Oktoberfest: Beer, Brats, and a Big Scare

Say “Oktoberfest” and what comes to mind?  Oom-pah bands, beer, bratwurst and sauerkraut, men wearing lederhosen and women in dirndls, Tyrolean hats, Alpen horns….  Not EMTS!

This past Saturday the Finley clan headed to Snowbird Ski Resort in the mountains south of Salt Lake City.  All weekends in September and the first weekend in October–before the snow flies–Snowbird is turned into Little Bavaria.  The scenery certainly lends itself to the event: tall, craggy mountains; lovely Alpine meadows; and blazing fall color.

Birches and red berries

The birches are stunning, as well as the cliffs tinged with flaming leaves.

Autumn color on the cliffs

An Alpine Meadow serves as a lovely backdrop and doubles as ski trails in winter when the snow has piled up to a base of several hundred inches; last winter it was over 800″ (that’s 66′), so you’re skiing at tree top level!

Alpine meadow in summer, ski trails in winter

At the base of the mountain in Little Cottonwood Canyon, tents were set up: the big food tent where the band played polkas and Bavarian tunes and where you bought your brats, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, and hot German potato salad.  And beer, glorious BEER!  In Utah!!!!  Once sated, you could walk through vendors’ row and purchase clothing, souvenirs, German trinkets, and steins.  I could also treat myself to Bob Marley tee-shirts and other Jamaican goodies.  I’m not sure how that was connected to Oktoberfest, but what the hey….

All this was free admission, except your food and beverage purchases.  One could also purchase tickets which would let you ride the ski lifts and bigger tram to the top of the mountains.  These tickets also let you queue up to ride the zip-line, Alpine Slide, mechanical bull, and into the rather adverntureous children’s activities areas.  We first took the tram to the top of the mountain (11,000′ above sea level).  Made by the Swiss who know something about mountains, skiing, and moving large numbers of skiers quickly to the top of ski runs, it was a large, glass windowed car that made the trip in about 8 minutes and carries up to 125 skiers (plus equipment) each lift.  At the top, the views were spectacular.

Valley below the Canyon

Here you can see the town on the valley floor.  And looking in another direction, more mountains and an exposed section of white rock.

View with rock strata

Turn yet another way and you see this view.

Rolling mountains

We lingered at the top long enough to enjoy hearing Alpen horns played by three young musicians decked out in lederhosen.  These horns are made in Switzerland from a single spruce tree, split in half, hollowed out and rejoined.  They’re 12′ long and have a wonderful mellow, muted sound.  Originally they were for communication in the Alps.  Very picturesque, don’t you think?

Alpen horns in concert

After the concert, we opted not to take the tram, but walked what turned out to be about a mile, due to multiple switchbacks, down to a lower open chair lift to return to the bottom.  Personally, I think it’s harder on the knees and hips to walk downhill than to walk uphill.  Uphill one gets winded, but downhill, you really feel it in your joints from constantly “putting the brakes on.”  That chairlift never looked so good! 

Ethan and his parents wanted to get in line to ride the Alpine Slide.  I strolled the vendors’ booths (no, I didn’t buy a Bob Marley bong) and found a seat at the bottom of the slide to try to snap a photo and cheer them on.  I waited and I waited, not realizing the line was flippin’ long.  Eventually, son-in-law, Bob appeared behind me and said while waiting their turn, Ethan, without warning, turned white as a ghost, lips blue, and fainted.  The medics were with him now and we needed to get back up to the top to catch up with Lara and get the car keys so we could follow them to the hospital: a precautionary visit, as he was doing much better at this point.  So it would be an ambulance ride and not an Alpine Slide trip.

We finally got Ethan discharged from the ER 2 hours later, around 8:00 pm.  Poor Charlie, the dog, had been alone back at home since 11:00 am and had missed dinner and trips outside, not to mention his evening bone treat.  Ethan was back to his old self and we had no real reason as to why he fainted.  Bloodwork and an ECG were normal.  Thank heavens for a happy ending, but we were all scared.  You just never know with kids….

Published in: on September 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Writer’s Block

Okay, it’s Tuesday, the day I usually post on my blog and I have nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Zero. 

I’ve been scanning the obituary pages and haven’t found anything to even begin a new obits post.  There has been no quirky news items lately; everyone is either behaving him- or herself or being boring.  I do have another history article on photography waiting in the wings (Supposedly, it will be in THIS week’s issue of the Syracuse Islander.  I’ll know tomorrow.), but since I posted the pony express article last week, my pride does not allow me to default to back-to-back history pieces; you’ll have to wait for that one.

So, I’m up to 109 words at the end of the first paragraph and I still have no clue as to what to write about.  Okay, what is my favorite local humor writer, Mark Saal up to?  Well, in last Sunday’s paper his column ( I’ve shared some of his writing with you in the past) was riffing on a recent news item about a family shooting and butchering a cow in their driveway up in Ogden.  Not surprisingly, the neighbors were appalled.  Saal’s article was funny and well-written, but I figured the topic would gross you all out, so I decided not to share it.  Now I am, so it proves how desparate I am for some topic for this week.  Yeah!  I’m now up to 235 words.

Let’s see…I do try to avoid writing about myself as I (and probably you) find that tedious.  However, as my desparation level is slowly rising, here it goes:  Yesterday, after Ethan’s swim lesson, I went food shopping with him in tow.  He has one more week to be off track from school and then returns next Monday, hence his presence in my weekly activities.  Next was to catch up with e-mail, family tree stuff, and prepare dinner (Eggplant Parmesian).  Then off to karate lesson.  Today will be swim lesson, wash, and freezing garden produce for winter, then off to karate again.  Wednesday will be the same, with the volunteer hours at the museum thrown in during the afternoon.  Thursday will be ditto, minus the museum.  Friday my daughter doesn’t work and swimming lessons will have ended on Thursday, so the day has a different feel.  I have a church luncheon to attend; instead of a restaurant this month, we’ll be lunching in one member’s back yard and brown-bagging it.  Up to 407 words.

The weather has been gorgeous: cool nights and days in the 80s with only a passing shower after moonrise.  The garden is winding down and crisp days will soon be here.  Snow on the mountains is not far behind and then snow on the benches and in the valley.  October is the real change-over month, so the leaves will turn and the flurries will swirl.  Syracuse City will turn off the non-culinary water to the sprinkler systems in mid-October, so no more lawn watering after then.  Mowers will be cleaned and stored and snow removal equipment will be readied.  Yikes!  It’s almost Christmas.

WOW!  I’ve managed over 500 words on squat.  Goes to show you when you think you have nothing to say, you can pull something together.  (535 words!)

Published in: on September 20, 2011 at 3:40 pm  Comments (1)  

The History Article That Wasn’t: The Pony Express

Ever since I went on vacation to Canada, the history articles appearing in the Syracuse Islander disappeared.  Not because I dropped the ball; I supplied two articles to cover deadlines that would occur while I was gone, but because there was a shake-up of general managers and the new guy made an executive decision not to print what I had supplied.  And now that school sports have started, that takes precedence (families like to see their kids’ names in print).  Anyway, the Syracuse museum has been assured that the September 20th issue will print my history article on the museum’s camera collection and photographs.  We’ll see….

In the meantime, here is an article on the Pony Express I wrote to be timed with the cross-country reenactment ride of about 2 weeks ago, which I doubt will see the light of day except for on my blog.  I’m particularly pleased with it.  Hope you enjoy it more than the new general manager did.

Race Against Time: The Pony Express

In St. Joseph, Missouri the curious and excited citizens had gathered at Pike’s Peak Livery barn on Second Street.  Precisely at 5:00pm on April 3, 1860, the doors were thrown open and out raced a coal black horse with John W. “Billy” Richardson riding it.  Flags were snapping smartly in the breeze, the crowds cheered, and a cannon boomed, and so started what was to be the short-lived Pony Express Mail Service from St. Joseph to Sacramento, California.  Billy Richardson dashed his horse down the street lined with residents and visitors, threw the mochila, or four pocket mail pouch, across the pommel of the saddle and soon sprang from the banks of the Missouri River onto the steam ferry which would take him to the Kansas side.   He’d  ride slightly north, then into Nebraska.  Subsequent riders would continue through Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and into California.  The first trip took 9 days and 23 hours and as the rider–not Billy by this time–arrived in Sacramento, he was greeted by tolling bells, the blare of a brass band, and more cannon booms.

Just a few weeks ago the annual reenactment ride marking the Pony Express took place–postponed from June due to the equine virus–skirting Salt Lake City and heading south of the lake and across the desert on the Utah leg of the trail.  Most of us probably missed the event, but the Pony Express continues to live on in legend.

The businessmen who partnered to found the Pony Express: Messrs Russell, Majors, and Waddell had to build way stations every 10 miles for a fresh horse and a sleeping and mess lodge every 80 miles so a fresh rider could continue the trip.  A rider was expected to grab the mochila and switch horses in under two minutes.  Advertisements for riders sought wiry men not over 18, under 145 lbs., preferably orphans.  The riders were well paid for the time, about $100.00 a month.  No wonder it cost $5.00 to send a half-ounce letter and some heavier documents’ postage ran up to $25.00.  Not surprisingly, when the advent of the telegraph put the Pony Express out of business in October of 1861, the owners lost $100,000.00 on the venture.

At the end of the 18 month run, a grand total of 308 trips were made logging about 616,000 miles, with each mochila packed with up to 20 lbs. of mail.  The youngest rider was a lad of 11.  Only one rider was killed outright and scalped, as most riders could out-run Indian ponies.  Many stationmasters, however, were killed while manning the way stations.

Pony Express Way Station: One of the few remaining original structures along the trail, this one is in Gothenburg, NE.

One local Utah connection recently discovered was a Kaysville man named James Larkins who at age 17 or 18 was a Pony Express rider on the section of the trail from Salt Lake City to Iosepa [pronounced Ee-oh-suh-pa] (now a ghost town) in the Skull Valley area of the Utah Territory, about 75 miles SW of Salt Lake City in Tooele County.  After saving his money he eventually invested in sheep and property in Kaysville and became quite wealthy.  I wish I could say we have a letter which came west with the Pony Express in the Syracuse Museum, but we do have many other wonderful exhibits that offer a flavor of 150 years ago.  Come and explore the surprises we have on display.

Published in: on September 13, 2011 at 8:40 pm  Comments (1)  

Onions, Nuptials, “Neil Diamond,” and Hot Air Balloons

How did you spend Labor Day Weekend?  Last trip down the shore for an ocean dip or suntan touch-up?  Up to the Poconos for some mountain relaxation?  A bar-be-que with family and friends?  I harvested the onion crop from our garden and the family went to the Antelope Island Hot Air Balloon Stampede on Saturday afternoon, unexpectedly attended a wedding, and heard a “Neil Diamond” Concert.

First, the onions.  Last spring, we planted a row of experimental scallions.  Never having had luck before with scallions, we didn’t know what would happen.  Well, we got a lovely row of very useful scallions for salads and cooking.  It was so successful that we couldn’t eat them all, so the bulb part kept growing and growing, like Topsy.  When I pulled them all last Friday, we ended up with a gallon baggie of 1″ onions.  They will be chopped and frozen for winter cooking.  I’ll be slicing and dicing for a while!  I cleaned the dirt, roots, and long green tops off them outside; good thing, as they were quite pungent.  The second cleaning and trimming happened at the kitchen sink, and both my hands and the house smelled like onions!

Bag of garden onions

 Now the only similarity I can see with onions and hot air balloons is that they’re both round, so onto the balloons.  Friday through Sunday saw the 6th Annual Hot Air Balloon Stampede arrive at nearby Antelope Island.  We decided to go Saturday afternoon as a family outing after having missed the first 5 years of this event.  It was a hot, dusty day, but a real crowd pleaser: something for everyone.

Professional kite flying demonstrations took place in the field throughout the day while other kids and adults happily took advantage of the wind and lofted their own kites shaped like sharks, birds and geometric designs.  Not a standard diamond-shaped kite to be seen (“Neil Diamond” would show up later).  The professional team, from Vancouver, BC, was amazing.  The kites were smaller and shaped sort of like fixed open bat wings.  They had two sets of strings attached to a handle.  The 6-person team performed intricate maneuvers: circle formations, weaving between the kites, straight lines, and so on, never once getting tangled.  They could land the kites upright on a dime and all in a straight line.  The pros could also get the kites in the air by just standing in their places and lifting the handles.  It was pretty cool.  The included photo doesn’t do justice to the performance.  (Personally, I would have chosen brighter colors for the kite skin.)

Kites in formation

 There was a stage with local musicians warbling for the crowd, warming it up for the main show near dusk.  One girl even admitted she had auditioned for The Voice TV show, and we all knew why she hadn’t been selected as a contestant.  In between sets, a couple actually tied the knot on stage in front of 3000 of their closest “friends.”  The bride was in a red sleeveless dress and carried a huge sunflower.  The groom was in farmer overalls.  I think the minister was in jeans and a cowboy hat.  Anyway, what a concept, all the ingredients were there: grazing buffalo scattered on the hillsides, hot air balloons, kites, great weather, music, instant wedding guests, catering (all the usual food stands you could ever want–tacos, corn dogs, teriyake chicken sticks, Indian fry bread, ice cream, cotton candy…).  Later that night, after the hot air balloons, there was a Neil Diamond Tribute Band (The Diamond Experience) that entertained the bride and groom, not to mention, the crowd.  Whoever was covering Diamond’s songs was really good and was channeling Neil’s voice.  It was freaky!  The evening ended with a short (really short, about 8 minutes) fireworks display.

Now, a word or two about the hot air balloons.  I’ve never been this close to one being inflated before and it was fascinating.  A big green and gold balloon was kept tethered to the ground so folks could see it better while the other 4 or 5 balloons drifted lazily over the field in late afternoon.  I’m impressed by the propane-fueled flame used to heat the air.  The flame extends higher into the inside of the balloon than I envisioned and it’s amazing that the fabric doesn’t singe or catch fire.  The photos below are a lame attempt to share the overhead action of the day.  I do believe that a hot air balloon ride has now made its way to the top of my bucket list. 

Balloon being inflated


We have lift off!


Red balloon landing


Two balloons in air (yes, there are palm trees on the front balloon)



Published in: on September 7, 2011 at 4:08 pm  Leave a Comment