Say cheese: Small Northern California creamery makes cheese by hand

Say cheese.

Cheese is such a big part of the American diet that it’s used to make people smile.

We love cheese. We eat a lot of cheese (each American consumes nearly 37 pounds of cheese a year) and we’re expected to eat more cheese.

The Dallas Morning News recently published an article I wrote about five artisanal cheesemakers in western Marin County, Calif., about 35 miles north of San Francisco. They produce some of the nation’s best cheese — from cottage cheese to brie to blue.

During my reporting, one of the cheesemakers, Nicasio Valley Cheese Co., let me observe its small production process unclose and take a tour of its creamery. I thought I’d share what I learned there.

Nicasio Valley Cheese Co.’s creamery
Nicasio Valley Cheese Co.’s creamery is housed in a remodeled dairy barn. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

The dairy run by the LaFranchi family, owners of Nicasio Valley Cheese Co. in the tiny town of Nicasio, will be 100 years old in 2019. Its cheese operation, however, will only be 10 years old next year.

The LaFranchi family uses 100 percent certified organic milk from cows on their 1,150-acre certified organic ranch to make eight farmstead cheeses at the on-site creamery. All production, aging and packaging is done on site. The creamery also has an attached retail shop and tasting room.

Following in the footsteps of their Swiss-Italian ancestors, the family’s first product was an aged mountain cheese thanks to help from Swiss mentor Maurizio Laurenzeti. He isn’t a family member, but makes cheese in the same Ticino region of Switzerland.

“Maurizio’s cheeses were the inspiration for the line of cheeses we make,” said Rick LaFranchi, part of the third generation that runs the dairy and creamery. “We went [to Switzerland] in 2007 to make cheeses with him.”

Here’s Nicasio Valley Cheese Co.’s cheesemaking process:

1. Workers milk 450 cows daily on the 1,150-acre certified organic ranch. Each morning, a tanker delivers 300 to 1,000 gallons of fresh milk from the dairy to the creamery, which is in a remodeled dairy barn.

2. The milk is quality tested before being pasteurized in a high-temperature, short-time process by high-tech machinery installed in May.

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Nicasio Valley Cheese Co. head cheesemaker, Aaron Langdon, currently follows a single-vat, single-batch production process to make one type of cheese a day. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)3. The pasteurized milk is pumped into a large vat and heated to a certain temperature (that’s confidential). Head cheesemaker Aaron Langdon adds cultures and then rennet (a coagulant) to help the cultured milk solidify it.

4. In a little while, curds start to form in the vat. Langdon stirs this curds and whey mixture and then drains it into molds for the desired cheese shape. It takes six hours from fluid milk to the finished cheese (before aging).

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5. Workers move the cheese molds to a nearby temperature-regulated room for a few hours or overnight, depending on the type of cheese.

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6. The cheese (all types except Foggy Morning, an award-winning fresh cheese that’s soft like formage blanc but a big tangy) is put into a brine solution for a few hours to 24 hours.

7. The cheese goes into a warm room called a “hastening room,” where it starts to form a rind. Here, the cheese is flipped daily so moisture doesn’t set in for inconsistency, Langdon said.

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8. The cheese goes into an aging room, which are recycled shipping containers, set at various temperatures. Aging can take a few days to months. Foggy Morning, for example, is left for just days. Its bold, washed-rind Raclette-style San Geronimo cheese is aged up to 6 months, Langdon said.

9. Some cheeses go into a washed-rind room for four to six weeks, where the rind is washed by hand in brine every day.

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“We focus on quality, and try to be as consistent as we can be from batch to batch,” said Langdon, who’s been making cheese for 13 years.

This summer, Northern California residents Annie and Peter Gommers paid their second visit to the creamery to buy some San Geronimo cheese.

“What we like about this place is that it’s most like European cheese,” said Annie, adding that Peter is Dutch. “It’s organic and it’s not outrageously expensive. Farmstead is very special and needs to be supported.”

If you visit, you may see some of the LaFranchi’s cows on nearby rolling, golden hills dotted with California oak trees.

Note: I didn’t duplicate much from my story in The News, so please read that for more information about Nicasio Valley Cheese Co., including staying on the ranch, and the other four cheesemakers.

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What’s your pleasure? travel

We know more Americans traveled last year, and now we know more about who traveled and how they traveled.

Most people traveled for pleasure, not business, and most of that travel is within the United States.

U.S. leisure travel increased about 2 percent last year, accounting for 80 percent of all U.S. travel, according to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA).

Overall, airlines carried a record 965 million U.S. passengers* in 2017, up 3.4 percent from the previous high in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). More than three-quarters of those passengers (742 million) were on flights within the United States.

Airline passenger traffic 2003-17

Travelers were more likely to choose closer-to-home destinations with paid lodgings, but not necessarily a packaged flight, according to travel research firm Phocuswright. In fact, air and cruise purchases declined in 2017, and prepackaged vacations were flat, it said.

Leisure travelers spent $718 billion in 2017, nearly double the amount spent by business travelers and up 5 percent from 2016, according to the USTA. Food and lodging were the top two spending categories.

Here’s how those USTA numbers broke down for 2017:

  • Travelers spent $257 billion on food at restaurants, grocery stores and bars, accounting for 25 percent of all U.S. traveler spending.
  • Travelers spent $220 billion on lodging, including vacation homes and campgrounds, accounting for 21 percent of total U.S. traveler spending. Although more than two-thirds of U.S. travelers (68 percent) stayed in a hotel, that declined from 73 percent in 2016, according to Phocuswright.
  • Spending on auto travel rose 8 percent, mostly due to higher gasoline prices. Phocuswright also found that the number of car rentals also increased slightly
Phocuswright travel trends
Leisure travel trends from 2014 to 2017. (Courtesy of Phocuswright)

U.S. air travel continues to rise this year. As of April, the number of air passengers was up about 5 percent from a year ago, according to BTS statistics.

* Passengers on domestic and international trips traveling on U.S. or foreign airlines.

Road tripping this summer? Free apps can help before and during your journey

If you’re like many Americans, you’ll be hitting the road this summer or fall for a family vacation.

Last week, I wrote about some of my favorite road trips. Now, here are dozens of free mobile apps to make planning your road trip — and driving it — easier and more fun.

Planning your road trip

Download the AAA Mobile app to map routes and find food and lodgings along the way. Google Maps and Waze also will do this (other uses below).

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Image by Matheus Bertelli via Pexels License.

Roadtrippers will help make sure you don’t miss any must-see landmarks or off-the-beaten path stops along the way. Browse categories from historical markers to hiking to amusement parks, read about each site and add it to a to-see list on the app.

Type any location into the map-based Findery free app to access notes that other users have left about the place (a walk they did there, tips, photos) or browse the latest notes. You also can leave a public note or make it private.

TollGuru will help you calculate gas prices and tolls for your journey by vehicle type, including RVs and towing a trailer.

If you plan to drive on major U.S. interstates, GPS-based iExit will help you plot where to take pit stops. The default mode shows a summary of amenities, such as gas, toilets, coffee, playgrounds and camping, at upcoming exits in real time, but you also can search upcoming exits for a specific service. The app can be helpful while driving.

While on the road

Google Maps is still the best way to steer clear of traffic snarls and accidents that could cause delays. If a faster route opens once you’re on the road, the app automatically changes your directions. Similarly, Waze will help you find a faster route based on crowdsourced, real-time reports, and it can send you speed-trap alerts from other users.

GasBuddy will find the lowest gas and diesel prices anywhere based on crowdsourced data. Just type in a city/state and voilà.

Magic Mountain Parkway highway sign
Apps can tell you that Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park is just off Interstate 5 near Los Angeles. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

There’s nothing worse than not being able to find a bathroom when you need one. In addition to iExit, two apps will help you find just toilets. You can search Flush Toilet Finder‘s database of 100,000 public bathrooms worldwide (no Internet connection needed). On SitorSquat (powered by Charmin), clean locations get a green “Sit” rating; less desirable ones get a red “Squat.”

GPS-based Glympse lets you temporarily share your real-time location and estimated arrival time with friends, family and others.

You’ll find many apps to help you find overnight lodgings. Airbnb is one of the most versatile. It’s everywhere and you can filter searches by price, type of accommodation, wi-fi service and more. Try Hotel Tonight for discounts on same-day bookings or seven days ahead. I also like the TripAdvisor app (on iTunes and Google Play for its user reviews, photos and deals.

If you want to eat something other than fast-food and truck-stop fare while on the road, Yelp will help you find the best places to eat and drink in many U.S. towns and cities. User reviews are helpful for quality, service and meal recommendations.

Happy travels!

The classic American road trip still rules

Despite higher prices at the gas pumps this summer, the classic American road trip remains one of the most popular travel options.

At $2.86, average U.S. gasoline prices are at their highest level in about four years. Though the price for regular unleaded gasoline on July 8 was up 60 cents from a year ago, it was down 7 cents from a month ago, according to AAA. Gas prices were highest in the West ($3.66 in California) and lowest in the South ($2.53 in Alabama).

However, AAA spokeswoman Jeanette Casselano said “elevated crude oil prices and other geopolitical concerns could tilt gas prices more expensive in the early fall despite an expected increase in global crude production from OPEC.” If U.S. demand remains strong, inventories rise and oil continue to sell at over $70 a barrel, drivers could see average gas prices hit nearly $3 a gallon in the coming months, she said.

In the meantime, families are hitting the road.

Nearly two-thirds of the 88 million Americans planning to take a family vacation this year expect to hit the road, according to AAA. About three-quarters seek a destination they’ve never been to before. Families also seek attractions, such as beaches and mountains (61 percent), sightseeing (59 percent) and relaxation (56 percent).

If you’re thinking about a road trip this summer or fall, here are some favorite road trips I’ve taken over the years:

Pacific Coast Highway: Fort Bragg to Los Angeles
This cliff-top, panoramic 123-mile drive on Highway 1 along much of California’s coast will leave you breathless. Start near Fort Bragg and drive south along rugged coastline. Build in time to explore the cities of San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Monterey and Los Angeles. Don’t miss Bodega Head, Old Mission San Juan Bautista, Carmel-by-the-Sea’s 17-mile Drive (see featured photo at top), Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach, elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, Hearst Castle and Venice Beach.

Bodega Head, Calif.
You’ll see views like this from Bodega Head in Bodega Bay, Calif., which is on scenic U.S. Highway 1. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Oregon Highway 101: Near Portland to Cape Perpetua
This drive is similar to California’s Highway 1, but I think the Oregon coast is wilder and more lonesome. There are plenty of beaches, trails, state parks and small towns. Don’t miss Cannon Beach and its 235-foot Haystack Rock, Devils Punchbowl near Newport and Cape Perpetua Headland, which is the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the Oregon Coast. If you have time, drive farther south to Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, with sand dunes up to 500 feet high. Combine this with the Pacific Coast Highway for a longer adventure.

The Road to Hana: Maui, Hawaii
This famous 64-mile road on the island’s western coast features too-many-to-count ess curves and single-lane bridges. Start in the small beachy town of Paia. Watch the surfers at Ho’okipa Beach Park, stop at as many plunging waterfalls and walking trails as you like, sample banana bread and fresh coconut milk at roadside fruit stands, enjoy the view from check out Pua’a Kaa State Wayside Park’s waterfall and natural swimming hole, Hana Lava Tube and Black Sand Beach at Waianapanapa State Park.

San Juan Skyway: Southwestern Colorado
This 200-mile loop goes through some of the prettiest country in Colorado, a must-see national park, hot springs, an old railroad and lots of great hiking. Start in Durango: Take Highway 160 West, take 145 North, cut across on 62 and then head south on 550. Your first stop should be Mesa Verde National Park. After that, you’ll pass through beautiful meadows, see jaw-dropping mountain views in the ski town of Telluride, relax in the Ouray hot-spring pools, ride the train on narrow-gauge rails originally laid in 1882 in the mining town of Silverton and end with a nice meal in Durango.

Southwestern Colorado
This is what the terrain around Durango, Colo., looks like. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

The Blue Ridge Parkway: North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina for 469 miles. Whether you like to hike, bike, swim or go antiquing in quaint little towns, there’s something for you. The velvety green valleys and the Blue Ridge Mountains often are shrouded in heavy mist. In North Carolina, stop at Grandfather Mountain State Park, 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell (the highest peak in the eastern United States), Linville Gorge and Asheville, N.C. before heading into the Great Smoky Mountains.

Highway 1A: Coastal Maine
Coastal Maine offers many quaint old fishing villages, historic downtowns, beaches and lighthouses. Head north on U.S. Highway 1A (later take smaller routes 9 and 77), stopping in York (the cliff walk near Stage Neck and Nubble Lighthouse), Ogunquit (walk on the beach or Marginal Way), Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Kennebunkport Lower Village (shopping and scenic waterways) and the Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse. Don’t miss the city of Portland, which offers good food, craft beer and history. Just a bit beyond Portland is Freeport, home to L.L. Bean’s headquarters and the giant boot. I blogged here about my visit to L.L. Bean in November 2017.

Kennebunport Lower Village
Small coastal roads in Maine will take you through quaint places like Kennebunkport’s Lower Village. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Route 66: Tulsa, Okla., to Arizona
You can’t talk about road trips without mentioning Historic Route 66, one of the nation’s original highways built in 1926. The iconic route originally stretched for nearly 2,500 miles from Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to end in Santa Monica, Calif. Today, you’ll find lots of Americana in the form of landmarks, kitschy statues and vintage diners and motels. Drive this coast-to-coast route in sections. In Oklahoma, don’t miss the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Tulsa’s Art Deco architecture, Sandhills Curiosity Shop in Erick, Lucille’s Gas station in Hydro, Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Coleman Theatre in Miami, Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City. In Texas, stop at Cadillac Ranch, Palo Duro Canyon State Park and the MidPiont Café and sign. New Mexico offers Acoma Pueblo and old town Albuquerque. The grand finale is Arizona’s Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park and the Grand Canyon.

Cadillac Ranch
A stop at these 10 colorful, half-buried Cadillacs is a must on Historic Route 66 through Amarillo, Texas. It’s free and open 24/7. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Route 50: Colorado and Utah
This 3,000-mile route stretches from Ocean City, Maryland, to Sacramento, Calif., passing through a dozen states and following the same route as the Overland Stagecoach and the Pony Express. One of the prettiest sections goes through the mountains and canyons of Colorado and Utah. After picking up Route 50 outside of Colorado Springs, you’ll go through lots of mountainous national park land (check out Gunnison Gorge National Recreation area). Route 50 follows Interstate 70 for a while through Utah, passing near several outstanding national parks (Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef ) before living up to its name as “Loneliest Road in America” as it heads into Nevada.

Of course, there are too many road trips to mention in this blog post. One that tops my list to do is the Alaska Highway.

Next Wednesday, look here for my post on what mobile apps to download for your road trip.

Surf’s up: Hit the top 10 beaches this summer

It’s summer. That means it’s time to hit to the beach.

Whether you grew up near a beach, vacation at a beach or married on a beach, chances are you have fond memories of surf somewhere at some time.

The nation’s No. 1 beach this year is Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui, Hawaii, according to coastal ecologist Dr. Beach, aka Stephen P. Leatherman. (See my photo of Kapalua Bay Beach at top.) He’s a professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University. The rest of his top 10 list is at the end of this post.

Sea turtle
This was one of two sea turtles that swam very close to the shore of Kapalua Bay Beach in April. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

When I visited the crescent-shaped, white-sand Kapalua Beach along Maui’s west coast in April, I could stand right next to sea turtles frolicking in the shallows.

Kapalua is one of the island’s safest swimming areas and its clear azure water and sheltered location (the bay is protected by two headlands formed by lava flows ages ago) make it a good snorkeling spot. It’s also near a few restaurants, bars and a water sports rental hut.

Great beaches

So, just what makes a beach great?

For me, it either has to be large enough for long walks or have a great surf for swimming and boogie boarding.

For Abbey Burns, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, a great beach must be swimmable, have little to no wind and provide “an insurance plan in case you forget something,” such as a snack shack or shop, according to Abbey Burns.

Her favorite beach is Mayflower Beach in Dennis (Cape Cod), Mass. During college, she went there every year to stay at a friend’s family home.

“I really love it because at low tide the beach is huge and you don’t even notice other people are there,” Burns said. Beaches in the Bay Area are too windy, she said.

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Criteria for Dr. Beach’s top 10 list include the type of vistas and the color and softness of the sand. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Click here to continue reading and see the rest of the Top 10 list: Continue reading Surf’s up: Hit the top 10 beaches this summer

Road trip? California Highway 1 section in Big Sur set to reopen in September

California Journal

Visitors to California can look forward to the reopening of one of the most scenic parts of California Highway 1 that winds along the Big Sur coastline in September after being closed for more than a year.

Highway 1, or the Pacific Coast Highway, is the state’s best-known scenic byway, starting near San Juan Capistrano and ending in Mendocino County.

California Highway 1 shield
(SPUI via Creative Commons)

Highway 1 winds for hundreds of miles along much of the state’s coastline, hugging cliff tops and passing through some of the state’s best tourist spots. Visitors will see California’s largest cities, many beaches, Redwood trees, Elephant seals, boardwalks, lighthouses, missions, wineries, Hearst Castle and spectacular coastal views.

Currently, however, you cannot drive along Highway 1 past Ragged Point just north of Hearst Castle to Big Sur. The detour route winds inland and adds about 30 minutes to the drive. The featured photo at top of California Highway 1 in Big Sur is about a mile north of Ragged Point looking south. (Fred Moore via Creative Commons)

Caltrans closed that section of road in April 2017 due to dangerous conditions. One month later, a massive landslide — one of the biggest in state history — occurred there at Mud Creek. (An earlier mudslide in March 2017 destroyed the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, which is used to access Big Sur from the north, but it reopened in October 2017.)

 

Big Sur northward view
This view of California Highway 1 near Big Sur includes Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge to the North. (Astronautilus via Creative Commons)

The treacherous stretch of Highway 1 around Big Sur has seen upwards of 60 road closures since 1935. A Caltrans report detailed 56 road closures from 1935 through mid-2000, but there have been many more  since then.

San Quentin Prison inmates and locals, like writer John Steinbeck, built Highway 1. It opened in 1934.

Holiday crush: AAA forecasts a record holiday travel season

The crowds will shift from malls to roads and airports, as AAA expects a record number of Americans to travel this holiday season.

More than 103 million people are expected to travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 2, up 1.5 percent, or 1.5 million people, from last year. It’s the eighth straight annual increase in holiday travel, according to AAA.

“Rising incomes and continued low gas prices should make for a joyous holiday travel season,” AAA CEO Marshall Doney said in a statement. Overall, improvements in the economy are driving travel.

Consumer spending is expected to rise 4.1 percent this year vs. 2015, according to AAA’s holiday travel forecast report. The nation’s unemployment rate was 4.6 percent in November. Personal income will rise 3.3 percent as an improved job market drives up wages. The stock market is at a record high.

How people travel aaa-pie

Most holiday travelers (an estimated 93.6 million people) are hitting the road again, with road trips expected to rise 1.5 percent from last year.

That’s largely due to low gas prices, even though today’s average national price of $2.24 a gallon is higher than the of $2 a year ago. AAA estimates that U.S. drivers have saved over $27 billion at the gas pumps so far this year compared with last year.

In addition, average car rental rates are slightly lower than last year at $66 a day, according to the forecast.

Air travel will increase by 2.5 percent, with more than 6 million Americans flying. Other types of travel, such as by trains, buses and boat, will decline slightly.

AAA projects holiday airfares will average $204 for a round-trip flight on the top 40 U.S. routes. Lodging rates are to increase 7 percent, with travelers spending an average of $144 a night.

Where people go

While many people visit relatives for the holidays, others take time off for a winter vacation. Warm-weather destinations top the list, with the exception of New York, based on AAA.com bookings. Here are the top five destinations:

  1. Las Vegas
  2. Orlando, Fla.
  3. New York City
  4. San Diego
  5. Anaheim, Calif.

AAA’s travel projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit.

Q&A: What the Alaska Airlines and Virgin America deal means for travelers

Alaska Airlines on Wednesday completed its purchase of Virgin America, kicking off a merger process it hopes to complete within three weeks.

The Seattle-based parent of Alaska Airlines paid $2.5 billion for Burlingame, Calif.-based Virgin America, a week after getting approval from the U.S. Department of Justice contingent on Alaska Air Group Inc. reducing the scope of its code-share agreement with American Airlines, the world’s largest airline based in Texas. Alaska expects to receive approval from regulators and Virgin America shareholders by Jan. 1.

The merger Alaska and Virgin America will create the nation’s fifth largest airline, with nearly 1,200 daily flights to 118 destinations in North America, Costa Rica and Cuba. Based in Seattle, the combined airline will be a West Coast powerhouse, with hubs in Seattle; Portland, Ore., Anchorage; San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Here are some answers to questions travelers may have:

Q. Where can Virgin America tickets be bought online?

A. Starting Dec. 19, customers can buy Virgin America tickets at AlaskaAir.com. They also can continue to buy tickets at VirginAmerica.com for the immediate future.

Q. Are there any new routes?

A. The combined airline will offer new daily flights to Minneapolis; Orange County, Calif.; and Orlando, Fla.; from its San Francisco hub starting in summer 2017. The schedule will be announced on Dec. 21, the same day tickets to those places go on sale.

Q. Will the Virgin America name and/or experience go away?

A. Travelers should not see “major changes” to the Virgin America product or flying experience in the next 12 months. Alaska said it’s “conducting extensive customer research to understand what customers value most” and hopes to have a decision about the Virgin America brand in early 2017.

Q. If you have an existing flight reservation, what should you do?

A. If you have an existing reservation, your reservation remains the same, and each airline’s current travel policies still apply. If you have a flight on Virgin America, check in at a Virgin America counter. If you have a flight on Alaska, check in at an Alaska counter.

Q. What changes will loyalty program members of each airline see?

A. Alaska Mileage Plan and Virgin America Elevate will continue to operate as separate programs. Starting Dec. 19, Virgin America Elevate members and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members can earn rewards on each other’s flights and elite members will receive priority check-in and boarding on each other’s flights. Starting Jan. 9, members of both frequent flier programs will be able to redeem award travel on both airlines and Elevate members will be invited to open new Alaska Mileage Plan accounts.

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Courtesy of Alaska Airlines Group Inc.

Q. What does the merger mean for California customers?

A. The combined airline offers 289 daily flights to 52 places in California. Just from the San Francisco Bay Area, there are 113 daily flights to 32 destinations.

Q. Will Alaska’s fleet change?

A. Alaska said it has not made any long-term decisions about its fleet. For now, Virgin America’s Airbus A319 and A320 jets will join Alaska’s all-Boeing fleet.

It remains to be seen how the Alaska and Virgin America merger and their different styles will shake out. Virgin America is known as young, fun airline with cabin mood lighting and touch-screen personal entertainment. Alaska has invested in technology, such as luggage tags customers can print at home, for more efficient operations.

“Alaska Airlines and Virgin America are different airlines, but we believe different works – and we’re confident fliers will agree,” Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said in a statement. “The two airlines may look different, but our core customer and employee focus is very much the same.”

Travelers can find more answers on an Alaska web page designed for that purpose.

NOAA report: Long-term Arctic warming trends continue

Unprecedented warmer air temperature over the Arctic triggered extensive melting in the sea ice and land-based snow cover this fall, according to a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The 11th annual Arctic Report Card, which is based on research by 61 scientists in 11 countries, shows the continuation of long-term Arctic warming trends.

I recently wrote in another blog post about two New Zealand glaciers — Franz Josef and Fox glaciers — that have been melting at an accelerated rate in recent years. Franz Josef Glacier has retreated by nearly a half mile since 2008.

“Rarely have we seen the Arctic show a clearer, stronger or more pronounced signal of persistent warming and its cascading effects on the environment than this year,” Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program, said in a statement. Here are some of the key findings of the report:

Surface air temperature: Average annual air temperature over land was the highest on record, up 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900. Arctic air temperatures are rising twice as fast as global temperatures. For October-November, the highest average temperature was 25 degrees Fahrenheit above the long-term norm in Northern Canada.

Continue reading NOAA report: Long-term Arctic warming trends continue

Who is that cardboard man at New Zealand’s two biggest glaciers? Ask mom.

My new hat made by Nolly Martini. (Martin Melendy)

At New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier, a park ranger provides an update on daily conditions and safety tips.

The life-size image is a cardboard cut-out, but the ranger is real. His mother told me so.

I met Nolly Martini when I visited her Willows Crafts shop in Harihari, a tiny hamlet about 40 miles north of Franz Josef on New Zealand’s South Island.

I was attracted to the hand-knitted hats and scarves, and she told me that she makes many of them from wool and Samoyed dog hair. She also sells crafts made by other local residents.

As I paid for a colorful hat made by Martini, she told me that her son posed for the cardboard cut-out when he worked for the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The proud mother pulled out photographs of Mark Martini standing next to his cardboard double. (The DOC confirmed it.)

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A visitor walks through a lush rainforest on the Te Ara a Waiau trail. (Sheryl Jean)

Sure enough, Mark Martini’s image greets me when I arrive at Franz Josef Glacier later that day. (See photo at top.) The DOC told me that his image also graces the nearby Fox Glacier.

Tourism is one of New Zealand’s main economic engines. The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are among the country’s biggest tourist attractions, with about 1 million visitors a year.

Continue reading Who is that cardboard man at New Zealand’s two biggest glaciers? Ask mom.