Don’t miss out on America’s grand costume change this fall. Leaf peeping opportunities abound as trees transform into a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, yellows and purples all over the country. There are many ways to enjoy the season — you can take an autumn road trip, go on a colorful hike or savor local foods and drinks against a spectacular backdrop.
It’s almost midnight in Anchorage as I write this, and the sun is just setting. Dawn is only a few hours away. The sheer length of a June day here takes some getting used to.
Robert and I started the day with a 9 a.m. meet-and-greet at KTOO, the public radio station in Juneau. About 60-70 listeners showed up. The station manager interviewed me on a small stage, and I ended by presenting some quick oral word puzzles – which the audience answered amazingly quickly.
On our way to the airport afterward, two ladies from the station graciously took us to see the Mendenhall Glacier just north of Juneau. They said the glacier has receded hundreds of yards in recent years, but it’s still an awesome sight.
Tonight in Anchorage, Robert and I joined the Alaska Table Tennis Club, which has a lot of solid players, including the reigning Alaska state champion. Karl Augestad runs the group. About 75 people turned out. As part of an exhibition, Robert performed some trick shots, including hitting the ball behind his back, around the net and with his shoe. We also played lots of matches. I won some and lost some in singles, but Robert and I were undefeated in doubles. A reporter/cameraman from KTUU, the local NBC affiliate, filmed part of the evening for a story to air on Friday night’s 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts.
Regarding my word teaser yesterday, the answers were Juneau-Augusta-Tallahassee and Juneau-Austin-Indianapolis.
Here’s a new one: take the name ANCHORAGE and change three letters in it – without changing the order or positions of the six remaining letters – to spell a new word. At least one vowel has to change to a consonant or vice versa. Can you do it?
I don’t know if my answer is unique or not, but see what you can find.
When I was 3 years old, my parents invested in a Roll-A-Long camper. It wasn’t sleek, like the Winnebagos of the day. It was more like a super-sized camper shell mounted on the forerunner of a dually truck. It was badass, and survived innumerable family vacations and sleepovers (when my brother and I were in college, we’d bring friends down to my parents ranch, and use it as a dorm of sorts).
Sadly, my parents sold the camper after I graduated. Unbeknownst to them, I’d been silently contemplating living it it, in order to save money and support my nomadic lifestyle. Not long after the sale, my dad said, “If I’d known you were going to move so often, I would have just sold it to you.” Dammit.
I’ve longed to live in an RV ever since. I still fantasize about it, and despite my love of vintage trailers, I find the immediacy of a camper more appealing. Interior design is also crucial to me (the Roll-A-Long’s was hideous, even for the early ’70s). Therefore, I was delighted to discover Tonke Campers.
Thrillist aptly describes these groovy, custom Dutch campers as “old-world Gypsy carts.” The Fieldsleeper 1 model they feature is mounted on a Mercedes Sprinter. It boasts polished wood interiors and exteriors; teak flooring; colorful retro fittings; an ample kitchen; cozy sleepers for three; and a bathroom kitted out with a shower and eco-friendly toilet. The rear doors open for an al fresco dining experience, and there’s hidden bike storage. Most ingenious, hydraulic legs make it easy to ditch the shell so you have an “around town” vehicle. Should all that not be enough, Tonke Campers founder Maarten van Soest will happily create a “motorhome” to suit your needs. That’s what I call living the dream.
A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to El Paso on short notice for a magazine assignment. I found it enjoyable, but on my final day, I was itching to get out of the city limits and explore before my evening flight. Every local I talked to gave me the same response: go for a scenic drive out to Mesilla.
Located just 44 miles northwest of El Paso on the fringes of Las Cruces, Mesilla is a historic village established in 1848. Perhaps best known as the location for Billy the Kid’s trial, Mesilla has also played an integral role in the development of the Southwest, in part because it was along the Butterfield Stagecoach Line. I’m obsessed with all things New Mexico, but despite numerous visits to the northern part of the state, I’d never been south of Albuquerque. I was an easy sell.
The drive to Mesilla presents a dramatic contrast in topography. About 30 miles past the arid plains and stark Franklin Mountain range of El Paso, the Rio Grande grows from a trickle to substantial enough to support lush vegetation. I’d never seen a pecan tree before, and suddenly I was passing thousands of acres of them, in all their towering, leafy glory (after Texas, this region – Dona Ana County – is the nation’s largest producer). There were fields of onions and chiles (Mesilla is just 42 miles away from Hatch), and vast dairy farms. As a former ranch kid, I instantly felt at home.
As you enter Mesilla off of Highway 10 West, there are indications you’re approaching someplace special. Walk a couple of blocks down to the historic Plaza, and it’s impossible not to be charmed. Despite the inevitable souvenir shops, of which there are only a few, a number of buildings are on the historic register. The vibe isn’t one of touristy kitsch, but rather, small-town Southwest. There are coffee houses, cafes, boutiques, antique stores, galleries, wine tasting rooms and museums. A chocolate shop sells small bags of dipped pecans, while Solamente!, a specialty food boutique, offers tastes of the region in the form of green chile-spiked pecan brittle and salsas.
I whiled away a few hours by strolling the Plaza and talking to the handful of vendors who sell their wares from tables around its perimeter. This is the place to buy a bag of pecans and homemade bizcochos (buttery little cookies), or a pair of earrings. The Basilica of San Albino dominates the north end of the Plaza, and is open to visitors from 1 to 3 p.m. daily, except on Sundays. Afterward, I sipped an icy horchata and read on the shady patio of a coffee house. It’s unthinkable (to me, at least) to be in New Mexico and not eat. The region’s most famous restaurant, La Posta, is around the corner from the Plaza. This stunning 19th-century compound was once part of the Butterfield Stagecoach Line, but today it’s better known for its green chile enchiladas and signature Tostada Compuesta.
Before heading to the airport, I drove the few miles down a back road to Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park. Unfortunately, it was still closed for the season, but the drive meanders past pecan orchards, crumbling adobe homesteads and tranquil farmhouses. Horses graze in verdant pasture, and fields of onion with their flowering lavender heads intersperse the orchards. It’s lovely, and a side of New Mexico I’ve never seen, used as I am to the dramatic ochre landscape, canyons and severe mesas of the north.
At the end of a business trip, I’m often content to just get to the airport early, and spend the time people watching and reading. My jaunt to Mesilla was a reminder that sometimes it’s worth the extra effort to hit the road instead.