Taos, New Mexico

Taos is a small town of about 5,700 people in the high desert of northern New Mexico. It’s home to artists, ranchers, naturalists, vagrants and the oldest inhabited indigenous community in the U.S.—the Taos Pueblo, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, a National Historic Landmark and thousand-year-old residence of the Tiwa-speaking Puebloan people.

Not many people have heard of Taos—including many in the surrounding region—but it’s probably better that way. No major highways run near it (driving through a maze of winding roads it’s about four hours south of Denver and two-and-a-halfish hours north of Albuquerque), it has no major economic influence, it’s about 7,000 feet above sea level and it’s surrounded by expansive mountain ranges, including the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the 13,000-foot Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. It’s a miniature somewhere in the middle of a massive and mysterious nowhere.

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Two-week trip to the Balkans? Count me in

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(Not the actual lagoon, but close)

World Nomads is currently running a travel writing contest for a two-week trip to the Balkans. Comes with free flights, €1000 for a 10-day tour, apparel, a train pass and mentoring with travel writer Tim Neville of Outside Magazine.

I’ve entered in past WM competitions, with no success…but maybe this year will be different? Either way, go here to read my story on the contest them of “a place I’ll never forget” – in this case, the place I call the shaman’s lagoon, in Haiti.

Applications close on March 21 and winners are announced April 12.

Colorado

Over the past two months, I found myself headed out of Chicago every two weeks, first to see family in Boston, then for a long weekend in Venice Beach, and finally, to visit my brother and his girlfriend at their new place in Colorado, about an hour north of Denver.

It was my first time in the Centennial State, but between the mountains, big open plains and faint smell of cow, it definitely won’t be my last.

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Venice Beach

I recently took a long weekend to hang out in Venice Beach, the Land of Lebowski. No itinerary. We ate some good food, rode some shitty bikes, stayed in an AirBnB along the canals, hiked to the tallest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains and caught our last dose of Pacific sun before heading back to Chicago to hide inside for the next six months of winter.

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Full of fine sable

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While waiting for one of my favorite restaurants to open on a recent Saturday in Evanston, I killed some time in Market Fresh Books, a used book store that sells by the pound.

Buried behind the travel shelf I found a battered copy of Farley Mowat’s The Siberians, which you can get for a penny + shipping on Amazon. I’d never heard of Mowat, but with “Siberia” and “travel writing” as key words, I figured it was a safe bet.

And a smart bet, too. As a Canadian, Mowat got prestige access to 1960s Siberia at a time when most U.S. writers were still locked out, left only to imagine a frozen, lifeless tundra teaming with gulags and wolves – a stereotype that still persists. But Mowat does a great job demystifying it, taking a comprehensive documentary snapshot of a world that’s largely disappeared over the past 60 years. Here are some of my favorite passages:

They called it Spirit Vilyui and I am not sure how it was made. They tell about one fellow who dropped a two-liter bottle of it on the frozen ground outside his house one cold winter night. The next morning there was a mudhole a meter in diameter and, when they tried to find how deep it was, they couldn’t get a probe long enough to reach the bottom.

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Babson Boulders

BABSON BOULDERS NEVER TRY NEVER WIN

As a native Midwesterner, New England has always seemed full of secrets to me. But none as surreal as the Babson Boulders, a seemingly random collection of massive boulders with inspirational all-caps etchings scattered around the forest of an abandoned inland settlement in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

I first learned about the boulders six or seven years ago, when someone recommended the site to me after hearing about it from someone else who heard about it from someone else. That’s my kind of provenance.

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Porcupine Mountains

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To ring in the end of a busy summer, and get away from the familiar noise of the city, I recently went north to Ontonagon (on-tuh-noggin), a small town of around 1,500 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the UP), near the Wisconsin border and the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, about 400-ish miles straight north of Chicago.

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The Iceland Ring Road: Part I

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I took an eight-day drive with my wife and partner Sarah around Iceland’s famous and rugged Ring Road. It was like a weeklong movie filled with mountains, swamp gas, lucid dreams and horsemeat.

In these posts, I explain how we did it and what we saw along the way.

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The Iceland Ring Road: Part II

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I took an eight-day drive with my wife and partner Sarah around Iceland’s famous and rugged Ring Road. In the last post, I explained how we did it. In this one, I explain what we saw and ate along the way.

Against popular currents we took a counterclockwise route around Iceland’s 830-mile Ring Road, starting and ending in Reykjavik. Because we only had eight days and a 2wd car, we limited our exploration to:

  • South Iceland (Day 1-2)
  • East Iceland (Day 3-4)
  • North Iceland (Day 5-6)
  • West Iceland (Day 7-8)

This left out areas like the Westfjords and the Highlands, but those can be for next time. As the Jewish people say, next year in the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

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