Category Archives: California

Taos Named Top Ski Town

USA Today cites Taos as nation’s best.

USATodat-Top10-logoTaos (the town) and Taos Ski Valley (the mountain resort) are connected by a narrow 18-mile canyon road, but that didn’t stop USA Today readers from naming Taos the best ski town in the land. I like Taos as much as anyone, but it really doesn’t feel like a “ski town” — and with the recent developments at the resort, both on the mountain and at the base of the lifts, that vote seems even more far-fetched.

Taos has a fine historic plaza and a great hotel right there, good galleries, terrific places to eat and a nearby pueblo that ranks as one of the country’s longest continuously inhabited communities. But a ski town? Not really. Did someone stuff the ballot box?

Upon contemplation, I think not. The Tahoe area resorts are many miles from #2 Reno and somewhat closer to $5 Truckee. Even the town of Jackson and the resort of Jackson Hole are not contiguous. Maybe USA Today readers don’t like to ski. Just a thought.

10 Best Ski Towns

  1. Taos, N.M.
  2. Reno, Nev.
  3. Whitefish, Mt.
  4. North Conway, N.H.
  5. Truckee, Calif.
  6. Crested Butte, Colo.
  7. Jackson Hole, Wyo.
  8. Stowe, Vt.
  9. Steamboat Springs, Colo.
  10. Breckenridge, Colo.

And for what it’s worth

10 Best Ski Resorts

  1. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows – Olympic Valley, Calif.
  2. Sugarbush Resort – Warren, Vt.
  3. Big Sky Resort – Big Sky, Mont.
  4. Alta – Alta, Utah
  5. Crested Butte Mountain Resort – Crested Butte, Colo.
  6. Deer Valley Resort – Park City, Utah
  7. Revelstoke Mountain Resort – Revelstoke, British Columbia
  8. Killington Resort – Killington, Vt.
  9. Steamboat Resort – Steamboat Springs, Colo.
  10. Whistler Blackcomb – Whistler, British Columbia


All National Parks Free to Celebrate Centennial

Visit, appreciate and protect our National Park lands.

NatlParkServiceLogoThe centennial of the National Park Service as been promoted and written about and covered in the broadcast media for months, but the agency’s celebratory freebie long weekend is Thursday, August 25 through Sunday, August 28. On those days, all 412 National Park Service units (Parks, Monuments, Historic Sites) are open to the public for free.

That means no charge for entrance fees, commercial tour fees and transportation entrance fees. Other fees collected by concessionaires (lodging and food service, camping, tours and outfitters such as fishing or climbing guides) are still in effect.

Expect normally busy parks like our nearby Rocky Mountain National Park and communities just outside park boundaries (Estes Park and Grand Lake adjacent to RMNP, for instance) to be crowded. But even as we celebrate, we should be aware of the increased development pressure directly at the edge of popular parks. The 1916 legislation that created the Park Service had a mandate to leave park scenery and wildlife “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” That was then and this now.

Celebrate by Protecting

The Los Angeles Times recently wrote an op-ed exposé, “Can America’s National Parks Defeat Developers at Their Gate?“, pointing out the detrimental proximity of wind farms in the Mojave to protected land and other projects. Grand Canyon Escalade is a frightening plan to construct a huge resort and a tramway that would ferry up to 10,000 people a day to the bottom of the Grand Canyon at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, just outside of National Park boundaries. The developer tries to make a case for how wonderful it would be for the land, the river, the wildlife and the Navajo Nation, while its opponents, including the Grand Canyon Trust, document the abuse of those very same interests of that would result. My feeling is that it is preferable to stop a questionable or outright undesirable project than to “un-build.” Let’s give the parks a big birthday present and put the brakes on rampant development in the neighborhoods of “America’s Best Idea.”

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.

The Rebranding of Yosemite

Outgoing concessionaire trademarked landmarks.

Yosemite signI was flabbergasted to learn that the most iconic features of Yosemite National Park are being renamed. As of March 1, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls will become Yosemite Valley Lodge; The Ahwahnee Hotel will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel; Curry Village will become Half Dome Village; Wawona Hotel will become Big Trees Lodge, and Badger Pass Ski Area will become Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.

It seems that DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc., the Delaware North subsidiary that has been the concessionaire running the lodging, food service, bus service, activities and so forth since 1983, trademarked historic names when it learned that its contract was not to be renewed. DNC valued the famous names at $44 million, a sum the Park Service is either unable to pay or prohibited from paying. To me, it’s a hostage situation with one of our treasured parks.

Yosemite Hospitality, a subsidiary of Aramark, is the new concessionaire. This mammoth corporation (270,000 employees) provides food, facilities and uniform services to schools, convention centers, hospitals, large workplaces, remote workplaces (think off-shore oil rigs), correctional facilities  and more across the country and internationally.

I know it’s all about the money, but this stings. And I’m guessing that loyal visitors will continue calling the hotel The Ahwahnee,  the ski area Badger Pass and so on, regardless. And I’m guessing that John Muir is rolling over in his grave.


Tranquil Botanic Garden in Southern California

Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in off-season loveliness.

001 When my husband and I recently spent a few days in Claremont, no one could have predicted yesterday’s slaughter in San Bernardino, roughly 30 miles away. If locals need a peaceful refuge, I hope they visit the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden. I’m sure it is a riot of color during peak wildflower season, but now, it wears soothing fall colors. Founded in 1927 by Susanna Bixby Bryant, its 86 acres rank it as the largest botanic garden dedicated exclusively to California’s native plants. If I had written this post before the tragedy, I might have used more words and different photos. But didn’t so I present some lovely spots under the big blue dome with occasional vistas of the beautiful Mt. Baldy massif.015



Planes of Fame Military Aircraft on Display

Originals, replicas & models fill hangars.

Plane-logoMy engineer husband is fascinated with and knowledgeable about aircraft and spacecraft, so when we travel, we visit any nearby museums specializing in those technologies. Long on his bucket list was the  Planes of Fame Museum that documents a big chunk aviation history, aims to inspire interest in aviation, educate the public about aerial warfare and honors aviation pioneers and veterans.  It is dedicated to the preservation, perpetuation and exhibition of historical aircraft and to the men and women who devoted their lives to flight, especially military aviation.

The collection in largely World War II era airplanes, some restored to flying condition and stars of the museum’s annual air show each May. I’m not captivated by the technology, but I am interested in the history represented there.

Dusting a vintage airplane with a long-handled mop and Pledge.
Dusting a vintage airplane with a long-handled mop and Pledge.
This World War II warplane was retrieved from a South Pacific island, where it once was used for target practice. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has bought the wreck and is having it taken to Seattle for restoration. The ultimate fixer-upper.
This World War II warplane was retrieved from a South Pacific island, where it once was used for target practice. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has bought the wreck and is having it taken to Seattle for restoration. The ultimate fixer-upper.

Continue reading Planes of Fame Military Aircraft on Display

3 New National Monuments

Nevada, California & Texas areas now protected.

When less-known public lands and sites are upgraded to National Monument status, they get added protection and also a boost in visitation. President Barack Obama has signed declarations of three new National Monuments  under three different federal agencies, appropriate to their size, settings and history.

NatlConservationArea-logoNevada’s Basin and Range National Monument is an extraordinary place featuring ecologically rich valleys framed by picturesque mountain ranges. It has long been threatened by oil and mineral development. Now, pronghorn deer, Pygmy rabbits, burrowing owls, red-tailed hawks, and the White River Catseye plant can roam, fly, and grow on protected lands.

A window to our past, Basin and Range tells the story of the many people who have called these mountains and valleys home. From the early people of the Great Basin, to the Native Americans who resided here, to 19th century settlers who traveled here in search of opportunity, these lands are a place to explore and learn. It is under the Bureau of Land Management.

USFS-logoNorthern California adventurers have long known that Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument is a fishing, hiking, camping, birding and horseback-riding paradise. Visitors can view the 80-foot-high Zim Zim waterfall, fly-fish in rivers and streams, and appreciate the wildflowers and wildlife. The 330,780-acre National Monument is partly a designated wilderness area north of the Bay Area and Sacramento is also one of the most biologically diverse regions in California filled with osprey, wild tule elk, river otters, bald eagles, rainbows of butterflies and half of California’s dragonfly species. It is U.S. Forest Service jurisdiction.

NatlParkServiceLogoTexas’ Waco Mammoth National Monument is a significant paleontological site that offers a glimpse into the lives of Pleistocene mammoths that roamed the region long ago. Tours are given daily to the sizable dig shelter operated by the National Park Service. It is the nation’s only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths. Visitors can view in situ such fossils as female mammoths, a bull mammoth and a camel that lived approximately 67,000 years ago.

The Slow Progress of High-Speed Rail in the US

Construction is finally expected to begin for a California bullet train.

Japan’s first bullet train (Shinkansen in Japanese) went into service in 1964, and earlier this week the ceremonial groundbreaking finally took place for the first 29 miles of what could eventually be 800 miles of California’s bullet train tracks. the first segment is between Fresno and Madera, eventually linking to routes to such major cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego — hopefully by 2028. The maximum speed will be 220 miles per hour. The currently estimated cost of the completed project: $68 billion.

California's future bullet train that would be a train of the past in progressive Japan.
California’s future bullet train, whose technology would be a train of the past in progressive Japan.

Japan, meanwhile, has tested a new maglev train going 500 kilometers per hour, and hopes to complete the link between Tokyo and Nagoya by 2027 and an extension to Osaka by 2045, replacing the current bullet trains. Estimated cost: 5.5 trillion yen ($50 billion). The Tokyo-Osaka corridor is the world’s busiest with up to 13 super-fast trains per hour.

The environmental and economic benefits of high-speed rail are apparent elsewhere, and even emerging economies are building, planning or considering their own systems. Last month, China launched 32 new routes in one day. Russia wants a line between Moscow and Beijing,  shortening the legendary Trans-Siberian journey from seven days to two. Even Mexico wants high-speed rail. In the U.S., meanwhile, Texas in planning a bullet train connecting Houston and Dallas. It could come online as early as 2021.

Pathetic, isn’t it?


Big Bear Zoo to Receive Two Snow Leopards

Endangered Asian cats moving from Seattle zoo to SoCal zoo.

BigBearZoo-logoA custom home is being built at California’s Big Bear Alpine Zoo for a pair of Himalayan snow leopard sisters being relocated from Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. The sisters were born with multiple ocular coloboma, a relatively rare congenital eye anomaly. Big Bear Alpine Zoo is well regarded for its rehabilitation program that allows them to remain together and continue to receive expert medical care.

Asha and Shanti (or is it Shanti and Asha) ready to move to a new enclosure at the Big Bear Alpine Zoo.
Asha and Shanti (or is it Shanti and Asha) ready to move to a new enclosure at the Big Bear Alpine Zoo.


The sisters, Asha and Shanti, were born May 2, 2012 under a captive breeding program called Species Survival Plan, a program that aims to propagate endangered species. The active, high-spirited leopards have grown independent of their mother in spite of the multiple ocular coloboma, which has caused each leopard to have her right eye removed to prevent infection and other complications. This congenital eye anomaly eliminates them from breeding in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan, so they will come to Big Bear Alpine Zoo to act as animal ambassadors for the endangered species. The Snow Leopard Trust is also working to protect this endangered species.

The snow leopards are scheduled to arrive in Big Bear sometime in mid-June. Initially, they will remain in a rehabilitation area, which is off limits to the public, until the Big Bear Alpine Zoo staff deems the sisters are ready for exhibition.

“We look forward to having the snow leopards join our zoo family,” said Big Bear Alpine Zoo Curator Debbie Richardson. “I hear they are quite rambunctious and should make a lively exhibit. They are going to love their new home. They will live inside an enclosed exhibit space that has a Plexiglas-windowed viewing deck that features a giant white rock mountain, a big tree and two rock dens.”

The new snow leopard habitat is the first example of what exhibits will look like when the zoo relocates some time in the not too distant future. In fact, the snow leopard enclosure was built so it will be easy to move and set up at the zoo’s 10.4-acre site. When the move occurs, the facility will be called the Big Bear Alpine Zoo at Moonridge.

The current Big Bear Alpine Zoo is open year-round (weather permitting from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. Admission is $9 for ages 11 to 59, $6 for ages 3 to 10 and seniors over 59, and children under 3 are free. The zoo is still at 43285 Goldmine Drive, Big Bear Lake, CA. FoMoInfo, call 909-584-1299.