Archive for the ‘Environmental’ Category

Bicycling just beyond New York City

July 12, 2014

Thanks to Adventure Cycling’s “Bike Bits,” an electronic newsletter filled with tidbits for folks who love bicycle touring and sightseeing-oriented riding, I learned about a couple starting up overnight bike/camping tours from New York City. The three-day outings are geared toward city-dwellers, but anyone can participate. They make things as easy as possible for newbies, which I think is key. If I hadn’t had my pal Alice Charkes, a long-time Adventure Cycling leader, showing me the ropes almost 20 years ago, I’m not sure I would have tried bike touring. Thank you, Al!

I thought Gotham Bicycle Tours would be a great item for In Transit, the New York Times online and print travel feature I regularly contribute to. My editor agreed, and here’s my little item, which ran in June:

By Diane Daniel

Lukas Herbert takes a break during a bike ride through the Harlem Valley. The route is now part of the the Hudson Valley tour. (NOTE: this was taken a few years ago before the tours). Photo by Eric Wilson

Lukas Herbert takes a break during a bike ride through Harlem Valley, part of the Hudson Valley tour. Photo by Eric Wilson

As passionate cyclists and campers, Bronx residents Lukas Herbert and Laura Willis have introduced friends to their avocation and hope to see their fellow city riders discover the joys of multiple-day bicycle touring. But they know an impediment exists.

“While bike riding is becoming hugely popular here, a lot of people do not have access to personal vehicles, which poses a major obstacle for doing a bike tour,” Mr. Herbert said in an email.

Enter Gotham Bicycle Tours, which the couple started this spring to offer three-day, two-night bike tours just outside the New York City metro region.

“Fortunately, we have a mass transit system that permits bikes, so we are setting up these tours with 100 percent access to mass transit,” said Mr. Herbert, an urban planner with Westchester County, specializing in bicycle and pedestrian work.

“The idea is to remove as many barriers as possible to get people out on a bike overnight,” he said. “Then, if they do our tours, maybe they’ll graduate to a bigger, longer tour or strike out on their own. Regardless, the goal is to increase bike traveling, which is a good thing.”

Some of the cycling will be on car-free paths, including the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. Photo by Lukas Herbert

Some of the cycling will be on car-free paths, including the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. Photo by Lukas Herbert

Four tours are scheduled, two that traverse the Hudson Valley ($275 a person) and two along eastern Long Island and out to Montauk ($295 a person). The trips start at commuter rail stops outside the city.

Aside from not doing the actual pedaling, Gotham is making the outing as easy as possible for travelers by mapping scenic routes, planning meals and arranging accommodations (bed-and-breakfast options are sometimes available for noncampers).

Gotham staff will shuttle riders’ gear and even the cyclists themselves if they get too tired. Technical assistance is available for everything from a flat tire to tent setup (tent rentals are available too).

What if you try it but you still don’t like it? Push the “panic button” and Gotham promises to put you back on a train or bus to return home.

The dish on visiting Replacements in NC

May 24, 2014

I’d always wanted to do a story on Replacements, but had no idea it would be sooooo much fun! Here’s my article, which originally ran in the Washington Post on April 27, 2014, and has since been reprinted in several other newspapers. Details for visiting are below the story. The kicker: I was cleaning out the basement after this ran and discovered yet another box of inherited crystal, worth enough money to warrant a return visit. This time I’m making a point of meeting owner Bob Page. Can’t wait!

By Diane Daniel

Replacements’ 12,000-square-foot retail store and museum near Greensboro, N.C., is open to the public, with free guided tours through the warehouse

Replacements’ 12,000-square-foot retail store and museum near Greensboro, N.C., is open to the public, with free guided tours through the warehouse

When Laurie Oliver, running the sellers’ counter at Replacements, Ltd., said that it might take 90 minutes to process my six plastic tubs of china, silver and crystal, my first thought was, I’m pretty sure I’ll need more time than that.

For years, I’d driven past the gigantic showroom and warehouse (“the size of eight football fields!” according to the Web site), visible along Interstate 85 just east of Greensboro, N.C., thinking that I wanted to drop in. Not because I like to shop (I don’t), but because the scale and mission of the place fascinate me. The aptly named company maintains the world’s largest inventory of old and new china, crystal, silver and collectibles – some 12 million pieces representing more than 400,000 patterns. Broke your Margarete Bridal Rose salad plate? Look no further. Want some cash for your Spiegelau Aida water goblet? Step right up.

The bulk of the company’s dealings, both buying and selling, occur online, on the phone, and through parcel delivery. But for more than 55,000 annual visitors, Replacements transforms into much more than a center of commerce. I experienced it as a dog park, a gay rights center, an inventory-handling machine, a tableware museum and a place of worship – or at least profound appreciation – for benevolent leader Bob Page.

The rainbow flag flies under the Replacements logo. Owner and founder Bob Page is known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide.

The rainbow flag flies under the Replacements logo. Owner and founder Bob Page is known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide.

I started my unofficial tour in the back parking lot (non-selling visitors typically use the front door). I’d dutifully made the recommended sellers’ appointment and had identified my inherited china patterns. But I’d also brought a hodgepodge of indeterminate crystal and items that I hoped were actually silver. (Prices are based on supply and demand.)

The first thing I noticed was the tall pole holding two flapping flags – one stamped with the Replacements logo and the other covered in rainbow stripes, the universal gay symbol. Owner Page, once closeted, is now known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide, a bold proclamation for a mainstream business owner in these parts.

As I was unloading my boxes onto a cart, two employees passed by, one walking a black Lab and the other a Pomeranian, lending truth to the sign on the door that reads, “Well-behaved pets welcome.” Staffers told me that though dogs rule, visitors have also brought cats on leashes and even a pot-bellied pig.

After Oliver explained the drill, she cut me loose to play. I followed the yellow tape on the floor down a long corridor in a warehouse toward the retail showroom, passing row after row of floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with china, crystal and some collectibles. (Hummels, anyone?)

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Paradise found at Florida park

February 2, 2014

I wrote this article, which ran on Feb. 2 in the Boston Globe, after a summer visit to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Florida’s Panhandle. It’s a super-special place and while it’s not really a secret, it kind of still is because it’s out-of-the-way location keeps the number of visitors down. Read on…

By Diane Daniel

The State Park includes 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes

The state park includes 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes

CAPE SAN BLAS, Fla. — Initially, Youngra Hardwick appeared eager to share her wisdom. She had succeeded where I’d failed by snagging a waterfront cabin at T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, and I wanted in on the secret.

“There are some tricks to it. Every day different spots come open. So you have to get up really early in the morning.” Just as she was advising me about opening several internet browsers, she stopped.

“Wait! I don’t even want to talk to you about it,” she said. She was laughing, but she meant it.

View of St. Joseph Bay from the Maritime Hammock Trail

View of St. Joseph Bay from the Maritime Hammock Trail

Hardwick, who traveled here from Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and two daughters, first stumbled upon the park, in Florida’s Panhandle and about 105 miles southwest of Tallahassee, while searching online for budget-friendly coastal stays.

“I look for places that are remote and isolated, and this sounded like paradise,” she said. “I was right.”

Many visitors, it seems, treat their time at St. Joseph as if it involved password-protected admission. During my three-day stay, several people asked how I had discovered the park. Check online travel forums and you can find users jokingly trying to dissuade others from visiting.

The real treats are the eight furnished cabins with a view of St. Joseph Bay

The real treats are the eight furnished cabins with a view of St. Joseph Bay

It’s not surprising that folks want to keep this spot along Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” to themselves. St. Joseph’s natural amenities include an unheard of (at least in Florida) 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes, along with maritime forests and wildlife. The park’s 119 tent and RV camping sites are fairly standard, but the beach is just a short walk away over the dunes. The real treats are the eight furnished “cabins,” which look more like resort condominiums minus the television. And who needs TV when your back yard looks out onto the wide expanse of St. Joseph Bay?

Luckily for the non cabin-dwellers, water views are everywhere in this 2,716-acre playground. It sits at the tip of narrow Cape San Blas and is flanked by the Gulf of Mexico and the bay, giving visitors the opportunity to see sunrises and sunsets — only a few yards apart in some spots. Although the park has been anointed a “best of” by “Dr. Beach” and is frequently mentioned in national publications, its out-of-the-way location keeps traffic relatively low.

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Anarctic cruise line adds polar snorkeling

October 3, 2013
Polar snorkeling with a seal (photo Goran Ehlme - Waterproof Expeditions)

Polar snorkeling with a seal (photo Goran Ehlme – Waterproof Expeditions)

Arctic lovers, here’s the next big thing. Australian-based Antarctic cruise operator Aurora Expeditions has added another ice-breaking adventure to its lineup of polar pursuits – snorkeling – and they say they’re the first cruise operator to offer it. Passengers who take the frigid plunge will have the chance to go on daily dips in sheltered bays, around offshore islands and near secluded ship wrecks. Along with experiencing the beauty of sculpted icebergs below the surface, snorkelers might witness penguins entering and exiting from the ice and swim near seals and other marine mammals. Can you imagine?

The polar snorkeling option joins an activity lineup including scuba diving, sea kayaking, and camping, and is operated onboard by Dutch outfitters Waterproof Expeditions, which uses dry suits, gloves, hood, fins, and masks specially designed for the 28-degree Fahrenheit water temperature. Personally, I’m sticking to Caribbean snorkeling, though maybe I’d change my mind once in Antarctica. No plans this year. It’s a pricey trip!

Taking a break while polar snorkeling (photo Roger Munns - Waterproof Expeditions)

Taking a break while polar snorkeling (photo Roger Munns – Waterproof Expeditions)

Aurora Expeditions voyages aboard the 54-passenger, ice-strengthened Polar Pioneer depart from the far southern ports of South America. Prices start at $7,200 a person. The snorkeling option adds $975 and is available on these trips: Across the Antarctic Circle, Feb. 10 to 19, Feb. 19 to 28, 2014, and Feb. 19 to 28, 2015; and Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula, Feb. 28 to March 11, 2014 and Feb. 28 to March 9, 2015.

Manatees in Florida: a magical day

July 21, 2013

Until this month, I’d seen manatees at state parks, in research facilities, and in the wild at places they’re known to congregate. My favorite time with Florida’s “sea cows” was a few years ago, when Lina and I went kayaking in Crystal River, where manatees like to spend their winter near always-warm springs. We were on a tour with Save the Manatee Club, a fantastic nonprofit organization. It opposes “swim-with” manatee programs (as do I in general) and discourages humans from touching manatees unless the manatee initiates it. Manatees came near our kayaks, but we kept our hands inside.

My paddling pal and manatee whisperer

My paddling pal and manatee whisperer

I finally had my first fully wild and random manatee encounter recently, and it was a memorable one! And I have to admit that I chose to compromise the “no touch” philosophy. Here’s how it unfolded.

My pal Kelly (left), who rents one of our condo units at Indian Rocks Beach, offered to join me on a little kayak outing on the Intracoastal Waterway. I was glad she did, because later she told me she’s a manatee magnet. Wow, was she ever right!

We were paddling around enjoying the Sunday afternoon when I saw a gray blob. At first I thought it was a dolphin, but it just floated there and Kelly suggested it was a manatee. I’m used to seeing them later in the year, but I’ve since discovered they’re definitely around the Intracoastal in the summer.

Manatees got close to Lina and me in Crystal River in 2008

Manatees got close to Lina and me in Crystal River in 2008

We paddled in the direction of the blob, and sure enough, it was a manatee, plus two more. We heard them before we saw them, as they surfaced for air and exhaled above the water’s surface. They continued to come near us, or we’d follow them, and finally one came close enough that I touched its snout with my finger. I screamed with joy! And then it came back, swimming right alongside my kayak. I stroked its entire back, all slimy and rough, and then I screamed some more. I yelled out a few too many times “I pet a manatee!!!!!!!” Kelly of course wanted to do the same, so we kept looking for them, but after 10 minutes of not coming close to another one we finally gave up and headed to a nearby bird sanctuary island.

A minute later I heard Kelly scream with excitement. “Oh my God, oh my God!” A manatee was headed her way, and then it SURFACED under her kayak and she was AIRBORNE. Sorry for all the CAPS but I’m getting excited again thinking about it. I was about 25 feet away and it was like watching a movie. No way could this be happening! Her kayak wobbled as it rolled over the manatee’s back, then the friendly beast took off with a huge splash in Kelly’s direction. We were screaming and laughing with joy! “Dude, you rode a manatee!” I yelled. “Dude, I rode a manatee!” she replied. “Legally!” I added, in case anyone was listening. How big was it? I have no idea, but I do know that the average Florida manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs close to 1,200 pounds. Whoa!

Manatee swims near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

Manatee swims near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

A just-released report by the Mote Marine Laboratory (visit its aquarium in Sarasota) says manatees can feel water movements thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair — an ability that makes them one of the most touch-sensitive mammals on earth. So clearly that little escapade was no accident. That manatee knew what it was doing — playing around with one of its fans. While I can’t say I want to be airborne atop a manatee, and Kelly agreed that once is enough, it was a magical manatee moment we will never forget. Here’s hoping you get yours!

Towering trees keep us grounded

April 22, 2013

In honor of Arbor Day, we salute a handful of our country’s notable trees.

Dogwood at Matthis Family Cemetery in Clinton, NC

Dogwood at Matthis Family Cemetery in Clinton, NC

MATTHIS FAMILY TREE, NORTH CAROLINA

One of the largest dogwoods in the country, measuring 31 feet tall with an average branch spread of 48 feet and a trunk circumference of 114 inches, this tree heralds spring from Matthis Family Cemetery in Clinton. I wrote a full story about it a couple years ago. Love that tree!

American elm at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum

American elm at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum

SURVIVOR TREE, OKLAHOMA

Despite being heavily damaged, this American elm, more than a century old, survived the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, and is now part of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. Its saplings are distributed on the bombing’s anniversary. http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org

WEEPING BEECH, MASSACHUSETTS

The Captain Bangs Hallet House in Yarmouthport is famous for the photogenic beech in its back yard, which is more than 60 feet tall and estimated to be between 150 and 200 years old. http://www.hsoy.org

Morton Oak in Nebraska City, Nebraska

Morton Oak in Nebraska City, Nebraska

MORTON OAK, NEBRASKA

This survivor of an old oak savanna remains a beloved spot at Arbor Day Farm, a 260-acre historic landmark and visitor attraction on the original property of J. Sterling Morton, a journalist who encouraged tree planting and who started Arbor Day in Nebraska City in 1872. http://www.arbordayfarm.org

GENERAL SHERMAN, CALIFORNIA

This giant sequoia at Sequoia National Park commands the world’s attention. By volume it’s the largest known tree in existence and is thought to be about 2,300 years old. http://www.nps.gov/seki

St. Croix gets under your skin

January 18, 2013

Sitting here in North Carolina on this dreary, wet, chilly evening makes me yearn for St. Croix, where we were a few weeks ago. We chose the lesser-known US Virgin Island because it has so much variety, which means we were going nonstop to see everything, but that’s us. Below is the story I wrote for the Boston Globe, along with photographer Lina’s favorite photos. I couldn’t believe the paper didn’t use one of the iconic sugar mill. We spent more than an hour there shooting. And so it goes. I received several notes of appreciation from Crucians, who are so proud of their island.

By Diane  Daniel

Ruins of a sugar mill near Cane Bay

Ruins of a sugar mill near Cane Bay

CHRISTIANSTED, St. Croix — Even before I was able to see daylight’s gift a sea shimmering in a crayon box of blues from turquoise to midnight my hands told me I’d made it to the Caribbean the night before, their rough, wrinkled winter skin showing just a hint of the smoothness to come.

My partner, Lina, and I decided to visit the largest of the US Virgin Islands (84 square miles) because it offered a little bit of everything: plentiful beaches, green hills, lively town centers, and historic sites. St. Croix has the reputation of being the poor relation to glitzier St. Thomas and lusher St. John, but we found a rich culture here, born of the island’s Danish past, its once-mighty sugar trade, and its cordial Crucians, as the native islanders are called. Add to that pristine islands to visit, water sports, and even a rain forest to explore and you can see why we were hard-pressed to squeeze everything into a week’s stay last month.

A rooster wanders the grounds of Fort Christiansvaern in Christiansted, built in 1738

A rooster wanders the grounds of Fort Christiansvaern in Christiansted

We based ourselves in a centrally located, budget-friendly waterfront apartment along “condo row” in Christiansted, the larger and more tourist-driven of the island’s two towns. With hens and roosters wandering all over, the countryside never felt out of reach. Our street, lined with palm trees and a rainbow of bougainvilleas, also led to working-class neighborhoods and public-housing developments, daily reminders of the poverty here. We never felt unwelcome or unsafe, but for those who prefer more upscale and tropical settings, mid-level to pricey beachfront resorts and villas cover the island.

Strike up a conversation with a local or a fellow tourist and you’ll immediately be asked, “Have you been to Buck Island yet?” Put St. Croix’s jewel on top of your list. Surrounding the uninhabited island, a 30-minute boat ride from Christiansted, lies the underwater Buck Island Reef National Monument, a protected reef system that includes a short marked trail. While some of the coral is in tough shape, the clear water nonetheless offers the area’s best snorkeling. Unless you have access to a private boat, you’ll need to use one of the National Park Service’s six concessionaires. Unfortunately, no outfitter allows enough opportunity to also experience the island’s hiking trails.

A sailboat departs Turtle Beach at Buck Island

A sailboat departs Buck Island

After an hour in the water, we climbed back aboard and compared notes. I sought out Oliver Martin, 15, from Marion, Pa., who, with his dad, were the only people near me when I witnessed a heart-stopping sight.

“I knew it was a shark right away,” Oliver said proudly. “It had that fin on top. I was a little nervous, but not too much.”

I agreed. With the help of a deckhand, we concluded it was a lemon shark, probably about 5 feet long. We also were treated to sightings of a large school of shiny blue tang, iridescent parrotfish, long-bodied trumpetfish, and camouflaged Nassau grouper. Apparently I was the only one to see a barracuda flash its teeth.

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Starry, starry nights amid Indian culture in NM

November 1, 2011

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is in a remote region of New Mexico

We’ve been home from our eight days in northern New Mexico for a month now and I have two strongly lingering images – our meals and our night of camping at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

I’ve already written my piece on chile peppers, with a recipe, for the Boston Globe food section (to be published soonish), but could not sell anyone on the idea of a story on Chaco. Which is crazy! But it was just as well because that meant I could enjoy myself instead of run around interviewing people and taking notes about everything I saw.

Instead, I inhaled it all in slowly – the history, the breathtaking terrain,  the up-close petroglyphs, the unbelievably intact Indian ruins and, oooohhhhh, those dark star-saturated skies.

See the blue dot straight ahead, near the canyon wall? That's where we camped!

Thanks to Southwest Airlines’  humane luggage policy, we each got two bags for free, so used our extras to stash camping gear for our one night at the park, at Lina’s urging. (Thank you, my ever-adventurous mate!)

We loved almost every minute of our 20-hour blitz. We arrived midafternoon, enjoying the minor thrill of the eight-mile-long dirt road that leads to the park. (Take the north entrance if you don’t want to get stuck.) First we picked out at campsite in the tent-only area, amid boulders and backing up against a cliff. Heaven!!

Pueblo Bonito is famous for many things, including its intact walls and doorways

Next we high-tailed it to 2 p.m. tour of Pueblo Bonito, a Native American “great house” that was lived in from the mid 800s to the 1200s. It once towered four stories high, with more than 500 rooms and 40 kivas and is one of the most excavated and studied sites in North America, as well as one of the most intact. Although our guide went way over the scheduled time, he was fantastic and brought the history alive, and the archeology history was as interesting as the Indian history.

We toured a few other sites and then reached the petroglyphs just as the late afternoon sun was spotlighting them. They were the most intact and closest I’ve ever seen!

Up close and personal with petroglyphs

We had just a little time to set up camp and share a beer before we zipped over to the visitor’s center for what we thought would be the dark-sky talk and a chance to look through the telescopes. Chaco is the only national park with its own observatory. Well damned if the astronomers weren’t at a conference – um, thanks for letting us know? A ranger gave an interesting presentation on the Civilian Conservation Corps’ involvement in the park in the 1930s and ‘40s, but we were feeling very pouty and whiny about the whole star thing. Until….

We returned to the campsite around 8 p.m. and the sky seemed to go from dusk to black within minutes. I looked up and – WAM, BAM, LOOK AT THOSE STARS, MA’M! I told Lina, who needs astronomers? Of course I would have liked a walk-through of the skies, but wowie, zowie, they were amazing — Milky Way, of course, and shooting stars and dancing constellations. We each laid down on a bench of the picnic table, wrapped up in our blankets, and watched in awe.

Lina's "just one more," Kin Klatso great house

That night we heard the eeriest sound. The only reason I knew it was coyotes is because a ranger had warned me. Wow.

After visiting a few more ruins in the morning (“Just one more” is Lina’s motto in life), we were back on the long dirt road, headed back to the big city.

Does every drop really count in Boone?

August 9, 2011

I sent this to the mayor of Boone, NC, today, a lovely town and home to Appalachian State University.

Dear Ms. Clawson,

This is relatively small potatoes, but as a journalist who writes about travel quite a bit, these things jump out at me. I appreciate the letter I found written by you in the guest book at the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza  in Boone about Boone’s water conservation efforts, aka the “Every Drop Counts” campaign.

The hotel was wonderful and the staff was great. But I have to say that your letter about water conservation didn’t match the hotel operations. For one, there was NO option/signage in the hotel room about not having sheets and towels laundered. Also, the shower there had to have the most water pressure of any shower I’ve used in years. Let’s just say it was the opposite of low-flow.

Also, I’ll add that at dinner the one night I was there, at Hob Nob Farm Cafe, my partner and I were given two large glasses of ice water without being asked. Not the worst thing in the world, but if water conservation is a goal in Boone, not the best either.

So, I figured you’d appreciate this feedback, which I added to my blog, at www.placeswegopeoplewesee.com. I’ll be sure to post your reply there as well, and thanks for all you do in Boone. It’s a GREAT city. I was visiting from Durham to do a book signing for www.farmfreshnorthcarolina.com, at the wonderful Watauga County Farmers’ Market, one of the best in the state, in my opinion!

Sincerely,

Diane Daniel

‘Farm Fresh North Carolina’ has arrived!

March 6, 2011

Alpaca nuzzles Diane at Bedford Falls Alpaca Farm in Warne, Clay County.

So it’s finally here! “Farm Fresh North Carolina,” my farm-travel guidebook to my home state, is now out, Both my hometown papers, the Durham Herald-Sun and the News & Observer, have written it up this week, with more articles across the state to follow! The N&O piece used one of my favorite photos — me being nuzzled by an alpaca at the state’s first alpaca farm, Bedford Falls. What a fun day that was, way, way west in Clay County, a part of North Carolina that often gets relegated to an annex on state maps. I fell in love with alpacas during my research, and included a few alpaca farms in the book.

As for sales outlets, it’s available at the usual online spots and of course in stores all across North Carolina. Even NC Costco stores will start carrying the book in April! That is nuts (in a great way!) and a testament to how crazed the local-food movement has become. I pitched the idea for this book in 2007, the same year that “locavore” was named the New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year. My, how times have changed.

In case you’re wondering what the heck a farm-travel guidebook includes, the subtitle says it all: “The Go-To Guide to Great Farmers’ Markets, Farm Stands, Farms, Apple Orchards, U-Picks, Kids’ Activities, Lodging, Dining, Choose-and-Cut Christmas Trees, Vineyards and Wineries, and More.”

If you want to know more about it, visit my “Farm Fresh North Carolina” website. And remember: Keep it Fresh in NC!