The Gourmet Oasis in the Arizona Desert You Have to Taste to Believe
The glorious disorientation of it all first struck me while listening to a young woman exuberantly explain to a room full of about 75 people the differences between late harvest and early harvest olive oils. She passed around samples in itty bitty paper cups and explained how to taste it. (“Pour it all on your tongue and smoosh it on the roof of your mouth.”) She explained then how to assess it with the attention sommeliers pay to every sensory detail of wine. (Is it balanced or robust? Bitter or more buttery?)
Just your basic average February afternoon in the blazing sun of the Arizona desert. I was in Queen Creek, Arizona, about half hour southeast of Phoenix. It was only one stop on my two-day spree through the Mesa Fresh Foodie Trail, which, in addition to Mesa, Arizona’s second largest town, includes the neighboring small towns of Queen Creek and Gilbert. Established in 2016 to showcase the area’s culinary bounty, it’s a perfect model of the growing movement in agritourism. And it’s delicious at every turn.
BBQ Pulled Pork from Pheonix Public Market Café. (courtesy Phoenix Public Market Café)
PHOENIX PUBLIC MARKET
Before we embarked on the trail, we fueled up at the Phoenix Public Market Café, a spacious, rustic-chic eatery and bar that opened in May 2013 and offers a wealth of options for carnivores and vegans and vegetarians alike. (See: mesquite-roasted BBQ pulled pork. Also: Superfood Salad) The menu focuses on seasonal ingredients, much of which is purchased at the year-round farmers’ market that operates on Saturdays in the neighboring lot, and the emphasis on local fare extends beyond the kitchen to the bar, where local beers rule, the coffee station, and the cute market section. We picked up some fresh locally roasted Cartel Coffee and hit the road.
Agritopia is exactly what its name implies: a 160-acres urban farm, 11 of which are devoted to an organic farming. There are several dozen homes on the property. What started in 1927 as a farm run by homesteaders has grown into a metropolis that now houses Joe’s Farm Grill, a bustling eatery with indoor and outdoor seating that evokes the burger joints of the 1950s, a sleek yet cozy café with cement brick walls, overflowing pastry cases, and shelves of indulgent cupcakes, and an indoor market featuring a beer bar selling local brews, housewares shop, a paper store, and more. Date palms, citrus and olive groves, grapevines, peach orchards, community gardens and much more dot the landscape. Locals buy produce through the honor system in a small 24-hour market space and picking is a pastime that attracts visitors far and wide. “You don’t have to live here to pick, you just have to be excited about it,” says Joe Johnston, whose father bought the farm in 1960. Today Joe, a recovering engineer, oversees the varied operations. We caught him on the premises and he walked us through the property, explaining that the Grill’s dining room is located in a space once occupied by his family’s living room, the date palms are the legacy of Lebanese immigrants who settled here, and the widespread reach of the regional farming. (About 90% of the lettuce in New England comes from Arizona, he says.)
Hayden Flour Mills makes crackers and other products with White Sonora, one of the many OG heritage grains. (@haydenflourmills/Instagram)
By 2019, Steve Sossaman and his family will celebrate a century of being on the 800 acres that make up Sossaman Farm. Little surprise, then, that he operates the farm using old-world techniques, like crop rotation, a natural method of keeping the ground fertile. The main attraction here is the mill, a business that’s been operating since 1870 (though originally it was located in Tempe.) They use an old-school stone mill to create flour with heritage grains. Steve, a farmer, oversees proceedings here. He waxed poetic (read: geeked out) to me about those ancient grains: Ethiopian Blue, Tibetan purple, Roman Farro. They can be traced back to the Fertile Crescent, so they thrive in Arizona because they don’t need much water. Their deep root systems, he explained, absorb more nutrients and minerals (code for “flavor.”) The intensely earthy flavors of the crackers that are made with theses flours are intriguing, to be sure, but the stories behind them are even more captivating. Roman Farro is referred to as “Jesus wheat” because it’s been around nearly that long; white Sonora was brought to the US around 1700 from Spain by a priest who used it to convert Indians because at the time it was that you could only take communion with a wheat wafer. His is one of the handful of mills to make crackers and other products. I was thrilled to find them in Whole Foods when I returned home to New York.
The stone mill from Italy's Calabria region of Italy offers a glimpse of olive-making history at Queen Creek Olive Mill. (Courtesy Queen Creek Olive Mill)
“We’re here today to learn about extra virgin olive oil,” announced the animated young woman standing in front of a flowchart mapping out olive oil production. “What’s the big deal? Why does Rachel Ray always rave about EVOO? For one thing, it’s full of good things: polyphenols, antioxidants, omega threes, vitamins. It’s the best fat you can put into your body. And it’s delicious.” She quickly launched into a salvo of astounding trivia: Olive oil dates back to before time of Christ. Ancient Romans have references to it in their writings. Olive trees can live to be up to 3000 years old.
At the Mill, everything you assume about EVOO’s European identity will be blown to smithereens. Founded by husband and wife team Perry and Brenda Rea, they presently grow 16 varietals of olives—Italian, Greek and Spanish—onsite. There’s a stone mill outside, a showpiece, that comes from Italy’s Calabria region. Inside, is the mill from Turkey that’s used to make the product. It’s referred to by the sleek name of Olive Max 33 and the Reas were the first to bring one to the US.
At the mill, you learn that each tree can produce anywhere from 50 to 300 pounds of fruit and the Olive Max 33 can process 2.5 tons of olives per hour. Roughly speaking, for every ton (2000 pounds) of olives yields approximately 30 to 45 gallons of oil. In the desert.
It was the tail end of about an hour-long tour ($7) and after the tasting, the crowd was let loose into what can only be described as a gourmet bazaar and food court. At one end was an enclave selling olive oil body products and candles. Aisles of foodstuff include the farm’s products--tapenade, chocolate, vinegars, and, of course, olive oil—as well as goods from area producers, like pasta sauce, drink mixers, and picked vegetables. Along the periphery of the space, people lined up at food stalls for artisanal coffee, bruschetta, panini, and antipasti, most of which is made from local produce, hormone-free meat, and plenty of olive oil.
Schnepf Farm, a fourth-generation-owned family farm, counts peaches as one of its many specialty crops. (Courtesy Visit Mesa)
The largest organic peach orchard in Arizona is on Schnepf Farm. They’ve been growing them on the property since 1960 and today they grow ten varieties. Little wonder, then, that crowds descend here for a weekend each May for the Annual Peach Festival. Actually, crowds appear at this fourth-generation-owned 600-acre farm at different points throughout the year for various reasons: the acres of flowering trees on display each February for the Peach Blossom Celebration; The Pumpkin and Chile Party, a multi-weekend jamboree throughout each October with hayrides, a petting zoo, races, and a ton of other games and rides. There have been years where visitors top 100,000 in October alone. But reasons to spend time here extend far beyond the seasonal occasions. The farm is owned by Mark Schnepf and his wife Carrie. Mark’s grandfather bought the 640 acres for $25/acre in 1941. Framed newspaper clippings and photos of the whole family, from his father showcasing the airplanes he once owned to Mark and Carrie's wedding day, line the wall of what was once the original farmhouse, which his parents built in the 1960s. The property is massive, but the room is a constant reminder of its wholesome soul.
Today, if there isn't a festival, visitors still come en mass for seasonal you-pick-it opportunities. Or you could just spend a quiet afternoon at the the country store-style bakery. Spend an afternoon lingering over a slice of fresh, warm peach pie and tea, then be sure to grab some homemade honeys and jams on your way out.
These Are the 12 Oldest Places in America
What constitutes "old" depends on where in the world you are—200 years sounds old, but not in comparison with 2,000 or 20,000. But just how far back does human achievement go in this country? We challenged ourselves to find out. We hit the road, spoke to historians, and dug deep in the history books to find the oldest of the old when it came to everything from cities to airports across America. And while not everything on this list is old in the European sense of the word, you'll find that it's some of the 19th and 20th century firsts (the airport, the skyscraper, for example) that established the United States as an important player in the world's history. Of course, there are churches, cities, and archaeological finds that well pre-date our own 1776 Independence, too, thanks to Spanish settlements, Pilgrims, and the Native Americans who have been here all along. Here are the top 12 places for exploring America's past. Oldest City: Cahokia, c. 700–1400 UNESCO officially named Cahokia (15 minutes from modern-day St. Louis) the largest and earliest prehistoric settlement north of Mexico back in the 1980s. It was thought to be just a seasonal encampment, important but not that exciting. Then, in January 2012, reports were released showing that this was actually the first true North American city: 500 thatch-roofed rectangular houses were gridded around ceremonial plazas and stretched eight miles on either side of the Mississippi River; at its peak it had 20,000 inhabitants. Visit the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site and get a sense of the scope from the top of Monks Mound, a 100-foot-tall monumental outlook that took an estimated 22 million cubic feet of earth to make. 30 Ramey St., Collinsville, Ill., 618/346-5160, cahokiamounds.org. Oldest Art: Chumash Cave Painting, c. 1000 Art, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Still, few can debate the impressiveness of these 500-plus-year-old rock paintings in Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park in the Santa Ynez Mountains near Santa Barbara, Calif.. Colorful and abstract symbols, possibly representing mythic figures or natural phenomena (like a 1677 solar eclipse), were applied with crushed mineral pigment for unknown reasons. Is it art? Is it graffiti? Bring a flashlight and theorize away. The paintings are easily viewed behind a protective grate after a short, steep hike. Painted Cave Rd., Santa Barbara, Calif., 805/733-3713, parks.ca.gov. Oldest Community: Acoma Pueblo, c. 1150 Seventy miles west of Albuquerque, N.M., the Acoma people have lived continuously for nearly 900 years atop a 367-foot sandstone bluff. Homes are multi-story, multi-family "apartment complexes" that can be reached only by exterior ladders, much like the cliff cities of Mesa Verde and Gila, where their first nation brethren the Anasazi and the Mogollon lived, respectively. Group tours depart daily from Sky City Cultural Center at the bottom of the mesa, while the Haak'u Museum screens culturo-historical videos, offers fantastic pottery for sale (with plenty more vendors outside), and fry bread with green chile stew in the café. Interstate 40 & Exit 102, 800/747-0181, sccc.acomaskycity.org. Oldest Timber Frame House: The Fairbanks House, c. 1637–1641 Thanks to the magic of dendrochronology (a.k.a. tree-ring dating), the Fairbanks House was declared North America's oldest timber-framed house. It's amazing that the wooden house is still standing, about 375 years after it was built. Eight generations of the Fairebanks family lived in this homestead, 25 minutes outside of Boston, first in the two-story, two-room core, and later, as fashions dictated and wealth allowed, throughout its "new" additions. No grand renovation ever unified the various sections, so much of the original handiwork and historical details and construction techniques have remained. The house now exists as a museum and contains furniture, paintings, and other artifacts from the Fairbanks family. 511 East St., Dedham, Mass, 781/326-1170, fairbankshouse.org. Oldest Church: San Miguel Mission c. 1710 Although Santa Fe, N.M., can feel a bit like a studio backlot at times, there is some authenticity under all that freshly spread adobe. This is America's oldest capital city, after all, and the third oldest surviving European settlement (after St. Augustine, Fla., and Jamestown, Va.). Minus a few years of Indian occupation and partial razing during the Pueblo Revolt, serene San Miguel Chapel has stood as a compact call to Catholicism from the day Spain planted its founding flag right until U.S. annexation. The Spanish Colonial church was finished in 1710 (it replaced a 1626 chapel that was destroyed in a fire) and anchors the Barrio de Analco Historic District. Mass is still given on Sundays within its cool confines, beneath thick wooden beams and in front of a gorgeously carved wooden reredos. 401 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, N.M., 505/983-3974. Oldest Bar: Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, c. 1722 Nightlife is a murky business—especially when you're dealing with pirates and smugglers, which is how this bar got its start. The squat townhouse is the oldest structure to operate as a bar in the States, and it may even be the country's oldest continuously operating bar, period. Located on the far end of Bourbon Street, in New Orleans, it's the Vieux Carré's best remaining example of French briquette-entre-poteaux construction. And the establishment has weathered the centuries, first as a grog-soaked home base to nefarious privateers Jean and Pierre Lafitte, a gay bar in the 1950s, and the laid-back, candle-lit pub that survives today. 941 Bourbon St., New Orleans, La., 504/593-9761, lafittesblacksmithshop.com. Oldest Continuously Operating Museum: Peabody Essex Museum, 1799 Back when museums were officially known as a "cabinet of natural and artificial curiosities," a group of Salem, Mass., sea captains founded the East India Marine Society with a specific charter provision to collect such specimens. That legacy is now the nation's oldest continuingly operating museum. (The Charleston Museum in South Carolina was founded in 1773, but had a period of closure and didn't open to the public until 1824.) Today, you can see the Peabody Essex Museum's 1.8 million pieces of maritime, Asian, African, Indian, and Oceanic art plus 22 historic buildings, including the Qing Dynasty Yin Yu Tang house. East India Square, 161 Essex St., Salem, Mass., 866/745-1876, pem.org. Oldest Public Garden: United States Botanic Garden, 1820 Perhaps it was all that cherry tree business, but George Washington himself had a vision of a modern capital with a botanic garden to teach the importance of plants to the young nation. This didn't become a reality until 1820, when President Monroe and an act of Congress created the United States Botanic Garden on the grounds of the Capitol building. Today's permanent location—a three-acre plot adjacent to the Mall and southwest of the Capitol—was established in 1933. Open every day of the year, the site allows visitors to explore a butterfly and rose garden outside and jungle, desert, primeval, and special exhibitions inside the gorgeous 1933 glass conservatory. 100 Maryland Ave. SW, Washington, D.C., 202/225-8333, usbg.gov. Oldest National Park: Yellowstone National Park, 1872 With a flourish of the pen, Ulysses S. Grant changed where kids spend their summer vacations forever when he created the world's first national park. Yellowstone was made up of pristine wilderness straddling the Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho territories. (Tthey weren't states back in 1872, and the federal government oversaw the park until the National Parks Service was created in 1916.) Today, Yellowstone continues to be the system's bubbly, geyser-riffic, and wildlife-filled emblem of eco-consciousness. There is some controversy when it comes to which park is technically the oldest, though. Hot Springs National Park, southwest of Little Rock, Ark., was made a "government reservation" back in 1832, but didn't join the parks system until 1921. 307/344-7381, nps.gov. Oldest Skyscraper: Wainwright Building, 1892 When you are done looking at the prehistoric mounds at Cahokia, head into downtown St. Louis for a more modern pile. It's easy to define today's skyscrapers—just look up! But sussing out their more diminutive ancestors can be like figuring out if your great-great-great-great-uncle Jeremiah fought in the Civil War—and might bring architects to just that. One thing all experts can agree on: Skyscrapers must have a load-bearing steel frame. For that, Louis Sullivan's Wainwright Building, in downtown St. Louis, rises as America's oldest surviving specimen. (Chicago's Home Insurance Building, from 1884, was technically the first, but it was razed in 1931.) Dwarfed today by its neighbors, the Wainwright Building's 10 stories of red brick aesthetically defined what modern office buildings were to be in both form and construction. 705 Chestnut St., St. Louis, Mo. Oldest Roller Coaster: Leap-the-Dips, 1902 The Leap-the-Dips at Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pa., has been white-knuckling riders for 110 years by roaring down a figure eight of oak tracks at 10 mph with a vertical height of 41 feet. This may sound tame compared with the cheek-blasting G-forces of today's sidewinding behemoths that loop your stomach in your lap, but a rickety ride on the world's oldest roller coaster can still thrill, especially when you consider that it's the last remaining side-friction model in North America—no up-stop wheels bolt it to the track. That nine-foot drop suddenly feels a whole lot steeper. 700 Park Ave., Altoona, Pa., 800/434-8006, lakemontparkfun.com. Oldest Airport: College Park Airport, 1909 You won't be seeing any A-380s touching down at College Park Airport. The runway is only 2,600 feet long (jetliners need about 8,000 feet). We bet Wilbur Wright had no idea what the future of aviation would look like when he first brought military pilots here to train a century ago. Today, you can take the half-hour Metro ride from downtown Washington, D.C., to visit the on-site aviation museum. Temporary exhibitions are put on in conjunction with the Smithsonian, and there are classic aircraft on display, including a 1910 Wright Model B reproduction and the biplane-like Berliner Helicopter No. 5, which made its first controlled flight from here in 1924. 1985 Cpl. Frank Scott Dr., College Park, Md., 301/864-6029, pgparks.com.
Yes, These 10 Theaters Are Haunted!
We go to the theater for all kinds of thrills—suspense, romance, and unexpected plot twists. But the theaters themselves, with their long histories of players, staff, and audience members coming and going, are often the stuff of legend. Maybe it's just because the buildings are old and creaky, maybe it's because we expect our emotions to get cranked up to 11 when we walk into a performance space, but these 10 theaters all come with at least one resident spirit. Belasco Theatre New York City David Belasco was one of the most colorful of the early 20th-century Broadway producers, known both for being a lady's man and, in a move that was oddly flamboyant even for a theater producer, dressing in a monk's flowing robes. His ghost is said to haunt this theater-district gem. Originally named the Stuyvesant when it opened in 1907, the theater featured a duplex apartment for the producer. The Belasco has played host to some of the greatest Broadway productions, including Clifford Odets's play Awake and Sing in 1935, the nude review Oh, Calcutta! In 1971, and a revival of August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone in 2009 that was attended by President and Mrs. Obama. But theater pedigree has not kept the space from some unsettling sightings. David Belasco's robe-clad figure has been reported in the office space that now occupies his old apartment and in the theater's balcony. Some women have even reported feeling a mysterious ghostly pinch, which theater folk attribute to (who else?) the randy producer. Palace Theatre New York City Many ghosts lay claim to the title "famous," but the Palace is home to the spirit of a superstar, Judy Garland, who blew audiences away in her 1960s comeback performances here with heart-stopping renditions of hits like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "The Man That Got Away" before descending back into the addictions that would take her life. The theater started as a vaudeville house in 1913 and "playing the Palace" was regarded as the pinnacle for touring singers, dancers, and comics. The stage has been graced by Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, Ethel Merman, and other stars, and has played host to groundbreaking musicals, including Man of La Mancha, La Cage aux Folles, and Beauty and the Beast. But musicians playing in the orchestra pit may not feel as lucky as audience members: Legend has it that a special door was built in the pit for Garland's entrances and exits, and that the ghostly figure of the troubled star is sometimes seen in the doorway. Paris Opera Paris Yup, the Phantom of the Opera is rooted in legend. In the early 20th century a mysterious apartment (and, by some accounts, a male corpse) were found in the opera theater, the Palais Garnier, inspiring the 1910 novel that in turn inspired a silent film and the smash Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. The theater, which has been renovated several times since the 19th century, acquired a reputation for lavish productions and sets. But, curiously, although the well-known Phantom has brought the Paris Opera worldwide fame, there are no serious Phantom sightings on record. (A chandelier did fall in 1896, killing a construction worker and supplying the famous scene in the novel.) The theater's resident ghost is an older woman who committed suicide in the 19th century and is said to roam the streets outside the opera house searching for the man who jilted her. Palace Theatre Los Angeles The oldest movie theater in L.A., the Palace has a "third balcony" that was once closed off from the rest of the theater for racial segregation and became legendary as the site of ghost sightings, with onstage performers seeing mysterious figures in the balcony when locked doors should have prevented anyone from appearing up there. The Palace, known until 1926 as the Orpheum, was once one of the premier theaters on the famed "Orpheum circuit" of vaudeville houses and saw its share of live performances before transforming itself into a silent-movie venue. Over the years, audience members and theater staff reported the figure of a woman dressed in white lace crossing the stage during performances, then disappearing into the wings, never to be seen again. Theatre Royal Drury Lane London Standing on a spot that's been occupied by three previous theaters since 1663, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (known as "Drury Lane" to Londoners), should be one of the likeliest spots for a spook. Sure enough, one of London's most famous ghosts, the "man in gray," is regularly reported here, wearing riding boots, a powdered wig, and tricorn hat. The story goes that the apparition is the spirit of the fellow whose skeletal remains were found in a walled-up passageway here in the late 19th century. Kind of makes you wonder what else might be lurking in the walls, no? On a much more positive note, the Drury Lane is where Rodgers and Hammerstein's golden-age musicals had their London premieres, including Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and The King and I. Orpheum Theatre Memphis, Tenn. Sure, most of the seats at Memphis's Orpheum are good ones. But you might want to steer clear of C-5. That's where "Mary," a see-through apparition, has been seen enjoying rehearsals and performances at this former vaudeville venue. Built as the Grand Opera House at the corner of Main and Beale streets in 1890, the theater joined the "Orpheum circuit" in 1907 but burned in 1923. The new Orpheum was built on the site of the Grand, at twice the size. It was converted into a movie theater in the 1940s, then began hosting touring productions and concerts in the '70s. In 1984, a refurbished Orpheum reopened and has seen productions as big as The Phantom of the Opera nad Les Miserables and acts as intimate as Jerry Seinfeld and Tony Bennet. St. James Theatre Wellington, New Zealand It's curious that the "haunted theater" phenomenon is found mostly in European and Euro-centric cities, and even in New Zealand, thousands of miles from the lights of Broadway and the West End, a theater teems with alleged paranormal activity. The St. James Theater was built in 1913 and was initially a venue for silent movies. Throughout the 20th century, the theater was home to film, live theater (ranging in quality from Shakespeare to minstrel shows), and other entertainments. But perhaps no single theater has such a wide array of freaky sightings. "Yuri," a Russian acrobat who supposedly fell to his death during a performance, is often credited for the theaters lights turning on and off. The "wailing woman" was, the story goes, an actress who was booed off the stage and consequently did herself in; she is now blamed not only for mysterious cries heard in the space but also for a series of calamities that have befallen actresses at the St. James, including falls, sprains, and performance-endangering head colds. Another legend has it that during World War II, a boys choir sang its last concert at the St. James before departing New Zealand on a ship that was never seen again. The boys' ghostly singing is now heard by stagehands and others. Adelphi Theatre London The present-day Adelphi is a relative kid among London playhouses, built in 1930, but theaters have stood on this site since the early 19th century, and the place has a paranormal pedigree to match its age. The ghost of actor William Terriss, who was stabbed to death at the stage door in 1897, is said to haunt the Adelphi. According to legend, Terriss's understudy had a dream the night before the actor's murder in which Terriss lay bleeding on his dressing room floor. The theater was home to Noel Coward's Words and Music in 1932 and hosted the London premiere of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music in 1975. Grauman's Chinese Theatre Los Angeles In a story that would fit right into a film noir classic such as Sunset Boulevard or Double Indemnity, Hollywood lore says that actor Victor Killian walks the forecourt of this iconic L.A. landmark, searching for the man who beat him to death outside the theater, which has been the site of lavish movie openings since Tinseltown's early days. You can do some searching of your own outside the theater, where the cement handprints, footprints, and signatures of Hollywood stars have adorned the sidewalk for decades. The theater was the site of the Academy Awards ceremonies in 1944, 1945, and 1946, and is next door to the Dolby Theater, where the Oscars celebration is currently held each year. Oregon Shakespeare Festival Ashland, Ore. From royal ghosts traipsing through Macbeth and Hamlet to the knavish sprite Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream and the mysterious, magical Ariel in The Tempest, William Shakespeare provided the world with a small army of supernatural supporting roles. But the Bard of Avon's work is seldom as downright terrifying as the grounds of Lithia Park, home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which offers a mix of indoor and outdoor theater spaces. The ghost of a young girl murdered in the 19th century is said to walk the grounds of the park. Not impressed? Visitors to the park have told local police that the girl is surrounded by a mysterious blue light that enshrouds onlookers and drives them to hysterical fright.
Houston Tourism Bounces Back
Though many Houstonians are still piecing their lives back together, the city’s downtown area was mainly spared from the wrath of Hurricane Harvey. Both airports are fully operational and reachable via the normal roads, as are all METRORail and most local bus routes. The vast majority of hotels (98 percent of Hotel & Lodging Association of Greater Houston members, more than 350 at last count) have reopened, as have most major attractions and restaurants near downtown, the Heights, the Galleria, and the other central districts. The city may be bouncing back, but it won’t heal overnight, and its residents will need long-term support. “The best way to assist Houston in its recovery is by coming to visit,” the city’s tourism office says. “Keep your planned travel, keep your scheduled meetings, and keep coming back.” Volunteer opportunities abound—from food banks to clean-up crews, there’s a serious need for extra hands—but if you can’t get there in person, The Greater Houston Community Foundation’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, the Texas Diaper Bank, the Houston Humane Society, and plenty of other worthy organizations are accepting donations. On the ground, here’s where things stand for three major sectors of the tourism industry: Dining A whole lot of the 12,000-plus restaurants in the greater Houston area were affected by the storm—most were closed for at least three or four days in the immediate aftermath, and supply-chain issues persisted for a week to ten days—but the majority are now back up and running, according to Jonathan Horowitz, CEO of Legacy Restaurants and president of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association. That’s thanks in part to “more than extraordinary” efforts from members of the local service industry, such as the Houston publicist who coordinated food donations and distribution to shelters and first responders, all while stranded in Atlanta, and from internationally known chefs like José Andrés, who traveled to Texas just days after the hurricane to cook for those in need. “I could write ten paragraphs on this,” Horowitz says. “The entire hospitality community came together to prepare and distribute literally hundreds of thousands of meals, and everyone who joined in was and continues to be greatly appreciated.” Obviously, though, it’s not all wine and roses. “There are a couple of areas still flooded where recovery is going to take a very long time,” says Horowitz. “Some may not reopen as the financial burden of being closed for so long becomes too great to handle.” For employees, these closures, temporary or permanent, mean a loss of work and pay on top of often significant personal losses, and given the belt-tightening that can follow in the wake of such tragedies, they may lose more hours in the coming weeks. “Even now, many restaurants are reporting slower sales as customers continue to deal with their own personal recovery efforts and try to conserve financial resources,” he says. The good news, he adds, is that, although some previously scheduled events have been postponed or canceled, many charity events have been turned into recovery fundraisers, and most large conferences and conventions have stuck with their plans to come to Houston. One way visitors can help? Be sure to eat out often and well—those dining dollars will go a long way toward getting beleaguered local businesses back on track. Sports Other than a few games that had to be moved to different locations or forfeited entirely, Houston’s professional and college-level sports teams have returned to their regular schedules, and there shouldn’t be any additional impact over the course of the next few months. “For the most part, teams are back on track,” says Doug Hall, vice president of special projects for Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. But don’t think athletes were unaffected by the devastation—on the whole, they were moved to participate in various relief efforts, donating money or time or both. “Many Houston athletes were involved through their teams or their own foundations or charities, and many also donated to the hurricane relief funds,” Hall says. “Obviously, JJ Watt was front and center, as was James Harden, Carlos Correa, and Dynamo and Dash players, but all of the professional teams pledged funds to the relief efforts as well as linking in with first responders. Most of the university teams participated in relief efforts of various kinds as well, cleaning out houses, donating food, and volunteering at or touring shelters.” For its part, the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority collected money from both sports commissions nationwide and local vendors, and its members volunteered at shelters, collected and made donations, and helped catalogue what came in for distribution. (The organization led a similar effort in Jacksonville, Florida, post-Hurricane Irma.) Plenty of sports-related entities are still in need of assistance, though, so there’s more work to be done. Arts Some of the city’s marquee performing-arts venues were hit hard by the flooding: After the Wortham Theater Center was damaged extensively, companies such as the Houston Ballet and the Houston Grand Opera had to reschedule performances and scramble to find new homes for their new seasons, as did plays slated for runs at the Alley Theatre Centre. Renovated to the tune of $46.5 million just two years before Harvey, the Alley sustained an estimated $15 million in damages, but even so, the theater is eyeing a November reopening; Jones Hall for the Performing Arts is currently selling tickets for late-October performances, but the Wortham will remain closed for repairs until at least May 2018, and Theater District underground parking facilities are closed for the foreseeable future. The Houston Museum District fared better, but that’s not to say it came away unscathed. “While several Museum District institutions had some water damage, collections, exhibitions, and libraries were well protected by dedicated staff and good advance planning,” says Houston Museum District executive director Julie Farr. “It is the staff, freelancers, and independent artists that have been severely impacted with loss of housing, vehicles, wages, and studios.” The Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance and Harvey Arts Recovery provided (and continue to provide) workshops and resources to help this vulnerable segment of the population get back on its feet, and those in the community who could offer assistance to others did so without hesitation. “The arts community came together quickly and responsively to Hurricane Harvey, not only for their own organizations and people, but also city-wide,” Farr says, with The Children’s Museum of Houston, Houston Center for Photography, and The Health Museum providing kid-friendly activities at shelters and art-making activities and photography programs at Congregation Emanu El’s Hurricane Harvey Day Camp. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Bayou Bend and Rienzi, 1940 Air Terminal Museum, Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Garden, and parts of Buffalo Bayou Park remain closed (though the 1940 Air Terminal Museum is slated to reopen in October), but all Houston Museum District institutions have reopened, many with special activities and promotions. Here, Parr outlines what’s on the calendar: The Health Museum is offering one free admission for every four non-perishable food items to donate to the Houston Food Bank. Houston Center for Photography (HCP) also collected donations for the Houston Food Bank and is taking in gently-used cameras for school photography programs. Asia Society Texas Center is promoting food donations and from September 23 to December 31, offering complimentary entrance to their Wondrous Worlds exhibition. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is offering $5 tickets to Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1910-1950 through October 1 and has been providing free gallery and studio experiences to hundreds of HISD elementary students. The Children’s Museum of Houston is collecting school supplies and HISD uniforms while offering free admission to families in transition from shelters. Rothko Chapel is open and free 365 days a year and providing special programs every Wednesday from 12 to 1pm through the end of October to support healing as we individually and collectively discover new ways to work and serve together in the days ahead.
Easy & Affordable Autumn Escapes From NYC
PICK YOUR OWN APPLES & PUMPKINS Hurd’s Family Farm, in Modena, NY, offers views of the gorgeous granite Shawangunk Mountains and the opportunity to pick your own fresh apples and pumpkins, take a hay ride, and enjoy family-friendly games and rides. Free admission! You just pay for what you pick and for certain activities. Eat at the Big Apple Cafe on the grounds. You'll find reliable lodging in nearby New Paltz, NY, for well under $200. GET ROMANTIC Montauk, NY, at the very east end of Long Island, is a super-romantic "beach town bargain" in fall, when the summer crowds have gone home but the oceanside vibe remains as awesome as ever. Stroll the perfect beaches, grab amazing seafood, and visit the iconic lighthouse. We love the cozy and snuggle-worthy Ocean Resort Inn, with rates under $175/night in October DO SOME LEAF-PEEPING Who says New England has cornered the market on vibrant autumn colors? Milford, PA, one of Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns In America 2017, is just 85 miles west of NYC in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, which light up in bright red and gold in October and early November. It's an artsy place to enjoy the autumn splendor, boasting a charming historic district, adorable shops, restaurants, and bars. You'll find great lodging for under $150/night. ENJOY HIKING & CAMPING State parks often play second fiddle to the marquee national parks, but in the Northeast, state parks offer some of the best affordable fall getaways. High Point State Park, in Sussex, NJ, has it all: hiking, fishing, mountain biking, and canoeing in a park designed and landscaped by the legendary Olmsted brothers, whose father designed Central Park. TREAT THE KIDS - AND YOURSELF - TO A COOL UPSTATE TOWN Beacon, NY, is a bustling, forward-thinking town in Dutchess County, NY, that is about to lose its “under the radar” status. Kids adore the big, colorful contemporary art at the DIA Beacon museum, easy hikes on Mount Beacon, and the gourmet hand-made palapas (popsicles) at Zora Dora alongside Main Street's great restaurants and cute boutiques (Zora Dora's flavors include spicy pineapple, fresh fruits, and - for the parents - espresso). Insider tip: As you stroll along Main Street, don't miss the two inspiring murals painted by local artist Rick Price. You'll find affordable lodging in nearby Poughkeepsie and Hopewell Junction. BOOK YOUR FALL ESCAPE RIGHT HERE AT BUDGETTRAVEL.COM