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.

More things to do in the national parks this weekend

Spend the Fourth of July weekend in a national park!Earlier this week we recommended a number of fun things to do this long Fourth of July weekend in the national parks. Those suggestions included fireworks displays on the National Mall and a picnic at Valley Forge, amongst other things. It turns out we were just scratching the surface, as here are even more great events happening in the parks this weekend.

Colorado National Monument will once again play host to their annual July 4th rock climbing event, during which skilled climbers will scale the 450-foot tall Independence Monument to plant an American flag at the top. Climbers are encouraged to bring their gear and join in on the fun, while others can simply enjoy the spectacle and take part in the ice cream social and jazz concert.

On Saturday, the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways, located in Missouri, will play host to a good old fashioned Midwest picnic in the form of the “Alley Independence Day” celebration. The event, which is held at Alley Springs, will include music, games, food, and more, all in a turn of the 20th Century setting.

Visitors to Cowens National Battlefield in South Carolina, can celebrate the holiday a few days early with fireworks and live music on the 2nd. Throughout the day there will be Ranger-led walks across the battlefield and demonstrations of Colonial-era weapons, as well as other educational activities for the kids. Fireworks begin promptly at 9 PM.In Maryland, the Antietam National Battlefield, site of one of the most important battles of the Civil War, will hold their festivities on the 2nd as well. They’ll begin the evening at 7:30 PM with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra performing a “Salute to Independence” concert. That will immediately be followed up with a fireworks display at 9:45 PM.

Finally, the birthplaces of two of America’s most important presidents will also be holding special events on the 4th as well. In Kentucky, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park will host a concert performed by the Saxton’s Cornet Band beginning at 11 AM. Not to be outdone, George Washington’s Birthplace National Monument will be holding a costumed interpretation events and other hands-on activities for the kids.

Needless to say, there will be plenty to do in the national parks this weekend. Thanks to the National Park Foundation for these suggestions and checkout NPS.gov for more events in the parks near you. Enjoy the weekend!

Boulder’s favorite outdoorsy chefs describe their perfect day in “Sliced and Diced” guide

Boulder's best chefsBoulder, Colorado, is an anomaly when it comes to the complicated relationship between mountain towns and great food. Whether it’s a slice of pizza or a charcuterie plate; a well-crafted cocktail, or just a damn good cup of coffee, it’s generally hard to find quality ingredients and skilled artisans, chefs, and cooks to produce them in enticing high-altitude settings. Ski towns are a prime example: who wants to work on an epic powder day? Fortunately, Boulder is setting the bar on combining the two aesthetics, thanks to its “Sliced and Diced” guide.

As I mentioned in a post last week, Boulder takes its outdoor pursuits and sustainability seriously. The city boasts one of the highest concentrations of tri-athletes in the nation, and is famed for its hiking, climbing, biking, kayaking, backcountry sports, fly fishing, and mountaineering. It also has the highest number of yoga classes, physical therapists, massage specialists, and top bike fit specialists per capita than anywhere else in the world. This might explain why some people are a bit…irked by Boulder, and even I tend to feel self-conscious about my resting metabolic rate when I’m in town (and I used to live there).

Now, the city’s most talented chefs–some of them competitive/former athletes themselves–share their ideas of a perfect day in Boulder in the “Sliced and Diced” guide, which is available online, at area hotels, and the Boulder Visitors Center kiosk at 1301 Pearl Street (on the pedestrian mall).

Unsurprisingly, the guide’s focus is on Boulder’s edible and outdoor charms. It’s not unusual for ski town chefs to be avid outdoor enthusiasts, as I’ve discovered from living, working, and attending culinary school in the Rockies and Sierras. Until I moved to Boulder, however, I’d never met entire restaurant staffs comprised of pro-climbers, tri-athletes, competitive cyclists, and ultra-runners. How they find the time and energy for both are a mystery to me, but I admire the hell out of them.

Since my first visit to Boulder in 1995, the food scene has changed dramatically. In the last couple of years, sourcing from local or regional family farms and food artisans whenever possible (remember, this is Colorado, where there’s a short growing season) has become an integral part of the Boulder dining scene. Where five years ago only a few estaurants featured product from family farms, now there are dozens of eateries and shops featuring local, usually sustainable, product.Boulder chefs, outdoorsThere are excellent farmstead goat, sheep, and cow’s milk cheeses from the region. You’ll find farm dinners, grass-finished beef, dozens of coffee houses, and locally-roasted beans. The growing number of acclaimed craft breweries and distilleries makes for a white-hot beverage scene. If you care about excellent beer, wine, or well-crafted cocktails, don’t miss the Bitter Bar, Upstairs, Frasca, or Oak at Fourteenth (which will reopen soon, following a fire). If that doesn’t convince you that Boulder’s become a serious drinking town, it’s also home to five of Colorado’s ten Master Sommeliers (there are only 112 in the U.S.).

Some “Sliced and Diced” contributors include former Food & Wine Best New Chef/James Beard winner Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson of Frasca (which he co-owns with Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey–himself a former pro-cyclist and active marathoner). The two recently opened an adorable Italian pastry, panini, and espresso bar, il caffe (don’t skip the housemade pastries, baked fresh throughout the day), and the excellent Pizzeria Locale.

There’s also chef/farmer Eric Skokan of the charming Black Cat Farm Table Bistro. When he’s not cooking, he’s riding his tractor so he can supply his restaurant and CSA-members with produce from Black Cat Farm. Boulder’s food scene, while still nascent, is most definitely blowing–and growing–up.

“Sliced and Diced” contributor/chef Hugo Matheson of The Kitchen helped launch Boulder’s communal dining and green restaurant design/business ethos trend when his seasonally-inflected restaurant opened in 2003. Now known as a community bistro, Matheson and his partners have spawned two spin-offs. There’s Upstairs, a community wine, beer, and cocktail lounge (the bar menu includes affordable small plates, and incredible Happy Hour deals), while Next Door, a community pub, opened in mid-June.
Boulder chefs, outdoors
The Boulder Farmers Market is, I believe, one of the finest in the nation. Saturdays, April through November, it’s where everyone–locals, students, tourists, tech entrepreneurs, chefs, climbers, cyclists, hippies–goes to shop and socialize–usually before heading off for a run, peddle, paddle, or hike.

And that’s the thing about Boulder. It may take its fitness a little too seriously, but it’s hard to mind when the soul of the community is so intertwined with the pursuit of good things to eat and drink and enjoying the outdoors. Now, thanks to “Sliced and Diced,” you can, too.

Nat Geo explores Yosemite’s climbing culture

Yesterday we posted a story on five ways to explore national parks without using a vehicle, and one of the items that made the list was a suggestion to go climbing in Yosemite National Park. As noted, Yosemite is one of the greatest climbing destinations in the world, with towering granite walls that attract the best climbers from across the globe, something that National Geographic discovered recently when they visited the place.

Writer Mark Jenkins went on assignment in Yosemite Valley for a cover story in the May issue of Nat Geo. While there, he discovered some amazing athletes pushing their skills to the limit on Half Dome and El Capitan, two of the most well known and iconic big walls in the rock climbing universe.

Chief amongst these athletes (NG calls them “superclimbers”) is Alex Honnold, a 23-year old who has made Yosemite his personal playground over the past few years. Back in 2008, he stunned the climbing community by free soloing the 2140-foot tall Half Dome. For the uninitiated, when someone free solos they are climbing with just their chalk bag and shoes, and no ropes of any kind. For an encore in 2010, Honnold tackled both Half Dome and the 3000-foot El Cap, back-to-back, in just 8 hours.Honnold isn’t the only great climber that frequents Yosemite however, and Jenkins found a number of them on his visit. He reports that one morning while walking through the park’s notorious Camp 4, a popular site for climbers, he heard over a dozen languages being spoken, which is a testament to how popular the region is with the rock climbing crowd.

Jenkins, who first climbed in the valley back in the 70’s, discovered that things have changed dramatically since he climbed there. He found that amongst today’s climbers, it is all about speed, and they’ll eschew certain gear, such as backpacks, helmets, and other items, just so they can move more quickly up the rock face. This is quite a departure from the old days, when climbing legend Royal Robbins first climbed Half Dome. Back in 1957, it took him, and his partner, five days to complete the route. Today, Honnold can do it solo in just a little over 2 hours.

The full National Geographic article is available online by clicking here. It offers some great insights into the climbing world, which can be a bit mystifying for those who don’t “get” it. The story is actually a good read for climbers and non-climbers alike, holding up well to Nat Geo’s usual high standards. The article is also accompanied by a gallery of great photos that were shot for the story by by Jimmy Chin, one of the best adventure photographers working today. They capture the spirit of climbing in Yosemite very well and can be found here.

[Photo credit: Mike Murphy via WikiMedia]

Climbers set new speed record on El Capitan

New speed record set on El Capitan Rock climbers Dean Potter and Sean Leary set a new speed record for climbing one of the most iconic and well known routes in the world, besting the old mark by mere seconds. The talented and adventurous duo made their record-breaking assault on The Nose, the most famous climbing route on El Capitan, a popular big climbing wall located in Yosemite National Park. The new record was set few weeks back, and the climbers have since returned in an attempt to cut their time even further.

Potter and Leary took just 2 hours, 36 minutes, and 45 seconds to complete the 2900-foot route, shaving 20 seconds off the previous record which was set back in 2008 by Hans Florine and Yuji Hirayama. A week after setting the new record, Dean and Sean attempted to break their own record, but were stopped short due to wet conditions on the upper portions of El Cap.

To put that two and a half hour speed climb into perspective consider this. The Nose wasn’t fully climbed for the first time until 1958, when a team of mountaineers spent 45 days working the route. It wasn’t conquered in a single day until 1975, and now we have climber finishing it in a matter of a few hours. Impressive progress to say the least.

For his part, former record holder Florine says that he won’t abdicate his title easily. He has begun training for a return to Yosemite where he and a partner hope to try to reclaim the speed record for themselves. In the months ahead, rock climbing fans are likely to see quite a spirited competition, with some of the world’s best climbers battling it out head-to-head for the speed crown.