Author Archives: KFBlogger

Santa Fe Logistics & La Fonda Hotel

Artist rendition of La Fonda.

We chose the historic La Fonda Hotel for our girls’ trip west and it was a hit. Some rooms have fireplaces and you should get one if available.  Staff brings up wood and starts it for you, with plenty of reserve wood so you can keep the fast-burning pinon wood-fed fire going.  They also bring up hot chocolate and New Mexico’s official state cookie (for real, first state to have an official cookie).  Evolved from recipes of the first Spanish colonists, the Biscochito is a crispy butter cookie with sugar, cinnamon, and anise. Wonderful.

Staff was great and saved us when we had to deal with missed flights, late arrivals, and missing luggage. They also enthusiastically accommodated our request for an area to play cards and set us up in a perfect spot.

Now that’s a light fixture. From a ballroom at La Fonda Hotel.

The hotel is right off the main Plaza and very central, for easy walking to shops and restaurants. Be sure to take the free tour of the hotel, if you are in residence when scheduled on Thursday mornings.  The property is chock-full of interesting art and history.  It’s also haunted . . . . but we had to find out that info in less official ways.

Restaurant La Plazuela at La Fonda. A site of at least one ghost story.

There are no longer any cabs in Santa Fe, Uber and Lyft chased them out. There is a free van-based transportation system that can get you around town, but we never tried it.  We just walked or took Uber.

Take note that the Santa Fe airport is extremely small.  No TSA-Pre, you will have to take off coats and take out computers, Kindles, iPads, liquids, even snacks.  It was a mess getting through security.  There are no jetways so you will be walking on open ramps, not steps, to get on and off planes.  Delayed or canceled flights have little opportunity for substitute options.  If your bags don’t make it, well you might be out of luck til the next day. Some of our group had to rush off to Albuquerque to get another flight when theirs was canceled.  Best bet is probably to fly into Albuquerque to begin with and take the one-hour ride to Santa Fe.

Happy Trails.


Meow Wolf, Santa Fe

The author tries to capture some of the imagery in one area of Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return.

It made no sense to me.  What the heck was Meow Wolf. I even went to their website and wasn’t clear.

One of our friends had heard it was a must-experience and we heard more of the same from the locals.  We had to give it a try.

In short, it’s an interactive, art installation.  A collaborative effort by dozens of young creative minds in the written word, art, graphics, music and technology. Part haunted house, part maze, it’s also a Sci-Fi mystery with no set solution and so much fun. You are encouraged to touch, watch, read and listen. Every sense is stimulated.

It’s colorful and neon and full of surprises; it also challenges you to see things a bit differently. Created in a bankrupt bowling alley (purchased by George R.R. Martin the Santa Fe resident who created Game of Thrones), you move in and out of various rooms in the 20,000 sq foot space.  No spoiler alerts here, but you don’t leave or enter rooms in any traditional manner.   I loved the laser harp and the details in the diaries and newspaper. This was fun. Trust and go.  Look for similar exhibits to open soon in Denver and Las Vegas.  A bonus, food trucks right in the parking lot.


Immersion New Mexico: Pueblo Indians & Spanish Influences

We set out early with a private guide, for a day-long tour of the surrounding area. It was cold and dry as we climbed on what’s known as the “high road” to an elevation more than 9,000’, higher than Santa Fe at just under 7,200’.  At first glance, the landscape just looks brown, but we learned to see the subtle shades, desert colors and really appreciate the scenery under the guidance of our very interesting and colorful guide Nat.  We visited the well-done small Poeh Museum, in the Pojoaque Pueblo. They are currently getting ready for a huge Smithsonian Exhibit – an attempt to repatriate some of the large, striking pottery indigenous to the area that was removed by white explorers in past decades.

Visitors are thrown back in time passing isolated Spanish villages that have been in existence for more than 200 years. Everyone in our group was touched by our visit to the church known as the “Lourdes of the Southwest” – Santuario de Chimayo. The 200-year-old church is famous for the healing powers of its legendary sacred dirt. It was an emotional visit. On a lighter note, we also entered the neighboring Santo Nino Chapel and found the most enchanting, colorful church I have ever seen – all themed (as its name indicates) around children. It was a happy place.

It was very special for me to visit Taos Pueblo, in existence much as it always has been, for the last 1000 years and now designated a National Historic Landmark. These amazing multi-level structures of clay straw and water, built to blend in with the rise and fall of their surrounding landscape, have defied the sensibilities of many modern-day builders.  North and south portions are divided by the Red Willow Creek.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photographs that day, due to a ceremonial dance that had taken place earlier. Members of the tribe’s decision-makers were in their underground Kivas, and we could only wonder what issues were being discussed or problems solved. The complex was large and I counted at least four Kivas, with dogs waiting patiently (tails wagging) for their owners just outside the ladder entrance. Only about six families live at this UNESCO World Heritage site permanently, with others coming in for special occasions, all tribe activities, and/or to run their small shops. There is no electricity or water.  Power is provided by propane or burning wood, water from the nearby river.

The city of Taos itself was like a miniature Santa Fe and we had a wonderful lunch at Doc Martin’s at the Historic Taos Inn. After lunch we needed to walk off a bit, so we got out of our van and walked across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Frankly, I found it a bit terrifying, but then I have a thing about bridges. The gorge was created by a fissure in the earth (not the river) and has provided a natural path for the river to run. You don’t even see the gorge until you are right on the edge, I can only imagine what it would be like to come upon it by horseback at the turn of the 20th century.

We took a very scenic, curvy, sometimes scary, 2.5 miles dirt road to begin dropping down in elevation, eventually following the Rio Grande and heading back towards Santa Fe. Along our route back we were able to see the famous off-the-grid Earthship Biotecture Project, a development that uses all natural and/or recycled materials to build homes, and has created self-sustaining electrical power and water sources.  These are no shacks, there are about 200 homes in the area and they sell for hundreds of thousands.   It was fun to also pass by the Classical Gas Museum, like a graveyard for old gas pumps and other memorabilia, right out of American Pickers.

Of Interest:

Taos Pueblo: Closes for about 5 weeks at some point in the spring (often without much notice) and for various ceremonies or funerals.

Our terrific local guide: Nat Shipman

We couldn’t take pictures the day I was there – so here is a spread from one of the local tourism magazines showing part of the Taos Pueblo.

A Taste of Santa Fe

Finally arrived in my 50th state. It wasn’t an easy journey.  For many years I’ve wanted to visit Santa Fe and, despite a long delay with our flights and some temporarily missing luggage, I’m finally here.  It’s special to be with a group of good girlfriends and to share some days of intense conversation, laughs and new adventures.

Established in 1610, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the US, and the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains (the end of the Rocky Mountain range) are always within sight. Today Santa Fe is one the country’s largest art centers.

We started our trip with a culinary adventure at the Santa Fe School of Cooking for a class on the Foods of Spain.  It was interesting – the celery and pear bisque was incredibly delicious.  I’ll leave it to my friends to decide how my paella compares to that of the chef.

Afterwards, we took a short walk to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.  She was a fascinating, independent, incredibly talented woman and I enjoyed learning more about her life and art.

My Front Yard, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1941

Of course, being here, we can see the landscape that inspired her. We strolled through town, stopping in a few shops and galleries to admire the art, clothes, etc. It was such a nice, pleasantly cool day for walking we kept on going to Canyon Road the charming location of many famous high-end galleries. Good thing for my wallet I don’t have room for any more art and know I would never wear the intricate western outfits or luxurious winter clothes on display. It was so nice to walk and window shop with no agenda.

Dinner was New Mexican fare at a historic restaurant in a circa-1692 hacienda (The Shed). I admit I did not care for their style of cooking, the enchiladas and tacos seemed too dry to me and the guacamole too watery. And, I can’t really deal with the super-hot chili sauces!


Defining Boar’s Head

Charlottesville, Virginia is a beautiful town in a lovely part of the country. They’ve gotten some bad press lately due to divisive protests initiated by outside forces.  I hope the coverage doesn’t keep visitors away from this generally genteel community with its gently rolling hills and scattered horse farms. The area also has both feet firmly planted in the history of this country.

The Boar’s Head Inn is an interesting historic hotel, with a history dating back to the 1700’s.  The exact location first served as a welcoming spot for travelers in 1759, as an inn named Terrell’s Ordinary. In the early 1800s, Thomas Jefferson convinced a friend to move to the area and purchase the land.  Through the 1900s the estate was known as “Birdwood” and was owned by Henry Fonda at one point in its storied past.  Today, the remaining 573 acres and facilities are owned by the University of Virginia Foundation.

Of Note: There is no connection with Boar’s Head Provision Company (famous for the meats and cheeses so many of us enjoy). The logo for the resort used to display a boar with a left tusk and the Provision Company a boar with a right tusk. I’ve seen references the Florida-based Provision Company objected to the Inn’s use of the boar artwork, but maybe UVA simply didn’t want to extend the meat-supplier’s brand . . . . in any case, the Inn no longer uses an image of a boar as part of its logo.  But you can still see this handsome fellow just inside the front door of the Inn.

Banner’s Elk: Ever wonder how the town of Banner Elk got its name?

The Banner House Museum is a charming spot. Hundreds of visitors to this idyllic mountain town pass by and never give it a second look.  But, they should.

Built in 1865, by Samuel Henry Banner the home stayed in the Banner family for about 100 years. Once purchased by the Greater Banner Elk Heritage Foundation, the home was restored to its original condition and today contains many family heirlooms, period furnishings and curated exhibits explaining the local area, founders, and history. It opened as a museum in 2007. 

Samuel Banner was a descendant of the first Banners to settle in the area. The first Banner was 40-year-old Martin Banner who settled in the area in 1848, after passing through in 1830. Banner brothers Lewis, Anthony, Edward, and John soon joined him in the valley at the headwaters of the Elk River. They pooled their talents of wood working, tanning, metal working and farming and a thriving community was born. 

The spot Samuel selected for his homestead on the Elk River is now known as the Mill Pond, just off Highway 184. The area was known as Banner’s Ford or Banner’s Elk and when the town was incorporated in 1911, was shortened to the Banner Elk name we know today.

The museum also features exhibits on other local pioneer families, along with interesting information about the area.

One of the most interesting things I learned during the tour, was a bit of the area’s complicated history during the Civil War. Although nearby Boone was sympathetic to the Confederacy, most Banners were Unionists, with sons fighting in the war and family members hiding and transporting escaped Union prisoners.


Plan a Visit:

For a modest $5 contribution to the Foundation, you can experience a tour given by one of the volunteer docents at the Museum.  Mid-June through early-October hours are generally 11-3 Wednesday – Saturday, but call and verify they are open and giving tours. Check online for their event calendar.

Banner House Museum     7990 Hickory Nut Gap Road, just off NC 184   



The ‘Ole Swim’n Hole

A fearless diver hits the water from a high perch.

For years I’d heard mention of a nearby spot where kids loved to swim and dive – this is it.  Locally known as Trash Can Falls, it’s officially Laurel Creek Falls. The falls aren’t the star of the show here, it’s the hidden setting and opportunity to jump and play.  We just enjoyed watching.

Students from nearby Appalachian State University mingle with local kids to scramble around the boulders and test the waters with jumps ranging from heights of 10-30 feet.  The unmarked setting gives the spot a hidden waterhole atmosphere and you can just imagine Huck Finn stopping off for a swim. The river is a beautiful spot and we thought one smart couple had a great idea to hang their hammock between the trees along the shady bank.

Carefully navigating the handy metal grate.

Someone, likely unofficial, has placed a metal grate between the rocks to facilitate movement over a chasm.

One local student told me it was called Trash Can Falls because of its cylindrical shape, but further research explains that in years past a former recycle/dumpster site (called a “Convenience Center” in North Carolina), used to be the landmark for the trailhead. Today it’s hard to find.


From Boone, NC, head towards Tennessee on Hwy 421 and hang a left on Highway 321. After a few miles, just past a concrete bridge, you will see a small gravel parking area on your right (a sign for Laurel Creek Road is on your left). Park here, cross the street and enter the woods. In just minutes you’re there.

Enjoying a natural shower.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

You can have a pet fish in your room at the Monaco; but maybe not if you bring your cat to this pet-friendly hotel.

Portland was nice – people friendly, a very walkable city.  Clearly, marijuana is very ingrained in the culture here, as there seem to be references everywhere. In places, it had a tiny bit of an Asheville vibe (but I like much Asheville better).

We loved our quirky hotel (the Kimpton Hotel Monaco is a re-purposed department store building built over 100 years ago). We even tried a beer flight to get in the Portland brewery spirit.



A must for me was a visit to Powell’s, the largest independent book store in the U.S.  Covering one block and three floors, at first glance it is overwhelming.  But the friendly staff and tips along the shelves made it a very comfortable experience. Tips on best sellers, special awards and staff favorites with detailed descriptions give the stacks an almost wine-shop ambiance.  I needed much more time. Powell’s is located in the Pearl District, and it is jam-packed with all sorts of restaurants, taverns, and micro-breweries.  While sampling local beers, we eavesdropped on a trivia contest being held on the patio below us and were very glad we were not competing, the music/”name a thing” category was a killer.  For my trivia buddies: I only knew one – Wild (as in “Wild Thing”).

We enjoyed walking on the beautiful Willamette River-front and downtown area.  What we didn’t enjoy was the number of homeless people who seemed to be living on the streets. Portland is known for many things, and one is the birthplace of the food truck craze, and it was fun to see the incredible array of food trucks scattered in clusters throughout town. Even the airport continues the laid-back vibe with live music to entertain, and a movie theater featuring short films by local film-makers (take note Miami).

In the lobby of the Kimpton Hotel Monaco.

A final word about our hotel. Every night from 5-6 they host a reception with local wine and some really excellent entertainment. We really enjoyed the musicians and singers during our two visits. The exceptional staff was also very pleasant and helpful. Combined with the ambiance and a few other special treats, it made the perfect place to stay.

Note: Although Powell’s is open till 11 PM, the Rare Book Room closes at 7 PM.



A Toast to Oregon

Anne Amie Vineyards.



It’s wine country time as we wind down and prep to head home. Oregon is famous for Pinot Noirs, one of our favorites, and we didn’t miss the chance to check out a few wineries.

Leaving the coast, we headed to the interior towards Eugene, driving along the beautiful Siuslaw River and then north towards the wine country and eventually, Portland.  We took off on one tangent* (in honor of our good friend Jim) to go through Corvallis, the home of Jim and the Oregon State Beavers. From there it was farmlands of golden, and occasionally russet, fields of grain, stacks of baled hay and the occasional flock of sheep.  We learned this area is the grass seed capital of the U.S., and we saw endless fields planted with rye, as well as some with radish and pea seeds.  Since I can only identify field crops of corn or tobacco you might wonder how I knew this . . . . well, there were a few small signs.

As we started seeing vineyards, we also passed groves of hazelnut trees, another huge crop in Oregon; they vie with turkey as the world’s leading producers.

A painting at Rex Hill really captures the look of the area.

The area surrounding the small towns of McMinnville, Dundee, Carlton, Yamhill and Newberg is home to hundreds of vineyards and wineries.  After studying brochures about dozens of wineries, we selected a couple to visit.  First stop, Anne Amie Vineyards.  A beautiful setting that turned out to be our favorite Pinot Noir of the day.  We also did tastings at Willakenzie Estate and Rex Hill before turning the car towards the imposing Mt. Hood and Portland.

* Only a local will know that, ironically, the town we turned off the I-5 to Corvallis, is Tangent.

Keep on Moving Down the Coast.

Last night the stars were brilliant.  It looked like the Big Dipper was being projected right in front of me.  Sadly, we had to move on from the stunning Whale Cove Inn today, but not before one more whale came by to say farewell, along with the harbor seals and bald eagle watching it all.  Fortunately, the gorgeous vistas didn’t end.

We headed south down Highway 101 to the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area and drove two miles up to an elevation of 800’ –  the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the Oregon Coast.  We enjoyed the incredible views from the Whispering Spruce Trail and seeing the shelter built in the 30’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. During World War II, the site was used to watch for enemy submarines.  This park is under the control of the USDA’s Forest Service and rangers were on-hand to explain local wildlife, as well as information about invasive species growing in the area.

We moved on down the coast to the Heceta Head Lighthouse, the most photographed Oregon lighthouse. Dating from 1892, it is still working, flashing every 10 seconds, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The former keeper’s house is now a six-bedroom B&B run by a concessionaire of the U.S. Forest Service (we did not stay there, but it would be interesting).

Nearby are the Sea Lion Caves, a privately owned concession that takes you down an elevator 208’ inside a 125’ high cave that is a hangout for Stellar Sea Lions.  During the summer months, the Sea Lions also spend a lot of time sunning on the rock ledges just outside the cave. The bulls are loud, the pups are boisterous and they all smell.

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area was a completely new coastal look; massive dunes, sea grasses and wind, lots of wind.  We walked up to the top of some of the dunes.  I cannot say it was fun.  Trudging up through ankle-deep sand, getting stuck with the sharp grasses, wind practically knocking me over . . . the folks on the ATVs have the right idea. That would be a much better way to see the dunes, and obviously a very popular activity in this area.

We are staying in Florence for the night.  Mostly this is a jumping off point for the dunes; there is a cute Old Town with restaurants and shops.  As long as we can keep eating seafood and there is ice cream, we are good.


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