Trazzler was a leader in alternative travel websites, where contributors wrote one-paragraph entries, accompanied by a photo, about a destination. This is actually the best money I ever made travel writing -- landing contracts to write 10 or 20 articles at a time ... they were old-school by believing in paying their contributors a dignified amount of money for lending their time and experience. The goal wasn't to write mundane lists but to elicit the sensory experience of being somewhere as succinctly as possible. Trazzler has closed down. I grabbed most of my articles off the site before it died, seemed a shame for them to fall down the drain into a void. I don't have all the titles salvaged, though. But you get the idea what they're about. So this is basically akin to what my author page was at Trazzler. Check out these blurbs for ideas on where to go next! (A lot are from my home region near Nederland, Colorado.) :)
Seeing How the Ancients in Tunisia Relaxed As We Do
The salty waters of the Mediterranean lapped against the city walls while the ancient Phoenicians sat curling their toes in the fresh water of their stone bath tubs. Time has worn the pillars and walls of the sophisticated homes down to a modest height, but the most abundant and best-preserved remnants of life at Kerkouane are the private bath tubs nestled in the ground with an intricate system of water pipes and drains. Abandoned around 250 BC, it’s a rare Punic city never rebuilt by the conquering Romans. If you stand still and let the breeze blowing off the sea tickle your ear just right, you can hear the giggles of gossips of the ancient people who once called this place home.
Sidi Jemour, a.k.a. Mos Eisley entrance, Djerba, Tunisia
This is where the action started, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—here at Toshi Station, Mos Eisley, on planet Tatooine, where our rebel heroes first join forces. We’re in the Star Wars universe, of course. On the island of Djerba, Tunisia, you can find plenty of cinematic relics in the places where scenes from Episode IV were shot on location. Abandoned now, the gentle landscape awaits in whitewashed quietude. For lack of any nearby structures or people to suggest otherwise, one can easily assume they have crossed a threshold into the ancient ruins of another time in another galaxy, expecting to spot a rusted light saber or a Stormtrooper helmet half buried in the sand.
Chemtou Roman Marble Quarry, Tunisia
Huge blocks of marble once clogged the river near Chemtou, Tunisia. Chiseled from the extensive quarries, the prized marble was bound for placement in the opulent palaces of Roman nobility. Today you can still see the marks of the ancient workmen’s tools across the face of the stone. You can walk into deep shafts, into the pitch darkness where legions of spiders are the only workers now toiling along the walls. With a high-clearance vehicle you can drive into the very heart of the quarry. Nearby, the ruins of the small city, Simitthus, lie humble and exposed. There is no gate, no guard, no admission fee, as if this ancient life had been abandoned only yesterday.
El Djem Roman Amphitheater, Tunisia
While the ancient Colosseum in Rome is the largest and most famous Roman amphitheater, the best preserved (and third largest) can be found in El Djem, Tunisia, in excellent condition both above and below ground. Sit nervously inside a dark, cramped cell underneath the arena, contemplating the crime for which you are about to be punished. Your name is called; you’re ushered down the torch-lit hallway. You ascend the stairs into sunlight, and as you are suddenly thrown into the ring, the roar of the audience becomes deafening, as they shout and clap for your demise. You scan the high walls realizing there is no possible escape as the lion opens its giant mouth and lunges toward you.
Villa Adriana, Tivoli, Italy
Considered one of the five great Roman emperors, Hadrian was a strident patron, as well as practitioner, of the arts. While only a skeleton of his self-designed grand villa remains today in Tivoli, Italy, the brackish pools, the sprinkling of marble columns, and the tumbled blocks of brick are enough to conjure the scale and artistry of this imperial retreat. With fewer tourists than Rome, you can find many spots to sit quietly and let the emperor regale you in breezy whispers with tales of an ancient reign. As you watch the dust of crumbling walls drifting through the moat which surrounds an island atrium, you can feel the eyes of those lurking beneath, staring up from the bottom in the faces of souls who have drifted from this imperial splendor to the slim pages of ancient history.
Tuscany Area of Italy
By the end of a week in Tuscany, my family has reenacted the famous scene from the Wizard of Oz perhaps one too many times. Skipping through random fields that we stop at along the highway, we take turns being the characters who fall asleep and the witch who utters the word, her green hands waving over her evil crystal ball: “Poppies!” These will put even the little dog, Toto, to sleep. The month of May in Tuscany is as magical as Oz, when bright red poppies carpet swaths of hillside and valley. Acres and acres of unfenced flowers bloom with abandon, beckoning you to tread among them.
Abbazia di Sant’Antimo, Montalcino, Italy
It’s best, I think, to close your eyes. You can feel the austerity even when blind, for the music paints the ancient walls onto a canvas in your mind. The solemn sound of ages bounces off the quarried stone, but seeps gently into human pores. The handful of monks who keep and restore Abbazia di Sant’Antimo, first built around 1120 AD, sit clad in simple white robes and perform Gregorian chants. Not for me or you, but for their own personal vow of adherence to faith and tradition. Several times daily, you can listen to the monks chanting in the humble abbey nestled in the Tuscan countryside south of Montalcino.
Wroclaw Botanical Garden, Poland
One of the oldest botanical gardens in Poland, established in 1811, lies right in the heart of thriving Wroclaw, the fourth largest city in the country. Stepping inside the garden’s walls, locals take respite from their brick and concrete city life to relax in the color and fragrance of leafy nature. Couples stroll arm-in-arm through the lilies and blow kisses across thickets of hydrangeas. Gazing into a pond from the railing of a wooden bridge, lovers profess their devotion to each other and look for destiny in the ripples of a tossed pebble. It’s a perfect place to rest your head on the shoulder of another and ponder all things beautiful.
Cats of Hydra Island, Greece
You don’t have to be a cat lover to enjoy Hydra Island, but if you are, the “delightful” factor will be increased. Disembarking from a boat, you’ll spy your first herd of cats roaming the docks. Here’s a fun game: make a tally sheet with different fur colors, patterns, or breeds and then trek around the island counting cats. Follow them through the narrow, auto-free streets; peek around the corners of the whitewashed houses with bright blue doors, to find them lounging in courtyards; see them snoozing in the shade beneath vines flowering in red and purple; let them wrap around your legs as you sit at an outdoor cafe. Climb to the top of the island to look far and wide across the Mediterranean sea, with your feline friends mewing at your side.
Kong Yiji Jiulou (Jiudian), Beijing, China
Blooming onions have become ubiquitous in carnivals and pubs. But at the Kong Yiji Jiulou restaurant in the Back Lakes district of Beijing, more exotic delicacies flower. The piece de resistance in one of the most memorable dinners I’ve indulged in, was a "fish blossom": fresh, succulent fish cut into small pieces, still attached to the spine, each piece delicately battered, lightly fried, and balanced to perfection with fruity, watermelon salsa. Attentive staff kept my tea cup full and made excellent recommendations for complementary side dishes and desserts. It’s a lovely walk along the shore of Hou Hai, passing through Chinese couples waltzing on the sidewalk in the cool night air, to find the restaurant tucked behind a thicket of bamboo. Water, bamboo, excellent food: a trifecta of Chinese cultural components.
Xianglu Temple, Jiaxian City, China
It’s well off the beaten tourist track, but if you find yourself in Jiaxian County in the extreme north of Shaanxi Province, China, you’ll discover several gems. One is the small and ancient Xianglu temple, perched in plethora of alliterations—precariously, perfectly, peacefully, peculiarly—high above the Yellow River. If you leave an offering for the Buddha, the attendant may remind you to also leave one for the land god in his tiny shrine, to avoid jealousy. The stone bridge between the two temple buildings is a sanctuary of silence, of muted awe. The space between you and the legendary river is too vast to hold words together. It’s as though you’ve sprouted wings, for they’re the only things that can comprehend this height. You are the bridge between heaven and earth as you stand midway, grasping the red railing.
Gao Miao Temple, Zhongwei, China
Spend a lovely afternoon at the architecturally splendid temple of Gao Miao in Zhongwei, China, which splices together elements from Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, and Christian iconography. Then pay the extra 5 yuan to go to Hell. Exploring the dank labyrinth of underground caverns, you witness day-glow sinners suffering in perpetuity a shocking variety of pains, their cries of agony echoing down the dark hallways. You try to mash down your goosebumps with your icy cold hands, attempt to stop looking over your shoulder for demons on the loose, wonder vaguely at the demented souls who constructed this place; but most of all, you try not to get left behind, alone, in the belly of Hell.
Longmen Water Cave, Yangshuo China
With even greater buoyancy than floating on your back in the saltiest sea, the thick mud pool deep in the tunnels of Longmen Water Cave will support your weight as though you are just a small duck bobbing on a pond. Lie on your back, on your stomach, on your side, and the mud is your grainy, gooey mattress. Take a taxi or ride a bicycle to this underground, dimly lit play land, located in Longmen village outside of Yangshuo, China. Perhaps you are a mudfish, or maybe a swamp monster, or you could be a contented pig… the mud pool brings out as much imagination as laughter.
Tikal National Park, Guatemala
By day, the ancient Mayan pyramids of Tikal, Guatemala, are imposing symbols of power and ritual; one gazes up to imagine feather-crowned rulers raising their hands over the urban citizens in their domain. But get up before dawn, creep into the ancient plazas, and the jungle transforms the city of man into a city of mist—a city of whispers and hints, of unseen birds piercing the milky air with an ethereal chorus. The pyramids mysteriously disappear into the sky until the sun begins to thin the heavy jungle air with its warmth, revealing the city’s ancient secrets with the spellbound pace of a well-written book. Stay at a cabin inside the park for early-morning access.
Grey Glacier, Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile
In the heart of the Paine Circuit in Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile, Grey Glacier calves continuously, pushing wavelets of icy water onto the black sand beach. But to gaze at the glacier from the beach pales to the experience of strapping crampons to your feet and trekking across the top, through a landscape so foreign and magical, it hardly seems terrestrial. In this improbable but inevitable manifestation of enormous amounts of time and matter, snow and ice form peaks and spires, valleys and hollow rings, pools of water that redefine the color blue. After this, your dreams will never be the same.
Trying to Drink Beer in Tunisia
Standing with our fingers laced through the chain-link fence, we have to explain ourselves to the guard: “We’re staying in the condos down the beach; we can’t buy beer in the store; all we want is a drink. Please, sir! Take pity on us; we are but poor, beer-starved Americans unwittingly traveling through a Muslim country during Ramadan.” The guard smiles as though we are naughty children. And just as cookies stolen from the jar are the yummiest, beer never tastes so good as when you have to beg to be let into a 5-star hotel, for this is the only type of establishment in Tunisia that will serve alcohol during Ramadan.
The Haunted Bookshop, Sidney BC, Canada
Stepping inside the Haunted Bookshop in Sidney (“Canada’s Booktown”), British Columbia, with your first breath you’re instantly immersed in the pages of the past. The smell is like no other – the peculiar one that only antique bookshops have, of heavy, musty paper and printing-press ink, the contrails of sweat and cigarette breath lingering in the typeset letters meticulously arranged centuries ago. By this olfactory evidence alone, one can determine the authenticity of a shop purporting to be antiquarian. You’ll find here a delicious variety of used books from recent releases to old classics and obscure works by long-dead authors. The preponderance of the latter perhaps inspired the name of the shop. If you’re like me, you’ll need to come prepared with an extra suitcase to carry home all those ghosts.
Monontsha Border between South Africa and Lesotho
Trying to discern and coordinate three maps, we ended up at the top of a cold, windy hill where a man at a gate told us, “No! This is not the border crossing to Lesotho! Go back toward Butha-Buthe!” But the border outside Butha-Buthe is far away. Not to be deterred by the complete absence of road signs indicating a border crossing, we continued wandering around in our truck, now employing a GPS unit, to immense reward. The tiny Monontsha Border isn’t listed in most guidebooks, but if you persevere, you will not only brighten the bored immigration and custom official’s day, you will enter the Mountain Kingdom on a little-traveled and spectacular road, exactly the kind of road that motivates one to be an independent traveler and go where few others have gone.
B&B on 8th Avenue
On a quiet cul de sac you will enter B&B on 8th through a cheery garden of flowers and herbs, greeted by a personable pack of small dogs, keen on belly rubs and a scratch behind the ears, convinced that their home is also yours. You will find a lovely bed, an en-suite bathroom, a kitchenette in one of the units, internet access, and thorough cleanliness—all that one could expect from a B&B. What you will find as an unexpected surprise is the unsurpassed hospitality of your host. There are hosts and then there are hosts. Prepare yourself for conversation, kindness, helpfulness and generosity, and a twinge of sadness when you must finally leave.
Lisbon Falls, South Africa
Even at the end of the dry season, Lisbon Falls, along R532 near Graskop, still sparkles silver with the rush of water over its pitch-black face. Breaking into two separate streams, the river tumbles freely for over 90 meters. Over the millennia it has carved out two similar figures of rock, like twin sentinels protecting a secret behind the falls. I stood for ages on the viewing platform trying to peer through the debris of the broken river, through the countless droplets of falling water, but the stone sentinels would not let down their guard.
Premier Class Train between Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa
For 25 hours, the interior of South Africa fills the train car window, the scenery changing from dramatic blue hills rising straight up from lush green plains carpeted with vineyards, to the stark geology of sharp brown and sterile rock, to vast expanses of utterly flat land with sparse vegetation punctuated by an occasional ostrich. In our private compartment, the stewards pop in to turn our sitting couches into beds with cozy white comforters, while we meet other nostalgic passengers in the dining car and drink wine and amarula in the lounge. Following much of the same route as the famous (and spectacularly expensive) Blue Train, riding the Premier Classe line from Cape Town to Johannesburg is a transportation throwback to a time when the act of traveling between point A and B was the main attraction.
Ratel Pan Bird Hide, Kruger National Park, South Africa
Just south of the Piet Grobler dam in central Kruger Park, we sat silent and rapt inside the Ratel Pan Bird Hide, as if we were just another bush along the sandy bank of the Timbavati River, hardly daring to breathe as a pair of rare saddle-billed storks alighted before us, towering over the other birds pecking insects in the shallow water. From behind the river, a herd of elephants burst through the thicket, dwarfing the saddle-billed storks. Trotting purposefully right toward us, mothers, daughters, and sisters stopped to frolic with their trunks in the cool, evening water. They forded the river with a magnificent splash and emerged only a few meters beside us, their thick, wrinkled hides dark and wet, ears flapping playfully, giving us only a casual glance as they passed on to more fruitful grounds, for there were no leaves to munch on this square wooden “tree” where humans crouched inside its painted trunk.
Sani Pass on the Border Between South Africa and Lesotho
In a no man’s land between the Lesotho and South African border posts at the southern edge of the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, lies the gloriously twisted road that summits at Sani Pass in Lesotho. We awoke one morning at the Sani Top Chalet to a springtime winter wonderland, ate breakfast in the highest pub in Africa, where we’d cozied up with Castle beers the night before, hopped in our truck and started down the dizzying trail (only 4x4 vehicles allowed). Slowly zig-zagging down the steep pass, hairpin after hairpin, flanked on both sides by the stunning heights of a snow-capped plateau, we descended into lush green rolling hills while the sky yawned and stretched before us, shaping moisture into piles of cotton ball clouds.
Bourke's Luck Potholes, South Africa
Along the R532 through the scenic Blyde Canyon area just west of Kruger Park, a small geological wonder joins the Treur and Blyde Rivers. At Bourke's Luck Potholes, the Treur River shapes a magical world of water slides and pot holes, colorful rocks, and milky green pools. A short trail (it's even wheelchair accessible) leads to the falls. Here I sat and let the water pull me into a trance as I charted its many paths down the cliff face before it finally settled into the riverbed below, cantering casually onward, as if it was no big deal to tumble down the wide maze of mini waterfalls and potholes.
Chimpanzee Eden, South Africa
Even if you haven’t seen the show on Animal Planet (if you have, consider petitioning A.P. to sponsor more seasons) you will quickly fall in love with the chimpanzees as they and their stories of rescue from heartbreaking situations are introduced to you, one by one, by a sanctuary guide. Chimp Eden is a forested home to nearly 40 unique personalities, from the immensely lovable Cozi, rescued from a cage so small he hadn’t the muscles to walk when he was rescued, to Zac and Gida who had lived chained to a tree, and Josephine who had been confined to a shipping container with no sunlight. Many chimps were orphaned in the bushmeat trade and kept as pets in appalling conditions. Watching them play in the grass, rolling somersaults and tickling each other in the fresh air and freedom will bring a smile to your face and a memory you can’t dislodge.
Balule Camp, Kruger National Park, South Africa
Luxury safari is all fine and nice, but if you want the true bush experience inside one of the world’s greatest game parks, reserve a campsite at Balule satellite camp in central Kruger Park. With no electricity in camp, you can sleep under a river of stars coursing through the velvet black sky. The only thing separating you and the patrolling hyenas is a chain-link fence. Standing inches away from them yipping and yowling in the night sends a shiver up your spine. And when the lions start bellowing, the sound fills a cavern in your primitive soul, where once we huddled so vulnerable in the dark. Sleeping on the ground, you are forced to measure your humanity against the size of the nocturnal predators that until this night have only prowled in your dreams.
Mogodi Lodge near Blyde Canyon, South Africa
A short drive away from the magnificent Blyde Canyon, Mogodi Lodge sits perched on the edge of one of the area’s many smaller canyons that abruptly part the green hills into chasms of gray and gold. You can launch into several adventure activities from the hotel grounds including abseiling and the 70-meter free-fall adrenaline shot of “the big swing.” Such adventure works up an appetite; tasty dinners are served at the hotel’s restaurant and you will surely find, as I did, unparalleled kindness and hospitality from the proprietor.
Kosi Bay, South Africa
We pass through the gate with our 4x4 permit; we are one of only a handful of vehicles allowed each day to visit the wide swaths of fine, soft sand and fish-infested waters in the small pocket bay at the mouth of the four-lake Kosi ecosystem. With so few visitors, our footprints stay in the sand, a lone trail, throughout the afternoon. We swim and float through the lagoon nestled against the forested hillside as though it’s a secret, our own private aquarium in a tiny tendril of the warm Indian Ocean.
Ilha do Buraco, Brazil
Once, I caught a ride on a fishing boat from the dock of Salinas, Brazil, and sailed through the veil of time, landing on a page ripped from the tome of antiquity. From my hut designated for tourists on Ilha do Buraco (“Island of the Hole”), I spied on the islanders patching their palm-leaf roofs, on their chickens pecking aimlessly around the fire pits beneath the raised floorboards, on their large woven baskets sifting the breeze. For that afternoon I lived on a sandy star at the edge of the universe, caught in an eddy of profound peace where the noisy current of civilization passed me by. Behind the thatch huts, the jungle rose abruptly in a wall of foliage, hiding spirits and secrets and the wooden rafts of unbroken time on which the islanders float and bob, their ways of living anchored to the millennia.
NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Reserach) in Boulder, Colorado
The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) sounds so official and off-limits, but it’s one of the most diverse and interesting places in Boulder, occupying a mesa just below Boulder’s scenic Flatirons. Want to be educated about weather and climate research? Take a guided tour through the exhibits at the visitor’s center or walk the unique, interpretive “weather trail.” Want to see an art exhibit, featuring a new artist each month? Eat lunch in the cafeteria, or pass through it on your way to picnic in the “tree plaza.” Want to take a beautiful nature hike? Start at the trailhead across the parking lot. NCAR is the nucleus of a wide array of stimulating activities.
Flagstaff Road, Boulder, Colorado
Popular with motorists and bicyclists alike, winding up the foot of the Rocky Mountains from the western edge of Boulder like a spiral staircase – hairpin turn after hairpin turn – the drive up Flagstaff Road is reminiscent of a theme park ride. The backdrop here: pine forest, the dramatic Flatiron rock formations and plenty of scenic views overlooking Boulder and the Front Range. Stop for a swanky meal with views at the Flagstaff House. You can continue upward into the hills, but I always want to careen back down the twisty road like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. To date I’ve used low gear and restraint, but someday….
The Sink Restaurant and Bar, Boulder, Colorado
You would have to peel back many layers of ink and paint, but somewhere on the wall is a comment or two I wrote while living in Boulder, as well as the comments and pictures drawn by innumerable patrons over the decades. This is a time-honored activity at the Sink in Boulder’s college district, “The Hill.” With drink specials and famous burgers, the conservation-minded Sink always draws a crowd. Check out the walls while you wait for your food, and don’t forget to bring your own marker!
Caribou Ranch, part of Boulder County Open Space
Once a whistle stop on the famous Switzerland Trail railway line, summer tourists would disembark at the Blue Bird Mine to sit on the hotel’s veranda, taking in the crisp mountain air while miners descended ever deeper into the earth sending ore back up in carts. This was the scene at Caribou Ranch until 1919. Though the metal tracks are gone, the railway grade still exists and makes for an easy hike or horse ride in summer, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Historic buildings are still intact, and the wide open meadow is home to rutting elk in the fall. Splendid with golden autumn aspen leaves and carpets of spring wildflowers, only 30 minutes west of Boulder, Caribou Ranch offers something magical all year round.
Caribou Ghost Town, Nederland, Colorado
Over 100 years ago, Caribou was a booming mining town. Today there are a couple stone foundations left, home to copious wild raspberry bushes. An old cemetery crumbles into the hills. And below your feet run miles and miles of mining tunnels. Forty-five minutes west of Boulder, the area is open for many activities – in summer: hiking, mountain biking, dirt biking, four-wheeling (stay on the trails!); in winter: snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding. Though often bitterly cold with a wind beyond wicked, winter is my favorite time to imagine the hardy miners and their families huddled in their clapboard houses with single pane windows, toughing it out for the slippery dreams of silver and gold.
Eldora Mountain Ski Resort, Colorado
Eldora’s motto has been “Friends don’t let friends drive I-70,” referring to the interstate highway traffic nightmare that leads from Denver/Boulder to the famous ski areas of Summit County. Eldora is a small ski resort and a favorite of locals for its quick, easy access and tiny-to-non-existent lift lines, 45 minutes west of Boulder. Even if you’re not cold, a break in the warming hut at the top of the Corona Bowl will reward you with expansive mountain range views. From the top of Cannonball lift, the wide valley holding Barker Reservoir etches the eastern horizon. The views are as nice as the snow. Eldora hosts both downhill and Nordic trail systems.
Betasso Preserve Trailhead, Boulder, Colorado
A wide-open meadow stages the trailhead to the Betasso Preserve trails. Descending the Canyon Loop, I can glimpse the city of Boulder far down below me, a cluster of buildings that seem small and irrelevant to the rolling hills of ponderosa pine trees, Douglas firs, and fields of pasque flowers, to the menagerie of birds, the black bears and tufted-ear squirrels. A short drive up Boulder Canyon, the Preserve is a quiet getaway to indulge in picnicking, hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding. The bright meadows, shady forests, and babbling streams will restore any tired soul with their timeless serenity.
Mud Lake Open Space in Nederland, Colorado
Sitting on a wooden bench at the shore amid the tall pond grasses, birds sing and insects buzz, touching down on the water, creating a maze of overlapping ripples on the surface. At the end of spring (late June/early July), the damp wooded areas along the Mud Lake trail system are bursting with blue columbines. New flowers arrive in summer; in fall, the aspen leaves turn gold and drop, and the winter pine trees hold snowballs in their needles. Nature displays her beauty all year round, and it’s an easy walk or mountain bike ride around the loop trails, or a lovely place to picnic.
Into the Wind-Kite Store, Boulder, Colorado
Wind up the frogs and penguins and let them leap and waddle across the counter top. Shove rubber snakes into your sister’s face. Pick through bins of polished rocks to find the prettiest. Peruse the selection of toys, games, and the source of the store’s name: kites. Release you inner child into the wind! This whimsical toy store on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall is sure to make you a little giddy, whether you’re a child living in the moment, or an adult remembering your past and indulging in the simple amusement a creative toy can provide. Into the Wind is one of those mom and pop stores that has withstood the high turnover rate of mall businesses for decades, it’s one not to miss stepping inside.
Pearl Street Pub & Cella, Boulder, Colorado
Pucker up, grab the buffalo by the horns, and plant a big kiss on his nose. This is a long-standing tradition in Boulder. First “required” for 21st birthday celebrations, now the buffalo (mascot of the University of Colorado), receives smooches for just about any celebratory occasion. Located in the Pearl Street Pub on the west end of the Pearl Street Mall, the bar has changed names and owners over the years, but has always retained its famous party pal. So find an excuse and go kiss the buffalo!
How lucky I am, I often think to myself when seeing a show at the Boulder Theater downtown. World-class music in a small venue is always something special. Sometimes I find myself jumping around on the dance floor, other times sipping wine at the cabaret tables or relaxing in the balcony seats. The historic theater was first opened in 1906 debuting opera, running even through the Depression showing movies and giving prizes to those with a lucky number under their seat. Now the theater occasionally shows films, particularly Warren Miller productions, but is best known for its diverse line up of talented musicians.
Evert Pierson Kids' Fishing Pond, Boulder, Colorado
I remember the thrill of reeling in a thrashing fish when I was a kid, my dad cheering me on, “Reel her in nice and slow. Hold up; don’t break the line! That’s it…” At the Evert Pierson kids' fishing pond along Boulder Creek, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons can all cast their line into the murky water where fish lurk beneath the surface, darting here and there looking for flies and grubs, not knowing whether they’re real or crafty bait. Nestled into the creek-side forest, the pond offers a nice family activity.
Boulder Creek, Colorado
It’s a sweltering 95 degrees in Boulder. What do you do to cool off mountain style? Grab an inner tube and surf the icy snow-melt waters of Boulder Creek. After tumbling down frothy mini waterfalls near the canyon mouth, the creek bed levels out for smooth, peaceful tubing through shady forest. Laughter, screams, chills, and relaxation all find their way into your tubing experience. The creek will be closed during peak runoff. Inner tubes available at the gas station on Arapahoe and Broadway or you can rent a fancy one at Whitewater Tube.
Twisted Pine Brewing Company, Boulder, Colorado
Have a wacky idea for a beer? Ginger banana yam ale? Gooseberry bourbon stout? Write it on the eraser board at Twisted Pine brewery in Boulder, and you just might come back next week to find it on the limited-edition menu. Home of the locally renowned “Billy’s Chilies” jalapeno beer (a bit nippy, but not too hot), Twisted Pine regularly brews up a variety of small-batch, unique concoctions available only in their tasting room. If you want to get off beer’s beaten path, make time to visit the Twisted Pine brewery.
Lost Lake Trail, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado
There’s no marker; a ¼ mile toward Lost Lake in on the Hessie Trail in Indian Peaks Wilderness, simply listen for the sound of thunder rumbling through the forest to your left, where the torrential spring snowmelt throughout June expands Middle Boulder Creek into a spectacular waterfall. The river exchanges the sound of your voice for the spray of cool mist, engulfing your words of awe into the force of water pounding against the boulders and giving to you in return a veil of tiny droplets full of rainbows in the sunlight. Explore old mines and cabins in the surrounding woods or continue hiking to the lake.
Carousel of Happiness, Nederland, Colorado
On opening day in 2010, people from all around the state came to watch the Carousel of Happiness take its first run. My neighbor kids beg their parents to take them to the carousel every day in summer and weekends in winter, to twirl around in the fantasy land and ride their favorite buddies again and again. Even those sans children can't resist riding the whimsical characters. Look closely at each animal to find something humorous or magical about them, each one hand carved and painted by one man with a vision over the course of 22 years. A circa-1910 Charles Looff carousel drives the motor and provides the frame. Admission: $1 per ride.
Bug Theater, Navajo Street Art District, Denver, Colorado
Where do the freaks in Denver go? They get on board the Freak Train! The last Monday of each month, the loyal audience of Freak Train fills the Bug Theater in the compact, cozy Navajo Arts District. A small theater, built in 1912 as a nickelodeon, the Bug supports local talent in film and live performance. But at the Freak Train, no credentials are required to get on stage for five minutes and do anything you want in front of a live audience. Sing a song you wrote, perform a mini play, yodel passages of Shakespeare, try out magic tricks or stand-up comedy, strip tease, turn your eyelids inside out… Expect regular appearances from Big Foot and lip-syncing puppets. Five dollars gets you in the door and all the beer you desire until the two kegs run out.
Nederland Mining Museum, Colorado
Sitting incongruously along the highway in Nederland, CO, a Bucyrus 50-B tracked steam shovel, the largest operating machine of its kind in the U.S., passes time in solitude, for it’s also the only steam shovel to survive the early adventures of building the Panama Canal. Taking an unlikely journey from tropical Central America to the gold-infested Rocky Mountains, it ended its days placer mining near Nederland. As featured on The History Channel, demonstrations of the behemoth let the whistle scream as the cab rotates on its track, raising its massive claw high in the air on a monstrous arm, then a terrific sound of creaking metal as the bottom drops out of the bucket to empty its imaginary contents. Giant levers inside the cab lower the arm and bring the shovel to rest on the cold mountain ground, so very far away from its jungle childhood shoveling history into place.
Dostal Alley Brewpub, Central City, Colorado
With a sigh of relief I drink down the list of award-winning beers brewed onsite at the Dostal Alley Brewpub on Central City’s Main Street (an hour west of Denver). I have escaped the large spaces and incessant slot-machine ding-ding-ding of the other casinos in town. In the relative quiet, I shovel pizza down my gullet with one hand while idly dropping quarters in a poker slot built into the bar’s countertop with the other. So OK, my hideout is still a casino, but the most friendly and low-key one you’ll find, with an Italian menu to counter the typical $5 prime rib buffet. It’s a good place to catch up on local gossip of life in this old mining town rife with idiosyncrasies, once the capital of Colorado inside “the richest square mile on earth.”
Teller House, Central City, Colorado
Perhaps most famous for “the face in the barroom floor,” a painting on the floorboards of local legend Baby Doe Tabor, the Teller House in Central City, west of Denver, opens in conjunction with holidays and performances at the Central City Opera. Upstairs, people are rolling their eyes with culinary delight in the renowned Kevin Taylor restaurant, while I sit downstairs sipping house wine on a stool at the spectacular bar. Still kept up in 1800s period décor, the Teller House was once the finest hotel in the state, the sidewalk outside its doors paved with silver bricks. I always feel a nostalgia here that is not my own, while the ghosts of miners, outlaws, wealthy gamblers and brothel women wander restlessly, doubtlessly wishing they could still taste the corporeal pleasures of fine food and whiskey.
Central City Opera House, Colorado
The overtures and arias are still ringing in my head when I step out into the crisp air during intermission. In the courtyard, columbines, and geraniums thrive in the cool mountain climate. The glass of wine fits snugly in the palm of my hand as I sip with the pretense of a sophisticated upper-class lady out for a night at the opera. During the long history of the Central City Opera House, I might have come in a tight corset holding a parasol, or with slim skirt and bouffant; I’ve come in my best dress—a $20 Costco bargain. But the world-class performances are as melodious in my ears as those of the finest ear-muffed lobes. Lucky for me, there is not a bad seat in the intimate opera house, masterfully restored to its 1800s elegance and charm.
Gold Hill Inn, Gold Hill, Colorado
Think a 6-course meal costs a fortune? Think again! At the Gold Hill Inn west of Boulder, CO, the Finn family serves up delicious gourmet fare for a flat rate of less than $40 per person. Built in 1924 as a companion to the Bluebird Lodge, the log dining hall still stands with its rustic charm. Watch the summer parades from the boardwalk in front; attend the bluegrass festivals in the yard out back, and stomp your feet on the floorboards when local bands set up in the bar. Originally part of the Nebraska Territory, miners both bedraggled and bejeweled have slept in the town of Gold Hill, leaving in their wake a hearty spirit of perseverance and preservation, forging a rare loyalty to heritage.
Bluebird Lodge, Gold Hill, Colorado
“Oh yes,” the proprietor told us, “I’ve seen the ghosts.” In the parlor I flipped through the collection of antique books waiting for a cold breath to touch my shoulder. Walking the creaky floorboards upstairs I looked furtively for spectral figures floating down the hall. Inside my cozy room furnished with antiques, I looked behind the curtains and stared into the mirror, hoping to spy the faint image of an ageless face. I was dying to sneak into the attic, where the most paranormal activity has been heard, but alas, climbed into bed. Built in 1872, the Bluebird Lodge in Gold Hill, Colorado, west of Boulder, is now open to overnight guests only during Murder Mystery Nights, when attendees can dress up in character to solve a devilish mystery while the ghosts look on, posing their own mysteries of the dead.
River Run Village, Keystone, Colorado
Here I have stumbled in beer-besotted bliss among a village full of microbreweries serving up samples and live down-home bluegrass tunes. I’ve also watched the surprisingly entertaining logging championships, ridden the gondola beneath the winter stars to ski downhill in the strangely exhilarating night air, fine-dined, fine-slept, and peeked into a shop or two. There are so many activities year-round and seasonally in the River Run Village at the Keystone Ski Resort west of Denver, CO, you don’t have to be sporty at all to fill your days. Festivals, competitions, dining and nightlife, pedestrian paths, and scenic chairlifts. Whether you’re catching snow flakes on your tongue or the warm summer sun on your shoulders, the village makes a perfect destination for couples of mixed athletic sensibilities.
International Snow Sculpture Championships, Keystone, Colorado
Ready, set, go! You have 65 hours to use only hand-powered tools to sculpt a 12-foot square, 20-ton block of snow into an artistic masterpiece worthy of winning the International Snow Sculpture Championship in Breckenridge, Colorado. Your team can hail from any country to participate in this annual event on the Riverwalk in downtown Breckenridge, the last week of January. Or, like most of us, you can pass through the frozen art display as a mere spectator, charting each team’s progress hour by hour, as the delicate veins of leaves emerge on frosted trees; strands of hair frame a maiden’s face; complex geometrical designs take shape from a plain cube of snow; temples, castles and desert oases; horses, men, fish and dogs come to crystalline life. The sculptures remain on display through winter until they melt.
Hamill House Museum, Georgetown, Colorado
Above the fireplace a fair maiden casts a distant, thoughtful gaze. Tiled into this eternal porcelain pose, I can never catch her eye. In the plush three-person conversation chair, whispers of a Victorian past still linger with the clink of fine china tea cups on their saucers. Sunlight floods the conservatory to nourish a hundred plants, while the elegant library waits in a hushed, dim light for the Hamills to return and fill its lonely space with the chatter of family games and readings. Of the many exquisite, original furnishings in the Hamill House Museum in Georgetown, Colorado, for some reason I found the camel-hair wallpaper most fascinating. The 19th-century Hamill estate, built with a fortune made in silver mining, is meticulously preserved and thoughtfully guided by knowledgeable volunteers. Also in Georgetown, the Hotel De Paris Museum preserves many facets of a 19th-century mining town.
Georgetown Loop Railroad, Devil's Gate Station
We’re all aboard, the whistle screams and a thick blast of smoke puffs up through the steam-engine’s stack. As the train picks up speed, chugging down the narrow gauge railroad track, the smoke lengthens into a black river above our heads in the open railcar. Soon we’re in the aspen forest, twinkling green in summer and golden-orange in fall, cool air ruffling our hair and jacket sleeves, clickity-clackity on the Georgetown Loop Railroad, built in 1884, west of Denver. We wind a sinewy path full of trestles and horseshoe curves, covering more than 600 feet in elevation, and our hearts beat just a little faster crossing the marvel of Devil’s Gate High Bridge. Passing through the remains of the Clear Creek mining industry, I look at my gold rings and wonder from which mountain’s belly, across what wild landscape, their mother nuggets came.
Tennessee Mountain Cabin, Eldora, Colorado
I walk with crunching footfalls across the hardening evening snow as the last blanket of sun covering the mountaintops slithers steadily away, leaving me in cold, gray silence—that delicious kind of cold that makes your nose hairs prickle, that heavy kind of gray that drains shadows, and that particular, deep silence known only to the initiates of high-country solitude. After spending a few refreshing moments alone with the ancient woods, I head back toward Tennessee Mountain Cabin, in the Eldora Nordic Trail System. Crossing the threshold into the tiny room where my snow-shoeing mates are huddled around the wood-burning stove, I take a seat on my sleeping bag and raise a toast to a night spent like we’re old miners, tucked into the silver-veined mountains in the slight arms of a log cabin, a thin trail of smoke our only signature in the night air.
Denver Zoo, Colorado
Baby giraffes gallop in circles and chase the peacocks that land in their pen. A baby gorilla puts his hands to the glass to match yours, staring at you with startling intensity. Lion cubs bat at their dad’s swishing tail and gnaw their mom’s soft ears. Bear cubs trundle after their mother as she finds a comfy place to sit, then climb on her lap to suckle in the warm afternoon sun. Okapi yearlings extend their freakishly long tongues to sample the air at their mother’s side. Baby hippopotami peek above the water while their plump sausage bodies paddle around the pool. The Denver Zoo is one of the premier breeding zoos in the country. Any time of the year you’ll find an assortment of newborns on display, tugging at your heartstrings, begging you to save their wild habitats.
Slovak Tatra National Park (High Tatras), Slovakia
As the early morning funicular tram lifts you above the asphalt roads and painted timbers of Stary Smokovec, Slovakia, a languid river of mist flows down the mountaintops to greet the eastern sun in a vaporous kiss. Beginning at the tram’s terminus, it’s but a day-hike from the dreams you dreamt in your bed last night to the dreams that nature dreamed an eon ago and left for you to discover. Hike through towering flowers and over lichen-crusted rocks. Eat lunch, drink beer at the friendly chata nestled amid the peaks. Continue over the pass, hoisting your body up the vertical slope with chains the ancient granite has allowed us to bolt into her ribs, and descend into silence that carries only the babbling of snow melting into silky green pools and the whisper of air caught in cul-de-sacs of sheer cliffs. By early evening you’re back in your bed to dream the tiny dreams of men.
Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru
The locals lead you straight up the mountainside through the terraced gardens to the top of Amantani Island to watch, from the vestiges of ancient temples, the sun fall into the waters of Lake Titicaca. Straining to breathe the dry, thin air that evades your lungs at 14,000 feet above sea level, you follow the locals into their homes. By the light of a single candle you scoop warm potatoes into your mouth. You spend the evening dancing in a dusty, lantern-lit room. Light-headed with kerosene fumes, tipsy from a bottle of Cusquena beer, and riddled with the sound of pan pipes and drums, you start trekking to the outhouse. This is when the bottom drops out of the earth and you’re left swimming in stars. The mythical inhabitants of the Peruvian night, drawn not from stars themselves but from the rare dark spaces between them, gaze passively down upon you, indifferent, as you drown, wide-eyed and speechless, in the sea of stars.
Cabo Karting Center, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
The flag drops and you put the pedal to the metal. You’ve got a firm grip on the steering wheel and all your muscles tense to withstand the forces tugging your body as you slam on the gas, slam on the brake, back to the gas, turn left, turn right, try to correct for the 360 you’re about to spin coming out of a hairpin. I’d give you advice on how to navigate this formula kart-racing course, but it changes periodically to keep it fresh and challenging. At the Cabo Karting Center in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, you can strap into a high-performance go-kart and go head-to-head with your friends in a series of 14-lap races. These aren’t docile kiddy karts; they’re wicked fun!
Bard & Banker Public House, Victoria BC, Canada
Beer, let me count the ways in which I love you. At the Bard and Banker Public House in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, there are 28 ways on tap. Four on nitrogen, hailing from Ireland. The other 24 beers exhibit a wide variety of Canadian brews from local Victoria, to greater British Columbia, and further afield to microbrews in the U.S. And all served in proper Imperial pints (20 oz). One feels intoxicated just pulling up a stool to the bar; all the shining taps are overwhelming. Sweet and malty, light and hoppy, where does one begin?
La Merced Procession in Antigua, Guatemala
The residents of Antigua, Guatemala, begin crafting “carpets” in the cobblestone streets on Thursday, before Good Friday. You may be tempted to sleep until 6am on Friday, when the La Merced procession begins. But drag yourself up by at least 3:00am to witness the true beauty of the sand carpets. Every street is a canvas; people lie on elevated 2x6s toiling over their elaborate designs, meticulously filling in stencils with different colors of sand; or arranging fresh flowers and fruit into patterns and portraits. Working by streetlight, flashlight, lantern-light, stunning works of art emerge throughout the wee hours of the morning. And when dawn breaks, the procession begins, and all are sacredly trampled beneath the feet of the traditional parade, carried out here since the 1700s. The artists are left with the transcendental beauty of a masterful creation whose posterity is irrelevant.