the great things there are to do in Logan and beyond. Whenever someone complains about not having anything to do, I suggest you greet them with skepticism or disbelief. Perhaps you can direct them to this site. If anybody out there has suggestions for something for me to do, I would love to consider it. If you’ve had the chance to experience something you believe makes Cache Valley special, please sign in and comment about it.

Cache Valley has been a great community to get to know. Having been here for two and a half years, I know there’s still so much to experience, but I’m glad I stumbled across this great place. Keep on reading, and I’ll see you out there.

A mountain of potential ammunition for the North Logan first ever Pumpkin Toss competition. These pumpkins are all left over from the 2011 Pumpkin Walk.

Some of you may remember last year I visited the annual Pumpkin Walk in North Logan’s Elk Ridge Park. The yearly tradition has become a much-anticipated fall attraction — not only for residents of North Logan — for people from all over the valley. This year’s pumpkin-lined gourd gallery was no exception. But for Pumpkin Walk planners and North Logan city administrators the question was, essentially — What do they do with all those pumpkins?

According to North Logan Public Works Director Alan Luce, the annual pumpkin walk brings in roughly 60,000 spectators each year. With dozens of displays designed by all sorts of Cache Valley organizations and individuals, the attraction is always a hit among the young and old alike. After the last night of operation, though, the mountain of remaining pumpkins is massive. This is how the idea for a new tradition came about.

Luce said for the past few years the city has received several requests for a pumpkin launching contest, similar to the “pumpkin chunkin'” festivals that are popping up all over Utah, the U.S. and the world. The Discovery channel even aired a special about some of the enthusiasts that build contraptions like pumpkin cannons, trebuchets, catapults and slingshots to launch these seed-filled, pulpy orange missiles.

Members of Team Frankie sit inside their trebuchet inspecting its functionality. Team Frankie won the prize for most accurate machine.

I hung out for two hours to watch the crowd of bystanders and onlookers grow. When I showed up at 12:30 p.m. — just 30 minutes before the show was set to begin — two of the three teams from USU’s chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers were setting up their designs. Team Legit developed a pumpkin catapult and Team Frankie made a floating arm trebuchet. The third team, called The Butternut Bouncers, showed up a little late with its floating arm trebuchet and got set up and ready to join the butternut battle.

I walked around inspecting the three designs and chatting with the students who made them. I was quite impressed by the element of teamwork and cooperation that was evident in the performance that each team displayed. When it came down to the moment of truth, Team Legit had some performance issues due to faulty release mechanisms. Eventually, though, the team was able to successfully launch a few pumpkins within the the 30- and 50-foot range. Legit won most creative design, since its design was not a trebuchet.

Pumkpin graveyard: These pumpkins lay forgotten about in a corner of Elk Ridge Park that was filled with Pumpkin Walk-ers just a week prior.

Team Frankie and The Butternut Bouncers each launched successful retire Jack O’Lanterns as far as 165 feet. Both teams, however, experienced some unexpected technical difficulties. A few times team members, event organizers and journalists all had to scatter to avoid the 15-pound pumpkins that were launched vertically and landed behind the machines. There were also misfires and backward launches, but luckily no humans or cars were injured in the making of the first-ever North Logan pumpkin launching competition.

Team Frankie won the prize for most accurate for grouping three of its shots in the same 100-foot range, and the Butternuts won the prize for distance with the 165-foot best.

USU mechanical engineering student and ASME President Dallin Jackson said this could very well become a yearly event. He said he felt the first production was a blast. The turnout of local spectators exceeded the expectations of those who planned it. Luce told me that North Logan and its council and committee members would like to continue to build on the annual pumpkin-centered traditions by adding Pumpkin Days to the calendar. He said this would be a great way to add interest to the already growing parks and recreation fascination in North Logan. Other events that were recently included were the Pumpkin Smash Soccer Tourney and the Pumpkin Run 5-kilometer fun run.

More information about this year’s pumpkin walk and other North Logan Pumpkin Days developments, I would suggest checking out the website.

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A few weeks ago I wrote about my experiences kayaking at Hyrum Lake State Park. I thoroughly enjoy being outdoors and taking in all of the beauty there is to bask in here in wonderful northern Utah. Furthermore, when it comes to getting in a boat, especially a kayak or a raft, that’s pretty much guaranteed a good time. So when I rented a kayak from the Outdoor Recreation Program at Utah State University and went to Hyrum State Park, I essentially laid the foundation for a future filled with awesome boat-related activities for me to blog about.

I rounded up my roommate and his girlfriend last Saturday, and we strapped our kayaks to the roofs of our vehicles and headed up to Bear Lake for an invigorating day of paddling. Bear Lake is not in Cache Valley, but I figured I should still write about it, since it’s just a short, hour-long drive through the beautifully scenic Logan Canyon, which this time of year is so incredibly colorful. My avid readers may remember my post last year about Logan Canyon’s great fall appeal, when the leaves on the trees turn every color of the rainbow. I could write volumes on this topic alone and, in fact, I’m planning another hike next weekend on Limber Pine Trail — you are all welcome to come along.

I saw Bear Lake for the first time this summer at a retreat for the editorial staff of The Utah Statesman, the college newspaper I work for. We did have opportunities to enjoy free time, but unfortunately I was there without a boat. So I found myself staring longingly out at the boats on the lake thinking, “I wish I was out there.” This is when I made a promise to myself to return to the lake as soon as I could to venture out into the water. Last Saturday, I did just that.

A few people I spoke with said the lake was 12 miles long and 6 miles wide. I usually don’t believe everything I hear, so I went on the Bear Lake website to get the official measurements. This is what I found out: According to the site, Bear Lake was formed 28,000 years ago in relation to “earthquake activity.” The lake is actually 20 miles long and 8 miles wide — quite a bit larger than what I was told — and at the deepest point it is 208 feet deep. It pays to double check what people say, especially when you are planning to paddle across the lake. If I would’ve decided to head up there on my own and try to paddle across the lake the long way, I would’ve been in for a nightmare.

Before I talk specifically about our kayaking expedition, I’d like to describe the trip there. Highway 89 winds through the scenic Logan Canyon past dozens of places to camp, hike and fish. There are trails available for all levels of hiking expertise — or the lack thereof — and as I blogged about in the past, if you have a camera, you’re pretty much destined to capture some excellent shots. I’ve said in the past, Utah can turn amateur photographers into professionals. Anyone from out of state who thinks this place in nothing more than the hub of religious fanaticism has obviously never even been here. Utah is filled with scenic beauty, and we here in northern Utah happen to get a high dose of it on a regular basis.

As we drove north through Logan Canyon and crested the mountain and came around the bend to begin the descent into Garden City, which is the town adjacent to Bear Lake, the first glimpse I got of the lake was absolutely breathtaking. I wouldn’t be able to put into words the profound awe that I’ve experienced every time I get to see this sight. What makes matters even worse is that I brought my camera but left the battery at home in its charger. I will have pictures on the site soon, but for now, I will have to just write about it.

As we made our way down the mountain, we stopped at a gas station to take a quick break and get directions to the nearest and best place to park and put our boats in the water. When I hopped out of my Jeep I noticed the wind was blowing good and strong. Every time I hearken back to memories of being a river guide on the Colorado River in southeastern Utah, I remember those blustery days of 55 mph wind gusts that had my passengers wondering if we’d ever make it to the take out. Fortunately, I was a strong enough rower that we never got blown up river, and I never had a person get blown out of the boat. To this day, though, I still don’t like the wind; it’s my least favorite climatic event. My roommate told me that Garden City is typically windy, at least, he said, every time he’s there. The owners of the sailboats that I’ve seen out on the lake probably love this quality. I’ve never actually been sailing — some day it’ll happen, some day.

We traveled south around the lake to the east bank and found an area with no condos or summer homes, just past a marina. There was a gravel parking area that was conveniently right next to a rocky bank of the lake. This is where we decided to put in. I looked across the lake and decided the other side was approximately2-3 miles away. I’d like to repeat a concept I’ve learned before. Never rely on your eyes when it comes to judging distance in the wilderness. What I guessed was about 2-3 miles ended up being 4-5. We thought it would take us 45 minutes to an hour to get to the other side and have lunch, but it took us almost three hours. A large part of why it took us so long was because of the strong wind currents we fought the whole way there. I’m sure Bear Lake always has some degree of tide just because of its sheer size, but the waves we were paddling in were epic. Our hard-plastic sit-on-top kayaks were constantly getting swamped with water as we splashed through these sometimes 4-foot wind waves.

I personally thought the waves were a lot of fun. The wind and the current we were fighting was another story. Other than the wind, our weather couldn’t have been better. We were actually scheduled to go the week before, but canceled due to incredibly cold weather — it was actually snowing in the mountains. Last Saturday, on the other hand, the sun was shining — it was a beautiful October day.

When we made it to the other side of the lake, I estimated that we had gone about 4 1/2 miles. I had a great time, but I’ve never paddled so much before in my life. The round trip was obviously close to 9 miles, and when we got back to where we parked we were all ready for heat, dry clothes and a warm bed. Ironically, just before we made it back to shore, the wind stopped blowing and the waves died down. The water at Hyrum Lake was for the most part calm and flat, compared to Bear Lake where it was wavy and choppy. I would not suggest to first-time or beginner kayakers to paddle Bear Lake alone. However, Bear Lake is absolutely gorgeous, and I would recommend to everybody to make a point of visiting some time in the near future. I know I’m certainly going to be there again next spring and summer. To all fellow paddling or boating enthusiasts, there’s good chance you’ll see me out there paddling my heart out. So, until next time, check back for my pictures, I’m planning on having them up soon. I’ll see you out there!

It’s no secret by now that I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania — I spent the first 26 years of my life there — and one thing there is a lot of in east PA is diners. During my high school years I spent the majority of my budding social life hanging out all hours of the night in a wide variety of diners and coffee shops. Heck, I even got my first serving job as a waiter in a diner!

When I was 17, I was even an extra in an independent film called “The Florentine,” starring Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore and Luke Perry, that had a scene shot in a classic hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon called Dina’s Diner. I spent more than eight hours that night sitting in a booth, pretending to drink coffee and talk to a perfect stranger — as if he was my best friend, of course. To me, sitting in a coffee shop talking to my fellow freaks, geeks and diner rats was just a harmless way to pass the time and feel like I had a life. I can think of at least 20 such haunts, right now, off the top of my head; I’ll assume you believe me, though, and spare you the time.

Nowadays, I don’t drink coffee anymore, and I spend 97 percent of my nights doing homework and updating my blog posts. Every now and then I get bit by the nostalgia bug and venture out to a diner to see how it might compare to those I fondly remember from back home. Twice a year I fly back East to see my family and usually go out for a good, old-fashioned helping of greasy-spoon bacon and eggs — for old times’ sake.

Since coming to Cache Valley, I’ve passed Angie’s diner with its brightly lit sign and the slogan, “Where the locals eat,” dozens of times. Any time I drive through Logan, I always see several bumper stickers making the proud assertion: “I cleaned the kitchen sink at Angie’s.” I’ve always figured the “kitchen sink” has to be some kind of food challenge worthy of TV coverage. The other night, I finally decided to eat where the locals eat and perhaps discover what this Kitchen Sink is all about. After all, I thought, maybe they make you clean the kitchen if you’re unable to pay your bill.

I usually only review Cache Valley eateries on this blog when they have some kind of local salience or special presence. I figured Angie’s deserved a shout out since it seems to be a Cache fixture. If the owners are confident enough to claim that their restaurant is the place where the locals eat, then I think it belongs on the Cache Valley Visitors Bureau blog’s radar. It turns out that it came up as more than just a blip on my radar.

After I asked my server what the locals eat when they eat where the locals eat, I wasn’t particularly intrigued by any of her suggestions. Then again, this is kind of what I expected — after all, it is a diner. Instead of the local “usual,” I decided to go with a California burger. It was good. The patty was definitely well done, which is how they eat their beef here in northern Utah — as opposed to the medium-rare bloody goodness we like back East — but it still had flavor.

In between bites of cheeseburger I was lucky enough to notice, from across the restaurant, a group of young ladies who had just been served the famous “Kitchen Sink” — at least when I saw a server walk past me with a giant metal tub of bananas, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, ice cream and cold, sticky, messy awesomeness, my intuition told me that it had to be the sink! The Angie’s menu includes a picture of this unique dessert that really does it no true justice. At a whopping $11.99, I actually think the Kitchen Sink would be worth every penny, as long as you have several friends to help eat it. Otherwise, if you’re on your own, you’re liable to end up with an expensive headache, stomachache and brainfreeze.

Being the adventurous reporter that I am, I wandered down to the table where these ladies were enjoying their dessert and asked if I could take a picture of them — kind of as a last will and testament sort of thing. They willingly obliged, which is how I met USU student Liberti Summers and her sisters Harli, Starr and Dakota. All four ladies valiantly ate every last bite of the ginormous banana split on steroids and were awarded their complementary bumper sticker.

For those who look for a tamer, single serving kind of dessert, Angie’s also offers a variety of individual-sized, homemade delectables that I’d certainly recommend. So far I’ve had the cheesecake and the chocolate cream pie — no complaints here.

A few nights after my first visit, I went back to Angie’s with some friends to give the food another go, just for good measure. This time I had the ever-satisfying, late-night omelet. Now, that’s good stuff. I can certainly stand behind the fact that the food at Angie’s is your standard, run-of-the-mill diner fare — just the way it should be — and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Only it’s obvious the food is served with a little added TLC.

To any of you readers who are planning that dream trip to Cache Valley in the near future: If you get into town and it’s late, you’re tired and you’re not sure where to eat, stop by Angie’s and give it a try. Or if you’re well rested, it’s early, and you’re looking for a good place to start your day, come say “Hi” to the locals. I haven’t gone there often enough — yet — to have my own booth set aside, but you may just see me there flirting with the waitresses or reading an issue of The Utah Statesman. That’s right, Angie’s carries copies of our very own college newspaper, the one I happen to work for. So, until next time, I’ll see you at Angie’s, “Where the locals eat.”

It’s that time of year again. You know which one I’m talking about. No, I’m not talking about the time of year when the snow starts capping the mountains — that’s great too — I’m referring to the return of the great ghoulish gush of freaks and frights that lurk all over Cache Valley at night in October. If you don’t know where to find them, you might not be looking too hard. Then again, I guess some people really are terrified of things that go boo in the night.

For you readers who get a thrill out of spine-tingling excitement and are interested in finding new ways to scare the pants off your kids or scream the face off your special someone, I’m going to try to go to as many Halloween-related Cache Valley attractions as I can find. Some of you may remember last year I went to the Little Bear Bottoms Corn Maze and the Annual Pumpkin Walk, and let’s not forget the Howl, the largest Halloween party for hundreds of miles in any direction, which is hosted by the Associated Students of USU. If you’re interested in those events, feel free to go back and check out my past posts. Also, stay tuned for my upcoming fall posts on the Cache Valley Visitors Bureau blog: it’s guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

I recently read an article in The Utah Statesman about the Dark Meadows Manor, located in the woods behind the Sherwood Hills Resort, just off the southbound side of Highway 89-91 in Sardine Canyon (the canyon at the south end of the valley between Wellsville and Brigham City. The Statesman story piqued my interest, with all of its colorful descriptions of the spooky, otherworldly spirits lurking in the foggy woods of Sherwood Hills. I’m always a glutton for punishment — always looking for the next sure thing to put me on the edge of my seat —  so I rounded up some friends and piled into the car, and we headed for the resort.

Dark Meadows Manor costs $13 per person, or $11 with a canned-food donation that goes to the Cache Community Food Pantry. Any other important details can be found on the website. One thing the site won’t tell you is to bring an extra diaper — for your friend, of course. If you’re like me and you sleep with the lights on, you might want to bring some friends.

The night I went, it was raining ever so slightly. The wet conditions added to the eeriness but caused some of the special effects to go haywire — or just not work at all. I can vouch, however, that this place packs quite the poltergeist punch. It takes about 30 minutes to walk the entire trail as it twists and turns through the dark woods. There are several creepers waiting in the brush, behind trees and in every dark corner of the forest. Even with your guard up, you’ll still get caught shaking, crying or letting go of the occasional shriek of panic. As strobe lights and cackling skeletons distract you from one direction, a moaning specter comes at you from another. If the apparitions don’t get you, the guys in hockey masks and flannel shirts who look like Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th,” will. There’s no telling how many weapon-wielding wild things are creeping in the wings of the broken down shacks and drooping, dilapidated dead-thing dormitories that are scattered throughout the Dark Meadows forest.

The whole time you’re out there you’ll be looking over your shoulder, and just when you think something is dead and gone, it reanimates and comes right for you. I wasn’t able to take any pictures of the coolest — or should I say ghoulest stuff, because Dark Meadows creator Jamie Forbush said he wants every patron to get the same high-quality scare, every time. I have, however, included some previews of what is waiting for you out there.
I certainly recommend the Dark Meadows Manor at Sherwood Hills to any haunted house, haunted hayride or haunted woods enthusiasts. This experience is sure to please your taste for terror. If you decide to go, keep your eyes peeled, you may just see me writing my blog from beyond the grave, giving you a bony, skeletal wave. Until next time, good fright and sweet screams!

As a journalism student at Utah State University, I was urged early on to apply for a job as a writer for the university newspaper The Utah Statesman. Shortly after I was hired, I had the honor of taking a job as the news senior writer, which afforded me countless opportunities to learn about topics I never would have otherwise been exposed to in my registered classes. I have had the opportunity to talk with professors, students and a wide range of faculty members and learn about so many interesting realms that make up the wide world of academia, not to mention our world in general. Early in the spring semester of this year (2011) I took interest in the fact that across the U.S., national parks and state parks have perpetually been the victims of deep budget cuts. Under the pressures to open up funds in other areas, or somehow try to balance budgets in lieu of the money that once used to pay for national and state parks, legislators have been forced to reduce funds time and again. My aim is not to point fingers, call names or say what is right or wrong regarding the issue of reduced funding for anything. This is, after all, a lighthearted blog about the great things Cache Valley has to offer its residents and visitors. I’m simply saying this because I was able to write a story about state parks and learned there are two of them right here in our back yard — Bear Lake and Hyrum state parks.

Another advantage to being a USU student is that I don’t have to own a bunch of expensive outdoor gear to be able to enjoy outdoor fun. The university’s Outdoor Recreation Program, located in the proximity of Romney Stadium — where all of USU’s home football games are played — is essentially an outdoors equipment outfitter and rental shop that makes it possible for students and non-students alike to access things like tents, sleeping bags, snowshoes, climbing harnesses and kayaks. The reason I say it’s advantageous to be a student is because we get a little bit of a discount on the rental fees. I recently decided to rent a kayak for the weekend and paddle around at Hyrum Lake State Park, to get a little sun, a little solitude and several great sunset pictures.

When I wrote my state parks story for The Statesman, I knew about Bear Lake, never even heard of Hyrum State Park and had never been to either place before in my life. This is when being a blogger for the Cache Valley Visitors Bureau is great — as if I didn’t already love being outdoors, now I have even more motivation to go  do what I like. I drove south on Highway 165, which is what Main Street in Logan turns into after you leave Logan. Eventually, I passed the McDonald’s in Hyrum, which was a sign I was about pass Mountain Crest High School and come to 300 South. This is the road I turned right (west) on that eventually led directly to the park. It’s pretty awesome to be driving through a semi-rural, agrarian suburb and out of nowhere see a fairly large reservoir and adjacent parking lot full of boat trailers pop out. This is roughly the point at which I said to myself, again, “Man, I love this place.” I honestly do say that.

I stopped at the tiny building with a stop sign in front of it, to be greeted by a cheery park ranger who saw the hard-shell sit-on-top kayak — that I rented for $15 for the weekend — strapped to the roof of my Jeep and asked, “Are you just here for an evening paddle?” I nodded and obliged him with my hardly noticeable entrance fee of $6.

I parked the Jeep — and I’m happy to report the parking lot was not over-packed with vehicles — and pulled the boat off the roof and the rest is history — a boy and a boat. What more can I say? I love to paddle. I love the solitude, the scenery and the fact that I now know about Hyrum Lake State Park. From here, I’ll let the photo slideshow tell the rest of the story. There should be a few more weeks, at least, of  good enough weather to go boating in. For those of you who follow my lead and check out Hyrum Lake State Park, look for the guy with the new camera who’s trying not to drop it in the water while taking pictures. That’ll be me.

I am planning on going to Bear Lake  State Park in two weeks to do some more paddling, so check back to see how the two parks compare. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you out there.

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Paradise Found!

I’ve lived in Cache Valley for a little more than two years, now. Last summer, I went with a group of friends to the south end of the valley to sit atop a hill in the middle of nowhere, late at night, to witness a Perseid meteor shower. I was out there for about two hours looking at shooting stars. When I took breaks to keep my neck from getting stiff, I would look around to try to figure out where I was in relation to the rest of the valley. To the south of the cow pasture we were standing in, I could see a few orange street lights twinkling in the distance. When I asked one of my friends where the lights were coming from, he said, “Paradise.”

I chuckled, because I figured he just messing with me. Then I asked again, “No, seriously, what’s over there?”

“Paradise,” my friend repeated.

Then it struck me, he was talking about a town called Paradise. For those not familiar with the
nature of Utah town and city nomenclature, the pioneers who settled this and other parts of Utah were quite creative — or, rather, I should say they looked to books of scripture for ideas on what to name their settlements. Paradise of course is another name for Heaven.

Now that I’ve explained to you how it came to be that I discovered this tiny town called Paradise, I will tell you about my first experiences mingling with the friendly citizens of this Cache Valley town with a Utopian name.

Christy Holmes holds a carton of farm-fresh eggs laid by her husband Dave's chickens. The Holmeses have been vending at The Paradise Market since it began three years ago.

Several towns and cities here in our beautiful Cache Valley host a variety of farmer’s and gardener’s markets. Why not? The area is, after all, an agricultural hub. Of the long list of reasons I could give you for coming to visit and/or eventually live in Cache Valley, at the top of that list would be the expression of rich heritage that thrives throughout the area. It’s no secret Cache Valley has always been a flourishing farming and agricultural center — among a whole bunch of other cool things. This place just has a slightly slower-paced way of life, especially during fair-weather months; on my list of places that embody qualities like genuine, old-fashioned, small town goodness, The Paradise Market is up at the top.

The Paradise Market is three years old and starts in June and last until the weather begins to turn cold. The weekly meet is organized by a town committee, which was developed specifically to facilitate the market. I was told this year it has been tough to adapt to the record-high rainfall that affected typical growth in garden produce, but even with the adversity, growers gather every Wednesday, from 6 p.m. to sunset, to peddle the fruits of their labor.

Of course Logan has the well-renowned Cache Valley Gardeners’ Market, which is lauded for traditional crafts, novelties, artisan demonstrations and homegrown produce — I can’t name everything, there’s just too many great things there. One thing, though, that sets Paradise apart is that it’s so much quieter there. The feeling I get from The Paradise Market is that it’s a grassroots, community gathering. This is the kind of place where relationships between friends and neighbors are not only fostered but strengthened and promoted. As a visitor to the town, I didn’t feel unwelcome or alienated; and I was able to watch people who see each other every day interact with one another in a genuinely friendly way.

It should probably go without saying, but the produce I went home with last week was spectacular. The price was rock bottom, and the freshness and quality were great — so much so that I’m going back again tonight. The Paradise Farmer’s Market will be recurring weekly until a couple of weeks after the first frost of the fall. After the frost comes, according to a couple of the vendors, they will   meet until they run out of goods to sell.

Utah-made honey wine vinegar is on display at the table of a local Cache Valley vendor. Tables at The Paradise Market are available to anyone willing to pay a small fee. Only items grown or produced in Utah are allowed to be sold.

Among the fresh kohlrabi, rainbow chard and fresh apricots and peaches, there were also coolers filled with ice-cold sodas, a table with hand-knitted wool winter hats, hand-crafted plates and a table with honey wine vinegar for sale. I bought the vinegar — it was a great addition to the collection of local cooking ingredients I have in my kitchen.

I was told there is usually live music performed by various local musicians, too. So, anybody who’d like to join me for a nice evening in the park. Head south, down Highway 165 until you see the sign that says “Paradise.” Travel about one more mile and look for some tables surrounded by people in the town park. That’s where we’ll be, talking about honey wine vinegar recipes and enjoying one another’s company.

It didn’t rain, like some of the participants and event coordinators hoped, but Cache Valley’s first ever mud run —the 5K Man vs. Mud obstacle course and mud track— still entertained thousands of participants and spectators on a sunny Saturday, in Wellsville, Utah.

The first ever Man vs. Mud 5K run was held Saturday, Sept. 3,2011, at the American West Heritage Center, Wellsville, Utah.

Co-directors Mike Schaefer and David Knight organized a massive 5K track, in cooperation with the American West Heritage Center, which had runners sliding, crawling, sprinting, wading and jumping through a wide range of muddy obstacles. The event took place on Sept. 3, 2011, in the southwestern corner of Cache Valley where the majestic Wellsville mountains provided a late summer backdrop for a beautiful —albeit filthy— day of good, clean family fun.

I was able to track down Schaefer and briefly ask him a few questions regarding some of the details of the event. He told me roughly 2,000 runners had registered by 1 p.m. (the first wave of 150 runners was released at 9 a.m.). Schaefer guessed that another 2,000 or 3,000 spectators were in the massive crowd that showed up to shoot pictures and psych out their friends and loved ones.  When I asked how far some of the “muddites” traveled to take part in the fun, Schaefer said he saw registrations from as far away as North Carolina and Missouri.

Tickets for the event were priced at $40 a pop in advance, or $50 the day of the event. I, personally, felt like this was a lot of money to pay just to roll around in the mud —something that, historically, pigs do every day for free— but surely I underestimate the value, not to mention exfoliant properties, of a good trudge in the sludge. There were strings of people racing around the track when I got there around noon. The local fire department was on site with its trucks so firemen armed with fire hoses could spray down the runners after they got caked in wet dirt.

These Smithfield men, students of USU, came dressed as Captain America, The Green Lantern and a jailbird. They called themselves "Heroes vs. Villains."

There were also several other attractions and diversions available at the venue, partly because the American West Heritage Center already includes certain amenities and sights, including gift shops, horse rides for the kids, and food and beverage vendors. The AWHC’s parking lot was not just full, but fields and overflow parking areas were packed with vehicles from all over Utah and surrounding states. There were cars parked all the way to Highway 89 —the turnout was epic. I have to admit, I was both surprised and impressed with how many people this event drew, especially because it was the first of its kind in our area.

One of the other local websites, cachevalleymagazine.com, stated that Knight and Schaefer expected approximately 9,000 people to show up over the course of the day. When I was out there I could see that there were at least 4,000 people there in the couple of hours that I spent walking around and taking pictures.

I was interested in finding out, too, with such a high registration fee if the money was going to benefit any charities or causes. Apparently, according to cachemagazine.com, Schaefer and Knight have a fundraising goal of $50,000. The AWHC will receive some of the money and “some Cache Valley families in need of serious financial help” will be the recipients of the rest.

As I walked around taking in the sights, I found several articles of clothing, like shorts, shirts, socks

Mud-covered Mia and Eddie Sandoval chow down on burgers sold by vendors at the Man vs. Mud event held at the American West Heritage Center, in Wellsville.

and sneakers, that were abandoned. I guess the previous owners of these items figured it would be no use putting them in the washer at home —mud-logged clothing must not seem worth it to some people. The event website also suggested that costumes were a great way to make the day more fun. I saw a wide variety of groups who decided it was Halloween eight weeks early. One group of guys from Smithfield was dressed up as Captain America, The Green Lantern and a jailbird. They called themselves “Team Heroes vs. Villains.” The group seemed quite jovial for having mud everywhere imaginable. I also saw a group of five or six guys wearing blazers and ties without shirts on. I wondered, since I saw these guys on my way out, if they really knew what they were in for; and I hoped they weren’t planning on wearing those jackets to church the next day. The usual outrageously colored tights, ’80s garb and, of course, tutus,  were other typical elements of the standard mud runner uniform.

Aside from nearly having to threaten a muddy friend in order to keep him from hugging me —I’m a poor sport when it comes to getting dirty when I don’t want to be— I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And my friend certainly appeared to be enjoying himself. After talking to my friend, I was very happy to find out that I could get food and drink at regular rates, rather than the monopolistic prices you’ll see at concerts, movies, or airports.

For those of you who now think I’m not really as much fun as I may think, don’t worry, maybe I’ll actually run the mud track next year. The wet plastic slide by the starting line that went down a huge hill and into a pit of muddy water actually looked like a lot of fun. If you’re thinking about attending this event next year, that is if Schaefer and Knight decide to make this an annual event (which I’m sure they will), there were attractions available this year for all shapes, ages, sizes and interests. You don’t have to be a mud lover or a hippie to enjoy Man vs. Mud. I would, however, suggest that germaphobes stay home or at least stay far away from the mud. Don’t forget to keep your eyes opened for the guy racing toward the fire hoses, that’ll be me… see you there!

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Guess who’s back!

Hello, friends, family, Cache residents and visitors. One year ago —in August 2010— as a budding journalism student at Utah State University, I began to pursue jobs outside the world I came to know all too well. I’m talking about the world of working in restaurants. This was a world I lived in for over a decade after graduating from high school. My pursuit of something new landed me —as good fortune had it— a couple of internship-esque jobs as a writer. I am happy to say that this year I will be returning as a blogger for the Cache Valley Visitors Bureau.

Anybody who read my blog last year should remember: I originally set out to find as many of the fun, exciting and one-of-a-kind things there are to do here in Cache Valley, Utah, and write about them so others could share in my wonderment. The great thing about this place (one of them, anyway) is that I couldn’t possibly fit all of the great things to do into one four-month period. I am happy to say that I’ve been asked to come back and do it all again. Not only do I get a second opportunity to explore new ways of writing about things I like to do anyway —eat, go to shows, enjoy the outdoors and experience new things— but I also get to share these adventures with you, the reader.

Whether you are a Cache Valley native, or you are thinking about coming to visit for the first time, I can attest to the fact that in the short two-years that I’ve been here, there are limitless unique ways to enjoy our beautiful parcel of paradise here in northern Utah.

This year, I already have a long list of  possible topics to write about; plus I’m going to revisit a few of the things I did last year to get a better, more in-depth look. My goal is to express in the best way I can how blessed we are to be nestled here between the Wellsville and Bear River mountains, with great things to do outdoors and in. Just a couple of weeks ago I attended a retreat near Bear Lake as part of a training session for the newspaper I work for —The Utah Statesman. While I was there I was able to take in the calming beauty of the area, however, I was unable to truly enjoy my surroundings to the fullest extent. In the near future I plan to visit the lake again to kayak across it. I can guarantee after I do, readers will be able to find more details about the trip on this website.

Aside from planning a trip to Bear Lake, I also intend to investigate a few of the annual athletic events that take place here. One new event, inspired by a new filthy trend sweeping the nation, mucking up the faces of all who take part, is a 5K mud run that takes place Saturday, Sept. 3, in Wellsville, Utah (the southwestern border of Cache Valley). I hope to make it to the venue in time to talk to some of the participants and rake up some juicy dirt on what it is that motivates a person to trudge through mud alongside, possibly, thousands of other mud-lovin’ runners.

The event, officially called “Man vs. Mud” begins at 9 a.m. and is sponsored by several organizations, including the American West Heritage Center. Of course I will shovel up a whole bogful of more details while I’m there. This race has been receiving truckloads of hype and should promise to be a spectacle that nobody should miss. But if you do miss it, I’ll be there to get you the best version of a vicarious account of the magnificence and mayhem.  As always, maybe I’ll see you there. I’ll be the one trying not to get my camera muddy.

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