Take a Hike: 5 More Great Tips for the Urban Explorer
As a fellow writer friend of mine recently said, “City = landscape. Treat it that way.” Sometimes we’re so caught up in doing the right things to get away from city life that we forget how rich the urban landscape itself can be. We all know that we should be making an effort to spend more time outdoors, but if you’re not lucky enough to live with acres of, say, a protected wildlife refuge in your backyard, it can be difficult to find the time to invest in driving a few hours just to take a quick hike. Which is why I love the concept of urban hiking.
Space: Why Bother?
Is space worth it?
Another year, another whirl of astronautical triumphs and failures, all at the taxpayer’s expense. With environmental problems already testing us to our limits, do we really need to go in search of the mysteries of the universe?
Not Worth It
Space eats money. The technical challenges of space exploration, particularly the manned variety, are such that any extraterrestrial venture is fabulously expensive. NASA’s 2007 budget? $16 billion. Accompanying this massive outlay is the failure rate. Space is the most hostile environment we know of – yet we’re launching super-expensive machinery into it, hoping everything will be fine. All too often, it isn’t. India has recently lost an £80m lunar probe. NASA lost both its Mars Surveyor spacecraft in 1998, at a cost of $125m. It’s a bottomless black hole. Why keep trying to fill it?
Space Can’t Solve Our Problems. “Spread humanity into space” goes the argument, but when only the richest reach the stars, it’s surely a nonsense idea. How exactly does this help our worsening overpopulation problem? It makes sense in the long run – but first things first, we have a planet to save.
Space Is Too Damn Big. The number of discovered exoplanets (”those outside the solar system”) now exceeds 400, with more popping into view every month. But in a practical sense, this is meaningless. They’re just too far away to ever go there. Not for nothing is space described as the “final frontier”: the distances are impossibly vast. When the best imagined speed to the nearest star results in a century’s travel-time (one way), you can be sure E.T. won’t be popping by for candy anytime soon.
Space Is A Bargain. The work that NASA did with its relatively paltry $19b budget in 2009 is simply amazing. Sound like a lot? Compare it with the cost of the Iraq War ($10b a month) or GDP ($13 trillion+). Considering how tough it is to work in space, it’s terrific value for money. And the space program isn’t a drain – it generates revenue, creates jobs and stimulates many industries. Space exploration is investment at home. Without it, many technologies we take for granted probably wouldn’t exist. (Not Velcro – that’s a myth).
Space Is How We Fix Our Own Planet. Remember the incredible image of Earth-rise (shown below), described by photographer Galen Rowell as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken”? That’s a gift the space program has bestowed upon us – ecological self-awareness. We know how fragile our world is because we can see it, bright and alive against the backdrop of the most profound emptiness we know. The help to our planet is technological, too: For example, you may have heard of a little invention developed for spacecraft called solar panels.
We Are Too Small. In July 1994, the remnants of comet Shoemaker-Levy smacked into Jupiter. Some of the holes left in its atmosphere were bigger than the Earth. Forget cheesy Bruce Willis films: it’s scientific fact that we’re a celestial sitting duck and it’s only a matter of time. It’s true we can’t move entire populations, but we can colonize other worlds (in theory) and as a species, give ourselves a fighting chance. Yet it’s not just raw survival instinct that should propel us towards the stars – it’s the fact that we’re human, and it’s what we do. We’re pioneers. It’s why we left the trees, why we crossed the oceans, how the proverbial West was won. Without exploration, we stagnate. Exploring space is how we can remain ourselves.
Images: ‘J’, Bill Anders
The City Girl’s Guide to Urban Hiking
Soot, screeching sirens and forbidding skyscrapers; is this your definition of the big city? Think again. The urban landscape might seem like the epicenter of everything that’s wrong with the world, but in fact cities are where some of the most interesting components of the green movement are currently taking place.
With everything from urban farms and electric cars, large cities are surprisingly livable, and now there’s another trend on the rise: urban hiking. Living the city life has long been equated with staying indoors and neglecting to feed our human need for spending time in nature, but the onslaught of urban hiking tours is showing us that it is in fact possible to get outside, be active and explore new places in the process.
What is Urban Hiking?
Forget the days of mindlessly jumping in a taxi to go from point A to point B. Urban hiking is all about planning, executing and enjoying the journey, another great example of slow travel. According to the Urban Dictionary, urban hiking is “the exploration of diverse urban environments on foot.” Conservation and travel groups alike promote urban hiking, as it not only gets people outdoors and active, but also allows them to explore the ins and outs of urban landscapes.
Choose a Theme
The key to a great urban hike is planning. Pick a theme to your hike so you can choose specific points of interest to visit. This allows you to explore a certain aspect of the city you’re in and makes it easier to plan an itinerary. Here are some possible themes to consider:
- Local food – Find three restaurants or cafes that all focus on serving local food and plan for an appetizer at each.
- Markets – Markets abound in big cities – Paris and San Francisco in particular come to mind – and offer everything from local foods to crafts. Pick out a few you want to explore and track your route.
- Parks – For a more natural experience, explore the green spaces that your urban environment has to offer. Choose a few within a walkable distance and pack a picnic item for each.
- Architecture – Explore the designs and spaces that make the city that you’re in unique. Cities like Los Angeles have already started offering architecture-inspired guided urban hikes.
- Art galleries - If you want a chicer urban hike, give it an art theme. Many cities offer an Art Walk on a certain night of the month. This is a great chance to plan a quick and easy urban hike itinerary. Plot out some of your favorite galleries that you want to check out and end the evening with a glass of wine at a local bistro.
Planning your route
Easy tools like Google’s pedometer will help you track how far you will be walking. Plan realistically; if you’re going with a group of friends, you’ll go at a slower pace than you expect. Assume you’ll cover about one or two miles per hour. A great day trip could be 5 or 6 miles with several stopping points incorporated, keeping you active but also ensuring that the day is enjoyable.
Be sure to bring
Just because you’re in the city doesn’t mean you can throw traditional hiking rules of thumb out the window. Carry a bottle of water and some healthy organic nuts or dried fruit to snack on.
If you’re planning on making stop off at a cafe, bring your reusable thermos or mug. And just in case you come across a to-die-for item in an unknown corner boutique, make sure you’ve got a reusable bag on hand.
If you’re looking for urban hiking suggestions, tourism websites are a great place to start, and many have suggested routes if you don’t want to plan your own. Guidebooks that have walking tour routes are also a great resource.
But remember, the best part about urban hikes are that you can tailor them to explore all the things that you’re interested in, so don’t be afraid to break out of the box!
Do you have a favorite urban hike? Tell us about it!
Green Winter Adventures: Top 5 Eco Ski Spots
Blue skies, fresh powder and a day full of clean mountain air; nothing beats a great day of skiing, especially in late winter and early spring. But even though skiing gets us outdoors and active, it’s not always an inherently environmentally friendly sport. Big resorts mean big crowds and along with them, a laundry list of things that can harm the environment.
A week on the slopes means good things for your body and soul, but it’s equally important to consider the impact on those slopes you’re skiing down. Still, a busy girl’s gotta prioritize her time, and planning your winter ski getaway shouldn’t be a research headache. Fortunately, there’s the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition, an independent organization that rates ski resorts and areas according to a strict set of environmental criteria in four areas: habitat protection, watershed conservation, climate change consideration, and environmental policies and practices.
So what’s your best best in terms of an eco-friendly ski resort? Here are the SACC’s top five, meaning that you can rest assured these places are doing their part to keep the environment in mind, and all you have to focus on is enjoying your time on the slopes.
1. Squaw Valley, California
The top-ranked ski resort, Squaw Valley does a great job when it comes to habitat protection, particularly because it puts a high value on protecting undisturbed and environmentally sensitive areas and making sure that local endangered species are protected. But it’s also a world class resort with over 4,000 acres of terrain, which means you’re sure to enjoy yourself.
2. Aspen Mountain Ski Resort, Colorado
Known for its amazing runs, Aspen also gets top environmental grades across all four SACC categories. But even though the resort may be green, if you’re planning a trip to Aspen it’s also important to consider the environmental impact of your travel as well as lodging. Fortunately, the resort is close to the heart of town, cutting your transportation needs.
3. Buttermilk Mountain Ski Resort, Colorado
Along with Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk is part of the four resort consortium Aspen Snowmass. It’s currently the home of ESPN X Games through 2012, giving this green resort great national exposure and hopefully encouraging other ski areas to take similar steps to protect the environment.
4. Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, California
Another Lake Tahoe gem, Sugar Bowl is a great venue for a family trip, complete with an extensive network of kid’s trails as well as plenty of slopes for the more experienced. It also does a great job when it comes to protecting local watersheds.
5. Sundance Resort, Utah
Established by Robert Redford, and situated on 6,000 acres of wilderness, the Sundance Resort has everything from skiing to theater, all with four star comfort. Being located in such a beautiful area of the country, the resort is fully committed to doing all it can to consider the environment. Beyond implementing common green policies like a recycling program and offering organic goods in the restaurant, Sundance also has its own glassworks kiln, where glass bottles are broken down and turned into artwork used around the property.
To learn about more green ski areas, you can read the full Top 10 list here.
Don’t see one that’s near you? The SACC also lets you compare ski areas by state. Here’s to a relaxing, and environmentally friendly, ski getaway!
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