Fireworks Ban? Try These Fourth Of July Alternatives

fireworks ban
Ming Xia, Flickr

With fireworks bans in place across parts of the Western U.S., it’s going to be another Fourth of July calling for alternative celebratory activities. In Colorado, where I live, we’ve learned to accept this fact, and it doesn’t stop the outdoor revelry.

Picnics and parades are standard July fourth fare, anyway, so if you happen to live in a place suffering from drought or plagued by wildfires, don’t let the lack of fireworks get you down. Instead, find a spark-free way to celebrate our nation’s birth (it also makes for a nice tribute to those victimized by said wildfires). Some suggestions:

Open flame isn’t required for a successful barbecue; use a gas grill instead.

Gather a group for a moonlight hike (this is also a good idea with regard to personal and wildlife safety). Sunset city walks are also fun; end your stroll at a wine bar or brew pub.

Get on the water. Find your nearest reservoir, lake or river, and spend the holiday appreciating this precious resource.

Ride a bike. In Boulder, where I live, Awe-struck Outdoors offers activities like creekside rides that include a bike-to-farm dinner. Get inspired, and organize your own holiday ride.

Stressed Out? Try A Walk In A Cemetery

cemeteryCemeteries get a bad rap in the United States. The only time of year we really pay attention to them is Halloween, and then, it’s to equate them with fear or evil. I suppose Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day give cemeteries a little love, but those holidays are more about who’s in the actual graves, and not about the places themselves.

Unlike many of the world’s cultures, which celebrate or dignify death, we avoid it. So it’s no wonder that most Americans find cemeteries creepy. That said, I’ve met a number of people like myself who enjoy exploring cemeteries when they travel. Some enjoy the religious, spiritual, historical, or cultural aspects, others like visiting the gravesites of famous people. Many find wandering through graveyards peaceful and relaxing, a place for quiet contemplation.

The latter is the primary reason I enjoy visiting cemeteries, although I also use them as a way to find out more about the city, village or country I’m visiting. I look at the names on headstones, trying to discern the immigrant origins of the residents, or imagine what circumstances led to the death of, say, so many townsfolk in a given year. I also like looking at surnames, especially in 19th century American cemeteries, because they’re often (forgive me) amusing.

%Gallery-165496%cemetery Boulder, Colorado’s, Columbia Cemetery was established in 1870. It’s filled with pioneers, Union soldiers, miners, even an infamous 19th century “lady of the evening,” and a recently identified Jane Doe from a 1954 murder case. There are also lots of great surnames: Goodnow; Sex; Belcher; Hussie; Slauter, and Liverhaste.

Built on 10.5 acres near Chautauqua Park, and overlooked by the famous Flatirons, the cemetery is a favorite spot for locals to run, walk their dogs (how many other cemeteries have dog waste bags at their gates?), or go for a quiet stroll. I live right up the street, and visit at least once a week, using it as an interesting detour on my walks downtown.

My favorite cemetery of all time is Telluride’s Lone Tree, which I’ve written about previously. Located toward the end of a box canyon with waterfall, it’s not only beautiful, but historically fascinating. The Telluride Historical Museum occasionally offers tours of Lone Tree, but you can just as easily visit yourself.

While I find many small-town graveyards interesting and a good place for a mental time-out, some big-city cemeteries are bona fide tourist attractions, yet remain peaceful oases. I highly recommend Paris’ Pere Lachaise, for its elaborate tombs and grave markers, many of which belong to the likes of Frédéric Chopin, Edith Piaf, and yes, Jim Morrison.
la recoleta
At La Recoleta Cemetery (Cemetario de la Recoleta) in Buenos Aries, you can visit the tomb of Evita Perón, as well as those of many of Argentina’s most famous political and literary figures. It’s worth a visit regardless, for the architecture of the mausoleums, which range from Baroque, Art Noveau and Art Deco to Neo-Gothic.

[Photo credits: fall cemetery, Flickr user JamieSanford; Chiloe, Laurel Miller; La Recoleta, Flickr user pablo/T]

Where To Sleep During A Long-Haul Road Trip: Putting A Price On Your Safety

campingAs you may have gathered from my last few posts, I spent the second half of July and first week of August living out of my car during a relocation from Seattle to Boulder. En route, I had a family vacation on the Klamath River in Northern California, and business trips to the Bay Area and North Carolina, which is why I was in limbo.

I’ve road-tripped and relocated across the West many times, and love the time alone with my thoughts and enjoying the scenery. Now that I’m in my early 40s, however, I’ve become more wary about where I choose to spend the night. I’m still on a tight budget, but this increasing awareness is a direct result of life experience, and my obsession with TV shows like “Forensic Files.”

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, someone who is truly fearful wouldn’t travel or drive cross-country alone. They certainly wouldn’t elect to drive Nevada’s notorious Highway 50, aka “The Loneliest Road in America,” but that’s what I did last week (anything to avoid the mind-numbing hell that is Highway 80). Allegedly, less than 200 drivers a day pass on this route, so one needs to plan accordingly.

Highway 50 is mostly high desert landscape, broken up by a handful of historic mining towns like the curiously appealing Austin. Located seven hours east of the Bay Area, this is where I chose to spend the first night of the final leg of my journey, in the rustic but comfortable Cozy Mountain Motel.

Although I was desperate to save money (my room was $60, and of the three motels in town, it had the best reviews … I also use the term “town” loosely), I didn’t feel safe camping alone in such a desolate region. It’s a shame, because the nearby primitive Bob Scott Campground, in the sagebrush and Piñon pines of the Toiyabe National Forest, is a beauty. Yet, due to its isolation and handful of sites, it wasn’t the place for an exhausted, solo female to spend the night.arches national parkThe next day, I had a grueling ten hours on the road before I hit Green River, Utah. Green River isn’t the most savory place, but it’s a popular jumping-off point to Moab/Lake Powell/Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks.

I was so wiped out when I arrived that I chose the first campground I saw: a KOA, which is the type of place I usually go to great lengths to avoid. At that point, all I cared about was a shower and rest, and because it was a glorious, hot desert night, I planned to sleep under the stars. Expediency meant more to me than dealing with setting up a tent in a less generic campground.

I walked into the office and asked the very friendly girl behind the counter for a tent site. Upon driving to the location, I discovered several things that didn’t thrill me. It abutted a vacant lot separated only by some sparse vegetation. Next to the lot was a rundown Motel 6. To my right were a few unoccupied, dusty campsites and open highway. Um, no thank you.
jason
I scouted the mostly empty campground (which was primarily RV, and not tent, sites) and chose a location between two motorhomes, which was backed by a chain-link fence. Then I returned to the office and explained that I didn’t feel safe in my assigned site, and could I please have X or X location?

No problem. The receptionist said she understood, and proceeded to tell me a horrifying story about a recent encounter her mother had had in the town park with a drug-addled freak. She didn’t even charge me the higher RV rate.

An hour later, I was sprawled happily on my sleeping bag, reading, when the receptionist and her employer, a crotchety old man, whizzed up in a golf cart. She looked uncomfortable as he sniped at me for being in an “unauthorized site” because I was in a car. I was ordered to come to the office to rectify the situation immediately. Sigh.

Back behind the counter, the poor receptionist apologized profusely, and I shrugged it off, saying I’d rather pay more to ensure my safety. A manager was needed to get into the system and charge me accordingly, and when he showed up at the office, she explained the situation. He was clearly more interested in returning to his happy hour, so I was permitted to remain in my present location, free of extra charge.

Needless to say, I remained unmolested during the night, and although I was embarrassed by the musical campsites, the entire experience reinforced that it’s best to listen to your gut. Always insist upon putting your safety first.

[Photo credits: tent, Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography; Arches NP, Flickr user Fikret Onal; Jason, Flickr user Stinkie Pinkie]

5 Alternatives To Fireworks This (Very Dry) Fourth of July

wildfireIt’s hard to imagine the Fourth of July without fireworks, but for drought- and fire-stricken regions like Colorado, that’s the way it’s going to be this year. If you happen to be living or traveling in a no-fireworks zone, don’t despair. There are still ways to celebrate our nation’s birth without setting it ablaze.

Since I’m in Colorado right now, I brainstormed with a group of rangers at Boulder’s Chautauqua Park (which is adjacent to the now 90%-contained Flagstaff Mountain blaze). Our ideas, below:

1. Organize a block party

2. Go to a laser show (or hold your own; those PowerPoint things are for more than just entertaining cats)

3. Have a picnic or barbecue and stargaze

4. Go to a concert in a park or other outdoor venue

5. Go camping, minus the open fire

[Photo credit: Flickr user H Dragon]

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Boulder’s mixology scene the place for holiday spirit(s)

mixologyBy now, we’re well into the Third Wave of the mixology craze. Cosmopolitans begat new types of martinis begat the revival of pre-Prohibition-era cocktails (which begat bartenders donning suspenders or dapper suit vests).

The revival of classic cocktails and trending toward intelligent, seasonally-driven mixology made with craft-distilled spirits has been driven by America’s mania for all things artisanal and/or local.

Ignore the pretentious b.s. that muddies the waters of the food and wine et al. industries. You’ll find that most consumers, chefs, farmers, and food artisans are merely interested in the provenance of certain ingredients, and the traditional methods used to produce or prepare products like cheese, charcuterie, boutique wine, craft beer, and distilled spirits. This is a good thing. And, I might add, who doesn’t appreciate a great meal or well-made beverage?

That, in a nutshell, is why Boulder, Colorado has been making headlines as one of America’s most progressive dining destinations. As a former resident, (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I move. A lot.), I can attest that Boulder is on the cutting edge of conscious eating. But where it really shines, in my opinion, is its mixology scene.

Bonus: Boulder’s best drinking spots are located on or just one block off of Pearl Street, which runs through the heart of downtown and the pedestrian mall. This time of year, Pearl is aglow with fairy lights adorning the trees, and (if you’re lucky) snowfall: it’s a wonderful place to spend the holidays. If you like to imbibe, try a glass (or three) of good cheer at any of the restaurant/bars following the jump.

mixologyWhen I first moved to Boulder in 2006, I lamented the shortage of decent watering holes (meaning, places not overrun by frat boys; it is, after all, a college town). Fortunately, the two best restaurants in town, nationally-acclaimed Frasca, and The Kitchen, (in this instance, I refer to its adjacent, second-floor sister spot, [Upstairs]), put the same thought and care into their beer and wine lists and the crafting of cocktails as their food. Thus, I happily spent many nights cozied up to the bar of one or the other.

Frasca has since undergone a remodel and expansion, and last spring opened Pizzeria Locale next door, which has its own impressive beer and wine list. The cocktail progam at Frasca–overseen by bar manager Allison Anderson–is still fantastic, as are the selection of apertifs and digestifs, including premium grappas. For a light, festive holiday drink, try the Promessa d’Italia (Luxardo Maraschino Cherry Liqueur, Blue Gin, and Prosecco).

Former Frasca beverage program director Bryan Dayton opened OAK at Fourteenth with chef/co-owner Steven Redzikowski in November, 2010. The restaurant immediately attracted attention for both its localized New American cuisine focused around the oak-fired oven and grill, as well as Dayton’s stellar mixology program. Sadly, a kitchen fire destroyed the restaurant several months after opening.

But, as they say, every cloud has a (Don Julio) Silver lining. In September, Dayton won Bombay Sapphire’s “Most Inspired Bartender of 2011,” and is currently gracing the cover of 5,000 copies of the December issue of GQ as part of his handsome reward (his winning drink: a “Colorado-inspired blend of juiced pears: simple syrup infused with sage, fennel and juniper; blackberry; Bombay Sapphire East; yellow chartreuse, and lime”).

OAK just celebrated its reopening on December 14th, with a revamped design and slew of inspired takes on classic cocktails, featuring Dayton’s passion for craft spirits. On the menu for the holidays: Oaxacan Winter (Sombra mezcal, Antica Carpano, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Navan, molé bitters, and agave), and the Oak Martini (Death’s Door Vodka or Gin, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, and grapefruit bitters). New to OAK’s beverage program are house-created and -bottled sodas, in flavors such as kumquat and tarragon or cucumber and basil.

Last June, The Kitchen opened [Next Door], a “community gastropub.” There’s more of the same rustic, localized fare The Kitchen is known for, but you’ll also find an abbreviated selection of beer, wine, and natural sodas served on tap. It’s part of The Kitchen beverage program director Ray Decker’s ongoing commitment to source the best craft beers, boutique wines, and distilled spirits available.
mixology
At The Bitter Bar, located around the corner from The Kitchen, you’ll find a short, appealing American bistroish menu, but mixology is the star of the show just as proprietor/manager Mark Stoddard intended. Thumbs up, too, for the “staff picks” section on the menu listing cocktail and entree pairings.

If late night cocktails are your thing, I suggest making The Bitter Bar your last stop, but be prepared: these drinks pack a wallop. Friendly, informative mixologists serve seasonal cocktails (in warmer weather, some ingredients are sourced from the property’s own herb garden) in vintage crystal stemware–a nice touch. There are always seasonal specials, but don’t dismiss “Bitter Originals” such as The Gunner’s Daughter (Eldorado 5 Year Rum, Smith & Cross Navy Strength Jamaica Rum, Domaine de Canton–a ginger liqueur– Cynar, and Allspice Dram) and the Hokkaido Highball (Yamazaki 12-Year Single Malt Japanese whiskey, elderflower cordial, and apple drinking vinegar). Happy holidays indeed!

Tip: Boulder is located at 5,430 feet, so if you’re not used to the altitude, you should be more concerned with drinking water than alcohol. Remember that one drink is equivalent to two at this elevation. Pace yourself, drink lots of water, and pop a couple of aspirin before you turn in for the night.

From Mark Stoddard at The Bitter Bar comes this sophisticated upgrade on eggnog.
Tom & Jerry
serves 1

1 egg
1 oz. aged rum
1 oz. Cognac
1 oz. hot milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 allspice berry, ground
1/2 clove
4 oz. hot water
nutmeg, for garnish

Separate the egg white and yolk into two bowls. In one bowl, add rum and brandy to the yolk and beat together until frothy. In the other bowl, beat the egg white until it forms a peak, and then add milk, sugar, ground allspice, and clove. Fold the rum, Cognac, and yolk into the egg white bowl, and stir. Strain into a tall mug or tempered glass and top with hot water. Garnish with grated nutmeg on top (a microplane zester works well).

[Photo credit: Tom & Jerry; Bryce Clark]

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