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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.

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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:

Park City: A summertime eco-adventure August 24, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Nature tourism, Sustainability, Utah.
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Mention Park City and Gortex-clad skiers come to mind among the Christmas-card-pretty lodges nestled among the snowy peaks. But once the snow melts and the summer sun warms those picturesque peaks, another, greener scene emerges, and that’s the one we were treated to on this trip.

Historic downtown Park City comes alive every week for the Park Silly Sunday Market.

Historic downtown comes alive for the Park Silly Sunday Market.

Park City is now marketing itself as an eco-destination, and notwithstanding its reputation as a getaway for the rich and famous, the city government as well as private citizens have worked hard to preserve the natural beauty of the place while lowering its carbon footprint, and some interesting initiatives have emerged. A vibrant arts community gives the city a colorful, quirky edge. All of this, combined with hundreds of miles of hiking trails and a landscape that begs for human interaction, give the green traveler multiple reasons to be here.

Our tour began with a trip to Olympic Park just in time to see the Flying Aces, an amazing troupe of Olympic skiers who wowed the crowds with a series of gravity-defying acts like triple-triple flips and twists before landing in a pool of water before our eyes.

Our next stop was just as amazing, but in a different way: The Swaner Ecocenter, an environmental study center and nature preserve located on the edge of a shopping mall. This was my personal favorite, and I’ll write more on this later.

But every Park City day must include a bit of decadence, so we paid a visit to David Perkings at High West Distillery. This turn-of-the-century livery building on historic Main Street is being converted into a high-class restaurant and whiskey and vodka tasting room that will be the first of its kind.

A favorite Park City pastime in the summer is mountain biking, so I signed us up for a class with Mike Broome, an expert mountain biker with Deer Valley Resort. Asked my biking level, I pondered a bit and responded intermediate; let me just emphasize, for the record, that a lifetime of road biking, even participating in a marathon, does not render one an intermediate mountain biker.  Mike outdid himself trying, but after my hour-long lesson, I’ve reclassified myself as a mountain biker wannabe. More on this later, too.

Suffice it to say, we earned our apres-biking activities. Lucky for us, Sunday brunch at the Stein Eriksen is a sumptuous event in itself – consistently voted the Best Brunch in the State, and with everything from seafood to petit fours to accompany traditional favorites like eggs benedict with salmon and maple-smoked bacon, it was plain to see why.

Our final surprise was the Park Silly Sunday Market, an open-air market peopled with artisans and performers as well as farmers and foodies. Amazingly, the founders set out to make this a zero-waste event, and they’ve largely succeeded. But this one, too, is worth a story of its own. So stay tuned, and I’ll fill you in on that later.

Meanwhile, some images my camera found along the way:

Matagorda: The Secret’s Out August 6, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Nature tourism, Texas.
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Hundreds of miles of coastline stretch from Corpus Christi to Galveston. I’d always wanted to explore that stretch in between where the Colorado River meets the sea. But aside from a state park on an island that is no longer accessible, nobody I spoke to could say much about what I might find there.

This only made me more curious. So one day I picked up the phone and started calling around. And before I knew it, I was packing my bags and headed for the coast.

What I found surprised me: spectacular beaches, abundant wildlife, great food, a fascinating history, fishing to die for and friendly folks who will make you feel right at home.

What I didn’t find was an overabundance of tourists. A couple from Fort Worth, a father and daughter from Houston, a family from Pearland and a handful of locals — but mostly, miles of white sand pounded by surf and backed by graceful dunes.

Take a look for yourself; I think you’ll see what I mean. And read the story in the Aug. 9 Travel Section of the Houston Chronicle or the San Antonio Express-News – or click here for the online version.

Marvelous Matagorda July 25, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Nature tourism, Sustainability, Texas.
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East Bay at sunrise

Hundreds of miles of coastline stretch from Galveston to the Coastal Bend. I’d always wanted to explore that stretch in between where the Colorado River meets the sea. But aside from a state park on an island that is no longer accessible, nobody I spoke to could say much about what I might find there.

This only made me more curious. So one day I picked up the phone and started calling around. And before I knew it, I was packing my bags and headed for the coast.

What I found surprised me: spectacular beaches, abundant wildlife, great food, a fascinating history, fishing to die for and friendly folks who will make you feel right at home.

What I didn’t find was an overabundance of tourists. A couple from Fort Worth, a father and daughter from Houston, a family from Pearland and a handful of locals — but mostly, miles of white sand pounded by surf and backed by graceful dunes.

Last week I got to spend a couple of glorious days soaking up some of the best this region has to offer. On Aug. 9, the story will appear in the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. Meanwhile, here’s a preview.