Thursday, August 22, 2019

Head to Fairbanks to See the Aurora Borealis Now

Fairbanks is one of the best places on earth to experience the magic and beauty of the Northern Lights. Fairbanks’ renowned aurora viewing lures people from all over the world during the Aurora Season from August 21 to April 21. The community’s location is ideal for northern lights viewing because it is directly under the “Auroral Oval”—a ring-shaped zone over the far north where aurora activity is concentrated. Additionally, low precipitation in Fairbanks contributes to consistently clear nights. All combined these variables make the Fairbanks region an outstanding destination for possible aurora viewing.


The Aurora Tracker

Due to the fact that Fairbanks is an obvious choice for northern lights viewing, Explore Fairbanks has built the Aurora Tracker for the website to assist visiting chasers. The Aurora Tracker correlates three individual streams of data in order to predict northern lights viewing opportunities for six locations in the Fairbanks region. Data streams include aurora forecast data from the Geophysical Institute, weather forecast data for specific northern lights viewing locations, and the number of daylight hours. The aurora will be visible in Fairbanks an average of four out of five nights when the sky is clear and dark enough. Visitors who stay a minimum of three nights and are actively out during the late evening hours increase their chance of seeing the aurora by more than 90 percent.

The solar wind occurs daily and is the wellspring of most aurora activity. Additionally, there are occasional solar storms, correlated with sunspots and the 11-year solar cycle, that also create auroras. Because of our far north position under the “Auroral Oval,” Fairbanks is not impacted by the 11-year solar cycle that affects aurora viewing in other parts of the world. “Since any auroral activity, even at the lowest level, is visible from Fairbanks, observing is not affected by the solar cycle,” said Don Hampton, Research Assistant Professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.

Seeing the Aurora Borealis

There are many intriguing ways for visitors to chase the aurora in Fairbanks. They can drive to a nearby vantage point and wait for them to appear, view them from a heated “aurorium” cabin or lodge away from the city, see them on a dog sled adventure, or even on a tour farther north above the Arctic Circle. Many lodging properties in Fairbanks offer a wake-up call to alert guests when the lights are out. Once visitors have witnessed the aurora, they can stop by the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in downtown Fairbanks for a free, personalized aurora certificate from Explore Fairbanks. There are no guarantees, but the longer visitors are here, the better their chances of seeing a great light show.

Information and photo courtesy: Explore Fairbanks

Friday, August 9, 2019

Santa Fe Music Week: Jazz, Mariachis, Opera, and More

Music lovers can look forward to a week of music in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Jazz, pop, mariachi, opera, country, classical, folk, Latin rock and more! Tunes of all styles and genres will be drifting through the air later this month with Santa Fe Music Week, which returns August 23 through September 2, 2019. 

Attendees will experience 10 days of live music from national headlining artists and local favorites in venues like the Santa Fe Opera, The Lensic Performing Arts Center, the Santa Fe Plaza bandstand, Santa Fe Railyard, restaurants, and bars. Entertainment will be a combination of free and paid performances.

New for 2019, music lovers can pick up a free Santa Fe Music Week lanyard that gets you drink discounts at many of the music venues around town. It also waves any cover charge for live music and has a calendar of events on the back where the lanyard is valid. You can get a free lanyard at any of the Santa Fe Visitor Centers or participating lanyard locations. The lanyard discounts are only valid during Santa Fe Music Week at participating locations.
Lanyard partner locations include Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery, Meow Wolf, Cowgirl BBQ, Santa Fe Brewing Co., Bar Alto, Eloisa Restaurant, Mine Shaft Tavern, and Violet Crown.

Highlights of Santa Fe Music Week 2019 will include appearances by Grammy Award-winning artists, Ringo Starr, Boz Scaggs and Kacey Musgraves at the Santa Fe Opera. Free mariachi performances will bring culture to life weekdays on the Plaza from 3-4 p.m. and groups including The Red Elvises, Shake Alert, Baracutanga, Stephanie Hatfield and Sim Balkey will take the stage free on the plaza from 5:30-7 p.m. nightly. Additional Music Week highlights include The Platinum Music Awards, the final two performances of the Santa Fe Opera 2019 season, AMP Railyard concerts and the Mariachi Extravaganza.

Additional performers, dates, and ticket pricing information for Santa Fe Music Week is available on the event website

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Washington Side of the Gorge: Fort Cascades Trail

A nice place to wander to experience the mossy forest, learn about Columbia River fish and a little bit of Pacific Northwest history is the Fort Cascades Historic Site. This shady trail is located one mile downstream (west) of the Bonneville Dam and is reached from the Dam Access Road on Hamilton Island, off of Washington State Highway 14. Parking is free.

Cool, Mossy Fort Cascades Trail
Fort Cascades was an army fort built in 1855 to protect a portage road around the lower cascades rapids of the Columbia River.  The fort burned down in 1856 and the area was abandoned in 1861 and then flooded out in 1894. Pick up a brochure at the kiosk at the trailhead so you can follow the interpretive markers along the trail.

The 1.5 mile Fort Cascades Trail will take you past historic sites (don’t expect to see remains of buildings) where you can look for abandoned wheels and metal equipment among the beautiful mossy rocks, ferns, and woods. The trail eventually leads into the town of North Bonneville if you do not follow the trail looping back.

Remnants of the Portage Railroad

You'll catch some great views of the dam upstream and learn about fish hatcheries and the protection of fish in this area of the Columbia River.
Bonneville Dam
It is a lovely flat trail to take on a warm day because of the shade. Pets are allowed on leash. Map

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

National Margarita Day: Follow the Santa Fe Margarita Trail

As the country prepares to celebrate National Margarita Day on February 22, 2019, the Santa Fe Margarita Trail has been expanded to include 17 new locations all offering a custom version of the beloved salt-rimmed cocktail made with 100% agave tequila. The new locations are only available through the Santa Fe Margarita Trail Mobile App and, in combination with the enhanced trail, the app purchase price will be reduced to $2.99 starting on February 22. 

The addition of the new locations brings the trail’s total number of stops to 47. New participating locations include: Blue Corn Brewery, Boxcar, Dinner for Two, El Farol, El Nido, Gabriel’s, Harry’s Roadhouse, La Cantina at La Casa Sena, La Reina in El Rey Court, Float Bar at Meow Wolf, Rio Chama, The Compound, The Ranch House, Thunderbird Bar & Grill, Cottonwood Kitchen in Tesuque Casino, Dragon Room at the Pink Adobe and Tortilla Flats.
Enjoy a Margarita at La Fonda
 The Santa Fe Margarita Trail App is available on Google Play (Android) and the App Store (iPhone). The app provides an interactive map of all 47 locations, the recipe for each margarita, the ability to track progress of stamps earned and a $1 discount on the purchase of each margarita.

As margarita-loving app users travel the trail collecting stamps there are five levels of prizes to earn.  Although there are now even more cocktails to discover, the award levels will remain at: 

 5 stamps = Margarita Trail T-shirt to show off your margarita passion!
10 stamps = Provisionary Member of the Margarita Society
15 stamps = Full Membership in the Margarita Society
20 stamps = Signed copy of The Great Margarita Book
30 stamps = Margarita Bartender Kit
To redeem awards, participants must visit the Plaza Visitor Center at 66 E. San Francisco Street. Any of the three Santa Fe Visitor Centers can assist with questions about downloading the trail app or transfer existing stamps from a paper passport to newly purchased app.  The paper passports will continued to be honored by original locations; however, moving forward a paper version will not be sold and new users must download the app version to participate.

Since inception in May 2016 and going mobile in February 2018: 1,900 Santa Fe Margarita Trail Apps have been downloaded, over 3,550 T-shirts have been claimed, nearly 200 copies of “The Great Margarita Book” have been awarded and 113 margarita lovers have hit the 30 stamp mark earning all five prizes.
For more on the Santa Fe Margarita Trail, please visit

Press Release courtesy Tourism Santa Fe

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

#NationalPieDay In Search of the Best Pie in Arizona

It's National Pie Day, an annual celebration of pies started in the mid-1970s by Boulder, Colorado nuclear engineer, brewer, and teacher Charlie Papazian. He decided that his own birthday, January 23, would be National Pie Day. Now that's interesting because my favorite birthday treat is... pie!

While on a press trip around Utah and Arizona my birth date was looming. I shared with a couple of confidants (whom I later realized would spill the beans) that pie was a special treat for me on my birthday and it had to be fruit pie—apple, cherry, berry, peach or mixed fruits and a wonderful flaky crust.

My fellow journalists and pie fans on the road in Bryce Canyon.

The Grand Canyon Grand Pie

So it began. Days before my actual birthday, my traveling companions did all they could to help me find the absolute best pie in the state of Arizona. First, at the Grand Canyon, El Tovar trotted out their best candidate for the designation of "Best Birthday Pie." It was a glorious crumb-topped fruit pie with the decoration of the season—red and green. It was beautiful and the pie was delicious. If there was a category for best presentation, El Tovar would have won it!

Festive Dutch crumb apple pie at El Tovar

As it was, it was great fuel for a day of walking, enjoying the spectacular scenery and enduring a bit of winter chill.

The Grand Canyon in winter.

The Hopi Pie a la Mode

We were touring the Hopi Mesas enjoying visits with jewelry artists along the Hopi Arts Trail when it was time to stop for lunch. At the Hopi Cultural Center, we enjoyed the authentic tastes of meals based on corn, beans, and rice (the three sisters). After the tacos, the posole, and the stews, it was time for dessert. One option, much to my delight was pie a la mode. We enjoyed fruit pies with refreshing ice cream... excellent, but the crust was not flaky enough. (By now, I was feeling rather like Goldilocks hunting for the "just right pie.")

Berry pie a la mode at the Hopi Cultural Center restaurant.

The Sedona Vortex Pie

When we visited Lake Powell, we were entranced by the vistas, the magic of sunrise on the cliffs and the excellent dinner we enjoyed at the Lake Powell Resort. Add in some amazing California wine hand-selected by wine writer Barbara Barielle, and we easily drifted off to sleep. At dawn, the birds were chirping and the sunrise drew me outside. Little by little, the lake was lighted by the sun as I watched.
Dawn at Lake Powell Resort
Our host, Robin Marquis, had yet to hear about the pie-quest but by the time we all reached Sedona and she joined us for a hike around the Bell Rock vortex, apparently, she had heard. After our hike and some magnificent photo ops, Robin surprised me with a glorious pie. This one, from Marie Callender's, hit the spot after our day outdoors. It was an excellent pie. But was it to be the absolute best in Arizona?
Robin Marquis surprises me with yet another pie to try!

Rock Springs Cafe

On the last day of the trip, and my actual birthday, writer Barbara Barielle and I headed south from Flagstaff and planned for a stop at Black Canyon City. You see, this little desert town is rather famous for pie and bar-b-ques (Rocky Mountain oysters anyone?) and wouldn't a travel and food writer need to stop in and see what all the fuss is about?

This little desert oasis (food-wise, that is) has been there for over 100 years. In 1918 it started out as a little general store. Rock Springs Cafe has been a must-stop on the drive north from Phoenix up I-17 for decades and became a favorite stop of mine when I lived in the West Valley fifteen years ago. I could remember picking up Thanksgiving pie and needing two hands to carry the weighty fruit-laden pie to my car. And now I was back and the anticipation was growing. Would this be the best pie in Arizona?
Tough decisions at Rock Springs Cafe
Pies filled the cold cases and the shelves at Rock Springs Cafe but in order to experience this much-anticipated piece of pie, we were directed to the "pie counter." We perused the chalk board and found that a few of the selections had sold out. It was only mid-day and they were sold out? So I opted for a piece of simple peach pie. No whipped cream, no ice cream—just a good old fashioned piece of pie.

The pie slice was soon delivered from the kitchen and it looked great. The peaches were a deep color and the crust looked flaky enough. Once I took my first bite I knew—this was the best pie of the trip. Rock Springs Cafe had delivered just as they did when I lived in Arizona many years ago.
Rock Springs Peach Pie—the best pie in Arizona!
Right then and there I dubbed that Rock Springs Cafe piece of pie as THE BEST PIE IN ARIZONA!

So on National Pie Day in rainy Washington State, my thoughts turn to sunny Arizona and that wonderful piece of pie. 

Note: The author toured as a guest of the Grand Circle Association. As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Favorite 2018 Instagram Travel Posts

2018 was a year full of travel, colorful sights, and meaningful visits. I've selected some Instagram travel posts, both from my Instagram feeds and from those that particularly impressed me this year, for a great round-up of travel photos from 2018.

Blogging Coonhound Retires

I can't have a list of favorite photos without highlighting the fact that Cinnamon, the Blogging Coonhound, retired this year. Instead, she is relaxing, sunbathing in the backyard, and confining her travels to "luxury dog-friendly travel." Cinnamon is 11, although she really doesn't want you to know that! This photo was taken at her gala retirement party as she awaited the guests (and their retirement gifts).

Vancouver, WA Waterfront Takes Shape

I'm posting this photo as the exciting Vancouver, WA (where I live) Waterfront along the Columbia River has opened a great walking area with the stunning Grand Street Pier. Twigs and Wild Fin restaurants have opened and we are eagerly anticipating the location of a Maryhill Winery Tasting Room. For those who are not aware (and they are fewer each year), Vancouver WA (The Couve) is located across the river from Portland, Oregon.

Exploring Slot Canyons in Utah and Arizona

Writer Gina Zammit and I learned plenty about photographing slot canyons from our guides. These beautiful sandstone canyons left us in awe of the color, texture and history. And, we left with plenty of selfies!

The Trail to Feast Portland

I always enjoy seeing where our food comes from. Before Feast Portland this year, I was treated to a foodie and adventure tour of Southern Oregon. Here, Jules, our guide and driver, found the perfect apple in the orchard across the road from The Fry Family Organic Farm in Medford OR, both great places to visit and find fresh produce.

Christmas in Salt Lake City

Barbara Barrielle has a sense of whimsey. No matter where she travels, she finds something fun to photograph (and it's often a selfie). Here she is being a kid again with Santa at the annual German Christkindlmarkt in Salt Lake City at the "This is the Place Heritage Park."

Cruising Through the Locks in Seattle

I was thrilled to be invited aboard Windstar's Star Legend to cruise along the Seattle waterfront and through the Ballard Locks. The Star Legend was the largest ship to ever attempt to go through these narrow locks and they drew a huge crowd.

Dining Around Portland

You can't live just across the bridge from a foodie city like Portland without succumbing to the culinary delights available in all the neighborhoods of the city. One of my favorites, while strolling the Alberta District, is the fresh East Indian street food served at Bollywood Theater. While you are there, check out the Bollywood movie playing in the women's restroom!

Hood River Valley Fruit Loop

While on the way to explore The Dalles, Oregon, I stopped at this lovely home and garden near Panorama Point. The Elisea family has been there for years and have a picture perfect view.

Walking and Exploring Port Angeles, Washington

It was a regional convention for the AVA: America's Walking Club that drew me to Port Angeles to stay and walk. Over a long weekend we explored the area on foot... from Sequim's lavender fields to the beautiful tidepools of the Salt Creek Recreation Area on the Olympic Peninsula.

Recycled Art and Rhodys

I'm a fan of the Recycled Arts Festival that takes place in Esther Short Park in Vancouver, WA but this cutie was spied at the Portland Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens during their garden fair. Since I have two coonhounds, I'm always drawn to "hound art."

Spring in Oysterville

Oysterville, a historic town on the Long Beach Peninsula of Washington, is still home to oyster growers. And, the historic town can be walked in less than an hour. This church is available for events and you can visit when its open. Strolling Oysterville is one of my favorite things to do on the peninsula.

Sunset on the Oregon Coast

Last but not least, I had the pleasure of staying at the Headlands Coastal Lodge and Spa at Pacific City and the sunset was amazing. At Sunset, people came outside from the Pelican Pub, walked along the beach and admired the beauty of the Oregon Coast.

Happy 2019

And what will 2019 bring? Well, in a few weeks I'll be taking off to experience a chef's week at Danzante Bay in Loreto Mexico. It will be my first time and I'm sure I'll be inspired so watch my Instagram feed for more travel adventures!