April in Jackson, WY, can mean a lot of “Closed” or “We’ll be back in May” signs. The ski slopes have closed for the season—this Winter produced just shy of 500 inches of snow! There’s still a significant amount of snow on the ground this year and still flurrying. It’s below freezing today. The roads are quiet. Nothing is blooming yet—and YET, it’s a banner time to visit a normally pricey destination. Many restaurants offer 2 for 1 dinners or killer specials and hotels offer discounted rooms. Some of the dinner proceeds benefit local charities. So, while Yellowstone is not a road trip option third week, parts of Grand Teton National Park are open, we can snow shoe, enjoy a relaxing visit to one the most beautiful areas of the US. This is a anti-inflammatory dish is a killer slab of salmon and grilled vegetable dish from Calico restaurant (on the way back to Teton Village). Off season at a Thin Place has its advantages.
I love lists, especially when I’m packing for a long-anticipated bucket list trip. I’m a kitchen sink kind of packer. Making a list helps me be an efficient packer, which is a work in progress! My mother—she’s the neat one—keeps handwritten packing lists in her luggage. That sounds like a great idea to me, so now I create and save my own packing lists on my iPhone in “Notes” or as a “Reminder List.”
Packing from a list helps eliminate unnecessary “stuff” in my suitcase. I have packing lists that are specific for warm, cold, and international travel. You might have a camping list, a cruising list, traveling with kids packing list, and a going-to-visit-the-kids list!
I’ve curated a new list with warm or hot weather destinations in mind. Your bags won’t pack themselves, but maybe sharing packing lists with you will take the heavy thinking out of packing, so you can spend your mental energy dreaming of soaking up the sunshine instead!
Happy travels chasing your Thin Places!
The Thin Places Travel Writer
Originally published on the BNT Travel Blog at www.bobnefftours.com©3/25/18 Ranks #1 in Google Search for: warm weather packing list
Some places dig deep into our souls. We find “thin places” where the veil between heaven and earth slips aside. It’s no wonder we return.
Last fall, I traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, after a fifteen year absence. As I deplaned, within sight of Grand Teton National Park, I was delighted again to descend the rolling steps onto the tarmac. Fighting an icy wind, I forgot to look up. When I rounded the nose of the plane, I stopped still in my tracks. They greeted me in panorama: those Grand Tetons. I stepped aside to allow the other travelers by, hesitant to hurry the moment. I’d come here to be outside, to write, to take photographs, to be still, so I stood and honored the mountains with silence. They returned the gesture by removing the air from my lungs, as if remembering my youthful, wide-eyed self. It was a fair trade.
Away from city noise and grit, the air in Jackson sparkles. Laced with snow and slices of blue-black rock, the jagged peaks push through the clouds. I had not forgotten them, but grandeur like that is almost impossible to capture in a photograph or postcard. The moment — the experience of standing in the midst of such natural perfection — that part is elusive, and perhaps, why we return again and again to places that move us. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, nestled in rounded, buckskin-colored foothills dotted with sage brush, is one of those places for me.
Every time I return to the American West, I’m caught staring wide-eyed at our majestic mountain chains. The first time I saw them was the summer I was ten when my family rambled across the US in a rented RV. My father, a mathematician, had mapped out our daily, two-week itinerary on index cards (front and back). At the time, I had no idea what went into planning a cost-conscious, all-encompassing vacation, but I thanked my parents with what must have been a look of wonder with each new — and ancient — site we visited. I estimate we put about 3,000 miles on that RV, rolling out of rural Pennsylvania and across the plains where Dad reminded us to “get your heads out of those books and look around, kids!” My brother and I took turns (mostly) reading aloud the Wall Drug signs, gaping at Mount Rushmore from every angle, pointing out the emerging Crazy Horse Indian chief, and asking endless questions.
We camped each night, making day-long friends around the water pump until we finally arrived in Yellowstone National Park. The Fountain Paint Pots glopped a congenial welcome, Old Faithful spouted steamy water high in the air, and we learned the science behind the constant scent of rotten eggs. Buffalo herds stopped traffic, and grizzlies chased their cubs, their winter fat still rippling under thick fur. Not long after sunrise, we drove past Lake Yellowstone; I can still see the mother moose and her cub grazing along the water’s edge. Every space measured in seasons, rather than time.
After a few days in Yellowstone, we headed South to Jackson Hole. We rambled in and out of its Western storefronts, posing under the town square’s famous antler arches, before winding our way through Grand Teton National Park. I didn’t have a camera then; however, our family photo albums are filled with faded Polaroids of that trip. There’s one photograph in particular where I recognize the deep wonder and joy on my young face. We’re in front of the Chapel of the Transfiguration, my long hair whipping sideways with those Grand Teton peaks looming high above us. I know now that I knew then, I would return.
Some places dig deep into our souls until they are beloved. Something about the sweep of a canyon, the twist of a river far below, the rush of wind in the pines, or the effervescent blue of a geyser pool captures our heart, perplexes our mind, and whispers to our spirit. For me, the perfection of nature is undeniable in this region of the US — as if the hand of God has scooped and swirled across our canvas to awe us once and for all. The wildness and synergy between every working part and every living thing in the American West is unlike any other.
Whether you‘re returning or a first time visitor, the adventure is new. Every time. The earth changes and cycles. It recovers from fire, fights pestilence, births new generations, shifts water levels to find new edges, faces threats, and rebirths itself. Even the faithfulness of Old Faithful varies. Though, not much — and, besides, we are not the same as the last time we looked upon it.
Some photos featured in this article are available for purchase at Sheets Studios.
Original article appeared in BNT Touring Magazine, SpringUpdate©2017. Also published on www.bobnefftours.com/travel-blog on September 2, 2017.
When I was 18, I had an argument with my father that it shouldn’t matter who you know, but rather what you know. I’m still an optimist and a wee bit naive, but I wouldn’t argue that today. I’d say both matter. I can’t tell you where it is. I can’t tell you the name of the joint or how to get the information. You’ve got to know someone. Or get invited. Perhaps, you ask the right question of the right person who knows that Someone. It’s not about money or power. It’s about coffee-ease. Code words and earnest seeking about the truths the bean holds. I’m not exactly sure what I said the other day in Nashville, but I said it to the right person in the right place and I found treasure: a “hidden” coffee house.
What, you are thinking, is this an elite coffee club or something? Yes, and on paper, it does seem odd, seductively exclusive even, especially in a town where I could lose the a fore-mentioned argument over and over.
However, after having visited, tasted, and been enlightened, I believe I found a man who, quite possibly, knows enough about coffee (judging by sheer verbal volume) to talk a bank robber out of robbing. I see his coffee house as a speakeasy or a salon like those early 20th Century Parisian apartments that harbored the genius of Hemingway, Stein and Pound. For these artists, it was the love and careful, diligent study of what makes a story real that gathered them together. For this coffee salon, it is love of the drink for sure, but more, it is the serious intellectual pursuit of all that goes into the making of a great espresso and coffee.
You might be thinking, so what have you got to write about, Karen? Why bother to write about the best cup of coffee if you, the reader, cannot trek to Nashville to find it? Because this is the most unique coffee shop and masterblender I’ve ever stumbled on.
And yes, the drink is superior.
So, I’m walking down a Nashville street on the bohemian side of Music Row and I wander into a little shop — which happens to be the right shop, if you know what I mean. It is unassuming, cluttered, and smelling of coffee and cardboard, but I find this cute little take-home gift that I can squeeze into my suitcase. I buy four.
“Do you have a business card? I write this little travel blog, you see, and I’d like to give your shop a shout-out.”
The man behind the counter, who up until this point has been mute, brightens and half-hops over to a tousled stack of cards and hands one to me. For the next ten minutes–this my favorite part of the travel writing gig–he unveils the store’s multi-generational history. His voice is youthful, and he is verbose. I stand listening, happy to be an ear, pulling out the thread that I will use to sew the blog, filing away the rest. It is quite possible that my role as a travel and food writer will be similar to a bartender or a hairdresser or a bank teller: I fill a trusted role and handle a person’s valuables, so I am invited to cross the invisible fence and permitted to move about the pasture, privy to details otherwise withheld from the average acquaintance. I think, “this will be a nice informative Nashville piece about grabbing a great cup of coffee and wandering up and down a pretty street.”
Then the man hands me another card and says, “You should call my brother. He is who you really want to talk to.” He follows with another ten minute synopsis of a coffee shop they own but don’t want to advertise. It doesn’t have a name and the location must be given to you by this man’s brother. I stare at the card. Weird, right? But they want this place to be found.
“Call him now,” he says, and nods to my phone. “It’s his cell number.”
I’m oddly uncomfortable with this idea, so I deflect with another question. Ten minutes later I walk out of the shop, thanking the man who now grins like a Cheshire cat. He’s tipped off the mole.
I walk for a few blocks fingering the card. Should I call the brother? Is this too strange? Or am I panning for gold in a winking stream?
A Dunkin’ Donut sign flags me from behind a few tree branches, and half-way through an iced latte, after I’ve tamped down the splintered wood of a picnic table, I dial.
“Hi, uh, my name is Karen, and I write a travel blog. I love coffee. Uh (laugh), I got your number from your brother–”
“Ah, yes. Well, we’re not really looking for advertisement (he has the same youthful voice), but why don’t you come over. I’ll make you a cup of coffee.”
Southern hospitality. I’m warmed to the idea.
The brother, I’ll call him “M,” gave me a seven point verbal map to follow: a few turns, a gravel road, an unmarked warehouse, glass doors. I find it and walk inside; the room is leather couches and church pews, a fully stocked musician’s stage, and artifacts from coffee growing countries. M moves out from behind a Italian espresso machine, its great copper head presiding over the room. M’s chin is two-day’s growth, but the bill of his baseball cap is a perfect 180 degree curve and his grin an ocean wide.
The mastermind of this unnamed, discreet coffee house is verbose too–to my great advantage. I stand at the counter listening, nodding as he yawns, exposing the coffee file to the light. Then he leads me to a massive wooden table. I sit as he pulls from a cupboard a tray strewn with coffee bean-filled bags. The professor asks more questions, quizzing me, coaxing me to the answers. Nodding in approval when I’m right, looking regretful when I’m not. I’m a B minus student, but teachable. It is unending, this knowledge of his and I love-hate it.
To this point, I’ve been satisfied with my globetrotting coffee sipping experiences: riding in the back of a song tow halfway up a mountain outside of Chiangmai, Thailand, to imbibe under a rickety canopy, seeds roasting over embers on a hand-hammered platter; standing in a dirt yard beside a grower in the Dominican Republic, leaping tall language barriers to sip quietly beside him, our drink strong and sugarcane-sweetened from his own harvest–this after a week of wooing him with a smile; accompanying an Austrian goulash in a 16th Century Viennese cafe; and in Buenos Aires, a daily double dose–or should I say douse?–of Italian roast espresso with inch high crema in the largest independent bookstore in the Southern Hemisphere.
But, now I find, I have lacked the intricate knowledge to know what goes into the best cups of coffee–the best in the world. One could argue, though, what is best? The experiences I’ve had or the knowledge I am gaining in one salon afternoon? I’m thinking, both.
I’m worried, though. It’s like hearing the best bass player, the best voice, the best melody or lyrical phrase–will I never enjoy another regular cup of coffee again? I don’t get to Nashville often enough to join this club. How long until I sniff out the next place on this underground coffee trail–if it even exists?
Here’s what I can tell you:
*The “fresh” coffee at your favorite shop is at least 18 months old.
*Crema is the “foam” on top of an espresso, and it can be faked.
*What we know as the coffee bean is actually the seed: this is a fruit drink we are enthralled with: it should not be bitter.
*If a pound of coffee costs less than $25, then it’s only packaging and advertising that distinguishes between brands. So don’t bother to pay more than you have to unless its the good stuff.
*Coffee is the second largest commodity in the world (according to M), and therefore, the second most corruptible behind oil (though he might concede to jewelry too).
*Apparently some guy named George from “Cup of Excellence” is the expert–he taught M everything he knows, which is a lot.
*A combination of 32 hands, implements, truck beds, bicycles, and/or donkey bums touches the coffee bean, and therefore, flavors it, from mountain to freighter.
M leads me back to the hammered copper machine, runs his finger over the holes of his espresso sieve. His eyes pop with each nugget he is dropping in front of me, tireless, but I am waning. Padawan must rest, must be renewed.
Grind. Bang. Whirrrr. Is it a high E sharp?
The half-moon cup nestles in my palm, the crema a stratus cloud. I don’t remember the rest. It involves a slap, then another slap, and my head snapping back. I think I’ve groaned. I come to and the clouds have spread paper thin clinging to the lower curve of the cup, but I don’t have the guts to drain it.
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll make you a cup of coffee from that.”
“What’s that?” I point to a contraption that looks like one glass carafe rigged on top of another, with a mesh cylinder inside.
“A siphon. You’ve never had a cup of coffee like that.”
“Oh,” I say, weak, and then thrilled, sensing the caffeine flooding my veins. “OK.”
It might be said that, outside of a place such as this, outside of the care of a masterblender like M, it is impossible to experience coffee as God intended it. At least one should be armed with the knowledge needed to recognize the best espresso and coffee in the world, and then, atmosphere is icing. I still say, one is integral to the other.
M shares a few secrets to get me by when I’m not in town–the ones I’ve shared with you. It may be possible to make “a cup of excellence” if we are informed seekers, but I wish he hadn’t told me about his $3000 grinder. It shatters the unsullied seed into three different shapes and this, he says, makes all the difference in the speed of the water pushing through the machine. This, in part, is what creates authentic crema. Darn, and I thought my Nespresso machine was a little over the top, but I’m only just beginning this journey.
“I love the romance of it,” M says, closing the file with a sigh. He is contented. A man who has found his place in life.
And I am spy. I have a mission. Where is the next coffee house like this? Ask the right questions in the right place and the map unfurls a little further.
I need a Panama hat.
Originally published on The WordShop Blog, 2012. Currently linked from “underground” coffee shop website as highlighted review, 2012.