Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Penticton (The 'Peach City') is a beautiful spot in the south Okanagan nestled between two lakes: The 155km long Okanagan Lake to the north, and the smaller Skaha Lake to the south. Tourism in Penticton is largely seasonal. In the summer tourists double Penticton's population to 60,000, while in the winter you may be hard pressed to find more than a handful of people on the streets after dark.

This area has been inhabited for thousands of years by the Salish group of First Nations people. They called their settlement in this area Snpinkten which translates as 'a place to stay forever' and gives Penticton its name. The first non-native settler Thomas Ellis preempted land in Penticton in 1869 and started a very successful cattle ranch. With the arrival of engineering marvel Kettle Valley Railway the boom in Penticton had begun. Penticton was officially given life as a municipality in 1908, and received 'city' status in 1948.

Since the beginning Penticton's climate was well suited for agriculture, and thousands of fruit trees were planted all along the west and east bench areas overlooking Okanagan Lake. From cherries in early July to apples and pears in early September, Penticton has always been a large producer and exporter of non-citrus tree fruit. Many local oldtimers decry the trend of ripping out perfectly healthy and productive orchards for the more lucrative vineyards which supply grapes for the regions more than thirty boutique wineries. Today Penticton's two largest industries are tourism and the growing wine industry, which threatens to eclipse the fruit production industry.

Penticton's climate and geography is delightfully mediterranean (or perhaps central Californian). Large clay banks, benches, and scrubland skirt the mid-level mountains that frame the valley on the east and west sides. Summers are hot with an average temperature of 27C, and peaks of 35-40C are not unheard of. The large size of Okanagan Lake tempers the climate in winter which sees an average temperature of 2C. Penticton generally stays green year round. It can and does snow occasionally, but this generally melts in the next day or so; Rain is more prevalent in the winter. You can check the snow level with a quick glance to the mountains, which will have a white apron about half to three-quarters of the way up. Penticton sees about 2000 hours of sun per year, which is a higher average than Rio de Janeiro.

Most travelers will arrive in Penticton by automobile. Highway 97 is the major north-south route through the city. Travel times are about 4 hours from Vancouver, 8 hours from Calgary and 5 hours from Spokane. Penticton is a 50 minute drive south from Kelowna.

Penticton has a small airport with domestic flights from Vancouver. US/National flights will land in Kelowna, 60 kilometers to the north. International flights will land in Vancouver where either a change of flight or an alternate mode of transportation will be needed to make it to Penticton.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Las Cruces

Las Cruces is a city in New Mexico. It is the state's second largest city, with a population of approximately 82,671 (2005 Census estimate), and is the site of New Mexico State University.

Las Cruces is located at the junction of Interstate Highways 10 and 25 and is the southern terminus of the latter. The nearest airport with commercial air service is in El Paso, Texas, about 50 miles away. Limited bus service is available between El Paso and Albuquerque with stops in Las Cruces.

Las Cruces has some degree of public transportation by the city bus line RoadRUNNER Transit. Service is limited to Monday through Saturday and ends by 7:30 in the evening. Some buses can carry bicycles. Otherwise, just plan to drive.

Unlike much of New Mexico, Las Cruces is not well-endowed with local native american art or other characteristic types of durable mementos. If you want something to remember your visit by, one idea is food, specifically chile peppers, which are grown in abundance in the Mesilla Valley. The long strings of red chiles that you see hanging from porches, gables, etc., are called ristras and are available for purchase at many locations. These are largely for ornamental purposes, but edible chiles are also widely available, with spiciness levels ranging from mild to downright inedible (New Mexico State University has a substantial chile research program that grows peppers so hot that they function as bug repellents).
If in town in late summer or fall, make a pilgrimage to the outlying town of Hatch on I-25 to the north. Hatch is the center of the chile-growing business and has several shops with chile paraphernalia. Better, it hosts a "Chile Festival" in early September, usually around Labor Day, that's fun to visit as well as a great source of chiles. (Hatch is a tiny town with little or no lodging, so you'll want to stay in Las Cruces and make a day trip to the Festival.) If you're getting your chiles for cooking rather than ornamentation, and can get them home/in a freezer quickly, get them roasted while you're there; roasting is a key step in preparation for the table, and doing it in a Hatch roaster will save you all manner of peculiar odors resulting from doing the roasting at home.
For more pedestrian, day-to-day purchases, Las Cruces has all of the usual shopping associated with a town of 80,000. Mesilla Valley Mall is convenient off I-25 just north of NMSU for this purpose.

Hoi An

Hoi An is a beautiful city in Vietnam, just south of Da Nang. It's an ancient trading port, and its old town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hoi An, once known as Faifo, was a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the foreign influences are discernible to this day. While the serious shipping business has long since moved to Danang, the heart of the city is still the Old Town, full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shophouses, which is particularly atmospheric in the evening as the sun goes down. While most all shops now cater to the tourist trade the area has been largely preserved as is, unusual in Vietnam, and renovation has proceeded slowly and carefully - it's mercifully absent of towering concrete blocks and karaoke parlors.
The main thoroughfare in the Old Town is Tran Phu. Just south of the Old Town, across the Thu Bon River, are the islands of An Hoi and Cam Nam.

The centre of Hoi An is very small and pedestrianised, so you will be walking around most of the time. Unfortunately, bikes have not been banned from the center yet, so particularly at night keep an eye out for motorized kamikazes.
To go to the beach, or reach some of the more remote hotels, it is easy and cheap to hire a bicycle. Taxis are few and far between, but can be called by phone. When busy, taxis may refuse your fare back to your hotel from town if it is too close, opting for larger fares. Arranging a shuttle from your hotel may be a better option. Motorbike taxis are always an option. You can also charter boats for about US$1/hour.
Almost all of the hotels will rent out motorbikes at about five USD a day. It's standard practice for them to rent you the bike with just enough petrol to make it to the next petrol station. If you value your money, go to a gas station, rather than the hand-operated roadside pumps -- the markup at the latter is vicious. Use the bike to visit My Son, about an hour away, or the Marble Mountains, about forty minutes north towards Da Nang.

Entry to all historical sites in Hoi An is via a coupon system, where US$5 gets you a ticket that can be used to enter five attractions: one museum, one family house, one Chinese meeting hall, the art performance theater and either the Japanese Covered Bridge or the Quan Kong Temple. Tickets are sold at various entry points into the Old Town, including Hai Ba Trung St.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a United States National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Sierra Nevada mountains in east-central California. Yosemite is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves, and biological diversity. The 750,000-acre, 1,200 square-mile park contains thousands of lakes and ponds, 1600 miles of streams, 800 miles of hiking trails, and 350 miles of roads.

Efforts to protect Yosemite Valley began as far back as June 30, 1864 when President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the State of California as an inalienable public trust. This was the first time in history that a federal government had set aside scenic lands simply to protect them and to allow for their enjoyment by all people. The area became a national park on October 1, 1890 following several years of struggle by John Muir against the devastation of the subalpine meadows surrounding Yosemite Valley.
Despite its national park status, California controlled the initial grant area until 1906. Prior to ceding control, the city of San Francisco became embroiled in a bitter political struggle over the Hetch Hetchy Valley, in which the city wanted to dam the Tuolumne River as a source of drinking water and hydroelectric power. In 1913, conservationists led by John Muir lost the battle when Congress passed the Raker Act, authorizing the construction of O'Shaughnessy Dam. To this day, crusades to restore Hetch Hetchy are ongoing.

Yosemite is best known for the massive granite cliffs and domes found within the park. The landscape began forming about ten million years ago when the Sierra Nevada was uplifted and then tilted to form its relatively gentle western slopes and the more dramatic eastern slopes. The uplift increased the steepness of stream and river beds, resulting in formation of deep, narrow canyons. About one million years ago, snow and ice accumulated, forming glaciers at the higher alpine meadows that moved down the river valleys. Ice thickness in Yosemite Valley may have reached 4,000 feet during the early glacial episode. The downslope movement of the ice masses cut and sculpted the U-shaped valley that attracts so many visitors to its scenic vistas today.
The park is also home to the Yosemite Falls, at 739m, the highest waterfall in North America.

Yosemite has more than 300 species of vertebrate animals, and 85 of these are native mammals. Black bears are abundant in the park, and are often involved in conflicts with humans that result in property damage and, occasionally, injuries to humans. Visitor education and bear management efforts have reduced the bear-human incidents and property damage by 90% in the past few years. Ungulates include large numbers of mule deer. Bighorn sheep formerly populated the Sierra crest, but have been reduced to only a few remnant populations. There are 17 species of bats, 9 of which are either Federal or California Species of Special Concern. Over 150 species of birds regularly occur in the parks. Other species that are found within the park include bobcat, gray fox, mountain beaver, great gray owls, white-headed woodpeckers, spotted owls, golden-mantled ground squirrel, martens, Steller's jays, pika, yellow-bellied marmot, white-tailed hare, and coyotes.
The vegetation in the park is primarily coniferous forest. Most notable among the park's trees are isolated groves of giant sequoias, the largest trees in the world, which are found in three groves in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Valley is world famous for its impressive waterfalls, meadows, cliffs, and unusual rock formations. Yosemite Valley is accessible by car all year, but during the summer months traffic can feel like a city rush hour rather than a national park, making shuttle bus usage highly recommended.
Perhaps the most famous sight in the valley is the granite monolith of Half Dome, a mountain whose sheer face and rounded top looks like a giant stone dome that has been split in half. The imposing vertical face of El Capitan is legendary among climbers, and numerous lesser-known features line the valley.
Equally famous for its waterfalls, Yosemite Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in the world at 2425 feet (782 m), and is most impressive during the spring months. Bridalveil Fall is another easily accessible waterfall, while Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall can be reached by those willing to do some hiking.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, is the capital of Malaysia. Literally meaning "muddy estuary" in Malay, KL has grown from a small sleepy village to a bustling metropolis (metro population 6.9 million) in just 50 years. With the world's cheapest five-star hotels, great shopping and even better food, increasing numbers of travellers are discovering this little gem of a city.

Founded only in 1857 as a tin mining outpost, Kuala Lumpur is fairly new as far as Malaysian cities go and lacks the rich history of George Town or Malacca. After rough early years marked by gang fighting, Kuala Lumpur started to prosper and was made capital of the Federated Malay States in 1896. Malaysia's independence was declared in 1957 in front of huge crowds at what was later named Stadium Merdeka (Independence Stadium), and Kuala Lumpur continued as the new nation's capital. The economic boom of the 1990s brought KL the standard trappings of a modern city, bristling with skyscrapers and modern transportation systems. Like most of Malaysia's big cities, about 55% of Kuala Lumpur's population is of Malaysian Chinese descent.

Kuala Lumpur is a fairly sprawling city for its size. For many visitors the center of the city lies in the Golden Triangle, between Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Jalan Pudu, Jalan Tun Perak and Jalan Ampang: this is where most of the city's shopping malls, five-star hotels and trendiest nightspots are, and the Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC) development home to the famous Petronas Twin Towers is at the northern edge. But the traditional core of the city lies more to the south, where Merdeka Square has many of KL's best-preserved colonial buildings and Chinatown bustles with activity late into the night. Further south yet, the suburb of Bangsar is a popular restaurant and clubbing district.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is a United States National Park located in southern Utah. The park protects the incredible rock formations and high sandstone cliffs within its boundaries and is a favorite spot for hiking, backpacking, canyoneering and climbing. In fact, Zion has some of the most spectacular trails in the National Park System. Visitors to Zion walk on the canyon floor and look up, rather than looking down from the rim as in many parks. In addition to the magnificent monoliths and cliffs, the park is known for its desert landscape of sandstone canyons, mesas, and high plateaus.

Mormon pioneers arrived in Zion in 1863. Issac Behunin built the first log cabin in Zion Canyon, near the location of the current Zion Lodge. Behunin Canyon, a technical slot canyon, was named after him. During the remainder of the century, small communities and homesteads in the area struggled to survive. Pioneers gave the canyon the name "Zion", a Hebrew word meaning safety, or a place of refuge. Despite the name, the canyon offered little arable land, poor soil, and catastrophic flooding, making agriculture a risky venture. By the first decade of the 20th century, the scenic qualities of southern Utah, and Zion Canyon in particular, had been recognized as a potential destination for tourism. In 1909, a presidential executive order designated Mukuntuweap National Monument. The new monument was, however, virtually inaccessible to visitors, since the existing roads were in poor condition and the closest railhead was a hundred miles away. The park's name was changed to Zion National Monument in 1918, and in 1919 the park was expanded and became a national park. Visitation to the new national park increased steadily during the 1920s, and in 1930, the newly completed Zion-Mt Carmel Highway allowed motorists to travel through the park to Mount Carmel Junction, then on to Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. This highway was one of the greatest engineering feats of modern times, requiring the construction of a 5,613-foot tunnel, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, to negotiate the vertical sandstone cliffs of Zion. The switchbacks leading up to the tunnel proved to be an even greater task to accomplish. The Kolob Canyons section, near Cedar City was established as a National Monument in 1937 and added to Zion National Park in 1956.

Zion National Park encompasses some of the most scenic canyon country in the United States. The park is characterized by high plateaus, a maze of narrow, deep, sandstone canyons and striking rock towers and mesas. The North Fork of the Virgin River has carved a spectacular gorge in the park called the Zion Narrows. The canyon walls in some places rise 2000-3000 feet above the canyon floor. The southern part of the park is a lower desert area where colorful mesas border rocky canyons and washes. The northern sections of the park are higher plateaus covered by forests. To the east is amazing slickrock country and a vast array of unpaved trails, hidden canyons and peaks to explore.

Although Zion is in an arid desert climate, the park has almost nine-hundred native species of plants, seventy-five species of mammals, two-hundred-ninty species of birds including the recent addition of the California Condor, forty-four species of reptiles and amphibians and eight native fish.
Mammals commonly found within the park's borders include bats, jack rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, gophers, kangaroo rats, beavers, mice, porcupines, coyotes, gray fox, ringtails, skunks, mule deer and the rarely seen mountain lions. Peregrine falcons, rattlesnakes and numerous lizards are also species that visitors may recognize.
There is a wide variety of plant life in the park, seeing that the unique geology has created diverse environments such as deserts, canyons, slickrock, hanging gardens, riparian, and high plateaus. There are many beautiful wildflowers, including the Sacrad Datura, which is common in Zion and is often found along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and on the canyon floor in Zion Canyon.

Weather in the park varies greatly with elevation, and even at the same elevation may differ by over 30°F between day and night. During the spring the weather is very unpredictable, with stormy, wet days common, although warm, sunny weather may occur too. Precipitation peaks in March. Summer days are hot (95-110°F), but overnight lows are usually comfortable (65-70°F). Afternoon thunderstorms are common from mid-July through mid-September, making flash floods (if hiking in one) in the canyons a danger. Autumn days are usually clear and mild with cool nights. Winter storms bring rain or light snow to Zion Canyon, but heavier snow to the higher elevations such as the east side of the park, Kolob Terrace and Kolob Canyons. Clear days may become quite warm, reaching 60°F; nights are often in the 20s and 30s. Winter storms can last several days and cause roads to be icy, but the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway is owned by the park and the NPS keeps it in excellent condition even in the winter.

There are sections of the park that are not connected by road; the Kolob Canyons area is in the park's northern area and offers interesting canyon views and hiking. The remote Kolob Terrace offers an uncrowded and scenic drive, spectacular slot canyons and hiking. The highly photographed "Subway" is found in this section of the park. The more popular (and more crowded) Zion Canyon area is in the southern portion of the park and contains many of the park's most famous scenic wonders such as Angels Landing and the Great White Throne. The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway runs from the south entrance of the park to the east entrance featuring magnificent landmarks and hiking along the way such as East Temple, Checkerboard Mesa and the Great Arch. The Zion Narrows and Orderville Canyon, two of the parks most popular canyons begin on the east rim of the park and end in Zion Canyon.

Zion offers the photographer a unique and incredible landscape with many opportunities to explore color, texture, and light. Animal life, while not as obvious as in some other parks, offers some opportunity for wildlife photography.

Climbing in Zion or entering technical slot canyons requires appropriate hardware and skills. Individuals interested in climbing or canyoneering should check for information at the visitor center and be aware that some routes may be closed when peregrine falcons are breeding or conditions are unsafe.
Canyoneering is popular in Zion, but most canyoneers stick to easier canyons such as Orderville Canyon, Subway and even Keyhole and Pine Creek while others venture out to Behunin Canyon, Mystery Canyon, Lodge Canyon, Echo Canyon, Das Boot, Englestead Hollow, Spry Canyon, Icebox Canyon, Kolob Canyon and just outside the park Birch Hollow and Fat Man's Misery. Few attempt Imlay and Heaps, considered perhaps the most difficult technical canyons in the park.

Weather conditions are posted at the visitor center, but flash floods can occur in the park without warning. The danger is not limited to just hiking in slot canyons. People have been washed off trails to their deaths during flash floods. Although it's gorgeous when the rain pours, it's not a safe time to be on the trails. Flood waters originate upstream, so a flood may occur when the weather does not seem bad overhead. If hiking in a narrow canyon and the water begins to rise even slightly or get muddy, begin looking for higher ground.
Remember to be careful of steep cliffs, people have died falling when they venture too close to the edge. Loose sand and pebbles on stone are extremely slippery. Be extra careful near the edge when using cameras or binoculars. Never throw or roll rocks; there may be hikers below. Stay on the trail, stay away from the edge, observe posted warnings, and if you have children with you, watch them carefully!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Santa Fe (New Mexico)

Santa Fe, founded in 1607, is the capital of the state of New Mexico in the United States. With an elevation of 7000 feet, it is not only the United States' oldest state capital but its highest. With a population of about 70,000, it's not the largest capital, but that's part of its charm. Santa Fe is consistently rated one of the world's top travel destinations for its confluence of scenic beauty, long history (at least by American standards), cultural diversity, and an extraordinary concentration of arts, music and fine dining.

Santa Fe was once the capital of Spain's, and then Mexico's, territories north of the Rio Grande, but its visible history extends far back into time beyond the arrival of the Spanish; it is thought to have been the site of Puebloan villages that had already been long abandoned by the time the Spanish arrived in 1607. It became the state capital when the territory of New Mexico achieved statehood in 1912.
In the early 20th century, the area attracted a number of artists, such as Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. The region remains important on America's art scene. The arrival of Igor Stravinsky and the founding of the Santa Fe Opera, one of the world's leading opera companies, had a similarly invigorating and enduring influence on the musical community. Many people go to Santa Fe for spiritual gatherings and to practice meditative arts at the many spas and resorts that are in and around Santa Fe.
Santa Fe is rooted in paradoxes. On the one hand, it is one of the United States' oldest cities (by some reckonings the oldest), and many residents can trace their roots, and property holdings in town, back to the 17th century. On the other hand, it has also been the target of a teeming influx of wealthy immigrants in the last 30 years or so that has spurred a great deal of new construction and created outrageous prices for real estate -- and drastically elevated taxes on old family properties, many of which are owned by families that can't afford the taxes. The tension between new and old, rich and poor, etc., is a persistent undercurrent in the community. These and other factors (not the least of which is a well-deserved reputation as a haven for flamboyant characters) contribute to one of Santa Fe's enduring and proudly-worn nicknames: "The City Different."
Much of the city's attractiveness, from both scenic and cultural perspectives, arises from its setting in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This location produces a mild continental climate with four distinct seasons. Winters are pleasant, with day-time highs usually in the 40s (Fahrenheit), often "feeling" warmer due to the sunny conditions. Snow varies wildly from year to year; some winters see almost no snow, while others will have several individual storms dropping a foot or more each. (The sun and high altitude mean that roads usually aren't clogged too badly, even by the big storms, for more than a day or two, as the snow melts rapidly. Note, however, that the very snowy winter of 2006-7 is overtaxing the city's somewhat helter-skelter snow-removal crews; this year looks like an exception to this generalization.) Spring, usually dry and moderate in temperature, is still probably the least pleasant time to visit from a weather perspective, because of strong winds. Early summer (June, early July) is hot and dry, with highs around 90, but gives way around mid-July to a truly delightful climate as summer, monsoonal thunderstorms peel off the mountains and cool the afternoons down. Bring rainwear if visiting in July or August. The monsoons typically die out in early September leading to a fall with dry, sunny days and clear, crisp evenings; first frost is usually in October, with snow starting to stick in the mountains at about that time.
One caution: the elevation is high enough to challenge the lungs of the visitor freshly up from sea level. It's wise to spend your first day here on relatively sedentary activities (museums, walking the downtown area) and move to more active things after you've had a little while to acclimatize.

Santa Fe has a small but vibrant downtown that is not only walkable, but walked, often, by many people late into the nights, particularly in summertime when the tourists flood in. Parking can be a significant problem during the summer and is not exactly easy to get at any time of year, but look for parking lots (fee) near St. Francis Cathedral, Sweeney Center, and between Water and San Francisco Streets west of the Plaza. If in town for the Santa Fe Indian Market, plan on parking a loooong way from downtown and taking a shuttle, e.g. from De Vargas Mall. Limited, but improving, public transportation is available at other times via Santa Fe Trails, the city's bus service.
The main roads through town are St. Francis Drive (US 84/285) from north to south, Cerrillos Road (NM SR 14) from the downtown area southwest to I-25 and beyond, Old Santa Fe Trail and its offshoot Old Pecos Trail from downtown southeast to I-25, and St. Michaels Drive and Rodeo Road and its offshoots, both connecting Old Pecos Trail and Cerrillos east to west. Most outlying attractions are accessible via one of these roads. The downtown area is a remarkable rat's warren of small roads that you really don't want to drive on; park your car and walk. Streets there tend to wander (Paseo de Peralta, one of the main roads in the downtown area, almost completes a loop) and, even when apparently rectilinear, are not necessarily aligned to true north/south/east/west.

Overview map
If you're bound for the Santa Fe Opera from Albuquerque or points south, consider taking the Santa Fe Relief Route (NM SR 599), which leaves I-25 south of the Cerrillos Road exit, bypasses most of Santa Fe, and meets US 84/285 just south of the Opera. This can be a good way of getting to lodging and restaurants on the north side of town (e.g. Gabriel's, cited below) as well; although it's a few miles out of the way, the much less chaotic driving, particularly around rush hour, provides considerable compensation.

Like many towns initiated by the Spanish, Santa Fe has a central square that is a gathering place for all types. For hours of entertainment, pull up a bench and people watch; you'll rapidly gain an appreciation for how the "City Different" nickname applies. Especially nice in the summer evenings as the temperatures drop (although rain may drop as well) and the people come out.
The Santa Fe Southern Railway offers sightseeing railroad rides from the railroad station in the middle of town, to Lamy to the south (with the Amtrak station). The good news is that there are several departures, some involving food service (check the web site), and the train itself is interesting and colorful. The bad news is that the route that it follows, although advertised by the railway as featuring "the subtle beauty of the high desert," is generally not as scenic as the really scenic high country to the north and east, or simply walking around the downtown area. Fares start at $32 round-trip for adults, with discounts for seniors and children.

Santa Fe hosts a seemingly unending series of community fairs, festivals and celebrations, of which the most unique is the Fiesta de Santa Fe [17]. This grand city-wide festival is held over the weekend after Labor Day in mid-September, after most of the summer tourists have left (and has been described as Santa Fe throwing a party for itself to celebrate the tourists leaving!). The celebration commemorates the reconquest of Santa Fe in 1692 by the Spanish after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Fiesta opens with a procession bearing a statue of the Blessed Virgin known as La Conquistadora to the Cathedral of St. Francis. Revelry starts with the Thursday night burning of Zozobra, also known as "Old Man Gloom," a huge, animated figure whose demise at the hands of a torch-bearing dancer symbolizes the banishing of cares for the year. Prepare for BIG crowds - this event is not for the faint of heart and can be downright scary for small children! The crowning of a queen (La Reina) of the Fiesta and her consort, representing the Spanish nobleman, Don Diego de Vargas, who played a key role in the founding of the city, is a matter of great local import. Revelry continues through the weekend and features such events as the hilarious children's Pet Parade on Saturday morning and the Hysterical/Historical Parade on Sunday afternoon. A Fiesta Melodrama at the Community Playhouse effectively and pointedly pokes fun at city figures and events of the year past. The Fiesta closes with a solemn, candle-lit walk to the Cross of the Martyrs.

Santa Fe is an important center for music and musical groups, the most illustrious of which is the Santa Fe Opera. The opera house is on US 285 on the north side of town and is partially "open air," so that opera goers get attractive views of the Jemez Mountains near Los Alamos as an additional backdrop to what's on stage. The Santa Fe Opera is known around the world for staging American and even world premieres of new works, the operas of Richard Strauss, and promising new artists on their way up (and, to be fair, one or two aging superstars each season who are on their way down, not up). Opera season is the summer, with opening night (tickets are almost impossible to get) usually around July 1 and the last performances in mid-August. (Bring a light jacket/wrap and an umbrella to the later performances; the open-air nature of the house can make August performances nippy and drippy, although seats are protected from the rain.) Many performances sell out well in advance, so book early. (KHFM radio, frequency 95.5 MHz, airs a "ticket exchange" that may be helpful in finding tickets to sold-out performances, if you find yourself in town on the spur of the moment during opera season; they currently stream their broadcast on-line at, so you can check the ticket exchange even before you arrive.) People-watching here can be as much fun as the opera itself; you'll see folks in the most expensive formal wear sitting next to others in jeans, which is typical of Santa Fe. Dressing up at least a little from jeans is a good idea, though.