The Mallers' Southwest Safari
December 2001 - January 2002

On Friday, December 21, 2001, Steve, Doreen, Max and Sam Maller departed Burlingame on our first truly ambitious road trip, scheduled to take in some of the most notable sights of the American Southwest. As a family we have traveled the world extensively, but ironically we've never even driven outside of California.

Page 1: December 21 - December 25
Page 2: December 26 - December 29
Page 3: December 30 - January 2

Sunday, December 30: A Weather Miracle in Utah

So much for cliffhangers! Today dawned chilly, foggy, but dry, so we are going to stay in Zion National Park! Steve is relieved that we're not going to running off to Death Valley (where his mother is spending New Years) or somewhere else.

As you would expect after 24 hours of rain and snow, along with hanging icicles and other intriguing obstacles, the Park Rangers were being a little conservative and posted these signs along several of the trails we wanted to hike today. Steve and Doreen were torn between setting a good and respectful example for Max and Sam, and pressing on with our plans.

We chose to discard today's value lessons in respecting authority and being conservative. Nature beckons and the Mallers answer!

We were rewarded with magnificent vistas of Zion's natural splendor, as well as beautiful displays of color from many of the trees, who were defiantly holding on to a few golden-hued leaves despite overwhelming evidence that winter was clearly upon them.

We took some time down by one of Zion's rivers to hone our rock skipping skills.

Doreen and Steve managed to snap some flattering pictures of one another in the beautifully muted light of Zion's canyon floor.

Naturally, the day wouldn't be complete without a couple of comical incidents with some of our fellow members of the animal kingdom.

This poor shnook returned to his car to find that it had been claimed by a particularly large and noisy raven. This confrontation ended with a flourish of feathers, a lot of screeching (mostly the man's wife) and an unsightly deposit on the Dodge Neon's roof.

We took a ride in the afternoon to visit Springdale, the "town" outside the gates of the park. It appears to be mostly a ghost town during the winter, despite what seemed like a decent crowd in the park.

On the way home, we came across a couple of the park's outgoing and far too social Mule Deer. They have no reservations about coming right up to the window of your car and accepting handouts. This is strictly forbidden, as it ends up costing many deer their lives.

We offered them nothing but a pat on their noses and a portrait by Doreen, who (as you can see) has yet to master the art of close-up portraiture. Nevertheless, we all enjoyed our little rendezvous.

Monday, December 31: Another Day In Paradise

The last day of 2001 dawned with a magnificent dusting of snow on the mountain peaks, and an ominous gray sky. We decided to make the most of it, and we started off in the Rover to do some exploring.

Just a mile or so down the road from the lodge is the area known as the Court of the Patriarchs. They were named after the forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is easy to share the awe that the first white settlers felt when they saw sights like these. After all, whereas the Native Americans were no boubt equally awestruck the natural beauty of the land, they wouldn't have felt the remarkable contrasts that settlers felt when the reflected on their "civilized" trappings.

2000 feet or so above the canyon floor is the beautiful Checkerboard Mesa. We all decided that, in spite of a pretty good snowstorm (or maybe because of it!), we were going to embark on a mission to build ourselves a proper snowman.

Here you see Doreen and the boys walking back from our parking space towards Checkerboard Mesa. We immediately set up shop and began the necessary preparations.

Max couldn't resist the temptation to pelt his brother with a snowball crafted from freshly-fallen snow.

We chose a spot overlooking the road so that everybody could share in our joy. (Note: this is consistent with our desire to share this trip with you on the internet!)

Doreen did a wonderful job of producing our little man using all found materials. We didn't even have a carrot, so "Snowy" had a rock for a nose, pine cones for eyes, and other miscellaneous natural parts.

After nearly an hour of fun, Snowy was done, although we mistakenly forgot to include a heart. So Doreen got to keep it, like she has with ours, too. Later that day, we drove by and saw him still up there on his little perch. He had lost one of his buttons and a few facial features, but he was still maginificent.

It was still snowing, so we took a ride out to see something called Pink Coral Dunes State Park about an hour away. As you might well imagine, what we saw there didn't even really merit a photograph. It was just sand dunes covered in snow. So we headed back to Zion.

By the time we got back, the weather had broken and we had beautiful sunshine. We spotted an inspiring climb, so we parked the Rover by the side of the road and headed out. This gully appeared to be formed by some significant seismic activity (note the faultline running through the middle of it) and steady erosion. It was probably about a quarter mile to the top, and a pretty significant climb, too.

As we have with every activity, we put our all into it, and had a wonderful time inching our way up and sliding part of the way down on our tushies.

And like every adventure on this trip, we were rewarded with little beauties along with the large ones. Here are a couple of the notable ones: a small outpost of flowers nestled in a crack in the rocks, and a silly purple cactus looking very much out of place.

Being New Year's Eve, we had plans for a nice dinner at the lodge, followed by a party in the auditorium.

But this being the Maller's Southwest Safari, things were bound to stray from the plan. The first thing was the dinner. Apparently, the lodge dining room's kitchen suffered an ill-timed mechanical failure. This threw the carefully-structured timing for tables into chaos. We were a few minutes late for our 7:45 dinner reservation, but were shocked to see what seemed like close to a hundred hugry-looking fellow lodge guests milling around the front desk.

Almost two hours passed before we were finally called to dinner. We passed the time with numerous spirited Triominos contests, a game which has captivated Steve and Doreen. Max and Sam were wonderful, considering it was already well past their bedtime before we were even seated at the table. The wait staff were a collective emotional wreck, yet we still managed to have a great time (as usual). After dinner, we went downstairs to the auditorium to see a piano player doing his best (yet failing miserably) to avoid the stereotype best portrayed by Bill Murray in his classic Saturday Night Live lounge singer routine.

At this point in the evening, the camera had long since been retired. Hairdos had failed, dark circles were emerging, and the usually photogenic Mallers had degenerated into a hearty, yet clearly unappealling bunch. Most of us managed to gut it out until midnight, thanks to a Michael Jordan DVD on Steve's laptop, and we woke up Doreen for a ceremonial midnight kiss and hug. By 12:05, most of us were fast asleep.

Happy New Year!

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