John Wesley Powell first visited Zion (maybe while finding the Grand Canyon) on the first scientific expedition of southern Utah in the 1860s. But Zion was inhabited as long as 12,000 years ago, though their animals, like the giant sloth, and mammoths, died out about 8000 years ago. The first inhabitants then turned to mid-sized animals and gathering. Over the next 1500 years, the Anasazi turned to farming, with the different elevations allowing a diverse range of crops, with a steady supply of water.
For me, Zion is all about the red geologic formations that make it uniquely Southern Utah. This area began as perhaps a large desert, whose sand dunes are now Zion’s famous sculpted and colorful 2000 foot cliffs. A light dusting of snow makes an unforgettable red and white canvas for even the photographically challenged (those using a cell phone camera).
Zion holds 67 species of mammals, 29 species of reptiles, 7 species of amphibians, 9 species of fish, and 207 species of birds. The big red cliffs towering above us are home, at least part-time, to the endangered California condors. Also, the endangered Mexican spotted owl make Zion their home in highest density anywhere. It is also home to the often misunderstood tarantula. The Zion-Mt Carmel tunnel, dedicated on July 4, 1930, was the longest tunnel in the U.S. at 1.1 miles.
This would not be southern Utah if not for Kolob Arch, deep in the park’s hidden and smaller canyons. But its remoteness and inaccessibility has challenged climbers and photographers alike. Many believe it is the world’s largest (it is not) free-standing arch. But equally good is the trail leading to Kolob, said to be one of the most beautiful hikes (seven miles to Kolob) in Zion. As you know, arches are the most stable architectural form of load bearing structure. Perhaps when we have more time, or when the temperature is lower, Kolob would be a good hike.
I was watching “Modern Marvels” on the History channel where they featured the famous Vegas buffet as well as charted the history of the buffet. It seemed appropriate given that we are in Vegas and partaking of a buffet with Guinness World Record holders and buffet experts, Kevin and Patty. I think they have been to every Vegas buffet, and always seem to know which ones are best, and good value. Now remember, I am not writing about either Warren or Jimmy!
Apparently, we must give the Swedes credit for inventing the buffet in the 16th century, as it is known today. It was actually the name of a piece of furniture, the Braansvinbord (a Swedish buffet table), not the food itself. The Smorgasbord buffet did not become popular until the expansion of the railways in Europe in the 19th century. I grew up with 3000 Swedes and never went to a single buffet!!!
The smorgasbord table actually held more appetizers and then meals, since guests gathered to share pre-dinner drinks. It was not part of the formal dinner. It came over to America in 1939 at the World’s Fair in New York City. The actual word, buffet, came from the French sideboard where the food was served. The second half of the nineteenth century marked the use of the buffet as an English-speaking word.
The concept of eating a buffet comes from mid 17th century France, when gentlemen callers arrived at the homes of ladies they wanted to romance. Their unexpected arrival threw the kitchen staff into a panic. The only food that could be served was food found in the cold room. Back then, the knife was considered taboo at the buffet, since the food must be eaten with a fork or spoon only. Beverages and dessert were allowed, however.
Contrary to Vegas lore, the “all you can eat” buffet concept really started in Minneapolis, with a guy named Herb Macdonald, a hotel manager who introduced the idea in 1946 (a wondrous year, by the way). The casinos started their midnight buffets to keep gamblers in their establishment. They were so proud of this “invention” that they called it the “eighth wonder of the world.”
It was the long gone El Rancho Vegas Hotel that started buffet madness in Sin City back in the 1940s. As the first Strip hotel in Vegas, Beldon Katleman started the buffet and called it the “Midnight Chuck Wagon Buffet” to keep patrons in his casino late into the night. It was originally priced at $1.00. Soon, other casinos copied the idea and started their own buffets. Now, most all of the Vegas casinos sport a buffet.
The three best, according to the newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, are:
1. Carnival World Buffet at the Rio, which features more than 300 international dishes.
2. The Buffet at the Bellagio, with live-action cooking stations, lots of fresh seafood, and emphasis on Italian, Japanese, and Chinese food.
3. The Spice Market Buffet at the Aladdin, now called Planet Hollywood. They feature hand carved New York steak, stuffed pork loin, fresh salmon, along with plenty of foreign cuisine.
Of course, where they are many buffets, there are many opinions. Restaurant reviewer E.C. Gladstone picks Cravings at The Mirage. Highlights include a fresh dim sum & noodles station, good sushi (salmon handrolls and nigiri), salads tossed, gyros carved and panini grilled to order, near-perfect babyback ribs, above-average prime rib (and real cranberries for the turkey), asian salads, ceviche, snapper, Portuguese linguiça sausage, a variety of steamed vegetables and soups throughout.
The Huffington Post Travel section selects The Buffet at the Bellagio, rather pricey at $35.95 on weekend evenings, well worth the price since they serve Kobe beef. Interestingly, they selected the M Resort’s Studio B buffet, though they are located at the far south end of the Strip. It is much easier on the wallet at $14.95. Kevin and Patty took us there last year. I would say it gets a grade of B, although it was a brunch time meal. Anthony Curtis, a local pundit, also votes for Studio B. The Travel Channel, which I tend to enjoy often, also selects The Buffet at the Bellagio as numero uno for buffets. They proclaim their crab legs to be the best in Vegas! And they serve exotic stuff (at least to visiting Kansans) like foie gras, duck, buffalo, quail, and other exotic meats. For ambience however, they chose Le Village Buffet at Paris Las Vegas. But my experience at Paris is that service is BAD, Bad, Bad!!!!
What is frozen custard? It is one of my all-time favorite desserts, available only in Vegas and here in St. George on the west coast. Actually, I found a few locations in Arizona, not far from Scottsdale. The St. George location is located on St. George Boulevard, about a mile from the Interstate. It is the first place we stop when visiting St. George. From their website: It is a super premium ice cream very similar to homemade ice cream. It is made fresh regularly throughout the day. It is made with all natural ingredients. There are no preservatives or artificial ingredients like seen in many store bought products. It has some egg in it, which provides a smooth creamy texture.
It is served at approximately 26 degrees F which allows your taste buds to get a true taste. Regular ice cream is served at approximately 10 degree F which tends to “numb” the taste buds.
Another big difference is the air content. Although all ice cream has air whipped into it to become a frozen confection, frozen custard has much less air. This make it heavier, fresher and therefore, weighs a lot more than most ice cream. A 1/2 gallon of our frozen custard weighed against a 1/2 gallon of regular ice cream weighs considerably more.
There is a legend that frozen custard was created by an ice cream vendor who added eggs to his ice cream to prevent the ice cream from melting too quickly. To his delight, and ours, a new premium ice cream was discovered. This ice cream with it’s richer taste and smoother texture became known as “frozen custard”.
There are claims that the first frozen custard machine was invented in 1919 and was taken to Coney Island, where it’s said 18,460 cones were sold in the first weekend. Vendors soon brought this treat across the country to carnivals and circuses. Before long, frozen custard stands were found on the East Coast along the beaches and boardwalks. By the 1940s, there were hundreds of stands across the East Coast and Midwest.
My favorite item is the “concrete”, a blend of toppings (usually nuts) with the frozen custard, into a large cup. After being blended, it resembles concrete in texture. But the taste combination is fantastic. We plan to visit at least twice in a 24 hour period!
Everybody is watching the History Channel’s top rated show, Pawn Stars. The setting is slightly seedy Las Vegas, just south of old downtown, and a bit north of where you NextGen’s hangout on the Strip. As you drive up to the old building, a flagman waves you and your car into an ample parking lot. Everybody is outside taking a photo in front of the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop sign, so often seen on TV. So, walk inside! It is littered with people from everywhere.
The biggest surprise is how small the place really is, and how little merchandise they have for sale, They do have a few motorcycles and an old car towards the back. But easily 1/3 of the space is used to sell their own stuff, like T-shirts!!! Most people are just looking, and there appeared to be very few buyers, and maybe a dozen staff. We did look at some jewelry, but the selection of quality merchandise is quite limited. But I did see Rick’s newly refurbished bright blue Pepsi Cola machine in the back, sitting next to an old Wurlitzer juke box. There are just a handful of items that are
often seen on their TV show, like the guns, rare books, mostly odds and ends, though the watch case is full of vintage Rolexes and Omegas, along with lots of less expensive watches and junk. I did not see anyone trying to pawn! None of the big boys were around, I guess, since it is Saturday, and the shop is closing at 6pm today for their annual Christmas party. From the looks of the success of their TV show, it should be one heck of a party!!!
Bottom line though, I say kudos for making a rather low brow business a big hit on TV. What else will we see next?