Category Archives: Wine

White Sands National Monument & Alamogordo, New Mexico ~ November 6 – 9, 2014

White Sands National Monument

We fell in love with White Sands National Monument (now a national park). Best we could tell, we had the dunes to ourselves.

Drive into White Sands National Monument
Drive into White Sands National Monument

Hiking the 2-mile Backcountry Camping Trail was great for gaining a sense of the parks’ magnitude and beauty. It also provided us with the surreal experience of exploring an alien-like environment.

White Sands NM 1
Backcountry Camping Area, White Sands NP, New Mexico

The San Andres Mountains rise up along the park’s western border. Their size and contrast against the white gypsum give the allusion that they’re closer than they are… White Sands encompasses 228 square miles! No, you can’t walk across it.

Trey, White Sands National Monument
Trey, White Sands National Monument

Treading across the vast whiteness, amongst the ever flowing and shifting dunes, one can easily lose their bearings. It’s both exuberant and eerie, but always having a trail marker within sight was reassuring.

Trail Markers, White Sands National Monument
Trail Markers, White Sands National Monument

November was perfect timing for our visit… cool and gorgeous weather, perfect sky, and no people.

We played like kids and appreciated the experience fully.

White Sands NB 3
Backcountry Camping Area, White Sands NP

Once again, the visitor center was looping an informative film on the park’s history, geology and ecology.

At 10,000 years, White Sands is a relatively young environment. The expanding (even onto surrounding highways) sandy tract was formed by gypsum deposits in the nearby mountains.

White Sands NM 2
White Sands National Monument

Northeasterly winds break off gypsum pieces and grind them into fine bits, dusting the basin continuously.

White Sands NM 4

We’d already decided to return after dark for star gazing but learned that the park’s gates close at 6pm – no entry or exit after that time.

Escape Mobile, White Sands NM
Escape Mobile Alone in the Parking Lot

Alamogordo, New Mexico

We’d chosen Alamogordo as a base due to its proximity to White Sands and only became aware of all it has to offer upon our arrival. First up…

New Mexico Space History Museum

Tularosa Basin has been an epicenter for military research and testing since the U.S. entered World War II. It is home to Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range, both innovators in technology and aeronautical aviation.

As a Smithsonian affiliate, the Space History Museum preserves New Mexico’s role in space flight and tells the larger story of the U.S. space program, from the space race with the then Soviet Union to NASA’s ongoing mars program.

Not only are there numerous exhibits from each progressing stage of the U.S. space program, there are several educational videos and interactive displays.

You can even test your skill at landing a space shuttle using a simulator. Trey managed to crash, while I ranked “flown where no man has gone before.” I don’t recall if that was a good or bad thing.

The Museum and it’s International Hall of Fame where Ham, the first space chimpanzee is honored, kept us fascinated for hours.

Then there is the John P. Stapp Air and Space Park that surrounds the museum building. A lunar module capsule, land-speed vehicle, launching track, and rockets of all sorts cover the grounds overlooking the City of Alamogordo.

Wine & Pistachios

We didn’t realize we were back in wine country until we passed a billboard on the way to the space museum. The billboard advertised a winery further up the main road, White Sands Boulevard, but several other vineyards surround the area.

Tularosa Basin’s soil composition, altitude, and temperatures make it ideal for grape production. Spanish settlers and missionaries knew this and were the initiators of New Mexico’s wine tradition.

We sampled wines at Heart of the Desert and Arena Blanca wineries and bought a couple of bottles.

Arena Blanca is associated with the Pistachio Tree Ranch, or Pistachio Land, a 90-acre orchard and home to the world’s largest pistachio.

Pistachio trees benefit from the same natural conditions that make this basin ideal for grapes. A bag of roasted and shelled pistachios sustained us through the remainder of our trip. Very fresh and yummy!

Food…

Blake’s Lotaburger, a family owned chain, is a New Mexico tradition much like Texas’ Whataburger. Its fame expanded beyond New Mexico when it was featured in the AMC’s series Breaking Bad. We hadn’t yet watched Breaking Bad but were lured to Blake’s simply by its authentic and nostalgic burger joint vibe. It did not disappoint; the green chilies burger was nothing less than phenomenal!

We thought our last family visit had taken place in Reno with my brother and his family. No, one more Alamogordo surprise awaited.

Trey’s nephew lives in El Paso, which wasn’t on our path of travel. Happily, Jim contacted us and proposed meeting for lunch in between El Paso and Alamogordo. He suggested La Posta’s in Messila (Old Town Los Cruces).

Best Mexican food of the entire trip! And if anyone has read through these blog posts, they know we love Mexican food and ate it whenever we could… from Montreal, Quebec to the Redwood Forest.

It was wonderful catching up with Jim and we were so grateful for the opportunity to add one last reunion to this six-month trek.

Next Stop…

Mescalero Apache Reservation, New Mexico (via Cloudcroft and the Lincoln National Forest)

Lincoln National Forest

More Pics…

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California ~ October 5 – 8, 2014

After four days of non-stop escapades in San Francisco, Carmel-by-the-Sea was the perfect travel oasis!

Carmel Bay, CA
Carmel Bay – Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Carmel, which it is commonly referred as, was ideal for rejuvenating while basking aside the Pacific… 

resting through peaceful strolls (and daily naps)…

Carmel Streets 1, CA

and reconnecting to ourselves and the Universe through the surrounding beauty and serenity.

Sheep of Carmel, CA

After a murky, foggy, twisty drive down Hwy 101, we arrived in Carmel exhausted and a bit stressed. Upon stepping out of the Escape Mobile, we immediately felt the city’s calming energy relax over us and welcome us with this view…

Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA
After stepping out of the Escape Mobile to this view, we knew Carmel was exactly where we should be at that moment

Once settled into our hotel, we walked to the nearest restaurant, Casanova for an amazing Italian dinner complete with romantic ambiance…

Casanova, Carmel
Daytime shot of Casanova Italian Restaurant

another welcoming gift from the Universe…

Casanova 2, Carmel
Exhausted but happy at Casanova’s, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Morning arrived with temperate ocean breezes and a gorgeous cloudless sky.

Carmel's Beach, CA

So of course, we walked straight to the beach where watched a pod of dolphin fishing along the shore…

Bottlenose Dolphins, Carmel

and a scattering of humans out for their morning walks.

Morning Beach Walkers, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Carmel-by-the-Sea is small and picturesque, a perfect town to explore by foot and bicycle so the Escape Mobile remained parked for the duration of our stay.

We bicycled to the southern edge of town to the Basilica of San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, the second of California’s 21 missions.

Carmel Mission, Carmel, CA 4
Basilica of San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission

The Carmel Mission was dedicated as a basilica in 1797, and is the fourth and last basilica we visited on our six-month U.S. tour. It was also the most humble – the one we sensed as the most authentic and sacred.

Carmel Mission, Carmel, CA 3

The grounds and structures are modest and peaceful and while we arrived too late for a tour, Trey and I enjoyed the special gift of watching the setting sun’s light play off the basilica’s chapel and gardens.

Carmel Mission, Carmel, CA 2

Near Carmel Mission, there’s access to parks, beaches, and several hiking trails including some that climb up and along the rocky shoreline. Since we were on bicycles, we opted to enjoy the views and laugh at grazing sheep instead.

Sheep of Carmel, CA 2

Everything about this area is charming!

We loved exploring Carmel’s art galleries, streets, and its unique mix of architecture and styles, from streamlined cliff-side mansions to adorable tiny cottages.

Even our hotel was cute…

Best Western Town House Lodge, Carmel
Best Western Town House Lodge, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Our second morning relaxing at the beach was cut short after cutting my foot on a piece of driftwood buried in the sand.

Driftwood, Carmel-by-the-Sea

It wasn’t a terrible cut, but bad enough to avoid exposing it to sand and ocean bacteria. Following a generous slab of antibiotic ointment, a wrap, and elevating it for an hour, my foot was well enough for the next venture… the wine circuit.

Nearby Carmel Valley is home to thriving vineyards. Conveniently, many wineries also have tasting rooms in Carmel-by-the-Sea. We spent the afternoon sampling wines and bought five bottles: a red blend and Barbera from Silverstri; a Pinot Gris and Pino Nior from Manzoni; and a rosé from Dawn’s Dream.

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Carmel Valley wines are excellent! We are not aficionados, but it’s our opinion that they can hold their own against California’s top rated regions.

Carmel Food

In addition to Casanova’s mentioned above, we enjoyed several other great food experiences. For dinner, Flaherty’s Seafood Grill was recommended by some fellow travelers from Australia and did not disappoint. Jack London’s Pub has since closed, but its onion rings were some of the best we’ve eaten.

 

And Em Le’s for breakfast was as quaint as is was good, but sadly it has also since closed.

Out of necessity, out last morning in Carmel was spent doing laundry and packing & shipping wine home to Austin.

Gassing up for the drive to Yosemite
Gassing up the Escape Mobile for the drive to Yosemite

A fire along CA Hwy 140 required us to change our route and add a 70-mile detour through Fresno in order to access or next destination…

Drive to Yosemite
Reservoir on the drive to Fresno – Evidence of California’s 2014 drought

Yosemite!

Read about the basilicas of Montreal, Ottawa and South Bend

More Pics…

Bottlenose Dolphin, Carmel
Bottlenose Dolphin, Carmel Bay

Carmel's Fall Colors
Carmel’s Fall Colors

 

Sonoma & Napa Counties, California ~ September 28 – October 1, 2014

chateau-montelena-grapes.jpg

Two years prior to this trip, Trey hated wine. So he said.

Whenever our daughters and I coaxed him to try a sip he’d wrinkle up his nose and grimace well before the sampling touched his lips. Already deciding it would be awful, his auto-responses would include squirming coughs, a flailing tongue, gagging, and sometimes spitting.

Remaining 2014 Collection

Trey’s culinary world was rocked at a family birthday dinner in 2012 when a sommelier offered him a complimentary glass of wine. Trey actually listened as the sommelier elegantly described how the bold complexity of Newton’s 2008 Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon would be the perfect complement to his steak. Before our eyes, Trey’s scowl turned into intrigue. “Sure, sounds good. I’ll give it a try.”

Trey had opened his mind, and with a single glass of red he understood that wine isn’t a drink, it’s an experience.

With our arrival in Wine Country, we were seeking the full intimate experience.

Arriving in Napa County
Arriving in Napa County

I had never seen grapes on the vine until we were passing our first vineyard with white grapes glistening in the afternoon sun. I was so captivated by their beauty, freshness and resilience, I made Trey stop the car.

Kendall-Jackson Sampling Grapes 3

I loved grape sampling and walking among rows of ripening bunches as much as I enjoyed tasting the final product.

Home base was a cute garage apartment Airbnb in Santa Rosa, a great central location with easy access to surrounding wineries via Highway 101 and Highway 12.Sonoma County Map

We loaded up with information pamphlets and maps at the Santa Rosa Visitor Center and set out to explore. We had no idea of the vast geographic range and number of wineries — there are over 400 in Sonoma County alone! That, coupled with our wee knowledge in wine, was overwhelming.

 

We chose to visit St. Francis first because Francis was Trey’s mother’s name. Also, who doesn’t love the patron saint of animals?

St. Francis was a good learning experience, a safe space to make mistakes.

 

We at least knew to order a cheese and charcuterie board to supplement our six tastings, that our enthusiastic steward stretched into ten until finally hooking us with an old vines Zinfandel.  First lesson learned: Pace yourself.

Kunde Winery
Kunde Winery

We limited ourselves to six tastings at the next stop, Kunde – a recommendation by our Airbnb hosts. The day was gorgeous and we sat on their patio watching barrels being hauled into their hillside cellar while waiting for the wine’s effect to settle.

Kunde Cellar
Kunde’s hillside cellar

We departed with a bottle of their rich, unique Red Dirt Red blend. Lesson two: You will buy wine, plan accordingly.

On our trek back up Highway 12 to Santa Rosa, we stopped at Ledson because the vineyard was lush and stately.

Ledson Winery
Ledson Winery

Yes, we judged the bottle by its label and had our best wine experience of the day. Our wine steward was eager to share his knowledge and Ledson’s wines, even those off the regular tasting menu. We left with a wonderful Chardonnay, a bold Barbera, and another valuable lesson disclosed to us by the steward… Lesson three: Share tastings, it’s cheaper and you won’t get drunk as fast.

We celebrated my birthday that evening with dinner at the Coppola Winery’s Rustic restaurant.

Trey at the Godfather's Desk
Trey with the Godfather’s Desk

A perfect setting for celebrations with plenty of Coppola movie artifacts to entertain fans, and of course we had the cannoli. (Not really, for some reason they didn’t serve cannoli.)

Still recovering from day one, and having learned to better pace ourselves, we visited only two wineries on our second full day.

Kendall-Jackson Windery
Kendall-Jackson Windery

Kendall-Jackson’s lawn is full of vines of all varieties for visitors to sample grapes straight off the vine.

 

The building and grounds are gorgeous, but our tasting experience was lacking. We realized that was more a result of familiarity than the actual product. Lesson four: Avoid the mass-marketed labels you are already acquainted with and instead seek smaller, boutique wineries for fresh, unique experiences.

Truett-Hurst Winery
Truett-Hurst Winery

With the next winery, Truett-Hurst, we were back to distinctive new flavors and experiences.

Truett-Hurst Vineyard
Happy sheep roaming Truett-Hurst’s vineyard

Two bottles of the 2013 Chardonnay please, thank you!

Russian River Valley
Russian River Valley

The remaining day was spent driving through the Russian River Valley and in the quaint town of Healdsburg.

Healdsburg, Ca
Healdsburg, California

 

 

After packing up the Escape Mobile the next morning to head to San Francisco, we had one more stop before leaving the wine country. A must-stop in Calistoga…

Chateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena – Calistoga, California

Following Trey’s wine revelation back in 2012, we watched several wine-themed movies. A favorite, Bottle Shock, tells the story of the 1974 Paris blind taste competition where California vintners first gained international recognition.

 

Chateau Montelena and its winning Chardonnay are the subjects of the movie, so of course we had to tour the winery.

Chateau Montelena Vineyard

The vineyards, gardens and surrounding hills are stunning, well worth the price of the tour which included a generous tasting session.

 

In addition to a 2012 Chardonnay, we purchased a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve and have yet to uncork either.

Final lesson: Sonoma and Napa Counties offer much more than wine. Next visit we will allow extra time for coastal hikes, and visiting the Armstrong Redwoods Reserve and the Charles Schultz Museum.

Wine factoids we learned:

  • 1 acre produces approximately 2 tons of grapes
  • 1 ton of grapes make 60 cases, so
  • 1 acre produces 120 cases of wine, or 1,440 bottles of wine

More pics…

Chateau Montelena 2
Trey & Mart at Chateau Montelena

 

Kendall-Jackson Sampling Grapes 2