Drop in elevation allows for hiking year-Round in Tahoe area

Drop in elevation allows for hiking year-Round in Tahoe area

Views of the Carson Valley from the Clear Creek Trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Mountain bikers tend to outnumber hikers when it comes to trails in the Jack’s Valley. Not a problem for those on foot, as those with pedals seem to always be courteous even when going fast downhill.

Even though hiking is not the first sport people think of when it’s winter in Tahoe, with the proximity to Carson City and Carson Valley there is plenty of dirt to play in year-round.

Dropping in elevation also offers a change of scenery. About 3,100 acres in this area is managed for winter deer range. Mule deer love the sagebrush. Bitterbrush is the other common vegetation growing here.

Rock formations are like pieces of artwork dropped into the desert. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It doesn’t take long before views of fertile ranch lands as well as more developed civilization come into view. It’s a gradual, but distinct climb at the start. Then it tapers out a bit.

Seemingly around ever bend is another outcropping of rocks that look like they were planted there. Otherwise it is rather desolate on this stretch of trail. The rocks look like they would be fun to climb; though some would require skill and technical know-how.

While it would be possible to hike 15 miles to get to the Spooner Summit trailhead from Jack’s Valley, we only put in 4.1 miles on the Clear Creek Trail this particular day. It was more about an opportunity to stretch our legs. Getting a late start also didn’t work in our favor with the days so much shorter.

This is a good place to visit most times of the year except the middle of summer because of the heat, lack of shade, and no water. Though, had we gone farther, we would have eventually hit pine trees.

Mountain biking is more popular than hiking in this area. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



Mexican pozole soup dances on taste buds with robust flavor

Mexican pozole soup dances on taste buds with robust flavor

Pozole is a traditional Mexican dish that has been served for centuries. (Image: Veronica Wong)

Food is one of the most important ways for us to connect with others—be it those we know or strangers.

Travel the world and food will be a common denominator. We all need it for sustenance, but it’s so much more than nourishment. Food can tell a story about the people, the region, the land, even the history of an area. Perhaps more important, with that shared meal comes shared memories.

Food easily touches on all the senses—sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Hearing can be the slurping, chopping, popping of a cork—even the conversation.

Pozole is one of those traditional Mexican dishes that brings people together. The origins are not well defined, but history proves the natives were making this concoction long before the Spanish arrived in the 1500s.

While pozole traditionally has chicken or pork, those can be left out or mushrooms substituted to satisfy vegetarians. A green pozole usually will have tomatillos, the herbs epazote and cilantro, and jalapenos, while a red pozole uses guajillo, piquin or ancho peppers. The verde version is more popular with chicken.

Verde pozoles traditionally come with chicken. (Image: Veronica Wong)

When Los Consuelos was open in Todos Santos (it closed in March 2020 because of COVID and has not reopened) the pozole presentation was outstanding. The bowl was full of meat, shredded cabbage, sliced radish, and slivers of avocado. Then at the table the broth was poured over this ensemble. The diner had assorted condiments to choose from like onions and more spices.

At El Refugio in Todos Santos pozole is served more traditionally with the broth in the bowl when it is brought to the table.

Los Consuelos’ version was more like a stew compared to El Refugio being more like a soup. The difference being soups have more broth.

What all pozoles have is hominy. These large corn kernels have been soaked in a mineral bath to remove the husk. This isn’t sweet corn, but instead is field maize that is used to make flour and cereals. It’s chewy, with almost a rubbery texture. Today hominy is available in cans at grocery stores, which eliminates a lot of the work for this dish.

While it is a soup, it is so much more. For those making it, there are many moving parts. Best to have at least one sous chef to help with all the knife work. For those with spoons in hand, the dish can be personalized depending on how the condiments are served and how many are offered.

Pavement makes trip through Baja an easy drive

Pavement makes trip through Baja an easy drive

The Baja peninsula is a mix of desert and mountains–sometimes at the same time. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s called a highway, but by many standards it is a merely a two-lane road. However, for those who remember when it was all dirt, this stretch of asphalt is like pavement heaven.

The 1,711-kilometer or 1,063-mile long Carretera Transpeninsular (Transpeninsula Highway) was finished in 1973. It stretches from the north in Tijuana (the busiest border in the world) to Cabo San Lucas in the south (the tip of the peninsula). It weaves across Baja California, with views of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez as it crosses the desert and goes through mountains. (The peninsula is 40 to 240 kilometers wide in places, or 25 to 150 miles.)

At times Highway 1 goes on forever without a curve or another vehicle to be seen. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

People have been traveling the length of Baja for centuries, whether it was on foot, by animal or a sturdy vehicle. Part of it is the original camino real built by the Spanish to link their missions.

Before the asphalt was laid much of it was one lane of dirt. The highway at times covers that original road and in other locations was laid nearby or farther away for stability reasons or to avoid flooding.

Military checkpoints are scattered throughout Baja. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Today the road allows for easier access for tourists via vehicle to this swath of Mexico. Plenty of hotels cater to travelers from the United States and Canada, as do restaurants. Like anywhere, though, some of the best food is found where the locals go. Don’t judge a dining establishment by what it looks like.

The highway has also opened up commerce. This can be a good thing for stores and consumers. While plenty of goods are still brought in via ferry from the mainland, the distribution by truck is now easier.

Highway 1 is more than 1,000 miles long, running the length of Baja. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

One problem with that is all the 18-wheelers on the road. This highway is not wide like most built in the United States. A truck roaring by in the opposite direction will shake even a fully loaded vehicle. Those drivers are going fast, not abiding by the speed limit. They are also prone to passing those in front of them who are going too slow by their standards.

While it’s possible to go 65 mph in some locations, the speed limit is often much less. Often times the posted speed limit is 80 kilometers per hour, which is 50 miles per hour. The maximum posted on Highway 1 is 120 kph, or 75 mph.

Animals and trucks are two moving entities to always be wary of as a driver. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Some sections of the road are better than others. Potholes are a problem if it’s rained a lot. This adds to the time it takes to travel. Road construction seems to be constant, which also adds to time getting from Point A to Point B. Sometimes when a section has been washed out the detour is through dirt. Facebook even has a page dedicated to Baja road conditions.

Animals on the road is another concern, as well as vehicles without proper working parts—like brake lights.

The Sea of Cortez is picturesque even while whizzing by. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Gas usually is not a problem to find, but there are times when stations don’t have any. This is why the rule of thumb is to fill up when possible. One particular stretch of Highway 1 doesn’t have any stations, but entrepreneurs sell it out of containers along the side of the road. This liquid has a premium price, but at least you keep moving.

When it comes to the built environment, Highway 1 boasts a few major cities along the route, but is mostly small towns or lonesome looking taco stands. It’s the natural surroundings what will make one pull over for various photo ops. To the west is the anything but tranquil Pacific Ocean, while the east boasts the more placid and turquoise Sea of Cortez.

Sometimes the asphalt turns to dirt. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Fertile farmland is scattered throughout. Depending on the growing season it’s possible to buy produce along the highway without going into a store. Wineries can also be found on this stretch of road in the north.

The desert offers an array of flora. From the Dr. Seuss like bajooms to the federally protected cardón cactus. While much of the terrain is desert, mountains are visible in so many locations. Las Tres Vírgenes volcanoes, which were last active in 1746, are a distinct landmark at 6,548 feet or 1,996 meters.

There is plenty to be enamored by, with a plethora of possible side trips and things to see and do along the way. Take your time, it’s a highway to paradise.

Book Review: Warren rips apart U.S. economic policy

Book Review: Warren rips apart U.S. economic policy

It’s amazing how a few decisions can be so devastating to millions of people. If more people understood deregulation by the government, banking rules, and trade, it would be better for the middle class in the United States.

It doesn’t mean change would be forthcoming, but it might spur dialogue that could lead to change that would help the average American.

That was one of my take aways from listening to Elizabeth Warren’s book This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class (Metropolitan Books, 2017). Plenty of people will not read the book because of the author. That’s too bad. I would like to hear their thoughts about the issues she brings forth. I listened to the book, which was more enjoyable with Warren being the narrator.

Warren gives example after example how decisions in Washington have benefited the top wage earners and hurt the middle class. She does an excellent job of pointing out how corporate profits don’t trickle down.

Her delivery is candid and to the point. She doesn’t mince words. While in some ways the topic is complex, her explanations are easy to understand.

She looks back at the effects of various administrations through the Trump years. It’s a bit of history lesson as well as current civics. While some of the topics have been covered in daily news stories, to have all of this information in one spot is quite a resource. It also allows for a deeper understanding of all that has and is going on.

More than once she says the U.S. government is no longer serving the people. That is alarming, but reassuring at the same time knowing someone in the Senate is trying to undo the damage.

Sidewalks make walking in Baja a challenge

Sidewalks make walking in Baja a challenge

Sidewalk configurations in parts of Baja Sur can be confusing. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Walking in Baja can be dangerous. It has nothing to do with the people, but instead everything to do with the infrastructure.

Sidewalks, while they exist, are not built to a uniform scale. It’s a good idea to look down. Sometimes, though, it’s wise to look up because a power pole could be in the middle of the concrete.

It is common for poles to be in a sidewalk. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Sidewalks in Mexico don’t have to conform to any particular standard. Uniformity does not exist because it is usually up to the contractor on the project to build what he wants. This is the opposite of the United States where the Federal Highway Administration regulates sidewalk construction. Some rules in the U.S. include, “(A)dequate width of travel lanes, a buffer from the travel lane, curbing, minimum width, gentle cross-slope [2 percent or less], a buffer to private properties, adequate sight distances around corners and at driveways, shy distances to walls and other structures, a clear path of travel free of street furniture, continuity, a well-maintained condition, ramps at corners, and flat areas across driveways.”

Stairs may suddenly appear on a sidewalk. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Mexico could take a lesson from its northern neighbor. It’s so bad in some places in Baja Sur that walking in the street seems like a safer alternative. Though, based on statistics, Mexico streets are also not welcoming to walkers.

“Roughly 40 people die in traffic each day in Mexico, due to speeding cars, drunk driving, and a lack of traffic law enforcement. Its streets are the seventh deadliest in the world, according to the World Health Organization,” Bloomberg CityLabs reported in 2019.

Danger can presents itself on sidewalks in Baja, like this abrupt drop off. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With taxpayer dollars being limited, it’s understandable ripping up current sidewalks and replacing them with better ones is not going to happen. Still, it would behoove the Mexican powers that be to put standards in place for new construction or when repairs are being made to roads or the actual sidewalks.

It would be near impossible to use crutches, a walker or wheelchair in parts of Baja because the sidewalks are that difficult to navigate. For the able bodied, they are not something to run on. It might just end with a foot or more drop or be jarring because of the steep dips at the various ingress/egress points.

On a positive note, when in a town these sidewalks make one slow down while walking and take in all the surroundings, so that’s not a bad thing.

Charitable group providing menstruators with period supplies

Charitable group providing menstruators with period supplies

Considering half the population menstruates and everyone comes from this natural female body function, it is amazing how much stigma surrounds this monthly flow of blood.

“It is the source of life,” Veronica Wong simply said of periods. So why then are so many people embarrassed to talk about menstruation?

Newly-formed organization helps women obtain menstrual supplies.

Wong is chairwoman of Period Proud’s board, an organization created to break down barriers, remove the stigma around periods, and provide Black, indigenous, and people of color with monthly menstrual supplies.

Period Proud is a 501(c)4 started by Anisha Murarka. The 2019 Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s raids in Mississippi left her angry and sad, feeling like she needed to do something.

“With so many sole financial providers jailed instantly, the beginnings of Period Proud formed to send menstrual products to community centers and churches in Mississippi. The group’s mission was to ensure all menstruators did not have to worry about choosing between a meal or a box of menstrual products for up to two to three cycles,” the website says.

It was a side project of sorts for Murarka before she reached out to friends to help make Period Proud something more. The board has three members, all people of color, and fourth person involved in the organization. All are volunteers. They live in various parts of the United States.

Just in its infancy as an organization, Period Proud has sent more than 40,000 tampons and pads to marginalized menstruators and the BIPOC community. Groups in Minneapolis, Oakland, Cleveland, Louisville, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Los Angeles have been beneficiaries.

The reaction to these gifts has been heartfelt.

“Some said they had never had a whole box of tampons before,” Wong said. And this is in the United States in 2020.

Wong added, “As we delivered products to menstruators, we started hearing their stories. There is still a social stigma around menstruating. That is why we are collecting stories.”

Those first person accounts are on Period Proud’s website. Some are joyous recollections, including one person crediting her father for celebrating her womanhood. One woman was told by her mother that tampons are for sluts. Another didn’t know it was OK to urinate with tampon in. Sex and menstruation is a subject most menstruators face—no matter their sexuality.

Menstruation is also an economic issue and one of equity.

On Jan. 1, 2020, taxes on tampons sold in California were eliminated. Sales tax is also no longer allowed on specified sanitary napkins, menstrual sponges, and menstrual cups, along with diapers for babies. However, it’s just a two-year deal, so legislators will need to address the issue again this year or the tampon tax will be resurrected Jan. 1, 2022.

Eight states have completely eliminated the tampon tax: Nevada, Utah, New York, Florida, Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

Still, California is ahead of many others because public schools provide period products for free.

Period Proud as it grows plans to advocate for repealing pink taxes. Those go beyond menstrual products. They are called pink taxes because most things pink targeted for girls/women cost more than the same item in blue intended for a boy/man. A study published by New York City in December 2015 about gender pricing revealed that women pay more for similar products compared to men:

  • 7 percent more for toys and accessories
  • 4 percent more for children’s clothing
  • 8 percent more for adult clothing
  • 13 percent more for personal care products
  • 8 percent more for senior/home health care product.

This is not a new issue. A 1994 California report about gender-based pricing of services revealed women paid what amounted to a “gender tax” of approximately $1,351 each year for the same services as men.

This issue is global, especially when it comes to tariffs on international trade.

As Period Proud says, “Menstruation doesn’t stop when we are fighting for justice.” Following the organization on Instagram is the best way to keep informed.

Going forward Period Proud will continue working to deliver menstrual supplies where needed, plans to partner with other menstrual justice organizations, hopes to work with makers of menstrual products and other corporate entities, is looking into grants to help fund the cause, takes donations online, has swag for sale, and wants people to share their stories online.

Note: Veronica Wong is the author’s niece.



Produce goes directly from farm to consumer in Baja Sur

Produce goes directly from farm to consumer in Baja Sur

A variety of produce is grown for Baja Farm Fresh boxes. (Image: Baja Farm Fresh)

A private garden is about the only way to get fresher produce than what Baja Farm Fresh provides.

This Todos Santos-based company is a co-op of four farmers who since 2016 have been growing vegetables and fruits that are delivered right to the consumer—including hotels, restaurants and individuals.

The concept is what is known as community supported agricultural, which in the last decade has become a popular model in the United States for small farmers to bypass grocery stores and for consumers to know where their food is coming from. It’s working in Mexico, too.

These goodie boxes vary seasonally, evenly weekly, depending upon what is coming out of the ground. In December, some of the delectables included cabbage, a variety of greens, turnips, green beans, watermelon radishes, heirloom tomatoes, bouquets of herbs, squash blossoms, and more. More varieties of produce are expected to fill boxes this month.

Nicolás holds a bunch of freshly picked beets. (Image: Baja Farm Fresh)

Baja Farm Fresh farms are in El Carrizal, La Matanza, and Pescadero.

“We have very nice micro-climates in Pescadero,” Jorge Guevara, chief farmer for Baja Farm Fresh, said.

It can be fun and daunting to open a box because it’s always a surprise of what will be inside. Boxes are designed to sustain three adults who eat vegetables in all their meals. About 350 are delivered each week. Cost is 500 pesos, or about $25.

Instead of requiring a seasonal subscription where people pay upfront, Baja Farm Fresh allows customers to come and go. Boxes are delivered as long as the weather permits. The first boxes went to individuals in Los Cabos.

“After 1½ years we got calls from chefs because we started growing specialty items that were not conventional here,” Guevara said. He did not share what those items were.

Restaurants received daily deliveries until the pandemic struck, which forced many to close and others to serve fewer diners. Baja Farm Fresh pivoted by expanding availability to individuals beyond Cabo. Because the response was so good, deliveries are continuing to individuals in the expanded area. Restaurants in the growing area as well as Los Cabos have started wanting this fresh produce again. La Paz eateries will soon be in the rotation.

Four farms contribute to Baja Farm Fresh community supported agriculture boxes. (Image: Baja Farm Fresh)

The farmers are putting together a website (www.bajafarmfresh.com) that should be up this month. (For now, reach them on Facebook at Baja Farm Fresh.) On the website people will be able to place orders, add items from local producers like eggs, chicken and bread, and decide if they want a subscription, which would mean a discount on the box price.

Baja Farm Fresh is also working on changing pickup locations and having a wider range of times for people to get their goods. Last season deliveries were made almost every day. Now it’s more manageable with Tuesdays being Todos Santos, Pescadero and La Paz, and Wednesdays for Todos Santos, Pescadero and Los Cabos.

Boxes are recycled, with the goal that people return them so Baja Farm Fresh can use them again. The farmers are thinking about charging a fee if they are not returned.

In February, the plan is for the farmers to set up a display in the back of Doce Cuarenta Café in Todos Santos. The boutique farm will host four-, eight, and 12-week long courses for children about organic farming. On Saturdays, produce will be sold there as well as seedlings, seeds, compost and more.

A bit of Mexican history with each mouthful

A bit of Mexican history with each mouthful

Every bite just kept getting better. While I didn’t immediately know it, I soon learned I was eating a bit of Mexican history.

Chiles en nogada is no ordinary dish. This made it all the more special to have it for the first time with friends in Todos Santos on New Year’s Eve. We ordered our meal from El Refugio restaurant, which accommodated this vegetarian. Pork and chicken are normally incorporated into the mixture.

Chiles en nogada created by the restaurant El Refugio in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The dish is so beautiful it was hard to want to ruin the masterpiece with a fork and knife. The white walnut sauce with red pomegranate seeds and bits of fresh cilantro, along with the green of the poblano chile represented the white, red and green of the Mexican flag. It also looks Christmassy.

History says chiles en nogada, which essentially means chiles in walnut sauce, were the creation of the Augustinian nuns of the Santa Monica convent in Puebla in August 1821.

Knowing army Gen. Agustín de Iturbide would be in town after just signing the Treaty of Córdoba, the nuns knew something extraordinary needed to be part of the meal. That treaty established Mexico’s independence from Spain. Iturbide then became emperor of Mexico from 1822-23.

Often chiles en nogada is on menus throughout Mexico in August and September when pomegranates and walnuts are in season. This time period also commemorates when the dish was created as well as Mexican Independence Day on Sept. 16.

El Refugio, for its chiles en nogada, stuffs poblano chiles with diced pineapple, apples, pears, peaches, dried fruit, plantain, tomato, onion, pork and chicken. The walnut sauce is crema, cream cheese, walnuts, almonds, milk, pepper and salt.

It’s served at room temperature. The New Year’s Eve plate also came with a serving of white rice and mashed sweet potatoes. It was a wonderful balance of sweet and savory.

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