All posts by Claire Walter

Montana Wildfire Takes Sperry Chalet

Historic lodge in Glacier National Park destroyed.

While Houston and the Texas-Louisiana coast were drowning from Hurricane Harvey’s unreal amounts of ware, the Sprague Fire was raging through northern Montana. The human toll was zero, and many animals are able to keep away from wildfires,  but buildings can’t escape The fire’s most prominent victim to date is Glacier National Park’s Sperry Chalet, a historic backcountry lodge opened in 1914. Here’s what the sad report from The Spokesman:

Glacier National Park’s historic Sperry Chalet was lost to the Sprague Fire today [August 30, 2017] at about 6 p.m., park officials report. The main chalet building at a remote site in the park burned despite the efforts of a “highly skilled group of firefighters” staged at the remote chalet for the past week, officials said through InciWeb.

“Those firefighters had an extensive hose lay, sprinkler, and pump system installed to protect all of the structures associated with the Chalet,” according to the report, which pegged the lightning-caused fire at 3,275 acres tonight.

“The high winds experienced this afternoon pushed the fire to the east. The firefighters, supported by three helicopters, made a valiant stand to save the structure but were unsuccessful in saving the main Sperry Chalet. The firefighters remain on site, ARE SAFE, and are currently actively engaged in protecting the remaining structures.”

National Park Service photo of firefighters’ ultimately vain efforts to save the Sperry Chalet.

Sperry, which is at elevation 6,500 feet on the west side of the park, was closed Aug. 15 as the fire advanced after being first reported on Aug. 10. The chalet site is accessed by trail from Lake McDonald Lodge, which was closed Wednesday because of extreme smoky conditions in the area.

Sperry Chalet was built in 1913 by James J. Hill and son Louis Hill of the Great Northern Railway, the prime developer of Glacier National Park. Listed as an Historic Landmark, these rustic buildings, built of native rock, have survived their rugged environment relatively unchanged for more than 90 years.

Guests access the chalet over 6.7 miles of trail gaining 3,300 feet of elevation. Opened in 1914, the main building was a two-story rustic hotel.  Other than a modernized kitchen and the new composting restroom facility, the interiors and exteriors were much as they were built.

Sperry is one of the park’s two backcountry chalets. While guests at the park’s other chalet, Granite Park, hiked in with their own food, those at Sperry had meals, drinks and bed linens provided.  But there was no electricity in the sleeping cabins.

If only some of Hurricane Harvey’s rain could have been diverted to northern Montana.

Crowne Plaza Denver Grand Re-Opening

Latest in new and renewed hotels in Denver.

Nothing confirms Denver’s current boom as much as the spate of  openings of new hotels and renovations of older ones. The Crowne Plaza Denver is the latest. The hotel is right near the convention center, the State Capitol, the 16th Street Mall and other attractions. Its site on an especially uninspiring block of 14th Street (mostly parking garages and parking lots), but otherwise it is being spiffified with a new restaurant and redone guest rooms.

The other evening, the hotel threw a party to celebrate the big changes — something like $27 million worth. Public spaces feature little work station pods so those who are always glued to their laptops don’t have to stay in their (nicely redone) rooms to be productive. The restaurant/bar areas is now called Lockwood Kitchen. The food laid out in the ballroom foretold  a terrific new savory menu (memorable tacos and lamb chops) and the desserts set up in the bar? Beautiful and scrumptious.

Restful and tasteful dcor in the guest room, which are wired to the 21st century guest expectations.
In-room coffee and tea set-up.
One of several work stations on the lobby level. The bar is around the corner for those who want to sip an adult beverage while they work. Note the blue footstool under the desk.
The lighting wasn’t accurate or flattering, but the tacos were fabulous — tuna or shrimp with different salsas (shrimp with mango salsa here).
Exquisite and scrumptious pastries, artfully displayed.
Heated pool on the sixth-floor deck with skyline views.

I understand this renovation is a model for other Crowne Plaza properties. The hotels are part of the InterContinental Hotels Group. The Denver hotel is at 1450 Glenarm Place; 303-573-1450.

New Tourism Push to Palestine

Tour operators promote West Bank opportunities.

I’m not chasing after work these days, but when I am contacted by someone I’ve known for a long time with a project to promote a destination I care about, I’m on board. So it was when I was asked by an astute marketer whom I have worked for over the years to help with a focus group that would test how to best communicate the underappreciated aspects of Holy Land travel to the American market.

While this project embraced the Holy Land in general, it specifically addressed messages regarding travel to Palestine, which I had the opportunity to visit in 2010. WE began in Bethlehem, but visited other ancient cities too, places we usually seem to hear or read about only if there had been an “incident” of some sort. You can read my daily reports on this between from June 20 , 2010 and  July 7, 2010.

Since my memorable and meaningful visit, the  Holy Land Incoming Tour Operators Assn.,  was formed by the knowledgeable folks who provide visitors with insights to the history, sites, food and even politics of these places. Founded in 20015 in East Jerusalem to promote what I call “the rest of the Holy Land, these are the folks who will show you around and look after you when you visit.

The assignment brought up my fascinating, evocative, heart-breaking and inspiring visit. Below part of what I wrote for the organization. Remember that this is aimed at the travel industry, but the basic information is useful for travelers too:

The Holy Land is arguably the most compelling, most intriguing, most captivating destination on the planet. Only in this timeless region is it possible to visit so many places from antiquity so conveniently close together. Churches, temples, amphitheaters, markets and ancient roads where prophets and pilgrims, legionnaires and traders walked draw today’s travelers into the distant past.

The best-known sites are on everyone’s list of must-sees and must-visits, but the Holy Land also offers many that are not so well known or visited – ones that can set your tour offerings above the rest. Key members of the Holy Land Incoming Tour Operators Association can provide first-hand information about off-the-beaten-path places and memorable activities to enhance your Holy Land offerings or create new ones. By going above and beyond the usual offerings, your company truly can provide your clients with the proverbial “trip of a lifetime.”

Ask about the best parts of Abraham’s Path, the most the famous long-distance walking route in the Middle East. Learn about the archeological resources in Jericho, at more than 10,000 years, the oldest city Earth. Find out where the best markets are for local handicrafts, where to ride a camel and where to camp in the desert.

Mesa Verde County Podcast Tour

Modern media help guide visitors through Colorado’s ancient lands and sites.

Ancient Voices” is Mesa Verde Country’s new travel podcast that guides visitors through the Southwest Colorado communities of Cortez, Dolores and Mancos. The 30-minute audio tour, which includes driving directions, is versatile and designed to accompany travelers as they journey at their own pace among the archaeological, agricultural and geological wonders of Mesa Verde Country, the modern communities that are neighbors to renowned Mesa Verde National Park. Historical, geological and flora/fauna information in the podcast provides context to a visitor’s experience.

The tour starts in the town of Cortez, nearest to the park entrance. Stop at the Colorado Welcome Center (928 East Main Street) for all sorts of information, brochures, history, a gift shop and  free coffee. The Cortez Cultural Center, located in downtown Cortez, features historical exhibits and live cultural events and activities, including Native American dances in the plaza on summer evenings. For outdoor experiences like hiking, biking, wildlife viewing and sweeping vistas of the surrounding mountains, the Hawkins Preserve in the southern part of town is the place to go.

McElmo Canyon, farther south, is a scenic canyon with sandstone walls,  ranchland and farm fields, homesteads and the area’s two wineries,  Guy Drew and Sutcliffe. The canyon’s temperate climate lends itself to growing a variety of fruits and vegetables, including– peaches, apricots, apples and more. It’s also a rich hay-making area.

The Ancestral Puebloans were master builders who left a legacy for today’s visitors to Mesa Verde Country of southwestern Colorado.

About 10 miles west of Cortez on County Road G are a trailhead and parking area for access to the remote and magical Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Several trails access the southern reaches of the monument, inviting visitors to travel back in time to learn about the Ancestral Puebloan culture through the ruins that remain.

Just beyond the historic Ismay Trading Post building is the Colorado/Utah border and the entrance to the Hovenweep National Monument. It is perhaps the greatest and most concentrated collection of archaeologic towers in the area. The headquarters is on the Utah side and offers a National Park Service visitor center staffed by rangers who can answer questions and provide maps. Take plenty of water. sunscreen and a brimmed hat — and step into Colorado antiquity.

Frank Lloyd Wright Masterpiece on His 150th

Taliesen West in Scottsdale is the West’s best FLW building.

Today is the 150th anniversary of the great Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth. His winter home and studio, Taliesin West, remains a prime example of Wright’s organic architecture in that the structures are built of the rocks and sand of the Sonoran Desert and melds to the lower McDowell Mountains.

Located near Scottsdale, Arizona, the grounds and buildings were constructed over a period of approximately 20 years by Frank Lloyd Wright and his hard-working apprentices. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, visitors enjoy tours through terraces, landscaped gardens and walkways commanding dramatic views of Camelback Mountain and the Valley of the Sun. I’ve been twice, and next time I visit greater Phoenix, I plan to go again.

Guides discuss the history of Taliesin West and its famous creator. The basic tour is the one-hour Panorama Tour, beginning daily at 10:15 a.m.  ($26 in advance, $28 walk-up), which visits the Cabaret Theater, Music Pavilion, and Wright’s Private Office while exploring Wright’s genius for creatively linking indoor and outdoor spaces.

The most popular is the 90-minute Insights Tour, daily beginning at 8:45 a.m. ($34 in advance, $38 walk-up) that includes all the stops of the Panorama Tour plus the Wrights’ Living Quarters and the gracious “Garden Room.”

Seasonally, Night Lights Tours show Taliesin West romantically lit under the Arizona stars. Junior Architect Tours, Desert “Shelter” Tours, and Extended Insights Tours grant Wright enthusiasts a wide variety of Taliesin West tour experiences.

You can book a tour at http://Zerve.com/TaliesinWest   or by calling 888-516-0811. The address is 12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., Scottsdale. And of course, there’s a shopping opportunity at Anneliese’s Bookstore with its immense collection of Wright-licensed products.

Last Runs of 2016-17 on Aspen Mountain

Mountain-top skiing & riding on Memorial Day Weekend.

Most of this week has been cool and rainy in Boulder, meaning that winter is far from over in the high country.  No one quite knows when Trail Ridge Road, the country’s highest continuously paved road, will be plowed out. Arapahoe Basin has announced a bonus weekend, June 9-11, and is being coy about possible open days beyond that.  And that other rite of spring skiing continues as Aspen Mountain opens for skiing and riding Memorial Day Weekend, May 27-29.

Memorial Day skiing on Aspen Mountain in 2016.

The Silver Queen Gondola from the in-town base to the summit operates from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for skiing and riding, and the Ajax Express chairlift runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the season’s last laps on Aspen Mountain’s upper blue runs and such black runs as Summit and Blondie’s.

In addition to opening 130 acres of skiable terrain, Memorial Day Weekend marks the start of Aspen Mountain’s summer operations with access to sightseeing and food/beverage options at the Sundeck restaurant.

Rent Julia Child’s French Home via AirBnB

Stay in a culinary legend’s equally legendary country home.

Anyone traveling France whose lodging budget is on the threshold of $700 a night can stay at Julia Child’s home in Provence via Airbnb — if it is available and not being used for cooking classes. This is where she herself mastered the art of French cooking. Child, a traditionalist in the kitchen, died in 2004 and could hardly imagine such a lodging set-up.

Julia Child’s French kitchen, as it appears today. The pegboards are a legacy of Paul Child, who customized kitchens for his wife, the beloved French Chef.

Here’s how the decorating magazine, Domino, described it:

Foodies rejoice: Julia Child’s picture-perfect cottage in the Provencal countryside—dubbed La Pitchoune (“The Little Thing”) by Child and her husband Paul—is now available to rent on Airbnb. For just under $700 a night, the legendary bungalow, designed and built by the Childs in the 1960s, could be all yours, including the kitchen that helped spark the French cooking movement of the 1970s.

Nestled on several acres of rural land just North of Cannes, the cozy cottage once owned by Child offers three bedrooms (that can sleep up to six) and three-and-a-half bathrooms, as well as multiple gardens, terraces, and a saltwater swimming pool. Variety reports that the current owners bought the house in 2015 from the family that originally leased the land to the Childs. It has been updated since Child’s time, but many original details remain.

Click here for the AirBnB listing, noting that few dates remain for 2018 and reservations are being taken for 2019.

Cross-posted to http://culinary-colorado.com.

New Ferry Service to New York City Beaches

The Rockaways now easy ( & cheap) to visit.

Along with the food, culture and entertainment scenes, visitors to New York City’s can think of The Big Apple as a beach destination. New ferry service between Lower Manhattan and a string of distant beachfront neighborhoods in Queens is designed to ease life for commuters, and as a side benefit, the new route provides a great opportunity for travelers, too.

The “Rockaway” route speeds past Governors Island and through New York Harbor, with additional stops at the Brooklyn Army Terminal and Sunset Park, recently debuted.  It speeding passengers to the city’s best beaches in less than an hour, compared with 90 minutes or more by subway. The new ferries have Wi-Fi, bathrooms, bike racks and snack bars stocked with beer and wine.  The one-way fare ($2.75) is the same as the subway, and a lot less than the Long Island Railroad to Fire Island or The Hamptons.

The Rockaways are known by locals for watersports, including the best surf spot (yes, really!) in the city. The beachfront community also boasts a 5.5-mile boardwalk, similar to the one in Atlantic City. And the peninsula is home to Fort Tilden, a former U.S. Army Installation, and Jacob Riis Park, with its famous art deco bathhouse. Both are administered by the National Park Service.

Spirit: Worst Airline in America?

Actual riot breaks out in boarding area.

My husband and I flew Spirit Airlines once. The delays and the nickel-and-diming caused us to vow: Never again. And we’ve kept that vow, not just for Spirit but for Frontier and other low-cost, no-service companies and their flying misery machines.

On Sunday, a riot broke out at Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale Airport after nine or more flights were canceled. Apple News “the  airline blames a pilot slowdown and is suing pilot the union, alleging that they have been deliberately stalling flights as retaliation over contract disputes. According to the lawsuit, Spirit had canceled 81 flights in one day across the country and approximately 300 over the past week. People tweeted videos of the massive crowd surrounding the counter, some showing the escalation of the mass argument from verbal to physical when authorities stepped in.”

Click here for the ABC News report.

 

Beijing’s Summer Palace Revisited

Crowds, crowds and did I mention crowds?

We are en route from the U.S. to Tibet with a day in Beijing — my third visit to China’s capital. The first was in 1999, and even superficial changes since then are stunning. Built into the Road Scholar itinerary were a couple of hours in the stunning Summer Palace, a grandiose and  elaborate treasure from the old Chinese Empire. It was crowded when I first visited, but now, there are more people, more photo and video stops,  plus selfie sticks that did not exist then.

The standard route through the palace remains unchanged — a walk through the gates, across a courtyard or two, a scenic walk with an artificial lake on one side and a lovely arcade on the other, a look at the famous stone boat and a ride across the lake to a landing near the exit. Here are some pictures from my visit. As you can see, taking any without a lot of people was a challenge, but taking them with a crowd was as simple as pointing the camera anywhere along the standard route.

Located 9 miles from downtown, this is the largest and best-preserved royal park in China.  Construction began in 1750 as a setting for royal families to rest and entertain, and many of its features of combining natural and enhanced landsscapes have served as a model for Chinese gardens. Heavily damaged, it was twice rebuilt and In 1924, it was opened to the public. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a leading attraction for foreign and domestic visitors.

The basic walk-through tour at lake level and boat ride are standard on most city tours,  but it is possible to reach the Summer Palace by public transportation and visit are leisure. Click here and scroll down for details.

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.