Denver-area Hiking

by Beth Whitman (September 5th, 2014)

Mountains in ColoradoAs part of our training for the Snowman Trek, Jon and I took a very short trip (two nights) to Denver to get in some last-minute high-altitude hiking. It was a good thing we did because we learned a thing or two that we hadn’t quite figured out during our warm summer hikes.

Though we had already done some high altitude hikes–14,000 foot Mauna Kea in Hawaii and 12,600 foot Santa Fe Baldy in New Mexico–this was the first time we were really in cold weather. It was 38 degrees when we set out at about 7 A.M.

I have to admit that I was a bit unprepared for that low temp. While I packed my hiking boots and poles (forcing me to check a bag), I didn’t have gloves. Whoops. I ended up wearing an extra pair of Smartwool socks (snicker) on my hands that Jon happened to have with him. Good thing, ’cause that really saved the tips of my fingers that were starting to get cold within the first few minutes of hiking.

I also realized just how cold it will be getting for us at 18,000 feet in Bhutan. I therefore added a couple more Merino wool layers to my wish list and made a mental note that on the trek I would need to carry my North Face jacket, Icebreaker balaclava and Gordini heavy gloves in my daybag in case I encounter such cold along the way (which I will).

Beth Whitman Colorado

Such a view, eh?

By the time we reached this peak (about 11,900 feet), the wind was blowing super hard–about 20 – 30 miles an hour. I was actually having a difficult time staying upright without my poles.

But it was a great view.

Beth and Jon Hiking Colorado

When we finished our day hike, temps were closer to the low 60s and I was much happier. :-)

If you go
For great hotel rates, try booking your hotel through Trivago.

We stayed at The Curtis in downtown Denver. Though this is a Doubetree by Hilton hotel, it’s no ordinary cookie-cutter accommodation. Every floor has a different theme and every room is decorated to suit the floor’s theme. We were on the 13th floor, the scary movie floor, and we were in the Ghostbuster room which was complete with icky, gooey, green stuff embedded in the floor and books on how to catch a ghost.

We only had a couple of days there. One was spent sightseeing for a story I’m writing for the Expedia Viewfinder blog. The second day we spent hiking. If you’re planning a trip to Denver (5,280 feet) for some hiking, my recommendation would be to spend at least a couple of days in the city to acclimate before setting out for the higher mountains.

Be Bold,



Road Tripping in New Mexico

by Beth Whitman (September 4th, 2014)

Santa Fe HomeThis post is a bit late in coming as I was in New Mexico earlier this summer. Still, I wanted to make some time for one of my very favorite destinations.

Though I make Seattle my home, my heart always gets pulled back to The Land of Enchantment. If I didn’t feel the need to be near water, I would likely be living there. But the Pacific Northwest’s green mountains and plethora of lakes, rivers, bays and sounds makes it my number one choice.

I do travel to New Mexico fairly regularly, particularly now that I lead culinary tours to Santa Fe once a year. When I can, I tack on extra days prior to or after the tour to spend time in the area. I’ve driven this area by car, tour bus and even motorcycle (my favorite mode of transportation!).

If you’re visiting for the first time, consider renting a car (if you’re not a motorcycle rider, that is) and make the trip from Santa Fe to Taos, stopping in Chimayo along the way.

Here are some highlights and some things to do in each of the areas:

Santa Fe – With nearly 300 sunny days a year, Santa Fe is the antithesis of Seattle. I usually travel to the area in the spring/early summer. This is a great time of year because the weather isn’t too hot yet and when there is a little rain shower, it is little. The skies clear up quickly and the sun comes out.

During this shoulder season, you can likely find a reasonably-priced hotel near the Plaza. It’s in this area that you’ll find a high concentration of jewelry, clothing and souvenir shops, restaurants, bars and cafes. Once you’re settled in, it’s easy to explore this area by foot.

Must sees in Santa Fe:

  • Visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
  • Wander outside the Palace of the Governors where you can shop for Native American jewelry being sold by the craftspeople themselves
  • Spend Friday night on Canyon Road where gallery openings abound
  • Stop by the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning and peruse the fresh veggies, fruits and other homemade treats and handmade goodies
  • See the miraculous staircase at the Loretto Chapel

Chimayo – While on your way to Taos, be sure to stop by the small town of Chimayo, less than 30 miles from Santa Fe. This is a Santuario de Chimayomajor pilgrimage area for locals, particularly on Good Friday when upwards of 30,000 people are known to make their way to Santuario de Chimayó during Holy Week.

Whether you’re religious or not, sit in the courtyard and take some time to soak up the spiritual vibe here.

Must sees in Chimayo:

  • Visit the tiny Santuario (church)–you might be lucky enough to arrive during mass
  • Stop by the El Potrero Gift Shop next door and pick up some excellent dried chili (I buy the green and put it on popcorn)
  • Walk around the back side of the church to see the large altar with candles and hanging beads as well as all the crosses placed on the wire fence in memory of lost souls
  • Have lunch at nearby Rancho de Chimayo

Taos – A friend recently compared Taos to what Santa Fe was 30 years ago. That’s a pretty good description. Like Santa Fe, Taos, located just over an hour north of Chimayo, is Southwest through and through but on a much smaller, more manageable scale. Here you’ll find adobe homes, antique and jewelry shops, and restaurants serving delicious New Mexican cuisine.

Taos PuebloMust sees in Taos:

  • Visit 1,000 year old Taos Pueblo
  • Hike the trails in nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains
  • Ski at one of the many resorts
  • Stop by the mid-19th century Kit Carson Home & Museum

When you go
Albuquerque is the largest nearby airport. Fly in here and rent a car from an agency such as our website sponsor, Enterprise. In addition to offering great deals in New Mexico, they’ve just launched a website for their European car rentals as well.

Travel Well,


Photo credits:
Taos Pueblo by Ron Cogswell


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North Face Thermoball Jacket ~ WanderGear Wednesday

by Beth Whitman (September 3rd, 2014)

North Face ThermoballWhen it comes to synthetic insulated jackets, apparently all roads lead to The North Face. On my numerous trips to REI and other outdoor retailers to research the best “puffy coat” to bring with me on the Snowman Trek, the sales clerks consistently pointed me toward The North Face and, specifically, the Thermoball.

Here’s why…

The North Face Thermoball jacket is synthetic but equivalent to a down jacket with 600-fill. The jacket compresses down so small that it’s hard to believe it could be so warm but, dang, it is. Because it’s synthetic, I don’t have to worry about it getting wet–which it undoubtedly will–during the trek. Down, on the other hand, will get ruined with moisture.

The Thermoball is likely going to be too warm to wear while I’m trekking but it will be my go-to jacket once at camp in the evenings and mornings, when it’s going to be coldest. My plan is to also carry it in my daybag so that I can slip it on during tea and lunch breaks and in case it gets really really cold while I’m on the move.

There’s a few well thought-out features of the Thermoball that I really like:

  • Zippered side pockets. Jackets don’t always have zippered pockets but I love this so I can keep items close at hand without worrying about them falling out.
  • Two inside pockets. Just inside the front zipper, each side also has pockets (no zipper though).
  • Stretch cuffs. These sit nice and snug around my wrists to prevent wind flowing in but have some stretch to them so it’s easy to take the jacket on and off.Thermoball North Face in Bag

As I mentioned, the jacket compresses down quite small. This is the jacket in an Eagle Creek Pack-it Cube. But not only is the jacket in this cube but so is a Sherpa Adventure Gear wool hat as well as a Merino wool Icebreaker balaclava. Not bad, huh?

Sizes run a tad large. While I usually wear a small, I’ve got an extra small in the Thermoball. I would call it a tad tight but it might prevent me from wearing too many layers underneath. Having said that, I don’t expect I’ll need too many layers with all the warmth this will provide.

Available for about $200 on Amazon. Note that there are a number of new styles and colors that have become available this fall so stop by The North Face store near you or their website for a full range of options.

Travel Well,


Related links:
Mauria Hiking Boots from LOWA
Sherpa Adventure Gear Kipu Tee

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