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Glorious Bucket List: Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells

photo by John Fowler

 

You know the question “Beach or mountains?” that’s often asked to determine what sort of spot you’re most likely to enjoy living or vacationing in? I usually gravitate towards the beach side of things, but then blue horizons and sunsets, while beautiful, rarely inspire the true sense of awe a spectacular mountain setting can.

Take Maroon Bells in Aspen for example.

This pair of peaks in the Elk Mountains is one of the most photographed spots in Colorado and for good reason, particularly during the fall as the leaves change, their vibrant colors reflected on the flat waters of Maroon Lake. During the summer it’s accessible by vehicle, but I like the idea of  hiking the Maroon-Snowmass Trail in and camping, or arriving on horseback. Winter visitors can expect fewer crowds as the only way to reach this beautiful spot during colder months is by cross country skiing or taking a snowmobile. T-Lazy-7 runs a two-hour visit, which includes a cup a hot chocolate at the lake. And, note to engaged nature lovers, you can even get married here, too.

photo by Frank Kovalchek

photo by Frank Kovalchek

 

photo by Abhijit Kamerkar

photo by Abhijit Kamerkar

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Festival Fridays: Keene Pumpkin Festival

Keene Pumpkin Festival

To know me is to know my slight obsession with the Keene Pumpkin Festival. It’s an annual event set in the storybook town of Keene, New Hampshire, with many of the typical, quaint New England fall festival activities like a Halloween costume parade, craft fair, storytelling at the local library and live music in the town’s gazebo.

But what sets this festival apart from the rest is Keene’s effort to hold down the world record for most jack-o-lanterns lit in one place, at one time every year. That’s right: the most glowing pumpkins on the whole planet are in this town’s square.

I love the small town drama behind the world record goal and the festival’s history, how in 2012 the town lost the record to Boston, but in 2013 rallied together and reclaimed the title with a whopping 30,581 jack-o-lanterns, the folks from Guinness on hand to make it official. It’s like an episode of Gilmore Girls come to life.

The owner of the event company that organizes the festival, Ruth Sterling, recapped the trials and tribulations of chasing the record again in a first-hand account of last year’s event. My favorite quote is about her prepping for the event: “In February, May, June, July (you get it) I would say to A-team participants, ‘OK, it’s 8pm Saturday, October 19. Mayor Lane just announced that we won. How did we get there? What could possibly stop us?’ Every day mother nature shared challenging weather like torrential rain, I would set the expectation: ‘How do we win in this? Because we will win and this can’t stop us.’ That focus was a key success factor.”

Amazing.

This year, the festivities take place on Saturday, October 18th from noon to 8:30pm, with a complete schedule of activities available here. The signature, towering inferno of jack-o-lanterns (above) will be on display again, too.

I’ll leave you with a few shots of previous years from photographer Mickey Pullen. Whether Keene succeeds in holding down the title remains to be seen, but either way the sight of tens of thousands of glowing jack-o-lanterns is something to behold.

Have a glorious weekend!

Keene Pumpkin Festival
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Glorious Bucket List: Big Sur

Big Sur California

Last April, I checked off one of my bucket list trips by driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast Highway (you can read more about that trip over on Jetsetter). There are a number of gorgeous towns, parks and vistas along the way, but a highlight for me was definitely Big Sur. The region is known for the stunning scenery created as the Santa Lucia Mountains drop off dramatically to the Pacific, the rolling green hills jutting out into the stormy blue ocean. A particularly photogenic spot is the pull off just before the Bixby Creek Bridge, 13 miles south of Carmel.

Bixby Creek Bridge

To make the most of a day here, wake up early and hit Big Sur Bakery for breakfast, a charming little cafe where you can fuel up for a morning of hiking with strong coffee and their outstanding homemade granola (the bakery’s cookbook also makes a great souvenir).

Big Sur Bakery

If you haven’t hiked Big Sur before, your first stop shop be Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Named for the park’s former resident, John Pfeiffer, who sold the land to the state of California in 1933, the park covers a little over 1,000 acres and is best known for its giant redwood trees. Start off by hiking the Pfeiffer Falls Trail, an easy 1.4 miles roundtrip that takes you through one of the park’s best redwood groves and ends in a 60-foot high waterfall (the shot below is of our trip along this trail). Next, take the 2 mile Valley View trail, which leads hikers uphill for striking views of the Big Sur Valley and Point Sur.

Pfieffer Big Sur

For a casual lunch, head to Nepenthe Restaurant perched 800-feet above the ocean and order their signature “Ambrosia Burger” (a ground steak sandwich served on a French roll).

Nepenthe Big Sur

Or, if you’re in the mood for fancier fare, head to the Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar restaurant for their five-course tasting menu staring locally-sourced ingredients like Monterey Red Abalone and paired with some of the best wines in the world. The view’s not bad either.

Post Ranch Inn

Post Ranch Inn Restaurant

Afterwards, head to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and take the McWay Waterfall Trail, an easy hike that’s under a mile and leads to an overlook facing McWay Falls, and 80-foot waterfall dropping onto a sandy beach. In December and January, this is also a prime spot for spotting gray whales as they migrate southward.

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WHERE TO STAY

For Groups and Families: Big Sur River Inn, which has an expansive lawn that backs up against the redwood-lined Big Sur River. All rooms have private porches and suites work well for those traveling with kids thanks to trundle beds for little ones. There’s also a great little restaurant, with live music on Sundays.

For Couples On a Budget: Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, a rustic little inn on the edge of the redwood forest, with a well-tended garden, cozy rooms and a restaurant focused on local, organic fare.

For Couples Up for a Splurge: Post Ranch Inn, a romantic, five-star sleep perched on the cliffs of Big Sur, with a spa and very cool “treehouse” rooms built nine feet off the forest floor.

Post Ranch Inn Treehouse Room

Post Ranch Inn Treehouse Room

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The Glorious Bucket List: Hiking Angel’s Landing

Zion Canyon from the top of Angel’s Landing

 

Where: Zion National Park in Southern Utah

Why: While Angel’s Landing is among the more harrowing hikes in the National Park system, the incredible view from the top makes the 5-mile trip along the steep, winding path well worth it for any nature lover.

How: Hikers begin with a free shuttle ride to the park’s Grotto stop, where you can fill up on water before crossing the bridge over the Virgin River at the trail’s base. From there it’s a two-hour trip to Scout Lookout at the top of the 1,488-foot rock formation. There’s plenty to take in along the way, particularly for birding enthusiasts who can expect to spot winged creatures like the black-chinned hummingbird, turkey vulture, and California condor.

The first few miles of the trail are well-groomed, with shady spots like Refrigerator Canyon offering breaks from the heat before hikers reach the last half mile, one of the toughest parts of the trek thanks to 21 pinball-like switchbacks known collectively as Walter’s Wiggles. Reaching the very top with the help of anchored support chains, visitors are rewarded with spectacular views of Zion Canyon that American geologist Clarence Dutton aptly described as, “…a scene never to be forgotten. In coming time it will, I believe, take rank with a very small number of spectacles each of which will, in its own way, be regarded as the most exquisite of its kind which the world discloses.”

More: Get an even better sense of what’s in store with Zion National Park’s Angel’s Landing eHike, featuring photos, videos, and more facts about the trail.

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