Yodeling Vagabond Biking and Hiking in Zion National Park

story and photos by Brian Leibold
Zion National Park in UtahLast month I wrote here about yodeling in Yellowstone during an epic bike trip from Montana to Arizona. Toward the end of this adventure, I spent a weekend alone in what would become one of my favorite places in the world: Zion National Park.

As I biked on the long winding road down into the canyon, I was struck dumb in the shadow of the setting sun. Zion is indescribable, but I will attempt to describe it. It is ineffable because that’s a word too. The sheer cliffs rise up threateningly and gorgeously on both sides of the echoing canyon like that girl or guy that you’ve always been in love with from the moment you first saw her and who is so attractive that you find it difficult to speak in his/her (because I’m gender neutral) presence: intimidating but undeniably stunning.
Zion immediately made me feel like I was on some kind of nature speed, lighting a passionate fire that so often waits impatiently to be sparked and left blazing on a heaven-on-earthly grill and, once burning, is loath to be put out.
Vagabonding Tip #1: Find something that lights your fire. Then burn baby burn and scorch the earth lusting to quench your fiery desire.
Zion National Park, UtahSo I was wide awake and euphoric and raring to go with lightning speed, and like a keen owl in the balmy Utahan night my eyes were sharp and focused and trained completely on the present moment.
And here, in my manic state of elevation, I biked headlong down the spectacular canyon glorying in all these buttes and monoliths because those are apparently words. These rock formations in Zion beckon urgently to all who are born to boldly boulder, and immense mountains call climbers breathlessly sans lungs to climb higher to elevate our lives, and rolling rivers swerve alluringly through narrow slot canyons away from the sun.
My first day in Zion I did two hikes, the 8-mile Observation Point hike and the 6-mile Angels Landing hike. I was a solo venturing yodeling vagabond at this point, as my cousin and I had gone different routes a week earlier.
Words of Wisdom #1: If no one wants to vagabond with you, go alone! Being alone on the road is highly superior to being clustered and flustered in claustrophobic cities where finding any time at all to be alone is difficult.
Zion National Park, UtahWhen I was in Zion, words—even words of wisdom–were not forthcoming. How does one describe the indescribable? How does one express the ineffable because that’s a word too? What does one say in such a place? I had not acquired the courage to speak to the stunning woman who dared me to approach her overawing beauty and I approached and we neared closer but I spoke not.
On my way up to Observation Point, I traversed through slot canyons which provided discrete sneak peeks through narrow windows, portholes to paradise, hinting at the magnificence that would become vividly clear upon reaching the top. Then there was a curvy section that looked out to the east and then to the west in a cyclical wondrous fashion as I winded my way to the top.
At the Point, the other hikers and I all competed for Zion’s attention and she like an eternally beautiful always vigorous spinster chose no lover but stirred the spirits of all men and women who exulted in her spacious canyon. She made youthful the old and she made bold the faint-hearted; she never spurned her admirers’ advances but spurred on the souls of restless vagabond wanderers who had searched ceaselessly to see her and delight in her delights for days and decades alike and she did this with a mysterious majestic air of constant slight amusement, laughing inwardly at the magnetic effect that she had on all.
Zion National ParkAnd then I descended Observation Point and began to hike up Angels Landing, where messengers would surely come down from on high and pronounce Zion as the unmistakable heaven on earth and all comers would enter into the gates where the angels land and where spirits of sojourners soar with just-realized wings to new elevations.
The hike began in earnest and the angelic views took shape at a point where the steepness increased and a rope was needed to hold onto. I took my time here and enjoyed the journey. For the vagabond, it is all about the journey. In the words of the Grateful Dead
—Such a long, long time to be gone and a short time to be there.
Fun Definitely Disputable Fact Which Is Not A Fact At All But An Opinion #1: The Grateful Dead is the best band to listen to while vagabonding on the road.
Agree or disagree with this statement as you see fit. Say I am unquestionably correct or that I am disgracefully mistaken. My view on the matter has been stated with conviction and I hold steadfast to it.
zion national park, UtahAnd with the Grateful Dead playing in my head, I dreamed peaceful daydreams on the angel’s throne.
The next morning, I arose early.
Although the previous day had been incredible and I had climbed two hikes considered the best in the park by some, I wanted to earn the beauty that I was witnessing by allowing the all-powerful Zion to put my physical abilities to the test. And Pride Rock provided that opportunity. Pride Rock was simply a mountain that had a rock that looked to me like Pride Rock from Lion King.
Vagabonding Tip #2: Pride Rock is an unknown unmarked hike. You won’t find it in any guides or handbooks. Do the established hikes at places like Zion. Even with the crowds, they are absolutely worth it. But also go off and climb your own mountain. And choose a cool fitting name for it.
I knew that Pride Rock would be a noble competitor. I would describe the climb as very difficult bouldering. When I needed some limb to grasp hold of in precarious points of the climb, Pride Rock offered not his hand to hold; when I needed to climb on his back, he carried me not; when I needed energy for the last final push, he gifted no such burst and I was forced to find it inside myself.
Zion Pride RockBut finally, though Pride Rock put me full to the test and did not help me at any point and was an altogether stubborn but beautiful bastard, I finally made it to the top where I zanily unrestrainedly exulted to no one in madcap yodels, which were insane enough to do any traveling minstrel proud.
And then Pride Rock and I shook hands with the utmost mutual respect and we sat together and watched the sun set slowly to the west, pleading with the tyrant of time to stop and stand still and soliciting the sun to do the same and stay motionless for a time in the sky and fall not.
But time went on as it does, and the sun went down as day turned to night, and I rode back for my last night in paradise. Then the next day I biked up the canyon back onto the road.

Brian Leibold is a student of life and a yodeling vagabond. You can find his work at his blog at BMLontheroad.blogspot.com and maybe even back here at Vagobond.

Yodeling Vagabonds Bike Yellowstone

Story and Photos by Brian Leibold
yellowstone Bike TripDo you own a bike? If not, get one! If yes, do you know how to ride it? If no, learn how! (And question the wisdom in owning a bike and not knowing how to ride it). Now that everybody has a bike and knows how to ride it how about you…
Go on a bike tour! But first read this. Then go, man! Maybe train some to prepare and perhaps learn how to fix a flat tire. Then take off, man, ride on! Actually I would strongly suggest purchasing panniers or a trailer to carry supplies first. Then definitely take off, my fellow vagabond, get, ready, set, go! But don’t leave without first of course deciding where you want to take off. Then by all means, what are you waiting for, you nomadic rascal, go! But I would suggest taking your time and thinking about it first. There’s no rush. It’s not a bike race, it is a bike tour (not to be confused with the Tour de France or similar tours of that racing nature.
Yellowstone River Falls—Words of Wisdom #1: Do not confuse “bike tour” with “bike race.”It is not a race. On a similar but at the same time different note, the words “It is not a race” could also be applied to life. That could be a book, Life: A Tour, Not a Race. Or something.
Some might not know what a bike tour is. It is self-explanatory. A bike tour is when you have your bike, you put all the stuff you need for however long you may be touring, whether it is for a weekend or a year, and then you go! Some people just start from where their bike is, while others ship their bike to another place and go from there (I shipped mine to Montana).

Bikig through Yellowstone— Money Saving Tip #1: It is cheaper to ride a bike that you already have than to purchase a bike that you don’t have to go on a bike tour. Also you don’t really need a great expensive road bike to go on a tour, just a bike that is dependable.
—Money Saving Tip #2: Most bike shops will ship your bike to another bike shop for cheaper than it would be to ship it on the plane. So do that.

biking through yellowstoneLast fall, I took off time from college and joined my cousin for a leg of his bike trip. His was an adventurous epic that began in Washington (state) and just recently finished in Washington D.C.
(On The Res, his blog about his trip). I would bike over 2000 miles and explore the states of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Arizona (BML ON THE ROAD, my blog).
It surprised me a little just how easy it was to get accustomed to being on a bike for 6 or more hours a day and putting in as many as 100 miles a day. If I can do it, having very little biking experience, so can you! So go! But finish reading this first.
The first distinctly memorable place Richard and I biked to was Yellowstone, the first National Park in the country. Yellowstone is made for bikers and hikers. While cars have to wait for scenic overlooks in order to stop, where hundreds of other cars create hungry horrid mobs of mass pulsing humanity, the biker hiker community is able to avoid the mobs by stopping at unofficial points to explore off-road.
old faithful in Yellowstone ParkAnd so the first place in Yellowstone we biked was famous Old Faithful, which was not off-road but needed to be seen and so we saw it. We experienced the spouting, spurting, springing, old-in-years-but-still-with-youthful-raw-get-up-and-go-energy, timeless geyser that is Old Faithful, uncontrollable in its pure natural wondrous power exploding out of the ground phenomenally and perpetually, with a sort of violent vigor like a surreptitiously but supernaturally strong Samson shaking and bursting up towards the surface, longing for the open air, to be freed from the shackles and constraints which held it down in the discolored volcanic ground.

—Fun Fact #1: Yellowstone is the world’s largest active volcano.
In that way, the geyser was sort of like some vagabonds who live in the way they do in order to escape from the shackles and constraints of modern day society and by traveling and seeing and experiencing new places and meeting new and wonderful people, they set themselves free.

Yellowstone natural bridge—Fun Fact #2: I just compared Old Faithful in Yellowstone to vagabonding.

We explored Yellowstone for many days, and it never failed to drop our jaws with its geysers and raging rivers twisting with snaky sinewy vigor through the eternal Eden and peaks and mountains and just the general heart-warming wondrous naturalistic beauty of the place. Beauty can be found most everywhere in America if one searches hard enough for it, from big, industrial, neon-brightened cities to small, lonely ghost towns that lay neglected and forgotten off never-ending highways in the western night. But in Yellowstone the traveling vagabond is able to experience a land that is preserved to look like the earth did back before all the skyscrapers and the endless development and the constant construction, and even before there were houses or railroads, and back to an even earlier era still when men and women perhaps lived in caves, or just out in the wild under the stars, reveling in the natural glory of the land around them.

Here is a list of hotels in or near Yellowstone in case you don’t want to sleep in a tent for some reason.

waterfalls in YellowstoneAnd so with our ancestors of yore in their graves or wherever their spirits may lie, we paid our respects to our possibly-cave-dwelling vagabond ancestors by exulting excitedly in the land around us as the sun slapped our sweaty brows as we biked up to precarious peaks and the wind whipped us with a frenzied rush of bursting gusts as we heehawed and yodeled all the long way down.
We would go on to many National Parks on the bike tour, including Grand Teton immediately following Yellowstone, Zion and Bryce Canyon both in Southern Utah, Grand Canyon, and lesser known but no less wonderful in their own way parks such as Craters of the Moon and City of Rocks in Idaho. And at every park, especially when the tourists and sun-setters (those who see only the sunset and then promptly leave) were scarce, I would feel that sensational sensation of experiencing land in its original state.
And so if you wish to live the life of a vagabond biker, I would suggest that you get your bike out of the dusty dark depths of the back of the garage, put some stuff you need on the bike, get on the bike yourself, and go! First maybe see if any of your friends want to go with you. Then take off, man, go! First, though, of course say goodbye to your loved ones, and tell them you love them, and give them a handshake or naw, be demonstrative! Pretend you’re going for the handshake but then give them a big old hug! Maybe even get a little emotional. Then go! Ride onwards, westwards, southwards, eastwards, upwards, downwards, any wards! Jump in the air and fly like an exotic vagabond bird, a nomadic eagle with wings spread!
Words of Wisdom #2: Ride out onto the road! It is open ahead.
Brian Leibold is a student of life and a yodeling vagabond. You can find his work at his blog at BMLontheroad.blogspot.com and maybe even back here at Vagobond.

Driving on the edge: A guide to some of the world’s craziest road trips

Written by Jessica Langlands

Although road trips may have originated in America, the rest of the world has quickly caught on. Now with car hire companies offering their services in thousands of locations worldwide no destination is unreachable. You quite literally have the world at your fingertips!

Whilst the thought of driving for hours on end along an endless highway may conjure up memories of being cooped up in the back seat of your parents un- air conditioned car, wedged between a suitcase and the kitchen sink that your mother insisted on bringing, road trips today have evolved into something truly extraordinary.

Nothing gives you freedom like the open road, whether you’re driving fast or slow, have a destination in mind or are simply following your nose, or should I say bumper? road trips are the ultimate example of independent travel. Without having to rely on public transport timetables and guaranteed you’ll always get a window seat there really is no better way to see the world your way.

So, if you are looking for a thrill then look no further then these fantastic driving experiences.

1. The Pacific Coast Highway, USA.

road trip

Although it is one of the most well-known road trips it is by no means any less exciting. Navigating the winding two lane highway, with imposing rocky hills on one side and sheer cliff drops into the ocean on the other, makes for an interesting drive to say the least. The 200km stretch of highway should take around 5 hours to complete and with features such as the Bixby Creek Bridge it is a truly exhilarating experience. Simply wind down the windows,
feel the wind in your hair and soar over the Santa Lucia Mountain Range as it plunges into
the sea.

2. Atlantic Ocean Road, Norway.

road trip

This coastal road is something of a worldwide architectural accomplishment. An 8km stretch of highway made up of a series of bridges that hop from island to island, the Atlantic Ocean Road is without doubt a unique experience. Passing through the incredible Hustadvika coastline, which is renowned for being exhilaratingly dramatic when in storm and the perfect spot for fishing and whale watching in calmer weather. This road has been awarded the status of national tourist route. The almost rollercoaster like peaks and curves of the bridges give the impression that you are teetering on the edge of the ocean. A feeling that is only enhanced by stopping at one (or all) of the four panoramic view and rest areas incorporated into the design of the road. These viewing points offer spectacular vistas so be sure to stop and experience the expert harmony of the natural world and this man-made construct.

3. Icefields Parkway, Canada.

road trip

The Icefields Parkway is not only one of Canada’s national treasures but one of North America’s most impressive landscapes. Drive through the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains amidst a world heritage site and two national parks. This is truly a world-class experience that offers access to a breath-taking wilderness of majestic sweeping valleys and glassy, turquoise blue mountain lakes fed by ancient glaciers. This route is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get up close and personal to one of the world’s most unforgiving environments. It is in fact one of the only places in the world where you can drive right up to a glacier. With highlights such as Bow Lake, Panther Falls and the Ice fields themselves, every turn through this unique landscape is an ‘Oh my gosh!’ moment.

4. The Savannah Way, Australia.

road trip canada

Also known as Australia’s adventure drive, The Savannah Way stretches across the country’s north region from Cairns to Broome. Whether you choose to traverse just a section or cross the continent from coast to coast, drivers on this route are never short of views across striking landscape. It is a journey rooted deeply in the Aboriginal and pioneer heritage and links 15 national parks and five world heritage areas, guaranteeing you wide horizons, ancient gorges and abundant wildlife. As you head west from Cairns’ rainforests and reefs you will have the chance to see iconic waterfalls, embark on your own pioneering adventure on a bush walk and explore the caves of Undara Volcanic National Park. But be warned this route can be dangerous. As you drive through its remote centre, don’t expect to see a gas station or another person for several hours. Make sure you leave well prepared with plenty of supplies.

The natural world is a thing of great beauty and picturesque scenery is not that hard to find, but for truly unforgettable experiences and memories that will last a life time these road trips are a set of adventures that will get your heart racing with views that will make your stomach drop.

Where To Go Vintage Shopping in Boston

You may think you know where to go in Boston, but do you know where to go vintage shopping in Boston? Read on!

Boston Downtown [ThinkStock - iStockphoto]

Vintage shopping is experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment, both in the UK and across the pond. So, if you’re planning your next shopping trip to the US, vintage stores should definitely be on your radar. Personally, my ideal destination is Boston, simply because as well as having great vintage outlets, it’s also got bags of culture, which means you can intersperse shopping trips with visits to historical attractions.

Below, I’ve listed some of what I think are the best places to shop vintage in Boston.

Poor Little Rich Girl

Where: 166 Newbury Street, Back Bay, Boston

Since the first Poor Little Rich Girl store was opened back in April 2002, it has established quite a following. In fact, there are now three stores to choose from in the Boston area, including Back Bay, Somerville and Cambridge.

What I like about Poor Little Rich Girl is that it’s got some noticeable differences from your average vintage clothing shop. For instance, it stocks some labels that you may well recognise, while it also has a boutique-esque feel. Another thing I like is the fact that it’s reasonably priced (well, who wouldn’t?), so you really feel like you’re getting value for money, as well as beautiful clothes and accessories.

where to go Boston Thinkstock Photodisk

Urban Renewals

Where: 122 Brighton Avenue, Allston

If you’re hoping to come across a few bargains, Urban Renewals is definitely the place to go. This warehouse-like shop is very basic in terms of its appearance, which of course goes some way to making it that little bit more wallet-friendly for patrons.

There’s a little bit of everything here, including men’s and women’s clothing, as well as a decent selection of homeware. In a space like this it’d be quite easy for things to be hard to find, but the staff do an excellent job of organisation, which means it’s actually nice and simple to locate what you’re looking for.

Bobby from Boston

Where: 19 Thayer Street, South End, Boston

Bobby from Boston is a wonderful little vintage store over on Thayer Street. Predominantly selling men’s clothes, it also stocks a small but well-chosen selection of women’s apparel. Its dark-wood interior is home to a large collection of men’s shoes, as well as bags and hats.

I think this store has a great atmosphere, being crowded as it is with great vintage items everywhere you look. And, despite the fact that the shop if definitely very full, it doesn’t look messy and disorganised – just interesting. In fact, there are so many tempting things all over the place that it’s difficult to know exactly where to look first!

Raspberry Beret

Where: 1704 Massachusetts Avenue, Porter Square, Cambridge

A fairly new addition to the vintage store circuit, Raspberry Beret is a great find. It gets new stock in virtually constantly, which means there’s always something new to browse, and its selection of dresses is particularly good.

This is also a brilliant place to come if you fancy finding yourself some new shoes or accessories, with many people claiming that these are what the store really shines for. Costume jewellery is a particular high point here, so if you’re into bold looks, you can’t go far wrong.

The Fine Art of Fantastic Family Road Trips

One of the great things about being back in the United States is the opportunities it presents to engage in that greatest of American pastimes, The All American Family Road Trip. Like the Griswalds, I can load my family into the car with a minimum of explanation, make sure the tank is full of gas and we’ve got a credit card with a bit of mileage left on it, and then we can hit the road for parts unknown.

San Francisco, California

Personally, I like to engage in as little solid planning as possible – which leaves plenty of opportunity for that most wonderful of road trip wonders – improvisation. I like to think of myself as a bit of a Miles Davis when it comes to catching everyone off guard with a new and sudden direction – and like Miles – I have the skills to make those improv moves work. It’s a little hard on my wife – she still likes to pack for a specific situation and bring everything that she might need in any eventuality – which is hard when she doesn’t know if we will be going to a theme park, staying in a posh resort, spending time in the city or the country, or even leaving the country. I will give her credit though – she’s starting to get it – bring a rain coat, a swimsuit, a passport, a sweater, and sandals. And what you forget, can usually be found along the way in a thrift shop, a mall, or at a garage sale. Yes, it’s these trips that I love most about the USA.
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Over the coming days and weeks, I will share some of the trips we’ve taken since landing on these shores back in 2013 – but for right now, I’ll give you a little teaser. We’ve camped up and down the Oregon Coast and into the Redwoods, the San Juan Islands, and the Olympic Peninsula. We’ve also made spontaneous trips to Seattle, Portland, Astoria, San Francisco, Sacramento, Redding, Bandon, Florence, Yachats, and Eureka. We’ve explored the deserts of Arizona and the streets of Victoria, British Columbia along with traipsing through the Coastal Redwoods, hitting the Las Vegas Strip, and of course, seeing the lights of Los Angeles. I don’t want you to misunderstand – these are fast trips with lots of road time, lots of driving, and a relatively short amount of time spent at our destinations. That’s the thing with road trips – they are as much about the road as they are about the destination. The time spent singing in the car, the games we play with other people’s license plates, and the mystery of where we will stay in a given night – whether with friends, in a nice hotel, or a roadside dive.
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I will begin with our most recent trip – which we just returned from day before yesterday. It was an epic jaunt from Reedsport to Roseburg then down to Redding, straight down the I-5 to Anaheim, a visit to Disneyland, then a trip to Southern Arizona near the Mexican border before journeying straight through Phoenix and Tucson to Las Vegas, then turning back westward to the Central California Coast where we went though Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and straight through the Redwoods back to Oregon and where we started in Reedsport. It was a crazy 3000 mile figure-eight shaped road trip in which we almost never drove on the same road twice. I’ll start telling you about it in the next post…stay tuned.
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Exploring California’s National Parks

California may well be famous for its sun-drenched beaches, but we think that when it comes to having a really exciting, memorable holiday, it’s the California’s National Parks you should look to. There are 26 in total, and today we’re going to take a look at three of the very best.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite, photo by SmifLet’s start with Yosemite National Park, which is around a four-hour drive from the bright lights of San Francisco. In this reserve can expect to stroll with views of some of the most beautiful mountain terrain in the world. It’s this stunning landscape that the park aims to protect, and for which it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1984.

First, a few basic facts. The park was formed by millions of years of glacial activity and spans 1,170 sq miles. Without doubt it is best known for its striking scenery, which includes vast monoliths like El Capitan (3,000 ft high), waterfalls and sequoia coves. While there are plenty of activities you can try in the park, including hiking and rock climbing, arguably the best thing to do if you’ve never been here before is to visit some of its most famous landmarks.

Yosemite Valley should be high on your list, with its gorgeous waterfalls and dramatic cliffs. For the ultimate vista, head over to Tunnel View, which is at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel – from here, you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls. We also recommend visiting the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, which is around 36 miles south of Yosemite Valley (which should give you some idea of just how vast the park really is). This is the reserve’s largest group of giant sequoias, and standing among them you’ll feel utterly dwarfed by their size.

By the way, if you’re planning a fly-drive holiday to California  don’t miss driving along Tioga Pass. Usually open from late May to early October, it spans the entire length of the park and offers incredible alpine scenery.

 

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

California National Parks Sequoia & Kings Canyon by Satosphere

Over in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range are the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Now, technically these are two reserves rather than one, but as they are twinned and often treated as a single entity, we will look at them as one park. And, as they stand side-by-side, that’s perfectly easy to do when you visit as well.

Both these parks preserve granite peaks and lush forests and, as you can probably guess from their names, the giant sequoias and Kings Canyon are the top things to see. Looking at the latter first, Kings Canyon might not be as well known as the Grand Canyon, but it is actually the deepest in America. Expect to be totally wowed by the views – think sheer granite cliffs rising 1,000 ft sprinkled with spectacular waterfalls.

The sequoias, meanwhile, are best viewed in the aptly-named Giant Forest. The largest tree of them all is dubbed General Sherman, and is approximately 275 ft high. As you stare up at it, it’s worth remembering that this is thought to be the biggest tree in the world by volume.

Other great things to do here including taking a tour of Crystal Cave. A really popular attraction that’s home to some fascinating marble formations, it is open to the public from May to November, but you’ll need tickets to get in and take the tour. It’s worth bearing in mind that because of its popularity these tend to sell out fast, so try to book first thing in the morning. Sometimes you can reserve places the day before, so that’s worth checking when you arrive.

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacle National Park in California

Our final suggestion is Pinnacles National Park – another aptly-named reserve, having earned its title from the huge spires and monoliths found here. Located just to the east of Salinas Valley, this ancient volcanic field is in the Gabilan Mountains and has some of the most exciting and unusual terrain in California – at least we think so anyway!

Over millions of years, the volcano here eroded as it gradually moved along the San Andreas Fault. Left behind are sheer-walled canyons, spectacular spires and massive monoliths that have to be seen to be believed. Most people come to the park to hike or rock climb, but you can also visit simply to admire the view. As a quick tip, Pinnacles is one of the few national parks that’s well suited to exploring in the cooler months and is generally open throughout autumn and winter.

Since the park is home to more than 30 miles of excellent hiking trails, it’s definitely a must-visit for keen walkers – even if you’re not after anything too challenging. For instance, there are several short routes starting out at the Pinnacles Visitor Centre, such as the 2.3-mile trail to Bear Gulch Day Use Area and the 6.5-mile path along the South Wilderness Trail. The latter is fantastic for wildlife spotting, while it’s worth bearing in mind that spring is the best time to come for seeing wild flowers on any of the trails.

 

Yodeling Vagabond in Guadalupe and Big Bend National Parks and Terlingua

by Brian Leibold

the window at Big BendIn early October of last year, I and seven other members of a conservation corps (usaconservation.org, not a bad gig for the youthful vagabond, free housing off project, free food on, free time to explore the American southwest on and off), head eastward, Texas-bound, after a tough 8 days working on trails at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeast New Mexico. We head to Guadalupe and Big Bend National Parks and Terlingua.

Our first stop is Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the largest wilderness area in Texas, just over the New Mexico-Texas border. In the midst of the Texas desert, a cool calm stream runs through McKittrick Canyon under the rocky cliffs.  When compared to the rest of Texas, there is no comparison. Texas is known for its flatness, its uninteresting monotony, so mountains are a welcome change.  The Canyon has life “that is part desert, part canyon woodland, and part highland forest.” We arrive at noon, set up tents, and start hiking.

rattle snakeEarly in the hike, we see a rattlesnake.  I almost step on it, it blends in so well with the shadows and rocks.  We wait for a few moments for it to slink away.  And it does, retreating with a sort of sullen hurt pride, snakily twisting its way across the rocky desert floor, aware of its lowliness.  Don’t tread on me, the snake seems to hiss.  Definitely a Texan snake.  We circle carefully around.

As we climb up higher, the typical desert prickly pear cacti and walking-stick chollas and yuccas and mesquites disappear and maples, red and orange under the warm October sun, appear.  It grows colder and more colorful, more like the weather and foliage of New England than the Texas desert. We make it back to the campsite at dusk, the sun shining on the very tops of the mountains then slowly sinking down the juniper-scattered hillside.

Big Bend National ParkIn the morning, I wake up early while everyone else is still in their tents. We are heading to Big Bend National Park, but not for a few hours.  I have time to pack up everything, put it in the van, and start climbing up one of the trails, not stopping until I reach Guadalupe Point, at 8749 feet the highest point in Texas, a 3000 foot climb from the campsite. I stay at the top for a few minutes: the wind is powerful, views spectacular.   I am the highest man in Texas, actually the highest man in the US anywhere east of New Mexico.  As I descend, another man is coming up, ready to take my place on Texas’ throne.

I run down, in the type of mood where one feels compelled to yodel, singing ZZ Top, those good old boogie rocking bearded Texas boys. Though by no means a sharp dressed man or a man of means, I do have some cheap sunglasses and was for eight minutes the highest man in Texas. And that counts for something.

Big Bend TexasWe drive on to Big Bend in our big white van. Driving is not my favorite way to travel, but there is sort of rambling joy that comes with driving on some desolate desert road to nowhere. We are on the desolate desert road to Big Bend, and we listen to Marshall Tucker Band:

Gonna take a freight train

Down at the station

I don’t care where it goes”

 

On the way, we stop at an American Legion for a piss stop. It doubles as a bar and one of the regulars there, who tells us to call him Hollywood, is a character who looks like he may have spent the last ten years continually drunk.  He doesn’t stop talking for the hour we are there. Some of my favorite of his lines:

—Everyday above ground is a good one.
—I don’t need any girls. I got my dog.
— You know how Jesus died and then rose after three days.  There was this gun fight yesterday.  It’s documented.  I didn’t even need three days.

The Rio GrandeDid he have a job? Did he have a wife?  Don’t think so. He was just a pure Texas renegade in the wilds close to the border, sure of only one thing, that there was nothing sure in this world ‘cept laughter and beer, a rebel against who knows what.

We spend this night in Terlingua, a ghost town next to Big Bend filled with misfits and travelers and outlaws. When I think Texas, I think of Terlingua. To the wanderer searching for those few places in America outside the law, where unemployment and poverty and a vagabond mentality make one rich and wealth makes one strange, where indolence is seen as a virtue and ambition is looked upon as a bizarre and contagious plague that is ravaging society, Terlingua is definitely worth spending some time in, if only to listen to the stories, because everyone there has got one. The job of the people who live there is to have no job, to live their lives as they please free of all governmental influence.

Big Bend CrewPersonally, I couldn’t spend all that much time there. I respect people who resist normality and live outside the law, but for a bohemian outlaw town full of dissenters from the mainstream world, they seemed a little too content with their place in life, too settled. They weren’t traveling, exploring, vagabonding. Their world was their town. Which works for some people, and I wouldn’t mind spending a few weeks there, but before long I’d get restless, like all vagabonds do. And the cure to restlessness is movement. So we go on down the road.

The next day we go on down the road to Big Bend. We stay there two days.  It feels that we are not only out of Texas, but in another world altogether.  To describe Big Bend is to fail.  It soars above and beyond words, resisting definition and definitive analysis.  The first day we lie contentedly in an oasis of warm water next to the river, the muddy Rio Grande, which rumbles through the craggy cliffs.

guadalupe hikeOn our side, America. On the other, Mexico. For a second, I get the insane urge to swim across the border, illegally and ecstatically leaving my friends and co-workers behind, wearing nothing but my shorts, with no plan but to keep moving. I do not swim to the other side, since I would have to pay a hefty fine if caught. Plus, I have no ID on me, a necessity now in this world of identification and regulation. The Rio doesn’t give a damn if it’s flowing through Mexico or the US; it just flows, that’s all. Some people care though and say on this side is one country, on the other side is another, separate and far from equal. The river flows, that’s all.

And, after a long day of hikes and exploration, so do we, leaving Big Bend and flowing on to the next adventure.

Wine Tasting on an Alaskan Cruise plus Chef Hervé Laurent‘s Salmon Pairings

Story by Linda Kissam and Photos by Allan & Linda Kissam


Wine and Dine on Alaska CruiseSome people like to bring a little comfort from home on vacation – like a pillow. Others want to know their TV shows will be available for them to watch while on vacation. Still others want to leave home behind altogether to learn all new things and broaden their horizons. This Wine Diva wants to bring her favorite wines with her on vacation AND learn about the newest trends in food and beverage combinations. Where did I do that? On a Holland America cruise to Alaska. Buckle up babe; this ain’t your grandma’s cruise line any more.

Cruise ships have so many onboard amenities now that they seem like floating hotels and special event centers all wrapped in to one. Carrying over 3000 guests along with fine restaurants, health spas, yoga instructors, and (my personal favorite ) sommeliers… that’s probably not totally inaccurate. Each day brings a wealth of interesting cruise activity and personal indulgences. A person could get use to this special treatment in a nano second.

Holland America Wine and Cheese SommelierEvery evening before going to sleep, I looked forward to reading the ship’s daily list of activities. I woke up knowing that this cruise ship brings a wealth of cruise activities and indulgences, along with the freedom to partake in as many — or as few — as I pleased. No pressure, no hassle…just indulgent choice. Every day, every minute…in front of me was an opportunity to try something new that surprised and engaged me. Holland America’s tag line, “Dabble, discover, daydream — do everything, or do nothing at all” pretty much says it all.

Memories are what cruises are all about. Whether you want to work out in the fitness Center, learn how to make some killer cocktails, take afternoon tea, pamper yourself with a massage and spa treatment or sip a cappuccino and check your email in the Explorations Café, there’s a perfect onboard activity for everyone. As a known Internet junkie the last two options – cappuccino and Internet were some of my favorite moments. There’s something to be said about kicking back, surfing the Web, sipping premium coffee…all while doing some serious sightseeing between emails, cruising lazily by the beautiful green, green, green Alaskan scenery.

Glacier Bay Cruise Holland AmericaI could go on and on about the great shore excursions, sassy late night shows, spa services, beer tasting classes, endless exquisite cuisine, jewelry sales, and casino opportunities, but I think The Culinary Arts Center program presented by Food & Wine Magazine deserves some serious space. It is a groundbreaking facility and program that integrates guests’ love for fine food and wine by presenting a unique entertaining experience. I like the way they encourage you to immerse yourself in the unique traditions and tastes of the ports of call you will visit. The best, best, best part for me was the opportunity to dine with the ship’s executive chef Troy Wastell for a gourmet three hour , six course “Dine with the Chef” extravaganza, sample fine wines from California with executive winemaker Don Rhea, and learning to make a new gourmet dish in a cooking class taught by Master Chef Hervé Laurent.

Master Chef Herve LaurentA special toast goes to Mary Schimmelman, Holland America Line’s public relations manager, for allowing the group (50+people) I was with (International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association) the opportunity to customize a few tasting events over 4 days by bringing aboard our own chef, our own winemaker and our own wines. You may or may not want to do the same, but now you know the opportunity is available to you.

First up was a private food & wine pairing tasting with executive winemaker Don Reha and Chef Laurent. We learned about food and wine matching while exploring the wines of Monterey, California. The wines selected for this tasting were chosen based the unique attributes of the nine diverse AVAs that make up Monterey Wine Country’s Thermal Rainbow™. The coolest regions are north moving to the warmer regions in the south by time dependent thermal gradients that stretch down the valley. The cool to warm gradients present a Thermal Rainbow® effect that reflects the diversity of growing regions and the specific varietals that are grown within each AVA. For example, cool climate-loving Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do well in the north while Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and many Rhone grape types flourish in the warmer south. It was great fun having both a chef and winemaker explaining how and why food & wine pairing work. This particular tasting served as the foundation for our next three tastings. Hervé and Don did a great job bringing us all up to speed on the most current trends. The Monterey wines were exquisite and set us on the road to expect excellence throughout the next days.

The next day we were back in the Culinary Center with Don Reha tasting three new wines: a bright green fruit and citrus Un-Oaked Roche Winery 2009 Carnerous Chardonnay ($18.95), a 2008 North Coast Cab ($33.95) food friendly red berry beauty and Chocolais ($12) a gorgeous rich Swiss chocolate, thick Dutch cream & fine Italian wine combination. Each wine was paired perfectly with a bite of food. The group was beginning to get their wine & food pairing groove on.

Holland America Thronton WineryOur next tasting was sponsored by Thornton Winery fine Champagnes. Conducted up in the Eagles nest, this was a one hour casual tasting that included 4 Champagnes with small tray passed hors d’oeuvres. Talk about indulgent pleasures, the group of 40 people were pampered with NV Blanc de Noirs ($24), NV Brut ($24), NV Cuvee Rouge ( $26), and a 2004 Brut Reserve($38).

Our class demo in the Culinary Center with Chef Laurent on salmon pairings was inspirational. We learned how to prepare salmon and three tasty sauces to go with. Chef Laurent is a master of his trade. We were all very glad we were able to spend some time with him.

A new day brought a new tasting adventure. This time we treated to an extensive Niner Wine Estates Bootjack Ranch Paso Robles tasting. Niner sent us a short CD to watch which set the mood and helped us better understand the Niner philosophy. The crowd of over 40 attendees was wowed as Don Reha once again led us through a unique food and wine tasting asking us to stretch our wine and food pairing skills. Of note during this tasting were the 2009 Sav Blanc ($17) with tart kiwi, lime and lemongrass notes. It had a beautiful crisp mineral characteristic; 2008 Sangiovese ($24) showing strawberry and carnation spice with big bright juicy raspberry and cherry flavors. Yummy mouthwatering finish; 2007 Syrah ($20) showcasing complex layers of black fruit, berries, plum and a smoky oak character with black pepper and spearmint attributes. My favorite by far; And finally a 2007 Cab ($28) that would knock it out of the park with a Cheddar Bacon Burger or Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola Sauce. Classic herbal notes , fine tannins and a long finish made this a group favorite.

Holland America Wine PairingOur final tasting before going home featured Zaca Mesa estate grown and bottled wines. Zaca Mesa is a Santa Ynez Valley Estate vineyard and winery dedicated to Rhône varieties. Each wine is hand crafted with integrity using traditional methods from grapes sustainably grown in their Santa Barbara County vineyard. Once again the 40+ members of our group loved these wines for their rich distinctive characteristics. The tasting included a bite of food to go with each wine. Each wine was presented and discussed thoroughly by wine expert Don Reha. Starting with the fabulous 2009 Viognier ($20), this wine had a gorgeous nose of honey suckle and orange blossoms. What the nose promised the palate delivered with rich flavors of melon and peach. A stunning white, worth whatever price you can get it at. Next up was the luscious 2007 Roussanne ($ 25). This is a wine for people who want to explore different white wines. It’s a full-bodied beauty featuring rich apricot, spiced pears, figs and a hint of minerality. Yum! The 2007 Z Cuvee( $ 20), a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault was a charming medium-bodied wine with flavors of blackberries, herbs and some light smoky oak. Our final taste was the 2008 Syrah ($25). Another winner for sure, everyone was delighted by is rich blackberry, cassis and spice nose. All in all, Zaca Mesa was one of the best tastings of the cruise.

So I guess between the beer tasting classes, the high tea adventures, learning how to make new cocktails, dining with two outstanding chefs, getting coaching from a master winemaker, and sipping cappuccinos while watching the gorgeous Alaska scenery float by… I’d have to say that this type of vacation is just what this Wine Diva ordered. I know you’ll enjoy this new kind of wine, brew and spirits adventure as much as I did. Think about booking a cruise for your next vacation.

Juneau, Alaska

 

Chef Hervé Laurent‘s SALMON PAIRINGS

10 people INGREDIENTS:

1 Salmon filet

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 Shallots

1 cup Washington red wine

1/2 cup Maple syrup

50 g Dark chocolate

1 cup Washington white wine

50 ml Cream

100 g Unsalted butter

1 Orange (juice and zest)

200 g Firm papaya

50 g Fresh ginger

1/2 cup Sugar

250 g Smoked bacon

Farm vegetables

Salt

PREPARATION:

1. Chop shallot for both sauces.

2. Reduce red wine by half with maple syrup and 1/2 of the diced shallots. Remove from the heat and add dark chocolate. Season.

3. Reduce white wine and the rest of the diced shallots until dry. Add cream and season – on a low heat add small cubes of chilled butter.

4. Cut papaya in cubes and ginger in small strips – cook with sugar and the same amount of water.

5. Bake the smoked bacon until dry. Then chop using the food processor.

6. Scale the salmon, wash under cold water dry then cut in high cubes, leave the skin on.

7. Season the salmon with salt.

8. Cook the salmon in a hot nonstick pan, with olive oil, ¾ on the skin side, ¼ on the over side.

9. Garnish the dish with turned vegetables (pan fried with butter) or stuffed vegetables with mushrooms (and baked).

10. Decorate the plate, 4 cubes of salmon, 3 with different sauces on top, 1 with chopped bacon, finish with vegetables.

 

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.

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