12 historic sites in danger of disappearing

The Global Heritage Fund has released a new report that lists 200 World Heritage Sites around the globe that are in danger from a variety of threats, turning the spotlight on 12 in particular that could disappear altogether due to a lack of funds, neglect, and mismanagement.

The 12 sites listed in the report include Palestine’s Hisham’s Palace, Turkey’s Ani, and Iraq’s Nineveh. Hisham’s Palace, the remains of a royal winter retreat built in 747 AD and the ancient city of Nineveh are both under threat from encroaching urban development, while Ani, an 11th century city on Turkey’s border with Armenia, finds many of it’s ancient structures literally falling apart on their foundations.

Other Heritage Sites that make the list of “most threatened” include Mahansrhangarh, the oldest archeological site in all of Bangladesh and Mirador in Guatemala, which is a pre-Columbian Mayan ruin which sits in a remote jungle location. Haiti’s Sans Souci Palace suffered damage during the recent earthquakes that hit the country, while the Maluti Temples in India suffer from years of neglect. Kenya’s Lamu Village, Famagusta, located in Cyprus, Pakistan’s Taxila, Intramuros and Fort Santiago in the Philippines, and Chersonesos in the Ukraine round out the list.

The GHF’s report recommends that the countries in which these historic sites are located invest in restoring and preserving the ancient places. While those repairs could cost millions of dollars to complete, the sites could potentially generate that income back through tourist dollars, although UNESCO representatives say that caution should be taken when going down that road, as sustainable tourism is not always an easy thing to accomplish and there are a lot of factors to consider before proceeding.

One thing that everyone agrees on however is that these amazing sites need to be preserved for future generations to visit and explore. Just how that will be accomplished remains to be seen.

[Photo credit: Christian Koehn via WikiMedia]

New visitor center opens at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful

On August 24th, the National Park Service opened a new $27 million dollar visitor center near Old Faithful in Yellowstone. The high tech and environmentally friendly building replaces an older visitor center that originally opened in 1972 and struggled to keep up with traffic in recent years, which have seen record numbers of visitors to the park.

Officially dubbed the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, the new building was built in conjunction with the Yellowstone Park Foundation, a non-profit organization that raised more than $15 million to help fund the project. The OFVEC is expected to host 2.6 million annual visitors, who will be treated to a host of interactive displays including one that demonstrates the hydrothermal process that leads to the eventual eruption of a geyser. That one is particularly helpful while you’re waiting for the real Old Faithful to erupt just a hundred yards away.

The new building follows a number of strict guidelines for sustainability and energy efficiency, including the use of mostly recycled and bio-based materials. Additionally, the visitor center uses approximately 1/3 less energy than other buildings of its size, while sitting on a shallow foundation designed to protect the hydrothermal systems at play underneath. Furthermore, over 99% of the construction waste from the old building was crushed on site and used as backfill, aiding the carbon footprint even further. As a result, the OFVEC has earned a Gold level rating on the LEED scale, the first structure in the park to gain this distinction.

In addition to the interactive displays housed inside the “Young Scientist” exhibit area, the new visitor center also boasts a comfortable theater, a classroom for use by local schools and other organizations, a library, gift shop, and a resource room. The spacious lobby also features an information and orientation desk, and a nearby sign keeps everyone aware of when the next eruption of Old Faithful will occur. They geyser erupts every 90 minutes, give or take a few, and the new visitor center will give you something to do while you wait for that next spectacular display.

I visited the new center a few weeks back, and found it educational and fascinating. The new science displays are aimed at kids, but are also informative and interesting for us big kids too. You’ll definitely want to checkout the artificial geyser that “erupts” every 7 or 8 minutes, showing you how the entire process works both above and below the ground. I also applaud the efforts by the Park Service to take a more environmentally friendly approach, as the building looks spectacular and is good for the planet too.

Traveling culinary competition makes for swine time

Two garish, heavily-tattooed girls approached me and my friend Adrienne, and pointed their weapons at us. “Pig liver mousse?” asked the blonde, aiming a whipped cream dispenser at me. Her brunette counterpart stood silently, wielding a squeeze bottle of barbecue sauce and a tray of meaty tidbits.

Welcome to the second annual Cochon 555, a lard-fueled, traveling circus of five chefs, five winemakers, and five pig carcasses. It’s actually a 10-city tour, with each destination’s chefs engaging in “friendly competition” for a great cause: “to promote and preserve heritage pigs, and breed diversity in local and national communities.”

Heritage livestock are domestic breeds that are threatened with extinction due to the demands of modern agriculture. In the words of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, “Modern food production now favors the use of a few highly specialized breeds selected for maximum output in a controlled environment.”While some may find it ironic and hypocritical to eat, glorify, and promote animals in the name of saving them, you’re entitled to your opinion. For the rest of you, not only do heritage breeds help to preserve genetic diversity, but they also taste better. Many heritage breeds possess a “true” flavor inherent to the animal, i.e., pork tastes…more porky. Heritage breeders in general also have an emphasis on animal welfare, sustainable farming and animal husbandry practices, and regionality, as they’re generally small, family outfits. It’s hard to argue with those ethics if bacon makes you salivate.

I attended Seattle’s Cochon 555 on May 23rd to support the cause, as well as watch local chefs like John Sundstrom (Lark), and Tamara Murphy (Brasa) duke it out. Each competitor is chosen based on their support of local food sourcing and commitment to sustainability; the pigs are sourced from ranches dedicated to preserving heritage breeds. While the chefs prepare tasting plates (they’re allowed free rein on preparation method) for the guests, local family winemakers keep the grape flowing. Guests help select the winning chef by voting for their favorite, along with a panel of 20 judges. The victor of each destination is crowned “Prince or Princess of Porc,” and moves on to compete in the Grand Cochon finale, to be held June 20 at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.

Cochon 555 also includes a VIP “Meat & Greet” with local foods and producers, a “Swine & Spirits” mixology showcase, and- my favorite- a demonstration breakdown of a whole pig carcass. San Francisco’s Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats (and producer of the best damn chicharrones on earth) made a guest appearance in Seattle, and proceeded to dismantle a 140-pound pig before an awestruck audience. The results were raffled off, leaving each lucky winner clutching a package of pork to their chest.

Adrienne and I wandered around, sampling everything from tortellini with pig brains in a pork dashi, to apple-bacon ice cream, and red velvet cupcakes with whipped (sweetened) lard frosting. Not everything was good, mind you, and I can live a full life without eating the lard-shortbread version of a Snickers bar ever again, but chef Chester Gerl’s (Matt’s in the Market) cochinita pibil, a Yucatecan-style preparation made from a Red Wattle pig from Lazy S Farm in Kansas , was outstanding. I also thorougly enjoyed the mini “ultimate BLT” of chef Adam Stevenson’s (Earth & Ocean) cocoa-cured bacon, bologna, and smoked coppa, with tomato jam.

While the $125 price tag ($175 for VIP pass) is too steep- at least, at the Seattle event, where the food and drink ran out before the sun even began to set, it’s for an important cause. Even if you don’t eat meat, there’s a dire need for more humane livestock management, and stricter regulation on livestock production, waste management, and processing. As we used to say at the meat shop I once worked at, “Praise the Lard!”

Plant a tree, help fight climate change

We live in a “Golden Age” of travel. Never before in history have so many people traveled so widely, easily, quickly or cheaply. But this convenience comes with a hidden price. All those vehicles that take us there – the planes and cars – play a significant role in the gradual warming of our planet. In honor of Earth Day, the Conservation Fund is offering a way for you to help.

Check out the Conservation Fund’s new video for a campaign called “Go Zero.” The project seeks to raise awareness of the amount of carbon each of us produces from activities like travel, offering a chance to offset our carbon emissions. The group is trying to get 10,000 new trees planted before the end of this year’s Earth Day. It couldn’t be more simple to help – just click the button “plant a tree” on the embedded video above if you’d like to donate. If you want to learn more, make sure to stop by Conservation Fund’s website and try out the Carbon Calculator to see what you can do to fight climate change.

Our lives have all been immeasurably enriched by travel – let’s make sure future generations have a chance to enjoy the same opportunities.

Sierra Club Outings offer envrionmentally responsible adventures

The Sierra Club is an outdoor institution in the United States. Founded in 1892, the club has grown to include more than 1.3 members, and has evolved into the environmental grassroots organization that is the model for all others to follow. Each year, the club organizes events and works with legislators on a national, state, and local level to safe guard wild places and promote environmental important environmental causes.

But what most people don’t know is that each year the club organizes a number of outstanding wilderness adventures known as Sierra Club Outings. These outings take place all around the globe, offering activities for just about everyone, including individuals, families, beginners, seniors, women, and more. On these adventurous trips you’ll find yourself backpacking, kayaking, and biking your way through some of the most outstanding wildernesses in the U.S., Canada, and beyond.

Each year over 4000 people elect to travel with the Sierra Club, and with more than 350 itineraries in their catalog, there are plenty of adventures to choose from. Options include excursions to 34 states and more than 27 countries around the globe. Better still, these adventures are easy on the pocketbook too, with more than half of them priced at under $1000.

Some of the exciting options to choose from include backpacking through Escalante National Park in Utah, rafting the Owyhee River in Oregon, or catching the Summer Solstice in the Brooks Range of Alaska. And for those looking to add a new stamp to their passport, there are a host of international adventures as well, such as cruising the Galapagos Islands or spending a month trekking through the Upper Dolpo region of Nepal. Additionally, the Sierra Club volunteer vacations give travelers a chance to enjoy the great outdoors, while giving a little something back in the process.
While the Sierra Club Outings are amongst the best outdoor adventures around, the organization has some other great options available as well. For instance, each year the club sends more than 14,000 urban youth and adults out into natural environments as part of their Inner City Outings program. They also have a number of great lodges and huts, including the famous Clair Trappaan Lodge, located in the Sierra Nevada, available for members to use. And for those who can’t get away for one of the bigger adventures, check out your local chapter for outings in your own backyard.

For 109 years the Sierra Club has led the way in the area of promoting outdoor activities and environmental responsibility. Their outings uphold that same agenda, offering affordable adventures that are safe, sustainable in nature, and fun for the entire family.