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Archive for July, 2009

Pretty soon everyone is going to be talking about our national parks; Ken Burns’ latest project is a six-parter called The National Parks: America’s Best Idea and will debut on PBS on September 27.

We’ll be watching, for sure, but in the meantime we decided to get a jump on the chatter with our own national parks memories—three little moments that left a lasting impact.

Photo by Jenna Schnuer

Photo by Jenna Schnuer

The first day of a photography workshop in Yellowstone National Park served up bubbling mudpots, hot springs with colors that would shame the brightest wildflowers, and plenty of elk. Old Faithful was ahead but, in my mind, it was the stuff of kitsch and cartoons. I wasn’t excited. With my camera set on the spot, I waited for the geyser to blow. Ho hum. Whatever. And then she did. Thousands of gallons of boiling water shot more than 100 feet into the air. Instantly, the earth owned her again. She was released from kitsch and cartoons. She was beautiful. —Jenna

Mid-July 2003 in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park. It’s 4 a.m., but the sky is bright. I’m alone in a kayak near the Beardslee Islands, floating, when a juvenile male humpback surfaces ten feet from my starboard bow. Beneath the water’s surface, his basketball-sized eye looks straight up at me as if to say, “Yo.” Then, the blow: putrid, soggy air from the animal’s lungs bursts from the blowhole, soaking me in an instant. We float together, side-by-side, for what seems like an eternity. Then, without warning, he arches his back, salutes with his flukes and sinks to the depths.–Matt

Photo NPS/Eric Leonard

Photo NPS/Eric Leonard

I’m doing a little solo day-hiking in Texas’ Big Bend National Park among the fragrant pines high in the Chisos Mountains. I find a outcropping with a view and sit to contemplate life for a few minutes when a hawk—I’m not bird-savvy enough to know what kind, the park is home to several—flies by just overhead. I’ve never been this close to a hawk in flight and the stately swoosh … swoosh of the powerful wings moving against the air is startling, stirring, and unforgettable.–Sophia

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Pretty soon everyone is going to be talking about our national parks; Ken Burns’ latest project is a six-parter called The National Parks: America’s Best Idea and will debut on PBS on September 27.

We’ll be watching, for sure, but in the meantime we decided to get a jump on the chatter with our own national parks memories—three little moments that left a lasting impact.

Photo by Jenna Schnuer

Photo by Jenna Schnuer

The first day of a photography workshop in Yellowstone National Park served up bubbling mudpots, hot springs with colors that would shame the brightest wildflowers, and plenty of elk. Old Faithful was ahead but, in my mind, it was the stuff of kitsch and cartoons. I wasn’t excited. With my camera set on the spot, I waited for the geyser to blow. Ho hum. Whatever. And then she did. Thousands of gallons of boiling water shot more than 100 feet into the air. Instantly, the earth owned her again. She was released from kitsch and cartoons. She was beautiful. —Jenna

Mid-July 2003 in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park. It’s 4 a.m., but the sky is bright. I’m alone in a kayak near the Beardslee Islands, floating, when a juvenile male humpback surfaces ten feet from my starboard bow. Beneath the water’s surface, his basketball-sized eye looks straight up at me as if to say, “Yo.” Then, the blow: putrid, soggy air from the animal’s lungs bursts from the blowhole, soaking me in an instant. We float together, side-by-side, for what seems like an eternity. Then, without warning, he arches his back, salutes with his flukes and sinks to the depths.–Matt

Photo NPS/Eric Leonard

Photo NPS/Eric Leonard

I’m doing a little solo day-hiking in Texas’ Big Bend National Park among the fragrant pines high in the Chisos Mountains. I find a outcropping with a view and sit to contemplate life for a few minutes when a hawk—I’m not bird-savvy enough to know what kind, the park is home to several—flies by just overhead. I’ve never been this close to a hawk in flight and the stately swoosh … swoosh of the powerful wings moving against the air is startling, stirring, and unforgettable.–Sophia

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Flyover America has moved! Please join us at www.ReadFlyoverAmerica.com.

My husband Tom’s from Chicago, I’m from New York City, we live in Texas and haven’t been to the supermarket this week. We’re running out of everything, including tortillas. So last night’s dinner turned into a metaphor–a little bit of this and a little bit of that for a quintessentially American cultural crossover: Leftover brisket MATCHOZ! It’s a small world after all. (There, get that song out of your head now.)

Matzo adds a differently tasty kind of crunch to what started as plain old nachos.

Matzo + nachos=MATCHOZ! A trans-American treat.

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Life in Miles City, Montana, revolves around horses. Head from I-90 into town and you’ll likely pass a cowboy running some errands by horse. On the near side of Main Street, east of the old train trestle, you can still spot some old businesses with hitching posts out front. The town’s annual and rollicking Bucking Horse Sale draws thousands of visitors from all over the Big Sky State and around the world.

Heck, even children’s author Roald Dahl paints an equine picture of the big MC—in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Miles City native Violet Beauregarde has a fast-talking father who sells cars and rides a big ol’ horse.

Naturally, then, when I visited years ago on an assignment about the Bucking Horse Sale, I had to buy the quintessential souvenir: cowboy boots from the Miles City Saddlery.

Exotic Western, Exotic Rancher, Non-Exotic Dress Wellington—you name the style of boot, I tried ‘em all on. Taciturn owner Jack Diebel put up with my City Slicking tendencies masterfully, giving me his opinion on just about every boot I tried.

MJV's Noconas?w=220

MJV's Noconas

After about an hour, I ended up with leather Noconas, black with red and white trim. They made me feel tough, manly, like I could have wandered in from the street and said “Howdy, Pardner” to everyone in the store. The price tag? Let’s just say they cost more than a few pairs of my spendy running shoes.

I wear my Miles City boots from time to time nowadays, and, though my wife teases me about them relentlessly, they transport me back to the sensations of that afternoon in the saddle shop.

I can still smell the leather wafting over from the saddle room, still hear the tinny country music playing overhead, and still feel the firm grip of Diebel’s calloused handshake as he bid me farewell and a “come again soon.” When I wear these bad-boys, I feel a little tougher, a little rougher, more inclined to cop to liking Kenny Chesney and slightly less willing to deny the thrills of NASCAR.

Forget the snow globes and t-shirts, people—in my book, this visceral reaction is what a truly stellar souvenir is all about. If your memento doesn’t evoke the touch, smell, taste and feel of your particular journey, I reckon it’s just a piece of junk.

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Photo courtesy of markhillary through a Creative Commons license.

Photo courtesy of markhillary through Creative Commons.

Monday nights on the road are strange beasts. With most locals eating dinner at home, working late, or watching TV to block out thoughts of all that week left ahead, restaurants and other usually-fun stuff feels blah, lifeless. I always feel most out of step with wherever I am on a Monday night. I don’t like it.

So, to find a place that upends the traditional Monday? That turns it from frumpy to festive? Rare. Special. To be celebrated. That’s why I’m tempted to go down to my local trophy shop (if, indeed, a local trophy shop still exists) and order a retro-cool plaque for the ultra-swank Cafe ZuZu at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Every other Monday night, ZuZu’s executive chef Chuck Wiley turns the entire restaurant into one massive chef’s table. At first, I was disappointed to find out that his chef’s table wasn’t an intimate six- or eight- person affair. I love the flirty back and forth of a tiny chef’s table. Once things got going, the disappointment disappeared completely. It’s part show, part lesson in pairing food with adult beverages, and all exquisite flavors. Chef Wiley and the winemaker of the week introduced each course and its accompanying liquid to the packed room. A room filled with hotel guests and locals, everybody anxious to pretend that the weekend was still in full force. And, thanks to servers who were quick to the pour, locals who were, clearly, willing to show up slightly tired to work on Tuesday morning. Or, in my case, for my morning hike.

Photo credit:

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Boston's Liberty Hotel

Boston's Liberty Hotel

With apologies to Tina Fey for, above, bastardizing her character’s now famous line, here, the hotels/B&Bs/other-places-with-beds-that-aren’t-our-homes that we would like to move into permanently.

Jenna’s Picks

Few hotels–if any–merge whimsy, history, and upscale delights like Boston’s Liberty Hotel, which is partially housed in a former jail. I would spend my Saturday mornings doing Yoga in the Yard and my evenings sipping cocktails at Alibi, the drunk tank turned bar.

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as welcomed in anybody’s home–including my own–as I did at Grand View Bed and Breakfast in Fairbanks, Alaska. Owners Dave and Clodagh Thompson are, quite simply, the warmest kindest B&B owners I’ve ever come across. And the full Irish breakfast? Yes, please.

If I could only choose one breakfast and one place to eat it for the rest of my life, it would be room service oatmeal at Nashville’s Hermitage Hotel. I would vary the routine a bit by, some days, bathing in the super-deep bathtubs before breakfast and, other days, after.

Sophia’s Picks

The Wildcatter Ranch Resort in Graham, Texas

The Wildcatter Ranch Resort in Graham, Texas

I could easily settle down in one of the suites at the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa in Graham, Texas, where the porches, pool and hot tub share a phenomenally soothing view of rolling Texas hills.

I spent a couple of snowy days curled up by a gas fire in a cottage nestled in the forest at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls in Logan, Ohio. The memory remains one of the happy places I go in my head when I need mental escape.

Keyah Grande, an eight-room mansion retreat on 4,000 spectacular acres in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, is pleasantly over-the-top (each room is decorated in the theme of a different country); it’s like visiting a filthy-rich relative’s summer cottage. The flying deck gives me vertigo, but the pool view is perfect.

Matt’s Picks

Solage Calistoga

Solage Calistoga

Situated along the route of the old Pony Express, The Lodge at Red River Ranch outside of Teasdale, Utah, blends rustic and regal perfectly. My heaven: curling up with a book in front of the crackling fire in the three-story Great Room.

Every year my wife and I spend time at Solage Calistoga, a klatch of individual (and uber-modern) cottages nestled on the outskirts of Calistoga, California. We ride the complimentary bikes all over town. Then we luxuriate in the spa.

Even if it weren’t one of the most eco-friendly resorts on Earth, The Lodge at Sun Ranch in Cameron, Montana, would still be among my faves for its great fishing, sustainable cuisine, and the best bird-watching outside of Alaska.

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Flyover America has moved! Please join us at www.ReadFlyoverAmerica.com.

Boston's Liberty Hotel

Boston's Liberty Hotel

With apologies to Tina Fey for, above, bastardizing her character’s now famous line, here, the hotels/B&Bs/other-places-with-beds-that-aren’t-our-homes that we would like to move into permanently.

Jenna’s Picks

Few hotels–if any–merge whimsy, history, and upscale delights like Boston’s Liberty Hotel, which is partially housed in a former jail. I would spend my Saturday mornings doing Yoga in the Yard and my evenings sipping cocktails at Alibi, the drunk tank turned bar.

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as welcomed in anybody’s home–including my own–as I did at Grand View Bed and Breakfast in Fairbanks, Alaska. Owners Dave and Clodagh Thompson are, quite simply, the warmest kindest B&B owners I’ve ever come across. And the full Irish breakfast? Yes, please.

If I could only choose one breakfast and one place to eat it for the rest of my life, it would be room service oatmeal at Nashville’s Hermitage Hotel. I would vary the routine a bit by, some days, bathing in the super-deep bathtubs before breakfast and, other days, after.

Sophia’s Picks

The Wildcatter Ranch Resort in Graham, Texas

The Wildcatter Ranch Resort in Graham, Texas

I could easily settle down in one of the suites at the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa in Graham, Texas, where the porches, pool and hot tub share a phenomenally soothing view of rolling Texas hills.

I spent a couple of snowy days curled up by a gas fire in a cottage nestled in the forest at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls in Logan, Ohio. The memory remains one of the happy places I go in my head when I need mental escape.

Keyah Grande, an eight-room mansion retreat on 4,000 spectacular acres in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, is pleasantly over-the-top (each room is decorated in the theme of a different country); it’s like visiting a filthy-rich relative’s summer cottage. The flying deck gives me vertigo, but the pool view is perfect.

Matt’s Picks

Solage Calistoga

Solage Calistoga

Situated along the route of the old Pony Express, The Lodge at Red River Ranch outside of Teasdale, Utah, blends rustic and regal perfectly. My heaven: curling up with a book in front of the crackling fire in the three-story Great Room.

Every year my wife and I spend time at Solage Calistoga, a klatch of individual (and uber-modern) cottages nestled on the outskirts of Calistoga, California. We ride the complimentary bikes all over town. Then we luxuriate in the spa.

Even if it weren’t one of the most eco-friendly resorts on Earth, The Lodge at Sun Ranch in Cameron, Montana, would still be among my faves for its great fishing, sustainable cuisine, and the best bird-watching outside of Alaska.

Read Full Post »

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