Sand between my toes, melting popsicles, chlorine-y or salty hair, ripe tomatoes, fresh corn, eating outdoors, thunderstorms and fireflies—a few of my East Coast childhood summer memories. The idea of fireflies, or lightning bugs, as they are sometimes called, is just so charming, and in some ways a symbol of a simpler time. No iPhones or email, no TiVo or Internet, just a bug catcher and a jar….
Fireflies are everywhere this June. My kids listen to about 10 songs, as much as I try to curate their musical tastes, they’ll have to discover their own style. One of their favorites right now is Fireflies by Owl City. It’s a sweet song and the lyrics are very uncontroversial. My husband is also hooked on an old TV series called Firefly dubbed an America Space Western, by those in the know. Add to that, a great little restaurant, Firefly, in San Francisco, that we love…and then I came across this New York Times article about fireflies drawing hordes of tourists in Tennessee. This was the antidote to fast-paced modern life I needed to read about.
Apparently, there is a light show every night at this time of year in Elkmont, Tennessee near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Folks gather at a trail head with camping chairs and wait for the Mother Nature’s ritual performance. Called “mind-blowing,” “a silent symphony” and likened to the aurora borealis or a solar eclipse, this is no small show. Continue reading »
Tulips and daffodils, cherry blossoms and birds galore, the charmingly decrepit Central Park of my youth is now ancient history, as I learned on a recent trip. Defunct buildings are now sparkling hotspots like the Boathouse, refashioned and refurbished as a posh eatery with 19th-century Parisian charm.
Civilized cafes have sprouted up and scary bathrooms are well lit and clean, even the carousel seems perkier. Just a few years ago I took my kids on it, and an ex-con type was running the controls. The merry-go-round went so fast I feared my toddler son would fly off. Continue reading »
The first time a friend suggested a trip to Sea Ranch, I had visions of seahorse cowboys and underwater rodeos. I soon discovered it to be anything but a SpongeBob SquarePants circus. It proved to be one of the most restful places I’ve ever been.
100 miles north of San Francisco, the drive takes a good three hours if you take time to gawk at the Oscar winning coastline. We often stop in Bodega Bay for a fish and chips or clam chowder lunch to break up the drive. This time, my seven-year-old discovered he gets carsick, and if you are prone to motion sickness this drive will surely bring it on.
Sea Ranch was a pioneering eco-community begun in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The connection between the landscape and the architecture is beautiful and certainly contributes to the serenity of the place. I dislike gated communities or housing developments in general, but this place really has captured the benefits of a uniform style with strong community ethos. The sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate wood-frame structures were inspired by the local ranches and are designed to cope with the weather and integrate well with the topography. Continue reading »
Lake Tahoe reported a foot of snow the other day. Two weeks ago I got word that almost four feet had dropped on Jackson Hole. A few days ago a little farther north, Big Sky Montana got a foot, with more falling and a lot more on the way.
It must be ski season.
A few years ago I went to Yellowstone in winter to see wildlife, cross-country ski to Old Faithful, ride the snow coach, and tool around on a snowmobile in the national forests outside the national park. On the way down from Bozeman we drove right past Big Sky and I made a mental note to come back and check it out. Continue reading »
Visiting NYC, what I miss most is nature, not something I thought about as a kid. On a recent trip back home, I had a few things I had to do. One key spot on my must-see list was to visit New York’s new-ish High Line. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken to greening the city, opening many small median parks, closing streets to traffic and planting lots of trees.
The High Line, an elevated garden built on an old freight railroad line, runs through Chelsea and the Meat Packing district, which, like most of Manhattan, is now upscale. When I was growing up, this area was treacherous, true meat packing was going on as well as other nefarious activities. Today, the neighborhood is bustling with fancy shops and the new High Line is a treasure to behold. Continue reading »
The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics are coming to a close and I must say I have an Olympic sized hangover. I have stayed up way too late, too many nights, watching even preliminary runs and way too much commentary.
The 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics was also a Canadian affair. It was the last Olympics where Cold War rivalries played out on the world sporting stage. It was the year of the Jamaican Bobsled team and Eddie the Eagle, the courageous Scottish everyman who soared in the ski jump, or at least gave it his best.
For Olympic nerds, like me, it was the year of the Battle of the Brians in figure skating where the American Brian Boitano won the gold. I remember most of all the amazing scenery, Lake Louise and the stunning aerial photography of the Canadian Rockies. A two-hour drive from Calgary, Banff is to Calgary what Whistler is to Vancouver. Continue reading »
“What’s up dude iguana,” my two-year-old cheekily said to one of the many iguanas roaming the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza on a visit to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula a few years ago. The archaeological site is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site. We were shocked at how few restrictions there were at the time, and I cringed when my toddler climbed all over the ancient structures. We welcomed the freedom, and yet it was disturbing to witness visitors literally loving the site to death.
Climbing to the top of the central pyramid with our son in a backpack was one of those peak travel moments, part Rocky, part Raiders of the Lost Ark. Negotiating the narrow steps, worn from centuries of foot traffic, exacerbated my festering fear of heights. Continue reading »
A recent October trip to Yosemite and Mariposa County, CA followed a huge rain storm. The robust waterfalls thundered all around and the scenery was more striking than I had remembered from my last trip at the end of July. Autumn colors enhanced the spectacular vistas and there was a crisp feel in the air. Not more than 50 yards from the trail two rutting male deer banged their antlers together putting on a great show. I had packed for winter; fleece, down jacket, hat and gloves. It was in the 70’s and I was in a sweat during the day; the weather can be so changeable. I was stressing before I left, worrying about whether I needed chains or not for the drive up; instead I swam in the hotel pools and applied sunscreen liberally.
My first night I spent at the Tenaya Lodge, right outside the park. The Tenaya had the feel of a Park Lodge, animal heads on the common room walls, giant beams and an outdoorsy style, but was considerably fancier than a rustic lodge. The bed was big and comfortable but unfortunately I slept poorly due to the altitude and a late night specialty coffee (decaf) that I suspect had more alcohol in it than I could tolerate. Elk was on the menu (which my kids were excited about) and I would love to take my family back to explore all the Lodge’s offerings.
One October a few years ago I spent a couple of days in Churchill, Manitoba looking for polar bears. Churchill is famously the “Polar Bear Capital of the World” because so many bears come in to den when the pack ice breaks up on Hudson Bay. In the fall, when Hudson Bay begins to freeze, ice forms first around the spit of land where Churchill sits, and the bears know it. That’s why they gang up here, why thousands of tourists like me come to gawk.
But now there’s a new game in town: snorkeling with belugas. Yep, you can don a dry suit and slip into water that was frozen solid last week and come nose to nose with beluga whales. John Flinn took the plunge and conveyed his experience in the San Francisco Chronicle this week. Continue reading »
Now is the time. The crowds are gone, the days are clear and warm and the nights are cool to cold. Mosquitoes and just about every other flying insect have bedded down for the winter or perished in the chill. Campsites are available. And Yosemite’s vaunted Tuolumne Meadows is as beautiful in the fall as ever.
I spent the 4th of July holiday weekend there, my first visit in 25 years, which told me a couple of things: just how quickly time can pass and a quarter of a lifetime can slip beneath your feet; and how short-sighted I’d been to allow so many years to drift away without making the simple four-hour-plus drive up from San Francisco. I swam in Tenaya Lake, fished the pools and streams that fed into it, got some strikes in the Tuolumne River as it wound through the meadows, and later, at Cathedral Lake, saw a trout with a head as big as my fist emerge from the depths to strike my lure repeatedly before losing interest, too smart to be caught by an occasional fisherman like me. Continue reading »
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