Experience Florida Through the Eyes of Novelist Carl Hiaasen

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Experience Florida Through the Eyes of Novelist Carl Hiaasen

February 8, 2019

The real Carl Hiaasen doesn’t seem like he could be the novelist Carl Hiaasen. He has bleach-white teeth and Gulf of Mexico-blue eyes. His cheeks are dimpled, and his voice is soft, measured. He wears polos and button- downs, almost always in neutral tones. His silver hair, parted to the side, could exist on the head of a banker. Friends, who sometimes compare his look to that of a choir boy, say he is polite, seldom swears and drinks like a Baptist—so, almost never.

He is known to never be more thrilled than on the bow of a boat, with a fly rod in his hand, overlooking the still, emerald waters off the islands of Islamorada in the Florida Keys—possibly his favorite place on earth. The sight of a tarpon’s shadow makes him happy. The squeal of a reel’s drag makes him blissful. Hiaasen knows those waters so well that, if he wanted to, he could make a living quietly guiding other fishermen through them.

This is not the image of a hardened newspaper columnist who has described politicians in the following ways: “bum,” “cockroach,” “head clown,” “worthless blowhard,” “pernicious little ferret” and “affable, back-slapping, ribbon-snipping blob.” Nor is it the image of a fiction writer who, in his latest work, begins chapter one with a severed arm on the end of a fishhook, later highlights a spell-casting voodoo witch named the “Dragon Queen” and eventually introduces a bad monkey (for which the best seller is named) that bites a man, well, in a bad place.

Take a moment to cringe, then consider that the innocuous image of Carl Hiaasen described above might also not seem fitting for one of Florida’s—real Florida’s—greatest crusaders…but it is.

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Though Hiaasen, 61, has been a journalist at the Miami Herald since the mid-1970s, he is best known for his zany, swift-moving novels, packed with sex and laugh-out-loud one-liners and detestable characters getting their comeuppance in all sorts of cruel, entertaining ways. Despite selling close to 14 million books in North America alone, he has never won a National Book Award, and he doesn’t seem to be trying. “His books are built of [flimsy] balsa wood, but they are beautifully constructed all the same,” said New York Times literary critic Janet Maslin. “And if they call for more comic distraction than honest emotion? Forget it, Jake; it’s South Florida. The truth is always stranger than fiction.”

But don’t be fooled by the parade of strange. The themes of his work, nonfiction or fiction, are profoundly serious. He is and has always been on a mission for which he cares deeply. Hiaasen wants to protect Florida—its Everglades, its beaches, its mangroves, its wildlife, its natural beauty—and for decades he has employed a sardonic wit to relentlessly fight on the state’s behalf.

“When you don’t speak up and when you don’t fight back and when you don’t raise hell, that’s the ultimate act of cynicism, and it’s effectively surrender,” he said in the introduction to Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen. “It’s saying, ‘Things are so bad that it’s now acceptable.’ It’s not acceptable, it can’t be acceptable.”

In 1953, Hiaasen was born in a place that, in many ways, no longer exists. Plantation, Florida, is 30 miles north of Miami, sandwiched between the Atlantic coast and the Everglades. The city was incorporated the year of Hiaasen’s birth with a population of less than 500. Now, it’s home to almost 90,000.

Back then, that area of the state was a wild, swampy place; ideal for a child with an affinity for things that creep and crawl. “He represents a dying breed of the people who were born and raised there,” said William McKeen, a historian of literary journalism and chairman of the Department of Journalism at Boston University. McKeen, who also spent time growing up in Florida, described Hiaasen’s youth as a “Huck Finn” childhood.

But much of that wild didn’t last. Hiaasen watched as the dirt-bike path that once led him into the swamp where he and his friends caught water moccasins was turned into a road lined with shopping malls. He watched the Everglades shrink as development boomed. He watched animal species go extinct as their habitats were paved over. “It was just rampant destruction,” said Tim Chapman, a photographer whom Hiaasen met years later at the Herald.

Hiaasen, however, couldn’t just watch. In perhaps a first effort to protect his beloved home, he and friends would pull surveyor’s stakes out of the ground. “We were kids,” he said in Kick Ass. “We didn’t know what else to do. We were little and the bulldozers were big.”

He compared their rumble to the sound of greed, “the engine that has run Florida ever since there was a Florida.” Chapman shared in his youthful frustration. He used to cut down billboards with a chain saw and, once, even filled a developer’s storm drain with a cement plug to prevent pollutants from seeping into Biscayne Bay. “I realized I was going to be arrested and go to jail, so I picked up a camera,” Chapman said. “Carl, of course, wielded the sword of the pen.”

Hiaasen had been sharpening that blade almost since birth. The Herald’s sports pages taught him to read. At age 6, his father bought him a typewriter, and he used it to punch out stories about neighborhood kickball games. In high school, he produceda newsletter, More Trash, that, among other things, satirized his teachers and administrators. All the while, Hiaasen was developing his now-distinct world view, and it didn’t just result from the demise of Florida’s innocence, but also from the nation’s.

He grew up in the 1960s and bore witness to John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War and Watergate. “It was a poisonous time to be coming of age,” he said in Kick Ass. “It seemed to me there was so much wrong in the world. I felt such outrage for so many years over those things happening that it wasn’t a hard thing to carry into journalism.”

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Hiaasen arrived at the University of Florida after transferring from Emory University in Atlanta. He had intended to work in broadcasting, but a news reporting class taught by legendary journalism professor Jean Chance helped alter the course of his future. “He was a very special student, no question about that,” said Chance, now retired.

She immediately recognized the gracefulness of his writing and the ease with which he completed assignments. “I would have to stretch to find some nitpicky thing to give him a hard time about,” she said. Chance told Hiaasen that TV journalists tend to focus less on writing and more on presentation. A career in front of a camera, she thought, would be a waste. She pushed him to work at the student newspaper, the Independent Florida Alligator, where he began to write a column. “That,” she said, “was when he saw the light.”

He began his professional career at Cocoa Today, a small paper in Brevard County now known as Florida Today. Every few Saturday nights, Chance said, he would call her to complain about the owner’s rule that any time his wife’s name appeared in the paper—she was a state senator—he be told, so he could change or kill the article on her behalf. He wanted to do something bigger, more meaningful. She told him to be patient. He listened. After two years, in 1976, he got a job at the Herald.

In the late 1970s, Chapman recalled, Hiaasen got a tip that someone was illegally digging out mangroves near Key Largo. The two men hired a fishing guide with a boat to take them down to see for themselves. “They were literally selling properties and digging a huge marina, and conveniently no one who had the power acted against it,” Chapman said. “No permit, no nothing.” Hiaasen wrote a story that forced state officials to kill the development. Such scoops became a staple of his early career.

Years later, Chapman said, Hiaasen learned that a wealthy man in the Keys had hired someone to chop down the mangroves around his house so he could better see the water. “The owner of the house blamed it on some wayward surfers,” Chapman said. Hiaasen didn’t buy it. He wrote the story.

“Various counties in South Florida have always been subject to corruption,” Chapman said, “and it takes people like Carl to stand up to them.”

In 1985, Hiaasen started writing his column for the Herald. It began a nearly 30-year (and ongoing) career of keenly pointing out wrongdoing, those who were responsible and, most memorably, the weird and wacky and plain wrong ideas that make Florida so entertaining. In a March 1988 column, for instance, Hiaasen skewered the city of Miami Beach for its ridiculous plan to host horse races on its beaches.

On the topic of what the animals might leave behind, his biting sense of sarcasm was in top form: “It’s not so big a crisis, really. Tourists on South Florida beaches are used to quick-stepping around all kinds of daunting obstacles, from poisonous jellyfish to gobs of tar, to the occasional human torso. A horse dropping would hardly make them dash for the hotel checkout. Before allowing such a minor drawback to squelch an otherwise brilliant idea, why not try to turn it around and make something positive? One obvious solution is to ask the city commissioners themselves to clean up after the horses. They are, after all, vastly experienced in this area.” The horse races never came.

“I think Carl was probably the most hated man by the chamber of commerce in Miami history,” Chapman said. “They just hated the fact that Carl told the truth.”

Certainly, Hiaasen’s columns had a substantial impact on South Florida, but it was the novels that spread his message to the world.

So, how well does Carl Hiaasen really get South Florida? Consider the evidence in just the first four chapters of his latest sprawling crime novel, Bad Monkey, some of which might seem cliché, but only because the details are so consistently indicative of life in the Sunshine State.

On page 5, Hiaasen’s main character, Andrew Yancy, sits in a plastic lawn chair and drinks rum as he experiences one of the most repeated gripes of long-time residents: “the offensive buzz of wood saws and the metallic pops of a nail gun” on the obnoxious, view- disrupting house being erected next to his own.

On page 7, it’s explained that the local sheriff won election only because his two opponents were in jail on racketeering charges.

On page 8, the aforementioned sheriff orders Yancy to dispose of a severed arm caught by a fisherman for fear of the negative publicity that might befall his community, though Hiaasen quickly notes the greater truth: “Nothing short of a natural disaster discouraged people from going out on (or into) the water.”

On page 18, readers are introduced to a doctor who made his fortune by investing in a series of pain management clinics “that dispensed Percocets and Vicodins by the bucket to a new wave of American redneck junkies.”

On page 23, traffic is jammed on Florida State Road A1A because a gravel truck crashed head-on into a southbound rental car. Typical.

On page 34, Yancy, now a health inspector, gets served a plate of fries and a coffee by the manager of a restaurant: “By Keys standards it could hardly be considered a payoff.”

No doubt, Hiaasen understands that he has tapped into and perhaps even helped create the national perception that his home is an odd place. Type “why is Florida” into Google, and the first completed response ends in “so humid”—the second in “so weird.” That search returns 29.9 million hits. But it could be argued that all the allusions to Florida wackiness (and his novels’ wackiness in general) are merely a means to an end.

Millions of people devour Hiaasen’s novels because they’re fun and entertaining, but buried not so deep within his prose are the ideas he really wants readers to remember. “[St. Petersburg Times columnist] Jeff Klinkenberg once said of Carl’s writing that ‘People respond better to ice cream than to broccoli,” Keen said. “Hiaasen has mastered preachy-less preaching.”

“These are fanciful characters, but there’s an underying truth to what he’s talking about… these are morality plays in many ways,” said Thomas Fiedler, former Herald executive editor and now dean of Boston University’s College of Communication. “They are really rooted in the issues that he believes are important for Floridians to understand.”

Take page 35 in Bad Monkey, for example. Before the wealthy newcomer razed the lot next door, Hiaasen writes, Yancy spent almost every evening watching the white-tailed Key deer pick at hammock scrub and red mangroves. He explains that just a few hundred of the deer remain on the islands, but that motorists, ignoring warning signs, often run them over. He talks of the refuge created for the surviving animals and that Yancy, knowing what’s in their best interest, had left them alone. “He didn’t snap pictures, or whistle, or make up cute names for the fawns. He just sat there sipping rum and watching the deer do their thing.”

Hiaasen spends two-thirds of a page on the plight of white-tailed Key deer, which have exactly nothing to do with the story’s plot, but he still makes certain readers know they matter. “I think,” Fiedler said, “Carl is the voice for what is right in Florida, and he’s particularly the defender of Florida, not just as it used to be, but Florida as it should be.”

In this modern era of storytelling in which anti-heroes are so often celebrated (see: TV’s Breaking Bad or The Sopranos), Hiaasen’s novels offer little room for gray. Characters are either good or evil. They’re either destined to triumph, or they’re destined to die in heinous, hilarious fashion. Those clear outcomes may again well be rooted in the alternate reality of Hiaasen’s own world.

South Florida’s crusader has won his share of the battles, to be sure, but it’s hard to argue that he is winning the war. The state has continued to develop, and swamp-land has continued to disappear. Corruption still thrives. Many animal species and natural resources remain threatened. Recently, Hiaasen argued in his column that state politicians have allowed billions of gallons of toxic water to be dumped into Florida’s rivers because of the money their campaigns are getting from big business.

“Those people are always going to win in real life,” McKeen said. “I think he writes the books as therapy, and I think he wants the good guys to win somewhere.” And perhaps the idea is that, like Hiaasen, his legion of readers will someday want as badly as he does for the good guys—for real Florida—to win. And maybe, just maybe, one day it’ll actually happen and the state’s crusader can put down his sword.

Tour New York City Like a Local

Tour New York City Like a Local

February 7, 2019

Excited for the long weekend ahead, we woke up early on our first morning at the Dominick and ordered room service. It was the best way to savor our suite’s Hudson River view before a busy day in Brooklyn. Since it was warm outside, we decided to meander through Soho toward the Canal Street station, where we’d pick up the Q train. As we walked, the streets thrummed with life: Against a cacophony of traffic noise, bike messengers whizzed by and shoppers jockeyed for space on the crowded sidewalk. Once we were on the subway, we couldn’t help getting giddy when the train came above ground onto the Manhattan Bridge and we caught a glimpse of the skyline. 

Ascending the station stairs in Park Slope, where most buildings don’t exceed five stories, we were struck by how much more light and air there seemed to be. We felt our pulses slow as we crossed Flatbush Avenue to Prospect Heights and walked along a quiet, tree-lined block to James, a small New American restaurant. The chef, Bryan Calvert, is an alum of the Manhattan foodie temple Bouley, but here his cooking is sublimely straightforward. 

Our lunch of black kale salad, truffle fries, and burgers topped with speck fortified us for our next stop: Prospect Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, about a decade after they completed Central Park. We could see immediately why the pair called this less-touted oasis their masterpiece. The grassy, gently undulating Long Meadow is expansive but also feels completely sheltered from the busy streets beyond the park’s borders. A walk through the ravine area, with its 100-foot gorge that connects a waterfall, several pools, and the lake, makes you feel like you’ve left Brooklyn for the mountains upstate. And with its thick tree canopy, the park is also home to the only remaining natural forest in Brooklyn. We spent the next few hours exploring and left through the gates at Ninth Street, which leads to the center of Park Slope. It was only 5:30, but we were trying to get a table at Talde, the cultishly popular Park Slope restaurant run by former Top Chef contestant Dale Talde. Most nights, he can be found in the open kitchen (look for his baseball cap) turning out flavorful Pan-Asian dishes like oyster-and-bacon pad thai, Korean fried chicken, and pretzel pork-and-chive dumplings. After sampling them, we realized that we would have happily waited longer for food this good. 

After dinner, we called a car service for the short drive to the Old American Can Factory, a restored complex in the adjoining Gowanus neighborhood. The factory is one of the venues for Rooftop Films, an outdoor summer festival that showcases groundbreaking new movies. Looking out over the neat rows of Brooklyn brownstones and the twinkling lights of Manhattan in the distance, it seemed fitting that we began our day with one striking panorama, and were ending it with another.

Today we opted for a slower pace and started the day with brunch at The Dutch, where reservations are encouraged because pretty much every New Yorker has become obsessed with Andrew Carmellini and his modern take on American regional food. The toughest part was deciding what to order from the Southern-inflected menu: We settled on cornmeal flapjacks and scrambled eggs with smoked sable, but couldn’t resist adding a curry sugar doughnut and honey-butter biscuits. (Can you ever have too much at brunch?)

We left delightfully sated and glad that we’d planned to spend the rest of the afternoon on foot exploring shops and galleries in SoHo and the Lower East Side. We were overwhelmed (in a good way) by Intermix, a boutique clearinghouse with wares from nearly 200 American and European designers, and A Second Chance, a discriminating consignment shop known for stocking fashionista finds like Hermes bags, Chanel dresses and Prada shoes for well-below-retail prices.

Overcome by shoppers’ exhaustion, we refueled with thick Aztec hot chocolate at the MarieBelle chocolate shop’s Cacao Bar before continuing east toward the Bowery. Once the city’s skid row, and later home to tattoo parlors, dive bars and the infamous punk club CBGB’s, this thoroughfare has seen rapid gentrification in the last decade as luxury condos sprung up and the opening of the New Museum drew gallery owners to the area. Though the Sperone Westwater gallery’s graphite drawings and twisted bronze sculptures were intriguing, we were most fascinated by the room-size elevator that blends with the rest of the exhibition space—until it starts moving between floors. 

We returned to the hotel to relax before taking a taxi to Pier 11, just south of South Street Seaport, to board a ferry to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Taking a subway would have been just as easy, but we wanted to get out on the water and see the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge and the sun setting behind the Statue of Liberty. We disembarked at Williamsburg’s North Sixth pier and walked to Zenkichi, a sexy Japanese brasserie with booths so cozy and private each one comes with a buzzer to get the staff’s attention. Since we were feeling adventurous and didn’t want to think too hard, we ordered the chef’s omakase (tasting menu), which features the day’s freshest sashimi with an assortment of dishes like yellowtail with pickled cherry leaves and grilled Berkshire pork. 

 

The hostess called a car service to take us back to SoHo, and we asked the driver to drop us at Pegu Club, a dimly lit second-floor bar with Asian-style decor and a speakeasy feel. (The downstairs door is unmarked except for the bar’s green lion crest.) This is not a place to order wine or beer, as the mixologists—don’t call them bartenders—have elevated cocktail-concocting to an art form. We each tried the Whiskey Smash, a potent blend of rye, whiskey, simple syrup and the freshest lemon juice and mint we’ve ever tasted. Our drinks, like everything else that day, more than lived up to the hype.

We started our final day with a subway ride up to the Flatiron District, named for the area’s famously triangular turn-of-the-century building. But it was Mario Batali’s Eataly, currently the world’s largest Italian food and wine emporium, that lured us there. Tourists mob the food halls during the weekend, so we were headed straight up to Birreria, the rooftop brewery. It’s a casual spot, with bright red chairs, simple wooden tables and a retractable glass roof that makes it feel like a greenhouse. 

The restaurant’s three house-made ales are brewed in a small room just steps from the main dining area. The creamy, full-bodied beers paired beautifully with the housemade sausages, cured meats and artisanal Italian cheeses. We could have easily spent another hour enjoying the view of the Met Life Tower, one of the city’s early Renaissance-Revival skyscrapers. But we’d planned another outer-borough excursion to the Noguchi Museum in Queens. (We opted to book the Noguchi’s Sunday shuttle bus service from the Upper East Side.) 

The museum showcases the sculptures, furniture and public works models of Japanese artist Isamu Noguchi, who collaborated with dancer Martha Graham and designer Charles Eames, among others. (If the Akari Light Sculptures look familiar, it’s because they’ve been widely copied by retailers like Ikea.) We loved the intimate feel of the cleverly designed museum, which is housed in a converted industrial complex that has a sculpture garden in the middle featuring Noguchi’s large-scale pieces.

We headed back to the Upper East Side, hailed a cab, and zoomed down to The Modern, the French-American restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art. We settled in at the bar room, a clubby space that serves small plates of updated Alsatian fare like buckwheat spaetzle with yellowfin tuna. The museum was hosting one of its free summer concerts in the sculpture garden that night, featuring musicians from Lincoln Center. As a breeze rustled across the reflecting pond and birds chirped quietly, we waited alongside locals for the music to begin, all of us smug in our knowledge that on a warm summer night in the city, there was no lovelier place to be.

How Formula 1 Racing Turns Austin Into the Liveliest Town in Texas

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How Formula 1 Racing Turns Austin Into the Liveliest Town in Texas

January 31, 2019

We’re trying to bring a level of an experience a la Monaco to Austin for that one weekend,” says My Yacht Group’s Nicholas Frankl about the Formula 1 race that comes to Texas every fall. And Frankl should know how to do it. The Los Angeles and London-based party-thrower for the rich and famous, like so many people connected to Formula 1 racing and its hyperbolic universe, seemingly lives with his feet off the ground. His specialty: “That client who spends 100,000 euros in an evening,” he says.

Each year, the global racing circus comes to Austin and descends on the 3.4-mile, winding racetrack called Circuit of the Americas that was built for Formula 1 competition. And each fall—mark the dates of October 31 to November 2 on your calendar now—all that is over the top about Forumula 1 turns an already spirited town into a mind- blowing, must-experience international destination.

Arrive in Texas for Formula 1 weekend and you’re in for sensory overload. You’ll watch and hear the world’s most sophisticated cars howl around the 20-turn course until they’ve raced for nearly 200 miles. Fantastic Texas barbecue tempts your taste buds. Dancers and musicians inspire you to swing and sway.

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Then there’s the party that is Austin itself. A cultural mecca, it’s host to impressive dining and nightlife (It bills itself the Live Music Capital of the World). Mesh these two worlds together and the result is one of the more engaging atmospheres in North America.

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Luckily for Austinites and the many thousands of car racing’s most rabid fans from around the globe, Formula 1 arrived in Austin two years ago courtesy of some previous U.S. misfires. The racing series, which dates back to 1950 and currently consists of 11 teams traveling to approximately 20 races held on five continents, bounced around U.S. venues for decades before withdrawing from this country after leaving sleepy Indiana and its Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2007.

About three years later, Austin developers stood over 1,500 acres of open, rolling land 15 miles southeast of town and envisioned bringing auto racing ’s highest form of competition back to the United States, and specifically to central Texas. Formula 1 cars are wind-tunnel shaped and jammed with circuitry and innovation. Their 1.6-liter, turbocharged V-6 hybrid engines produce obscene amounts of horsepower (try more than 750), and they’ll whine to 15,000 revolutions per minute as they thrust cars weighing as little as 1,500 pounds to 60 miles per hour in around two seconds. An F1 car, which fits its nearly supine driver like a tight carbon- fiber suit and features a steering wheel packed with dials and readouts, can top more than 200 miles per hour and pull in excess of 4 G’s. Annual budgets for Formula 1 teams are outlandish; perennial favorite Scuderia Ferrari has reportedly burned more than $400 million in a season.

The Circuit of the Americas (COTA) was designed with one nod toward Formula 1’s heritage and nuance, and another toward Austin and Texas. Track connoisseurs will tell you that COTA’s turns 3 through 5 were inspired by a sequence of bends from Silverstone (a storied F1 track in England), and that turns 13 through 15 bear close resemblance to a section of Hockenheimring (Germany). Some of COTA’s corners subtly widen upon approach, which invites drivers to take different lines through the turns—and can make for more exciting racing.

The venue is also unquestionably Texan. Enjoy the race while chowing on barbecued sausage or brisket and stay for the post-event concert held at the Austin360 Amphitheater, which is surrounded on three sides by track, and accommodates 14,000 people. Last year’s race entertainment was the high profile-rapper Pitbull.

But you don’t have to sit still. Walking paths traverse the facility, though it’s best to leave the Italian high heels or loafers at home, and instead hoof it over the long paths in a pair of locally bought snakeskin cowboy boots. Elevation changes throughout the venue make exploration both demanding and worthwhile.

“Folks in high-end hospitality often say ‘I want to get out and walk the track’,” says COTA president and CEO Jason Dial. “There are a lot of amazing vantage points.”

Whether paying $169 for a three-day general admission pass or nearly $8,000 per person for a long weekend’s worth of exclusive and perk- filled opportunities (including skybox seating and access to an open patio overlooking the pit lane, closed-circuit TV race coverage, gourmet food and wine, and the potential to hobnob with celebrities), you should also make a trip to the top of COTA’s 25-story Observation Tower. You’ll find an expansive view of Austin, the Texas Hill Country and, of course, the racetrack.

Austin City Limits

Of course for seasoned Formula 1 fans, some of whom follow the races from Bahrain to Monaco to Singapore, the demand for first-class dining, entertainment and excitement must extend beyond the cars, tracks and Sunday’s race. Fortunately, Austin has what this crowd wants.

Iconic hotels like the W Austin and Four Seasons flank the city’s fairly compact yet vibrant downtown, and make for good jumping off points. Colorful bars and eateries—including Clive Bar, Craft Pride and El Naranjo—are clustered in the Rainey Street Historic District. Italian (Vespaio), seafood (Perla’s) and gourmet-burger (Hopdoddy) restaurants line South Congress Avenue. Nearby you’ll find incredible sushi (Uchi) and Thai food (Sway).

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But we’re just getting started. Austin is known for its live music (laying claim to music royalty that includes Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Ely and Gary Clark, Jr.), and the gritty and hopping Red River Cultural District packs together established venues and international crowds into the night. “There’s more than a dozen clubs in four blocks,” says Jennifer Houlihan, executive director for the advocacy group Austin Music People. “They’ll kind of save some of their best performers for that week, so the F1 crowd sees the best the city has to offer.”

Meanwhile Fan Fest is COTA’s Austin-based party: Last year, the 12-block, four-day-and-night, downtown gathering featured a half-dozen stages with crowds of Brits wearing McLaren shirts and Germans in Mercedes AMG caps mingling with the locals. While some performances were free, a $299 VIP pass put you right next to the Bud Light Main Stage and out of the beer lines.

But this being Formula 1, there’s always entertainment that has aspirations in step with the sport’s own determined and deep- pocketed teams seeking the best at any cost. For $325 you can attend the dimly lit, Monaco nightclub-themed My Yacht Club party at the downtown Ballet Austin building hosted by the aforementioned Nicholas Frankl. The event begins at 10 p.m. and the imported European DJ as well as the bartenders don’t stop working until 4 a.m. In 2012, millions of dollars worth of Lamborghinis were parked out front, and private tables, many manned with their own waitresses, went for $4,500 and up.

“We built a custom stage for the client who bought the $50,000 table, and had two security guards looking out for his guests,” Frankl says. “He had two, custom, 24-carat gold Methuselahs of gold- infused champagne.” One would be hard-pressed to devise a better ending to a trip that’s dedicated to the fast lane.

A Look Into the Life of Gardening Expert Charlie Nardozzi

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A Look Into the Life of Gardening Expert Charlie Nardozzi

January 28, 2019

People from the Northeast with any interest in gardening or horticulture know Charlie Nardozzi—or at least recognize him thanks to his signature wide-brimmed straw hat. The Connecticut-born gardening guru has established a mini empire in the Stowe area: He regularly plays TV cohost and gardening tour guide, authors books such as Vegetable Gardening for Dummies and works the speaker/consultant circuit sharing his insights on all things related to gardening. 

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He’s perhaps best-known for his longest-running gig—closing in on two decades—as a radio personality on WJOY-AM’s call-in gardening show In the Garden.

“It’s really a hoot,” Nardozzi says. “People call in with all kinds of outlandish questions. I sing to them, I tell them stories, I help them settle marital disputes. I just like that live interaction with people. That’s why I love garden coaching, too: I can be out in the field talking with people, seeing what they’re doing and thinking about. It keeps me fresh with what’s going on in the gardening world.”

In Nardozzi’s gardening world—a nook of western Vermont that encompasses Stowe, Burlington and his current town of North Ferrisburgh—he’s noticed that autumns have been lasting longer, allowing avid gardeners to grow and harvest all the way into November and even December, providing a welcome addition to the local farm-to-table menus of restaurants around the area.

“I plan a lot of plantings in vegetables to mature at that time of year,” he says. “Leeks and parsnips, for example, you’ll put in, let them grow all season and not really touch them until September or October when it’s a little cooler and they’re full-size.”

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And when he’s not advising New Englanders on their gardens, he retires to work on his own: He and his wife live on 5 acres of land that include a 3,000-square-foot vegetable garden, an edible hedge row, flower gardens around the house, berry plantings and a small orchard.

“It’s tiring just talking about it,” he says with a laugh. “Thank God my wife gardens, too!”

How to Vacation in Sonoma’s Wine Country​

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How to Vacation in Sonoma’s Wine Country

December 19, 2018

Locals often say, “Sonoma is for wine, and Napa is for auto parts.” (Of course, people in Napa have been known to respond, “Sonoma? I think I’ve heard of it.”) Good-natured rivalry aside, there’s no question that Sonoma is less famous than Napa. But it’s also a premier wine region that draws people back again and again. And though there are plenty of well-known wineries in the county, it’s easy to get off the beaten path to discover California’s original winemaking culture with family-run wineries, sprawling estates and hidden gems. 

In fact, Medlock and Ames put as much thought into the food they produce as the wine. A flight may include fresh vegetables from their garden, some local cheese, or salami produced by a neighbor. The wines tend to be fruit forward, with a sauvignon blanc you will never forget. They also make a rose that pairs with just about everything they serve. 

In Sonoma, a winery is typically much more than a place where they produce wines. At Medlock Ames, this is especially true. The young winery has only produced six vintages, but their wines convey a mature sophistication. And they grow a lot more than grapes on the 335-acre plot at Bell Mountain. They also grow produce and herbs, using principles of organic farming that brought owners Ames Morrison and Christoper Medlock James together at Tulane University.

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Along with the wine, they offer a selection of organic produce for sale in the tasting room, but that’s not the only thing that will surprise you here: There’s also a secret bar. The Alexander Bar is hidden away, in speakeasy form, behind a tasting room wall. It opens in the evening, when they serve handcrafted cocktails, also using their fresh-grown ingredients, as well as artisan spirits and local brews. It’s just one more unexpected treat at Medlock Ames in the Alexander Valley. 

There is no prettier winery in the spring and early months of summer than Matanzas Creek, located in Sonoma’s Bennett Valley. Grapes are, of course, the primary crop at the vineyard. But the lavender fields have their own fan club. The lavender gardens come to peak bloom in late June, which handily coincides with the annual Lavender Festival. Soon after the lavender harvest it’s time to start picking grapes and making wine. The lavender is used in the kitchen as well as in a line of spa products available at the winery as well as a couple of local spas. Bennet Valley received an American Viticultural Area designation in 2003. Sonoma, Bennett and Taylor mountains grab the fog and cool air, courtesy of the Pacific Ocean. This cooling effect, known as the Petaluma Wind Gap, produces a microclimate similar to the Russian River Valley’s. It allows for a long growing season as grapes ripen a little at a time. Matanzas Creek wines are both interesting and well made, capitalizing on the superior fruit the vineyards offer. 

It’s hard not to be immediately taken by the beauty of the Michel-Schlumberger estate, even before you discover what makes this winery unique. The vineyards stretch across 100 acres on the foothills of Dry Creek Valley and, as you walk through the vast land, you’ll find breathtaking views from every angle. Beyond the 20 blocks of grape vines lie an olive orchard and vegetable gardens, alive and vibrant with butterflies, bird and bees, chickens, sheep and goats.

The fauna at Michel-Schlumberger serves a purpose: The bees naturally pollinate the landscape; the chickens eradicate outbreaks of pests; the goats clear the scrub on the hillside; and the sheep mow the grass. Jim Morris, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, sums it up: “Our world is all about building a healthy ecosystem.”

And that’s exactly what the Michel Schlumberger estate is: a self-sustained, eco-friendly environment that runs with little electricity, gasoline or excess water. They have earned some impressive awards in sustainability, but let’s not forget that it’s all about making wine — excellent award-winning wine. 

The acclaimed movie director’s estate is certainly no secret. But it’s an experience in its own right and worth the visit. Over the past 25 years, Coppola has reclaimed all of the original Inglenook vineyards. And in a nod to the estate’s storied history, it was renamed Inglenook in 2011, but still very much carries the Coppola brand name.

When you enter the big gates of the winery, you aren’t quite sure if you’re going into a movie set or an Italian castle. Unlike most wineries, this one is built with the entire family in mind, a place where you can spend the day with excitement for kids of all ages to enjoy. 

Outside of the winery is a swimming pool, café and changing “cabines,” which include pool passes and towels. There are also four full-size bocce ball courts and special events and concerts throughout the spring and summer. Rustic Restaurant, inside of the winery, serves “Francis’ Favorites,” such as Marrakesh Lamb and Braciole with Rigatoni in Meat Ragu. Indeed, the Coppola estate is a destination in its own right.

Midway between Sonoma and Santa Rosa is Kenwood, home to wineries such as Landmark and Saint Francis. Though St. Francis offers some nice food-and-wine pairings, there are other food options. The Restaurant at the Kenwood Inn and Spa is a beautiful spot for Mediterranean cuisine.

Open to the public for lunch and dinner, the large fireplace is usually going during the area’s short winter. The rest of the time, the dining room is open to the picturesque courtyard. At the other end of the spectrum is Cafe Citti. There is nothing elegant about it: Order at the counter and then take a seat inside or outside among what is bound to be mostly locals. But don’t confuse basic with lessthan-wonderful. The rotisserie chicken is great, as are any of the pastas. The white clam sauce is a staple, made with shelled clams sautéed with white wine and olive oil. The Casear salad is excellent, as long as you’re a fan of garlic.

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Sonoma Square is a sleepy little spot, just like the town itself. With a variety of restaurants and shops, it’s easy to spend time just cruising, tasting and exploring. Those wanting to fend for themselves in the kitchen should make a stop at The Sonoma Market, which specializes in higher-end products at reasonable prices. The selection of produce, meats and specialty items is excellent.

Vella Cheese Company has been a Sonoma mainstay since 1931. Made exclusively with milk from happy, livin’- large cows at nearby Merten’s Dairy, Vella cheeses have garnered a heap of awards over the years. Tucked just off the square on Second Street, the shop offers cheese samplings. Still owned and operated by the hands-on Vella family, the cheese company is most famous for its Dry Jack. Created accidentally during World War I when Italy stopped most of its exports to feed its soldiers, Dry Jack became a domestic option to Parmesan cheese. And during World War II, the cheese’s reputation got another boost in both popularity and national pride. These days the cheese isn’t used as a Parmesan substitute but as a cheese worthy of its own place at the table — or in the omelet, atop the pasta, or with some crackers. Vella Cheese Company is also the only commercial cheese outfit in the U.S. to make Toma, a soft, slightly ripened artisanal cheese that originated in Piedmont. Italian Table Cheese, Asiago and a whole fleet of full-moisture Monterey Jacks round out the company’s selections.

LaSalette Restaurant specializes in the fairly obscure cuisine of Portugal. Named for the chef-owner’s mother in honor of her heritage, the restaurant has garnered a reputation for excellent seafood. Portuguese food draws from the culinary histories of its former colonies throughout the world, including Asia, Africa, India and the New World. The result is a truly unique dining experience, especially in Sonoma surrounded by a plethora of French and Italian-influenced California cuisine. They do a lot of cooking in the wood-fired oven, and serve several Portuguese national dishes, such as the feijoada completa with smoky sausage and caldo verde, literally translated as green soup. 

People argue about Cafe La Haye — nobody can agree on a favorite dish. Some stick to the risotto of the day, period. For others, it’s all about the seafood special. Even the roasted chicken with caramelized chicken jus has a fan club. And that’s before anyone even mentions dessert, which ought to include butterscotch pudding. Foodies agree that Cafe La Haye is a special place. Owner Saul Gropman is usually the one to greet guests as they come through the door, and he knows how to welcome people in and make sure they’re well tended.

Girl + the fig brings vineyard-style eating to downtown Sonoma. Originally opened on the Glen Ellen estate, restaurateur Sondra Bernstein moved girl + the fig to the square when the Sonoma Hotel evacuated its spot. (She now has The Fig Cafe at Glen Ellen). Girl + the fig is a magical little spot, with a welcoming patio and warm service. Time slows down in deference to what is often referred to as a French country menu, though Bernstein insists it’s actually a Sonoma menu with a French passion. Sonoma’s farms supply most of the ingredients the restaurant uses, and the food is topnotch. But what has always distinguished the eatery is the hospitality. The staff, from hostess to bartender to server, literally welcomes each guest. Of course Sonoma wines are highlighted, and imbibing is encouraged through extensive by-the-glass options as well as a selection of wine flights. During the spring and summer months, wait for a table on the patio. It’s worth it.

Find Your Adventurous Side in the Colorado Mountains This Winter

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Find Your Adventurous Side in the Colorado Mountains This Winter

December 17, 2018

There comes a point when the speed seems natural. Cruising through the open valleys, banking turns and floating through powder, the snowmobile no longer feels like a separate entity but merely an extension. And that’s when things really get fun.

Vail, the largest ski mountain in the U.S., has the kind of invigorating terrain that draws people back year after year, generation after generation. (And the fleet of non-stop groomers helps.) But beyond the ski runs is a whole Rocky Mountain playground for those who want to venture out of bounds. Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing all have cult followings.

Whether you call them snow gos, snow machines or snowmobiles, the ones available for rent can fit two people — the driver and the hanger-on. There are advantages to both roles, and it’s easy to swap back and forth. 

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Nova Guides is the largest touring outfit in the Vail Valley, and in this instance, bigger really is better. Headquartered at Camp Hale just a few miles down the road from the Continental Divide, they have a full-service restaurant in their lodge that dishes out hearty lunchtime fare, warm drinks and ambiance from a two-sided fireplace that is perpetually stoked. Though the point of snowmobiling is, in part, to get out there — really out there — it’s easy enough to hightail it back to the lodge if you need a warm-up drink or if you’re done with the adventure before the rest of your group is. Nova Guides has a secondary base camp on the outskirts of Minturn for shorter excursions, too.

There are a couple of ways to take to the snowfields: by-the-hour rentals for do-it-yourself touring, as well as guided tours with full and half-day options. Guided tours are a good way to get used to the machines, which have a kicky burst of power as soon as you rev them. They also eliminate the need for trail finding, as the guides know exactly where they’re going. And where is that, exactly? Why the top of the Rockies, of course.

“We’ve got 80 miles of trail to choose from,” says Drew Fortner of Nova Guides. “No two tours are alike.”

Guides take the pulse of the group as a whole — who’s gone where before, how fast people want to travel, what they want to see — and then create an itinerary. Camp Hale is a natural starting place, as it’s right out the front door and is a wide-open valley peppered with history. At Vail’s Covered Bridge stands a 10th Mountain Division ski trooper sculpture, replete with M1-Garand semi-automatic rifle, 7’6” skis and white ski suit. During World War II, American soldiers trained at Camp Hale so they could fight the Germans in Italy. They were known as the 10th Mountain Division, and they took the Germans by surprise at Riva Ridge. Though most of the infrastructure that was at Camp Hale is now gone, folks can still cruise by the ammunition bunkers, firing range and the foundations of the barracks. And for those who don’t have much of an interest in history, the endless views and jagged peaks provide some eye candy.

That same valley is an excellent spot for dialing in your snowmobiling technique. Though it’s fairly simple to turn the key, give it gas and make some turns, there is a bit of finesse that comes with experience, especially when you’re dealing with fresh powder. Just as you do on skis or a snowboard, snowmobiles float and swoosh in the powder. Given the size and power of the machines, it seems incongruous that they’d feel so light and airy, but that’s part of the draw. Tours dip up and down over the Rockies, peaking at 12,700 feet above sea level. The wind-scrubbed, open terrain is testament to how harsh the conditions are.

“There are often non-skiers in a group,” Fortner says. “And sometimes, this is the only chance they’ll get to see what it’s like above tree line.” Though the machine certainly does the lion’s share of the work, snowmobiling is more physical than one might expect. Because they respond to conditions, snowmobiles dip and lurch just like your muscles. It’s what makes it more interactive and fun. For those with itty-bitties in the group, or people who are sensitive to the cold, Nova also has snowcat tours, what they call “snow coaches.” Heated, the coaches allow for anyone to tour the highalpine Rockies, though they’re not as exhilarating as the snowmobiles.

Experienced backcountry travelers extol the virtues of the sheer distance the snowmobiles can travel in such a short period of time. From Camp Hale it’s easy to cruise over to Vail Pass or Shrine Pass on a snow go and check out the lay of the land. Mount Elbert and Mount Massive — two of Colorado’s tallest peaks — keep watch over the world. Mount of the Holy Cross, a talisman of sorts for Wild West settlers and adventurers, almost always holds snow in the cross, made by crevasses, on one side. Groups can end up in Red Cliff, a funky town at the end of the Shrine Pass road. Red Cliff doesn’t have any stoplights, but it does have dogs galore, a single liquor store and Mango’s, a multi-story restaurant that specializes in, of all things, fish tacos. And beer, or course. There’s also a rock in the middle of town, which played host to the entire settlement during the mid-1800s. Word of an Indian revolt to the east made its way to Colorado, and the town of Red Cliff ran to the rock, sleeping, eating and drawing water from the river below with a bucket on the end of some rope. The wild Indians never showed up, and eventually the settlers left the rock and went about their business. But the rock is still there, one of countless bits of history scattered throughout the White River National Forest.

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Before skiing became a downhill sport, it was transportation. Scooting across miles and miles of snow, both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are time-honored ways to get exercise and cover some ground. In Norway, there are miles and miles of trails between villages, with little huts along the way that offer spiced wine and lunch, sometimes reindeer. In the U.S., the two activities are more specialized. As such, they require specific trails.

Many golf courses in Eagle County allow both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing during the winter months. Some of them, such as Vail, even cater to them. But inside the county lines there is no better place to fall into the groove than McCoy Park at Beaver Creek.

“Most ski resorts have their Nordic courses down in the valley,” explains Nate Goldberg, Beaver Creek’s director of hiking. “But McCoy Park is at the top of Beaver Creek. With a five-and-a-half-minute chair ride you’re there, and it’s so quiet and beautiful. You’ve got three mountain ranges to look at.”

Other than during the occasional snowshoe race, McCoy Park doesn’t see a lot of action. Located at the top of Strawberry Park Express, you can’t see or hear the interstate that runs through the valley, and there’s not much in the way of human company. It is, for the most part, a solitary activity along the crystalline paths that spiral out from the course’s center. A yurt along the way allows for shelter from inclement weather — or simply a rest stop to reapply sunscreen, stretch the hamstrings and relax. The trees are more sporadic up at the top of the world, and the occasional porcupine can be seen propped in those trees every once in a while. Bark eaters, porcupines are oddly comfortable in the snow, and have called Beaver Creek home for longer than the resort has been around. Foxes, weasels and snowshoe hares can also be seen at McCoy, though they often like to stay out of sight.

For those who have both the time and inclination, a morning, afternoon or full day at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center is unforgettable. Located at the base of Ski Cooper — the only ski resort in Colorado that is publicly owned, this by the town of Leadville — Tennessee Pass Nordic Center is a secluded network of cross country and snowshoe trails cut into a daddy-pine forest. Loops meet up with other loops, making the breezy 25 kilometers of trails feel like full-on backcountry, albeit with an easy escape. Rated green, blue and black just like downhill runs, folks can choose their own adventure. And anyone who eats, ever, should include a stop at the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse on the itinerary.

It was a picnic table that started it. Nothing special, just a wooden rectangle with benches where cross-country skiers would sit and nosh, taking in the wide-open views of the Sawatch Range across the way. But it got Ty and Roxanne Hall, owners of the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, thinking about “expanding” the picnic table. And they came up with a gourmand’s yurt.

The Tennessee Pass Cookhouse has long been a local favorite for birthdays, anniversaries, and run-of-the-mill hoopla among friends. It’s the epitome of living large in Colorado: gorgeous views, alpine activity, good food and excellent friends. There’s even the possibility of a little live acoustic music later at the Nordic center.

“Part of it is our location — the view is exceptional,” Roxanne says. “But it’s also the yurt. It wouldn’t be the same if it were a cabin. It’s so quaint, plus we feel really far away.”

The Cookhouse serves dinner seven nights a week and lunch on weekends. Lunch is a la carte and has two seatings. The four-course dinner only has one seating. Both have cult followings.

“It’s scratch cooking,” says John Fulton, head chef at the yurt.

Though the Halls have a snowmobile that can run people out to the yurt, people are encouraged to get there on their own steam. Snowshoes and cross-country skis are the most popular choices, though lucky children have been known to be dragged in their sleds by parents with moxie (and energy) to spare. The most direct route from the base lodge to the yurt — Cooper Loop — is about a mile. There’s a 300-foot elevation gain. As often as not, though, folks opt to cruise around on some of the other trails, such as Larry’s Loop, The Woods or Griz, before sitting down to a cookhouse feast. Remember that law about food eaten while camping always tastes better? It seems to apply under these circumstances, too.

The feta-stuffed buffalo burger is a lunch highlight that will tempt even those who prefer to skip the red meat. At dinner, wild sockeye salmon is grilled on a plank, giving it a lightly smoked flavor. Colorado rack of lamb is roasted to tender succulence, while the elk tenderloin is seared and served with blueberries and sage. Roasted chicken and curried tofu are also on the menu. 

All the food and water used at the yurt is schlepped in by snowmobile. That means the “facilities” are two outhouses, riding high above the snowpack. Sometimes it can be an adventure, dashing out into a snowstorm to use them. But coming back into the yurt afterwards is rather friendly. Heated by an old pot-bellied stove that came from Camp Hale, the cozy space is filled with antique tables and mismatched chairs. If meteors obliterate the world or global warming washes away the continent, that solid stove will remain intact. It keeps the yurt downright balmy even on the coldest of nights. Those in the know usually bring house slippers or booties to wear during mealtime, as heavy winter boots aren’t necessary — or particularly comfortable — inside. 

The trick is not to eat too much for the trek back to the car. Primarily downhill, it’s easy to make it to the base lodge as long as you stay awake and upright. Otherwise, all bets are off. And those who decide to nap in the forest will certainly awaken to a different type of adventure entirely. But hey, at least it’s an adventure. And that’s the stuff memories are made of.

See the Best of Washington D.C. with Tips from Two Experts

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See the Best of Washington D.C. with Tips from Two Experts

December 11, 2018

Mexico native Christian Martinez knows more about American history than you do, but then that’s his job. Martinez, who is set to take his citizenship exam this spring, moved to Washington, D.C., in 2005 in pursuit of the American dream. He first worked as bartender, and then a bar manager, but, by 2007 was giving tours of his adopted city. In 2009, he became part-owner of Congressional Tours. It’s this métier, he says, that instilled his passion for this country.

“My work made me American,” Martinez says. “Everyone needs to know their history, and I’ve got a great appreciation for this country because of what I do.” This zest translates into dynamic tours that cultivate an intimate appreciation for America’s capital and surrounding areas.

Guide Bill Wadsworth (Wadsworth Limousine and Tours), agrees. Wadsworth’s tours incorporate his refined knowledge of art and architecture and their influence on America’s history. Wadsworth, a D.C. native, attributes his curiosity about his hometown to a childhood spent playing with his siblings at the Smithsonian, where their mother worked in the natural history building. As an adult, he worked for the Washington Star paper for almost 14 years, which delivered “a great window to the city and its life.”

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“The world comes to you when you live in Washington, D.C.,” he says. Wadsworth has been showing D.C. to the world for 25 years now. The challenge with a destination as diverse and significant as D.C. is staying focused. “Most people come without realizing the scale,” says Wadsworth. “There is so much to see here that you could get lost.” Allow for surprises, but don’t overload yourself. So, where to go (beyond the obvious) when in the nation’s capital? Read on.

Christian Martinez’s Must-Sees:

George Washington’s Mount Vernon: The grounds and mansion of George Washington’s farm have been restored
to what they were in 1799, the last year Washington resided there. As soon as you walk through the front gate, you feel it too—you’re back in the 18th century. Watch blacksmiths forge nails in their shop.

Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA: With 25 to 35 funerals per day, Arlington might be the world’s busiest cemetery. The final resting place for those who served the United States of America, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the cemetery is among the most beautiful properties in the city (as macabre as it sounds). Catch the changing of the honor guard and John F. Kennedy’s gravesite, selected for its superlative view of the entire Washington, D.C., skyline.

Pentagon Memorial: An elegant and simple memorial honors the 184 people who perished when hijacked American Airlines Flight
77 crashed into the Pentagon in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “This was such a significant moment in history,” says Martinez. “Youngsters don’t always realize there were four planes kidnapped that day; we tend to remember the twin towers.”

United States Supreme Court: The courtroom is open on a first-come, first-served basis when oral arguments are in session (October until late June/early July). This extraordinary access is not available in many parts of the world, says Martinez. “When you see the actual courtroom and the chairs of the nine justices, you understand justice in a new and different way.”

Bill Wadsworth’s Highlights:

National Gallery of Art: Forget, for a moment, that this building houses one of the greatest art collections in the world, including Ginevra de’ Benci, the only Leonardo da Vinci portrait in North America. “The gallery is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world,” says Wadsworth. It was a gift of Andrew Mellon, Secretary of Treasury during the Great Depression.

Library of Congress: The library was built in 1897 and features “the greatest neoclassical interior in the country,” says Wadsworth. “This building sums up America’s confidence as it moved into the 20th century. There’s little difference between the most beautiful opera houses in Europe and the Library of Congress,” says Wadsworth.

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U.S. Capitol: “In addition to acting as an incredible repository for American painting, the Capitol is the very core of our experiment in democracy,” says Wadsworth. Indeed, for almost 200 years, the Senate and the House of Representatives have met here. The top of the Capitol is the second-largest cast-iron dome in the world.

Washington National Cathedral: The nation’s church is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world and the last Gothic cathedral ever built. Construction spanned almost a century (1907-1998), and was conducted medieval style, which means there were never more than 40 people working at a time.

Telluride, Colorado’s Best Kept Secret, Is Open for Discovery

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Telluride, Colorado's Best Kept Secret, Is Open for Discovery

December 11, 2018

Telluride wasn’t always the destination it is today. Long before cinema elites like Tom Cruise and Oliver Stone put the Telluride Film Festival on the map and before free- spirited entrepreneurs strung up Telluride’s first chairlifts in 1972, the area was known to American Indians and starting in the 1850s, intrepid miners seeking personal fortune.

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This was because Telluride rests deep in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, an isolated pocket of the state where many peaks top out between 13,000 and 14,000 feet above sea level. 

Until direct flights to nearby Montrose (only 45 minutes away) were established, Telluride was a five-hour to seven-hour drive from all major metropolitan areas. Only the most committed made the trip, one that winds over and around treacherous mountain passes.

Their effort was rewarded with a stunning welcome, though. The Ute Indians dubbed the area the “Valley of
the Hanging Waterfalls” for good reason—Bridal Veil Falls is among Telluride’s most visible and arresting natural features. And the falls have good company. Telluride is saturated with staggering beauty. Pyramid-like peaks encircle the town and create a geographical marvel of canyons, rivers and high lakes. Try not to be awed.

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As imposing as the geology is, access is as easy as a ride up a chairlift. Come spring, enjoy Telluride Ski Resort’s butter- smooth slopes, guaranteed to be bathed in bright sun (unless a freak storm dumps a foot of fresh snow, which has been known to happen), before savoring a glass of pinot noir and a salumi plate on the deck of Alpino Vino, a must-visit on-mountain bistro. Telluride truly was Colorado’s best kept secret…until now.

Fly-Fishing South Carolina’s Kiawah Island

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Fly-fishing South Carolina's Kiawah Island

December 10, 2018

As we round a grassy, flooded corner of Kiawah Island, moving slowly in Capt. John Irwin’s flats boat, all three of us onboard begin scanning the shoreline for fish. Irwin spots one first. “We’ve got a belly-crawler at 2 o’clock, about 20 feet in,” he announces. “You see him?”

Charleston-based angler/artist/musician Paul Puckett is standing on the bow, fly rod in hand. He sees the fish a split-second after Irwin does, and makes a perfect cast, landing the fly 6 inches in front of the feeder’s nose. It pounces without hesitation, coming clear out of the water to eat the fly and connect Puckett with 5 pounds of hard-fighting red drum, a.k.a. redfish, one of the most popular game fish in America.

As he’s bringing it to the boat, a man yells “Fore!” from an adjacent golf course, and I instinctively duck my head. Such are the risks of fishing in coastal South Carolina.

Kiawah is a barrier island along the South Carolina coast, sitting about 20 miles south of Charleston. It is known primarily as a golf destination—a fair assessment, considering that five acclaimed courses weave around the island’s 11 square miles, including the Pete Dye-designed Ocean Course, host of the 2012 PGA Championship. But many anglers have discovered that Kiawah and the surrounding area is also an exceptional fly-fishing destination, especially for tailing redfish found in the Spartina-grass salt marshes.

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“The endless interconnected creeks and rivers here make it easy to forget that you’re fishing close to civilization,” says Puckett. “Even with some of the best shops and restaurants really close by, Kiawah’s not quite as developed as other towns, so whether you’re wading or in a boat, you feel like you’re on your own private island.”

Indeed, most of Kiawah is a private island. Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission, through a partnership with Kiawah Development Partners, offers a beautiful public beach on the west end of the island called Kiawah Beachwalker Park. But beyond that, Kiawah is essentially a gated community, albeit one with many rentable vacation properties, where it’s possible to find fish on foot or in a rental car without even leaving dry land.

“There are brackish ponds on Kiawah that hold lots of big redfish,” says local photographer Jason Stemple, who spent five years as the staff photographer for Kiawah Development Partners, exploring the island every day, including its creeks and marshes. “It’s pretty hit or miss. Sometimes you can pull up to a pond, hop out and see fish right away. Other times you can cast for hours and never see a thing. But each little creek is unique, and has the possibility of holding belly-crawling, shrimp- gobbling redfish.” (Kiawah also has a few freshwater-fed springs and ponds with good largemouth bass fishing, along with other fish that can survive in brackish water, like carp and tarpon.)

These belly-crawlers that both Stemple and Irwin refer to are redfish that have come into very shallow water at “flood tide” to feed, swimming half-exposed—sometimes even their eyeballs are above water—through stretches of Spartina grass that look like a flooded hayfield. A flood tide is the term for the highest high tides of each month. The food chain on these flooded flats goes something like this: flyfisher chasing redfish; redfish chasing blue crabs or fiddler crabs; crabs chasing the snails that cling to the stalks of grass. The result is a unique and challenging visual fishery for three or four days on both sides of a new or full moon. “Tailers” are redfish that are nose-down, eating in the mud or grass, with their tail sticking above the water, often wiggling from side to side.

“We usually get two sets of flood tides each month between
May and November, which keeps us pretty satisfied,” says Puckett. “There’s just something special about being able to see a fish before you catch it.” Stemple adds that shooting pictures of redfish during a flood tide offers the best opportunity to photograph them without a human involved. “It’s the only time they take a part of their body and place it in our world,” he says. “Flood-tide tailers give you the best chance, whether fishing or photographing, of stalking an individual fish in the most visual way possible.”

As great as flood tides are, they’re certainly not the only time to catch redfish. Nor are redfish the only quarry worth chasing around Kiawah Island. On two consecutive mornings fishing with Irwin and Stemple, a black drum at low tide was my first fish of the day. Black drum are a close cousin to red drum, but grow even larger, with a few recorded catches of more than 100 pounds. Mine were both about 4 pounds, and were just losing the vertical dark stripes they sport as juveniles— markings that sometimes cause them to be mistaken for another Lowcountry specimen, the sheepshead.

The state fish of South Carolina is the striped bass, but with stripers falling on hard times of late, visitors to Kiawah target everything from dorado to cobia to seatrout to sharks to amberjack to false albacore— even the occasional tarpon. We saw several fishermen targeting sharks close to shore, but offshore options are also available, especially during summer months, when bluewater captains use bigger boats to target species like wahoo, snapper, grouper, tuna, mackerel and billfish.

We caught redfish each day on both dropping and rising tides. Some were tailing in the shallowest water of a small bay, some were milling about near the mouths of creeks, waiting for the tide to rise, and a few bigger fish were found cruising alone or in pairs, looking for unsuspecting shrimp, crabs or glass minnows, or working the oyster beds, which they love. All of this was sight-fishing—the best kind of fly-fishing—and would not have been possible without clear water, which doesn’t always occur, especially in summertime. Nor is it possible without the eyes of a competent guide, which Irwin certainly is. It doesn’t hurt, either, that he grew up spending summers on Kiawah, or that his father still lives there, giving him easy access to boat ramps, as well as the occasional golf game.

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“I spent seven years guiding for trout in southwest Montana,” Irwin says. “But I decided to return home in 2001, get my captain’s license and focus on the fish I grew up with. Plus, it’s warmer here.”

Trading south Montana for South Carolina also allows Irwin to
guide year-round—a huge bonus for a career that’s often seasonal. To accommodate both inshore and near shore clients, he has an 18-foot skiff for redfishing and other shallow-water endeavors, and a 23-foot V-hull boat for trips to the ocean side of the barrier islands, when chasing migrating fish like dorado (also called mahimahi or dolphinfish.)

Come fall, flood tides in South Carolina can last longer than in spring or summer, which keeps most fly-fishers targeting redfish. But as temperatures drop during winter, crabs start hibernating, causing fewer redfish to feed on the flats during high tides. While this reduces the number of tailing redfish, it causes them to school up into larger groups. Winter is when some of the biggest schools of reds can be found, sometimes along the beach, but also in the same marshes they occupy the rest of the year. It’s also when redfish will push into very skinny water to try to avoid dolphins (the mammal, not the dorado)—one of their major predators. If you’ve ever seen an Internet video showing dolphins “herding” redfish and mullet onto dry land, chances are it was filmed near Kiawah Island.

The climate of Kiawah makes redfishing a year-round sport, and with several guides offering early morning or late afternoon options to match the best fishing conditions, it’s possible to get in nine holes or a game of tennis and still have time for fishing the same day.
Three great fly shops in the area—Charleston Angler in Charleston, Lowcountry Fly Shop in Mount Pleasant and Bay Street Outfitters in Beaufort—all have knowledgeable staff that can outfit you or connect you with a guide. In addition to Irwin, Captain Mike Tucker lives and works on Kiawah, offering anglers both fly and light-tackle charters.

If you’re interested in lessons instead of, or in addition to,
a chartered trip, Bay Street Outfitters offers several one-day “Redfish Schools” throughout the year, focusing mostly on casting, knots and flies. Irwin teaches seminars as well, which are run through Charleston Angler. He also hosts several two- day redfish schools throughout the year, scheduling them to coincide with flood tides. “Having the two-day classes works best,” Irwin says, “because it allows people to screw everything up on the first day, and still redeem themselves on the second.” It also provides what all anglers want from every redfishing trip we take: one more day on the water.

Jackson Hole, One of America’s Best Ski Resorts, Turns 50

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Jackson Hole, One of America's Best Ski Resorts, Turns 50

December 6, 2018

“I thought some of my ski buddies were yanking my
 leg,” said Jerry Blann, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) president since 1996, after first hearing Jackson Hole Mountain Resort had been rated the No. 1 overall ski resort on the continent for 2014 by SKI Magazine readers. 

SKI Magazine’s No. 1 rating wasn’t something we ever aspired to or that was even a target for us. We just never thought it was a possibility.” Also, Forbes magazine has ranked Jackson Hole as the best resort in America two years running now.

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Today’s JHMR executives might not have been going for a No. 1 ranking, but, 50 years ago when Jackson Hole Mountain Resort first opened, that is exactly what the future founders Paul McCollister, Alex Morely and Gordon Graham envisioned. “It was always intended to
 be a world-class ski area,” says Morley, who is now 96. “We planned
 on bringing people in from everywhere. Back then there weren’t the rankings there are today, but we knew that the mountain and what we were going to create on it were going to be the best.”

As visionary as the founders were, it actually took the Kemmerer family buying the resort from McCollister in 1992—Morley and Graham had previously sold their stakes—and annually investing an average of $6 million since, to get it to the top.

Since its aerial tram first took skiers to the 10,450-foot summit of Rendezvous Mountain, just outside the boundary of Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole has been equally loved and feared by extreme skiers and snowboarders for its challenging terrain and 4,139 feet of vertical and powder. As recently as a decade ago though, skiers and riders at every other level just plain feared it. 

The majority of the resort’s runs were black diamond. Grooming wasn’t a priority. The only thing in shorter supply than intermediate terrain was a base area with plenty of amenity options. Want to pamper yourself with an afternoon at the spa? Good luck.

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This season Jackson Hole turns 50 and is as family-friendly and amenity- rich as most any destination resort. The transition is almost unbelievable. But not quite. What is unbelievable is that the resort has gone from punishing to polished without sacrificing its soul.

“We’ll never be a mega- resort or pure vanilla,” Blann says. “We’ll never be all things to all people. We have our mountain and we’ll be us.” Jackson’s “us” is “a small town where everyone helps everyone else out,” says Jackson native and former World freeskiing champion Jess McMillan.

 “It may feel like this huge resort, but, at the same time, everyone will say, ‘Hello.’ It still has that small town camaraderie to it.” This year it also, as a birthday present to itself, has a new high-speed quad. The Teton lift, which accesses intermediate and advanced terrain previously only available if you had the strength and will to hike to it, is the best kind of gift: One that we all get to enjoy.