Finally made it down to my LBS yesterday. Even though I knew to expect the prices, it still hurt... And I wasn't even looking at cyclocross bikes, which is closer to what I think I want anyhow--I only want to ride where the cars go around here, but there's plenty of dirt roads at that.
I did find out that my current bike is probably oversized for true off-road riding. I have like zip for clearance when standing over it. 19" frame. But when I ride the wife's Fuji Thrill, it "feels" a bit smaller--go figure, it's a 17" frame. Seats at the same height, but top tube is 1" different. Where I've done mostly on-road riding, it's been great, so now I really want to take hers offroad and see if I like that better or not. Alloy bike does feel a bit lighter, I bet I'd like that.
Anyhow, haven't made up my mind what to start looking for, but those prices still seem too high for me... The LBS guy was quite nice, but I'm not sure yet that I want to drop 1k. Still keeping my eye open for used bikes.