Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point Utah

Do you ever find yourself in a place where you know you could spend many days of your life visiting? We stumbled, literally, into such a place during our travels in Salt Lake City recently.

After visiting two exhausting museums at Thanksgiving Point (the first was a science museum that wasn’t too keen on acknowledging the science and the other was a playhouse disguised as a children’s museum), south of Salt Lake City in Utah, we found ourselves in the majestic Ashton Gardens. I’ll probably never be sure if the peace that I found in the gardens was a result of the long and mentally and physically exhausting hours we spent at the museums previously, or if the gardens themselves just exude an innate peacefulness. Regardless, all I wanted to do when we walked into the gardens was take off my shoes, lay down in the grass, and read a book. Pure bliss.

My big guys weren’t feeling it the way I was, though. Aside from their frustration at the pseudo-science museum topped with the extreme chaos of the children’s museum, strolling through gardens was going to take all the patience and tolerance for their mother that they could muster. Needless to day, only one of them successfully managed the rest of the day. The other was shooting darts at me from their eyeballs. My decided obliviousness probably didn’t help matters.

The garden itself was amazing. Every section of the garden is designed in a different style. There was an Italian Garden, a Fragrance Garden, Rose Garden, and a Secret Garden, just to name a few. There are 15 themed gardens in total and each was just as fantastic as the others. I fell in love with the carousel, Italian Garden and the Fragrance Garden. For those of you that know me personally, the fact that I enjoyed the Fragrance Garden will come as a huge surprise since I typically detest the smell of flowers.

Here are a few of the photos from the day.

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Charming area on one of the paths near the beginning of the garden.
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Waterfalls. Behind us they have a grass amphitheater.
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The upper level of the Italian Garden.
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The Italian Garden from a distance. They have weddings on the lawn here.
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The Fragrance Garden
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Inside the Secret Garden. There were fountains in here, as well.
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We walked for a bit with our toes in the grass.
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Little relaxing in the grass contemplating life (lol) after a few hours exploring the gardens.
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This whimsical beauty was such a surprise.
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Close-up of the horses and their flowers in the carousel.
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The Rose Garden
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The Rose Garden

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Stepping Back in Time in Salt Lake City

We visit a lot of museums. Typically they are the first places that we explore whenever we’re at a new location. While I am of the opinion that exposure to things ignites curiosity – which is important for us since we homeschool, there is a point when it can become a bit mundane. I think that we have reached that point.

Aside from our hiking, a majority of places we’ve visited here in Utah have been museums, or the like. A number of the museums were included in our Connect Pass, so my budget-conscious self had us visiting practically every museum in the area. Unfortunately due to our “extreme-museuming”, we have now officially overdosed and will have to limit exposure for the remainder of this trip. Sorry, Washington, Oregon, and California – we just don’t have it in us right now.

However, there were a few gems hidden here in Salt Lake City. The Natural History Museum of Utah, located near the University of Utah, was astonishing. Both the architecture and the exhibits were gorgeous. As you can imagine, we’ve visited our fair share of science and history museums. This one is by far the best we’ve seen, even surpassing the Smithsonian ones in Washington D.C.

Starting with the location, the building was exquisitely designed to fit-in seamlessly with the landscape.

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Then as you walk up the stairs to begin exploring the exhibits, you are met with a three-story display wall.

Display wall - NHMUIMG_6151 Take a right into the Past Worlds exhibit and you’re immediately immersed in a museum that was so well-thought and designed your breath is taken away.

Once you enter the Past World exhibit, this is what you see when you look up.
Once you enter the Past World exhibit, this is what you see when you look up.

Unlike traditionally designed museums where your focus is meant to be directly in front of you as you walk from exhibit to exhibit, the NHMU is laid out so that you can glimpse various exhibits from one location.

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As you wander, the natural flow of the building makes it so you’re simply strolling along as you view everything. No in and out of different rooms. No backtracking or overlapping. Was brilliant. The views from the third level weren’t bad either.

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Aside from the architecture and design, the most unexpected feature of the museum was the Paleontology Preparation Lab.

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To be able to see professionals working in their field right there in the museum was amazing. I could have watched the scientists for hours – not that I’m sure they would have appreciated that.

The day was complete with a trip to the Sky terrace to take in the view of the area

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and exploring Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code, the special exhibit featured at the time.

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Have you been? Did you think it was as well-designed as we did?

Great Salt Lake

This was by far the best of our adventures to date. I scored a repeated “This is dope!!,” from Aiden, a “Mom, this is completely awesome.,” from Little and “Very cool, we’ll have to come back again.,” and “I’m going to parkour those rocks.,” from Drix. The temperature was mid 70s, there was an excellent breeze most of the day. We picnicked on some rocks at the top after a few hours of exploring and hiking. We didn’t see another human for hours, not until we made the climb up a number of red boulders to get to the highest point of the mountain. Turns out there was a parking area halfway up the other side of the mountain – which we didn’t see – so all other visitors just had a small walk to the top. Next time we’ll park there, because really, hiking up a mountain isn’t that fun; It’s getting to the top that is the best part.

All and all, a perfect day.

The park is known for its free roaming buffalo, bison, and antelope. We only saw one buffalo on the way in, but we didn’t explore too much of the island. There was a lot of scat on the mountain so we know that they frequent the area, just not when we were there. Still a very cool thing to be able to see such rare animals roaming freely.

 

View from halfway up. Facing a northernly direction.
Snakeskin found on the way up. Not making me feel to comfortable hiking off trail where rattlesnakes are known to be. Luckily, I didn’t see any. Little and Aiden heard or saw some at a few points.
Hiking up – Aiden and Little
Drix taking in the view. We crossed paths with a trail about halfway up. Needless to say, the boys didn’t want to spend too much time on the trail. They were going rogue. This is facing an easterly direction.
They ran up the mountain, which I had ZERO interest in doing.
Little was so happy he was able to make it up all the rocks and to keep up with his big brothers. They kept telling him, “Now you are a proper Ireland.” Who knew that you must be able to rock climb to be a “proper” member of our family?
Another view from the top of the western ridge. There were a few large rock structures to climb. I typically hung back so I could give them time to get to the top and so I could snap the photos.
We were at about 5000′ at this point. The temperature and the breeze were absolute perfection.
Stopping to wait for Little to make his way there. I just love to see the two of them together. This is facing south.
The two of them taking in the view and relaxing. It was so peaceful here. We spent a good 30 minutes here.
The two of them taking in the view and relaxing. It was so peaceful here. We spent a good 30 minutes here.
Aiden is off ahead on his own. I took the rocks along the ridge myself. The grass was a bit tall and had some splinter-like things that kept stabbing us. Plus, I thought I had a better chance of seeing any snakes sunning on the rocks than if I were stay in the grass.
Aiden is off ahead on his own heading toward the western tip. I took the rocks along the ridge myself. The grass was a bit tall and had some splinter-like things that kept stabbing us. Plus, I thought I had a better chance of seeing any snakes sunning on the rocks than if I were stay in the grass.
Again, just the two of them as they wait for Little to make the climb. They were great sports – giving Little direction as he made his way to the top.
And there are all three. I didn’t climb this one. Apparently, it was a bit narrow and steep up there.
Was giddy with excitement when I saw the moon was out and [conveniently] directly in the center of two rock structures. This was the last stretch on the way to the very top. We had to climb these large boulders for 400′ to get to the top.
Another rock view. Were were trying to make our way to the tip of the mountain, the goal was to hike the ridge line tip to tip. Unfortunately, it was anti-climatic as it was a gradient drop to the edge rather than being a cliff-edge like they were hoping.
View from the very top – at the end of the day. This is facing north and you can see our car parked in the direct center of the photo to give you some perspective on how high we were. We walked down the mountain from here. Our knees were killing us by the time we made it down.

Out of This World

Perhaps there is something to be said about teenagers and thinking they are the center of the Universe. My two big guys, while physically they were present on our most recent expedition, their phones held more interest than the cosmos. How they can insist that “space” ins’t interesting, I will never understand. I am in awe of everything that we know about our place in the universe and how we got to know and understand it, and I’m – to be perfectly open – saddened by what I will never get a chance to know. I have felt this way since the first time I laid perfectly flat on the ground for hours on end to either feel the Earth moving or to see how many stars I could view in the night sky. To me, space is the great, wonderful unknown. An entity that forces us to question our personal understanding of place and value. An opportunity to gain a perspective that, in fact, we are not the center of everything and possibly merely a product of a very long and lucky sequence of events.

Yesterday we stepped out to the Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake City. It is a great little place. Entrance is free and all the exhibits are free, which is so completely fantastic. Having open access to this type of exploration is priceless. Think of all the imaginations that can be sparked or the number of people that decide that they have to be a part of this journey into discovery. Just imagine… But I digress.

They have two theatres, an IMAX and the Hansen Dome Theatre. Passes for movies were included in our city pass, which is stellar because I never would have spent the money to see the movies if we were paying individually. For the four of us to see two movies it would have been $62. While the movies and the experience of the dome theatre is excellent, I wouldn’t say – for our budget – that they are $62 excellent. However, I am glad that we saw them. The movie times are staggered between the two theatres but not so you can bounce from one directly into the other. Worked out perfectly though. See one movie when you first get there, explore most of the exhibits, see the second movie, and then finish off the exhibits and head on out.

We watched The Last Reef in 3D at the IMAX and Extreme Planets in the dome theatre. Both were very well done. The film viewed in the dome is visually stunning and having such a large display immerses you in the film even more so than a 3D, in my opinion. I would love to nerd out and see all the movies they offer at the dome.

The dome theatre made Little and I a bit sick at times – caused by the contradictory messages being sent to the brain. Visually you think you’re moving, but physically you don’t feel the sensation of movement. For us, closing our eyes or focusing on one image helped completely.

No pictures from the theatres, obviously, but here are a few of the exhibits. I just loved the Moon and Mars stage sets. In person they look like a little play area, but I think the photos came out great.

Display of Jupiter – Mercury in relation to the size of our sun.

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Little on the Moon.
Little on Mars.

 

 

Upward and onward

Since we arrived in Salt Lake City we have all been in awe of the gorgeous mountains surrounding the city. We came here with the intent to hike as often as possible. All the boys have decided that “it would just be like walking, except you’re going up.” I kept telling them that from ground-level and from a distance, the mountains may not look that high, but to trust me, they are high. Most +/- 14,000′ high, to be exact.

I pulled out my AllTrails app and researched where we should head first. All trails are rated Easy, Moderate, and Hard. They insisted that we do the hard ones because “easy trails are just walks.” I knew better, so I found us one with great reviews that was rated Moderate.

We got our packs ready and headed out to hike Desolation Trail – they loved the name, btw – with intent to get to the Salt Lake Overlook. The trail has an incline rise of nearly 1,250′ and at the highest point you’re at over 6,800′. This trail is advertised as being mostly shaded and having a number of switchbacks that take you to the top. I thought it was the perfect compromise to get us started with hiking here.

Goodness gracious, it was a steady climb and it was HARD. However, right when you felt like your legs wouldn’t be able to climb another inch, the trail leveled off a bit so you could get some rest in. It was pleasantly shaded and opened to expansive views of the other ridges and gorgeous trees. Of which, I have decided, that I am in love with. The motto of the day was “slow and steady.” Every time you stopped to rest it was harder to get into the rhythm again. Things in motion stay in motion, and all that.

Drix went off ahead, even running at times, while Aiden, myself, and Little trudged our way along. We got about halfway up when we met up with Drix. At that point we all decided that we were completely okay with calling it a day and to start making our way back down. Ironically enough, as we were making our way down, we got passed again by the gentleman who was at least 20 years older than me that ran past us a quarter of the way up. Turns out, this hike is known to be great for families and trail running. Apparently, you need to grow up with mountain legs instead of sea legs like I have in order to run up mountains.

I am in ernest to head back and give it another go. The boys are less excited about that idea. However, if we can’t get up a Moderate trail, then how are we ever going to hike those Hard ones they are so interested in?

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Aiden around a bend. The big guys weren’t interested in letting me snap photos this day, so I had to hang back a bit and wait for him to come. 

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