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]

Boulder’s Chautauqua Park: more than just hiking and climbing

Chatauqua Park, boulderThe Chautauqua Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries provided millions of Americans with cultural, educational, and entertainment experiences that included concerts, classes, lectures, and exhibitions. It was, to quote Teddy Roosevelt, “The most American thing in America.” Ask most Americans today what a Chautauqua is, and odds are, you’ll get a blank stare.

Until recently, I too would have had that deer-in-the-headlights expression. I’m ashamed to say that although I lived in Boulder for nearly two years, I had no idea that Chautauqua Park was anything more than just an exceptional place to hike, with some cool historic buildings thrown in. Thankfully, while in Boulder on business last month, I displayed the instinctive intellectual curiosity I possess when I’m in travel mode. Thus, I discovered that the city’s–and my–favorite recreational spot is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The first “Mother” Chautauqua was organized by a Methodist minister, at a campsite on New York’s Chautauqua Lake in 1874. By the end of the first World War, 12,000 Chautauquas were in the U.S.. Many had religious leanings, but Chautauquas were primarily educational adult or family summer camps, fostering a sense of community and culture.

The 40-acre Colorado Chautauqua in Boulder opened on July 4, 1898 as a summer retreat. Today, according to the website, it’s one of three remaining Chautauquas in the U.S., and the only site west of the Mississippi River in continuous operation, with its original structures intact. It became a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

%Gallery-129131%Chautauqua Park, boulderThe Colorado Chautauqua (locals just call it “Chautauqua”) includes 60 guest cottages and two lodges for nightly or long term rental; a dining hall and auditorium; 48 miles of mountain biking and hiking trails; climbing routes and bouldering spots, and 8000 acres of open space. The “Green” located at the entrance was Boulder’s first city park.

In 2008, the Colorado Chautauqua Association vowed to make the grounds the country’s “greenest” National Historic Landmark. Changes in operation include water and energy conservation, and expanding methods of diverting waste from landfills. Even the (adorable) cottages have recycling bins, water-saving shower heads, faucets, and toilets, eco-friendly soaps and hair products, and alternative cooling systems.
Chautauqua Park, boulder
Chautauqua hosts public events at reasonable fees year-round, including music, theater, dance, film, forums on everything from global warming to sustainable farming, outdoor “active” plays for children and family, and the Colorado Music Festival. It’s also immensely popular for weddings and other outdoor gatherings (which must be booked through the Chautauqua).

Even if you skip the events, I recommend a pre-hike, al fresco breakfast or brunch, or a post-hike (local, craft-brewed) beer at the Dining Hall, which has been in existence since 1898. It’s not where you’ll find the best meal in town, but the wrap-around porch offers stellar views, and it’s an ideal place to absorb the essence of Boulder life. The Dining Hall offers classic American cuisine, and is also open for lunch and dinner; reservations strongly recommended.

Sadly, the Chautauqua Movement lost its mojo as we became a more urbanized and technologically advanced society. Why go to the Chautauqua when you can play “Angry Birds” or see what those crazy Kardashians are up to? And that’s exactly why I was so affected by what I learned in Boulder last month. I used to live less than two miles from this remarkable monument to American history. Yet I was too self-absorbed and distracted at the time to be curious about its roots, despite hiking there on a weekly basis.Chautauqua Park, boulder Sometimes, we need to put down the toys, be in the moment, and really take note of our surroundings. And that’s what the Chautauqua Movement was all about. May it one day thrive again.

If you’d like to support the revival of the Chautauqua Movement, go to this new site launched by the Chautauqua Network: Chautauqua Trail.

“B-cycles” comes to Boulder: grassroots bike share program ideal way for visitors to explore

bike sharesAs a former resident of Boulder, Colorado (If you regularly read my posts, you may have the impression that I’ve lived everywhere. You are correct.), I can attest to this lovely college town’s biking obsession. Boulder has more than 300 miles of dedicated bikeways, and there are almost as many bikes as cars.

One of the reasons Boulder is so bike-friendly–besides its firm stance on reducing carbon emissions–is that the terrain is ideal for every kind of wheeled pursuit. There are tree-lined urban paths; flat; hard-core mountain trails, and lots of rural roadway.

But Boulder isn’t just for hobby cyclists; this year it’s even home for one of the Tour de France teams. Competitive road cycling and mountain biking are much like oxygen in Boulder: essential for existence. Unless you’re me. I’ve always been a cruiser bike kind of gal, and I always will be. And downtown Boulder is just right for that type of low-key peddling.

This is why I was so delighted when, in town on business this past week, I discovered B-cycles. Launched on May 20, this non-profit community bike share program (a growing movement nationwide), is an inexpensive, fun, and active way to get around town if you’re a visitor. There are a number of conveniently located B-stations downtown, so you can just grab-and-go. When you’re done, re-dock at the nearest station and walk away.

Users must buy an initial five dollar membership fee online or at any B-station (kiosks accept debit or credit cards). Then you’re free to peddle off into the sun…shine. There are three types of memberships–24-hour, 7-day, and unlimited. The 24-hour rentals are just five bucks. It’s a lot cheaper and more practical than a bike rental for the casual rider.

%Gallery-126471%bike sharesThese are some sweet bikes, too. Spanking new crimson cruisers, equipped with metal baskets (big enough to fit a 12-pack; Boulder is also home to some of the nation’s top craft breweries).

If you’re a casual rider like me, I highly recommend my personal favorite, the Boulder Creek Bike Path. Its a five-mile meander along gorgeous Boulder Creek (the water levels are raging right now, so you can watch kayakers running the rapids. There are also calmer spots prime for tubing. Don’t forget to pack a picnic (those baskets hold more than just beer, you know); there are loads of creekside tables and rocks just right for a bike break.

P.S. If more serious biking is your thing, Valmont Bike Park–the largest free urban bike park in America–opened June 11 in Boulder. It’s a 40-acre off-road bike park with competition-grade cyclo-cross racing trails, big dirt jumps, dual slalom tracks, pump tracks, and slope-style trails.

[Photo credits: Laurel Miller]

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