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Visiting Vail in the Summer

Lunch
Clark's Market 141 E. Meadow Dr., Vail; 970/476-1199. Perhaps the state's best-known grocery store for fresh organic fruits and vegetables, locally baked breads and desserts, and the healthiest, heartiest picnic makings available: vegetarian sushi, hummus sandwiches.
Cougar Ridge Café 132 Main St., Minturn; 970/827-5609; lunch for two $18. Just the place to take a load off after biking the summit. Cougar Ridge serves pizza, deli sandwiches, and microbrews; you can also eyeball the regular crowd of brawny mountaineers.
Sweet Basil 193 E. Gore Creek Dr., Vail; 970/476-0125; lunch for two $40. Dinner is just as good, but lunch is half the price, nothing sacrificed. Chef Thomas Salamunovich creates such surprises as a soup of duck broth and wild mushrooms topped with crisp tofu.

Dinner
The Gashouse Rte. 6 (four miles west of Beaver Creek), Edwards; 970/926-2896; dinner for two $45. Locals pack this 50-year-old log cabin to devour some of the best grilled dishes around, under the watchful eyes of the animal heads lining the walls. Start with Rocky Mountain oysters, that most delicate of offal offerings. But don't feel guilty about making your main dish the New York strip.
The Saloon 146 N. Main St., Minturn; 970/827-5954; dinner for two $30. Two barn-size rooms are crammed with odes to every legend who's passed through these doors since 1897: Wayne Gretzky's hockey stick, photos of Tom Brokaw and skiers Tommy Moe and Picabo Street, and whole booths devoted to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Start with the quail, even if it's an odd preface to chicken enchiladas with green chili.
Terra Bistro 352 East Meadow Dr., Vail; 970/476-6836; dinner for two $75. After perusing one of the longest and most affordable wine and champagne lists in town, it's on to a dish of wheat crackers and the chef's own version of dal. Then ahi rolls with wasabi and basil, drunken pork chops (rum-soaked, wrapped in rice paper, and set on a bed of cabbage), or tequila-marinated halibut baked in a corn husk.
Wildflower 174 E. Gore Creek Dr., Vail; 970/476-5011; dinner for two $75. Residents were worried that the departure of chef Jim Cohen would mark the end of Wildflower. Not so, with hotshot Thomas Gay whipping up roasted Western Slope tomato soup and Hudson Valley foie gras, with a sauce of peaches and balsamic vinegar. You can also eat under the stars; if it's chilly, the staff provides blankets.

Thin Air Ahead

How to avoid the headaches, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath associated with altitude sickness?According to Igor Gamow, an expert on high-altitude physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder:

  • Spend a day in Denver and then drive to Vail.
  • Drink a lot of water and avoid alcohol.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Take it easy for the first day or two in the mountains.

Llamarama

Before I actually did it, the idea of llama trekking brought to mind animal-skin-clad riders on the backs of Dr. Seuss creatures-- and no water to drink for miles on dusty trails.

On a day trek with Paragon Guides, I discovered that my expectations were askew. The animals do have cartoonish faces: rounded snouts, big grins, and wistful eyes with long, thick lashes. My guide, Don Shefchik, told me that well-trained llamas are docile and dependable, and, contrary to popular belief, they don't spit. He was right. The two we took out, Whoopsie and Dante, were the oldest and youngest of Paragon's team. They had apparently seen Miss Manners-- there was not a single sputter.

I also learned that one does not ride llamas. They carry your load while you hike, unbridled by heavy packs. Their feet have two soft "toes" that provide traction yet don't tear up the trail like horses' hooves. They proved to be sensitive listeners, alerting us to elk and other game along the way.

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