Sara Godwin

Posts Tagged ‘Women’s travel’

San Francisco Fall Antiques Show: An Exercise in the Unexpected

In Antiques, Baby Boomers, Luxury, San Francisco, Travel, Women's Travel on October 25, 2014 at 8:23 am
$350,000 worth of gold au natural

$350,000 worth of gold au natural

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Not all that glitters is gold, or silver, for that matter.  The proof is in this spectacular glass chaise brought from Paris by Steinitz (Steinitz@steinitz.fr)

Not all that glitters is gold, or silver, for that matter. The proof is in this spectacular glass chaise brought from Paris by Steinitz (Steinitz@steinitz.fr)

A cache of 19th century gold coins found buried in tin cans in the Sierras  by a couple out walking their dog.  The estimated value of the  stash: $10 million.

A cache of 19th century gold coins found buried in tin cans in the Sierras by a couple out walking their dog. The estimated value of the stash: $10 million.

San Francisco has three major social events in the Fall: Only one of them does not require a ball gown. That would be the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show in the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason, going on right now, and you’re invited. Designed as a fundraiser for Enterprise high school students, it draws everyone in San Francisco who has money or wishes they did. The antiques dealers come from all over the United States and many from Europe to create a brilliantly curated collection of some of the world’s rarest and most precious objects — and those objects always encompass an element of surprise.

The biggest buzz this year was an object that showed no artist’s vision and no craftsman’s skills; basically, it’s a lump. A brilliant lump, to be sure, but nonetheless, it’s a lump: A huge, shiny gold nugget weighing more than six pounds (the dealer let me hold it!) found recently in California’s Gold Country and valued at $350,000. It’s in the first booth on the right as you enter the show, and displayed with it are the uncirculated mint-condition 19th century gold coins found last year in a cache in the Sierra Nevada, the cache valued at $10,000, 000. And that’s just the start!

The show runs today and tomorrow, the cost is $15 per person (the catalog alone is worth the price of admission), and the variety of things to see that people hold precious will intrigue and fascinate you. The people-watching and street scene fashion is also fabulous. Coco Chanel would be proud. Go now.

Photos to follow, so keep checking back. I’ll be posting throughout the day.

A mystery menorah, believed to have been made in Eastern Europe over a century ago, no one seems to know when it got here or how it got from there to here. (danielsteinantiques .com)

A mystery menorah, believed to have been made in Eastern Europe over a century ago, no one seems to know when it got here or how it got from there to here. (danielsteinantiques
.com)

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Half-a-Million Reasons To Go To Nebraska — Now!

In Baby Boomers, Birding, Grandparent, Kids, Nebraska, Parent, Sandhill cranes, Travel, Wildlife, Women's Travel on March 4, 2014 at 11:50 pm

IMG_9828It’s dark, it’s cold, and just a few feet away are hundreds upon hundreds of sandhill cranes, all of which  have flown thousands of miles,  to land at what amounts to a pinpoint, geographically speaking.  Sandhill cranes gather in huge numbers, the largest bird migration in the Americas, riding the winds of the Central Flyway from Mexico, Texas, and New Mexico.  Their destination? A 75-mile chunk of the Platte River  between Kearny and Grand Island, a tiny landing strip given its context smack in the middle of   the North American continent. The Platte is a braided river, with slim strands of shimmering shallow water crossing and weaving  around an ever-shifting pattern of narrow sandbars. Gathered on these sandbars to roost at night, the cranes are protected from predators. Standing in densely-packed flocks, their collective body heat helps mitigate the icy cold of both air and water.  This is their staging area, where the cranes spend about three weeks resting and replenishing their stores of fat in order to fly north to the nesting grounds in northern Canada, Alaska, and Siberia.

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No one I know would hesitate for a moment to sign up  to watch the wildlife migration across the Serengeti Plains of Africa, and most would regard it as the trip of a lifetime . People from all over the world do it every year. Yet a migration of magnificent birds — sandhill cranes stand four feet tall, not counting their two-foot long bill,  and have a  7.5 foot  wingspan that’s wider than most people are tall —  is practically a national secret.  Even knowledgeable birders, the kind of folks who routinely book trips to go see birds they can’t see at home, often don’t know about the sandhill cranes and Nebraska.  Jane Goodall  has called it ‘one of the top ten animal migrations in the world’, and she’s spent enough time working with National Geographic to know.  Here’s your chance to be one of the cognoscenti, and by comparison with traipsing off to Africa or South America, it’s a bargain, too.

The cranes begin arriving at the end of February, and leave in April, so March is the moment.  Book now. The migration peaks in mid-to-late March, and there are a several crane festivals that are  richly informative and well worth attending.  These organizations offer guides, tours, blinds, information centers, and the opportunity to see sandhill cranes by the thousands:   The Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center , (402) 797-2301; e-mail Audubon Nebraska)  ,  the Rowe Sanctuary (308) 468-5282), and Crane Trust (402/797-2301) .  Make an appointment, so you’re sure to have a place on a tour and in the blinds.

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Sandhill cranes roost in the Platte River during the night, and their ‘lift-off’ early in the morning is one of the wonders of nature.  For the full drama, get to the blind before daybreak.  Being Nebraska, the Great Plains sunrise is spectacular all by itself; add in the magnificence of hundreds of birds taking flight simultaneously, and it’s a memory you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.

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This is a perfect ‘take the kids or grandkids’ trip.  Bundle them up warmly, bring a big thermos of hot chocolate and plenty of trail mix or energy bars, and make sure they know how to use binoculars.  Let them use their cell phone cameras to tweet their friends.   What child wouldn’t be fascinated by a bird taller than they are that can fly  170 to 450  miles per day — and as much as 500 miles a day with a steady tail wind?   And do it at 38 miles per hour? Or a bird that dances until it finds just the right partner, a mate it will stay with for the rest of its life?  A bird that can live to be 40 years old, that every year flies north thousands of miles to nest, and then turns around and flies thousands of miles south to spend the winter where it’s warm.  Here are some intriguing math puzzles: How many wingbeats does it take to cross a continent?  How many days would it take to drive — or walk– that distance?  Tall, slim, elegant, and able to fly across entire continents, cranes have the power to fascinate anyone who gets near them.

The first time I went on a  ‘Crane Watch, ‘ as they call it in Nebraska,  my husband and I took his mother, then in her late 70s and recovering from a broken hip, and his 12-year-old niece.  Mom had her walker, and the niece had a video camera.  We got the kid out of school by promising her teacher that she would produce a video that her whole class could watch when she returned.  That led to a crash course in camera angles, keeping the camera steady, approaching wildlife slowly and silently, and narrating raw footage so everyone knew what they were seeing on film. It all came together in that glorious moment when the credits rolled, and it said, ‘By Sarah Hudson’.  Mom hated her walker, and flatly refused to use it, so she tromped along the farm roads beside the corn fields, with the two of us anxiously trotting alongside, trying to keep up with her.  She had the eyes of a hawk, and I suspect she spotted more cranes than the rest of us put together.

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We spent quite a bit of time just trying to find cranes at first: None of us knew that the cranes use their bills to smear mud all over their feathers, so they blended in perfectly with the brown stubble fields.  We had been driving past the fields for an hour before we twigged to what we were seeing.  If several had not flown, we  might never have seen them.  Why cranes cover themselves in mud is one of the great ornithological mysteries.  Speculation has suggested everything from camouflage to killing feather parasites, but the answer remains as yet unknown. A doctoral dissertation anyone?

Just as the sun sets — and prairie sunsets are famous for their color and cloudscapes — the cranes return to the river to roost on the sandbars, safe from coyotes and foxes. Both of the centers offer evening viewing from their blinds. The last time I saw the cranes was a year ago, and we watched the cranes return by the light of a full moon.  If you can schedule that, do it.

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One last footnote.  The year that I first saw the cranes in Nebraska,  twenty years ago and more, I flew out on June 25th at ice-out  to visit a lodge in Bathurst Inlet, Northwest Territories, which is about as far north as you can go in the NWT without falling off the edge of the earth. We knew the sandhill cranes came through on the last leg of their northbound journey, so we looked for them every day.  Our stated mission was to follow the caribou migration, research for a documentary film on North American migrations.

We never found the caribou, and we never spotted any sandhill cranes. As research went, it was a bust.  We were loading our gear into the Otter that would take us back to Yellowknife when one of the other guests came running up, pelting as fast as she could go.  “Your crane,” she panted.  “It just landed behind the lodge.”   We dropped our packs, and dashed off behind her.  And there it was: A solitary sandhill crane.  The timing was just about right for a bird that had been in Nebraska when we were there.  As we watched, it lifted off the ground, made a sharp left turn and began winging its way to Siberia.  It still makes my neck prickle.

There’s nothing else like this, and you’ll never forget it.  Go!

Crane Festivals this year are from March 20 to April 6, 2014.  These websites list all the activities they’re offering:

http://nebraskacranefestival.org/

http://visitkearney.org/sandhill-cranes/

http://rowe.audubon.org/calendar-events-7

http://www.cranetrust.org/sandhill-cranes/

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The Best-Kept Birding Secret in the United States

In Baby Boomers, Birding, hummingbirds, Texas, Travel, Weather, Wildlife, Women's Travel on October 1, 2013 at 9:27 pm

This migratory green jay shows off  brilliant plumage

This migratory green jay shows off brilliant plumage

Green jay from another  angle in McAllen, Texas

Green jay from another angle in McAllen, Texas

Chachalacas scurry along Birdwatching Center at Bentsen -Rio Grande McAllen, Texas

Chachalacas scurry along Birdwatching Center at Bentsen -Rio Grande McAllen, Texas

A Great Kiskadee , once known as the Kiskadee Flycatcher, snatches insects out of the air and small fish out of water.

A Great Kiskadee , once known as the Kiskadee Flycatcher, snatches insects out of the air and small fish out of water.

Buff-bellied hummingbirds are found, nowhere else in the continental United States.

Buff-bellied hummingbirds are found, nowhere else in the continental United States.

Southwest Texas is an edgy sort of place, located on the edges of Mexico and the U.S., along the edge of the Rio Grande, at the edge of land and water,  just 70 miles west of the Gulf Coast, at the southern edge of the continent.  Here,  Mexican, Tejano, and Anglo cultures, English and Spanish, swirl and blend into a melange best known as Tex-Mex. This cultural potpourri makes for great food — think chimichangas, carne asada, and horchata. Here, fertile river delta irrigated farmland bumps up against native thorn forest. And then there is the wild life, whether you’re talking ‘wild life’ as in trendy bistros and bars, or ‘wildlife’ as in javelinas, bobcats and birds.

Boarding a flight to an airport I’d never heard of — Harlingen, Texas — en route to a city I’d never heard of — McAllan, Texas — I’m on my way to see chachalacas, green jays,  and the buff-bellied hummingbird, all of which

I ‘ve heard of,  but none of which I’ve seen. This is the great lure of birding: There are always birds as yet unseen.

According to the American Birding Association (http://www.aba.org),   it is possible to see 976  different species of birds within the boundaries of the United States.  Of that number,  more than half — 521 species, or 53%  —  can be spotted in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  That  fact  may very well make McAllan, Texas the best-kept birding secret in the whole United States.  You could make an excellent case that a trip to McAllan qualifies as the best-spent  travel dollar in the country for birders, from beginners to life-listers. (Life-listers are the sporting category of birders, those who are sufficiently serious and organized to keep a list of every species of bird they’ve ever seen, where and when they saw it, and whether it was male or female, or in juvenile plumage or mature, resident or in migration.)

McAllan is also unusual in that it attracts a remarkable number of ‘marquee’ birds, those that are spectacularly colored, such as the green jay (emerald green back, purple and violet head), or of exceptional size and drama, such the crested caracara (with a four foot wing span), or of great rarity, such as the Northern jacana (best known for walking on lily pads). I have not yet even touched on heart-stopping  birds, like the roseate spoonbill, or the wood stork, or any of the 24 species of hawks and eagles, nor even the ones with weird names like the jabiru or the whimbrel, or the barred antshrike. Many of the birds are Neo-tropic, migratory birds that fly thousands of miles from their wintering grounds in South America, Central America, and Mexico. For a lot of these birds, McAllan is the northernmost point of their range, the place where they breed and nest,  and the only place in the United States where they can be seen.   Is this a good way to spend your travel dollar? Well, it’s a whole lot less expensive than a trip to South America.

Here are the sorts of notes that get posted about McAllan on the American Birding Association website:

“Added: Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum)
Code: 5.
Placement: after Least Bittern.
Comments: One thought to be in second-basic plumage at Bentsen–Rio Grande Valley State Park, Hidalgo County, Texas, from 21 December 2009 to 20 January 2010. Discovered and photographed by Rick Nirschl and Rick Snider, and observed by the hundreds during its month-long stay (Nirschl and Snider 2010).”

The World Birding Center (www.theworldbirdingcenter.com ) is headquartered at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park.  Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park is one of nine birding sites operated by the World Birding Center in the Rio Grande Valley, and it’s a birder’s delight.   More than 300 species of birds have been documented there, and at the peak of the spring hawk migration, it is possible to stand on the Hawk Observation Tower (ADA accessible) and see as many as 10,000 hawks a day. The migration starts in late March, and you can time your visit for the peak by checking the website and calling the park   (956/584-9156).  The rangers can give you a 7 to 10 day window that will make sure you’re in attendance for one of the greatest raptor shows on earth. Besides the raptors, spring migrants include the vividly colored green jay and chattering flocks of chachalacas. Feeding stations with viewing benches and well-maintained trails practically guarantee birding success.

Fall has only just begun, the Autumnal Equinox has barely passed, but now is the time to start planning your ‘I’m tired of winter’ escape.  By March you’ll be longing for a warm place to go, and McAllen, Texas is the place to do it.  The weather is comfortable, clear, and sunny, perfect for both snowbirds and migratory birds.  It’s the place to see species not found farther North, including a species none of us on my birding expedition ever expected to see:  One magnificent bobcat!

Sometimes the universe bestows a lagniappe. This is one.

Sometimes the universe bestows a lagniappe. This is one.

For lots more birding sites in and near McAllen, click on this link: