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Monday, October 23, 2017

Dining and Lodging in Las Cruces, New Mexico

For authentic Mexican fare at an affordable price, it’s hard to top the restaurants in Las Cruces. I loved the ambience and history of dining at La Posta de Mesilla while sipping a house margarita and soaking it all in. Tacos al pastor was the signature dish at nearby Andele, perfectly charred meat topped with homemade salsa from their salsa bar. The huevos rancheros were so good at the homey La Nueva Casita I went there twice. Other highlights include the overstuffed lava burger, washed down with a refreshing pecan ale at the Pecan Grill and Brewery; fish tacos at the spanking new Dragonfly on Main Street (perfectly located for the Saturday Farmers Market); a tasty Greek salad with grilled chicken at Tiffany’s; and the frozen custard hot fudge sundae, topped with local salted pecans, at Caliche’s. I stayed at the Hotel Encanto, an easy drive to all the restaurants and sights in Las Cruces. After a long day of sightseeing and writing, it was great to unwind at their long pool shaded by tall palms and overflowing with monarch butterflies. A little bit of paradise in the desert. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/23/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, October 20, 2017

Adventures in Las Cruces Week—Hiking at Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

After peering up at the 9,000-foot high Organ Mountains all week, it was great to finally see it up close. Brenda Gallegos from the Friends of Organ Mountains was my guide for the morning as we first made our way to the trailhead for the 3-mile (round-trip) Bar Canyon trail that leads to the junction of two canyons, Bar and Soledad. Brenda just finished her master’s thesis on the southwestern quail, spending 3 years in west Texas doing research. We climbed a rocky path past numerous sotol plants—yucca-like with a large stem shooting out of the center almost as tall as a saguaro. A peaceful stillness enveloped us as we looked up at the jagged peaks. Soon we were inside a canyon passing prickly pear and cholla cacti. We stopped to see a waterfall trickle down the wall of rock next to level ground that was probably used for sacred ceremonies at one point in time. On our return trip, a red-tailed hawk flew overhead as we looked down at Las Cruces in the valley below. As an encore, Brenda took me on the Dripping Springs Trail to visit La Cuevo, a cave where a hermit once lived in the mid-1800s. About to leave the park, a covey of silver blue scaled quail flew overhead, much to the delight of Brenda. “That made my day,” she said. 

It’s been a wonderful week in Las Cruces, and to be perfectly honest, I hate to leave. I want to thank Chris Faivre at Visit Las Cruces and Peggy Bendel for designing the perfect itinerary. I’ll be back on Monday with my favorite restaurant picks in Las Cruces. In the meantime, I have a high school reunion to attend in Schenectady, New York. Have a great weekend! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/20/17 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Adventures in Las Cruces Week—A Must-Stop at White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument opens daily at 7 am and it’s best to get there early before the blinding white sand radiates under the hot midday desert sun. Smack dab in the middle of the Tularosa Basin, these wave-like dunes of gypsum sand span some 275 square miles and are truly a wonder to behold. Once here, you’ll understand why it became one of America’s first National Monuments, created in 1933. Even the 45 mile drive from Las Cruces on I-70 is a joy, with the sun rising over the mountains and vistas of the wide open horizon as far as the eye can see. 
 
I paid the $5 entry fee and then cruised along Dunes Drive. What I love about White Sands is that you can park at any number of lots along the road and simply walk atop the hard-packed grooved sand creating your own set of footprints. At first, you’ll pass a limited amount of growth like yucca plants and their distinctive, almost prehistoric-looking flower. As you drive further in, you leave the scrub behind and all you see is an otherworldly terrain of rolling dunes. Locals like to bring their sleds to slide down the sand. Others will happily walk into this blanket of serenity for as long as necessary. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/19/17 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Adventures in Las Cruces Week—Exploring the Mesilla Valley Wine Trail

Head south from the historic town of Mesilla on Route 28 and you enter the Mesilla Valley, a short section of the historic El Camino Real route. At the end of the 16th-century, Spain created a 1500-mile route from Mexico City to Santa Fe that would bring settlers, horses, and goods to these lands. Old mission churches still remain, sharing the road with large tracts of pecan trees, orchards, and vineyards. Las Cruces has an ideal climate for vines with warm days, cool nights, and mild winters. Thanks to Franciscan monks, New Mexico started creating wine about 150 years before California. Today, New Mexico is home to over 60 wineries and ten of those wineries in the southern part of the state form the Mesilla Valley Wine Trail.
 
My first stop was Rio Grande Vineyards, started in 2009, and now creating 15,000 bottles a year. We tried their signature wine, Queue Tendre, a semi-sweet white wine aged in Hungarian oak barrels, before moving on to my favorites, the dry red zinfandel and the sangiovese. Tastings are done in a classic ranch-style tasting room or outside on the back deck offering glorious views of the Organ Mountains. Back on Route 28, I passed over the Rio Grande River and under an umbrageous tunnel of mature pecan trees, courtesy of Stahmann Farms, the world’s largest family owned pecan orchard. Not surprisingly, the shaded roadway is cherished by road bikers. 
 
Soon I arrived at La Vina Winery, just in time for their annual Harvest Wine Festival. Bands were playing live rock, bluegrass, and country tunes and booths were selling local crafts, and, of course, spiced pecans. But most folks were here to taste the excellent wine. I really enjoyed the sauvignon blanc and the smooth syrah. Glass in hand, I walked over to a tent to listen to the music, looked up at the clear blue sky, and enjoyed the slight breeze. Life is good on the ole El Camino Real. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/18/17 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Adventures in Las Cruces Week—A Stop or Two in Mesilla

Once a major stopover on the San Antonio to San Diego Butterfield Stagecoach route, Mesilla is now a valued historic district in Las Cruces. Go there in the daytime under the hot desert sun and the dusty streets around the plaza feel exactly like it did in the 1850s when Billy the Kid stood trial for murder in the town’s courtroom. Today, many of the classic adobes from yesteryear still stand and are now home to gift shops, bars, and the some of the finest dining in New Mexico. On weekends, you can often find live music at the bandstand in the plaza. Or start your night listening to the jukebox at a favorite local watering hole, El Patio, situated in one of those historic adobes. Once you build up an appetite, amble over to Andele for authentic Mexican fare. A hostess will escort you over to your table with a bowlful of homemade chips. Then make your way to the salsa bar to sample the tantalizing selections. The traditional salsa was so tasty that I bought a bottle for my son to try when I get home. Tacos al pastor is their specialty, with a heaping plate of charred pork, beef, or chicken, paired with spicy Mexican cole slaw and grilled onions to place in the piping hot corn or flour tortillas. La Posta de Mesilla is another Mexican restaurant locals rave about, set in the La Posta Compound, once home to the Corn Exchange Hotel on the Butterfield Stagecoach Line. If you’re looking for authentic Mexican food in a sleepy town from the Wild West, Mesilla is the place. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/17/17 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, October 16, 2017

Adventures in Las Cruces Week—Enjoying the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market

The best time to enter Las Cruces is on a Friday night like I did. The next morning when the sun arose atop those jagged peaks known as the Organ Mountains, I headed to Main Street for the Saturday Farmers Market. If you’re yearning for authenticity in the Southwest, all it takes is a 7-block stroll in Las Cruces on a Saturday morning to find it. It was the end of the green chile and tomato harvest and bins were filled with fresh produce from the Dona Ana Valley. Also found were pomegranates, Arkansas Black apples, jugs of horchata and limonata, locally farmed pecans and pistachios, and ristras (long strings) of red chiles hanging in front of many of the stalls. Yet, what really impressed me were the local artisans offering gemstone-laden jewelry, pottery, wooden crafts like adobe-style salt and pepper shaker holders, sculptures, watercolors of the local desert wildflowers, and photographs of the Organ Mountains splashed in red sunlight. All offered at a fraction of the cost one would find these wares 4 hours to the north in Santa Fe. 

After purchasing my bounty of souvenirs, I headed to the large Coas used bookstore on Main Street, then checked out more local art at a juried show at the free Las Cruces Museum of Art. On the way back to my car, I spoke to a jeweler who moved to Las Cruces 11 years ago after retiring as a broker in Montreal. “330 days of sunshine, no humidity, no traffic, this place is a hidden gem,” he told me. Bathed in sunlight and sucking down my horchata on a perfect day with mid-80s temps, it was easy to understand the appeal.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/16/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, October 13, 2017

Chicago’s New 606

Like most rail trails, Chicago’s new 606 took years to develop. The last train to roll down the Bloomington Line was in the mid-1990s. That’s when the inkling of an idea to convert the trail to an urban park took root, connecting Logan Square with Bucktown and Wicker Park on 2.7 miles of elevated railway. We walked a good mile of the 606 on Sunday above the wide boulevards of this residential neighborhood. Already we saw the gentrification taking place, with new condos and apartments being built along the route, much like the High Line in New York. It also introduces people to neighborhoods they normally wouldn’t check out like Logan Square. After our stroll, we stopped at one of the picnic tables at the restaurant and bar Wyler Road and grabbed an Indiana Yum Yum beer on tap with a snack of cheese curds. A fun outing! 
 
Next week I’ll be reporting live from Las Cruces, New Mexico. I’m excited to return to southern New Mexico, my first trip back since the film my brother Jim and I wrote, Passionada, played at the White Sands Film Festival. I plan to hike in the White Sands National Monument and the Organ Mountains, check out the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market on Saturday morning, visit the historic town of Mesilla where Billy the Kids once stood trial for murder, and sample the wares on the Mesilla Valley Wine Trail, among many other activities. Please follow along on this blog, Twitter @ActiveTravels, Instagram, and Facebook. Enjoy the weekend and keep active!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/13/17 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Quick Visit to Colombia’s Caribbean Coast: Cartagena and Barranquilla

My son Jake has been in Colombia since early June, initially traveling all over, before heading to Barranquilla. Wanting to visit before his teaching contract ends in mid-November, my husband Josh and I are just back from a quick trip. While we loved our historic, formerly grand Barranquilla hotel (El Prado), seeing the school where Jake teaches, and meeting his friends there, I’m going to focus this post on Cartagena, which I know is of more interest to ActiveTravels members. Under Jake’s guidance, we took a bus from Barranquilla to Cartagena’s Old City, separated from the modern skyscraper city by a few miles. The bus ride itself was an experience, seeing lots of small villages along the way. 

 
In Cartagena we wandered for several hours through the outdoor plazas, Plaza de Bolívar and Plaza Santo Domingo, where you’ll find artwork by the great Colombian artist, Botero. We also visited the Museo de Arte Moderno and the Palacio de la Inquisición. We watched the sunset atop the walls of the Old City. A World Heritage Site founded in 1533, the colonial buildings are well protected by what are said to be the most complete set of fortifications in South America—las murallas, thick walls built to protect it against enemies. 
 
ActiveTravels would be happy to help you “wander” too, to Colombia, including a few days in Cartagena, and perhaps the nearby Rosario Islands. Also for your consideration, Jake loved Medellin (“vibrant, safe, and booming, blessed with year round spring weather and located scenically at the base of an impressive valley”), the towns of Guatape (“a beautiful lakeside town about 40 minutes outside of Medellín”), Bucaramanga, and more of Colombia's Caribbean coast (“Puerto Colombia, Santa Marta, Costeño Beach, Minco, and Palomino, each place more stunning than the last”). We work with a wonderful tour operator in Colombia who can package together lodging, transfers, activities, and all guides. Let ActiveTravels know if you are interested!
 
Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/12/17 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Skate Girls of Kabul

One of the great benefits of living in Toronto, the 4th largest city in North America (after Mexico City, New York City, and Los Angeles) is its diversity. Over 180 languages and dialects are spoken here, and approximately half of Toronto's population was born outside of Canada. Everywhere I go locally, I learn something about another part of the world. A small but powerful outdoor show at the Aga Khan Museum is a perfect example. On a warm October afternoon, after visiting a pumpkin festival in Markham, Ontario, we stopped to see the amazing photos of the “Skate Girls of Kabul” installation. These young women are participants in an NGO called Skateistan whose mission is “empowering children and youth through skateboarding and education” in Afghanistan, as well as Cambodia and South Africa. In Kabul, sports are off-limits to most girls, but fortunately the skateboard was perceived as a toy, thus allowing them to participate. And, for both genders, many Skateistan programs require an equal amount of time in the classroom as on a skateboard: being taught to skateboard as a way to get students into full-time education. In 2016, Skateistan hit the 50% female milestone. Props to Skateistan founder, Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich, and to photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson. The exhibition is on display until October 29th. 
 
Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/11/17 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Time to Cruise Vermont’s Route 100

All it takes is one drive on Vermont’s Route 100 from Killington to Stowe to understand the fall foliage hype. Traveling along the ridgeline of the 4,000-foot Green Mountains as it radiates with its majestic robe of multi-hued maples in October and you can’t help but sing its praises. Be sure to stop in the farming community of Rochester for the requisite “cows and meadow” photo and the historic village of Stowe to find one of the numerous freshly painted white steeples. Along the route, you’ll want to visit the Cold Hollow Cider Mill for your jug of cider, out-of-the-oven doughnuts, and genuine maple syrup. Nearby is the Ben & Jerry’s factory where you can take a tour, sample the wares, and find out how the duo started their celebrated business. We’ve been putting clients up lately at Trapp Family Lodge to savor the vistas from atop the hillside and to sample the new beer hall

 We're off to Chicago for the week, back October 11th. Have a great Columbus Day Weekend and keep active! 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/03/17 at 05:00 AM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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