Category Archives: Media

Colorado Trains Are Nation’s Top Two

Cumbres & Toltec and Durango & Silverton top list.

USATodat-Top10-logoUSA Today sought readers’ votes on several categories of tourist attractions, and two Colorado railroads topped the list. Number one is the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad that is owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico and flirts with the state line between Antonito, CO and Chama, NM. Runner-up was the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad following the Animas River between Durango and Silverton in southwestern Colorado. It even operates in winter, part-way along the route as far as the Wye turnaround.

Vicarious Visit to France Via the Tour de France

TV coverage is about cycling — and scenery.

TourDeFrance-logoThe 2014 Tour de France is beginning in a few days with three opening stages in England followed by the remainder in France. This will be an unusual route — no Alpe d’Huez, no Mont Ventoux, just nip into the Pyrenees but lots of Yorkshire. Longtime commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen know the roads and landmarks of France very well, but both are born Brits, which should make for interesting words. I really admire the French TV feed of the landscape, villages and cities on the Tour route. Every time I watch, I want to go to Europe. Right away!

TDF2014-map

 

Heading Up the Hill for the Pro Bike Race

USA Pro Challenge highlights Colorado summer

USA-Pro-Challenge2013-logoAs often as not, our travels take us less than an hour to Estes Park, the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. We go to the park to hike, to cross-country ski or to snowshoe, usually stopping in town for an après-whatever bite to eat. We feel fortunate to live so close to the country’s fifth most-visited national parks.Today, we were there to watch the penultimate stage of the USA Pro Challenge, a thrilling stage race that IMO should be called the Tour of Colorado.

Downtown Estes Park was fairly quiet when we arrived. Elkhorn Avenue, the main drag, had already been closed to traffic. People were strolling along,  listening to music in Bond Park, buying eats and just chilling. Kids were racing around, having a great time in the park and on the street. We wandered over to Kind Coffee and each had a bagel and a cup of coffee beside the Big Thompson River. Despite the name, it is quite small so close to the headwaters, and the recreation path where found a table is a well-used delight. The town kept perking up with more people and more energy, lit up when basketball legend and cycling enthusiast Bill Walton pedaled his extra tall bike down the street. By the time we saw the lead vehicles — state patrol cars, police motorcycles, photographers’ vehicles and officials’ vehicles — Elkhorn Avenue was electric with excitement. As the peleton raced through town people rang cowbells (logoed and free courtesy of Northern Colorado and from Smashburger), shook pompons, cheered, yelled and took photos and videos. Here are some of ours.

 

With time to spare until the race, we relaxed by the river with coffee+.
With time to spare until the race, we relaxed by the river with coffee+.

 

Street art on Elkhorn Avenue welcomes the speeding peleton .
Street art on Elkhorn Avenue welcomes the speeding peleton. There was also a kids’ Hot Wheels race on the temporarily car-free main street.
Local merchants became race fans and showed it.
Local merchants became race fans and showed it.

 

 

Racers go for sprint points in the middle of the stage.
Racers go for sprint points in the middle of the stage.
We saw officers in patrol cars with lights flashing, on motorcycles, one on a bicycle and this one on a Segway. Many were smiling -- an expression too rarely seen on the faces of on-duty police officers.
We saw officers in patrol cars with lights flashing, on motorcycles, one on a bicycle and this one on a Segway. Many were smiling — an expression too rarely seen on the faces of on-duty police officers.

 

 

The lead group of about 15 riders charging hard for sprint points.
The lead group of about 15 riders charging hard for sprint points.
The route took the riders from Estes Park around Marys Lake and back through town. Here the peleton,skirts Elkhorn Avenue en route back down Big Thompson Canyon to Fort Collins.
The route took the riders from Estes Park around Marys Lake and back through town. Here the peleton skirts Elkhorn Avenue en route back down Big Thompson Canyon to Fort Collins.

The racers speed on the flats and the downhills in the blink of an eye, so spectators never actually see all that much of a race, but no matter. In the three years that the USA Pro Challenge has existed, we’ve made it a point to be there in person. Back home in Boulder, we watched the recording of the MSNBC telecast. We were sorely disappointed that Estes Park and its backdrop of the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park were all but ignored. The only mention of the fabled Stanley Hotel came later in the broadcast when commentator Phil Liggett mentioned that the peleton has passed it. Surely, those cameras in the helicopter whirling above must have been trained on the park and the hotel. Alas, American viewers didn’t have a chance to see them. Makes us even gladder that we were there in person. Tomorrow, the race concludes with eight exciting circuits around Denver.

Hiking in the Land of the Nabateans

Petra Redux: The Gear Junkie visits Petra, Jordan’s acclaimed ancient treasure

The Gear Junkie on a hiking trail above the fabled Treasury in Petra.
The Gear Junkie on a hiking trail above the fabled Treasury in Petra.

In January of last year, I visited the splendid Nabatean site of Petra in Jordan, and just about a year ago, I finally wrote this blog post both about my brief experience and also what experts view as a threat to this major archeological site and tourist draw. I was captivated by what I saw, even in a few short hours on a day trip from Eilat, across the Israeli border. Even after I returned, I looked at maps and read guidebooks and learned that those with more time could actually go hiking in Petra. The Gear Junkie, Steve Regenold’s adventure/sports/travel site, did just that — and here, roughly a year after my Petra post, is his report, “Hiking Petra: Desert Heights, Archaeological Sites.” I enjoyed revisiting it through his eyes and hope you do too.

80 Mexican Archeological Sites Coming On-Line

Take virtual tours of 81 Maya and other Mexican archeological sites

I visited the Riviera Maya in early June — part of a Society of American Travel Writers confab — largely because it enabled me to see some Maya sites as well as epxerience far newer visitor attactions. What lured me most was the opportunity for a return visit, after nearly 20 years, to Tulum and a fist visit to Coba, which has been on my bucket list for years. I visited Chichen-Itza eons ago and would have welcomed a return, but it wasn’t possible this time.

A group of us went to Tulum in searing heat and brilliant sunshine, and to Coba in the pouring rain. The ancient Maya builders endured such conditions too, and while that was accepted in this part of the world because that’s the way it was, it can be tough on visitors. Soon, travelers  should be able to visit the first 30 sites without actually being there.

Blue skies, green grass and searing heat at the coastal site of Tulum.

 

Visitors in colorful plastic ponchos approaching 'Coba's tallest pyramid. Climbing is permitted, but I woudn't tackled steep, slippery steps with a poncho flapping in the wind gusts.

By the end of the year, virtual strolls through a total of 81 sites using Google Mexico’s Street View platform should be available through a computer near you. Mexican cultural authorities announced that the 360-degree virtual view of these archaeological sites, including Teotihuacan, Xochicalco, Monte Alban, Chichen Itza, Tulum, Palenque, Tula and  Paquime, will allow exploration down to the last corner — perhaps even to corners that are off-limits to visitors.

This is reportedly the first time a gallery featuring such sites has been uploaded onto  Street View. The purpose of the pproject is to encourage cultural tourism, because it will allow cybernauts to take virtual tours thanks to  the panoramic photographs of each archaeological site by means of the Google Earth and Maps platforms. Once available, users will be able travel inside these pre-Columbian cities and their surrounding areas. For some, these virtual views will suffice. For me, it will be an enticement to see sites I hadn’t visited before, no matter what the weather. Still, I wonder what the ancient Maya and Aztecs would think of this 21st century cyber-magic

Best Hotels in (Part of) the West

California-centric Sunset magazine shortchanges the rest of the West

Sunset magazine’s slogan is “Living in the West,”but the publication might consider changing it to “Living in California and Sometimes in Other More Trivial States.” The new October 2011 issue includes a list of what it deems the 25 best hotels in the West, 13 of which are in California. That’s more than half. The most in any other Western state or province is two. The top 25 are geographically divided thusly:

  • California,  13
  • Washington, 2
  • Oregon, 2
  • Idaho, 0
  • Montana, 0
  • Wyoming, 0
  • Colorado, 2
  • Arizona, 2
  • New Mexico, 1
  • Nevada, 1
  • Hawaii, 0
  • Alaska, 0
  • British Columbia, 2
  • Alberta, 0

Is it possible that more than half of the top 25 are in California? That no other state boasts more than two and that five states and one province have none at all? Sunset, surely you know better.

You know and I know that the Golden State is the 800-pound gorilla of the West, but this list is nowhere near balanced. Or objective. Or accurate. Even considering some of the magazine’s own criteria. One is, “Can you see the Golden Gate Bridge?” You can indeed see it spectacularly from the Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito in Marin County, but even the view from San Francisco’s Hotel Vitale is of the Bay Bridge. For the rest, this criterion is even more laughable. And in southern California, very little is within an hour’s drive of anything else.

The editors also wrote that “almost every place is within an hour’s drive of a major airport, and most are closer.” Not exactly, folks. In northern California, Napa (Solage Calistoga), Sonoma (Farmhouse Inn), Big Sur (Post Ranch Inn) and Paso Robles (Hotel Cheval) are well over an hour’s drive from San Francisco or Oakland Airports, and Sausalito (Cavallo Point Lodge) might squeeze into that timeframe in a very fast car and not during the rush hour. Might!

Around the World Through the Lens of Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Aerial images from a masterful photographer and environmental crusader

Yann Arthus-Bertrand at work.

My friend Dick Needham sent me a link to “Earth from Above,” a collection of stunning images by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Do yourself a favor, click on the link and take a look. Arthus-Bertrand, whom I knew little about until I saw these images and read more about him, is one of those rare people whose life has been a succession of experiences, causes and accomplishments, any one of which would be the high point of a person’s life. His accomplishments are matched by the many honors bestowed on him. Among his numerous accomplishments, he…

  • …founded the world’s first press agency and images bank specializing in aerial photography
  • …undertook a photographic inventory of the world’s most beautiful landscapes as part of a UNESCO study on the state of the Earth (it became a book, Earth from Above in French La Terre vue du ciel) that sold over 3 million copies, was translated into 24 languages and inspired a free exhibition that traveled to 110 cities.
  • …founded GoodPlanet, an international environmental organization and set up Action Carbone to offset his own greenhouse gas emissions generated by his helicopter transports and since then has evolved to help people and companies to reduce and offset their climate impact by funding projects on renewable energies, energy efficiency and reforestation.
  • …created a television documentary series called Vu de la ciel, four two-hours documentaries focusing on the world’s main environmental stakes. Shown in France in prime time, we can only hope it comes to the US television.

 

Boulder: The “Happiest” Place in the Country

My city scores high on the happiness index

Walt Disney World may market itself as “The Happiest Place on Earth,” but I live in a real place that scored at the top of the American heap when it comes to residents’ personal happiness. Yesterday, “CBS Sunday Morning” broadcast a segment called “The Pursuit of Happiness,” the leadoff with beautiful Boulder and its healthy, brainy, environmentally conscious, politically correct and connected population. If you missed it, you can watch it online. Something like 25 million people a year visit Disney theme parks, but no one lives there. I don’t know how many people visit Boulder every year, but I am one of the more than 100,000 people live here — including the 25,000 University of Colorado students who keep the city young and lively.

The view from the scenic overlook atop Davidson Mesa takes in a panoramo of Boulder set against the the foothills and the mountains beyond.

No matter where I travel, I am always happy to come home to so special a place. As I approach the city on US 36, my heart always leaps and my spirit soars when I glimpse Boulder from the crest of Davidson Mesa. Whenever I’ve come back from a trip in the 22 1/2 years that I’ve lived in Boulder, I’m always happy to be coming home.

 

International Travel Is a Laughing Matter…

…in the eyes of a clever cartoonist

My friend and travel writer colleague Reed Glenn sent me the link to the New York Times’ “Abstract City” and Christoph Niemann’s “Red Eye,” a spot-on pen-and-ink commentary on long-haul flights.I laughed till I cried as I was scrolling through the whole thing, so you might want to grab a tissue before you look at the whole thing. It gets better page by page. I may be walking a copyright tightrope by posting the opening page of his commentary here, but I’m treating it as if it were a short excerpt used as a quote from a longer article.

Mummies and Melodrama

“Reality” TV strikes again in creating a dreadful television series

I’ve been captivated by things Egyptian since I visited Egypt last year as part of a Society American Travel Writers Freelance Council meeting that included an audience with Dr. Zahi Hawass, the media-savvy, imperious and very gifted secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. Dr. Hawass is an aggressive advocate for the protection of ancient Egyptian treasures. He has developed an ego the size of the Great Pyramid at Giza and has a high profile, personally escorting VIPs around the sites, personally announcing every significant discovery, whether or not he made it and appearing on numerous legitimate documentaries.

Against this background, I was looking forward to the History Channel’s “Chasing Mummies” series that debuted last night. I have never written a television review-type post, but this misguided show merits a two thumbs down.

The plot was that a television crew was following Dr. Hawass and his team, including a comely intern, during the excavation of an early pyramid at Saqqara near Cairo. Comely intern Zoe, who unexpectedly showed up in place of intern Clare/Claire, but her papers were in order, so she was permitted to stay, often getting in the way. But Zoe is cute so she was invited to take her first look inside the pyramid. After a disjointed exploration, Zoe was improbably permitted, by one of Dr. Hawass’s team, to stay in the labyrinthian corridors by herself “for five minutes” to take pictures, which she did with her little point-and-shoot while the chamber was brilliantly lit by television cameras.

Zoe’s foot got jammed. Someone turned off the lights and locked the gates, and Zoe became reality TV’s equivalent of the silent-film heroine tied to the railroad tracks. If this program were to be believed, only Dr. Hawass, who had to be called from Cairo where he was doing a book signing, had the ability to unlock the gate and turn on the lights. It was contrived, lame and added nothing to the body of knowledge about ancient Egypt.

And then, in the second part, Dr. Hawass and his team traveled to “an oasis near Cairo” to demolish villagers’ homes that were built over ancient graves that contained mummies. Curious children watched homes being knocked down, and suddenly, the earth was pocked with holes that presumably led to underground burial chambers. An articulated loader, which was referred to as a bulldozer, broke through the surface of the ground, got stuck and then got unstuck.

Speaking of stuck, I stuck it out through the first episode, but I won’t waste my time on another. New York Times television critic Neil Genzlinger didn’t think any more of the program than I did. In his review, he called it “an annoying new show.” The History Channel’s website calls this a “documentary series.” They sure have a wry sense of humor! In fact, this entire program was a joke.