A Fascinating Journey Up To Mississippi

Lifeblood to the Native Americans, battleground for the Civil War and Civil Rights movement, birthplace of the blues and inspiration to Mark Twain — a journey up the Mississippi from sea to source tells a multitude of stories.

Why is it that men are so concerned with the beginning and end of everything – when it’s the middle that really matters? Terry Larson’s question hung in the still, humid Minnesota air waiting for an answer. But aside from the odd splash from our oars, and the audible hiss from the underside of

our canoe as we skimmed over the long grass, all was silent.

In truth, my canoe guide’s question wasn’t directed at me. It was a query first posed to an explorer called Henry Schoolcraft by an elder of the indigenous Ojibwe tribe back in 1832. Then, after centuries of searching, the headwaters of the fourth longest river in the world – the Mississippi – were about to be revealed. But the question still felt pertinent even today, given my arrival here was the culmination of a two-week journey along the river from sea to source.

Rolling on the river

If I thought it was warm in Minnesota, it was positively own-like where I had begun, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Famous for its annual Mardi Gras celebrations, the waterway continues the party theme and I arrived to see renovated steam paddleboats cruising the banks below the French Quarter, music blaring from their decks.

I opted to start my exploration by bicycle, meandering the city’s many neighbourhoods, from Frenchmen Street, where soft jazz riffs oozed from half-open doors, to the tree-lined Garden District, and on to Lakeview’s flower – festooned houses and the buzzy-vibed Treme by Armstrong Park. But no matter where I pedalled, it seemed water was never far from people’s minds, and no more so than on the edge of the Lower Ninth Ward where the devastation from the rising levels caused by Hurricane Katrina more than ten years ago was still being repaired.

I left the city heading south and determined to reach the outlet of the mighty Mississippi, to begin my journey proper. Along the way I stopped to take a tour of Honey Island Swamp. The community here is made up of ramshackle over-water homes that, just three months before my visit, suffered metre-high floods.

“It’s just a fact of life,” said our skipper as he pointed out the bald cypress trees that rose out of the water, their peculiar roots piercing the swamp in spiked dusters all around them. ‘These trees grow 90ft [27m] tall, won’t rot, survive most hurricanes and actually thrive in the water – that’s why we use them to build a lot of the houses. Things adapt here, they survive.”

He wasn’t just talking about the people. The bayous and swamps in Louisiana are home to a hardy range of turtles, wild boar, deer and alligators, perfectly adapted to the conditions. The latter watched us as we floated, some following slowly in our wake, others basking in the sun on upturned logs. “They were once on the endangered species list,” our captain explained, “now they’re thriving.”

Spurred on, I continued to Venice, the official end of the Great River Road and the Mississippi, which splays out here into the Gulf of Mexico in wide channels. Unlike its Italian namesake, this is no picturesque, canal-threaded honeypot; instead it’s a collection of boatyards (this is the jumping- off point for many commercial fishing companies) and staging areas for the oil rigs offshore.

Made up of a mix of backroads, federal routes and state highways, the Great River Road is not a single stretch of tarmac, but actually runs on both sides of the Mississippi for most of the way. From Venice, I decided to stick to the west bank, heading towards Baton Rouge.

At this point, the river is over a muddy kilometre in width and 45m deep. Years of flooding and receding has made the surrounding soil rich in minerals and fertile land for farmers. Back in the early 18th century, though, sugar was king and this far south plantations stretching thousands of acres lined the banks. Nowadays, while sugar is still a big industry here, plantation tours are arguably just as vital.

I visited Laura Plantation first, a brightly painted Creole home once owned by descendants of French colonists from Louisiana. Here the guides told of the equally colourful goings-on behind dosed doors, where masters fathered children by their slaves, who were then brought up alongside the owner’s families.

Next up was Whitney, which focused on the slaves’ story instead. Bronze statues of children were poignantly positioned around the estate, as we learned of the tragic methods by which their owners would ‘break’ and punish them.

I ended at Oak Alley Plantation, where a line of trees funnelled the cool air from the water down to the imposing white house at its centre. It was a beautiful spot to watch the sunset, but it made me think about how the river offered not only an easy way to bring the slaves in, but was also an obstacle preventing escape.

“When I first came here, I cried fora full 55 minutes,” said Kathe Hambrick-Jackson, owner of the River Road African American Museum further north in Donaldsonville, where the plantations morphed from sugarcane to cotton production. “I stood on the riverbanks watching tourist boats come in, and realised this was the same spot where the slaves would have been offloaded.”

Kathe later turned her reaction into something positive, setting up a museum to remember the lives of the slaves and to help their descendents trace their roots. What’s more, she told time the story of one slave who managed to escape by using the river, stowing away on a boat headed for the gulf, finally ending up in Liverpool, England, a free man. Maybe the water wasn’t a prison after all.

In the past, the Mississippi itself has even been known to make a break for it, and to this day is prone to changing course. To try and stop this, several measures have been put in place, most notably the levees (man-made banks) that funnel the water in different directions and were a constant companion on my journey.

At the pretty town of St Francisville, where the tourist steamboats were docked for the day, I spotted rows of concrete stabilisation mats, designed to stop erosion. In geology, when a river changes course, as they often do, it leaves visible marks called meander scars. But not all scars are so easily seen with the naked eye.

Crossing the state line into Mississippi, I visited Natchez, the oldest town on the river, complete with a hearty helping of antebellum homes. But it was only when I dug deeper that I discovered this had once been the territory of a Native American tribe of the same name. The Natchez people were displaced in the early 1700s, after trading relations with the French settlers soured. Nowadays, there is no trace of them to be seen – no visible scars of the past.

The river has often found itself at the centre of major events in the history of America, right from the moment a retreating glacier formed the Mississippi, long before the Natchez lived here. Later, around the time of the 1811 earthquakes, a rift pulled apart the land to form a valley that nearly split the continent in two.

And fifty years on from that, the divide was realised politically, as the American Civil War (1861-65) saw a nation turn on itself: north versus south, Yankee against Confederate. At its heart was the debate over the abolition of slavery, but when it came to the river, it was all about trade and control.

 

“Controlling the river meant controlling the power,” explained David Maggio, my guide at the Civil War battlefield site in Vicksburg. “This town was the last plug in the river stopping trade.” The Yankees besieged it, forcing the Confederates on top of the bluff, and after around 10,000 deaths on both sides, they effectively starved them out. Once it fell, the Mississippi’s waters re- opened and the giant gunboats – designed upriver in Cairo to patrol them – became obsolete.

With so much toil, heartache and fighting, it seems not entirely coincidental that this is the delta where the blues was born, and still thrives. From Clarksville, where the former cotton worker McKinley Morganfield (aka Muddy Waters) lived, to Elvis’s Graceland in Memphis, you can’t stop for a plate of grits and biscuits in the Deep South without hearing a thick baseline and a two-step beat.

The further north I headed, the more the focus switched from people and power to nature and the outdoors. I stopped fora boat ride at Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee, a pocket of water formed by the 1811 quakes now coated in verdant duckweed and topped with butter-yellow lotus flowers. As I drifted across its surface and the ranger pointed out egrets, red wing blackbirds and ospreys nesting in the trees, I mused how this was one of nature’s prettiest accidents.

Life on the Mississippi

For a short while I cut through Kentucky, just long enough to spy some evidence of Native American influence on the river. Resembling an easily missed cluster of small grassy lumps, Wickliffe Mounds was actually one of the earliest settlements of people living along the Mississippi. Predating colonisation, they were already gone by the time the French arrived in the 18th century, but a 1930s excavation revealed a treasure trove of tools made from the very day that makes up the riverbank.

Crossing into Illinois, I drove through what looked like a ghost town. Formerly palatial hotels stood crumbling, school buses lay abandoned and overgrown, but the name was familiar. It turned out this was Cairo, the namesake town of one of the vessels I saw at Vicksburg that used to control the Mississippi in the early 1800s. A faded mural nodded to it, but a decline in the steamboat industry meant that this town’s glory days were well and truly in the past.

But not all river towns met the same fate. Both Sainte Genevieve in Missouri and Galena in Illinois were communities I visited where someone had recognised that their respective wooden long houses and red-brick main streets were worth preserving. With the former offering wine tours of its seyval grape vineyards and the latter boasting riverside watersports and good food, both were thriving.

Further north, the unmistakable Gateway Arch signalled that I’d reached St Louis. It was from here that the 1804 Lewis and Clark expedition to push west began, the river acting as a gateway to the new frontier, new opportunities and new hope. Fitting, then, that it was here, on the opposite bank in East Alton, that I learned just how important the Mississippi remains to the current US economy.

“It’s still very much used as a trade route,” said Andrea Gregory, a ranger at the Great Rivers Museum, where the second and largest of the 29 locks and dams that line the river going north is located. ”

A hopper barge three barges wide and five in length can carry more than a thousand trucks can. They also use less fuel, so they are better for the environment.” We walked up to peer over the lock, which was now helping a group of three kayakers (and some stowaway pelicans) drop down into St Louis. ”

In spring, fertiliser and coal head north to help farmers begin their harvest. In the fall we get those harvested grains back, and in summer, as you can see, it’s mainly recreational traffic,” she explained.

I became one of the latter at my next stop – Hannibal. If the name sounds familiar, the white picket fence will certainly jog your memory, for this town was the basis for the fictional St Petersburg, home to Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn characters.

It was here that ‘jumped on the paddle steamer – named after the author – to see the islands, the port and the water from his books come to life.

Shallow Pleasures

From literary creations I moved onto something more tangible – and unusual – crossing the border into Iowa and Effigy Mounds National Monument.

Here, created by the native peoples of the Mississippi, are a number of huge earthworks shaped like giant animals. “No-one really knows why they are here, and as they were designed to be seen from somewhere high up in the sky, you can’t always tell that you’re walking past one,” explained ranger Michael Douglas, “but you will know it. I don’t know how, but you will.”

I pulled on my hiking boots and started my hunt. Hummingbirds flitted in front of me as I strolled through the woods to emerge at a viewpoint where the river seemed to seep uncontrollably out through tightly knitted pockets of green below.

I continued and found myself stopping for no particular reason. I looked to my left and slowly realised the raised grassy mound was in the shape of a giant bear. Michael was right.

For the last leg of the River Road, I criss-crossed between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Every year, 10,000 migratory birds also follow the waterway here, heading for warmer temperatures. The most recognisable of these is the bald eagle, and I watched in awe as they majestically circled above the outskirts of Minneapolis-St Paul.

It was here that I made what would be my penultimate stop and, as time was tight, I chose to swap four wheels for two with a Segway tour of the city. At the river’s only waterfall, a hydroelectric plant has been set up to harness the power of the water. But, as my guide informed me, there is a force that they are finding much harder to control: Asian carp. As such, all locks north of this one have temporarily been dosed off to the southern parts of the river.

When I finally took to the water again – with my canoe guide Terry – it was much further up the liver, and it was hard to believe the same waterway that had taken several minutes to cross on a Segway was now a shallow and easily navigable sliver.

On my final day, I began the short walk to the headwaters. Noticing some steps descending into the water, I took off my shoes to tread the final kilometre in the river itself. As I rounded the final bend I thought back to the question Terry had posed.

Here, at the source, as I was about to reach the end of my journey, I think I understood what he meant. For centuries man has lived off the river, battled over it, attempted to control, guide and contain it, but the Mississippi has kept churning and meandering regardless.

For the river, this was neither the beginning nor the end, it would always be the middle of a journey – one that is truly never-ending.


Riding Through the Rockies on Canadian Rail Lines

Canada’s magnificent Rockies unfold in a blur of grays, whites and deep greens through the panoramic windows of the train car on a 19-hour rail ride from Vancouver, British Columbia, on the Pacific Coast to picturesque Jasper, near the Alberta/British Columbia border. The gentle sway and rumble of train travel is inspiring, especially onboard VIA Rail Canada or Rocky Mountaineer, the two non-charter lines operating in the region.

VIA Rail’s comfortable Sleeper Plus cabins – which range from single berths with Murphy beds to cabins for four – create the romance of being lulled to sleep by the clickety-clack of the train at night. If you choose this option, you’ll also get access to a special viewing car, white-linen dining with meals made with fresh, local ingredients by top-star chefs and the ability to roam the train.

In the morning, breathtaking vistas of forests and powerful river canyons surround you. On my trip, I stood in the glass-topped Panorama Dome car and watched with fellow travelers as the awesome peaks of the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges rushed by; we marveled at the way the dramatic scenery shifted from Fraser Valley’s verdant fields to British Columbia’s rocky, desert- like interior.

Fraser Valley, BC, Canada

Fraser Valley, BC, Canada

The train slows for passing freight trains, letting its passengers get a better look at the scenery, which, in warmer months, may include the occasional brown bear lumbering off the tracks. (The bears feast on grain dropped by passing freight trains.)

We traveled in winter (VIA Rail operates year-round) and were lucky enough to see the majestic snowy peak of Mount Robson — at nearly 13,000 feet, the highest point of the Canadian Rockies — which is often invisible and veiled in fog.

Mount Robson

Mount Robson

Other highlights included a view of the cascading, 300-foot-high Pyramid Creek Falls (you can only see the falls from the highway or a train; they are not accessible otherwise) and Yellowhead Pass, a natural route across the Continental Divide used by fur traders and gold prospectors in the 19th century. I was amazed — and saddened! — by how quickly we arrived in Jasper National Park (at roughly 4,200 square miles, the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies).

A trip through the Rockies can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so you might as well make the most of it. From Jasper, a separate train can take you northwest to Prince George in central British Columbia and on to coastal Prince Rupert, just south of Alaska’s panhandle; both are small logging towns whose charm will win you over.

For an even more luxurious trip through these beautiful landscapes, you can opt for VIA Rail’s Prestige Class service, available on The Canadian, a four-night, three-day route across Canada between Vancouver and Toronto, with stops in Edmonton and Winnipeg; you can make any of these cities your final destina­tion. It is by far the best way to see this vast country. Highlights onboard include dedicated service by a Prestige concierge and a cabin with a large lounge area that transforms into a comfortable double bed, private bathroom with a shower, flat-screen monitor with video selection and minibar stocked with your choice of beverages and snacks.

Unlike the Vancouver-Jasper trip, The Canadian’s passage through the Rockies includes only a brief, 45- to 60- minute stop at Jasper, enough time to stretch your legs but not to see the town or the park.

VIA Rail provides short stops at select train stations where you can disembark briefly while the train refuels.

inside rocky mountaineer

A train trip through the Canadian Rockies includes spectacular views, visible through panoramic windows in certain cars

If disembarking, sightseeing and staying overnight in a hotel is your preference, book a trip on the popular Rocky Mountaineer instead. This Canadian rail company offers several routes through the Canadian Rockies with several trips departing from Seattle. For an additional charge, you also can add a seven-day Alaskan cruise to any route that starts in Vancouver.

Onboard the Rocky Mountaineer — which travels from April to October — you will enjoy white-linen meals and unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages in your dining or lounge cars. The GoldLeaf upgrade provides exclusive access to breathtaking glass-domed cars and an open-air vestibule.

Choose a Journey through the Clouds tour package, and you can opt for a scenic look at Jasper National Park, with time to explore the town of Jasper on your own, followed by a motorcoach trip through awe-inspiring scenery to Banff National Park. You’ll travel along the Icefields Parkway to the Athabasca Falls and the Columbia Icefield, where you will ride on an off-road bus into the middle of the Athabasca Glacier. A stop at stunning Bow Lake precedes a visit to the mesmerizing, turquoise Lake Louise. Here, an overnight or dinner at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is highly recommended.

Lastly, if taking a trip back in time is more your speed and you’re traveling with 30 of your closest friends, the Royal Cana­dian Pacific, which once carried Sir Winston Churchill, is available for private bookings.

Royal Cana­dian Pacific train

Royal Cana­dian Pacific train

It’s not cheap, but the wood-paneled sleeping cars with private lounges and patios may be worth the $29,000 to $59,000 price tag.


The Spell of Books in The Last Bookstore, L. A.

The sign in front of the building in downtown Los Angeles was intriguing. On the glass window was written: “We buy and sell books and records”. Peeping through the window, we could see an array of books in shelves in a big hall. Naturally, we had to enter.

The first thing that strikes you when you enter The Last Bookstore is the size of this place-22,000 sq ft spread over two floors. Located in a heritage building—in what once housed the Citizens National Bank and is now known as the Spring Arts Tower—we are in a place where books are a passion.

The white columns inside rise 25ft to the vaulted ceilings. Original marble tile floors feature the sort of uneven wear that makes the place more charming. The cashier’s desk catches our eye. The base is supported by books.

This is the third avatar of The Last Bookstore, which was started in 2005 by Josh Spencer, who used to sell books, CDs and other stuff on eBay from a building in the Old Bank District When he moved the store to its current location, two bookshops in Los Angeles had announced closures that same month, and down-town’s Metropolis Books went up for sale.

Spencer didn’t go into this business with any strategy and he’s aware of the risks. “People look at all this,” he told Los Angeles Downtown News, “and think we’re rolling in the dough. They don’t realise I’ve used all the debt I can, from everywhere, to open this. We’re doing okay, but not great”.

He added: “Whether we last will depend on if the community supports us. Right now, they’re supporting us.”

We walk into the Arts & Rare Books Annex, anew addition. Specially created for books on arts, architecture, photography, design or about anything related to arts, there is a gold mine waiting for you here. The coffee table books on arts are sold at throwaway prices. Thrillingly, we see a first edition of Lolita and one of The Jungle Book! Collectors’ items such as these come with a hefty price tag.

One of the great things about the place is the way the books are arranged. It is beautifully done, like any good library in America, and finding a title is not difficult. At many places we see the sign: “If you could not find it, ask us for it”. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable.

We come to the central hall. Stray beams of light come streaming through the tall glass windows. Chairs and couches are placed in the centre of the store, though a sign warns: ” Please note: we are not a library. I hour time limit for chairs & couches. No sleeping. You damage the books, you buy them.”

This message, however, doesn’t detract from the store’s warmth and larger message: that all are welcome.

We continue our browsing. We pick up the 1935 edition of the classic The Amenities of Book-Collecting and Kindred Affections by A. Edward Newton for $3! (It sells at $33 on Amazon.) We had to resist the temptation to buy more than once as we were mindful of the flight back to Bengaluru after two days.

Walking and browsing inside the store is a treat We look up to see an astonishing installation, ‘A Wave’, made of books. Hung from the ceiling, it is fabulous.

We take the stairs to the first floor which has books on history, politics, sports and other subjects. Even as we climb up, we notice another fascinating installation: a printed paper roll hung from the ceiling in an uneven pattern.

But the best is yet to come. As we enter the floor, we see a hole with books neatly arranged around it — here’s your photo opportunity! There is a book kept for you to read when your picture can be clicked from the other side of the hole. Then we pass through a ‘Tunnel of Books’. Yes, it is indeed a tunnel created by books arranged overhead!

We walk down and head straight to the records section. Stacks of vintage LPs of all the famous musicians you can name! We hearken to the sight of the beautiful Self Portrait by Bob Dylan. We also notice old LPs of a few Bollywood movies.

As the name suggests, The Last Bookstore maybe one of the last of its kind. With books being sold online, many bookshops have closed their shutters. As Spencer says, it is the love of the people which is sustaining his passion. A passion for books. By a book lover for other book lovers of the world.


Isla-Mujeres

Escape Stress at Mexico’s Isla Mujeres

In this year of massive rallies and protests, daily calls to your congressional representatives and feeling tethered to your Twitter feed or cable news, there’s got to be a way to recharge.

For women who want to reconnect to an ancient, calmer energy, let us throw this name in the ring: Isla Mujeres, aka the “Island of Women.” Located in the Caribbean Sea about 8 miles off the coast of Cancun, this wisp of an island {just 5 miles long and 0.3 miles wide) offers an easy-going ambience.

With its powdery beaches and undulating palms, Isla Mujeres feels far away from the tequila-fueled party scene on the Mexican mainland — and very distant from the non-stop news cycle at home. A girlfriends’ getaway on the beach is some­thing that deserves a bipartisan endorsement, right?

On Punta Sur, at the south­ernmost tip of the island, there’s a temple ruin devoted to the Mayan goddess Ixchel. “Ixchel was the goddess of the moon, and she was associated with healing and fertility,” says Gus­tavo Rodriguez Orozco, director of tourism for Isla Mujeres. “For centuries, Mayan women came to this island to seek her help.” Local people still tend to believe that Ixchel will help them resolve fertility issues, he adds.

the lighthouse punta sur

The lighthouse at Punta Sur

Of course, men are welcome. Isla Mujeres promotes itself as a romantic destination, the perfect locale for idyllic weddings on a beach lit by Tiki torches. But you won’t feel like the odd woman out if you don’t come with a guy on your arm. And some say there’s a definite feminine vibe in the salt-tinged air.

“You can sense a different energy here (among women),” says Marcia Collado, a yoga instructor at the Zoetiy Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres Cancun resort. “Since the island is sacred to the Mayan moon goddess, I think (its) history empowers us, allowing us to keep in touch with our femininity.”

Zoetry Villa Rolandi

Outdoor poolside at Zoetry Villa Rolandi

To help guests get in touch with their inner goddesses, the resort’s spa offers a Mayan massage that incorporates Mayan healing practices, and they use Mayan herbs and mineral salts in a body treatment called Villa Rolandi’s Secret.

Whether it’s mystical Mayan power or simply the power of suggestion, few would deny that this sleepy island has restorative qualities, especially if you slow down to its leisurely rhythms.

Let the unwinding begin as you ride the ferry from Cancun across the stunningly aqua waters of the Bahia de Mujeres. There’s no real rush to get anywhere once you arrive; in fact, most guests get around via golf cart at slow-motion pace.

You’ll likely be tempted by Playa Norte, considered to be one of the best beaches in Mexico. It’s also easy to spend hours (and days) swimming and snorkeling in the calm waters of the western side of the island, where the coral reef sits offshore. Add some art to your undersea journey with a visit to the MUSA Underwater Sculpture Museum, a dreamlike installation of 500-plus permanent life-size sculptures, such as Benidiciones, designed to provide habitat for marine life.

musa underwater museum fingers

MUSA Underwater Museum

If you like your indolence spiked with adven­ture, swim with whale sharks! Few things are as empowering — and humbling — as sharing the sea with a creature that can measure up to 65 feet long and weigh more than 12 tons. The sharks arrive in these waters in July and August to feed and mate. To swim with whale sharks, you need to go out with an outfitter (try Solo Buceo, which offers two-hour, early-morning trips from mid-May to mid-September). It’s OK to be a beginner, but it’s not OK to touch the whale sharks. Snorkeling alongside these polka-dotted giants is truly exhilarating. The largest congrega­tion of whale sharks in the world happens off the coast of Cancun, scientists say.

And we can all appreciate how powerful a large gathering can be.

Where to Eat

MANGO CAFE

mango cafe isla mujeres
Colorful, lively Mango Cafe draws a mix of locals and tourists for dishes like coconut French toast, fish tacos and stuffed poblano peppers. If it’s not totally authentic Mexican, it sure is playful and fun. And it wouldn’t be vacation if someone in your party didn’t order a mango mi­mosa. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

SUNSET GRILL
Every island should have at least one place where you can eat lovely food and watch a sherbet-hued sunset over the water. On Isla Mujeres, this place fills the bill. Think lobster quesadillas, ceviche, grilled shrimp and paella — tasty, sure, but you’ll remember the setting much longer.

LOLO LORENA
Born in Belgium, chef Lolo Lorena serves a multi-course gourmet meal at communal tables in a courtyard setting. It’s a bit like being a dinner guest at a private party with a wonderful hostess. Her somewhat pricey 5- to 10-course meals are a fusion of flavors, based on what’s available and what Lolo is inspired to cook, but count on a memorable evening.


mexico city food

The Capital of Mexican Taste – Mexico City

Tienes hambre? Then make sure to pack your appetite (and some stretchy pants) for a trip to Mexico City. The vivacious metropolis combines Old World charm with a red-hot culinary scene that’s currently taking the food world by storm.

“Mexico City is a hot spot because of its diversity and quality. You can get any kind of food you’re looking for, from excellent tacos to amazing fine dining experiences,” says Elizabeth Chichino, who handles public relations for the restaurant Lorea. “And many Mexican chefs have traveled the world and learned from great restaurants that no matter the concept, quality is the cornerstone for growth.”

Whether your taste in dining runs haute cuisine or hole-in-the-wall, there’s a multitude of mouthwatering meals to discover. Here’s where to dig in:

Begin your day with a hearty breakfast at Fonda Mayora. The latest venture from renowned chef Gerardo Vazquez Lugo is a go-to for a great morning.

Fonda Mayora Restaurant

Fonda Mayora Restaurant

Land a table outdoors, order the fresh bread basket with local honey and soak up the scene. Don’t leave without trying the hueuos encamisados, eggs baked inside fresh tortillas. If this seems slightly excessive, just remember you’ll need the energy to explore the city’s top food haunts on foot.

Start burning off those calories by wandering La Merced, one of Mexico’s largest food markets, located about a mile southeast of the city’s famed central plaza, the zocalo. Vendors of all stripes — spice merchants, torta slingers, even insect sellers — cram the narrow passageways with intriguing snacks and edible souvenirs you can take home.

Take a breather from the bus­tling market with a wine-fueled lunch at Amaya.

Owned by restaurateur Jair Tellez, the eatery pours natural, organic and biodynamic wines from Mexican and Latin American producers alongside delicious wood-fired dishes such as roasted cauliflower with tahini guacamole.

amaya restaurant mexico

Amaya Restaurant and its unique interior design

For dinner, try to score a seat at the buzzed-about Fonda Fina the restaurant doesn’t take reservations. Opt for the rotisserie chicken with mole or the tender grilled octopus, but don’t leave without requesting the teporocho (slang for someone so drunk that he can’t get off the sidewalk). The potent, Long Island iced-tealike concoction is playfully served in a paper bag.

If you’d rather sample the city’s molecular gas­tronomy scene, try Lorea, which presents guests with just two tasting menus for an exquisite, haute cuisine experience. No matter which one you choose, all meals here look like plated works of art.

Launch day two with Mexican coffee and a cinnamon-sugar-laced churro as you stroll Mercado Roma, a two-story, modern-day food hall packed with gourmet eats and drinks.

mercado roma

Mercado Roma food hall

Upstairs at Sereni, the creative culinary abilities of chef Fernando Martinez — known for spotlighting the top ingredients from his home state of Michoacan — are on full display in thoughtful dishes like marinated trout from the city of Zitacuaro with smoky chile mayo and caviar.

To prove Mexico City is a global hub for gourmands, make stops at Merkava for Jerusalem-inspired hummus with pillowy pita bread, and then try the pintxos bar at Sagardi for tiny snack bites straight out of Spain’s Basque Country.

Feeling full yet? Don’t leave without a mouthwatering six- or seven-course meal at world-renowned Pujol. Reimagined in 2017, Enrique Olvera’s much-celebrated restaurant moved to a new location complete with a backyard garden and an updated menu. Luckily, crowd favorites like the baby corn and famous mole madre, which mellows for an unbelievable 700 days, still made the menu. It’s a tasty bookend to a toothsome tour of Mexico City.

Where to Stay

hotel w mexico city

W Mexico City Hotel

Even if you’re stuffed, save room for a night-cap (say, a gin and tonic sorbet) at J by Jose Andres in the fashion-forward  W Hotel, before hitting the sheets. Located in the stylish Polanco neighborhood, it’s an ideal place to call home base during your south-of-the-border binge fest.


palm springs

Modernism Is Always in Style in Palm Springs – California

The sun rises over California’s Little San Bernardino Mountains, casting its dazzling light across the city of Palm Springs. This desert gem is awash in color: vibrant reds and pinks of bougainvillea and oleander, deep green palm fronds, the brilliant blue of a cloudless sky.

But the regional landscape isn’t the only thing prompting visitors to reach for their oversized Jackie O-style Francois Pinton sunglasses. The city’s showy homes and buildings — with incandescent white or desert sand facades, sparkling plate glass windows and pops of silver, metal, teal and orange on trim and doorways — are just as blindingly beautiful.

In fact, it is the architecture of this place — the largest concentration of midcentury modern buildings in the U.S. — that is behind Palm Springs’ revival as a Hollywood hideaway and top tourist destination.

“It’s an extraordinary and surprising paradise,” says Robert Imber, a 25-year resident and owner of Palm Springs Modern Tours. “It’s a desert… that is surrounded by these mountains. We have oases; we have a 60-foot waterfall, and then we have this historic architecture. It is beautiful, and it’s unique.”

A community of roughly 45,000 people, Palm Springs basks in 350 days of sunshine a year, winter highs in the low 70s and a year- round outdoor lifestyle that has beckoned celebrities since the 1920s, when silent-screen legend Gloria Swanson owned a home here.

Many celebrities followed — Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and the entire Rat Pack, including Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. The confluence of these moneyed vacationers wanting getaways that reflected their discriminating taste and the postwar building boom created a setting for some of the era’s top architects — Albert Frey, John Lautner, Richard Neutra and Donald Wexler, to name a few — to build remarkable works.

palm springs bob hope house

Bob Hope’s Palm Springs estate

“The architects were responding to the environment. With air conditioning, there was a lot more they could do. They were experimenting with this new indoor-outdoor lifestyle, with homes opening to the swimming pools and glass walls to showcase the mountains,” says Chris Menrad, president of the Palm Springs Modern Committee, also known as

When midcentury modern fell out of favor in the late 1970s and 1980s, newcomers built larger, newer homes elsewhere in the Coachella Valley, leaving many of the city’s iconic homes and buildings untouched by time, but also neglected.
ModCom.

The late 1990s brought renewed interest, according to Menrad. Fashion photographers began scouting unusual spaces for photo shoots, and hipsters with an eye for architecture snatched up vintage 1940s, ’50s and ’60s homes at reasonable prices.

A Vanity Fair article on Palm Springs in 1999 simply fanned the flames, Menrad adds. “That huge spread followed by a renewed Zeitgeist for the style, with Mad Men and all, lit a fuse. Summer used to be a dead time, but now, weekends are always full.”

Today, visitors can enjoy the retro vibe in boutique hotels, resorts and restaurants, as well as public buildings and thousands of homes. For a small taste, they can pick up a map of iconic buildings at the Palm Springs Visitors Center, a brilliant Albert Frey-designed gas station saved from the wrecking ball in the 1990s.

Or they can download the self-guided ModCom Mid-Century Modern Tour app and design their experience around it. Narrated by architectural historians, the app highlights more than the exteriors of the midcentury buildings and includes videos of site interiors — an advantage over a map, since many buildings are privately owned and not tourable.

Private tours also can be arranged through Palm Springs Modern Tours, three-hour immersions into form and design from the comfort of a minivan. Imber, one of the city’s best-known architecture aficianados, serves as driver and guide, sharing his extensive knowledge of the area’s buildings and quirky insider tidbits on topics ranging from Hollywood-heyday gossip to California architects, designers and builders.

dinah shore palm springs estate

Dinah Shore Estate – Palm Springs

For those wanting more, ModCom hosts Modernism Week, which took place over 11 days in February this year and included more than 250 events, from specialty tours and lectures to panel discussions, education courses and, because this is Palm Springs, parties. A fall preview is set for Oct. 20-22.

American pop-culture comedian and connoisseur Charles Phoenix served as a bus tour guide during Modernism Week. When he drives from Los Angeles to Palm Springs and sees the visitor center’s distinctive sweeping canopy, any stress melts away.

“I feel like the world, the rest of the world somehow, doesn’t even exist anymore,” he says. Imber agrees: “Even those of us, we who live here, are really awed by this place every day.”

Make a Trip of It

Reservoir: Diners at Reservoir in the Arrive Hotel sit in Scandinavian-style chairs, underneath a butterfly roof, dipping into ceviche or shared tacos while overlooking the hotel pool, bar and toasty fire pits.

Mr. Lyons:

mr. lyons palm springs

Mr. Lyons Restaurant – Palm Springs

Sink into the deep green velvet banquettes of this clubby steak-house, order a classic dry martini, Manhattan or sidecar, and you’ll feel Rat-Pack cool in a restaurant that’s been around  since the late 1940s when Frank Sinatra built his weekend getaway in Palm Springs.

L’Horizon: This William Cody-designed Hollywood retreat built in 1952 has been reimagined as 25-room luxury celebration of modernism, from the George Mulhauser chairs and cooper fireplaces in some rooms to a center court infinity-edge pool where guests enjoy complimentary foot and back massages.

Orbit In and Hideaway: These authentic midcentury modern properties have the same ownership. The Orbit In’s nine rooms boasts themes from top designers, including Eero Saarinen; the Hideaway’s 10 rooms have stunning mountain views.


washington lavender fields

Lavender Fields Thrive in Washington

The exclamations are audible as visitors arrive at Washington Lavender Farm, scrambling out of their cars to photograph the lipstick-pink poppies and scalloped rows of lavender that march along its white-fenced driveway. Here and across the acreage anchored by the coastal George Washington Inn, lavender explodes into bloom like deep purple fireworks.

Thousands of bees stir the heady fragrance in Washington’s Sequim-Dungeness Valley, dubbed the Lavender Capital of North America.

More than 30,000 visitors from across the country and beyond gather here the third weekend in July for the region’s Lavender Festival and the chance to photograph or paint the colorful fields, stock up on sachets and soaps, collect new culinary recipes, feast on crab cakes with lavender mayonnaise, savor lavender lemon sorbet and lavender white chocolate ice cream and sip lavender margaritas and lavender-infused wines.

“You just get intoxicated with lavender in all its various forms in one visit,” says Paul Jendrucko, who calls himself “Dr. Lavender,” and whose wife, Mary, leads the Sequim Lavender Growers Association.

The valley nestles between the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which moderates the temperature, and the Olympic Mountains, which shelter it from heavy rains that keep the peninsula’s moss-draped Hoh Rain Forest and towns like Forks (where the Twilight books and movies are set) famously cloudy and damp.

Lavender fields across Sequim’s dry, sunny farms bloom for about three weeks in July, grabbing the attention of passing travelers such as Talie Lamolinara of Jacksonville, Fla.

purple haze lavender farm

Purple Haze Lavender Farm

She happily snipped stems of lavender into a pick-your-own basket at Purple Haze Lavender Farm.

“I like lavender-flavored anything,” she says, with a smile on her face and an armful of fragrance that will follow home.

Lavender Weekend

Picture taken at Sequim Lavender Festival

Picture taken at Sequim Lavender Festival – Washington

The Sequim Lavender Festival, scheduled this year from July 21-23, includes a downtown street fair full of art and lavender vendors, concerts by area musicians and regional foods including crab cakes, chowder and salmon, fresh berries, lavender-glazed walnuts and lavender lemon curd crepes.

A handful of farms, such as Purple Haze and Washington Lavender, charge fees and host their own Lavender Weekend festivities with music, demonstrations and vendors. More than a dozen farms are free to visit.

Make a Trip of It

George Washington Inn

George Washington Inn

Blondie’s Plate: Share elegant small plates of local salmon, oysters and clams.
Alder Wood Bistro: Dine in the courtyard or indoors on wood-fired pizzas, fish and chips and local produce.
Dungeness Bay Cottages: Six units with full kitchens include views of Dungeness Bay in one direction and mountains in the other.
Sunset Marine Resort: Eight cabins with kick-back balconies overlook. Sequim Bay.
George Washington Inn: This B&B, a replica of Mont Vernon, features views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.


Big Bend National Park

The Lone Star State’s Revered National Park Is a World Unto Its Own

Terlingua is one of Texas’ most famous ghost towns — or perhaps I should say it used to be.

The southwest town perched on a hillside a few miles west of Big Bend National Park is home to crumbling adobe homes that once housed workers who mined cinnabar ore for mercury. More than 2,500 called Terlingua home in 1918, in its heyday, but the mines petered out in the 1940s, and residents dwindled to 25 by 1970.

Today, the eccentric town (population 58 at last count) boasts Saturday farmers markets, a coffee shop, rustic art galleries, craft shops and boutique lodging options. But the community’s beating heart, as I learned one balmy February afternoon, is the Starlight Theatre Restaurant and Saloon when, during happy hour, everybody who’s anybody gets together to, well, party. I’m talking banjos, fiddles, singing, clapping, hootin’, hollerin’, foot stompin’ good fun.

The tourists far outnumber the locals, as this is probably the only watering hole in a hundred miles where you’ll find a good selection of craft beers and gourmet fare like pork medallions in a chipotle reduction or tequila-marinated quail.

The Starlight was a welcome bookend to a three-day venture my dad, brother and I took down the Rio Grande in a sparsely populated expanse of the state, 300 miles from the nearest urban center and where coyotes and antelope vastly outnumber humans.

There are a handful of popular float trips on the river, which cuts a serpentine line through the desert canyons along the Mexican border. Based on your preference and experience, choose from a couple of lazy hours of inner-tubing, a week of wilderness canoeing or Class IV whitewater rafting (advanced skill level).

Numerous outfitters are clustered along Lone Star Ranch Road between Terlingua and the park entrance, where you can either book a guided trip (it’s a good idea to schedule at least two months in advance) or, for those comfortable boating and camping in the wilderness, rent a canoe or kayak and any camping gear that you don’t want to lug from your comer of the world. Jeep tours, horseback riding, guided hikes and mountain biking excursions are also avail­able.

(For those whose idea of the great outdoors is a putting green, the upscale Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa is just a half hour outside Big Bend National Park.)

big bend national park-1

Big Bend National Park

If you just want to take a driving tour through the jagged peaks and canyon- lands of the park, stop off for a few scenic vistas and a short hike to explore the mins of early 20th century outposts and otherworldly desert flora that character­ize the region. For a map and some rangerly advice, start at one of the three visitor centers within the park; this is also where you can pick up camping, fishing and boating permits, which in most cases you must do in person.

The privately run Chisos Mountains Lodge, located in the park’s high-elevation interior where summer temperatures are a bit more manageable (highs in the 80s, on aver­age), is the only lodging within Big Bend. Weather-wise, spring and fall are the best times to visit, though winter temperatures in the lowlands are quite amiable, with highs in the 60s and lows in the 30s.

Our group opted to canoe the postcard- perfect Santa Elena Canyon, where cliffs plunge 1,500 feet into churning blue-green water. This stretch is known for serious whitewater when water levels are high, but much of the time it’s a leisurely float, with one Class III rapid (intermediate skill level) that we chose to skirt in the calm water close to shore.

mariscal canyon canoeing

Mariscal Canyon canoeing

The river, despite its location in extremely rugged and remote terrain, can get crowded with boaters during spring break season, though in late February we didn’t see a soul in three days.

As a friend said before I left for Texas, “Marfa is the only place 1 know of where you might see a cowboy riding the street on horseback one minute, and spot Johnny Depp seated in a cafe the next.”
after mile of purple lupine in full bloom and the undulating turns of the canyon, sculpted into breathtaking art by the passage of time.

The rugged Ernst Tinaja campsite

The rugged Ernst Tinaja campsite

If you’re coming to Big Bend from El Paso, it’s a five-hour drive down some very lonely, tumbleweed-strewn highways (six hours from San Antonio), but there are a few cultural oases along the way, including a small Prada store with high heels and luxury handbags on Highway 90 in what appears to be the middle of nowhere. In reality, this is not a functioning store, but an art installation, and a sign that you are nearing the town of Marfa — a global arts outpost made famous by the late minimalist Donald Judd and now frequented by Hollywood types and throngs of tourists.

Marfa is roughly midway between Big Bend and El Paso, so it’s a natural place to break up the trek. Consider a room at the ultra-chic Hotel Saint George if you feel like rubbing elbows with the artsy crowd; the El Paisano Hotel is the spot if you’re in the mood for Old West flavor. Beyonce opted for rustic on her trip to Marfa, holing up in one of the Airstream trailers at the El Cosmico campground on the edge of town, where one can also rent a Mongolian yurt or Sioux-style tepee.

Whether you spot any celebrities or not, southwest Texas has an uncanny knack for making you feel as though you are traveling from one movie set to another.

 


utah red rock

Utah’s Majestic Scenery Will Make You Say WOW!

Most travelers visiting Utah’s remote and beautiful red-rock country consider a tent and a sleeping bag a suitable place to spend the night. Sure, camping has its time and place – but it’s not for everyone. That’s why we dig these surprisingly cushy accommodations that still provide easy access to the glories of nature.

Offbeat Retro

RV Resort - Utah

RV Resort – Utah

At the Shooting Star RV Resort, you can stay in a fully decked-out Airstream (think 1950’s Hollywood glam) nestled near the Escalante Mountains and along Utah State Route 12, also known as Scenic Byway 12. Cook s’mores around a community fire pit or catch a flick at the onsite drive-in theater with 1960s convertibles serving as the seats.

During the day, scramble down Spooky Gulch in the Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument, one of the narrowest slot canyons known — only 18 inches wide in spots — and snap pics of its twisted, sandstone walls.

Bluffside Cottages

There are only two rooms at Kiva Kottage, but they’re in a building perched on the slope of a high-desert hill dotted with scrub junipers. In the morning, the smell of espresso and chicken chilaquiles from the nearby Kiva Koffeehouse is incentive to leave your canyon digs.

Calf Creek Falls

Calf Creek Falls

Luckily, the trailhead to Calf Creek Falls, also part of the Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument, is only a 10-minute car ride away. The four-hour hike along the creek and across boulders has a huge payoff: a 126-foot-high waterfall. Want to know a hiker’s secret? The 6.2-mile lower trail is easier than the upper 2-mile trail.

Desert Oasis

Desert Rose Inn & Cabins

Desert Rose Inn & Cabins

The rustic luxe suites of the Desert Rose Inn are a surprise find in the two- pony town of Bluff. Ask to stay in the new, chichi courtyard wing and enjoy a private patio that looks out at a soaring red-rock mesa. The indoor pool is built around the same stunning view. After a long day of outdoorsy pursuits, the Anasazi burger at Duke’s hits the spot.

A great way to see the surrounding canyon country is from the seat of a RZR — a dune buggy-like off-roading vehicle. On a guided tour from Four Comers Adventures, you’ll stop and explore ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings.

Fancy Cabins

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Red cliffs are just outside the door of your 400-square-foot cabin at Capitol Reef Resort. Minutes from Capitol Reef National Park, the cabins offer more than rustic convenience — they have vaulted ceilings, sky-high windows with spectacular views and pillow-top mattresses. Touches like faux-fur blankets and antler chandeliers make the place feel Wild-West modern.

During daylight hours, set out on a 2-mile hike to Hickman Natural Bridge — an impressive natural arch that’s part of the 244,000-acre Capitol Reef National Park. The bridge is closed to climbers but makes for excellent photos. Scope out roadside petroglyphs left more than 2,000 years ago by the Fremont tribe near what is now the park’s visitor center. When night falls, look up: Capitol Reef is known for its super-dark, starry skies.

Just Like Home

Goulding’s Lodge

Goulding’s Lodge

It’s simplest to cook your own food in remote Monument Valley, and the new suites at Goulding’s Lodge have kitchens stocked with cookery. The homey digs, where Hollywood film crews have stayed since the 1930s, are perfect for a family of four, and there’s a grocer nearby. The real payoff is sipping coffee on the front porch while soaking in the iconic rock silhouettes on the horizon.

The best way to see Monument Valley, part of the Navajo Nation reservation, is on horseback with a local guide. Seen in countless cowboy movies (not to mention Transformers: Age of Extinction and some Doctor Who episodes), this land of gorgeous red-rock formations and deep- blue sky wows everyone. Want to take that beauty home? Local shops have amazing Navajo jewelry.


los-alamos-aerial-view

Atomic City: Secret No Longer – Los Alamos, New Mexico

In Los Alamos, exhibits tell the story of the world’s most dangerous weapon

Our teenage son Will runs his hand across the 10-foot-long, canary yellow replica of an atomic bomb that weighed 10,800 pounds. The plump, round, plutonium-fueled device was given the code name “Fat Man,” for obvious reasons. The actual Fat Man destroyed Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, 1945. Little Boy, a slimmer bomb triggered by enriched uranium, had leveled Hiroshima a few days before that.

The models of the two bombs that launched us into the Nuclear Age can be seen — and unlike the real, radioactive items, touched — at the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos, N.M., famously known as Atomic City.

leslie groves jr bradbury science museum statues

Statue of Manhattan: Project leaders Leslie Groves Jr. and J. Robert Oppenheimer are on display at the Bradbury Science Museum

During World War II, scientists at the isolated, clandestine laboratory complex atop the volcanic Pajarito Plateau in the Jemez Mountains designed and built the world’s first nuclear weapons as part of the historic Manhattan Project. (The city of Los Alamos itself was built after World War II, to support the people who worked at the lab.)

Will was impressed by the vast amount of human- powered, scientific intelligence and coordination that went into creating the bomb, building it, transporting it and using it to end the war. My aspiring physicist found himself inspired by the amount of work done under so much pressure, accomplished by really smart people working together.

Because we were in Santa Fe on a family vacation, the Rio Grande separating that artsy town from science-oriented Los Alamos like the fissure between right and left brains, we drove my son 45 minutes northwest of Santa Fe to the “town that never was” so that he could explore the New Mexico segment of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, added to the list of national parks in 2015. (The other two sections are in Tennessee and Washington; see sidebar for more details.)

Visitors are greeted by sculptures of the Manhattan Project’s co-leaders, Brig. Gen. Leslie Groves Jr. of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and J. Robert Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist from the University of California-Berkeley. The complex today is now downtown Los Alamos, and encompasses 16 sites associated with atomic history, all within a walkable 1-mile radius.

We visited the nucleus of the Atomic City community — Ashley Pond, a small body of water named after the founder (whose name really was Ashley Pond) of the exclusive Los Alamos Ranch School for boys, the original tenant of the land. Attracted by its off-the-beaten-path location and the roads already built to support the school, the government acquired Pond’s property in 1943 and transformed it into the top-secret Manhattan Project headquarters.

Los Alamos rapidly became a science boomtown; its population exploded to 8,000 scientists, support staff, members of the military and their families, most living in barracks-style housing and Quonset huts. Most of these buildings have long since been demolished, but along a street still called Bathtub Row, you can see the somewhat plusher homes — the only ones in town with bathtubs at the time — built as faculty housing for Pond’s school (Oppenheimer lived in one). Most are now private homes closed to the public.

One of them, however, is open: the former home of scientist Hans Bethe — a Protestant of Jewish descent who left Germany in 1933 and eventually came to work on the Manhattan Project — which displays the Nobel Prize won by Manhattan Project scientist Frederick Reines for his work on neutrinos and a new exhibit on the Cold War.

A few blocks away, the Los Alamos History Museum (losalamoshistory.org), located in what was once the school’s infirmary, served during the war as guest quarters, especially for Groves, who was based in Washington, D.C. Next door, rustic Fuller Lodge, made of nearly 800 wooden logs, was first the school’s dining hall, and then a social center for the atomic scientists.

replica of fat man

Replica of Fat Man, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki

Amid the nuclear-history remnants sits the remains of an ancestral Pueblo dwelling built from blocks of volcanic ash, and a cabin built by homesteaders in 1913 out on the plateau; it was moved downtown in 1984. The contrast of ancient, pioneer and nuclear-age history all preserved in buildings so close to one another made me realize how much and how quickly our world has changed, yet how across centuries we’ve shared in making this land our home.

fuller lodge los alamos

Fuller Lodge – Los Alamos

“The park tells important stories about sacrifices people made to create revolutionary science and develop secret cities as part of a massive wartime effort,” says Charles Strickfaden, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park-Los Alamos site manager.

More park sites on the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) property will open to the public in the near future.

Postwar buildings also help tell the story of the bomb.

The Bradbury Science Museum, which opened in 1953, features a history gallery that showcases the science of the Manhattan Project, the Russian espionage that endangered it and the bombs that led to the Japanese surrender and the end of World War II. A separate defense gallery focuses on new technologies and how the current lab works to maintain the safety of the nation’s aging nuclear weapons; a film on how the weapons stockpile is monitored is particularly compelling.

norris bradbury museum

The Bradbury Science Museum is named for Norris Bradbury, who followed Oppenheimer as director of the Los Alamos lab

The Tech Lab has kids’ activity stations. Scientist volunteers lead visitors in hands-on experiments explaining scientific theories and applications, such as mapping the spread of disease through social media and how supercomputers work. The research gallery features the current LANL scientists’ cutting-edge, cross-disciplinary work on Arctic climate change, biofuels, sustainability, air travel safety and nanotechnology.

Georgia Strickfaden, owner-operator of Atomic City Tours — her father helped build the postwar lab; she and Charles don’t think they’re related — took us to the alpine Pajarito Mountain ski area to look down at the town and restricted LANL complex.

“The mesas the lab sprawls across were once inhabited by ancient peoples,” Georgia says, “then by homesteaders, and now scientists shaping our future.”

That’s code for the rest is history.

One Park, Three Places

The secret Manhattan Project operated in three locations, including Los Alamos; each played an important part in developing an atomic bomb before Nazi Germany and the Russians accomplished the task. Collectively, those sites in New Mexico, Washington and Tennessee comprise the Manhattan Project National Historic Park.

At the 600-square-mile Hanford site in south-central Washington, the Hanford Engineer Works complex employed 51,000 workers to create plutonium for the device used in July 1945 for the Trinity test, the first test of a nuclear weapon, and for Fat Man, the bomb dropped on Nagasaki less than a month later. You can take a free, guided bus tour of the B-Reactor National Historic Landmark, which produced the plutonium for the two bombs, between mid-April and mid- November. Register in advance.

The military and administrative headquarters for the Manhattan Project was the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee, home to 75,000 people. The site’s reactors engaged in experimental plutonium production and made enriched uranium for the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Guided three-hour bus tours run March through November. The tour fee is included in admission to the American Museum of Science and Energy: $5 adults, $3 children (must be 10).

Non-Nuclear Activities Near Los Alamos

Santa Fe Balloons
Legendary pilot Johnny Lewis and his crew take visitors on 60-minute flights at dawn above Las Barrancas for unobstructed views of untouched, high- desert beauty from May to October. Reservations required.

Bandelier National Monument

bandelier national monument los alamos nm

Bandelier National Monument – Los Alamos, NM


Encompassing 33,000 acres of rugged wilderness, includes a paved trail that takes hikers through the 11,000-year-old ancestral Pueblo people’s cliffside community in Frijoles Canyon. The Tsankawi Village Trail, an easy 1.5-mile loop with three ladders, takes visitors to the remains of the ancestral Tewa Pueblo homes, built of volcanic ash and adobe. Also visible: petroglyphs dating to the 1400s. Vehicle admission fee charged; access to the park’s most popular areas during the summer is by shuttle bus only.

Valles Caldera National Preserve

Valles Caldera National Preserve

Valles Caldera National Preserve

The nation’s newest national preserve, contains one of the world’s largest calderas, a circular depression formed by a volcanic eruption 1.25 million years ago that’s 13 miles in diameter. Elk wander inside the caldera; also inside the preserve are prehistoric sites, historic ranch cabins and mountain meadows laced with meandering streams.