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This blog has moved! October 19, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Uncategorized.
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Thanks for visiting Roads Less Traveled. Please see http://tracybarnettonline.com/blog for my new and improved blog, and keep an eye out for an exciting new project that will be launched in the weeks ahead!

Los Cabos: The call of the Baja coast October 5, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Mexico.
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Pilar McNear wanted to do something really special for her 40th birthday. So she and her husband Jeff pulled out all the stops and invited 12 other couples to join them in Los Cabos, the spectacular resort town that lies at the tip of the Baja Penninsula.

The fiesta was, by all accounts, a huge success. Swimming with dolphins, jet skiing at Playa Médano, snorkeling at Playa Santa María, partying at Cabo Wabo and a dinner cruise at sunset were just a few of the highlights. Check out the story, and tips on planning your own Cabo getaway, in this month’s The Buzz Magazines.

Here’s the slide show, compliments of Wendy Yu, one of the invitees.


Bite of El Diente, and Tips for Climbers October 2, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Adventure, ecotravel, Mexico.
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Most climbers tackle their art with a passion that could only be called contagious. I exposed myself to that particular virus this spring, carried by veteran rock climber/writer/attorney Jamie McNally, and I suppose that’s why, as I prepare for a week in Guadalajara, I’m packing my climbing gear.

One of the menu of outings offered by the Society of American Travel Writers in its pre-conference lineup was “Eco-Adventure in El Diente,” and with a name like that, how could I resist? Especially with the excellent training provided by Jamie, who nearly killed me in my first exposure to rock climbing this spring. It wasn’t until I went online today and googled it that I realized that where he failed in May, he may have succeeded in October.

El Diente (The Tooth) is about to bite me...

El Diente (The Tooth) is about to bite me...

My account of my May adventure will appear in the Dallas Morning News this fall (posthumously, perhaps) so I asked Jamie to provide a few tips for beginners as I prepare to punish myself on the cliffs of El Diente. (El Diente pic compliments of Marc and Kristi, who climbed there a year ago and made it sound like a piece of cake in their excellent blog… Thanks, guys!)

OK, so after reading Marc and Kristi, and after going through Jamie’s tips (below, for the very brave), I’m feeling better about the climb. Honestly, it’s the mountain biking that I’m kind of freaked out about. I’ll keep you posted – if I’m not in traction.

Read on for Jamie’s excellent tips. And if the climbing bug bites you, don’t say I didn’t warn you.


11 tips for a successful photo safari September 30, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Adventure, Africa, Biking.
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Giraffe, Crescent Island, Lake Naivasha, Kenya (Fred Tooley)

Giraffe, Crescent Island, Lake Naivasha, Kenya (Fred Tooley)

Good nature photography takes years of painstaking study and practice, first-rate equipment and a great deal of patience. But as Houston architect Fred Tooley discovered, spectacular shots are there for the taking on safari, and you don’t have to be a professional photographer to get them.

I asked him to share his top ten photo tips, and he was generous – he even gave us an extra. For a more extensive collection of his photos, and other Houston safari travelers, see African Adventures, and keep an eye out for their story in Buzz Magazines.

1. If this is the trip of a lifetime (like it was for us) it is not the time to get by with a point-and-shoot camera. Use a good quality SLR with interchangeable lenses, You can rent them online or from a camera shop if you do not want to buy. You wouldn’t take a cheap gun on an African hunt, so why take a cheap camera for this other kind of shooting?


Ojito by starlight September 25, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Adventure, Nature tourism, New Mexico.
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ABQ Ojitos Jemez082

One of my very favorite partners in adventure is my sister Tami. Like me, she tends to live just a tiny bit on the edge of what other people see as possible. She wants to do it all, and so every day ends up being an adventure.

Like the night we tried to do too much, ran late and ended up wandering lost in the Ojito Wilderness by starlight.

Not to worry, she assured me. It doesn’t matter that we’ve lost the trail. We can just follow profile of that mesa. We’ll end up there eventually.

We were looking for the hoodoos, those peculiar rock formations that loom like giant goblins over the landscape. She had been hiking in to this spot once a month to study the night sky for her shamanic astrology practice, and this time she was including me. It was a magical place, sacred to the Zia Pueblo, and I was thrilled.

Nonetheless, the thrill was wearing off a bit as I, jetlagged and sleep deprived, stumbled against a cactus and grabbed for the duffel bag that kept sliding off my shoulder.

“Wait, there’s not supposed to be a dropoff here,” I heard in the distance.

Not reassuring.

Things worked out, as they always do with Tami. We didn’t find the hoodoos that night but we stumbled across something almost as nice, given the hour: a cleared-off campsite with a fire ring and a clear view of the horizon. We spread our tarp and our bags and laid back to wonder at the constellations.

Really, we had just been trying too hard, I thought to myself. It’s all right here.

The fiery edges of the sky woke me before dawn and I grabbed my camera to capture it. We made our way to the hoodoos and caught them in the gold-red light of early morning.

Finally I turned my camera on the most beautiful sight of all: my sweet sister perched on the overlook, contemplating the wonder of it all.

Tami sunrise

A little tour of the magnificent Ojito Wilderness, just after the monsoon rains. Enjoy.

Going full boar at Catalan September 24, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Food, Houston, Sustainability, Texas.
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Every now and then, a meal becomes an event you’ll never forget. That’s what happened Sunday at Catalan, one of Houston’s top-rated restaurants.

Chef Chris

Catalan, an anchor of the newly thriving Washington corridor, has caught the eye of many a writer in the couple of years since it’s opened, right up to the New York Times, and master chef Chris Shepherd is a big reason why. His bold, no-holds-barred, what-the-hell style has earned him a following that’s as passionate as his own commitment to his art. But what really drew me was his staunch advocacy of the buy local movement. He plans his entire menu around what he finds at the local farmers’ markets and what local growers can provide him.

“It’s not just the right thing to do; it means better quality,” he explained when I met him on Friday. He was already cooking up plans for Sunday’s feast, and when he invited me, of course I couldn’t resist.

It all started when Farmer John Laughlin showed up on his doorstep with a wild boar. Laughlin’s farm kept getting raided by these wild hogs, and nothing he did could drive them away.


The New Houston: It’s not what you think September 22, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Houston, Texas.
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Houston is a double-hitter in my book this week. I just finished a piece for Continental Magazine about my new hometown, and Spirit, the inflight magazine of Southwest Airlines, just featured my story “Meet Houston,” the intro to an excellent package of stories about the city by a fine lineup of Houston journalists (including, incidentally, a couple of my former colleagues at the Chronicle”.

Downtown_Skyline_and_Buffalo_Bayou_-_1AThe New Houston: Its not what you think

It was the perfect New Houston moment: A Pavarotti-like voice pulsed over the green lawns and the sparkling lake of Discovery Green. A sumptuously dressed cast beamed Macbeth from an inflatable screen, towering over a thousand people of all ages, colors and sizes. Some lounged in lawn chairs or on blankets spread on the green grass; some watched from the patios of nearby restaurants. Some munched hamburgers; others drank beer.

This was the Grand Opera’s first Citycast, performed at Wortham Center and broadcast live on public radio and at public places including Discovery Green, the new showpiece of art, culture and green technology that Houston wrested from a jumble of parking lots in 2008.

This was not the Houston of the cattle drives or the oil tycoons or the petrochemical industry, which is what most people think about when they think of this city, if they think of it at all. Which is a shame, because they are missing out on one of the country’s truly great international metropolises.

To read the rest of the story, click Meet Houston.

To read the rest of the package – “Live” and “Play” by Natalie Bogan; “Work and “Learn,” by Bill Hensel Jr.; and “Eat” by Dai Huynh, click Southwest_Spirit_September_2009. Warning: it’s a large file and will take some time to download.

African adventures September 22, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Adventure, Africa.
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This week I am living vicariously through the adventures of three Houston couples who experienced three very different safari adventures. The article, which will appear in the November edition of The Buzz Magazines, will detail the highlights of each adventure and some tips for traveling to Africa.

Three of the travelers shared some spectacular photography, which I’ve put together in a slide show for you here. The first two photographers, Fred Tooley and Patti Allender, went on photo safaris in East Africa; the third, Suzanne Shelby, went on a big game hunt on the South African border with Botswana.

Sharon Tooley and Suzanne Shelby shared some tips, lessons learned from their travels, which I am including below; they’re an excellent resource for those who might be contemplating a trip to Africa. Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy the splendid photo tour that their labors yielded.


Bringing nature to the mall September 16, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Nature tourism, Sustainability, Utah.
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The 1,200 acres of high-plains wetlands were saved from development to create the Swaner EcoCenter, explains Annette Herman, Executive Director.

The 1,200 acres of high-plains wetlands were saved from development to create the Swaner EcoCenter, explains Annette Herman, Executive Director.

Images featured the elegantly woodsy Swaner Ecocenter surrounded with waving grasses, long-necked waterfowl, blue skies and the dramatic Wasatch Range. So it was no small surprise that Nora, our guide, pulled into a shopping center right across from WalMart and dropped us off. “It’s right over there,” she said. “I’ll park the car and then come join you.”

I contemplated getting a gelato first, or maybe window-shopping at the little boutique. Then I remembered why I was there.

It turns out the the pictures didn’t lie. This is no ordinary shopping center, and the Swaner family is a big reason why. The ecocenter sits at the heart of 1,200 acres this family bought and saved from development and, land which has been restored into a surprisingly wild habitat right off I-80. It’s tucked into the Newpark Town Center, which is striving for LEEDS environmental design certification (the ecocenter has already set the standard with a platinum LEEDS designation, the highest ranking). Located as it is on the edge of this mixed-use condo community and resort area, it’s ideally located to reach out to shoppers and residents who might otherwise not give a thought to visiting an educational center dedicated to nurturing and raising awareness about the environment.

Here’s a sneak preview:

Upcoming blogging workshop at Gemini Ink September 14, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in San Antonio, Writing workshops.
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Gemini InkI’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again: Gemini Ink is one of those things that makes San Antonio special.

Most visitors and many residents don’t realize what a thriving literary hub San Antonio has become over the years, and Gemini Ink is a big part of that. It’s also due to the generosity and the open-spiritedness of nationally known writers like Naomi Shihab Nye, Sandra Cisneros, and John Phillip Santos, to name just a few, who give workshops and encouragement to beginning writers and those who are in the process of transition, like yours truly. Because of them, I am a better writer.

Gemini Ink showcases the work of literary lights like Peter Mattheissen, Margaret Atwater and Annie Prioux, bringing them to town for a free public reading and smaller, targeted events. Its Writers in Communities and University Without Walls programs also give a forum to local and regional writers like me, and I’ve greatly enjoyed my association with them over the years. It’s put me in touch with some excellent writers and community folks, some of whom I remain in touch with today.

The fall program is packed with great classes and is just getting underway. Check it out here and consider attending an event or two. Some are free readings and workshops; others require a small fee.

All of which leads me to a backhanded self promotion: I’ll be conducting a day of two workshops on blogging on Saturday, Sept. 26 and would welcome your participation if you’re in the area. It’s not free, but I promise to make it worth your time.  Here’s my plug: