Yodeling Vagabond into the Abyss of the Grand Canyon

by Brian Leibold

The Grand CanyonJohn Wesley Powell said:

“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail. “

Regardless, I’ll try. Recently, I went hiking into the Abyss of the Grand Canyon.

I am living in Flagstaff, Arizona. A good town for the vagabond, good enough to settle down for a long time in the vagabond mind (3 months). Of course, we must settle our restlessness by never settling. I know this all too well.

Flagstaff isn’t too big, and there is beauty all around. Enough National Forests close by for a lifetime of exploring, the red rocks of Sedona 40 miles south, and of course the Grand Canyon 70 miles up the road. An easy hitch, two rides tops.

Abyss of the Grand CanyonI’ve been to The Canyon three times with other people; this time I go alone. Sometimes a man needs separateness to see the loveliness and love the rest of it. Or something. Vagabonds are usually lone vagabonds, lone wolves, steppenwolves.

Thoreau:

 “The man who goes alone can start to-day; but he who travels with another must wait till the other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”

I decide to hike the Hermit Trail, one of the more difficult and least populated trails at the South Rim. Getting to the trail head is the worst part, as I have to take two standing-room-only shuttles packed full of rim tourists with Nikons around necks and a yawning old driver deadlocked in dead end job. One of the stops is called The Abyss.
Abyss of the Grand CanyonThe driver:

Now approaching The Abyss. This is The Abyss. Please exit through the back doors to The Abyss. Step carefully over the white line as you descend into The Abyss.

Edward Abbey in the late-sixties, with prophetic foresight, writes in Desert Solitaire:

Industrial Tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims in the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars, they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of those urban-suburban complexes they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while…the automotive combine has almost succeeded in strangling our cities; we need not let it also destroy
. out national parks.

For the most part, though, the Grand Canyon can never be destroyed. It is invincible and perpetual. Let the rim be overrun by the terrifying tourists. The inside of the canyon itself will remain relatively untrodden. The sloth of the American public guarantees that.

Abyss of the Grand CanyonFinally I make it to the trailhead and start hiking down into the true abyss. All is still on this mid-October afternoon in the canyon. It grows warmer as I descend, naturally, but it is not yet overly hot. Colors. Green junipers and cottonwoods and firs in front of me, red jutting cliffs with probably hidden caves behind that, white almost checkerboard-looking cliffs beyond.

I arrive at the bottom, 5000 feet below civilization. I walk on past the Park Service campsite thirty minutes to the Colorado. There is a sandy area where I put down my bedroll and sleeping bag. I probably will not even need the sleeping bag, it is warm enough without it. I have no permit (the $5 seemed excessive), but this is no campsite.

Abyss of the Grand CanyonThe same sun shines down on the Colorado river at the bottom of the canyon as shines upon Times Square, but it shines upon two different worlds. Here is stillness. Not silence, the roar of the Colorado is heard, the buzzing of bees insects, the occasional chirpings of the birds that frequent these parts, the unfortunate though fortunately distant rumbles of airplanes (but that’s a whole nother world). No, not complete silence, but stillness. A deep pervading peace. And magnificence. Natural magnificence. In New York, there is no denying the empire state building is mechanically magnificent, mechanically masterful.

But what is it when compared to this canyon? Nothing. To me they cannot be compared. It would be like comparing an wealthy man in a suit talking on a blackberry or an attractive woman in the dress with earrings costing thousands of dollars and a wild tiger in the wilderness. The former is attractive because it looks distinguished maybe, wealthy. Impressive in a material sense. Can be attained with the proper resources. To those who strive for wealth and power, it is attractive.

The latter is pure unrestrained wild unattainable unfathomable fierce beauty. The wild tiger, the wild canyon. Here is the place for the yodeling vagabond. Here is true beauty.

The Grand Canyon cannot be shaped by the will of humans. No people can chisel or hammer the canyon to fit their needs. The empire state building was built to fit our needs. The canyon rises above or actually sinks below our petty human ant like comings and goings.

And so, sublime sub time and beyond time and mind.

But even as I curse the distant rumbles of the airplane which disturb the natural tranquility of the canyon, seeing it flying through the sky and seeing the white trail in its wake fading behind it, it is magnificent. Yes, it too is beautiful. I am proud of the human race to see an airplane in the sky. It is an accomplishment, a testament to our abilities but also our restlessness. Who but a restless people would create such a speedy hurrying vehicle?

Anyways from here the sound of the airplane is like a song. The airplane sings along with the birds and the rest of nature in harmonious pitch. In its distance, I can appreciate the airplane, its usefulness, even its genius. All looks and sounds beautiful from where I sit beside the river, the red rocky cliffs soaring above me, the Colorado cutting through in all its primeval fierceness, the light and shadow of the setting sun. From the ugly smoke filled city of head aching confusion, the airplane looks ugly. Just another noise. Adding to the chaos. From here, where all is still and quiet and there is no ugliness, the airplane only adds to the glorious scene.

A little after sunset a bird on the cliffs opposite the Colorado chirps. Another answers it on that side. And one on this side. The bird on this side sounds the same as the second on that side. I don’t know their names.

They sing me to sleep.

Wind, Wine, and Sailing in Bellingham, Washington with Linda Kissam

Schooner Zodiac wine tastingStory and Photos by Linda Kissam

This Wine Diva loves …well… her wine. That includes pretty much anytime and anywhere. But it’s the unexpected wine adventures that call my name and beckon me to throw caution to the wind. Perhaps one of my most unique wine escapades was the sunny summer afternoon I spent on a wine cruise aboard the Schooner Zodiac in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The 160 foot windjammer Schooner Zodiac set sail for 6-hour wine and dine tour in the scenic waters of Puget Sound. My vision for the day was a wine and dine where a professional staff would take care of its guests every whim – mine included. Well…there’s a yes and a no in that scenario.

The captain's wheel in BellinghamWith a main mast that towers over twelve stories high and the largest working mainsail on the north coast, the gaff-rigged two-masted tall ship Schooner Zodiac is a living, working piece of maritime history. Her decks and beams are living testament to the wide array of faces and places this Windjammer has seen on her 88 year journey.

The Zodiac is operated by a licensed captain and experienced team of volunteer crew members. Note the term “volunteer.” This would have a big impact on my time on the boat. She departs her dock in Bellingham, Washington for a wide variety of public and private charters, as well as evening and day sails from spring through fall, exploring the untouched anchorages of the San Juan Islands and Canadian Gulf Islands. It’s a gorgeous “ride,” but wait there’s a catch. Guests are encouraged to help out with some of the sailing duties.

Zodiac Guest Crew in Bellingham, WashingtonYup, whether you are there for a day or a week, you become part of the sailing team. At first I resisted the “call” to assit, wanting to soak in some rays, chat with friends, enjoy the changing landscape and sip some Sauvignon Blanc; but darn there’s something about the wind and the tides and the romance of getting involved with this old schooner that dictates a self-immersion course on volunteer activities.

Actually raising sails and dropping anchor between sips of great wine and food is quite special. In all honesty, I did more cheering for the other volunteer crew than actual hands on stuff, but still the thrill of being involved was very cool. The crew is patient and good at reinforcing positive participation and tolerating guests with minimum skill and strength. As Captain Bob Bitichin says, “The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.”
sailing in Bellingham BayThe opportunity to learn to sail, reading charts, and taking a watch at the helm is all there for each guest to be a part of should they wish. If you take a multi-day cruise expect a day of beautiful sailing and in the evenings, after anchoring in a peaceful bay, time to explore an island or paddle a kayak. Anticipate seeing pods of orca whales, spiraling bald eagles, sprinting porpoises and inquisitive harbor seals on your voyage. Hearty, delicious meals are served by the Zodiac’s experienced cook. My sail included lovely hors d’oeuvres, wine, a deck-side barbeque, lots of yummy side dishes and a lip-smacking dessert. Certainly, there is no rustic living in the food and wine department.

Zodiac Bunks - Bellingham, WashingtonSleeping arrangements are a bit more casual. You’ll sleep on board in the ships’ quarters. The ship has three bathrooms and two hot showers on board. Expect to share most facilities, but you can pay extra for your own compact stateroom. Pack light but purposeful. Summer can be anywhere between cool to warm to hot on any given day – bring sunblock and a hat, and a pair of sunglasses. A pair of shorts is a must and if you feel like braving the ocean temperatures, swim wear is a great idea. Part of the fun of visiting the islands is going ashore on remote beaches. There isn’t always a dock, so you may be landing on the beach trekking through water, sand and mud. A pair of cheap waterproof boots – or just sandals that can get wet – is a good idea. Layered clothing, including turtlenecks and tights or long underwear are necessary for most mornings and evening comfort. Foul-weather gear like waterproof footwear, pants and jacket is necessary when it rains or you’ll be stuck down below in your cabin or bed while everyone else is having the time of their lives in the summer rains. An inexpensive hooded rain jacket and pants is a good idea.

Bellingham Bay BeersIf you’re like me, you’re already thinking about your next vacation. The Schooner Zodiac offers a cruise, theme and price point for everyone. Join us for a unique and memorable cruise in the San Juan islands as we visit local wineries and experience the flavor and variety of Pacific Northwest seafood

Resources

Schooner Zodiac http://www.schoonerzodiac.com/default.htm

Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism http://www.bellingham.org/

Utah – Beautiful Mormon State but I Need a Drink

Story and Photos by Anthony Mathenia – Every Tuesday!

Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa

Zion National Park, Utah

Utah is Mormon country; that much is true. At each stop, we find racks of promotional cards for the Church of Latter Day Saints bearing compassionate paintings of Jesus Christ and photographs of happy, smiling Mormon families. Store counters hold stacks of complimentary copies of the Book of Mormon in a myriad of language. I’m also unable to find a decent drink. Fortunately, Utah has natural beauty in abundance. It’s not a gin and tonic, but it is soothing in its own way.

Zion CanyonsOur next stop as we work our way west to California, is Zion National Park, in southwest Utah. Like much of Utah, the park is religiously themed. The name “Zion”, meaning place of refuge, was bestowed upon the canyon by Mormon pioneers. Other park features like Mount Moroni, evoke the land’s Mormon heritage.

As we approach, the black asphalt winds around grey formations that are laced with fine lines that ebb and flow with ancient wind. They give the impression of great hornets nests rising up over patches of Utah juniper and pinyon pine trees. To get to the national park we pass through the Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel. At just over one mile in length it was once the longest tunnel in the United States. Windows cut into the tunnel give glimpses of sheer rock cliffs rising up over patches of trees.

Stream in ZionAt the park welcome center we luck out to find a parking space in the densely crowded lot.  During peak visiting times, vehicle traffic within the park is prohibited.  Instead visitors board shuttles that make regular stops throughout the park. Each stop offers visitors several hikes through the splendors of the national park. Zion is a thrill park for danger seekers. The Angels Landing trail takes hikers along a narrow rock fin over 5,700 feet in the air. For those who are not deterred by the dizzying drop offs on either side, Angels Landing offers splendid panoramic views of the rich landscape. Closer to the ground, the Zion Narrows trail plunges hikers into the Virgin River, weaving through a deep canyon gorge.  Rushing water and slippery rock make this a chilly challenge to all but the fleet footed.
Zion National ParkStill recovering from our spirit breaking hike from bottom to top of Bryce Canyon, we opt for some of the lesser, handicapped accessible, trails at Zion. We follow the Narrows trail as far as the gently sloping paved path ends and the river disappears behind perpendicular canyon walls. There a frantic hiker returns to report to a park ranger, that one of his group has a twisted ankle miles up river in the back country. With evening approaching, it is doubtful a rescue can be mounted until morning. It will be a long painful night for the unfortunate hiker.

The Emerald Pools Trails offer a relatively easy going walk shaded by cottonwoods and boxelders leading to a tall alcove. Overhead waterfalls cascade into the namesake green pool below. The Weeping Rock trail is a bit steep, but short, at only a mile round trip. There, water drains through an overhead arch of Navajo sandstone sprinkling out in a gentle rain. For such a short walk, the view is spectacular. Through the weeping mist we look above a canopy of green at the Great White Throne and parts of Zion Canyon.

Zion National ParkZion has so much more to offer, but limited time urges us onward toward California.  There my personal holy mecca awaits: Disneyland USA. I intend to return to Zion someday, but only after I’m physically fit enough for a vertigo inducing trek across Angels Landing or to ford the Virgin river in a descent into the Zion Narrows.

We make one last stop in Utah, an overnight at the Chalet Motel in St. George, just miles from the Nevada border. At only $45 a night it represents the best value we have enjoyed on our trip. The room is well furnished and immaculately maintained. While we relax, my daughter busies herself by reading the Book of Mormon that is placed in the drawer next to the standard Gideon King James. “Please do not remove, ask for your complimentary copy at the front desk,” encourages a sign placed in the drawer.  “Can I get a copy?” asks my daughter.

The next morning I go to the front desk to ask. The elderly motel owner’s face lights up with joy at my request. She disappears into the back, while I busy myself looking at a large painting of Jesus and promotional pamphlets for area attractions.  Shortly, she returns with a new copy in hand. “I just know this is the truth,” she says as she presents the book to us. She feeds on our assumed interest to point out various activities in town.  There is a historical reenactment of Brigham Young, one of the founders of the Church of Latter Day Saints. “The actor really captures him”, she informs me with a smile. Or perhaps we would enjoy taking the tour of the local temple? She nicely explains that we won’t be able to get into the temple proper being heathens, but the grounds are beautifully attended to.

I thank her and bid her farewell. I have no interest in converting. I really don’t mind crazy conspiracies and weird theologies; but, I’ve got no love for any religion that practices shunning and breaks up families. That, and it would really be a sin to forgo the pleasures of a nice gin and tonic.

The Old Atlantic City vs. The New Atlantic City

by  Sarah Spigelman

Atlantic City Postcard ccImage from Riptheskull on FlickrAtlantic City might conjure up ideas of smoky hotel rooms, grandmas sitting at slot machines, and buses filled with bachelorette parties. Though the bachelorette parties still come in droves, nothing else really fits. It used to be old fashioned, gaudy, and somewhat dumpy. All that has changed in the last few years, and the East Coast version of Las Vegas has bloomed from the ugly duckling to the one gorgeous dame. Atlantic City is no longer a redheaded stepchild, it is a glamorous destination in its own right.. What has changed, you might ask? Well…

Old AC: Kitschy, dark hotels with low-quality bedding and smoke filled casinos.

the new Atlantic CityNew AC: Glamorous hotels with luxurious appointments, full-service spas, multiple pools, and sections of casinos that are smoke free. The Borgata features The Water Club, a hotel within a hotel that has no casino but is connected via a short passageway to the Borgata’s large casino. The Water Club has its own restaurant, own pool, and own spa, making it a luxurious, quiet retreat within the hustle bustle of the large casino-resort. The Revel provides gorgeous ocean views in rooms that feature full-length windows, modern furnishings, and a rousing nightlife right downstairs. In case you don’t gamble at all, check out The Chelsea, AC’s first boutique hotel. This casino-less hotel features whimsical furnishings and the Annex, a low-cost motel that is associated with the hotel and affords its guests all the amenities of The Chelsea. Caesar’s Palace has the Qua Spa, with new treatments and a rooftop pool that is open to adults only for drinking, sunning, and relaxing in a luxury cabana.

Atlantic City BoardWalk Shot by Metal Chris ccImage on FlickrOld AC: All-You-Can-Eat buffets with piles of flaccid shrimp, coffee shops with hamburgers like hockey pucks, and steakhouses that featured the hotel’s grandpa as the chef.

New AC: As much as it is a destination for gamblers, it is a destination for diners. New casinos like the Revel and The Borgata have attracted chefs like Iron Chef Marc Forgione, Michael Mina, Wolfgang Puck, and Bobby Flay to their grounds. Luxury steakhouses like Old Homestead have set up shop in these elegant hotels, and now there is even an annual food festival in Atlantic City. In case you don’t want to go all out, food courts are available in every hotel on and off the boardwalk, for a quick fast bite from national chains and regional favorites. Sample Tony Luke’s famous roast pork sandwiches in the food court at The Borgata, or try JoseFoodie in Atlantic City Garces casual tacos at Distrito Cantina. From the luxurious dining experience of SeaBlue to the casual burgers at Bobby’s Burger Palace, Atlantic City provides food that compares with the finest dining cities in the world.
Old AC: Piano lounge with some older woman in a shoulder-padded beaded dress singing showtunes while the patrons order cheap house wine and fall asleep in armchairs.

New AC: The club scene here is part Jersey-Shore, part NYC club kids, and entirely fantastic. Don’t bother coming to the clubs here unless you can handle some fist pumping, tight dresses, incredibly hot go-go dancers, and music so loud that your ears will be ringing for at least 24 hours. Pay for VIP bottle service, and skip past the lines that accumulate at 11 pm, head to a comfortable area with couches, and get treated to bottles of the liquor of your choice with 3 mixers and attractive servers to make sure you don’t have to do a thing. Every hotel on the boardwalk now has a hip and happening club – check out Dusk Nightclub at Caesar’s for 1,000 sq. feet of music, dancing, and enjoyable mayhem.

Atlantic City Boardwalk ccImage by doug Stone on Flickr

*disclaimer – I stayed at The Borgata free of charge. I was not required to write about the experience, and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Sushi, Slots and Sumptuous Luxury – The Ultimate Food and Wine Experience – Las Vegas, Baby!

Story by Linda Kissam

Palazzo Hotel Las Vegas Resort“Wow, this place is incredible!” I must have heard that phrase a hundred times over in my 4- day stay at the Palazzo (Hotel, Resort and Casino) in Las Vegas, Nevada… and they weren’t talking just about the slots. Each one of us has our own vision of what the “Vegas Experience” is , but if you haven’t been there in a while or you usually just come to play and don’t spend much time on – or in – the accommodations, restaurants, or non-gambling activities, you’d be missing the “Real Vegas” experience. Seriously, slow down folks; enjoy all the amenities that Vegas has to offer. It’s like going abroad, but without the passport and language hassles.

I have to admit, I used to be a casino dasher. Up and down the strip I’d go, umbrella drink in hand, my casino key card at the ready to pop into the slot machines, eating at the food courts. That was my old vision of what Las Vegas had to offer. Now that I have been introduced to the indulgent lifestyle a large well thought out and professionally managed property has to offer, I am all in; they can have all my chips and my loyalty. I understand now that I can check in to my suite, drop my bags and begin the planning for days of uncompromising culinary treats, wine, cocktails, and shows…as well as world class gambling opportunities. In fact, there really is no reason to go anywhere other than the Palazzo during your stay. Continue to read and see where The Palazzo WOW factor gets its credentials from.

suites at Palazzo Resort VegasWith more than 3,000 spacious suites, luxury shopping, world-class dining and entertainment, the $1.9 billion, Silver LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified Palazzo Las Vegas takes luxury to new heights. The Palazzo features 3,066 sprawling suites, each specifically fashioned for convenience and comfort ranging from the 700-square-foot Luxury suite, nearly two times larger than the standard Las Vegas hotel room, to the palatial Presidential and Chairman suites, measuring in excess of 8,000 square feet, with private terraces and outdoor plunging pools. Ranked as one of the Top 25 Hotels in the Continental U.S. and Canada by Travel + Leisure’s ‘World’s Best Awards’ for two consecutive years, the AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Four Star Award-winning resort brings high fashion to the Strip more than 60 luxury boutiques. For a shopping diva, this place is nirvana.

Las Vegas Foodie TourThe all-suite resort also offers a variety of cuisines (30+) from a collection of award-winning chefs. My favorites include Valentino with Chef Luciano Pellegrini, AquaKnox with Chef Tom Moloney’s, LAVO with Ralph Scamardella, Taqueria Canonita with Chef Reed, , SUSHISAMBA with Executive Sushi Chef John Um (See recipe below), and the Public House with Corporate Executive Chef Anthony Meidenbauer. Each one of these places features a different cuisine, exceptional service, carefully selected wines, beers, cocktails, and reasonable prices.

Las Vegas Resort Hotel Also not to be missed – which I definitely did not –is the unique and fabulous Fusion Mixology Bar. Located on the casino floor the Latin-inspired Fusion Mixology Bar offers beautifully handcrafted cocktails focusing on the Latin American beverage culture. Designed by award-winning bartenders and mixologists, cocktails are made-to-order using fresh fruits and the muddling technique of grinding sugar with fresh limes and lemons. A friend and I were challenged to call out some ingredients so the mixologist could create a unique drink for the two of us. Got to say, that is a day we won’t soon forget, as the JoLinda was created. A lovely mix of cucumber, basil, mint, and citrus… we certainly found our happy taste place. This is a memorable experience I highly recommend to you. Its open 24 hours daily, which gives you plenty of time to fit it into your plans.

Las Vegas Hotel Resort EntertainmentSomething that everyone knows is there, but may not take advantage of, is the world class “experience entertainment “opportunities. I’ve travelled a lot, but Las Vegas and especially The Venetian do a great job providing enthralling Las Vegas shows with special engagements by headliners and special events. There is something to do or see every day. See critically acclaimed shows including the world-famous Blue Man Group, and the thrilling Phantom production. Reserve your tickets to see special engagements from headliners like Rita Rudner, Tim Allen, David Spade and Joan Rivers. Catch the hottest events in town from shows and parties to amazing activities.

All in all the experience at The Palazzo in Las Vegas gets this Wine, Food & Travel Diva’s best recommendation for a memorable luxury adult getaway.

Recipe

SUSHISAMBA
Compliments of Executive Sushi Chef John Um
www.sushisamba.com

Great VLas Vegas CuisineTUNA TATAKI

Serves 1-2

Salad

Ingredients:

• 8 oz ahi tuna

• ¾ cup fresh tatsoi leaves (may substitute baby spinach)

• ¼ cup hearts of palm, sliced

• 1 stalk white asparagus, sliced

• ½ tbsp garlic chips

• ¼ tsp black lava sea salt

• ¼ cup yuzu garlic vinaigrette*

• ¼ cup avocado vinaigrette*

• ¼ cup ponzu sauce*

• ¼ cup blended oil

 

Method: Toss tatsoi in ponzu sauce and place on plate. Assemble hearts of palm and white asparagus on top of tatsoi. Dip tuna in yuzu garlic vinaigrette and marinate for a minute. Layer tuna with garlic chips and top with avocado vinaigrette. Garnish with black lava sea salt.

*yuzu garlic vinaigrette

Ingredients:

• ½ tbsp shallot, chopped

• ½ tbsp garlic, chopped

• ¾ oz yuzu juice

• ½ oz soy sauce

• ¼ cup vegetable oil

• ¼ tsp black pepper

Method: Place all ingredients, except vegetable oil, in blender. Blend until smooth, adding vegetable oil in a slow stream. Reserve in refrigerator.

*ponzu sauce

Ingredients:

• ¾ oz soy sauce

• 1 ¾ oz rice wine vinegar

• ¼ oz lemon juice, strained

Method: Whisk all ingredients in a bowl and reserve in refrigerator.

*avocado vinaigrette

• 1 fresh ripe avocado, peeled and pitted

• ½ oz rice wine vinegar

• ½ oz water

• 1 ¼ oz vegetable oil

• ¼ tsp honey

• ¼ tsp yuzu juice

• ½ fresh lime, juiced

• salt and pepper to taste

Method: Place avocado, vinegar, water, honey, yuzu and lime juice in blender on a low setting. Blend ingredients until smooth, adding vegetable oil at a slow steady stream until creamy. Season with salt and pepper to taste; reserve in refrigerator.

Ride on the Wild Side at Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail in Orange Beach, Alabama

Story & Pics by Linda Kissam

Gulf shores AlabamaYou won’t often find me and my $250 shoes in the midst of alligators, marsh and power walkers. Nor are you likely to find me in an open golf cart with the wind and elements blowing through my carefully coiffed hair. However, the world of nature is truly fascinating and if it is to remain wild and untouched, everyone – including you and me – must experience, embrace, and support the beauty that is being preserved for us by local communities and government agencies. Such is the wild and wondrous world of the Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail in in Orange Beach, Alabama. It’s the perfect pairing of beauty, brawn and protection.

watch out for gators in AlabamaThe Backcountry Trail project is a collaborative effort between the City of Orange Beach (Alabama), Gulf State Park and property owners along the trail’s alignment. Historically, many parts of the trail were utilized by the area’s indigenous peoples, as well as explorers and settlers of the region.

The Backcountry Trail is steeped in lore and local legend. For decades, a creature believed to be part man/part wildcat –The “Catman” — has allegedly lurked along the paths and swamps of the backcountry woodlands.

Swamps of AlabamaJust minutes from the high rise condos on Orange Beach, this is the place for you to buckle up in an electric cart with two or more friends for a 2 to 3 -hour guided eco-tour. Winding through the gorgeous Alabama back-country on tiny paths, you’ll see flora and fauna side by side with joggers, cyclists and power walkers as you listen to your guide explain in detail the past, present and future of this special place. You’ll exprience firsthand the pristine trail with four distinct ecosystems covering 10 miles. Untamed and vibrant, expect to see alligators, snakes, marshland, wildflowers and towering trees.
Six trails among six distinct ecosystems make up more than 11 miles of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex through Orange Beach, Alabama and the Gulf State Park. This is not a Disney type experience. It’s relaxed and relaxing. It’s inspiring and engaging. There is only one tour at a time going on. Generally no more than two tours a day. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy your time with Mother Nature. She has a surprise or two in store for you.

On your guided tour expect to experience:

HURRICANE RIDGE TRAIL
Watch out for gatorsHurricane Ridge Trail was constructed after Hurricane Frederic hit the Gulf Coast in 1979. The hurricane created this natural ridge by depositing sand, twigs, and vegetation from the force of the tidal surge. The 130 mph winds and the many tornadoes uprooted hundreds of trees. Many of these dead trees can still be seen today. Their gray, rotting trunks are one of the many reminders of the power contained in nature’s storms. Try to find animal tracks in the sand, or look for birds, such as woodpeckers and mocking birds, feasting on insects in the trees.

MIDDLE LAKE TRAIL
One of the major trails in Gulf State Park is Middle Lake Trail. It begins at the Nature Center and follows Middle Lake unit it intersects with Hurricane Ridge Trail. Look for alligators floating along the surface. They are seen in the warm months of summer but are experienced at hiding in the grasses along the edge of the canal. Look for their eyes and nose on the surface of the water.

BEAR CREEK TRAIL
Bear Creek Trail is a unique trail because it used to be an old paved road heading to Orange Beach. Since Your guide will help you identify many of the local trees and shrubs. Covering many of the trees and shrubs on this trail is a thick, woody vine called Muscadine Grape Vines. These wild vines are abundant throughout Gulf State Park. The fruit matures in late summer and is slightly larger than domestic grapes. Some of the animals that enjoy these wild grapes are the gray fox, black bear, coyote, raccoon, and many different types of birds.

ALLIGATOR MARSH TRAIL
This is a unique trail that winds beside a small canal offering the right environment for small alligators, turtles, frogs, and other small animals. Tall marsh grasses grow along many areas of this trail. Some of this grass is easy to identify by its saw-toothed edges

BOBCAT BRANCH TRAIL
Golf Cart TourismBobcat Branch Trail connects Bear Creek Trail to the main campground road. It winds through ¾ of a mile of Live Oaks, Blackberry Brambles, and Holly. Look for some of the dead or dying trees. These trees provide a continuous supply of insects for birds such as woodpeckers. One of the largest and most impressive woodpeckers found in this area is the Pileated Woodpecker.

TALLOW TRAIL
This ¼ of a mile trail follows a small creek in the campground. If you get out of the cart and walk quietly along this trail, you may see some birds such as the green heron fishing for dinner. The creek is also a home to many different types of frogs, turtles, and lizards. In the sandy areas of this trail, you might notice several different animal tracks. Many animals such as raccoons, bobcats, deer, and rabbits use this trail as an easy path into the campground.

ARMADILLO TRAIL
Along this one-mile trail you will see various types of ferns and moss. On the soft pliant earth beneath your feet, you will notice an amazing root system of the trees. You will also see palm-like leaves growing close to the ground along the sides of the trail. This plant is called Saw Palmetto. As the leaves fall to the ground, they provide a wonderful habitat for small animals such as snakes, frogs, and lizards.

MIDDLE LAKE OVERLOOK TRAIL
ON the trail in AlabamaCompleted in March 2000 by a group of winter campers, Middle Lake Overlook Trail crosses over Armadillo Trail and ends at a small pavilion overlooking Middle Lake. Try to be quiet as you approach the lake and you may see turtles basking in the sun or a small alligator swimming nearby.

Middle Lake is one of three freshwater lakes in Gulf Resort State Park. It is approximately 150 acres. The largest lake, Lake Shelby, is about 750 acres, and the smallest is Little Lake. These three lakes are fed by underground springs. The water flows out of the lakes into Little Lagoon and eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. As you look out of Middle Lake, you will notice that the water has a very dark, reddish/brown color. This coloration is due to the release of tannins from the decomposition of plants.

Butterfly Garden

The Butterfly Gardens in AlabamaYour guide will stop the cart to give you time to explore the eternal beauty of the Butterfly Garden. Created and maintained by a local women’s club it is a special oasis for festively marked and colored winged beauties. This also makes a great place for a picnic as there is a small enclosed pavilion with picnic benches.

An insider’s deal at $60.00 per cart or $15 per person for a two-hour ride. Up to 6 people can be accommodated. Perfect for couples, singles, families. Bring a camera. There are restroom stops along the tour as well as water fountains. You can bring your own snacks; beverages if you like…and oh yea…don’t forget the insect spray in high summer.

Resource

Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail
4849 Wilson Boulevard
Orange Beach, AL 36561
251.981.1180
http://backcountrytrail.com

Returning to Ojai, California – The Town L.A. Didn’t Ruin!

Story by K. Pearson Brown

Ojai is one of the few places in the world where a rare and wondrous pink tinted sunset occurs (photo credit Michael McFadden)
Ojai is one of the few places in the world where a rare and wondrous pink tinted sunset occurs (photo credit Michael McFadden)

It was my third trip to Ojai in five years, and delightfully, not much has changed. This adorable town of about 8,000, nestled in the Ojai valley, seems to have escaped the shuttering of independent shops and eateries that has plagued LA. Surely the recession has hit Ojai, but perhaps because of its small-town attitude, where folks take care of one another and life is simpler, they have managed to maintain their charm and economic vitality without giving in to Pottery Barn and Taco Bell.

The Inn Place

Ojai Hotels
Bungalows at Blue Iguana Inn feature private entrances and gated patios (photo credit Betty Jane Brown)

The accommodations in Ojai reflect the way of life of its residents. Mostly visitors will find small inns, with all the creature comforts of high-end hotels, but with a low key and casual atmosphere. My family lodged at The Blue Iguana, a Santa Barbara style bed and breakfast with modern amenities such as HD flat screen TVs in every room, but also with its own full kitchen, so we could prepare meals at “home.” Our bungalow also featured its own private fenced-in outdoor dining area and patio and French doors in every room opening to the outdoors.

Each morning at the Blue Iguana we enjoyed a complimentary continental breakfast of bagels, pastries, cereals, juice and coffee, and my son’s favorite, hardboiled eggs. Guests could take breakfast to their own private patios or bungalows or sit with other guests in the breakfast nook or on the communal patio outside.

It was a couple of minutes by car from the inn on the town’s main street, Ojai Avenue, into the center of town, heralded by what used to be the only stop light in town, at Signal Street. Shopping in town offered many charming small boutiques that thankfully resembled nothing of the GAP. My favorite clothing shop was The Kindred Spirit, featuring comfortable and stylish modern hippie fashions and shoes, like the Spring Step European wedge loafers I picked up there. Another fun to browse was Kingston’s Candy shop, which is like a trip into a Little Rascal’s episode with its bins of vintage-style candy, sodas and other novelties, like Big Buddy chewing gum.

Eat Local

An entrée from Feast Bistro, an eatery that features fresh house-made dishes in a casual setting with a patio that backs up to the Arcade’s grassy plaza (photo credit: courtesy Feast Bistro)
An entrée from Feast Bistro, an eatery that features fresh house-made dishes in a casual setting with a patio that backs up to the Arcade’s grassy plaza (photo credit: courtesy Feast Bistro)

I had thought I had tried all the best restaurants in town during my previous visits, but I was thrilled to find a plethora of undiscovered outstanding options for gourmet tastes, including the enchanting Azu. The restaurant had an earthy, artsy feel, with a cozy fireplace, wood benches — for which I asked for and was given a cushion for my poor bad back – and a front-room bar with well-dressed locals gathered for conversation and laughter. The service was friendly and casual, and Chef Laurel Moore’s Spanish and Mediterranean comfort cuisine menu was creative and reflective of the local bounty, such as blood orange and spinach salad, Cabra salad of Ojai organic greens and honey baked brie, drizzled with Ojai organic sage honey.

The next day we lunched at Feast Bistro, a quaint eatery along the town’s famed Arcade, a long pavilion of shops, that backs up to a grassy landscaped area where purveyors sell locally grown fruits and vegetables, jams, honey, bees wax candles, olive oil, free range eggs and chicken and a variety of crafts at a year-round weekly farmer’s market, every Sunday, rain or shine.

The knoll behind Feast Bistro restaurant was a great place for my son to play while we waited for our food. Since we all had walked up an appetite, and everything on the menu looked so yummy, we ordered entrees to share. We started with the locally sourced Eel River organic beef burger with cheese, a perfect complement to the Buffalo Blue spicy chicken breast on a bed of mixed greens and veggies, topped with Bleu cheese crumbles. My son enjoyed a huge platter of pomme frites, served as he ordered, half garlic, half parmesan. We finished off our hearty meal with a plate of still-warm Cookies of the Day.

All Aboard 

Ojai, California
Downtown Ojai offers shoppers plenty of boutiques and restaurants and not a single chain establishment (photo credit Michael McFadden)

We wanted to see more of Ojai outside of downtown, so we hopped aboard the Ojai Trolley, which for a fare of fifty cents is a great way to get around the town. Though the wooden bench seats didn’t make for a very comfy ride, and the trolley meanders through some of the less glamorous sections of town, it was still a fun ride. The trolley also offered the chance for us to see some of the good-neighbor attitude of Ojai in action, as the locals aboard the trolley greeted each other as they boarded and were quick to help a man in a wheelchair get aboard.

The Ojai Way

We were happy even as tourists to experience the small town feel of Ojai, which by the way is Ventura County’s smallest city. At the local park across from the Arcade I met a mom who lives in town. We pushed our kids on the swings side by side as she gave me the local scoop on the schools and community, which was all good. Then my son joined in with a group of kids on a spinning merry-go-round, and I chatted with their parents, more friendly locals. We strolled deeper into the park to find an outdoor concert theatre with a magical gate made of handing pipes that actually played music when you walked under them.

The Road to Ojai

Kids in Ojai
The friendly small-town feel of Ojai is a welcome change from city life for visitors from LA

Though this oasis sits in Ventura County, just 12 miles inland from Ventura, the great thing for Angelenos is that it is just about a 90-minute car ride from our bustling city. We made the trip in a luxurious seven-passenger Mazda CX-9, which featured super comfy reclining leather seats and was more than roomy for our family of four, with space to spare for all of our luggage and even my son’s 20” bike that we brought along. It also featured the best navigation system that I had ever used, which not only led us directly to our final destination and a few side trips, but it warned us of traffic ahead and offered alternative routes and advised me when I had drifted over the speed limit, which can be easy to do when the ride is so smooth. The rear-seat entertainment center with a DVD player also came in handy for my son.

Our trip goes to show that three times is a charm, as were my first and second visits to Ojai. And already I am planning a fourth.

 

 

On the Road to Bethany Beach with Yodeling Vagabonds

Story and Photos by Brian Leibold

 

yodeling vagabond bikeThe other day I went back on the road. I quit my job sweeping at a construction site, hopped on my bike, and headed off to the beach.

 

 

 

 

Words of Wisdom #1: If you have a job sweeping at a construction site, first of all quit it. And when you quit, say: “I quit. I’ll sweep when I’m dead.”

Two of my friends biked with me. The beach was Bethany Beach, in Delaware. The landscape was unremarkable, but it didn’t matter. The beauty of biking long distances isn’t what you see, it’s the intoxicated feeling (that never seems to peak) and the insights, however seemingly insignificant, that come from the solitude.

fuck sweeping at construction sites One friend said

…the thing about biking is we’re moving and can feel ourselves moving, while the people in cars are technically moving, but they’re sitting still. They’re staring blankly out the window waiting for excitement to come to them, and not seeing, while we’re outside the window seeing it all, and actively seeking excitement as we move.

My other friend made  a new Rule of the Road:

 Shakespeare Rule  #1

To bike home or to bike into the unknown: there is no question.

 

When we arrived, we added some beach rules (because the more rules, the happier you can be when you break them or prove them wrong)

 

Beach Rules 

A vagabond must drop down and do twenty before surfing the waves of plenty (pushups).

When sleeping, one must be able to hear the waves crashing in harmonious accord.

Cops with cop souls should be avoided when sleeping on the beach.

To apply sunscreen on one’s own back is impossible. One would be wise to find a suitably attractive member of the opposite sex to perform this function. Skin cancer must be avoided, this much is certain.

 

The further away I biked from that sweeping job, the better I felt.

There is a negative correlation between distance from the city and mental state. In the city, with everyone driving around and around the cyclical beltway, it is very possible for a vagabond to feel caught unwillingly in a web of sameness, trapped and shackled in monotonous routine.

It is difficult is feel any excitement for the present. But in remembering past adventures, the vagabond is able to shake off the gloom, knowing he doesn’t have to feel like this, that it is possible to separate from the confusion of the city, as a fugitive from normality, by heading back on the road (and yodeling.)

There, especially if biking or walking, freedom is found.

As I biked on the back roads towards Bethany Beach, the quiet all around me spoke to the unquiet within me and allowed my thoughts to be clear and my own, influenced by no other.

I was feeling for the first time since my bike trip in the west that indescribable natural euphoric feeling of movement on the road. I was moving! I was riding onwards.

The Road stretched out in front of us, in all its gravelly glory, and we pedaled frantically, whooping and yodeling whenever we wanted and as loud as we wanted as only vagabonds back on the road after too long an absence can.

As the wind picked up intensely the closer we came to the sea, I realized that nomads and vagabonds are indentured servants to the road. But we do not have to work on the road for seven years as the indentured servants of old did in order to be set free.

We are freed as we work.

We work physically on the road. We hike perilously up to mountain peaks, hoping to clear our cloudy minds by going above the clouds, we bike against the strongest of head winds and up passes that ought not to be biked up, we walk across deserts thirsting for some mirage in the midst of the vast sandy barren lands.

These feats are difficult, but befitting for those who do not wish to simply fit into an already present locked in four by four square spot in society and want instead to unlock what we can in a mind unhampered by the grind.

When the headwinds of fate gust against us off the road, and we wonder what we are doing here, we become unhappy, and we are told:

Why the long face? Aren’t you happy? Why don’t you make a ton of money, get three Lexus’ (Lexi?) (grey silver black), plastic surgery, a silicon wife, and a seven story house with four basements and seventy four windows all with views of the interstate. It worked for me!

But on the road, when the headwinds rage, we simply listen to The Road and he says:

Pedal onwards, climb onwards, move onwards, go forward leave the chains of luxury far behind you in another world.

And we are rewarded by a feeling of success, of doing something worthwhile, of working not solely for the sake of money. We are rewarded after the climb when The Road shows us his valley below, on the long walk as we revel in the solitude of the solo road, after a day of hard biking as we sit and talk excitedly of tomorrow by a raging fire.

A sunrise is all the reward I needAs vagabonds, we realize that success as society sees it is succession from the best of life as we see it, so we choose permeability over permanence.

 

We wander from the straight and known, straying from the narrow in order to experience the great wide open unknown of the road.

And after the headwind tried in vain for many miles to push us back from the beach, we finally made it to the Atlantic. The water was cold (under 60), and the rough waves crashed imposingly as they have crashed for all time.

The mighty perpetual sea did not care how many miles we had biked to see it and was perhaps angry that we had overcome its friend the wind. But The Road overruled the angry sea and said

Well done, my young vagabond riders, you biked along the river to the sea. You pedaled through fierce winds. I will reward you by allowing you to run like insane nomadic sprinters into the Atlantic Sea. First, though, you must drop down and give me twenty before you surf the waves of plenty. It is only right.

So we did twenty pushups, for we were indentured servants voluntarily submitting to the hardships of the road in order that he let us see, in order to be set free. And, zanily yodeling in imperfect inharmonious discording rewarding whoops, we ran like insane nomadic sprinters into the sea.

And The Road looked on with a half-smile, knowing something and knowing we are all searching for the something he knows. But The Road does not tell us, he only smiles his enigmatic smile. We have to find that thing for ourselves. We may never find it, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop searching.

Paradise Point – A Kid’s (and Parents) Paradise

Story and Photos by K. Pearson Brown

Beach, Sunshine, Action!

Paradise Point offers a nearby island escape for Angelenos. (Photo courtesy Paradise Point Resort & Spa)

It makes sense that a Hollywood director conceived of Paradise Point Resort & Spa in Mission Bay. The movie set-like gorgeous landscape, the private island appeal where VIPs can escape their public, the world-class amenities and the nearby location to LA all lend themselves to a celebrity worthy getaway. Yet this family oriented resort is accessible to everyone, literally, as it backs up to a public beach where boats dock for the day to enjoy its sandy shores and beautiful vistas.

Bungalow with a View

The 44-acre grounds offer plenty of walking to features on the property such as a lush tropical gardens, lookout tower, a tranquil lagoon and the Island Market. (Photo courtesy Paradise Point Resort & Spa)

Celebrating its 50 year anniversary since it was established in 1962 by Jack Skirball, the AAA four-star rated resort looks as fresh as a starlet back from rehab, thanks to a $20 million renovation in 2010. The 462 bungalows and suites that line the beach and lagoons are modernly outfitted with contemporary furnishings and amenities, including wet bars, granite bathrooms, luxurious designer bed linens, plasma TVs, wi-fi, leopard patterned rugs, and padded leather lounges perfect for reading that paperback you’ve longed to finish.

The upscale and sophisticated décor belies the fact that the resort is made-to-order for kids. Just outside our door was a patio lanai where I could relax and watch my four-year-old play in the sand a few feet away. We could walk everywhere on the property, or hitch a ride with the friendly attendants cruising the resort in golf carts. We rented bikes, with my son pedaling behind me on a tandem-like trailer, to explore the 44-acres grounds and sites, including a lookout tower with 360-degree views of the resort’s lush tropical gardens and its one-mile expanse of beach.

Kid’s Paradise

SeaWorld Adventure Park has plenty of wildlife shows and several thrill rides that kids love, especially if they don’t mind getting wet. (Photo by K. Pearson Brown)

Besides the beach, other great attractions for families and kids are Paradise Point’s Island Adventure Club, a day camp offered during peak season which includes arts and crafts, treasure hints, seaside frolic, nature walks and other activities. The whole family can enjoy “Dive-In” Movie Nights where guests watch films poolside or on floats. Ask any kid though and they will tell you the coolest thing about Paradise Point is building a bonfire at night in one of the fire pits along the beach and roasting s’mores. Don’t worry if you forget your supplies, as the Island Market sells s’more kits complete with sticks and bundles of logs.

It is no wonder Forbes.com designated the resort as one of the “Top Ten Family Resorts in the World.” Families can partake in abundance of exciting activities without leaving the island, earning the swimming in the five pools, mini-golf, sailing lessons, court sports, jet skiing or kayaking, one of the most popular attractions of the resort is its proximity to SeaWorld Adventure Park, just a five-minute drive, or guests can take Paradise Point’s own water taxi service to SeaWorld, bypassing the entrance lines and parking fees while touring beautiful Mission Bay en route.

Shamu Who?

Five pools give kids plenty to do, along with mini-golf, sailing, jet skiing, kayaking, and many other beach and water sports. (Photo by K. Pearson Brown)

My four-year-old loved his first trip to SeaWorld, though he was more exhilarated with the rides than shows. He got fidgety during Sea Lions Live, and he groaned when I suggested the Sesame Street show. I tried to convince him that seeing Shamu was a huge deal, but after a few minutes watching the famed killer whale swim in his aquarium, my son was tugging on my arm to go to the rides. I was leery after seeing other park guests in drenched clothes, but I was assured by those in line that as long as we avoided the front boat that we would not get soaked on Journey to Atlantis, unlike Shipwreck Rapids which was sure to be a bath. We rode a half dozen times, daring to ride in the front boat at last, which sure enough left us soaking wet. Luckily I was a prepared with extra clothes and shoes in my backpack.
Cheeseburgers and Sea Bass in Paradise

The marina at Barefoot Bar and Grill offers views of the marina on Mission Bay. (Photo by K. Pearson Brown)

Three eateries at Paradise Point offer distinct options. Barefoot Bar and Grill serves farm-fresh casual fare in an indoor or outdoor setting with spectacular views of the marina and bay, wonderful for a lazy morning of reading the newspaper, enjoying the early sun and watching the sail boats drift past. Tropics Bar and Grill at the main pool also offers salads, sandwiches and snacks along with a variety of refreshing drinks.

Bike rentals are available by the hour or day at the Island Market. (Photo by K. Pearson Brown)

Baleen is a family friendly fine dining restaurant with creative dishes of seafood and land cuisine. Entrees include a delicious Matcha Crusted White Sea Bass served with mascarpone polenta, wild mushrooms, sweet pea, tendrils, blistered tomatoes, cauliflower soup, chive oil and a micro salad, and a divine Angus Filet Mignon with Point Reyes blue cheese chive butter, truffled potato puree, asparagus and Cabernet sauce. My son opted for chicken quesadilla from his choices of sophisticated kid-size dishes, such as petit filet, soy-orange black tiger shrimp with pasta, or grilled wagyu burger, all made better with a side of Truffle Parmesan Fries, served in a stylish tall spiral basket deserved of the delicacy. For dessert, the treats on the menu looked fabulous, but for my son nothing could compete with s’mores we made later under the stars on the beach.

For more information on the resort and its offerings, go to www.paradisepoint.com

 

 

Liquid Gold Tour – Portland, Oregon’s Beer, Wine, and Saki Scene

Article & Pics by Linda Kissam

Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great GrapesThe Zen of wine is my deal. I like it. I like to drink it. I love sharing it with friends and pairing it with food. I like to learn more about it whatever city I am it. Every once in a while I come across an area so well-known for its wine that all of its other liquid assets take a back seat to it. So when I arrived in Portland, Oregon, for a short 2-day wine tour, I thought yippee, Oregon wines, some of the best stuff around. What else could I possibly want to taste in the land of great Pinot’s? As it turns out…Saké and beer… definitely.

I love a city that treats its visitors well. You can expect your vacation to get off to a great Hotels in Portland, Oregonstart at the Portland International Airport (PDX). Clean, efficient and striving to be as “green” as possible, it’s the perfect start to any vacation. The airport is located nine miles
north of downtown Portland and is conveniently connected to the city center via the MAX light rail train. The trip between the airport and downtown Portland takes about 38 minutes and is about $3. I stayed at the impressive Doubletree Inn just a short block from one of the stops. Easy, breezy, convenient.

I became part of a larger group of adult “beverage expert’s.” Our tour guide planned out what I consider was the perfect introductory tour to the Portland beverage scene. I thought she would lead with the wine card, but nope, Saké was our first port of call.

SakéOne is about 30 miles west of downtown Portland in the beautiful Willamette Valley,Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapes famed for its many exceptional wineries, America’s premier producer of Saké, Saké One (820 Elm St., Forest Grove, 800/550-SAKE). Most visitors are surprised to learn it’s American-owned. Several high-quality Sakés are produced, including some flavored varieties, including Moonstone, Momokawa, G, and Murai. Saké One makes an engaging alternative to tasting strictly wine while exploring the Willamette Valley.

Tasting room and facility are open 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, seven days a week, except. Guided tours are available and last about 20 minutes. Expect to have your ideas challenged about what is and isn’t today’s Saké . This is the really good stuff. My group that was treated to a food and Saké tasting. You’ll have your choice of three tasting flights (generally without food). And, on the third Saturday of each month, they offer Saketini Saturday ,a showcasing of sake and mixing cocktails.

Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great GrapesYea! Our second stop is Montinore Estate Winery. It’s one of the top producers of case wines in Oregon offering Certified Biodynamic wines from 230 acres of grapes. Located In the North Willamette Valley, it is snuggled against the foothills of the Coastal Range, and a short drive to the incredible Oregon Coast. Pinot Noir still rules but there are many different types of wines to taste. It is open 7 days a week, from 11am to 5 pm. I enjoyed tasting the latest vintage of estate grown and bottled wines while enjoying the sprawling views. All the wines are great, but be sure and try the 2011 Müller Thurgau (white) ($16) and the 2008 Graham’s Block 7 Pinot Noir ($40).

Lunch time found us at South Shore Café: Located in a (slightly leaning) 100-year old Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapes
clapboard in North Willamette wine country, this is where the locals stop for a fresh generous local lunch and some friendly gossip. Our group loved the gracious owner. Her homemade soups, sandwiches and treats brought a collective “ahh” from the group. Take the time to walk across the street to Smith’s Berry Farm, an upscale garden market filled with local produce, local plants and specialty gift items.

Back in the van our next stop was the more of a boutique -style winery. Hawks View Cellars is a family owned and -managed winery tucked away on Chehalem Mountain in Sherwood, Oregon, just 30 minutes from downtown Portland. This facility produces small lot, limited quantity, ultra-premium estate grown Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, as well as wines made from top vineyards in Oregon and Washington. For my Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapestaste, the estate grown wines were the standouts. Care is evident in the wines, the tasting room and the beautiful grounds. This is a great place to relax and spend some quality time. It’s about 30 minutes from Portland. The 2011 white Pinot Noir ($26 – Now sold out) made from 100% Pinot Noir fruit was a star. Hopefully when you go the next vintage will be in stock. With spectacular views of five Cascade peaks from the patio and tasting room, stay a while and relax in the spectacular setting, and enjoy pure Northwest style wines and hospitality.

Our final beverage stop was Two Kilts Brewing Company. Now, I am not much of a beer drinker, but this place (located in a plain-Jane strip mall) has the right vision and products to turn this wine diva into a beer babe. Constantly in pursuit of the finest India Pale Ale and Scotch Ale (all made with local ingredients) they make creative premium brews. When I was there, they had a Korean Food Truck just outside the door. The unforgettable pairing of an iced cold, vanilla- laced beer with a spicy Korean taco is a pairing I won’t soon forget. Owners Chris & Alex are rock stars in the making. Stop by Monday-Saturday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Ask for a sampler taste.

We were dropped of at McMenamins Grand Lodge for check-in and a little R&R beforeLinda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapes dinner. This is a 77 European-style guest room hotel located in Forest Grove. One of the most unique lodging facilities I have ever stayed at, McMenamins showcases rolling lawns, lush landscaping, a movie theatre, a couple of restaurants, small bars and some truly mesmerizing artwork gracing the hallways. Built in 1922 as a Masonic & Eastern Star home, the Grand Lodge is quite the drama queen. Renovated and opened by McMenamins in 2000, every part of this hotel screams history from the individual room names, the hallways, and even the overhead pipes. Note that there is no air conditioning and shared bathrooms are the norm. Reasonably priced.

Dinner was a very special treat. Amazing is a better term if I am being honest. 1910 Main ~An American Bistro is owned and operated by chef/owner Kathy Compton. Showcasing local ingredients, Kathy created 1910 Main after 30 years of catering and restaurant experience. Kathy brings a love for great food, wine and company to her restaurant.

We were treated to a 7-course wine makers dinner filled with specialty courses such as Gin Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapescured Oregon Coho Salmon Tartar on Crisp Potatoes paired with 1 2011 Apolloni Sparkling Rose ($29). Each course was a visual and gastronomic feast for the eyes and tummy. Despite the fancy food, the restaurant is warm and casual. This is a must-do for dinner.

All in all, Portland surprised and delighted, and definitely exceeded my expectations…and certainly expanded by liquid assets horizon. This was a pure gold experience. Ahhh, if I’d only known what I have been missing, I’d have long ago staked a claim to Oregon’s Washington County.

Resources:

Portland Visitor Bureau

The Double Tree Inn

McMenamins Grand Lodge

Hawk View Cellars

SakéOne

Montinore Estate Winery

Portland Hotel Deals

 

A Lit-Nerd Road Trip Adventure through the Beautiful Northeast USA

lighthouse in Portland, MaineMaybe I am biased because I have spent the better part of my life living in and wandering around New England and the rest of the northeast, but I think it is the most beautiful part of America; especially Maine, where I was born and now happily live. Not only is it gorgeous, it’s a hotbed for brilliant, literary minds. If you are a nerd like me, pack up the car and embark on the great American road trip to discover the great American novel!

Longfellow's GardenI’ve loved poetry since I was a little girl, maybe because I was such a dreamer and I liked the idea of romanticizing every single thing that has ever happened, or maybe I was just dramatic. Either way, I am not alone. Mainers are in love with poetry and trip into Portland will prove that. Head down Congress Street past the giant statue of our beloved Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and you will soon find yourself at the poet’s former home. The house was built by his grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, (a General in the Revolutionary War), between 1785 and 1786. Along with his wife Elizabeth, he raised ten children in the house, which would later become Henry’s childhood home. Longfellow House isn’t just for poetry lovers; architecture and history buffs will also enjoy the visit. It was the first home in a city famous for its beautiful brick work to be built entirely of the material, and it is also one of the oldest standing structures in historic Portland. Plus, the gardens are gorgeous!

About a half an hour up the coast you will find the home that Harriett Beecher Stowe lived in after her husband accepted a position at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The couple only inhabited the home for two years, but it was during those years that Stowe penned Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The controversial story became one of the most widely read novels in the world, and it is even reported that President Lincoln referred to Stowe as, “The little lady who started this great war.”

Hopping back on the poetry train, you will find yourself in Derry, New Hampshire where one of America’s most beloved poets made his home. Robert Frost worked hard to maintain his farm there for eleven years until moving his family to England to focus on his writing. Upon his return to the States, he moved back to New England and was granted not one, but four Pulitzer Prizes. Today people from all over the world travel to Derry for a tour of the farm. You can even take home a piece of the tree that inspired, “Tree at My Window.”

If you have yet to get your fill of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Cambridge, Massachusetts offers a glimpse at the home he where he spent almost fifty years with his family. All of the items in the home belonged to the Longfellow family, and the collection includes over ten-thousand books that were owned by the poet. As a bonus for history lovers, the house was also once inhabited by George Washington.

In Springfield, MA you will find a wonderful tribute to everyone’s favorite children’s author, Dr. Seuss. The sculpture garden is located outside the museum in the author’s hometown. His step-daughter, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, is the artist behind the bronze tribute which features a giant story book, an enormous likeness of Horton the Elephant, the Lorax (my favorite!), the Cat in the Hat, the Grinch and his dog Max, and of course, Theodor Seuss Geisel.

If you find yourself in Lowell, Massachusetts, you will want to stop by the National Historical Park visitor center. There you can pick up three different maps that allow you to follow the haunts of legendary beat Jack Kerouac. Explore downtown Lowell, Pawtucketville, Centralville, or all three and see where Kerouac lived, went to school, was baptized, and all of the places that inspired and worked their way into his novels and poems. Downtown is home to the Jack Kerouac Commemorative which is made up of a series of granite columns inscribed with passages from some of the writer’s most famous works, including the seminal On the Road. You can also pay your respects, as Kerouac is buried in the city’s Edson Cemetery.

WaldenConcord, Massachusetts was once the most popular places for progressive literary minds to convene. For me, one of the most exciting places on this trip is the Walden Pond State Reservation where Henry David Thoreau lived off the land and penned Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. For two years Thoreau lived in a one room cabin he had built on land owned by his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Amos Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller were frequent guests during these years. Thoreau’s original cabin no longer stands, but you can pay visit to a replica where you will be greeted by a statue of the man himself.

Speaking of Bronson Alcott, he raised his family close by. This includes his daughter, and another one of my all time favorite authors, Louisa May Alcott. The Orchard House in Concord is where she wrote and set the classic Little Women. The characters in the story are based on her family, Louisa herself as the protagonist, Jo March. Much like her character, Louisa was a headstrong tom boy who paid frequent visits to Ralph Waldo Emerson and delighted in walks through the woods with Henry David Thoreau. Eighty percent of the furnishings at the Orchard House belonged to the Alcotts, and the home appears much as it did when they lived there. Of all the places on this tour, Orchard House is the most like actually stepping into a story.

Before you stray too far from Concord, take a stroll through the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson and the Alcotts are all buried.

roughing ItNext stop: Connecticut, Hartford to be exact. In Hartford you can visit another of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s homes, or if you are like me, you will be far too busy geeking out over the Mark Twain House and Museum. Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, moved to Hartford with his wife Olivia in 1871. Construction on their home began in 1873, and they moved in before it was finished in 1874. While living in their creation, Clemens wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court, and worldwide favorite, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Clemens family continued to build their home in Hartford until hard times forced them to move to Europe during 1891. Twain’s daughter, Susy Clemens, passed away while visiting their beloved house in 1896, after which the Clemens’ never lived in Hartford again. The Mark Twain House and Museum is filled with interesting artifacts from the writer’s life and has a great gift shop where you can buy books and more. My favorite item is a button that reads, “Experience Freedom. Read a banned book.”

There are so many other amazing places to visit in the northeast, like the Edward Gorey House in Massachusetts, HP Lovecraft’s grave at the Swan Point Cemetery in Rhode Island, and the Robert Frost Museum in Vermont. Amherst, Massachusetts is home to the Emily Dickinson Museum, where the poet was born and spent a majority of her life, and in Lenox you will find the home of The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome author Edith Wharton. Stephen King fans flock to Bangor, Maine to see the town that so many bone-chilling stories have been set in. But if I keep going, I will have written a novel of my own, and I don’t want a bunch of people showing up at my house!

Happy reading and safe travels!

Melissa Rae Cohen is a travel writer for Auto Europe working out of Portland, Maine. In her spare time she likes to read books. Lots and lots of books!

Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in California

Story and Photos by Linda Kissam

a mountain relaxation retreat

There are all types of getaways. The choices are limitless…from big adventure to soft adventure, romantic to family, glamping to camping. The key to getting it right is understanding what your heart and soul needs. Is it downtime you crave, or do want to scale a mountain, or maybe you just need time to listen to your “creative” without distractions? I call this last kind of getaway, Going Away To Go Within. If you’re an artist of any kind you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Mountain Artist Retreat

Occasionally, we need to pause – step away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. One way to do this is to get away from our daily life and go on a getaway that is a mixture of retreat and vacation. A Dorland Mountain Arts Colony Getaway integrates some traditional aspects of seclusion with some more modern traits of a vacation. Far more than a vacation, this artist couple’s getaway offers time to rest, reflect, and renew your creative spirit. It allows time to slow down, breathe in and breathe out so that you can emerge renewed, refreshed, and ready to pursue your creative passions with a new found perspective. Think time for reconnecting with your creative self to produce something of merit, with a splash of soft adventure to remind you what uncomplicated “fun” is all about. It’s that “ah” moment; the convergence of the exact right place, with just the right people, with just the right level of activity.

Music retreat in California

You’ll find Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Southern California, about 90 minutes from San Diego or Los Angeles. It’s a nonprofit artist’s community set on 300 acres along a ridge overlooking the Temecula Valley. The Colony covers about 10 acres with the rest of the land left in its natural state. It also happens to be just 10 minutes from the trendy Temecula Valley Wine Country. The mission of Dorland Mountain Arts Colony is to provide a unique working and performance retreat fostering creativity, and a community connection to the creative process, in a secluded natural setting. They do this by offering a unique residency program in their two self-contained cottages that can accommodate up to two people per cottage. Residencies are intended as professional development opportunities for writers, composers, visual artists and most other artistic media’s. So whether you’re trying to finish your latest book, compose a new song, paint a masterpiece, or do some serious scrapbooking, this is the place for you. And you can do it for about $250.

Cottages rent out for a minimum of one week at $250 a week. Artists must apply to stay at the retreat. Artistic merit and promise are the basis for selections. Mature and emerging artists are encouraged to apply. Applicants 21 and over may apply. It’s an easy online application that starts your adventure. You’ll need to give about 2 weeks to 30 days for confirmation of acceptance.

Artist Retreat in California

Once accepted, Residents are housed in individual, furnished, small cottages with complete kitchens, one bedroom with full bath, a great room with a wood burning stove (wood is furnished by Dorland), and a veranda or porch with magnificent mountain, canyon or Temecula Valley views. Residents structure their own time and activities. Residents may choose to maintain their privacy or to engage with other residents and activities at Dorland. In order to protect individual privacy, residents are encouraged to communicate with each other by leaving messages in mailboxes located by Dorland’s gazebo and Reflection Pond. Residents are responsible for their own personal living expenses, food, beverages, supplies, telephone and expenses related to the production of their work during the residency.

Dorland Moutain Retreat

I’ve visited Dorland several times. The residents come for the distraction free environment – the beauty, the inspirational moments…and the occasional outing to fine wine, dining and gaming. Dedicated sessions to their craft, long nature walks on the property, and the occasional trip to the lush green vineyards, wineries, a nearby glitzy casino (Pechanga Resort & Casino), and small town amenities seem to be the key to the success of this artist getaway.

Check out www.TemeculaNightOut.com for a complete listing of what to do, where to eat, and where to go in the Temecula.

Wine retreat and Artist Residency

Some of my favorite “must do’s” are Thornton Winery & Café Champagne, , Hart Winery, Keyways Winery, Tesoro Winery , The Temecula Olive Oil Company (ranch and store), Rosa’s Cantina, and Baily’s Bar & Grill and Fine Dining. If you go into Old Town (a mixture of tasting rooms, antique shops, dining, and more) be sure to plan at least 2-3 hours. New food & wine tours, as well as historic walking tours are available.

Without the pull of deadlines, relationships, the Internet and other media, you and a partner can give yourselves the gift of time and reflection. Hopefully, when you return home, you can take a little bit of this time alone back with you creating the space for deep reflection, a creative life renewed , ready to take on the world.

Cruising the San Juan & Gulf Islands – A couples cruise to nirvana

Article & Pics by Linda Kissam

San Juan Islands, WashingtonIf you search the Web, you can find many stories from a technical or nautical viewpoint on cruising the beautiful San Juan Islands in Washington State and its twin sister the Gulf Islands in Canada. This is NOT one of those articles. This is my personal take on a couples fall-time cruise through the two island groups. Yup, just me and my husband kicking back for a week long escapade amongst soft breezes, brilliant sunshine, intimate moorings, and gurgling blue waters.

There is definitely something to be said for how a couple of empty-nesters with hectic jobs, major responsibilities and plugged- in -lives stopped their whirlwind schedules to stand down, relax, and reconnect. Just getting a date we both could agree on was a huge issue. I sense some eye rolling and head nodding out there in reader land, so I know you’re feeling my pain. Agreeing on what type of boat to rent was another whole challenge. I was looking for “Mr. Big” with all the amenities. My husband the sailor was looking for compact, maneuverability, and minimum maintenance.

On all issues we ended somewhere in the middle. Giving up my hair dryer, Wolf Stove, wine refrigerator and Riedel glassware sucked. Arguing over terms like aft, stern, lines and so forth is never a pleasure. I want to converse in everyday words; my husband is a stickler for sailing terms. But then again toasting stunning sunsets from the stern (back of the boat) , drinks on the patios of some amazing island wine bars, the quiet lap, lap, lap of the sparkling blue water, and relatively good Internet connection everywhere certainly has its benefits.

Tying up in the San Juan IslandsOur vacation started with an early one day fly-in to Bellingham Airport. This would give us time to inspect the boat, have my husband take his “boat driving test” and stock the boat up with supplies. We rented a car and were on our way 15 short minutes to the Bellingham Marina where our boat was waiting for us at Bellingham Yachts. We chartered a 33’ Back Cove power boat with many of the comforts of home. Limited seating and cooking facilities
met this would be a simpler experience than when we charter a 42’ boat two years ago. No fancy dinners, lots of overnight guests or dancing till midnight, but its small compact demeanor had its own charms. As expected, the Bellingham charter staff was kind, knowledgeable and eager to please. The boat was clean, fueled and ready for us to board.

As peaceful cruising and a good glass of wine at sunset is a part of reaching vacation nirvana, we set out around 11 a.m. the next day chugging along at six knots to our first stop Lyall Harbor. I think we were supposed to start out earlier, but I took the time to use the curling iron one more time and chat up all the yacht dogs and their owners before we set out. At some point someone mentioned that
my husband was doing some sort of energetic jumping jacks to get my attention, so I rightly guessed I missed the official sail-off time.

Lyall harbor in Canada was out first stop. It is located in the southwest portion of Plumper Sound, attached to Saturna Island. Lyall Harbor wharf is adjacent to the BC Ferries dock. If you’re not use to cruising around the big ferries, it can be quite a shock to see these big boys barreling towards you. Luckily my husband knows the rules of the road (sea) so there were no near misses, but just saying, get a rule book if you haven’t done this before.

Queen Charlotte SoundWe had a choice to make, as we would each night. Should we dock at a private or public
marina or gunkhole it? No eye rolling please, this is a real word. Gunkholing by definition is a quiet anchorage where small yachts anchor into soft mud or “gunk” — so gunkholing applies to those who engage in this low key relaxed style of cruising. We opted for anchoring in the quiet bay, a light dinner, a rich glass of Pinot Noir and a long lazy look at the seductive sunset.

I had thought we would get off the boat the next morning to do some wine tasting at Saturna Winery. I’ve been to this winery before and enjoyed its ambiance and wines. If you’re near, make sure you take the time to stop in. Unfortunately we found out that we needed to get over to Canadian Customs immediately. So we pulled up anchor and headed to Bedwell Harbor on Pender Island where all passengers must report their presence as tourists. You can do the initial registration process by telephone or avoid it by registering in advance on online. Luckily the process was quick and off we went for a 2—day stay at the popular private Ganges Marina on Salt Spring Island.
There was a bit of head spinning at the price of mooring. But you get what you pay for. In this case it meant clean and gated docks, a friendly hand to help you dock (something I am hopelessly not adept at), nice showers, Internet access, and calm waters. This is one of my favorite stops to make. Just a few steps from the marina gourmet food is available at the local market, and the restaurants are varied in price and cuisine. There are lots of shops to browse and my favorite jewelry shop is located here. It’s a good thing this boat had good storage as my credit card got a nice work out here.

Relaxed, rejuvenated, and stocked up on wine, food, and jewelry we motored back to the US to Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands. Another 2-night private mooring stay meant there was plenty of time to explore this quaint island before we picked up a guest.

Roche harbor has a small but classy shopping center which is just steps from where all the
boats moor. There are several waterside eateries, a marina full of beautiful yachts, and local artisans’ booths in summer—showing off jewelry, wool, paintings, pottery, and more.

Pretty much two restaurants serve the boaters and locals. The Madrona Bar and Grill focuses on coastal casual cuisine and creative cocktails. Its deck overlooks the harbor, offering diners the only island sunset view over water. Fresh salads, creative grill sandwiches and famous BBQ ribs are menu favorites. Open 11am-10pm mid-May to the last day of September, which you should know is known as “the season.” The Lime Kiln Cafe is a classic for hearty harbor side breakfast. Sandwiches and fish & chips round out a lunch menu that makes decisions difficult but delicious. Open 7am-8pm daily during “the season.”
Quirky sailing and luxury in Washington StateWhen you’re finished noshing and catching up on your email, strike out to see the San Juan Islands Museum of Art Sculpture Park. It’s about a 10 minute walk from Roche Harbor and has more than 100 sculptures placed in an open, 19-acre, natural setting. You can ramble among the sculptures or follow the nearby nature trail that takes you into a native forest and close to Westcott Bay, home of the world-famous oysters. I loved the sculpture park and spent a good 2 hours just wondering from one amazing art piece to another. It’s a photographer’s and art lover’s dream stop.

An old high-school friend of my husband’s met us early the next morning. He had spent his early a.m. hours taking a ferry from Anacortes to Roche Harbor to connect with us. Once aboard, we untied the boat and where off to Deer Harbor on the western side of Orcas Island. This was to be another gunkholing experience. Now, with two co-captains aboard, finding “the spot” to anchor took some time and discussion. Finally we dropped anchor and the “boat people” watching began.

It was a beautiful day for boating, canoeing and other water-tight vessel sailing. And so it
was with a chilled glass of Riesling the 3 of us sat back on the stern and had the time of our lives watching the skilled and the not-so-skilled glide pass us. At this time of the day I am usually pounding out 50 trillion emails, catching up on paperwork and articles, and arguing with various Internet providers about the latest hacker and spam attempts. But today, it was a pleasure to put that all aside and just enjoy the scenery. What a treat to discuss no more than the lively seals, the fearless teenagers in tiny canoes, the hot- rodding young men breaking every no-wake rule in the area, and the odd hippy couple floating by in what could best be described as a version of an oar- powered Nile boat. They all seemed to be doing fine without computers, fancy stoves and screaming Internet connections. There’s a lesson to be learned here. And for some reason, I had no thought of taking our power raft to the tiny store in the even tinier marina. We all did fine on a simple diet of canned clam chowder and beer.
Cruising in the San Juan Islands, WashingtonRunning from the fog -laden morning at Deer Harbor we exited the San Juan Islands at Thatcher Pass and motored past the Anacortes ferry pier. We thought we might be able to drop our guest off next to the ferry terminal, but that was wishful thinking. We had to go to the Anacortes public marina at Cap Sante to fuel up for the final leg of our trip and drop him off. He helped out with the fueling process and with a casual wave of his hand he was off to his home in Seattle (lucky, lucky man).

Returning to Bellingham from Anacortes is another three hour run from Anacortes when operating at chugging speed. The boat was due back in at 10 AM the next day so we had thought we might gunkhole it one more time. On this trip however, the risk of morning fog forced us to run back to the home marina. My husband put the pedal to the metal for about an hour on our way back literally hurling us back to civilization, schedules and bright city lights. I much prefer chugging, but it was a treat to see my husband really having fun powering away (which I am sure is not a technical boating term, bit it paints the right picture).

What we gave up in another night on the water, we made up by having dinner at Anthony’s
in Bellingham Marina which is just a few short steps from where our boat made its final docking. This is a long-time favorite restaurant of ours, so not such a tough trade really. We spent the night on board the boat and the next morning hitched a ride to the airport from the charter manager. While my husband traded sea stories with him, I turned on my iPhone and reconnected with my real life once again.

Considering this trip? Inexperienced skippers need not shy away from this trip, but for safety sake take an experienced person along for a few days to avoid disaster. Bellingham Yachts will charter the boat and provide training or help you to contract a training skipper. The cost to charter one of the boats in their fleet ranges from $2,138 for the smallest of the boats off season to $6,545 in season for the largest of the boats for about a week. Of course prices and types of boats are subject to change. There is a minimum $3,000 (up to $9,000) additional refundable damage deposit required depending on the boat you choose. You must return the boat full of fuel at your own cost. Book your charter by calling 1-877-310-9446.

 

Desert Hot Springs, California: Spas, Mineral Soaks & Soleil Chilled Avocado Soup with Tomato Salsa

Pics & Story by Linda Kissam

Desert Hot Springs, CAIt’s a shame that not much has been written about Desert Hot Springs near Palm Springs, Ca. I am not sure if those who know about it don’t want others to be “in” on the values and fun of it all or the press just hasn’t discovered it yet. One thing for sure, this is one of those wonderful USA holidays that hasn’t yet been ‘discovered’.

No matter, I’ve been there, experienced its rich treasures, and am here to tell you – it’s a great place to relax and rejuvenate. It’s hasn’t wrapped itself in the glitz and glamour cloak of its neighbor Palm Springs yet, but …it can certainly hold its own until that time comes and is worthy of a 3-day stay. If you’re the kind of traveler who can appreciate the raw essence of a natural jewel, this is the place for you.

Desert Hot Springs is built over one of the world’s finest natural hot mineral water aquifers. Naturally occurring mineral waters bubble to the surface making this a mineral bath and spa destination. There are over 22 unique (many family owned and operated) inns where you can Zen out, relaxing in polished marble resorts, retro-hip motels, clothes optional, or dog friendly retreats.

Desert Hotsprings, CAAlmost every inn has spa treatments available on property, so you can just roll from the comfy rooms, to the pool, to the mineral baths, to the spa treatments. No need to bring your own stash of designer bottled water as the city boasts pure and delicious award-winning municipal drinking water.

I’d forgotten how good the health benefits of mineral-rich, hot springs can feel. Mineral waters around the world are famous for their healing attributes, and Desert Springs is no slacker in this department. What a treat to experience stress relieving natural heat, while minerals absorbed through my skin rejuvenating my body. Ready to relieve sore muscles and treat the stiffness that accompanies arthritis, the water in Desert Hot Springs is rich in silica leaving the skin soft and smooth.

This destination is perfect for some serious alone time, girlfriend getaways, or some romantic rejuvenation. There are a variety of inns to choose from. My favorites (including a refreshing recipe) are below, but whatever you’re looking for…it’s here for you.

Desert HotspringsAqua Soleil: This was my host hotel for two days. Savvy General Manager Sabine Pollerman welcomed me with open arms. I must say the ground floor suite she assigned me was amazing. Just imagine your own mammoth Jacuzzi in your suite. By count I think I could have gotten at least 10 people in it. Also, lots of space to work on the computer or lounge on the couch. If I were writing a book, I’d like to start or end it here. The grounds were immaculate and inviting with a large swimming pool, two Jacuzzi’s and inviting well-kept outdoor conversation areas. Sabine tells me that her goal for her guests is for them, “To relax, refresh, and leave with abundant energy to return to their normal life.” The on property spa offers a variety of treatments and uses the upscale Body Deli products. Think Blueberry Fusion Micro-Scrub. Sabine encourages potential guests to check the property’s Web site for specials, and to call front desk manager “Ella” for any daily deals not shown on the Web site.

Desert Hotsprings, CAEl Morocco Inn & Spa: A Moroccan inspired luxury inn in Desert Hot Springs, CA. run by owner Bruce Abney , one of the most gregarious inn keepers I have ever met. A day here is not only going to provide relaxation via the natural hot mineral water pool and spa, but when the evening rolls around… charm and deliciousness is the order of the evening. Between the delightful Bruce and the Inn’s signature cocktail, “The Morocco-tini” you’ll be raising a glass to pure relaxation. And hey…make sure you ask Bruce for the Sultan’s Tent Tour

Dog Spa Resort: This is an inn created from the ground up for dog lovers. Dogs vacation free with their owners. The owner and inn keeper are outstanding guardians; you’re going to love this place. No size limits or breed restrictions. Soak, swim, and rejuvenate in some of the world’s finest hot mineral waters.

Desert Hotsprings, CADoes it get any better? Yup! The pet nanny is on duty from 12 – 6pm to care for dog guests while you play off site. The rooms are large, clean and gorgeous. All you have to do is pack your bag, grab your significant others and get ready for a unique experience.

# # #

 

 

Soleil Chilled Avocado Soup with Tomato Salsa
The recipe serves 8-12
Compliments of Aqua Soleil

Ingredients

6 large ripe avocados, peeled and seeded
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 spring onions, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups yogurt

Salsa —

4 ripe tomatoes, deseeded
2 seedless cucumbers, deseeded
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sweet chili sauce
4 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Desert HotspringsChop avocados roughly, leaving 1/4 cup for the salsa. Place in a food processor with lime juice, garlic, spring onions, cumin and stock – puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add yogurt and blend for 30 seconds. Chill soup until ready to serve.

For the tomato salsa, finely dice tomatoes and cucumber, then combine with the remaining avocado left from the soup. Stir in spring onion, lime juice, sweet chili sauce and chopped cilantro.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with a small amount of salsa.

Exploring California’s Golden Triangle – Gold, Startups, Agriculture, and Wine

California is known as the Golden State for a good reason – the gold rushes of California pulled an estimated $20-$40 billion dollars worth of the precious metal from the rivers, rocks, and streams of the state.
2013-05-04 13.44.32Some of the greatest fortunes in the world were built with that gold, but that wasn’t all California had to offer. Today the state is home to Google, Facebook, Oracle, Apple and many other tech giants. The aerospace and space industries laid a solid groundwork here. The golden state is also a breadbasket for fruits, vegetables, and livestock. There’s also oil in them thar hills and offshore rigs with massive reserves that are currently untapped. And let’s see – a little thing called Hollywood which generates huge profits. California – if it were a country, would have the world’s 12th largest gross domestic product at a massive $1.9 trillion. That puts it in about the same range as India, Russia, or Australia – not bad for one state out of 50!

California capital

 

In fact, California provides nearly 15% of the USA’s annual GDP! California is the third largest and most important wine producing region in the world (after France and Italy) and ‘California cuisine’ is now a fact of life nearly everywhere on the planet. Fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Panda Express were all founded in California – there is no mistaking the impact this region has had on the world. Perhaps instead of globalization, people should refer to Californization of the world! Our own journey is still only just beginning.

San Francisco Skyline

We started in San Francisco, took a quick trip North to Redding to visit my mother, and then we landed in Sacramento – home of the original gold findings at Sutter’s Mill. We’ve been house sitting for a little under two weeks and this gig is just coming to a close as our first month in the USA. From Sacramento we will head back to San Francisco and then make our way North along the Pacific Coast. If all goes according to plan we should be in Seattle and Washington State sometime during the perfect weather of summer.

Here are a few of the highlights from our explorations thus far in Sacramento: Folsom, California – while Folsom is mostly known for the prison of the same name thanks to the late, great Johnny Cash, this little suburb of Sacramento has a lot to offer with a small train musuem, an enjoyable history museum, and a cute little old town filled with reasonably priced antique shops. Nearby is Folsom lake which was created when Folsmo Dam was built in the 1950’s.

Folsom Prison Blues

And – I forgot to mention the microchip and processor industry above – but Intel has their headquarters in Folosm.

Sacramento’s Old Town and Sac History Museum The Sacramento Farmer’s Market The California Museum of History California State Capital and Garden McKinley Park Rose Garden and Pond were also pretty incredible. One of the sad things coming back to the world of car culture is seeing the effect it has on wildlife…this raccoon, however, was obviously living the good life before he got hit by that big truck in the sky…

racoon road kill

 

First published May 14, 2013

Disney on a Dime in Time: Getting the Most from Your Disneyland Visit

Disneyland Tips and Ideas
Arrive at the park when it opens, and use FASTPASS to reduce your time spent waiting in lines. Credit: K. Pearson Brown

 

Story and Photos by K. Pearson Brown

A trip to Disneyland can be expensive, with the lowest price SoCal resident one-day, one-park tickets starting at $81 for kids 3-9 years old. Admission is only one cost. There’s gas, meals, snacks and souvenirs, and if you plan to stay overnight, the cost of a hotel.

Hotels Near Disneyland

In order to truly enjoy your visit and not worry about money, figure out which elements of your trip are worth splurging on for you and your family, plan ahead to help defray costs, and then just have fun.

If you have the buckage, staying at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels is the way to go. The Disneyland Hotel, The Grand California Hotel & Spa and the Paradise Pier Hotel are all fabulous and carry over the Disney brand of extreme hospitality and spirit in décor, ambient music and other touches, and there are added perks, like Magic Hour early admission and a private park entrance. All three Disney hotels also have great pools and waterslides.

Keeping Cool in California
The Anaheim Hilton Hotel has many amenities for families such as a kids water feature a Disney Desk at the hotel. Credit: Courtesy Anaheim Hilton

The Disneyland Resort site (http://disneyland.disney.go.com/)  features a number of packages that slightly discount Disney hotels plus admission tickets and dining options.
You can save a lot by staying off-Disney, at one of the partner hotels, which offer much lower room rates.

The nearby big convention hotels have a more corporate ambience, but hotels such as the Hilton Anaheim Hotel , with room rates starting at $94, cater to Disneyland visitors with child-friendly features, such as a terrific water feature at the hotel pool and an on-site Disney Desk staffed by resort cast members. The Hilton is also walking distance from the park, if you are a sturdy walker, or you can hitch a free shuttle bus across the street to the park that will drop you off right at the park entrance.

Eating Cheap at Disneyland
You can save on meals by shopping at a local supermarket and eating at a complimentary picnic area just outside the park’s main entrance. Credit: K. Pearson Brown

Count on food at the park being expensive. Entrees at the restaurants are pretty generous, so you can share if you have a modest appetite. If you are really hungry, the all-you-want-to-enjoy buffets are a pricey but satisfying option, and some offer character dining, such as at Goofy’s Kitchen, where the characters come by to hang with you at your table – which can be a two-fer option if you don’t want to wait in line at the park to pose with characters for photos. If you are on a tight budget for meals, dining outside the park offers the usual cheap fast-food and moderately priced casual dining options, or if you can shop at the local supermarket and eat at the complimentary picnic area just outside the main entrance. No outside food or beverage is allowed in the park, and security does search your bags when you enter.

It will cost you a little sleep but no extra money to get in more Disney by arriving when the park opens so you can maximize your visit. Lines are shorter for the first hour or so, so head to the attractions that historically have the longer lines, which are generally the rides that feature FASTPASS, which is also a great program to take advantage of to reduce your time waiting in lines.

Dining at Disneyland
Character dining options feature all-you-can-enjoy meals and an opportunity for photos with characters, without standing in line at the park. Credit: K. Pearson Brown

The themed merchandise at the shops is tempting, so set a budget for yourself and the kids each day. Use gift cards or Disney Dollars to enforce the limit. Once the allowance is gone, that’s it. Better yet, tell the kids that you are saving the last hour of the last day for shopping, so you can stave off the constant pleas for souvenirs at every turn.
Lastly, be prepared. Take along extra batteries, a change of clothes and towel for wet rides, and a sweatshirt or jacket for when the sun goes down, so you don’t end up buying these things at the park.

And remember, don’t feel deprived just to save yourself a few bucks. Budget in one or two spontaneous purchases, and enjoy the Happiest Place on Earth without regret.

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