Monday, August 14, 2017

New Mexico In, New Mexican Out

Before I traveled to New Mexico this past July and someone would have said to me, 'New Mexico, tell me the first things that come to your mind'. In response, I would have said; sand, desert, dry, maracas.  Truth be told, six months ago, I didn't know much about New Mexico at all. After researching and planning a trip along with spending six days in the Land of Enchantment, I now have a much different perspective and outlook on what New Mexico has to offer.  I now think; culture, diverse topography, magnificent scenery, outdoor paradise, sun filled never ending sky.

Along the six day journey came several stops, a few hundred miles of travel, and a plethora of pictures to try and capture within a 144 hour outdoor adventure. What really stands out is a number of incredible restaurant and meals, a mind tripping art installation,  high altitude hiking, and world class fly fishing. If none of those peak your interest, you should probably go find a more boring blog to sift through.

Santa Fe

Prior to visiting, what I knew about Santa Fe was mostly from word of mouth.  The word on the street seemed to allude that it was a arts town well worth checking out. What proved true is that is a arts town,  but with a lot of character and restaurants worth traveling a long way to eat at. Let me preface by saying this is not a food blog. But the food stuck out, so the world must know.

Santa Fe builds it's character of it's Adobe brick structures, not to be confused with the Adobe computer program. Downtown Santa Fe is lined with gallery after gallery.  The famous section of gallery is known as Canyon Road. It is certainly worth checking out if you make the trek to Santa Fe. If your looking for a new piece to put over the fire place, make sure to bring your check book and prepare for the check to write to bounce or use your house as collateral for the purchase.
An adobe house of the famous Canyon Road 
Whether a house, store or school, all structures in the town hold a similar look. The structures line the streets and town and mold it into the famous town it has become.

More Santa Fe structure lined by offsetting color 
Outside of the structure of Santa Fe, came the food.  Now keep in mind this is a blog about sports, life and voiced opinions, however the food was so good I am going to take a little bit to talk about it. I acknowledge I am repeating myself about my willingness to write about food.  So we can clump if under the 'life' or 'voiced opinions' section of the blog. Maybe my sister will recruit me as a guest writer for her blog.

The first meal we had in Santa Fe was at a place call Tia Sophias. Upon arrival to Santa Fe it was peak lunch hour. We were tired from travelm hungry, and just wanted a good meal. What we found was what I would consider the best Mexican meal I have ever had. Props to Elizabeth for finding this spot.
Tia Sophias is a must hit lunch spot if your in Santa Fe 
The restaurant seems to be family owned and attracted a mixture of locals and tourists. The wait was no time at all after being told it would be more than a thirty minute at the famous Cafe Pasquels (winner of some famous food award I have never heard of). The food was beyond fresh and carried some unique southwest character for a Mexican meal.

Homemade bread with honey and sugar. No further caption needed. 

Photo credit here to Elizabeth. Rest break from Tia Sophia goodness. 
In between eating and walking around town we made a much anticipated stop at Meow Wolf. Meow Wolf is described as a 'immersive art installation'. It is one of the most uniquely interestingly arts collectives you will ever see. Visitors take a walk through a 20,000 foot exhibit of arts, passageways, trap doors and pure mystery. You start in a house and follow a story of a family that his disappeared into another dimension. Yes, you head that right. I could try to describe this place through a white paper, but it's best to let the pictures tell the story. 

Outside of Meow Wolf, setting the stage for something that is hard to describe. 

Making friends along the way. 

I don't remember leaving the left overs in there. 

Alice and Wonderland - Dinner is served. 

Tv is out again. 

Late night Karo-eke. Leading the crowd to Benny and The Jets. 

Laundry machine to another dimension. 

Yes, your right. Up until now you've been confused as I have talked about food, housing structure and arts. Time to switch gears. Our first hike was Atalaya Mountain located just a few miles outside downtown Santa Fe. The hike ascends just around 2,000 feet and should be started early to avoid the Santa Fe heat. Still acclimating to the elevation we were staying at around 7,000 feet, this hike was a perfect first hike for the trip, stretching us but also continuing to allow our bodies to acclimate to the altitude.

The view atop Atalya Mountain, overlooking Santa Fe. Also pictured, a Monk.
The hike in total took just over three hours and clocked in at just under seven miles. The summit of the hike provides panoramic views of Santa Fe. With a full day and a half under our belts, it was time to move on to Taos. Which by the way is pronounced like 'house', but with a t instead of a h.


Situated in the Northeastern part of the state, Taos Ski Valley proves to one the the most well known big and technical ski terrains in the United States (or so they say, I have never skied it). Come summer months, the snow melts, the temperature warms in the day, and the ski mountain turns into a outdoor hiking paradise.

The primary hike we targeted from the onset of the trip to Taos was Wheeler Peak. Due to the length and extremity of the hike along with afternoon storms that frequent daily, we knew the importance of starting early; arriving at the trail head a few minutes before 7AM. The hike starts at around 10,000 feet at the base of the Taos Ski Valley. Gradual uphill and switch backs take you to Williams Lake at just over 11,000 feet.

Initial views of Williams Lake 

We got to William Lake around 7:45AM. The sun was still on its way up over the mountains and it created an incredible reflection on the lake creating one of the more memorable views that we had on the hike, and maybe all of the trip.

Williams Lake early morning perfection

After Williams lake, the real hiking begins. The switchbacks quickly turn steeper and stepper. At over 11,000 feet, steep steps lead to thin air. I can now say it was one of the most challenging hikes I have done before. We took our time and continued the ascent toward the top of the highest point in New Mexico. Fortunately, with steeper steps it led to some worth while views.

Steep steps are rewarded with breaks and the opportunity to soak it all in

As we continued onward, on several occasions we paused to say hello to descending hikers. When we would ask them how much of the hike do we have left, we got answers like 'you don't want to know.' So we stopped asking that question.

Perspective of switchbacks upon switchbacks, leading to the top of Wheeler Peak. 

At maybe around 11,500 feet or so, the hike becomes fully exposed and carries on above the tree line. The last 30-45 minutes of the hike were a challenging both mentally and physically. Tired legs combined with the mental anticipation of summiting. Fortunately, We pushed through and made it to the top of Wheeler Peak.
Backside views of Wheeler Peak

Trail nearing the top of Wheeler Peak, the highest point in the state of New Mexico. Taos Ski Valley in the distance. 

Reaping the reward. 
The descent, while not easy, was a welcome relief from the strenuous uphill battle. We made it back to Williams Lake in what seemed like no time and before long were back at the base of Taos Ski Valley. In whole, the hike took us just under 6 hours as we finished a little before 1PM local time. My watch died that tracks how far we went and their is conflicting information about the length of the hike published on the internet. I would say at minimum the hike spans 8 miles. With some off path time around Williams Lake, we were most likely over nine. If your in Taos area, this hike is a must do.  Unless you hike thirteen thousand foot peaks every day, this hike will challenge you, but it's a experience worth striving for. 

We closed out our Taos explorations the following morning with a shorter hike in the area and close proximity to where we were staying, Gavlian Trail. The hike started with switchbacks that gradually became steeper, sound familiar? Several sections of the hike were so steep that switchbacks stopped and rock grade went straight up. We got about an hour up when the trail leveled off into a valley. About the same time, early thunderstorms were building quickly and we made the decision to head back down to the base of the hike.

Mid-morning Taos storm. 

The hiking alone is worth the summer trip to Taos.  The quiet peacefulness, cool summer air and afternoon storms give it the character of a classic mountain town in the summer. Now that I know the lay of the land, it's time to find out how the mountain skis sometime in the not so distant future.

San Juan River

The final stop on the New Mexico journey was the San Juan River. Situated in the Northwestern part of the state just south of the Colorado river, the San Juan is one of the premiere fly fishing rivers not only in the US, but probably in the world. Between a full day of fly fishing we spent two nights resting at the Soaring Eagle Lodge, who also outfitted our day on the river.

Peaceful evening views on the San Juan. 
Sitting outside of a small cabin listening to the steady river flow at night was one of my favorite moments of the week. No phones, tv's, cars, traffic or big city noises; just the sound of the river, and  a few rising trout. Sounds of vacation yes, but moments that stick with you that make you desire the experiences of peaceful tranquility on a more frequent basis.

A highly sought after world class river means a highly technical fishing river.  Given recent rain and a large ant hatch (this was new for me), we spent the whole day dry fly fishing which is similar to it sounds; your fly sits on top of the water. The river was clear in all aspects making fish visible from close and afar.  Our guide could spot the most fish obviously due to the amount of time and experience on the river.

Downstream views of pure clarify 
Spotting fish and dry fly fishing tie hand in hand. With clear waters, you want to drop the fly just up stream from the trouts head; if not placed in the perfect position, the trout will not offer at your fly. These trout are smart and see fly fisherman everyday and know the difference between real food and a fly with a hook in it. Just another aspect that makes the river so technical.

One of the best moments of the day was seeing Elizabeth catch her first trout. First trout, first ever fish on a fly rod and on the San Juan River. Certainly something to not forget.

Catch and Release
Most of my recent fly fishing had come on the Chattahoochee River in Georgia so I am used to a hook set and a fairly simple pull in. On the San Juan, the fish fight. There's give and take in reeling the fish in. Once I finally got my first fish in the boat it felt like I had just lifted weights. It further heightened my appreciation for the art of fly fishing.

In between the give and taken, we pulled some really nice rainbow trout into the boat, probably ranking up with some of the biggest I have ever caught.

First fish in the boat on the Santa Fe
Catch of the day

Get Out and See It

The state of New Mexico has so much to offer. It might not be the first place people think of to visit, but it's a healthy reminder of how many incredible places there are to discover across the country. If I haven't convinced you of that much, then I need to find a new use of my free time.

Final views of New Mexico offered a double rainbow. Must be a good sign

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Coldplay Concert Experience

For those who know me, they know that I like Coldplay. For those who know me well, they know I really like Coldplay.  It's not something I have ever been ashamed of, but more so something I take pride in.  Through the years, I have taken a considerable amount of grief from friends for this passion.  There seems to be a strong sense unrest of Coldplay among the public eye.  The band even acknowledges this. Usually during the course of a concert,  lead singer Chris Martin will thank the fans for taking 'so much shit' for being a Coldplay fan. On the Presidential election election night in October 2016, I heard a commentator compare Hilary Clinton's somber supporters faces, in the midst of losing the election, to a Coldplay concert. Needless to say, I considered that more of a polar opposite comparison. I'm not sure where this strong dislike formed, but to each his own. So I write not to persuade the anti-Coldplay folk out there to turn from the dark side into some really awe inspiring light, but more in attempt to capture memories that stand out from the Summer of 2016.

Prior to the summer of 2016, I had seen Coldplay twice; 2009 in Birmingham and 2012 in Atlanta. Both concert experiences were incredible and unique to their own, riveting and memorable. So with Coldplay coming out with a new album in 2016, opening for the Superbowl, and the rumor swirling that a recently announced tour could be their last last tour; this was a opportunity I had to jump on. After reviewing the tour schedule, there was nowhere close to the southeast where the band would be playing, so I picked a city where you could build a successful weekend around around, Chicago.

I made the journey up to the windy city with my sister. We ate, walked the city, and ate more leading up to the Saturday show at Soldier Field. As we made our way towards the concert, the skies begin to darken, a strong wind began to gust. Shorly after walking into the stadium a heavy rain began to kick fall.  A strong band of storms crossed downtown Chicago seemingly focused over the center of Solider Field.
A summer storm fixated over the heart of Chicago at the most imperfect time

As we waited under cover and the rain began to come down harder and harder, the thought seemed to become more a reality of whether the show would be canceled. Coldplay was playing a follow up Sunday evening show at Soldier Field, so why not nix the Saturday night mess and save it all for Sunday? It was an empty feeling at the time knowing the weekend was planned around this Saturday night apex, and it might not happen.

Thankfully my thoughts of self-pity were proved wrong. The skies cleared, at least for the time being,  and a influx of people scrambled to their seats while a seemingly equally as large influx tried to prepare the stage and surrounding area for the band to be able to go on.  Both openers were cancelled, but who really came to Solider Field  to see the openers on this summer Saturday night.

Close to their original projected start time, Coldplay went on. Solider Field lit up in the midst of a passing storm, which became clearer as the night went on that we were in a temporary break from the storm cells in the area. The band opened with ' A Head Full of Dreams' the title song off their new album and Chris Martin raced the course of the stage as the song hit it's crescendo, providing foresight that the Chicago patrons where in for a epic Saturday night.

The band mixed in new songs with classics like 'Yellow", 'Viva la Vida' and 'Fix You' all the while the crowd swaying and lighting up in the Chicago Summer sky. At one point they played a rendition of 'Sweet Home Chicago' and 'Heroes' as a tribute to David Bowie. A large part of what makes Coldplay such a great show is their ability to engage and captivate an audience and make everyone at the show, front row or back, feel like an important part of the audience. The combination of performance ability and musical talent has helped them transpire into the band they have become today.

Coldplay shows are vibrant in color and energy as much as they are in music.

As the show progressed, the band did not waist time between songs. They knew they had a small window to get their act in.  Before long, the wind picked up and shortly there after the rain began to fall again. And then it began to fall hard. Despite the increased level of rain, no one seemed to move from their seat and the show carried on. As the rain continued to pickup,  the band gathered in center stage and looked for guidance on if they could continue. Puddles on the stage and across the stadium were quickly forming into small lakes.

The band received guidance for one more song and played probably the most memorable songs at a concert I have ever been a part of. Through the sideways rain, the band carried on through 'Sky Full of Stars' as if it was 70 degrees and Sunny with the energy of the stadium carrying them the whole time.

As the song finished, the band announced that was it and  quickly cleared the stage. Seemingly so did did anyone not under cover. Did I mention we were under cover? A second line of storms had moved in and turned the stadium into a monsoon. For some time we waited and watched as Soldier Field was swallowed by rain.

Fans seeking cover during as a second storm system cut the show short. 

 As we were walking out of the show I commented to my sister that I was going to go see the band again sometime that summer to get the full experience since they cut the show short. She probably didn't think anything of it, but what a better time than through this blog post eight months later to tell her that I followed through on my word.

A few weeks later, that experience happened in the confines of Tulsa, Oklahoma. To say it was spontaneous would be an understatement. After not too much persuasion, I found a confidant to join. Small city, cheap flight, a few hotel points and we were good to go. The show was indoors and they got their full set list in. Mission Accomplished.  Plus, who wouldn't  want to see the hometown of the hit teen band Hanson and be able to say they  have seen a Coldplay show in Tulsa, Oklahoma? I know of two. One of the best parts of the show for me was the band reflecting how the audience reminded them of where they came from in their earlier years, and while they play major stadium shows, they appreciate the audiences in smaller venues just as much as the larger ones.

As I reflect on the two respective shows, I realize the Coldplay concert experience is all about who you experience it with. Yes, their show will make you sing, dance, maybe send a few chills down your spine with the right attitude; if it doesn't make you smile then you probably walk around with coal in your shoes. But at the end of the day what good would their concert experienced as a single individual?  This concert experience is only as good as the people you experience it with.

Post Coldplay round 1 in Chicago, slightly drenched

Pre Coldplay Round 2, dry this time, and in good company

Thanks for giving me so much shit for being a Coldplay fan. At the end of the day, we're all going to get it together.