Two ElkFests. Two states. Two seasons.

ElkFest in Jackson, Wyoming is one of several spring events.

J-HoleElkFestEstes Park, Colorado’s ElkFest is in the fall during the rut when the the bulls issue their plaintive mating calls, the aspens turn golden and snow often begins to dust the high peaks. Jackson, in Wyoming’s wonderful northwestern corner, also has an ElkFest, but it is in spring when the wildflowers bloom and hibernating wildlife show up. ElkFest takes place May 21 – 22, followed the next weekend by Old West Days, May 26 – 30

Wagonloads of antlers along the streets of Jackson attract buyers from all over the world for ElkFest’s annual Boy Scout Antler Auction on May 21. Now in its 49th year, the auction typically features more than 10,000 pounds of the naturally shed elk antlers gathered by local Boy Scouts. That rustic antler chandelier probably was made with antlers gathered by the local Scouts. The majority of auction proceeds go back to the National Elk Refuge on the outskirts of town, which devotes approximately 25,000 acres to the preservation of winter range for elk and bison herds.

Continue reading Two ElkFests. Two states. Two seasons.

Travel News from South Am-AIR-ica

Antarctic Airways trip offerings + new merged carrier.

AntarcticAirways-logoI learned a lot at last week’s media luncheon focusing on travels in Chile — nothing more interesting than Antarctic Airways. I didn’t know anything about this airline, even though it’s been around in one fashion of another for 35 years. Still, now that I do know, I find it exciting. From a base in Punta Arenas on the tip of the South American continent it flies to King George Island on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The flight takes roughly two hours, which makes it possible to take a day trip with five hours on the White Continent, as well as an overnight trip or 6-day trip that includes the King George Island  overnight. What it excludes, happily for most people, is a two-day crossing of the wickedly rough Drake Passage. King George Island is far enough south so that visitors see lots of penguins, icebergs, seals and seabirds, as well as visits to Villa Estrellas, a year-round civilian settlement. Overnights are at a comfortable “ice camp” on Collins Glacier.

LATAM-logoWhen I checked my E-mail after lunch, I found a message announcing the merger of LAN and TAM into LATAM Airways, a combination that creates South America’s largest air route system. It flies to and within Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia,  Ecuador and Peru. US gateways are Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, New York and Washington, DC. Once again, I wish Denver were on the list.

The Two Museums of Ghost Ranch

Anthropology & paleontology on campus.

ghostranch-logoI wrote a recent post about a short visit to Ghost Ranch. There was time on my group’s program to look in on two worthwhile museums that offer classes and workshops but can also be visited on a one-day entry.

Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology

Dr. Martha Yates
Dr. Martha Yates

Named after museum founder Florence Hawley Ellis, one of the first women to receive a Ph.D. in anthropology (University of Chicago, in 1934), this museum specializes displays ancient artifacts from Paleo Indian cultures reaching back 10,000 years.  Ellis and her students are best known for discovering an archaeological site north of the ranch. There, they unearthed a remarkable group of ceramic pots hidden in a lava field. – never happens. It was a remarkable site to have stumbled upon.”

Early pueblo pottery includes blackware, a type that continues to be produced today.
Early pueblo pottery includes blackware, a type that continues to be produced today.

The museum is named for the late Dr. Florence Hawley Ellis, long-time professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and original curator of this museum. Dr. Ellis initiated and led Ghost Ranch archaeology seminar from 1971 until 1990, and now, Dr. Martha Yates is in charge of the collection that includes finds from 20nold villages on the mesa between Abiquiu and Española.

The Museum of Anthropology excavation class Can You Dig It continues excavation on Ranch property sites and is part of our summer programming in July, open to all. We also offer a two-week Archaeological Surveying class in October, with the chance to hike through areas not open to the public and discover unknown, unmapped archaeological sites at Ghost Ranch.

Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology

Ghost Ranch boasts a dig-site a laboratory for sorting out and cataloging bones and a museum displaying both the process and the specimens. In 1985 an 8-ton block of plaster-encased dinosaur bones was hoisted onto a flatbed truck and moved from an on-site quarry to the main campus of Ghost Ranch. The Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology was built around it and named for amateur paleontologist Ruth Hall, wife of Jim Hall, the first resident director of Ghost Ranch.

It takes a trained eye to identify fossilized bones from a complicated digsite.
It takes a trained eye to identify fossilized bones from a complicated digsite.

The paleontological dig at Ghost Ranch is known world-wide. Resident paleontologist Alex Down, an ebullient man with a passion for paleontology, is currently at work on a large block taken from the quarry on Ghost Ranch. Visit the museum and watch fossil discovery right before your eyes. Treasures from the Triassic era  from 210 million years ago include two little dinosaurs discovered at Ghost Ranch decades apart are the bones of the Coelophysis,, which roamed the ranch 220 million years ago, were discovered in 1947. More recently, the Tawa Hallae and new, very well preserved, articulated skeleton of of Vancleavea, was discovered at Ghost Ranch. Newly renovated exhibits also highlight the recent discoveries of Tawa, a new species of small carnivorous dinosaur and Effigia, the archosaur species named okeeffeae (O’Keeffe’s Ghost).

Visiting Magical, Mystical Chimayo

Northern New Mexico’s healing place of pilgrimage.

002France has Lourdes. Spain has Santiago de Compostella. Quebec has Ste.-Anne de Beaupré. Guatemala has the Esquipulas. And New Mexico has the Santuario de Chimayo with its jewel of a small adobe church in a rural village in the northern part of the state. It represents a culture that continues across the state line into Colorado’s San Luis Valley. Close-knit villages cling to their traditions and their Catholicism, Franciscan-style, because… Just because.

The Sanctuario de Chimayo is set on tidy grounds.
The Sanctuario de Chimayo is set on tidy grounds.
Primitive hand-made crosses and other articles of faith hang on the chainlink fence along the path from the parking lot. I saw similar offerings along a sidewalk in Oklahoma City near the Murrah Building memorial site.
Primitive hand-made crosses and other articles of faith hang on the chainlink fence along the path from the parking lot. I saw similar offerings along a sidewalk in Oklahoma City near the Murrah Building memorial site.
Stations of the Cross.
Stations of the Cross.
The complex can accommodate an overflow crowd during Holy Week.
The complex can accommodate an overflow crowd during Holy Week.

The tale from the early 19th century involves a member of the mystical Penitente sect. A friar praying in the valley saw a light on a nearby hillside and went to investigate. Digging at the source of the light, he found a crucifix with the image of a black Christ, like that in the pilgrimage place in Guatemala. The Chimayo find was therefore named Our Lord of Esquipulas. Legend has it that local priest took the crucifix south to Santa Cruz, from which it disappeared three times, only to be found back in its hole in Chimayo. The inexplicable and magical return demanded to be recognized, and it has been.

Continue reading Visiting Magical, Mystical Chimayo

Iceland’s Famed Blue Lagoon Expands

Top draw for tourists, locals and even stop-over visitors now bigger.

BlueLagoon-logoBack in the day of the old cheap-fare Icelandic Airlines, there wasn’t anything to do during the stop-over that  required passengers to get off the plane, the only things to do in the tiny terminal were to eat a snack, buy some souvenirs or postcards and stamps. The Blue Lagoon, now one of the island nation’s top attractions, did not exist.

In 1976, a pool began to form from excess water from the then-new Svartsengi geothermal power plant. Five years later, locals started bathing in it, and word spread about the water’s healing powers. In 1992, the Blue Lagoon company was established and an official bathing facility was opened for the public.

Now, 40 years after hot thermal waters collected just  finished the popular attraction just 12 miles from Keflavik International Airport and twice that distance from the capital of Reykjavik has greatly expanded, adding to by half to its original size to now 8,700 square meters. You do the math.

The expanded Blue Lagoon includes new features. Photo: Iceland Naturally
The expanded Blue Lagoon includes new features. Photo: Iceland Naturally

This is just the first phase of a massive renovation to be completed in the spring of 2017. The Blue Lagoon now consists of three distinct but unified areas. First, the main area of the spa has been fully renovated and now features an in-water silica mud bar for visitors to try the rejuvenating properties of Blue Lagoon’s iconic mineral-rch waters.

A new lookout point extends eastward from the lagoon’s main area to lava cliffs on the south shore and beyond. This new horizon of geothermal enchantment provides spa-goers with a more peaceful, more private experience. The final area is within a lava cove on the south shore. It  is completely dedicated to Blue Lagoon’s unique in-water massages; the cove’s seclusion creates a tranquil, meditative environment for guests to enjoy one of Blue Lagoon’s unique spa treatments. In addition, the complex includes the Lava Restaurant (fine dining), the Blue Cafe for light bites and a view of the steaming water,  the Lagoon Bar with indoor and in-the-water service, and a shop where local spa products can be purchased.

Important Note: The national carrier of the island nation, Icelandair, has many more destinations on both sides of the Atlantic and therefore more transient visitors. If you plan on experiencing the Blue Lagoon, pre-booking  is necessary. Click here to see pricing options and to reserve.

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. For me, at any rate, it heightened the senses, stimulated the mind and confused the brain that struggled to bring order to creative chaos.

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 installations, structural masterworks, digital fabrication and more plus 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 reality  or rather, alternative realities. It also includes maker rooms so that adults and children can unleash their own creativity.

P1090250

P1090253P1090252P1090265I hardly knew what to make of it all — what with the sensory overload, so I present “Inside Meow Wolf, the amusement park for people who want a weirder Disneyland” by Annalee Newitz, a writer far hipper and savvier than I — one who spent more time there I did.

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.

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.

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.