Archive for the ‘Environmental’ Category

Rocky Mountain high (tea)

February 6, 2011

This was first published April 4, 2010, in my Boston Globe column “Where they Went.” I love the trip’s multigenerationalness (is that a word?).

From left, grandparents John and Cathy Looney, daughter Delaney, Christine Hennigan, and son Riley at Lake Louise

WHO: Chris Hennigan, 40, with her children, Delaney, 8, and Riley, 10, all of Woburn, and her parents, Cathy, 68, and John Looney, 69, of Winchester.

WHERE: Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

WHEN: Nine days in July and August.

WHY: To take the Appalachian Mountain Club trip “Family Hikes in the Canadian Rockies.’’

WOW FACTOR: Chris Hennigan wanted her children to enjoy hiking as much as she does. “I thought I’d wow them with the Canadian Rockies,’’ she said. “I’ve been hiking since I was 2; my dad used to put me in his backpack. I hiked until I was about 18 and stopped until I was in my mid-30s. The AMC was trying out these family trips, so I asked my parents to go along, too. Hiking isn’t really my mom’s thing, but she was excited because the kids were going.’’

Three Generations, Delaney, Christine, Riley and Cathy, at the bottom of the falls fed by the Daly Glacier

ALL AGES: The group of 25 hikers, ages 2 to 81, including four leaders, met in Calgary and traveled in three minivans. They stayed in private rooms at two hostels for four nights each, the Banff Alpine Centre and then Lake Louise Alpine Centre, both run by Hostelling International. Several children were on the trip. “It was a good mix,’’ Hennigan said. “The older ones could look out for the little ones and motivate them. They had a blast.’’

MINOR CHANGES: Each day three trips of varying levels were offered. “In the original itinerary, the easiest trips were far too difficult for a kid or older person. The first day’s hike was a good six hours and the kids were in tears.’’ The leaders adjusted the schedule, and “after that it was great. We got up later, had a leisurely breakfast, and didn’t feel pressured to keep moving.’’

Christine Hennigan and her daughter Delaney at Bow Lake

WHAT A VIEW: ’’It was unbelievable scenery,’’ she said. “When my kids keep saying, ‘Mom, look at that glacier, look at that cliff,’ you know it’s spectacular. What really got to them was the color of the water, this deep blue green.’’ One day they drove the Icefields Parkway, where visitors can walk on a glacier. “It’s like walking on ice with crunchy snow on top of it.’’

TEA TIME: They knew the final day of hiking, to the Lake Agnes Teahouse above Lake Louise, would be the hardest. “It was switchbacks the entire way up,’’ Hennigan said. “It was a tough climb on everybody. But once we got to the top it was one of the most unbelievable places I’ve ever been. You sit on a porch and have tea and homemade bread with this unbelievable vista. The kids thought it was neatest thing. Before we got back home from Canada, they told me they were already planning to go on the family trip to Colorado next summer.’’

A gift idea for the armchair eco-traveler

December 18, 2010

Unlike most “best of” lodging books, the writer of “Authentic Ecolodges” actually visited every place in the book, quite an undertaking considering they’re scattered around the globe.

This beautiful art/gift/coffee-table book was written by Hitesh Mehta, a Florida-based landscape architect, environmental planner, and architect. To research the book, Hitesh, who is from Kenya, visited 44 lodges in 46 countries on 6 continents. Without me repeating what Hitesh says in his introduction, trust me when I tell you that his criteria for “ecolodge” is commendable. At their most basic, they embody the three main principles of ecotourism: 1) nature must be protected and conserved 2) the local community must benefit through community outreach and education programs and 3) interpretive programs must be offered to educate tourists and employees around the surround natural and cultural environnments.

That’s a good checklist for you to use on any place that calls itself an ecolodge.

Hitesh also looked at sustainable design and building practices, solid-waste disposal, energy needs and the like.

Cree Village Ecolodge in Canada

The only thing missing from each write-up, which contains pertinent information and luscious photos, is the price range, which I think is real disservice to the reader. Of course prices become outdated, but the reader wants to know a baseline and can take it from there.

Concordia Eco-Tents at St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

I’ll let you in on the North American spots in the book and you can check out the rest yourself. Both have been on my list to visit for years: Cree Village Ecolodge in Canada and Concordia Eco-Tents, U.S. Virgin Islands, and happen to be among the less-expensive spots in the book.

Happy eco-traveling, armchair and beyond!

A host of hellos from Lombok, Indonesia

September 6, 2010

Farmer carries bamboo sticks (perhaps for irrigation?) through rice field

For all you folks fascinated with Bali after seeing “Eat Pray Love,” do consider visiting its next-door neighbor, the island of Lombok, a short and relatively inexpensive plane ride away. It’s quite different and equally fascinating. Here’s a piece I wrote on Lombok for the Boston Globe in 2005.

By Diane Daniel

“Whatever you do, keep the bathroom door open and don’t look behind it,” my husband warned. “And don’t ask me to explain.”

“Why not?” I said.

“I’ll tell you after we check out. Just trust me,” he said.

He knows my “ick” threshold is low for insects and creatures dead or alive, so I dutifully obliged by steering clear of the mystery behind the door.

Blue-green crater lake on Mount Rinjani as seen from the crater's rim at 8,658 feet

We were staying at Pondok Senaru, in the village of Senaru on Lombok, one of Indonesia’s 13,000 islands, 6,000 of which are inhabited. Senaru is one of two main gateways (Sembulan Lawang being the other) to Mount Rinjani, at 12,224 feet, the second highest mountain in the country. We would climb much of it the next day, and what our lodging lacked inside it made up for outside with stunning views of rice fields, waterfalls, and mountains.

Our large bathroom had other “ick” factors: no sink or warm water, a dirty floor, and large, unidentifiable insects flying around the ceiling.

“I miss the Oberoi,” I whined.

Ah, The Oberoi, Lombok.

Infinity pool at the 5-star Oberoi hotel

Two nights earlier, we had arrived at the island’s most luxurious and remote resort hotel, in Mataram, on the west coast. We had come from Bali, only 20 minutes by air. Lombok, about 50 miles end to end and side to side, with 2.4 million residents, was a welcome change from its more touristy neighbor. The local people, called Sasaks, say the island resembles the Bali of 25 years ago: a relatively quiet land of beaches, mountains, rain forests, and rice fields.

Typically, we are the mid-range-hotel type, three stars out of five, only partly because we’re budget-minded. We don’t appreciate an excess of riches, especially in a developing country still reeling from an economic crisis in 1997, tourism-directed bombings in 2002 and 2005, and devastation left by the December tsunami, which occurred nearly 2,000 miles west of Lombok.

On the other hand, pumping money into the local economy is a good thing.

(more…)

Florida mangroves create tunnel vision

January 4, 2010

Diane on the well-marked paddling trail

When Wessel suggested we take our kayaks and paddle among the mangrove islands at Weedon Island Preserve in Florida, my first thought was: we’ll get hopelessly lost for days and have to drink saltwater and eat alligator meat (after hunting them with our pocket knives).

I’d read that the state preserve (north of St. Petersburg on Tampa Bay) has two marked paddle trails. But I also know how easy it is to get turned around on the water, especially when all you see are water, sky, and outcroppings of mangrove trees.

A great blue heron waits for us to pass

As usual, Wessel convinced me to put my life in his hands, and off we went, our two Florida-based kayaks crammed into the Honda Civic (one on top, one out the rear), while I had to smoosh myself into a corner of the back seat. You can also rent kayaks right at the preserve through Sweetwater Kayaks.

Ibis colony along Papy’s Bayou

We chose the four-mile loop trail (the South Paddling Trail) over the two-mile up-and-back one. And, surprise, surprise, the trail wasn’t just marked, it was WELL marked. Even I, who can get turned around in my own neighborhood, was able to follow the sign posts, close to 40 of them. What a thrill! Thank you, Weedon Island!

After putting in next to the fishing pier, we crossed a little bit of the bay, then headed into the islands, paddling through several saltwater ponds and over seagrass beds and mudflats. As soon as we saw one marker, we’d look for the next. Sometimes they were a bit tucked away, but we never missed one.

Diane finds her way through the mangrove tunnel with half a kayak paddle

We saw a few jumping fish, great blue herons, egrets, and ibises. The real excitement was the mangrove tunnels, created by the trees and their exposed roots growing so close together that they form a canopy over tidal creeks. At times the passageway was so narrow we had to pull our detachable paddles apart and use only half. This is not the place to be when the bugs were out. In late December, no problem.

Wessel makes his way through mangroves

About a third of the way we pulled ashore at a little park for a picnic, the only stopping place along the trail. That little diversion would have been thoroughly pleasant had I not dumped a digital camera into the water while docking my boat. (Argh……..) The photos were saved, but not the camera.

The last leg of the 2.5-hour trip was along Papy’s Bayou, an area of deeper and open water, where we were greeted by cavorting dolphins. Thrilling! We can’t wait to return — next time with the waterproof camera.

Walk this way to way fresh seafood

November 10, 2009
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Diane is ready for Walking Fish pickup

Can you believe that even in coastal towns, most of the “fresh seafood” on restaurant menus isn’t even from this country, much less the county? Some 80 percent of seafood served in America is imported and much of it is harvested under conditions that would not meet U.S. environmental standards. Diners are unaware either because they assume it’s local or they’re told it is when it’s not. Or they just don’t care.

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Carteret clams are being steamed

The shrimp we sauteed the other night were recently caught in Carteret County, NC, about 200 miles east of our home in Durham. So were the clams we steamed two weeks earlier. And the flounder and jumping mullet we grilled? Yep, all from Carteret. Towns there include Atlantic Beach, Beaufort, and Morehead City.

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Locavore fishavores congregate on Thursdays at Duke Gardens pickup point

We got all that seafood through Walking Fish, a subscription seafood service organized by Josh Stoll and other students at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. They’ve joined with Carteret fishermen/women to launch our region’s first community-supported fishery to sell locally caught seafood to the public. The name is a takeoff of the more common CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. The CSF is coordinated through Bill Rice, owner of Fishtowne Seafood, a small Beaufort-based processing facility.

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Chuck of Fishtowne fills up a bag with fish and ice. Earlier he gave a filleting demo.

The composition of each week’s portion varies according to season and weather. We were told ahead of time that we’d likely get clams, shrimp, triggerfish, spot, mullet, flounder, and black drum. I really appreciated that we had choices — weekly vs. biweekly, half-share vs. full share, filleted vs. do-it-yourself. We chose biweekly, half-share and filleted, for $79. Each share is enough for two people with a little leftover, and we’re getting six weeks of fish, so about $13 a meal-for-two for really fresh seafood. And we’re helping our fishing friends in Carteret.

Duke students said they weren’t sure how the program would go over, but I could have told them it would sell out, which it did (at 400 members!). We’re situated in locavore/foodie/eco central. You should see the Prius drivers pull up at the pickup point at Duke Gardens with their farmers’ market and Obama bumper stickers.

While we’re on the topic, there’s also a wonderful program called Carteret Catch. When you see that label in a Carteret restaurant or seafood store window it signifies that the seafood labeled as local comes directly from the county. Those fish don’t have to walk far.

Big reward for little effort at Great Smokies

October 13, 2009
Buildings at Mountain Farm Museum

Buildings at Mountain Farm Museum

October is a peak season at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most heavily visited national park in the country, with more than 9 million visitors a year. Despite all those people milling about, it’s still amazingly easy to get away from them. Some, of course, don’t leave their cars, and others don’t venture down trails. With only a few hours to spare, we did both, and were majorly rewarded for a minor effort.

Great Smokies 75th anniversary

Great Smokies' 75th anniversary

We started our afternoon at the park at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, two miles north of Cherokee. It being July Fourth weekend, the place was packed. After a tour of the fascinating outdoor Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of preserved historic log buildings gathered from throughout the Smoky Mountains, we were itching to take a walk, but didn’t want to drive for an hour to reach some of the more remote trailheads.

A ranger told us about the Kephart Prong Trail (a prong is a bend in the river), a four-mile roundtrip hike that crosses the Oconaluftee River six times. Perfect! Oddly, the trail isn’t marked from the road nor is it on the basic park maps, which probably contributed to the fact that we passed only a few other people during one of the park’s busiest weekends.

Tree pose on footbridge for beginners

Tree pose for beginners on footbridge

The trailhead is only seven miles beyond the visitor center. Look to the right for a small parking area on the right, and a footbridge, the first river crossing. The other river crossings were not really bridges but logs, some more secure than others, but all with a railing, so not too much balance was required. That’s a good thing, because no matter how many times I do an erect “tree” pose during yoga, get me on a log over water and I’m like jelly.

Bright red bee balms are found along the Kephart Prong Trail

Bright red bee balms are found along the Kephart Prong Trail

The wooded hike, mostly along the river, was just lovely, and I wish we could see it this month when the leaves start to change. The trail is an old road-bed, so the walk is quite easy, with only 800 feet of elevation gain, most of it on the way in. It’s an up-and-back, not a loop. Along the trail in the woods are a few remains of a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp, there from 1933-42. Turnaround is at a nice backcountry shelter. No one had set up there, so we stretched out on the platforms for a little contemplation of nature. Wessel was snoring in no time.

Water flows down a millrace to the mill

Water flows down a millrace to the mill

On the way out of the park we stopped at Mingus Mill, a 1886 grist mill that uses a water-powered turbine to power all of the machinery in the building. The mill is operated daily from mid-March through mid-November, with a miller demonstrating how corn is ground into cornmeal, which was for sale there. In a break from tradition, the corn was shipped in from the Midwest. I can think of only one word to appropriately express my disappointment. Shucks.

A potent Intervention we could all use

August 30, 2009
Buddha was the main character on stage in 2006

Buddha was the main character on stage in Paperhand Puppet's 2006 show

For 15 years I lived in Boston, and for 15 years I ignored Bread & Puppet‘s  “cheap art and political theater in Vermont.” I was stupid and thought myself too cool to hang with the crunchies. I have found salvation from my sins here in North Carolina: Paperhand Puppet Intervention. (Plus, with age, I seem to have become a bit crunchie myself.)

When I first heard about Paperhand, my eyes glazed over. Puppets? Not my cup of chamomile.  But after enough People I Trust told me it was the coolest thing ever, I succumbed. My review: Coolest Thing Ever. I want to take everyone there, but since I can’t, I’ll just tell y’all about it. And, please, if you ever visit our neck of the woods, try to catch a show by one of the most creative artistic groups you’ll find anywhere in the world. To whet your appetite, check out their videos and photos online. If you need a ride, let me know.

Mother Earth fills the stage in 2008

Mother Earth filled the stage in 2008

First, the “puppets.” They’re huge, breathtaking, soulful, gorgeous. Also onstage at various times: giant masks, stilt dancing, rod puppets, shadow puppets and more. And a wonderful live band accompanies them. The puppets live at Paperhand’s home (secured this year!) in Saxapahaw, a former mill town being reborn by creative types.

Story about fisher family and a rapidly transforming world

A tale about a fishing family in a rapidly transforming world debuted in 2007

Second, the stories. They often start with an epic myth (this time the Babylonian creation epic) played out violently and then transforming into scenes of  peace, love, social justice, etc.  Yes, the audience is hit over the head with this stuff, but it’s OK because it’s all true and real and wonderful and you just want to have a giant group hug by the end.

Stilt dancers in the 2008 show

Stilt dancers in the 2008 show

Third, the people. Paperhand was formed in 1998 by co-creators Jan Burger and Donovan Zimmerman. You know they and their co-conspirators are not getting rich doing this, so you already have to love them for pouring their hearts, souls, energy, and savings accounts (as if) into carrying forth a mighty mission. From their website: “Our vision is inspired by our love for the earth and its creatures (including humans) as well as our belief in justice, equality, and peace.” And this: “Paperhand’s mission is to make work that inspires people, promotes social change, and is deeply satisfying for everyone involved.”

There are always (I think) four acts. The third ends with the biggest puppet/creature (carried forth by several people) going up into the audience to be touched by adoring children in the crowd. The first year we went, in 2006, the star was a heart-achingly beautiful 20-foot Buddha. This year it was a lion. But it was so much more than that.

Children touch the lion during the traditional walk thorugh the audience

Children rush to touch the lion as it lumbers through the crowd

This year’s 10th anniversary show,  “The Living Sea of Memory” (in the area through Sept. 12), is  dedicated to Kevin Brock, the band’s drummer and dear friend, who died last year at the very early age 37.  There has been a huge outpouring of love for this man who illuminated many people’s universes. The lion in the performance is Kevin. It comes through the crowd after the act called “Memory,” in which family stories (from the cast) are shared through the puppets. I think I would have cried anyway, but after losing my mom this year, those stories tore me up.  When the lion came lumbering up the stairs of the wonderful Forest Theatre amphitheater, children rushed up, hands reaching out to touch him. Pure magic.

Standing ovation for another magnificent show

In 2009, the usual standing ovation for another magnificent show

I read today that several of the shows on this current tour have been rained out, which means less money for the troupe.  I don’t expect you to read this and send in a little tax-deductible donation to help cover Paperhand’s rent, but you’re certainly welcome to.  And please try to see these amazing artists and activists.  They are the change they wish to see.

A brrrrthday to remember

August 18, 2009

If you’re melting in the heat of August, as we are in North Carolina, here’s a lovely story to cool you down.

(”Where they Went,” published June 14, 2009, Boston Globe)

Mary Kae Marinac (right), with her mother Barbara Marinac

Mary Kae Marinac (right), with her mother, Barbara Marinac

WHO: Mary Kae Marinac, 50, husband Paul Quirnbach, 49, their children, Jenn, 17, twins Will and Jeff, 15, of Andover; and her mother, Barbara Marinac, 75, of Bethel Park, Pa.

WHERE: New Hampshire

WHEN: A weekend in December

WHY: To celebrate Marinac’s 50th birthday

A snowshoe trek was meant to be

Have snowshoes, will travel

IDEAS AFOOT: “We were driving home from a particularly great hike last summer and the moon was coming out. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to do a full-moon hike? We love hiking and snowshoeing, and it’s one of the physical activities my autistic boys can participate in,” Mary Kae Marinac said. “Then I thought about my 50th birthday and looked it up and discovered there was a full moon that day, Dec. 12. I literally cried. It was a gift from the heavens. I knew a snowshoe trek was meant to be.”

Husband Paul Quirnbach and Mary Kae helping mother Barbara don her snowshoes

Husband Paul Quirnbach and Mary Kae helping mother Barbara don her snowshoes

MORE PARTYGOERS: “I spread the word, not expecting much interest,” she said. “I was amazed that my mother said she would come, though she kept mentioning how a cruise would have been nicer.” In time, siblings from Cleveland and Atlanta signed on, along with a friend from South Carolina, and others closer by. “In the end we had 20 people, ages 8 to 75.” Marinac settled on Lincoln Woods Trails in Lincoln, off the Kancamagus Highway. “The trails were basically flat along an 1870s logging road, and there was a huge parking lot where we could meet, and restrooms.”

Bridge across the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River in Lincoln

Bridge across the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River in Lincoln

GETTING INTO HOT WATER: An après-snowshoe party and overnight stay were planned at Indian Head Resort in Lincoln. “It has a year-round heated outdoor pool, and the kids love it.” As it turned out, the resort had electricity when many places did not, as Marinac’s birthday coincided with the ice storm. “We lost power at our house, as did most partygoers. I thought people might not come, but some said, “Oh, my god, I get to take a hot shower.”

Barbara Marinac (righ) with granddaughter my daughter Jenn Quirnbach

Jenn Quirnbach with her grandmother

MOONLIT MAGIC: The group convened at the hotel and caravanned from there. “I prepared a care package for each guest. Jeff painted little Shaker boxes and inside were headlamps, snacks, and a local tourist map. When we got to the trail it was like a party atmosphere, everyone with headlights on, teaching people to put snowshoes on, with the younger people helping the older ones.” They walked a little over 3 miles, and everyone loved it, Marinac said. “Just before we started, around 6 p.m., the moon broke through the clouds. On top of the full moon, it was a time when it was closer to Earth, so it was bigger and brighter. I have this image of looking at the full moon from the suspension bridge across the Pemigewasset River as it swayed, filled with all the people I love.”

Salida’s secret is out by now

August 13, 2009

I wrote this story for the Boston Globe in 2006. While I wouldn’t say that Salida is a household word, its secret is out.  So, now, I can tell the world!

SALIDA, Colo. The threats came in before I even arrived in Denver.

The historic Palace Hotel on F Street

The historic Palace Hotel on F Street

“Tell her to bury that story,” advised a colleague of the friend I was planning to visit in the Mile High City and take along on a weekend getaway 145 miles to the southwest. When I met said colleague, the first words out of his mouth, only half-jokingly, were, “I’m part of that group asking you not to write about Salida.” Wow, I hadn’t known there was an entire posse trying to keep a lid on things. Perhaps they’d missed Outside magazine’s declaration two years ago that Salida is an “American Dream Town.” So let it be known that I am not the spoiler, or at least not the only one.

It is true, though, that there are still a good number of people who have never heard of Salida (pronounced suh-LIE-duh). Even many Coloradans pass by without stopping, though the town is only a short detour from the highway. They don’t know what they’re missing.

Kayaker in white water of Arkansas River

Whitewater aficionado tests the Arkansas River right in downtown Salida

The whitewater folks, however, are in the know. In the summer, when the Arkansas River is racing, more than a dozen rafting and kayaking operators spring to life in Chaffee County. And every June, about 10,000 visitors triple Salida’s population for the Blue Paddle FIBArk Whitewater Festival (“FIBArk” stands for First in Boating on the Arkansas River). Arguably the country’s top whitewater event, the fest draws the sport’s stars, who come to race and trick out on the rushing waters. Depending on when you visit, you can experience rapids from a nothing Class I to a menacing Class V. Salida is but one of the stops along the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, a 148-mile linear park of riverbanks and river.

Whitewater is center stage in the city-run kayakers’ “play park,” officially the Arkansas River Whitewater Park and Greenway, where from bleachers set up for spectators you can watch those maniacs play in the rapids, roll upside-down over and over, and get water up their noses. (You can’t tell me those plugs really work.)

Friend Kelley reaches the top during a ride outside Salida

Friend Kelley rejoices at the end of her mountain climb during a ride near Salida

Luckily one doesn’t have to be a paddler to enjoy Salida’s riches. My friend and I, who get white-knuckled even thinking about whitewater, merrily eliminated going down the stream. Instead, we cycled, strolled, shopped, dined, and generally made ourselves at home in this incredibly congenial town. We discovered that the abundance of friendly folks wasn’t a show for the sake of commerce. Even the locals talk about how friendly the locals are, and many compare unpretentious Salida with snootier Colorado towns.

“In Aspen and Vail people want you to know they know everyone and have been everywhere. Here, you just know they have, but they don’t need to tell you,” said Jeff Schweitzer, who with his chef wife, Margie Sohl, owns Laughing Ladies Restaurant, arguably the best dining in town. The night we ate in the small, cheery establishment, Schweitzer toured the room several times, chatting with diners he knew, which seemed to be half the room, while passersby would wave from the sidewalk to friends inside.

Buildings in dowtown dating from the heyday in the late 19th century

Most of downtown dates to the late 1800s

Modern-day Salida plays up its appeal to tourists and relocating retirees, but back in the 1880s, the city boomed for being top post on the main line of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. The railroad left in 1950, but mining kept things going until the bust in the 1980s. Despite the recent influx of tourists and new residents, ranching and agriculture remain a mainstay. Signs of both worlds are charmingly evident on downtown streets, as old pickup trucks with ranch mutts barking from the back pass by SUVs sporting shiny bicycles and brightly colored kayaks on their roof racks.

The compact downtown is wonderfully down to earth, not yet having fallen victim to chain stores and developers. Virtually every building in the historic section is more than 100 years old and made of red brick, thanks to a town code that was enacted after fires in the late 1880s destroyed much of the city. We looked out for Victorian homes along side streets, and looked up inside every building we entered. Yep, we’d nod, another gorgeous tin ceiling.

Pauline Brodeur in her art gallery on 151 West 1st Street

Paulette Brodeur in her eclectic art gallery

Salida is building a reputation for its artwork as much as for its outdoor play. Monthly receptions (second Saturdays) have brought the dozen galleries together, and a large three-day art festival among the shops has been held in June for the past 14 years. We were particularly fond of Culture Clash for its mix of works from regional artisans, The Bungled Jungle for its menagerie of crazy creatures, and Brodeur Art Gallery for its amazing mix of media all from one font of creativity, Paulette Brodeur. She had a great show up called “Adventures in Salida,” or, as she put it, “what makes Salida Salida,” with contemporary impressionist paintings of cyclists, kayakers, mountains, and more. Brodeur also decorates lampshades, makes jewelry, and paints funky pet portraits. She even turned her father’s old bomber jacket and her mother’s dilapidated fringe coat into sculptures.

“When I moved here 12 years ago Salida was a ghost town,” said Brodeur, who lives a ways east in rural Cotopaxi. “There wasn’t even a coffee shop. The growth has been gradual. I think this is going to be the year. I love being here and meeting all the people. But when it tips to what I don’t like, I’m outta here.”

If this isn’t “the year” for Salida, it could be 2009, the projected time for environmental artists Christo and Jeanne Claude’s next installation. The pair have a project in the works to hang dancing fabric over eight segments of the Arkansas River, for a total of 7 miles between Canon City and Salida. It’s still in the approval process, but, if it happens, the two-week exhibit is estimated to attract some 250,000 visitors.

But, as that posse from Denver would say, don’t tell anyone.

In the Smokies, a magical hike through time

August 10, 2009
Cook Cabin in the Cataloochee Valley

Cook Cabin in the Cataloochee Valley

A “step back in time” is such an overused phrase accompanying many a historic town or exhibit. But in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, it’s truly possible.

The descendants of Cataloochee, who have their annual reunion every August, have a rare blessing and a curse. Remnants of their ancestors’ community are frozen in time, preserved as they were when the government in the 1930s-40s displaced more than 1,200 family farms to create the national park, uprooting some 7,000 people. Over the years, descendants have acknowledged that the land would likely have been developed if not for the park, but that is of little solace to the people directly affected.

Diane walks the Little Cataloochee trail

Diane walks the Little Cataloochee trail

For the visitor, Cataloochee, accessible only by foot, is a marvel. Wessel and I spent a few magical hours there last month. While nature has altered the landscape and buildings, those changes have been gentle, unlike those brought about by highways and bulldozers.

The drive to the trailhead requires some effort. We entered through Little Cataloochee (as opposed to Big Cataloochee) because reaching the buildings we wanted to see is easier at that end. But the road is rougher — about eight miles of winding dirt roads too narrow for two cars to pass. It was quite the adventure, but doable even in our low-slung 15-year-old Honda Civic.

Wessel at Cook Cabin

Wessel stands in front of Cook Cabin

Ours was the only car parked at the trailhead on a Sunday afternoon. Using the map in the Cataloochee pamphlet we’d bought from the park service, we headed up the main wooded trail, no doubt a main drag back in the day. We first passed Hannah Cabin, built in 1864 and occupied until national park days. Amazingly, the intact cabin has not been vandalized, at least not to our eyes. We also visited Cook Cabin and Messer Farm, which once housed the apple house for storing the apples that brought valley families much prosperity. (The apple house now stands at the park’s Mountain Farm Museum.)

The 1889 Baptist Church sit on top of a ridge

The 1889 church sits on top of a ridge

The most amazing building here is the Little Cataloochee Baptist Church, built in 1889 on a ridge top and painted white with a gingerbread trim. This is there the annual reunion is held. Cobblestone steps lead to a plain interior, painted white, and guests are welcome to poke around. A Bible at the front was opened to the Book of Daniel. Was this a sign for me? Visitors are allowed to ring the 400-pound bell in the belfry, which, of course, we did, the sound floating off through the woods.

Diane rings the church bells

Visitors are invited to ring the church bells

Next to the church is the cemetery, one of several scattered throughout the park and maintained by the park service. Of course the names Hannah and Messer appeared on some of the gravestones.

As we left the woods, we thanked the park service for tending to this sacred ground while sympathizing with the families displaced, as they have been here and during the creation of many other parks in our nation and beyond. Is their loss worth our gain?