Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival, Louisiana

          If the weather around you feels wintry today why not use this first day of spring to plan a get-away to someplace warmer... say Louisiana?

         While touring the Pelican state several years ago I exited interstate 55 northwest of Lake Pontchartrain and found the town of Ponchatoula, Louisiana's Strawberry Capitol.  Early spring is strawberry season in this part of the country and while in Louisiana’s strawberry capitol I knew what I had to do: I stopped at the Berry Patch CafĂ© for their signature dish, the strawberry beignet (pronounced ben-yay).   
         Wow!  The famous strawberry beignet may be one of the best desserts I’ve ever had.  The beignet comprises eight pieces of fried dough; a small hollow in each piece is filled with strawberry jam.  The rounds of dough are accompanied by mounds of real whipped cream—not cool whip—and covered with powdered sugar.  To compliment the strawberry beignet I ordered a frozen strawberry malt. The trip to Louisiana was worth it just for that slice of strawberry heaven.




         Ponchatoula's annual Strawberry Festival will be held April 12-14, 2013.  By describing the strawberry beignet, (and by mentioning the word "strawberry" 12 times in this post), have I tempted you to book your tickets for this mouth-watering feast?  If so, visit this website:  http://www.lastrawberryfestival.com/

P.S.  Average temperatures in mid-April in Ponchatoula range in the 70's.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Snowshoeing the Abajo Mountains in Southeastern Utah


          Mountain ranges scattered throughout the high desert of southern Utah provide an excellent opportunity for off-the-beaten-path excursions.  Located near the towns of Monticello and Blanding the Abajos make up one of these ranges.  A translation for the Spanish word “Abajo” is to go “up and down” and that’s what you’ll do while traveling the paved road through these highlands, which climbs up to 10,500 feet from Monticello and then down again to 7000 feet at the access road to Canyonlands National Park.  


Small mountain ranges offer relief from the high desert landscapes.
The town of Monticello (our starting point) is to the east of the range.
Map courtesy of "greatwesterntrails.org".
          During the winter season though—in years with ample snowfall—the paved road over the summit is closed.  On a January day Tim and I drove into the Abajos until our path was blocked by piles of snow.  We strapped on snowshoes and left our vehicle behind while traipsing through the aspen and pine-covered hills.


The 32 mile drive to Blanding, on a dirt road, is a scenic byway
in this national forest.  It obviously wasn't open to vehicle traffic
on the day we were there.


Aspens frame our off-the-beaten-path adventure.


It's sunny enough for another of our "shadow shots" on
the glittering snow.

          At dusk we traveled toward the tourist mecca of Moab and were treated to a sunset/moonrise while driving north along lonely Highway 191.  The setting sun cast a pink glow over the La Sal Mountains as the full moon radiated yellow/orange off the red rocks.


Sunset highlights the LaSal Mountains on the road
between Monticello and Moab.

A full moon rises over red rock country.


          This jaunt may have lasted only a few hours but it delivered everything a winter’s journey should: blue skies, exercise, marshmallowy snow, and a movie-quality ending.

           If you’re ever in southeastern Utah and you need an escape from the desert, consider a scenic drive through the Abajo mountains.  Find information by visiting this website:  http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mantilasal/recreation/natureviewing/recarea/?recid=73228&actid=64


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cross-country Skiing in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

          The calendar says "March" but if you're interested in one last winter fling I can't think of a better place for it than Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Winter scene near Taggart Lake Trailhead.

         Enter the park at Moose Junction and drive to the Taggart Lake Trailhead.  From there you may choose to cross-country ski the road to Jenny Lake, or snowshoe the trail to Taggart Lake.  If you choose to ski, the main road through the park is closed to vehicle traffic and is groomed for both classic and skate cross-country skiing.  Another ski trail cuts through the forest along the base of the towering Tetons.

Is there a better cross-country ski venue in the entire country?

Trail through the forest.

We choose this meadow for our lunch stop.  A downed log provided the
perfect perch—and view—for our al fresco dining experience.

          After a day in the park treat yourself to gourmet dining at Wild Sage Restaurant in the Rusty Parrot Lodge in downtown Jackson Hole.  Try either the Beef Tenderloin or Crackling Salmon entrees, then finish your meal with a spirited mug of "Wyoming Coffee".

Winter evening on the square in downtown Jackson Hole.

Interested in counting down the days of winter in Grand Teton National Park?  Visit this website for more details:  http://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/winter.htm