Grey light filtered into the bedroom. For someone who spends as many nights as I do in different beds than my own, it was still a jolt to look around and try to remember where I was. After a moment, it flooded back: I was in an AirBNB in Provo, Utah, and today was my 26th birthday. And it was sunrise, which meant if I quietly walked over to the other bedroom and peeled back the blinds…
Well hello there, Utah.
Normally, I’m a “let Elizabeth sleep until she needs to wake up, and then maybe another 15 minutes besides” kind of person. But A) this was a very pretty sunrise, B) this was our first chance to see the mountains, and C) this was my birthday. Elizabeth didn’t mind being woken up… too much. Once she saw the view, at least.
Our AirBNB was about 5 blocks away from the Provo city center where Elizabeth had gotten us a brunch reservation at the Station 22 Cafe. The reservation wasn’t for a couple of hours, so we looked up a place where Elizabeth could get herself a coffee. The Maps suggestion was a few blocks southwest of us – a place called Juice n Java. It was easily within walking distance.
We stepped outside into what felt like pure mountain air. The morning was bright and crisp, the trees in Provo still had fall colors, and the walk gave a wider panorama of a stunning stretch of the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains.
I had previously been to Utah once in 2016 – southern Utah with my family – and this was Elizabeth’s first trip to the state. It was love at first sight.
Nor was the coffee bad, either. Juice and Java had gourmet hot chocolates and since it was my birthday and all, I decided to get the Mexican hot chocolate. Probably wouldn’t order it again if I ever went back (there was a snickerdoodle hot chocolate), but it was pretty tasty, and Elizabeth approved of her latte, which is really what counts, when you boil down to it.
We headed back to the AirBNB to get ready for brunch. Station 22 was located right in the center part of town, but we were still easily able to find parking. Provo’s a neat little town like that. Then we got inside, and the staff was able to seat us basically immediately. Mountains, no-wait brunch, and hot chocolate? Maybe it was time to move.
If my stacked chicken breakfast biscuit had hit the S-tier, I don’t think I would have used my plane ticket back to OKC. But alas, it (and the deviled eggs that Elizabeth let me order for the appetizer – birthdays rock!) were merely good, not incredible. Believe me when I say this – the incredible food was coming this weekend. Elizabeth was out of her mind on restaurant picking.
But for now, we had a full beautiful, sunny day and not much in the way of plans. I’d looked at some hiking up in the area of Mount Timpanogos north and east of Provo, and the mountains looked so damn inviting that it was impossible not to go up there. The caveat was that I had no idea how much snow would impede us up at Timpanogos, if any. The other big hiking trail that was on our radar was the (Elizabeth-endorsed) Y Trail on the outskirts of Provo itself. I’d always considered it a one-or-the-other proposition, until Elizabeth asked the simple question: why not both?
Another classic Nolan and Elizabeth Meister Biting Off As Much As They Could Chew moment was incoming. But not yet. For now, we were driving through Provo on a beautiful morning to CVS for (incredibly overpriced) sunglasses since we’d both forgotten ours. Then we were driving past the campus, past the football stadium, past the banners proudly touting BYU as a member of the Big 12.
And in a matter of mere minutes, US-189 was leading us out of the urban area of Provo and into the mountains. It was like being instantly teleported.
There was a waterfall just incidentally on the side of the road that you drove by!
It was almost like being back in Iceland for a couple of seconds.
From the US Highway, we took a left onto a narrow state highway that followed a stream rapidly uphill. It passed by the Sundance Ski Resort in a series of switchbacks that were dramatic and traffic-jammed by turkeys in the road:
All while Mount Timpanogos loomed in the background.
I was a little relieved to see that the Mount Timpanogos Trailhead was open – there’s a seasonal road closure on the highway that runs by it that had me more than a little spooked. Trail reviews on AllTrails had suggested that the whole area was pretty iced in, but so far all of the snow we could see looked to be at higher elevations. That was especially good because Elizabeth and I had both failed to bring along her hiking boots – so while I was reasonably well set up against all but the iciest of ice, she would be slogging through whatever our hike was in white tennis shoes.
Now is a good time to actually introduce the area, the hike, and the mindset we had going in. Mount Timpanogos rises 11,752 feet above sea level, which makes it the second-highest peak in the Wasatch and gives it a full mile of prominence over the surrounding Utah Valley. To get to Timpanogos Wilderness, you enter the Uinta National Forest. At the trailhead, there’s a modest-sized parking lot with a pit toilet and several different trailheads. The most popular trail is the summit trail, which is a rather doable 14-mile, 5,000-foot hike. It goes without saying that in November we weren’t summiting, but the first mile or so of the trail can be hiked up to Timpanogos Lower Falls and back. That was our plan.
But we didn’t even have to leave the parking lot to get an epic view.
The trail basically follows the valley you see in the picture straight west. For the most part, it was well-marked and well-maintained, to the point where Elizabeth and I started making fun of the whiners on AllTrails who bitched about needing microspikes. Sure, you need them in the alpine terrain, but here? On gravel? With no snow in sight? Okay buddy. Whatever you say. There were some wet spots, and a few patches of the type of mud that looked like you could step into it up to your waist, but Elizabeth gingerly walked around the worst of the mud without too much of a hassle.
The trail was devoid of other people. It was just us, the wind, and the quiet fall afternoon.
Before long, there was a little bit of snow on the ground. This seemed to fit with the fact that we were moving ever deeper into the shadow of the big subpeak off to the left, Roberts Horn (which by itself rises over 10,000 feet high).
Somewhere on the ledge up ahead was Lower Timpanogos Falls. It was flowing – we could hear it flowing – even though I couldn’t for the life of me find a creek anywhere in this narrow valley. There was a little ditch at the bottom of it that was completely devoid of water. Where does the waterfall go? To do this day I have no answer.
And why do I have no answer? Because about a quarter mile short of the Lower Falls, the trail began to incline more than the gentle rise we’d seen. With it, the snow became a little bit deeper, a little bit more persistent, and also that classic frozen mess of melt/refreeze. Elizabeth was brought to a halt almost instantly. I struggled onward for about 30 more seconds and 6 more steps, and then I too had to admit defeat. The additional struggle added even more treachery to my return too, since I had to navigate a couple dozen meters of completely frozen-over, solidly downhill trail. Elizabeth had to scoot on her butt for a couple of meters on her own, but my scoot lasted longer. Perhaps worst of all was the knowledge that the annoying whiners on AllTrails were right – you *did* need microspikes to get to the Lower Falls. The dorks won.
So we started our mildly disappointed, muddy-butted way back to the car. Here is my sad picture that just barely has the Lower Falls in it:
On the way back down, we ran into a family of 3 wearing Oklahoma gear that was on their way up to see the Lower Falls (and even less dressed for the occasion than us). It was pretty cool – I loved that my fellow Okies were getting out, getting up, and enjoying some fresh mountain air with their Friday. Why take a trip all the way to Utah, take Friday off of work, and pull your kid out of school (wish my parents did that) and NOT get up into these beautiful mountains?
Brunch was still sitting pretty heavily in my stomach, but Elizabeth was starting to get pretty hungry by the time we got back to the BMW. I looked at places where we could get a light lunch nearby before heading back into Provo for the second hike we wanted to do today. Park City was 40 minutes in the wrong direction, but just back where we’d driven a few miles was the Sundance Ski Resort. Surely there had to be some sort of restaurant there to get a light lunch or snack from.
So we drove back past the turkeys, which had multiplied, and back down the big old mountain to Sundance. It was a much smaller resort than some of the bigger ones I’d visited in Colorado/Wyoming/Montana before, but still nice. The slopes were grassy and barren of snow, but that hadn’t stopped a veritable swarm of Oklahoma fans from congregating at the bottom of the lift hill, on benches all around, and on the paths following the Provo River.
It took some false starts among the buildings at the base of the ski mountain, but eventually we found a cafe that was open. Elizabeth ordered herself a light fare consisting of a ham and cheese croissant and a classic Utah soda, and she ordered me a (not very good) parfait as well. We took them to a bench to sit out and enjoy the sunshine and the view.
All told, you can’t beat days like this.
We were of course far from done with our day. There were still three hours of sunlight beckoning, and there was one more hike back in Provo that Elizabeth really wanted to do. Tune in to the next Utah blog to hear about Elizabeth’s great struggle up to the Y, and to hear about my fantastic birthday dinner.