The New Reno: Yes, Virginia, There Is Gentrification

renoI’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that Reno has historically not been one of my favorite places to visit. But I spend a fair amount of time passing through, because my brother and his family live nearby, in the ski town of Truckee. Flying into Reno is convenient for anyone wanting to visit Lake Tahoe.

For years, my brother, Mark, has been telling me that Reno is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, what with the implementation of Wingfield Park – the city’s kayaking park that runs through downtown – and the Truckee River Walk with its galleries, cafes, and brewery. But don’t worry: Reno is still The Biggest Little City in the World, rife with the requisite prostitutes, crack houses, tattoo parlors, pawn shops and all the unsavory characters one would expect to find.

Yet, I discovered a younger, gentler, hipper Reno over Thanksgiving when I was in Truckee. Reno is trying to dial down its hard-core gambling, all-you-can-eat, come-all-ye-societal-fringe-dwellers rep. The most noticeable change is the gentrification underway along the South Virginia Street Corridor, the major north-south business artery. The street is paralleled to the east by a mix of decrepit and charmingly restored Victorian and Craftsman homes. Housing, Mark says, is ridiculously affordable.

I did a book signing over the holiday off South Virginia at a bustling new cheese shop, Wedge. A lovely addition to the area, Wedge has an excellent selection of domestic and imported cheese, as well as house-made sandwiches, specialty foods and primo charcuterie. Want a good, affordable bottle of wine, some soppressata, and a hunk of award-winning, Alpine-style cow’s milk cheese from Wisconsin? Wedge has it.

When Mark and I arrived at the shop, he commented on how much the area was changing, citing the soon-to-be-open wine bar, Picasso and Wine, next door. The employees cheerfully agreed that there were lots of exciting developments underway, but that “there’s a crack house just two doors down.” They weren’t joking, either. We were parked in front of it.renoClose to Wedge is Midtown Eats, an adorable, farmhouse-modern cafe, and Crème, a sweet breakfast spot specializing in crepes. Get lunch at popular soup-and-sandwich spot Süp, imbibe (and eat) at Brasserie St. James brewery, Craft Beer & Wine, and mixology geek faves Reno Public House, and Chapel Tavern (over 100 whiskeys on shelf!). Making dinner in your rental ski cabin or condo? Visit the Tahoe area’s only Whole Foods.

If you’re in need of some sweet street-style, hit Lulu’s Chic Boutique or Junkee Clothing Exchange. If it’s your home that’s in need of an inexpensive upgrade, Recycled Furniture is the place. As for those tats and street drugs? You’re on your own.

Future plans for the South Virginia Corridor include greater emphasis on facilitating more pedestrian-friendly walkways, public spaces featuring art installations, fountains, and benches, and street-scaping. Gentrification may not always be welcome, but for Reno, it’s the start of a whole new Big Little City.

[Photo credits: Reno, Flickr user coolmikeol; bike path, VisitmeinReno.com]

A Caribbean Cruise Port With Adventure Travelers In Mind

cruise portThe people that steer cruise ships to Caribbean cruise ports have been looking for new places to send ships for quite some time. Formerly satisfied with the standard fare of Western, Eastern or Southern Caribbean itineraries, cruise travelers are tired of the same old thing and want something different. Cruise lines are delivering, not by just sailing to new, exotic destinations but by building their own.

Banana Coast
is the newest western Caribbean cruise port destination at Trujillo, Honduras. One of the first to call, luxury line Silversea with 296-passenger Silver Cloud, scheduled to make its first visit in December 2014.

“We are pleased to have a high-end brand like Silversea Cruises be the first to commit to call at Banana Coast,” said Michael Greve, president of Global Destinations Development, one of the companies involved with developing the port, in a Travel Pulse report. “It’s a testament to how we have carefully created a destination that is culturally and historically appealing to the most sophisticated travelers.”

When the project is complete, the Banana Coast cruise destination will have a 50,000-square-foot shopping facility and transportation hub, and be far more than other cruise line made islands. Boasting “something for everyone,” it looks like this one really will be via its “Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea” theme.
“We have met with several other cruise lines and have hosted site inspections by cruise line executives,” said Greve. “We expect that several lines soon will commit to adding Banana Coast to their itineraries.”

Ten acres of beachfront land is just the start for the Banana Coast. Enabling travelers to experience the pristine area from air, land and sea, “shore excursions” are more than a ride around the island in a tour bus.

A VIP airplane trip to Mayan ruins, snorkeling, kayaking, ATV rides, a culinary tasting tour and more will be available to adventure travelers. Waterfalls, rivers, streams, mountains, a tropical rainforest, a nature reserve, coral reefs and crystal clear waters should make this destination one to visit.

This one just might have it all.

Oh, and there is some fair surfing there too, as we see in this video:


[Photo Credit - Flickr user Josiah Townsend]

Video Of The Day: Humpback Whale Gets Dangerously Close To Kayakers

A mother and daughter kayaking in Avila Beach along the coast of California get a surprise from a 30-ton humpback whale when it surfaces within just a few feet of their boats. You can tell the women are surprised from their screams (be sure to keep the volume low on this one).

“I quit filming it because the whale was still moving forward and it ran into me,” the daughter writes, adding she was forced to stop filming and paddle backwards before her kayak tipped over.

Luckily, besides the threat of the boat being overturned by the breaching whale, these giant marine mammals only eat krill and small fish and aren’t known to attack humans.

Hiking, Scrambling And Swimming Oregon’s Oneonta Gorge

oneonta gorgeDespite the various nicknames bestowed upon me throughout my 20s (all along the lines of “Hippie,” “Nature Girl” and “Treehugger”), I had a love-hate relationship with hiking the great outdoors. Blame my poor, misguided parents, who made my brother and I undertake many forced marches on summer vacations. We hiked all over California, the Pacific Northwest, the Rockies and even Europe. I know, I know – call Child Protective Services.

It is perhaps unsurprising that I rebelled as I grew older. I was quite a sloth in college, despite my love of travel and camping, and not until 2000 did I rekindle my early love affair with walking the woods, deserts and mountains.

I was attending a conference in Portland, Oregon, and decided to spend a few days camping in Columbia River Gorge, an hour east of the city center. The Columbia is the second largest river in North America, covering 1,200 miles, from British Columbia to the central Oregon coast.

The Gorge itself is a stunning 80-mile drive, as well as a world-class wind-surfing destination, important salmon fishery and source of hydroelectric power. You can also kayak, fish and partake in various indigenous cultural events in the area.

During my 2000 visit, it was Indian Summer, and the dry heat combined with cool, mossy canyons, waterfalls (77 in the Gorge in all) and the Douglas fir forest made for enchanting hikes. On one memorable day, I embarked on three separate outings, stopping only when it became too dark to see.

Since then, I’ve returned to the area several times, but my favorite hike remains Oneonta Gorge, which is conveniently located on Oneonta Creek, just off I-84, 35 miles from Portland. Although frequently crowded with day-trippers, it’s such an unusual and beautiful hike (actually, it’s more of a scramble or slog, depending upon the season), it’s worth sharing.

Do note Oneonta requires some serious scrambling over massive boulders and a logjam or two, so you need to be agile and fit to do it. I’ve seen plenty of non-agile, unfit people in inappropriate footwear (tennis shoes, Chaco’s with Vibram soles or Keen shoes are ideal; water socks or high heels aren’t going to cut it) attempt the gorge. It isn’t pretty, and usually results in a homo sapiens jam, if not minor injury.oneonta waterfallOneonta is a slot canyon, just 20 feet wide. A half-mile down the creek bed is a 100-foot waterfall that spills into a clear pool. The thing about the gorge is that there’s no trail; you need to either swim, scramble or slosh it.

The first time I visited, the water was so high in October that it hit me mid-chest. Because I don’t relish swimming in snowmelt and I love a challenge, I decided to see if I could climb the entire route without touching the water. To this day, I have no idea how I managed to grip those wet, slippery, craggy canyon walls without falling, but I succeeded. To be honest, I’m still impressed with myself (and rather despondent that I no longer possess that kind of upper body strength).

I’ve also done Oneonta when it’s just ankle-deep, but regardless of water levels, you can always count on its sheer basalt walls to be teeming with ferns, mosses, lichens and other primordial plants. It’s otherworldly in there, and I find it oddly soothing, even with summer crowds. You could go early in the morning to avoid them, but it’s better to wait until for heat of the day, when the cool, misty air of the gorge provides a respite, and the sun’s rays send shafts of light down into its green depths.log jam

For the most diverse hiking experience, I suggest combining Oneonta in combination with the connecting 2.6-miles Horsetail Falls Loop. This extension will take you up into the forest, and provide views of the Columbia River from the Oneonta Bluffs. For the truly lazy, the 176-foot falls are visible from the roadside.

Getting there
Take I-84 East to the Ainsworth Park Exit 35, and make a right (west) on the Historic Columbia River Highway for 1.5 miles, until you reach the Horsetail Falls Trailhead parking lot. Cross the road, head west a few hundred yards through Oneonta Tunnel and you’ll see the “trailhead,” alongside a bridge with a set of decrepit concrete steps. Get ready to wade or scramble.

Tip: Ainsworth State Park is a lovely campground, and open March through October, first-come, first-served.

[Photo credits: gorge, Flickr user McD22; waterfall, Flickr user stokes rx;scramblers, Laurel Miller]

Visit the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon