A Brief Visit to Ghost Ranch

History, erudition, research, spirituality & scenery.

ghostranch-logoOn a northern New Mexico road trip some years ago, I drove into Ghost Ranch, looked around and left, vowing to return someday for a longer visit. “Someday” just occurred, but it wasn’t much longer — just an overnight after the SATW Western Chapter meeting in Santa Fe.

Prepping for a visit to Ghost Ranch on a docent tour of the O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.
Prepping for a visit to Ghost Ranch on a docent tour of the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.

Located at the edge of the Colorado Plateau where it rises from the Chama Valley, its first Anglo settlers were the Archuleta brothers, notorious cattle rustlers. It is most famous as the first New Mexico home and studio of Georgia O’Keeffe. If a landscape can be a muse, this region and this land were O’Keeffe’s. The legendary painter was inspired by the luminous light, the big skies and the sharp landscape. We were not so lucky. Rain, mist, fog and snow had their way with the landscape.

Arrival afternoon was sunny and windy.
Arrival afternoon was sunny and windy.
Departure morning was gray and snowy.
Departure morning was gray with the occasional patch of blue sky and snowy with the occasional bit of grass..

We went on the O’Keeffe Landscape Tour, Ghost Ranch’s most popular, to a sizable parcel of the 31,000-acre ranch that is not open except with a guide.

Wendy Davis led the tour of O'Keeffe painting sites, Ghost Ranch's most popular. She stands in front of a scene and holds up a reproduction of an O'Keeffe painting of that place, explaining what O'Keeffe had left out of her work.
Wendy Davis led the tour of O’Keeffe painting sites, Ghost Ranch’s most popular. She stands in front of a scene and holds up a reproduction of an O’Keeffe painting of that place, explaining what O’Keeffe had left out of her work.
Cypress along the way,
Cypress “skeleton” along the way,
Snow-dusted formations.
Snow-dusted formations.

Ghost Ranch is known for human endeavors as well — including small but impressive paleontology and archeology museums. It also offers workshops on various topics and spiritual retreats, outdoor adventure activities and more.

Ghost Ranch accommodates legions of lodging guests for as short as a one-night stand to a week or more. Lodging is simple — and repeat visitors like it that way. Buildings resemble summer camp. No in-room phones, no daily housekeeping, vintage furniture and fixtures, limited WiFi  What Ghost Ranch is not known for is food. It is institutional — easy to make in vast quantities, bland and offered for just an hour per meal in serve-yourself food lines.  Take your tray, scrape your plates and your used items to the dish room — just like the Army, my husband noted. Adult beverages are not served, but BYO is fine — and that was fine with us.

FoMoInfo: 505-685-1000, Ext. 0.

Santa Fe’s Fabulous Hotel on The Plaza

History, tradition and art in one excellent hotel.

LaFonda-logoWhen  registration  opened he Society of American Travel Writers  (SATW) Western Chapter meeting in Santa Fe, my first choice of the three fine downtown  hotels was La Fonda. This historic hotel is awash with Southwestern history, a place of legend, a repository of art and a very fine place to stay — to say nothing of dining and indulging in fabled margaritas. Here are a few images:

A gracious welcome basket of fruit, cheese and a bottle of wine.
A gracious welcome basket of fruit, cheese and a bottle of wine.
Floral painting of wood is a Southwestern tradition.
Floral painting of wood is a Southwestern tradition.
Tilework in the shower, presumably from a recent room renovation.
Tilework in the shower, presumably from a recent room renovation.
A French creperie and patisserie, accessed both from the lobby and the street, is a contrast to the predominant Spanis style.
A French creperie and patisserie, accessed both from the lobby and the street, is a contrast to the predominant Spanish style.
A corner of a corridor on the main floor.
A corner of a corridor on the main floor.
La Plazuela, the lovely restaurant in what was once an open courtyard in the tradition of family compounds.
La Plazuela, the lovely restaurant in what was once an open courtyard in the tradition of family compounds.
Regulation fire extinguisher behind a painted glass door.
Regulation fire extinguisher behind a painted glass door.
Typical tin frames with little scraps of fabric, sketches or other mini-art show the room numbers.
Typical tin frames with little scraps of fabric, sketches or other mini-art show the room numbers.

We didn’t use the pool or the spa, but we were grateful for an attached parking garage, given the middle-of-town location.

La Fonda is at 100 East San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, NM 87501;
800-523-5002 or 505-982-5511.

Mad, Magnificent MEOW WOLF

New walk-through, interactive Santa art installation in Santa Fe.

P1090242Everything about Meow Wolf is an experience like no other. The permanent  House of Eternal Return  is an immersive experience for visitors of all ages. Featuring the wild creativity of more than 100 local artists, this 20,000-square-foot playground for all ages  is, science fiction and fantasy come to life, it combines climbing features art installation, structural masterwork digital fabrication and more physical and digital interaction possibilities. So imaginative is the concept that Game of Thrones author George RR Martin, who lives in Santa Fe, bought an old bowling alley enabling the concept to become – or rather, alternative realities. It also includes maker rooms so that adults and children can unleash their own creativity.

Opened in March, Meow Wolf has been attracting roughly a thousand people a week. My visit was short, and these few modest images can do nothing but hint at the magic and the fantasy.  Meow Wolf is open daily except Tuesday. It is at1352 Rufina Circle, Santa Fe;  505-780-4458.P1090250


Enter to Win a Book About Airstream

Book celebrates America’s iconic travel trailer.

Airstream-cover.j[gI’ve never taken an actual trip that involved riding in a vehicle that was towing an Airstream, but I’ve seen plenty of them on the road. A few years ago, I spent several nights at the Shooting Star Drive-In, a clever resort in Escalante, Utah. Its accommodations are in these iconic travel trailers that are celebrating their 80th anniversary this year. Click here to read my post.

Turns out that Airstream is not only America’s best known manufacturer of trailers but also the oldest. Those retro silver coaches sport an unmistakable in design with distinctive aerodynamic rounded lines and an aluminum outer skin. Airstream: 80 Years of America’s Traveler celebrates the eight decades since the first Airstream graced America’s highways.

The book chronicles the fascinating history of Airstream trailers through a detailed history, stories and of course, beautiful photography. The first Airstream-brand trailers were introduced just as America was emerging from the dark days of the Great Depression. Of the 400 travel-trailer manufacturers of that era, only Airstream has survived.

Dubbed the “Airstream Clipper” after the first trans-Atlantic seaplane, that 1936 Airstream featured a unique lightweight aluminum body that cut down on wind resistance, improved fuel efficiency, and made for easier towing. It slept four, carried its own water supply, was fitted with electric lights and cost $1,200.

Airstream: America’s World Traveler by Patrick Foster is a 192-page hardcover book featuring 300 photos and will cost $45 when it is released in June. But you might not have to buy it, if you are the winner of a Travel-Babel contest with a copy of the book going to the winner. To enter, leave a comment to this post about you and Airstream –– one you’ve traveled with, wanted to travel with, spotted on a special trip or in an unusual situation. Fiction and poetry are welcome. Free your imagination and enter.

Jet-Lag ‘Cure’ in the Cabin

New technology on Airbus 350.

Airbus-logoWhen we returned from Australia last month, I had the worst jet lag in my own personal travel history. I did my usual: a glass of wine early in the light,classical music on my noise-canceling headphones and an attempt to get back on Mountain Time ASAP.  It lasted a day, until my body and mind were stalled somewhere over the Pacific for days.

Interior of Aibus 350 cabin.
Interior of Aibus 350 cabin.

Enter Airbus Industries. According to Economist reports,  researchers from Stanford have developed and Airbus has implemented jet lag treatment involving a series of LED light flashes that are capable of producing an astonishing 16.7 million different shades to try to mimic true sunlight. Traveling east, the cabin lights become brighter at the beginning of the day to trick the body into thinking the day is already well underway. Traveling west, the lights  stay brighter later, to mimic a later sunset.

This system is currently only available to five airlines that fly the A350 (Vietnam Airlines, Singapore, TAM Airlines, Qatar Airlines and Finnair). I don’t know which ones (if any) might already have implemented the system or whether it is available in all cabin classes, but it is intriguing.

Colorado Camping Experiences

Camping from easy-street to high-adventure.

ColoradoFlagThe other day, I wrote a post about “glamping,” a term originally coined to describe luxury camping but now has broadened considerably. One Utah outfitter even uses it for a hotel/transportation/ concierge package to the state’s five national parks.

Colorado has them all. To show the range of experiences from a very commercial family campground to an outfitter whose “campsites” are set high on canyon walls, the Colorado Tourism Office has issued this list that includes the nearest community for each. Additionally, Coloradans themselves tend to go backpacking or set up camp on our many public lands:

Discover Distinctive Summer Camping Adventures in Colorado

Yurts, Huts and Tipis

Hinsdale Haute Route (Lake City). Eco-friendly structures that provide, comfort, durability and a light footprint, also known as yurts, are accessible year-round at Hinsdale Haute Route. Each yurt can accommodate six to eight people and is furnished complete with a fireplace. The Jon Wilson Yurt is a just a short 1.25 mile hike, making it ideal for families. For more advanced hikers, the Colorado Trail Friends Yurt can be accessed by the camp trail, which is a six mile stretch and gains 2,500 feet of elevation.

Jellystone Park (Larkspur). Home to the classic Yogi-Bear, Jellystone Park is a family-oriented, private park that boasts 100-acres of unique camping options. The on-site tipis are the perfect way to experience the rustic nature of the era of America’s westward expansion. The structures sleep up to six people and campers can gaze skyward through tipi poles jutting into the night sky.

Leadville Backcountry (Leadville). Nestled behind the Mosquito Mountain Range and Mt. Sherman, Marceline and Emma yurts reach 12,000 feet in elevation. Most guests use the yurts as a base camp to explore the thousands of acres of public lands that make up this area. Empire Gulch, Empire Reservoir and Gold Basin are pristine playgrounds for those looking to escape for an adventurous weekend in the outdoors.

Pearl Lake State Park (Steamboat Springs). In North Routt County, Pearl Lake State Park has two yurts available for rent throughout the year. Visitors can snowshoe during the winter months or drive right up to the front door in the summer. The park also features 36 summer camp sites for those who prefer to pitch their own tent. This serene setting with access to a peaceful mountain reservoir is just the location for some rest and relaxation.

OPUS Hut (Ophir). The OPUS Hut is a completely self-sufficient and off-the-grid hut situated in the San Juan Mountains east of Ophir Pass. Meals for purchase include soup, dinner and breakfast. Beer, wine and a limited selection of spirits are also available for purchase from the kitchen. Outside the hut, visitors can mountain bike in the San Juan Mountains, hike around Ophir Pass, go four-wheeling and much more.

Continue reading Colorado Camping Experiences

Glamping’s Fuzzy Frontiers

Resource for rustic luxury & an example in name, at least.

Summer is coming, and with it, thoughts about where and how to vacation.

GlampingHubGlamping Hub is a photo-rich website with information about and links to all manner of rustic yet luxurious accommodations in the US and other countries. It includes traditional safari tents plus yurts, cabins, extra-comfortable camper-vans and even treehouses.  It also includes weekend getaway suggestions and pet-friendly lodgings.

I’m glad that the site includes maps, because it is somewhat geographically challenged. Every property in Colorado, for instance, is described as being “near Denver.” The Utah page includes “Mountain Cabins Near Boulder,” but the links all are to Colorado sites — confusing since there is a Boulder, Utah, within the Escalate-Grand Staircase National Monument. The website needs work, but I love the concept.

mighty_five_logoMeanwhile, the  Mighty 5 Tour is  a new all-inclusive luxury travel experience to Utah’s five breathtaking national parks.  Perhaps you’ve seen the television commercial touting the parks. The press release calls it “‘Glamping’ in Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks,” but it isn’t at all.  “Glamping” generally means luxury camping in well-appointed tents and attentive staff — not staying in hotels or eating in restaurants. Still, it is an intriguing offering for anyone with a big budget and a yen to experience some of the Southwest’s most spectacular country.

Backcountry guide Mike Coronella created two tours to introduce small groups to Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion national parks. He personally guides each hike, including park locations rarely glimpsed by visitors. An expert outdoorsman and award-winning guide, he is an author, college photography professor and member the Grand County (Utah) Search and Rescue team. Accommodations at the region’s finest hotels and best restaurants.

The Mighty 5 Signature Tour ($7,800 per person) is a ten-night, nine-day journey with twice-montly departures in May, September and October. The six-night, five-day Mighty 5 Summer Tour ($5,200 per person), offered in June, July and August, also visits all five parks and offers similar accommodations and dining experiences.

“Pampered from arrival to departure, guests are attended to by a full-time concierge, travel in a custom Mercedes Benz Sprinter van, have free use of our Osprey back packs and Leki trekking poles – we’ll even supply you with your own National Park pass, good for a full year,” says Coronella.

The departure point is St. George. Utah, which serviced daily by Delta Airlines and United Airlines, and is less than a two-hour drive from Las Vegas.  Book online or FoMoInfo, call 435-259-1565.

Virgin America’s New SFO-DEN Service

VirginAmerica-logoI’m Australia, where we flew Virgin Australia between Sydney and Tasmania. Nothing at all unusual about the aircraft or the service. Still, in inaugurating service between San Francisco and Denver, its sister airline Virgin America, which a press release describes as “the Bay Area-based airline known for reinventing flying.” Mood lighting  in the cabin, above-average food, swivel TV screens, comfortable seats and such are often mentioned.

We fly back to Denver on Monday the 14th, so I am sure to be too jet-lagged to consider attending the festivities at DIA the next day. That means I’m missing out on the chance to be in the same room with Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock and other notables and quotables. I’ve never flown Virgin America’s DIA-JFK service, whose schedule seems diabolically designed for bad connections to international flights.

Will, it has a loyal following of flyers for its business-friendly and tech-forward flight experience, including being the first and only U.S. carrier to offer fleetwide WiFi and power outlets at every seat.  The Denver area, which has been dubbed “Silicon Mountain” because of its own booming innovative economy, is today the number one most requested destination by the airline’s corporate clients.

Staying at a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Family-owned estate awash with history.

P1080361More than 3,000 sites remain in Australia from their 19th-century use as places where British convicts were kept for offenses as mild as stealing some chickens to as serious as murder. Eleven of these sites were chosen as UNESCO World Heritage Sites as the best examples in the country. Two of them, the Brickendon and Woolmers Estates, are large farms that are along the same rural road near Longford in Tasmania. Both were holdings of the Archer family. Woolmers is no longer in family lands, but Brickendon Estate,  settled in 1824 by William Archer has been continuously operated and lived on by his direct descendants.

We stayed in the quaint Gardener’s Cottage on the glorious Brickendon property. We were welcomed by Louise Archer, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guardian of seven generations of her husband’s family heritage.  Brickendon comprises the beautiful Georgian manor house that remains family home, magnificent heritage gardens, a farm village with heritage structures from the convict era and a working country estate. Volumes have been written about Australia’s convict era, so I’ll just add some images and a recommendation to visit, should you ever have the opportunity.

Brickendon Estate’s farm village is open for group tours and independent visits. We didn’t have a chance to do it, but it seems that the Brickendon and Woolmers Convict Farm walk would be a great way the open spaces and beautiful English landscape translated on Australian soil. From photos I’ve seen, the gardens are a sensational wedding venue.

Brickendon Estate's qaint Gardener's Cottage.
Brickendon Estate’s quaint Gardener’s Cottage.
The cozy living room in the cottage.
The cozy living room in the cottage.
Quaintness continues in the bathroom.
Quaintness continues in the bathroom.
View over fields and meadows.
View over fields and meadows.
The Georgian main house remains the Archer family's home.
The Georgian main house remains the Archer family’s home.

Continue reading Staying at a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Skiing a Colorado Tourism Economy Driver

Skiing/snowboarding generate $4.8 billion annually.

ColoradoFlag“I moved here for the winter and stayed because of summer” is a popular cliché of immigrants to the state — people like me who moved from the New York area. We are now part of the 9% of Coloradans who ski, and we continue to welcome visitors to share our slopes. With the strong dollar, international visitation is reportedly dropping, but ski visits overall continue strong. Take a look at these numbers from 2013-14 reported by a site called SnowBrains:

7 Facts About The Colorado Ski Economy

1. $4.8 billion is generated annually by the Colorado ski industry
2. 46,000 year-round jobs in Colorado are supported by the Ski & Snowboard Economy.
3. $1.9 billion earned by those 46,000 workers every year.
4. 500,000 Colorado residents skied in the 2013-2014 season. That’s 9 percent of Colorado’s estimated 5.2 million people.
5. 5.6 million of the state’s 12.6 million skier visits are from Colorado locals.
6. 7 million out-of-state skier visits in 2013-2014.
7.  $300 per day on average is spent by out-of-state skiers
8. 25% Colorado’s skier visits occur at Vail Resorts ski resorts (Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, Beaver Creek).

Award-winning travel blog. Colorado-based Claire Walter shares travel news and first-hand destination information from around the corner, around the country and around the world.