Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hiking Mohonk….

By Jim DeLillo
Start by driving up the NY thruway to Exit 18 – New Paltz, stop for breakfast in this quaint college town, pack a picnic lunch and head up to the Mohonk Preserve.

You can’t miss it…aim for the tower set atop the alabaster cliffs of limestone.

 The preserve is a world-renowned Mecca for rock climbers.  As you make your way up the winding Route 55, keep your eyes on the road.  It is hard to resist the temptation to watch the colorful climbers on their precarious routes.  Park at the West Trapps Trailhead Lot, our stepping off point for the Undercliff Carriage Road where our hike begins. You’ll be up-close and personal with the rock rats – Men, women, and children weighted down heavily with a variety of packs, clinking climbing gear strapped to every part of their body, looking more like walking hardware stores than outdoorsmen.  Coils of rope swung bandolier style across both shoulders complete the uniform. 

However, we are here to hike.  As you march further along Undercliff, you will soon lose sight and be out of earshot of the shouting … “On belay!”, “Climbing!”, “I can’t go any higher” (fearfully), “Bring your left foot up”.
Two miles from your start, you will come to a junction –
Left takes you to the heavily travelled Overcliff Road

The right leads you off to…
Stay straight which leads you through the cool valley of Laurel Ledge a canyon that immerses you in a blanket of greenery…mountain laurel and rhododendron.  The cool damp air embraces and refreshes you.
After some smaller cliffs on your left you will come to the road less travelled – the Old Minnewaska Trail.  A gradual climb brings you to a middle level of the ridge.   Invisibly above, The Overcliff Road parallels your trek.

The air is decidedly warmer as heat radiates off the rock slabs and the scent of pines float on the wind, like dragon’s breath.  Two miles later, you reach Split Rock, a cleaved limestone that channels the ----creek----.  It was once used a sluice for a sawmill.

Turn left onto the Red Trail for a short, but steeper uphill hike back to your starting point at the parking lot.
This 5-mile hike is just one of the 70 miles of carriage roads and trails available at the preserve.



About the Mohonk Preserve

Hours of Operation:
Open 365 days a year, sunrise to sunset
$10 for hikers and bikers
$15 for climbers
Children 12 and under free with adult
You can download a Mohonk Preserve membership form now, or you can buy a day pass or membership at a trailhead or at the Visitor Center.
Getting There:
Take the New Paltz exit 18 off of the NYS Thruway. Go 7 miles west (through New Paltz) on Route 299 to the end: make right on Route 44-55

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Coronado National Forest and Chiricahua National Monument

Coronado National Forest
Chiricahua National Monument, Willcox, AZ

Red dust kicked up behind my wheels as I hugged the inner curve of the dirt road. Through the passenger-side window on my right, I could just make out the 1500-foot drop to the gorge below.
I was glad I had taken the advice of the old cowboy. Last night, I stayed at the Portal Peak Inn, a rustic hotel that was clean enough, though I was glad I’m not squeamish about lizards and spiders. At dinner, I struck up a conversation with Doug, a skinny, toothless guy with four empty brown bottles on the table in front of him. A pick-up drivin’, hat-wearing, boot-clad, honest-to-goodness cowboy, he was a construction worker when not out on the range and a self-proclaimed drywall artist.

I asked him what was good on the menu. “Beer,” he said, as his gap-toothed smile broadened. Wanting something a little more substantial than brewed barley, I pointed to the faded picture of a steak on the yellowed menu when the waitress came by. I included a bottle of cheap beer and winked over at Doug. He grinned and held his bottle up. Greasy french-fries rounded things out.
The fluorescent lighting turned everything gray. It didn’t matter much, since the grizzled beef, which I struggled to hack through with a butter knife, would have been gray in any lighting. Across the six feet of worn linoleum that separated us, a friendly banter with Doug drifted to more serious talk about my travels. I told him I’d be going through the Coronado National Forest on my way back to Tucson.

Portal, Arizona lies at the entrance to the wilderness area, and only one road carves its way thorough the red rock. I filled my tank the day before in New Mexico since Portal does not boast a gas station. The park beckoned with a wide funnel formed by the encroaching ridges, but this welcoming embrace soon narrowed, and Cave Creek Canyon swallowed me whole. Brilliant birches contrasted with the ginger walls, and a giant coyote carved by the elements in a rock formation howled to a cerulean sky.

My route took me over the mountain, and Doug had advised me to leave by sunrise to avoid any vehicles coming in the other direction. Now, as I maneuvered over the oddly-slippery dust and scree at unguarded elevations, I thanked him silently. The baked red clay was only wide enough for one vehicle, maybe one and a half if they were small.
I had left Portal just as the onyx sky brightened to the shade of faded denim. I met only two vehicles the entire time and, thankfully, our meeting was on broader ground. My trip was only eight miles as the crow flies, but it took me more than two hours to navigate the winding switchbacks.
After I crested the mountain, the road widened. Here the expansive vistas and steep drop-offs were replaced by the embrace of Ponderosa Pines whose tops were level with the roadbed. I stopped for a quick lunch in a deserted picnic grove. I recharged in the solitude and cool air and resumed my journey.

The rugged mountains soon gave way to open highway and flat expanses of tall, flaxen grass. I had a side trip planned to Chiricahua National Monument, and the route snaked through terra-cotta canyons and Pinyon Pine. For a while the drive to 7,000-foot Massai Point looked no different that the previous forty miles of cliffs but, as I crested the summit, the difference became obvious. Standing like the Moai of Easter Island, the weatherworn rock formed sentinels in this remote canyon of Arizona.

Rhyolite tuffs—vertical deposits of volcanic ash—had eroded away and left columns of rock known as hoodoos. Hundreds of these spires were formed in this valley, and it was that vista that I admired now.

Chiricahua National Monument comprises 12,000 acres in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona. These volcanic mountains rise above the surrounding grasslands to elevations ranging between 5,100 and 7,800 feet.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Two More Free Days at US National Parks

State of Washington - 18-APRIL-2010 (original announcement)

Mount Rainier National Park (U.S. National Park Service) was one of 392 national parks in the United States that waived their entrance fee during National Park Week 17-April through 25-April. The fees waived included entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees.

The U.S. National Parks Service has announced upcoming dates where the park fees will be free:
June 5-6, 2010
August 14-15, 2010

September 25, 2010 (Public Lands Day)

November 11, 2010 (Veterans Day)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Night of Fire

This is a repost of a previous  trip. Just to get my blog going.

The event does happen annualy on March 15th. So read on and see how you can attend the
Hottest Party in Spain.

The Night of Fire
Las Fallas
Valencia Spain

Fires are burning all over the city. I cannot glimpse an intersection that is not ablaze.

Bombaderos , firemen dressed in black turnout, stand by just waiting with tanker trucks full of water, and portable pumps. I inhale the acrid smoke with gusto, awakening the latent pyromaniac within. My heart races as I turn left and head down Calle De Trafalgar. An elaborate archway of carnival lights, designed like the onion tops of a Russian Orthodox Church, frames the narrow entrance to Falla Parotet. The ninot at the end is smaller than most, but it has not been set afire. I push my way assertively through the crowd.

I want a front row seat. I want to feel the burn.

I am in La Nit del Foc - the night of fire.

An unseen hand tosses a burning carton at the base of the twenty-foot high purple-clad mermaid. The pack cheers and jostles forward. It is only minutes before the whole statue is in flames. The inferno makes my face feel sun burnt as I stare into the fluorescent orange serpent. It engulfs her blonde hair, revealing a timber skeleton. She bends forward, and then summarily crashes to the ground. The nearest spectators flinch from the sparking embers. With a whoosh, the collapse sends its dragon breath, a foehn wind,rushing past me down the alleyways. The crowd stays late, watching as the fire withers into embers, the dark of the night sneaks in and covers what once was a roaring inferno.

I arrived in Valencia, Spain the day before hoping to get to Plaza del Ayuntamiento by 2:00 p.m. when the daily mascletas are lit. At the bullring, Plaza de Toros de Valencia, I join the mob. It carries me along shoulder-to-shoulder like a molecule in the ocean. Seemingly without my feet touching the ground, I am swept along by this human wave moving towards the plaza. I hear the pops, then the echo and rumble of large firecrackers, mascletas. I am still six blocks away. Hundreds detonate at once, and then silence. I am too late.

The press of flesh is already dispersing. I escape the last of the horde on the next side street past the Estació del Nord. In front of the Farmacia, a rotund bride carrying off a drunken, skinny husband faces me. Cupid makes sure there is no mistake. It is a silly sight. They are here for Las Fallas, a five day festival in honor of St. Joseph. Celebrated each March 15th , paper-mache ninots like the bride and groom are sacrificed at the end of the week in a blaze called cremà.

As I dive further off the main plaza, I discover the Casals faller, the individual neighborhoods. Each one creates their own paper-mache effigies; some traditional, some irreverent, and some politically satirical. All compete for best-in-show and notoriety.

In one, a mutt mounts a coiffed poodle from behind in a strict interpretation of screw-the-pooch. The mixed-breed has its eyes crossed and tongue hanging out in an obvious grimace of pleasure.

Another tableau depicts a gay couple holding hands, getting confirmed in matrimony- a slight bearded fellow with parsnip pointed nose and goatee is paired to a chubby older fellow with rouged cheeks.

Grids of twine crisscross the streets, and I realize that each casal has there own mascleta celebration. The secret to Las Fallas is spurning the main plaza and probing these little enclaves.

I return to the casal early the next day. The Caballeros FX (pyrotechnicians) deftly handle little explosive sausages, scissors in their hands and brown paper fuses in their mouth. They secure the colorfully wrapped mascletas to the grid. These “clotheslines” drape across the streets with barely enough room for cars and pedestrians to glide comfortably beneath.

Little boys, not more than eight years old kneel purposefully next to a car’s bumper arranging their own fireworks in an intricate pattern. Nervous hands holding a piece of smoldering rope spark the fuse. They take a few steps back and cover their ears.

On another corner, a lit cone erupts in a shower of sparks. A teenage girl sends a text message nonchalantly nearby. A little three year old girl in an all pink outfit, including stockinged legs, stands not six feet away from the incendiary display.

The steeple bell marks two o’clock and in seconds the ritual begins. At first, just a couple of mortars spew skyward, and then the strings of mascletas join in. As loud as cannons, these are no ordinary firecrackers. A smattering at first and then in a flash, hundreds were exploding at a time. I feel the percussion in my chest. The throng backs away- I move closer. The pungent smoke fills the constricted streets and alleyways. The pyrotechnicians but silhouettes against their ignition flares as they walk from fuse to fuse. I can no longer see the next intersection. The fuses sparkle, the paper and twine are ablaze. A deafening roar echoes between the buildings. I sit inside an erupting volcano.

The day yields to dusk as I walk along Paseo de la Alameda. The fireworks will be ignited in the main plaza, but the best viewing is from the bridges that span the dry river bed. I select a spot on Pont de Monteolivet. This bridge is near Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, an incongruous campus of ultra-modern architecture set in this medieval city. The City of Arts and Sciences houses a museum, an aquarium and a domed cinema.

What the nightly pyrotechnics lack in variety is made up for in quantity. It is an inexhaustible grand finale right from the start. The skyline lights up in crimson bursts for over an hour. The smoke eventually muddles everything to a pastel nacarat glow. The city parties long after the echo of the last titanium report fades away.

The next day I amble to the beach. The smoke has cleared, but in the air there lingers the distinct sulphurous scent of gunpowder.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Andrew Zimmern at TBEXNYC Kickoff Party

(c) All rights reserved by galavantinggals
Travel Bloggers unite! Well that's just what we did Wednesday night at Hotel Giraffe in NYC.

There, The Travel Blog Exchange - New York City Chapter held their kickoff party.  Those with weak stomachs should beware, the guest speaker was Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel's "Bizzare Foods". 

While we were not forced to eat weird, squirmy things, but were instead treated to a live demonstration of Andrew's new trivia game.  The ill-informed contestants, me included, were hard-pressed to answer the questions on international delicacies including Mare Milk and Baby Beer (no not made out of babies, made for them in Russia).

The game was fun and we were rewarded with a copy of his new book