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Dancing in a city in the sky September 2, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Native American culture, New Mexico.
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ACOMA PUEBLO, N.M. — Today I’m preparing for a glimpse into the past, a day when the ancestors dance with the living in a village in the sky.

Acoma Pueblo glistens in the late afternoon sunlight as it must have when Spanish explorer Coronado first saw it.

Acoma Pueblo glistens in the late afternoon sunlight as it must have when Spanish explorer Coronado first saw it.

It’s San Esteban’s Feast Day at Acoma Pueblo, a village that vies with Taos Pueblo for the distinction of being the oldest continually inhabited village in the United States. Also called Sky City, this pueblo sits atop a mesa as it has for a thousand years. This was one of the so-called Seven Cities of Gold that Coronado found in his trek across these lands; historians speculate it was the mica windows glinting in the sun that gave the Spaniard the idea that the inhabitants were harboring a wealth of gold, but their only wealth lay in their rich traditions.

Yesterday we toured the village and the beautiful the Sky City Cultural Center at its base. Award-winning Acoma potters Lee and Florinda Villo gave us a demonstration of their work, and we dined with Chef Lawrence “Jay” Riley at the Yaaka Cafe, where he prepares the native dishes of his childhood but with a chefly flair.

Today we won’t be able to take our cameras because of the sacred nature of the event we’re about to see. But here’s a glimpse of the cultural center and Acoma Pueblo, the village in the sky. (check back later for captions – now I have to run!)

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From Albuquerque to Andalucia August 31, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in New Mexico, Spain.
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Though you wouldn’t know it from my recent posts, I’ve been working the past week from the beautiful home of my beautiful sister Tami Brunk, located near the Rio Grande in Albuquerque’s surprisingly green and vibrant South Valley. Tami has been sharing with me some of the lesser-known attractions of Albuquerque’s south side, such as the lush cottonwood forest along the river called Paseo del Bosque.  We paid a visit to the Pupuseria y Restaurante Salvadoreño for some delicious pupusas – there’s a whole savory range from green chile to grilled fish to Mayan flower pupusas – and arrived in time to catch a performance from a local jarocho group (no, jarocho is not Salvadoran, it’s Veracruzan, but it’s a wonderful complement to the pupusas!)

A Veracruz-style jarocho band livens up Albuquerque's only Salvadoran pupuseria.

A Veracruz-style jarocho band livens up Albuquerque's only Salvadoran pupuseria.

The best part of my stay, besides spending time with Tami, has been learning more about the organization she’s been working with as its organizational and developmental director. La Plazita Institute, under the guidance of visionary leader Albino Garcia, has literally helped make the South Valley bloom, on many levels. The organization has a whole network of projects ranging from an urban organic farm to community outreach programs for gang-involved youth.

This week, I’ll be heading west to Acoma Pueblo, where I’ll be seeing the Sky City Cultural Center and a whole host of cultural and natural attractions. But first, I want to share with you a piece that just came out in The Buzz Magazines of Houston, a group of lifestyle magazines that has hired me as their travel editor. It’s a monthly column featuring the travels of readers in The Buzz circulation areas, but for my introductory column, I wrote about my own travels to two of my favorite places: Albuquerque and Andalucia.

Here’s the piece, From Albuquerque to Andalucia.

Beyond the Alamo in San Antonio August 26, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in San Antonio, Texas.
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San Antonio's West Side is alive with color, culminating in a collection of murals that tell its stories.

San Antonio's West Side is alive with color, and scattered with murals that tell its stories.

There’s a touch of irony in the Alamo’s stature as the No. 1 stop on the San Antonio tourist trail. The Alamo was all about the battle to wrest Texas from Mexico. Though Santa Anna lost the war, he won the battle in San Antonio, and the Mexican spirit has prevailed – which is the other part of what people come to see. Hispanic influence touches everything: the art, the literature, the music, the cuisine, the activism. And that’s a huge part of what makes San Antonio so special.

Tracy and Peter on the River Walk

Tracy and Peter on the River Walk

In honor of Travel Detective Peter Greenberg, who has invited me to appear on his excellent travel show, Peter Greenberg Worldwide, I’ve put together a list of my favorite off-the-tour-bus San Anto sights and experiences. Listen to the podcast here, and browse Peter’s site for a wealth of travel news. Peter’s logged more miles than anyone I know, and amazingly, he finds time to serve as a volunteer firefighter in Long Island on the weekends. And please add your favorite San Antonio haunts in the comment section below.

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Los Cabos: A view from the other coast August 24, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Latin America, Mexico.
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Mention a getaway to a Mexican resort, and most people think of the Yucatan: Cancun, Cozumel, the Riviera Maya. And while Mexico’s Caribbean corner can have its charms, too many tourists stop there.

One spectacular alternative is Los Cabos. This resort area on the Baja Peninsula is comprised of the posh and energetic Cabo San Lucas, the nearby colonial town of San Jose del Cabo, and the lush corridor between.

Keep an eye on The Buzz Magazines for my upcoming story about an unforgettable birthday getaway hosted there by Houstonians Pilar and Jeff NcNear. Meanwhile, here’s a slide show of breathtaking images by Houstonian Wendy Yu.

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:

Symphony on a ski slope August 22, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Food, Uncategorized, Utah.
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Park City had taken a quick detour into winter when we arrived; temperatures hovered around 45 and threatened to plunge into the 30s that night. This wouldn’t be a problem if we’d planned to cozy up at the fireplace of the rustic chic Stein Erikson Lodge and enjoy the abundant amenities – but our hosts had quite a different plan for us.

Volunteer from Fort Worth, Texas

Volunteer from Fort Worth, Texas

“You’re going to the symphony tonight? You will be miserable!” fretted a Park City Houstonite upon learning of my plans. That’s because the Utah Symphony plays at Deer Park Resort under the stars – a romantic setting unless your chattering teeth are drowning out the percussion section.

Surely our hosts had made other arrangements, I thought – disappointed because the star of tonight’s show was none other than Elvis Costello.

I needn’t have worried. The Park City Chamber, which hosted our visit, pulled out the stops to make it happen, and in high style. The sun soon came out and the cold spell lifted. And our hosts came armed with fleeces and blankets, a plastic tarp for the grass and comfy folding chairs. There were bottles of pinot noir and super-luxe picnic baskets with truffle oil salami and brie, smoked salmon and chocolate raspberry tarts and enough savory distractions to almost make one forget the symphony, much less the cold.

Gourmet picnic

Watching the crowd gather under the suspended ski lifts was a sight to behold in itself. But once Costello walked onto the stage, this colorful spectacle and the gourmet feast quickly faded into the background. The lighting crew and the Utah Symphony wove a magical backdrop for a spectacular performance, with Costello covering an enormous range of styles, from jazz standards to punky alternative to wacky country tunes. My favorite was a yet-to-be released Costello composition telling the Christmas story from Joseph’s point of view.

UTAH

More pinot, anyone?

More pinot, anyone?

Krishna in the sagebrush August 20, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Utah.
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Krishna in the Sagebrush

After our hot springs adventure, Anne took us to several wondrous places – most incongruous of which was a Krishna temple in the high desert plains near Spanish Fork. It’s called the Sri Sri Radha Temple and it’s truly an amazing site, set as it is among the sagebrush with the Wasatch Range as a backdrop. The grounds include a water garden with a meditating Krishna statue, a llama farm with some miniature brahmas, peacocks and other exotic birds.

The place comes alive for festivals, but today was quiet. We got a tour of the temple from a man who was about to be married – we had to leave before the ceremony – but we stayed for a delicious vegetarian all-you-can-eat buffet in their cafe, which was worth the drive in itself at only $5.

But more importantly, the place offers a gracious glimpse into a fascinating and often misunderstood religion.

After lunch, we headed up into the hills, past the spectacular Bridal Veil Falls and up onto the Alpine Loop, through Robert Redford’s Sundance and past Timpanogos Cave National Monument. Much more beautiful than my camera was able to capture on our speedy cruise, unfortunately – but highly recommended as a day trip all in itself – or more.

Hot springs hideaway August 19, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Adventure, Utah.
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Kayaking the Great Salt Lake would have been adventure enough for some — particularly since our self-appointed wilderness guide had a bartending shift that began at 5 and ended at 10.

UTAH

But Anne De Long is no ordinary wilderness guide. She’s also a tango dancer, along with the rest of my group, which means that life really begins long after the sun goes down. And so I found myself at 1 a.m., pack strapped to my back, hoofing an hour upwards into the Uinta National Forest in the wake of a troupe of tango dancers.

I am reluctant to reveal the whereabouts of these hot springs. Let me just say that they were well worth the climb. (OK, I’ll give just one hint: its name is Diamond Fork. But don’t ask me how to get there. I couldn’t tell you, anyway – I was asleep!) By the time I’d huffed and puffed my way up the last switchback, Anne had set the scene with candles all around the secluded pool and Suan had set the “table” – a rock in the center of the pool – with olives and brie and crostini and red wine.

When we were sated from food, wine and laughter — among the many talents that Anne totes around in that backpack of hers is the persona of a slightly bawdy showgirl — she led us to the foot of the waterfall where we plunged into its icy torrents and shattered the peaceful night with screams of delight.

We soaked our cares away till nearly dawn, when we crawled into our sleeping bags and slept like the dead until the hot rays of the sun popped over the canyon wall and crept into our bags. Imagine our surprise to find a troupe of blonde, uniformed cheerleaders making their way into our open-air boudoir.

All good things must come to an end, as they say. Sigh.

Kayaking the Great Salt Lake August 15, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Adventure, Utah.
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I’d never have believed you could pack so much life into two days. Salt Lake City and the surrounding countryside offer so much to the traveler, it really deserves a week or two. Possibly even a lifetime.

Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake

Nonetheless, two days were what we had, and our friends worked overtime to show us some of the highlights: Kayaking on the Great Salt Lake; a twilight concert downtown with the originator of reggae; a midnight hike up a mountain to an unforgettable night under the stars at Diamond Fork Hot Springs; a vegetarian buffet at a Taj Mahal-like Krishna temple in the sagebrush-covered valley and a drive through the verdant aspen forests of Sundance and the Alpine Loop.

First was the kayaking expedition. Anne De Long, our guide, warned us that the brine flies might be out in force, but we decided to chance it. We were so glad we did. The spectacular vistas, the salty air and the strange sensation of bobbing effortlessly above the briny depths made for an unforgettable experience.

Here’s a little preview:

Roads Less Traveled hits the Houston Green Scene August 11, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Houston, Sustainability, Texas.
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I’m excited to announce some new collaborations that will be taking Roads Less Traveled to a greater audience and in a greener direction.

YolandaGreenChannel 39’s Going Green With Yolanda Green, Houston’s only TV program dedicated to sustainability, is now featuring my blog on its website, http://www.39online.com. Going Green is an exciting initiative in itself, with Yolanda bringing conservation initiatives to a whole new audience. From the new smart grid technology to invasive species, Yolanda is on it, and all her episodes and a whole lot more can be viewed on the website. Since my focus is sustainable travel – including attractions here at home in Houston – it seemed a perfect fit. Scroll down to the area next to Going Green Highlights to find Roads Less Traveled.

HoustonGreenScn121I’ll also be collaborating with Houston Green Scene, which will feature a weekly column from my blog pertaining to sustainability at home and sustainable travel elsewhere. Houston Green Scene is an innovative new website and forum founded by local entrepreneur Mona Metzger covering green initiatives in the Houston area.

Especially if you live in the Houston area, but even if you don’t, take a minute to check out Going Green With Yolanda Green and the Houston Green Scene. You can also follow them on Twitter – @HoustonGreenScn and @YolandaGreen39 – and on Facebook.

Other environmental initiatives I’ve become involved in are the Last Organic Outpost, an urban farm in the inner city that’s currently planning a knockout Harvest Festival and the Transition Houston group, part of a rapidly growing global movement preparing for a sustainable transition to a less petroleum-dependent future. More on both of these later — but meanwhile, it’s good to know that there’s a whole lot going on in Houston’s green scene, and I’m proud to be a part of it.