DREAMING ABOUT SPERRY CHALET

Yesterday, I got the text from Zach's mom. Sperry Chalet lodge, after standing strong for more than 100 years up in the backcountry of Glacier National Park, has burned down. My heart dropped into the pit of my stomach and I jumped online to try and find out what had happened. It turns out firefighters have been fighting a lightning-sparked fire near the chalet and Lake McDonald for the past two weeks, and it finally succumbed to the flames yesterday. So sad.

Exactly two years ago today, we had the great fortune of hiking up to this magical place and spending two nights. Built in 1912 by the Great Northern Railway and opened the following year to guests, Sperry Chalet has provided a base for hikers heading up to see the amazing Sperry Glacier for 100+ years. A National Historic Landmark, the chalet was built from simple rock, rubble, and timber in an homage to the alpine architectural style that the Railway was using for all of its buildings in the area: Montana would be the Switzerland of North America.

 

On our previous trip to Glacier, we stayed with Zach's parents at the more rustic of the Great Northern Railway chalets - Granite Park. At Granite Park, they provide communal facilities in which you can pack in your meals and prepare them yourself, as well as participate in fun ranger-led talks every night. All aspects of the trek are more family-friendly, including the hike in via the Highline Trail which is about 8 miles and less than 1000' of elevation gain.

Sperry Chalet, on the other hand, feels luxurious by comparison - or at least as luxurious as anything can feel when bear-proof pit toilets are in the equation. While rustic, the accommodations are full service - beds and linens provided in the main lodge, along with full catering and hearty mountain fare prepared by the friendly staff in the separate kitchen building. Hot breakfasts, lunches packed for you to take on your hike, freshly-baked homemade cookies and pies, delicious multi-course dinners - the works. It's backcountry hiking at its ultimate best, even if you have to think really long and hard about that 2am emergency hike to the bathroom.

Each night we were there, we drank hot chocolate and apple cider, played games until late and listened to stories from other guests about how they've been coming to Sperry for 20+ years with their families. The chalet is so well-loved.

The best part of Sperry - beyond the delicious meals and friendly staff - was its location. The hike in is about 3500' up over 7 miles, and we shared the trail with the pack horses that bring supplies up to the chalet. Another 4 miles and 2000' above is Sperry Glacier, and one of the most stunning day hikes I've ever experienced, including a run of granite stairs dynamited out of the side of the mountain. We made the trip at the end of the season, which provided awe-inspiring vistas and dramatic fog. I'm so grateful to have experienced this amazing place and so thankful for all those who tried to save it.

Here's to the Sperry Chalet rebuild so future generations can see the few glaciers left in the park, and experience the humbling beauty of places such as these.

All photos shot with either my Nikon D750 or my iPhone.

EXPLORING SANTIAGO WITH NERUDA

It wasn't until long after I moved to New York that I was introduced to the poetry of Pablo Neruda. As a lifelong Francophile, my literary interests always led me elsewhere, eastward - and quite honestly, I was intimidated by the thought of traveling to South America. Despite the beautiful Chilean imagery and love I found in his words, I found myself anxious at the thought of planning a trip south. I'm not exactly sure of the root of this travel anxiety, but I do distinctly remember hearing about Pinochet as a child and seeing scary footage on the TV. 

But discovering Neruda's work was just what I needed to kick me into gear to read more South American modern masters, and not surprisingly, this has shaken up my travel wishlist. So when I saw a good opportunity to head to Santiago for a long winter weekend, I packed my swimsuit and summer dresses and left my snowboots at home. After an overnight flight through Atlanta, I checked in bright and early to the Crowne Plaza (free stay, thanks to points!) and immediately set off to explore the nearby barrios - Lastarria and Bellavista. I was absolutely blown away by all the street art, which puts many areas of Brooklyn to shame. And the people were so friendly, and street life so vibrant! I even found myself in the middle of a parade celebrating dozens of native South American cultures - marching bands representing Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and more.

One of the highlights of my short trip was booking a guided photo walk through Foto Ruta Santiago. I met up the next morning with Cat, a local professional photographer, to explore street scenes off the beaten path. We met up at Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral to explore the beautiful and imposing campus, which has a complicated story that follows the arc of recent Chilean history. Originally built to be the venue for the United Nations trade and development conference in 1972, it was repurposed by Pinochet's military junta as the center of operations for the Ministry of Defense. Cat told me that to this day, people don't know the full story of all the terrible things planned within its walls. But now, it's been restored and reused as a beautiful cultural center at the heart of the city, and it was obvious how effective the restoration has been. We watched dozens of dance teams and musicians meet in its enclaves to convene and practice.

Setting off from the center, we explored the back streets and alleyways of the city, checking out star attractions like the Mercado de Flores and Mercado Central along the way. I loved seeing the city through her eyes and hearing about her experience living there, and it's definitely an experience I'd recommend for any photographer - especially one traveling solo as I was. Returning to my hotel afterwards, I was pleasantly exhausted and buzzing with stimulation, so grabbed my handy Neruda compendium and headed to the pool to relax and dream about my next trip back. Perhaps it should be to Valparaiso and the Pacific coast to see his houses at La Sebastiana and Isla Negra? Let's go!

All photos shot with either my Pentax 645N & Kodak Portra 400 or my iPhone.

DRIVING DOWN THE COAST OF PORTUGAL

Last year, I took a little trip to Portugal and thought Lisbon was the bee's knees. And yes - it's a super cool city with endless design shops, amazing food, and plenty of sunshine. I can't wait to find a good excuse to go back. But what I might've left out was how completely in love I fell with the countryside down south in Alentejo and along the Algarve coast.

 

On our way south from Lisbon, we stopped at every parque natural we could find and every last one was as gorgeous as the last. Coming home every night to a farm in Odemira, we explored the coast from Sines to Lagos. We hiked out to see the pounding surf and took long walks along the dunes. We drove through so many tiny whitewashed villages and took the long way home. We ate simply grilled fish and hearty seafood stews. Did I mention the wine?

You should find an excuse to go there, too. Be still my heart.

All photos shot with either my Pentax 645N & Kodak Portra 400 or my iPhone.

Portra just loves that Portuguese sunshine.