Yellowstone National Park in Two Days: Day 1: ‘Random Boiling Earth’

“Random boiling earth.” Norris Geyser Basin, one of Yellowstone National Park’s major highlight areas, is the hottest, most dynamic geyser basin in the park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman, David Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

What makes Yellowstone National Park so astonishing isn’t the vast expanse of pristine wilderness but the natural features that are, to be frank, other-worldly, even surreal.

There are the spectacular attractions that have existed for hundreds of thousands of years, even millions of years and are dependable – the Old Faithfuls – and then there are the serendipitous surprises that are unique, never happened and never will happen that might be around any corner. Like coming upon a bison leaping into the air to grab a bird in flight. And the utter astonishment when you first come upon the neon colors of a boiling landscape.

But even the geologic features are constantly changing. And it happens before your eyes.

Yellowstone is essentially a supervolcano fueled by a hot spot in the earth’s mantle that causes magma to be closer to the surface than normal. The ongoing thermal activity fuels the park’s geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mudspots and creates the hypnogogic colored landscapes that makes Yellowstone so unique in the world. Who knew there is more thermal activity in this relatively small section than any other place on earth?

Yellowstone is essentially a supervolcano fueled by a hot spot in the earth’s mantle that causes magma to be closer to the surface than normal. The ongoing thermal activity fuels the park’s geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mudspots and creates the hypnogogic colored landscapes that makes Yellowstone so unique in the world. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, formed by massive volcanic eruptions– the last about 631,000 years ago when the center of what is now the park collapsed, forming a 30 x 45-mile caldera, Yellowstone National Park has the most thermal geological features of any place in the world.

You go from one “I can’t believe this is real” sight to another in Yellowstone National Park. It is a constant string of “oh my god-s” that take your breath away.

Yellowstone is so vast (and so popular) that it is beneficial to have a plan and to figure out roughly the logistics (taking into account serendipitous detours and changes) since it can take 45 to 60 minutes just to get into the park to some of these most popular features.

So we set out to break up our visit by staying two nights each in three different locations: Gardiner (North entrance), West Yellowstone (West entrance) and Jackson (South Entrance) – which we find on hotels.com and booking.com (all the in-park hotels, lodges, campgrounds were under capacity restraints and already booked). Even our plan to enter the park through the Northeast entrance, putting us into the Lamar Valley (one of the best places for early evening wildlife viewing), enables us to see a whole region of the park at an ideal time.

We depart the Red Reflet Ranch in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, in the afternoon for the five-hour drive by way of Cody through Cooke City-Silver Gate, into the Park. We choose our route – the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway – deliberately for the stunning scenery and historic importance in the Nez Perce War, as described at the Dead Indian Rock Overlook. We stop in the charming town of Silver Gate, just outside the park, to get some elk brat on a bun from a food truck, while watching a bison that has wandered right up to one of the cabins.

The view from the overlook on the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We drive caravan style – David and Laini in their tripped out Subaru Forester converted into a camper van which they have already driven 2200 miles from New York and will subsequently travel 8300 miles on their coast-to-coast road trip, and Eric and I in a Mazda SUV we rented at Enterprise Rent-a-Car in Casper, Wyoming (lucky to have booked months ahead since they were out of cars).

Wildlife are out in the early evening in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The route brings us through the steep Absaroka Mountains, following the Soda Butte Creek as it flows down to the Lamar River into Yellowstone National Park through the Northeast entrance, and through the Lamar Valley just before dusk – prime time and optimum place to see wildlife.

A herd of bison in the early evening in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Northeast Entrance, considered the “quietest” of Yellowstone’s five gateways, is historic. It was constructed in 1935 in a rustic style which “subconsciously reinforced the visitor’s sense of the western frontier… not only the physical boundary, but the psychological boundary between the rest of the world and what was set aside as a permanently wild place.”

A herd of bison in the early evening in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Lamar Valley is a distinctive attraction in Yellowstone, considered one of the best places to see wildlife when they are most active, in the early morning and early evening. It is a large, wide-open valley carved by glaciers about 21,000 years ago which left boulders and ponds that dot the landscape and attract the wildlife.

A herd of bison in the early evening in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Lamar Buffalo Ranch was established here in reaction to the near-extermination of bison throughout the West in the 1800s. It was the first effort at intensive management to preserve a wild species. Fed and bred here, as the herd grew in size, bison were released to breed with the park’s free-roaming population. Bison from the ranch were also used to start and supplement herds on other public and tribal lands.

Getting very close to bison as we drive through Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sure enough, we are stopped frequently as herds of bison with their new calves, assert their right to cross the road or just stop in the road, seemingly oblivious to the cars. A ranger comes along and we are amazed at how he uses his siren but also actually maneuvers his car to nudge a bison out of the way so the traffic can flow again. It is at this moment that Laini sees a bison literally leaping into the air and catching a bird in its mouth.

A ranger helps nudge a bison off the road, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We settle in to our cabin at the 406 Lodge in Gardiner, perfectly situated just few blocks from Northeast Entrance, then 5 miles to Mammoth Springs, where we stay for two nights before moving on to West Jackson and then to Jackson, for two nights each.

Day One in Yellowstone

We enter Yellowstone through the North entrance at Gardiner (much less crowded than other park entrances, and the only entrance open year-round). The historic Roosevelt Arch (named for President Theodore Roosevelt, who dedicated the arch by laying the cornerstone in 1903 and was responsible for creating the national parks system) is 50 feet high and built of local columnar basalt. Within the arch is engraved the iconic statement, “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” This also serves as a reminder that Yellowstone was the first national park in the United States and the world, a philosophical statement of national purpose.

The road leading into the park from this entrance leads visitors along the Gardner River and up nearly 1,000 feet to Fort Yellowstone (where the US Army was based from 1891 to 1913) and Mammoth Hot Springs, the first visitor area to be developed in the park. It offers the historic Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins, Albright Visitors Center, gas station, ice cream and general store and a lovely picnic area which also serves as a meeting area for elk.

An elk claims right of way at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We immediately come upon the Mammoth Hot Springs, our first “attraction” in the park. The light is fairly dull when we arrive and we consider just blowing passed, but then we decide “no time like the present” and we can return on our way back if we like.

Best idea ever, because in just a few moments, the sun comes out, causing the rocks to glisten as steam rises. The textures, rolling shapes of water-worn rock, the patterns. Astonishing.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You walk a boardwalk up and around the formation, a massive hot spring complex of travertine terraces, considered one of the world’s best examples of hot travertine deposits. It is also one of the most dynamic hydrothermal zones in the park – its characteristics are constantly changing – which means that as you walk through, you are watching the process unfold before you. Even more intriguing is that the volcanic heat source for the Mammoth Hot Springs remains a mystery: Is it the large magma chamber underlying the Yellowstone Caldera, or perhaps a smaller heat source closer to Mammoth?

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A network of fractures and cracks forms the “plumbing system” in Mammoth so underground hot water can reach the surface. “Small earthquakes can keep the plumbing open,” the notes say.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Limestone, deposited here millions of years ago when a vast sea covered this region, provides the final ingredient. Interestingly, while limestone is the dominant underlying rock here, rhyolite is the dominant rock in the other large hydrothermal zones of Yellowstone.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The dramatic colors we see are produced by thermophiles – heat-loving micro-organisms – which create tapestries of color where hot water circulates between the terraces, the National Park Service notes explain. Colorless and yellow thermophiles develop in the warmest waters; orange, brown and green grow in cooler waters. The colors change with the seasons.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most astonishing is that we are watching “living sculpture” – the terraces are being shaped by the volume of water, the slope of the ground and the objects on the way to the water. “They change constantly and sometimes overnight, but the overall activity of the whole area and the volume of water discharges remain relatively constant. Here, the rock is formed before your eyes.”

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(We walk the boardwalk but there is a more extensive 3.5 mile-long Mammoth Hot Springs Area Trail.)

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We head next to Norris Geyser Basin, passing by the Obsidian Cliff – a dramatic cliff of black glass formed in volcanic areas where the magma is rich in silica and the lava cools without forming crystals, which is unusual for how enormous the cliff is, 98 feet (we should have stopped). But we make a quick stop at Roaring Mountain, where steam emanates from multiple fissures. A sign says that the mountain has been heard to roar and could be heard as far as four miles away (no roaring today).

Roaring Mountain, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin, one of the park’s major highlight areas, is the park’s hottest, most dynamic geyser basin.

Named for Philetus W. Norris, Yellowstone’s second superintendent, Norris Geyser Basin is where you see the Steamboat Geyser, believed to be the tallest active geyser in the world, shooting water and steam more than 300 feet high during a major eruption.

Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The scene when you walk down from the Porcelain Terrace overlook to Norris Geyser Basin is striking.

Norris Geyser Basin has many acidic hydrothermal features and stunning colors – due to combinations of minerals and thermophiles. Silica or clay minerals saturate acidic water to create a milky white appearance; sulfur presents pale yellow; iron oxides, arsenic and cyanobacteria the red-orange colors; another thermophile glows, while another thermophile appears purple to black where exposed to sun, but bright green beneath.

Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk the 1.6 mile-long boardwalk loop through the Porcelain Basin thinking we will return to do the longer, two-mile hike through the Back Basin later (that doesn’t happen).

Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The National Park Service provides an online tour – as poetic as it is scientific – which  you can use as you walk around   (https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/photosmultimedia/norris-geyser-basin-tour.htm):

Porcelain Terrace Overlook: “Parts of the whitish rock-sheet before you pulsate from the pressure of steam and boiling water beneath them. A number of geysers and other features here have been born suddenly in small hydrothermal explosions. Some features are ephemeral, their activity lasting a few hours, days, or weeks. A few others have become relatively permanent fixtures in the scene,” the NPS notes.

“At Norris, geothermal ‘disturbances’ take place annually. No other thermal area in Yellowstone exhibits this phenomenon. Mysteriously, features throughout the Norris area undergo dramatic behavioral changes, literally overnight. Clear pools become muddy and boil violently and some temporarily become geysers. These disturbances often occur in late summer and early fall but have been observed throughout the year.

Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Features that typically behave as geysers may display altered eruption cycles or temporarily cease erupting. New features may be created during a disturbance, although they seldom remain long-term attractions at the basin. Disturbances tend to last from a few days to more than a week. Gradually, most features revert to ‘normal’ activity.

“Why this happens is not fully understood. Further study will no doubt yield new clues that will help unravel the mystery of this phenomenon and lead to a greater understanding of the earth’s hidden geologic forces.”

Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tour details the main features: Black Growler Steam Vent, Ledge Geyser, Congress Pool, Porcelain Basin Hot Springs, Blue Geyser (last observed eruption was in 1997), Whirligig Geyser (the orange-yellow iron oxide deposits around Little Whirligig make it one of the most colorful features in Porcelain Basin; It has been dormant for several years), Whale’s Mouth and Crackling Lake.

Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The colors are due to the living organisms that thrive even in the extreme environments of the acidic hot springs. Most interesting, the notes reveal, is that “These and other microscopic life forms are links to the emergence of life on earth billions of years ago. They are also a focus of research in the fields of medicine and criminal investigation. New tools for use in such complex areas as AIDS research and DNA ‘fingerprinting’ have been developed from the microscopic thermal organisms found in Yellowstone’s hot springs.”

Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In contrast to the Porcelain Basin’s open terrain with hundreds of geothermal feature, the Back Basin trail is forested and the features more scattered and isolated.

At Norris Geyser Basin you can also visit the Museum of the National Park Ranger.

We have a picnic lunch in the parking lot (the Rangers caution against eating anything in the vicinity of woods because of bears).

Heading next to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, we come across a vast plain where a herd of bison are basking in sun. This is calving season and we see scores of calves with their mothers.

Coming upon bison as we travel through Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is absolutely spectacular. The Lower Falls are stunning – in fact, it was this scene, painted by Hudson River School artist and conservationist Thomas Moran, that, it is said, convinced Congress to appropriate funding for America’s (and the world’s) first national park. 

This scene mimics Thomas Moran’s painting of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone that encouraged Congress to fund the creation of America’s first national park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Lower Falls are the more dramatic, dropping 308 feet (Upper Falls drop 109 feet). We get parking here (grab it!) and walk along the North Rim Trail for breathtaking views from Lookout Point (the vantage point for Moran, and not the misnamed Artist Point on the South Rim) and Grand View, and walking down staircases at two sites to get closer to the river. We walk on toward Inspiration Point but decide to return to the car instead and drive there (the park does a miserable job of telling you distance between points).

Lower Falls, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River extends 20 miles, is more than 1,000 feet deep, and ranges from 1,500 to 4,000 feet wide. Most striking are the color patterns in the rock – reds caused by oxidation of iron compounds in the rhyolite rock that has been “cooked” by the hydrothermal activity; yellows from sulfur. Looking down at some points, it is like a dizzying kaleidoscope.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Yellowstone River flows 671 miles from the Younts Peak in the Absaroka Mountains, to the Missouri River, near the Montana–North Dakota border. From there, the waters travel to the Mississippi River and on out to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The Yellowstone River is considered the longest undammed river in the Lower 48 states.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The North Rim Trail is utterly stunning at every step, taking you to multiple vantage points of both the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls, Crystal Falls and Inspiration Point, extending four miles. We do most of the trail. Definitely do the climbs down toward the river for the views back to the falls. (For a great description of the entire North Rim hike, https://www.hikespeak.com/trails/north-rim-trail-grand-canyon-of-the-yellowstone-river/)

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the way back to Gardiner, we stop at Swan Lake Flat, for one of the famous views to the Gallatin Mountains. And at the last turn out of the park, we spot an American Eagle perched on a rock.

Bald eagle perched on rock, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are very content with our lodging in Gardiner, a cabin at the 406 Lodge. Our cabin has two queen beds, a living room and kitchenette, and is walking distance to shops and restaurants (Subway, located just across the bridge from us and open until 10 pm, is ideal to purchase the next day’s picnic lunch) and a few short blocks to the North entrance to Yellowstone (little line up here). (406 Lodge, 204 3rd St South, Gardiner, MT, 59030, 800-246-8357).

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Wyoming’s Red Reflet Ranch Provides Unmatched Experience for Families

Trail ride on the Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming. The horse riding program at is the one of the best anywhere. Red Reflet Ranch owners Laurence and Bob Kaplan invite their guests to live a contemporary Wyoming ranch life – in high style © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman, David Leiberman & Laini Miranda

All the things that brought such delight when you were a kid – what theme parks and adventure parks try to emulate –are right outside our doorstep. But the real thing. This is the Red Reflet Guest Ranch, in Ten Sleep, Wyoming.

And what a doorstep! Our chalet is nestled amid red rock bluffs, overlooking a pond and green pasture and designed with windows to bring the breathtaking outside scenery inside. Every luxury and convenience to make you feel comfortable. At home. Even the breakfast fixings of fresh eggs from the chicken coop, pancake mix, tastiest bacon ever, freshly baked bread.

Enjoying breakfast on our porch at The Ponds chalet amid the red rocks of Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Red Reflet Ranch is the perfect antidote for families separated over the past year, a perfect place to come together, play together, share new experiences, as our family did, coming from opposite coasts.

Red Reflet is most certainly not a “dude” ranch, which connotes some rustic cowboy fantasy. When Bob and Laurence Kaplan bought the 28,000-acre cattle ranch 20 years ago and decided to welcome guests into their home five years later, Bob deliberately set it up so that every guest would feel personally invited, and have the opportunity to merge into their ranch life. It’s a Western-version of being invited to someone’s country estate.

The Ponds chalet just below the lodge at Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With only four guest chalets available, for a maximum of some 28 guests at one time, the main purpose of the ranch, I suspect, was to provide a constant stream of new people to entertain, share life stories with.

“It was a personal decision, never a business decision, to open the guest ranch,” Bob says. “If it was, we would have 50 guests. I never visited a guest ranch – I knew what I wanted.”

What Bob wanted was for guests never to be nickled-and-dimed, but for all the amenities and activities of the ranch (the list goes on and on, and when you book they send you the list so they can be prepared to offer you the activities you select) to be included. This includes horseback riding (best riding program I have ever experienced on any guest ranch) – even riding clinics for those who might want to learn roping or barrel racing – plus activities you would never expect, like each of us having an ATV to drive around the ranch for the length of our stay as well as the use of mountain e-bikes to explore 100 miles of trails, and zip-lining.

ATVs are your transportation around the 28,000-acre Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I never imagined myself driving an ATV (I got on the back to ride with Eric on the nail biting trails up to the cliff ridge); Laini had her first experience zip-lining and David and Eric had their first experience riding e-bikes up mountain trails. We all found new self-confidence and satisfaction in being able to take that “leap of faith” to try new things and conquer other challenges, and in the process, had these extraordinary experiences to share and enjoy together.

Bob shows us to his substantial wine collection, explaining his coding system (all the wines he buys are rated 90 or higher by Wine Spectator) – just help yourself. Beer is kept in a cooler and served in frosted mugs.

A portion of Bob Kaplan’s wine collection, available to Red Reflet Ranch guests © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The invigorating feeling is about place to be sure – the red-rocks and green pastures dotted with horses or cattle, not to mention 5,000-feet altitude, are breathtaking – but even more, it is about experience – the things you do and share. The Red Reflet Ranch is about creating opportunities to engage, immerse.

And not just with each other, but learning about the lives of the other guests and, of course, the ranch’s staff, like Nate Smith, the executive chef, a fifth-generation Wyomingite, born near Yellowstone Park who grew up hunting, fishing, working on the farm, and eating off the land by necessity, whose father is a butcher who runs a roadhouse, bar and restaurant called Cassie’s in their hometown of Cody; Penny Ready, the general manager who oversees the horses and riding program and relates how her great grandfather homesteaded here; and Bryley, who works with the horses and just graduated high school and bought her first horse.

Laurence Kaplan welcomes us to the Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s a guest ranch – emphasis on guest –with an extraordinary level of luxury and hospitality, of warmth and welcome. Everything from the design, accommodations and amenities in these magnificent chalets, to the exquisite dining and stellar culinary creations. But while everything is topnotch, sophisticated quality, there is no pretention, the atmosphere is completely relaxed.

After dinner conversation, games and music around the fireplace at Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The style reflects owners Laurence and Bob Kaplan’s zest for life. Both are jet pilots (they fly their Cessna 500 from the Ranch’s airport, WY00), have traveled the world, speak multiple languages, and are philanthropists. After successful careers in business, they made the ranch their full-time home opening a new chapter in their lives and a place to welcome the world.

We feel it as soon as we arrive – welcomed in the lodge commanding the most spectacular view through a wall of windows, to have cocktails together before an elegant dinner (not your cliched ranch fare) served family style, with Bob and Laurence at the table in the magnificent dining room in a lodge perched with the best view of the red-rock canyon.

Executive Chef Nate Singer introduces each course and its clever combination of ingredients. “We don’t have same meal all summer,” Bob Kaplan says © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Executive Chef Nate Singer presents each course, each prepared with farm-to-table ingredients and delectable flavor pairings – as much as possible sourced from the ranch or locally, but also flown in from friends’ farms and other places.

It’s early in the season for Laurence to harvest what she grows on the ranch, so tonight’s asparagus was flown in from Bob’s friend in Michigan, the lettuce homegrown in Ohio. The watercress, though, was foraged from the creek bottom.

“We’ve never had this meal served tonight before,” Bob tells us, admiring Nate’s creativity. “We don’t have same meal all summer.”

During the course of our all-too-brief stay, we have elk (seared, sauted, tenderized) served with shitake mushrooms (Bob explains how he bow-hunts elk in September); rabbit ragout, marinated in red wine and served with homemade egg-yolk pasta, which Nate says is an old-world Italian recipe from one of the chefs he studied with, and the most delectable rib eye ever.  

The desserts, prepared by pastry chef Deth Dijon Kaiaphonr, feature a scrumptious chocolate mousse concoction, Deth by Chocolate; a Yuzu tart with Chantilly cream; a Basque cheesecake with white chocolate and black cherry compote, all presented with exquisite flare.

Pastry chef Deth Dijon Kaiaphonr prepares “Deth by Chocolate” dessert © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lunches are light yet so satisfying. Executive Sous Chef David Oulette prepares a chicken with wild mushroom soup, salad with walnuts, black grapes, balsamic vinegrette.

After dinner, Bob shows us to our chalet, The Ponds, pointing out our breakfast fixings (and how to prepare the grocery list) and all the aspects of this exquisite vacation home.

Our first morning, we are scheduled for a 10 am horseback ride – horseback riding is a stellar feature of the ranch. It’s been literally decades since any of us have ridden. Penny Ready, who manages the riding program as well as serves as general manager of the ranch, shows us the indoor riding arena (great in winter) and fits us for cowboy boots that we get to keep with us for our stay, then matches us to horses (they have 40) that will give us the best riding experience based on their personality and our experience.

Penny Ready gives David horseriding pointers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We get familiar with our horse in the corral and get tips on holding the reins properly, the correct way to have our feet in the stirrups, and how to control the horse. David, who hasn’t ridden in years and years, looks like he was born on a ranch, and soon is trotting, cantering, loping around the ring, with Penny fine-tuning his technique. We go out for our first trail ride, swooning amid the scenery of the red rocks and grey-green sagebrush.

Red Reflet Ranch has 40 horses available for guests; in addition to trail rides, guests can take clinics and even help wrangle cattle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our next ride is even more sensational and more extensive – the absolute prettiest trail and most fun ride ever – that takes us much further onto the ranch amid the cattle (probably the most contented Angus anywhere).

Penny Ready leads us on the most fun, scenic trail ride ever at the Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Penny Ready leads us on the most fun, scenic trail ride ever at the Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Penny Ready leads us on the most fun, scenic trail ride ever at the Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you are inclined, when there is cow work to be done, you can “cowboy” the herd – ride with the wranglers to look over the herd, moving them as needed. From cattle drives to branding and gathering, they offer opportunities to experience what real ranching is about. In spring this might include branding, checking newborns and giving inoculations, sorting and pairing cattle.

After our first ride, we walk over to pick up our own ATV to use to get around the ranch and explore their trails into the hills (100 miles of trails for ATVs, mountain biking, hiking on property; guided tours are available). There have a fleet ATV’s and Side-by-Sides (SBS’s), even two kiddy ATVs. 

Red Reflet Ranch has 100 miles of trails for ATVs, mountain biking, hiking © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our second morning, Laurence has organized zip-lining for all of us – which requires the assistance of several staff. She shows us in how to use the system, sets us up, then flies down herself showing off masterful techniques with a twinkle in her eye and a mischievous smile (like flipping upside down). There are four ziplines in the course which the ranch installed a few years ago and is ideal for team-building and family bond-building – and also affords the most amazing views of the ranch.

What a way to see Red Reflet Ranch! Laini has her first zip-lining experience © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Laurence Kaplan shows off her upside down flip on the zip-line © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ranch affords any number of opportunities for simple relaxation. Our favorite is the natural “Cowboy Waterpark”– a great swimming hole fed by a 3,000-foot deep Artesian well, which constantly refreshes the water at a natural 76-degrees temperature. There is a suspension bridge to a small island (we dubbed “Peter Pan island”), giant rope swings, zip line into the water, paddle boards, kayaks, a water slide and canoe and a sand beach and beach chairs – as ideal for team building as for giggling sibling bonding.

David and Eric enjoying the Cowboy Waterpark © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
David and Eric enjoying the Cowboy Waterpark © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We make time to swim in the gorgeous pool with the most spectacular view and the tennis court (rackets and balls are available) and check out the well-equipped fitness center,  climbing wall, playground  and basketball hoop – all atop this stunning bluff. You can also do riflery on the shooting range and archery.

Bob invites me to accompany him to the far reaches of the ranch where he built a Mountain Cabin, as he collects memory cards from motion-operated cameras that photograph when a black bear comes by (!), elk and other animals.

Bob Kaplan collects his memory cards from his motion-operated cameras that capture images of wildlife, including a black bear, in the far reaches of the 28,000-acre Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And I get to learn more about ranching – the intricacies of growing alfalfa, irrigation, water rights, and what’s involved in leasing pasture for cattle. It brings me back to my most meaningful college course, Ecological Anthropology (I wrote my final paper on how raising rabbits could solve poverty in Appalachia and at the ranch I get my first taste of cooked rabbit).

Driving from the lodge, we see the stunning changes in topography – from the rolling red hills to rolling grey-green sage hills, to a landscape dotted with Aspens (best for wildlife, the leaves are highly nutritious, Bob explains) and Lodge Pole Pine. It’s wildflower season and the hills explode with color of Spring Beauty, Lupines, Buckwheat, Yellow Bell, Columbines, Alpine Wallflowers, Balsam Roots, Black-eyed Susans, Larkspur, Showy Fleabane and Blanket Flower. Bob says he has to wait for the Larkspur, a brilliant purple flower, to wilt before cattle can be brought here because the flower is poisonous.

Idyllic scene just outside The Ponds chalet © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We arrive at the mountain cabin, at some 3,000-feet altitude higher than the ranch, which is lovely, and powered by solar panels and a propane-fueled generator. It is used as a ‘rest stop’ for hikes, horseback rides, and ATV adventures by Ranch guests.

We switch to the side-by-side vehicle to travel around this pristine wilderness. I see what remains of the devastation of a tornado with 130 mph force that felled 5,000 trees. I get a glimpse of a 10-day old antelope running after its mother.

While Eric and David do mountain biking, Laini paints the stunning scene at the Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Meanwhile, David and Eric have taken mountain e-bikes to explore trails while Laini paints. We come together to swim and play tennis before dinner.

Relaxing in the Red Reflet Ranch pool © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the night, I get up to do another of the ranch’s signature activities: star gazing. I just have to walk out onto the porch and see stars so striking, you feel you can pluck them with your hand. The Milky Way is laid out before your eyes. Serious star-gazers, can use the Meade Telescope set up in the lodge.

On our last day, after the most magnificent horseback ride, we take our ATVs back onto the trail that goes along the red rock rim. I am terrified to drive myself so I ride with Eric to have this amazing adventure.

On the back of Eric’s ATV as he drives  the rim ridge trail at the Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is so much to do on the ranch that we don’t get to take advantage of some marvelous attractions nearby (in Wyoming terms), so I have on my list for when we return:

This is an area that dinosaurs roamed  – in fact, a nearby ranch was the site of a dozen complete dinosaurs that were excavated, and there is paleontology ongoing in the area (the ranch hosted paleontologists from the American Museum of Natural History). One ongoing excavation is at Dana Quarry, part of the Morrison Formation near Ten Sleep, where, weather and scheduling provided, you can view a live dinosaur dig where paleontologists are unearthing bones that date back 150 million years.  

Castle Gardens which has an outcropping of sandstone which the wind has eroded into fanciful shapes – hoodoos – resembling the turrets and towers of castle. This unusual formation has been luring visitors for thousands of years, and many of them left their mark in the soft sandstone–the area holds a treasure of Native American rock art, or petroglyphs. The site is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (Castle Gardens Petroglyph Site, Wyoming – Recreation.gov)

The Nature Conservancy Preserve of Ten Sleep, an 8,500-acre sanctuary for protected wildlife (open Thursday-Sunday, it was formerly owned by a Pepsi bottler and used for a Girl Scout camp) abuts the ranch.

There are scenic wonders – mountain ranges, canyons, pure mountain streams and lakes – all around the ranch, including the 1,115,000-acre Big Horn National Forest and 200,000-acre Cloud Peak Wilderness.

Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming has 100 miles of trails for ATVs, mountain biking and hiking © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are also reminded that this land was once the home Indian tribes. The name of the town, Ten Sleep, refers to the number of “sleeps” to travel between two Indian camps on their trade route. The area is loaded with history, as I learn. Local museums include:

Ten Sleep Pioneer Museum has exhibits that show everyday life of pioneer families, tools,  clothing used to carve out a life in the rugged Old West. A special exhibit recreates the Spring Creek Raid that took place on the Red Reflet Ranch which marked a turning point in the rivalry between sheepmen and cattlemen.

Washakie Museum, Worland, tells how early settlers came to Wyoming and created lives for themselves with little knowledge of what to expect; it offers a major historical photograph collection, exhibits made for children to ‘touch’, art exhibits and learning programs focused on the geology, paleontology and archaeology of the region.

Also, The Buffalo Bill Historical Center , in Cody.

The chalets are luxuriously outfitted and decorated. Bob designed each to bring the stunning views inside with big picture windows. The amenities don’t stop: a steam shower in the master bedroom, fireplace, full kitchen, laundry facilities, TV, even walkie-talkies (some parts of the ranch don’t get telephone reception), the refrigerator stocked with all the breakfast fittings anyone could want – farm fresh eggs from their own chicken coup, pancake mix, bacon (best ever), fresh marmalade, snacks, freshly baked bread (and they send us home from dinner with fresh pastries).

Morning light outside The Ponds chalet at Red Reflet Ranch Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Penny Ready’s dogs help round up the horses at Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Ponds Chalet, where we stay, is located at the entrance of the red rim canyon. It is 1,620 square feet with 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms and accommodates up to six guests.

The Ponds chalet, Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bob Kaplan designed the Red Reflet Ranch chalets to bring the outside in © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
The Panorama and The Couples chalets command the highest perch at the Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Panorama Chalet sleeps 6 and is 1,856 square feet, commands the most amazing views of sunrise and sunset, canyon vistas and views of the Big Horn, Jim Bridger, Owl Creek, and Absoroka Mountain Ranges.

On the same perch as the Panorama Chalet, the Couple’s Chalet, a 1,400 square feet and sleeps up to 4, is designed around a Great Room with large windows from which to regale the red rock canyon.

The Ranch House sleeps up to 14 and is ideal for large families or groups. It has a large yard, a pond and a tree house in the yard, and is near the greenhouse, garden and chicken coop, a favorite place for young guests who want to help gather fresh eggs.

The ranch is open year-round – I can imagine how magical it is in winter, when activities like tobogganing, sledding, snowmobiling are available as well as horseback riding and snowshoeing.

Red Reflet Ranch is a ideal for a family gathering, reunion, multi-generational getaway, destination wedding (!), corporate retreat, team-building, incentive travel program. It has the best combination of authentic, genuine experience and, yes, luxurious comfort.

The rate puts Red Reflet Ranch into the luxury category, but it is the sort of special vacation experience that is worth saving for.

Red Reflet Ranch, 10 Lodge Road, Ten Sleep WY 82442, 307-366-2340,  866-766-2340, www.red-reflet-ranch.net.

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

As Travel Resurges, TripAdvisor Launches Reco to Match Travelers with Trip Designers

A HelloReco trip designer can curate a trip through Portugal’s Douro to see the terraced vineyards and have a private wine tasting and even participate in crushing the grapes © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The news that the European Union is opening to American travelers has people pulling out and revising their bucket lists and not wasting time to get out there.

Travel is back. We can testify to that from our recent visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Getting flights, hotels, car rentals, even restaurant reservations have become difficult. We were lucky – we booked back in March, but now we see “No Vacancy” signs up everywhere; even Glacier National Park turned away a camper who had traveled 1000 miles, who didn’t have a permit.

The desire to come together – family and friends – and have the special shared life-enhancing experiences, bonds, lifetime memories that traveling provides are propelling an explosion of travelers who are finding, for the first time in more than a year, “no vacancy” and “flights full” signs.

“After a year spent at home, consumers are more eager than ever to travel: 75% plan to go on at least one vacation this summer, and they plan to spend more money on travel than any other category,” a survey by payment network Affirm found. Affirm polled 2,000 Americans on their spending plans and found that half are going all-out this summer once vaccinated, to make up for lost time. 

Travel is back! Lines to go through security at Denver International Airport © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.comravel is back! Lines to go through security at Denver International Airport

Meanwhile, travel advisors (a more apt term than “travel agents”) are making a comeback. Bucking the DIY trend that was part and parcel of the boom in online travel sites, the dizzying changes in travel, increased concern for health, safety and security, and scarce availability in face of increased demand and limited supply, combined with a new appreciation for how precious the travel experience and more ambitious travel plans, more travelers, from millennials to retirees are seeking out professionals.

A study by the trade association American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) shows a significant increase in the percentage of travelers who intend to use a travel advisor, from 27% who always or often used an advisor prior to the coronavirus pandemic, to 44% who say they are more likely to use a travel advisor now.

Travelers correctly assess that travel advisors, with deep knowledge of destinations and connections to travel suppliers, have greater ability to get free upgrades (or even actual rooms) at hotels and resorts or know suitable or better alternatives; get complimentary breakfast; access special pricing; steer travelers to experiences and attractions they might not know; and arrange unusual and extraordinary experiences. Significantly for these times, travelers want their knowledge of what’s open and what’s safe, putting the logistics together in the best itinerary, and addressing any emergency or change in condition that may occur once the trip is underway.

Travel is back – and travelers are being confronted with “no vacancy” signs in popular places like Yellowstone National Park. A travel advisor can use contacts, destination experience to book lodgings, attractions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

All of this is driving travelers to rediscover the benefits of using skilled travel professional who knows the destination or type of travel (adventure, ecotour, family travel), how to get the most value for dollar, and has the inside track for putting together all the elements in the most cost-effective way.

The most ambitious example is a new matching service that ironically comes out of TripAdvisor – the online compendium of everything travel, and the parent of a score of online travel sites. Reco from TravelAdvisor (HelloReco.com) does for travelers what Uber does for drivers, offering an online platform linking travelers to a specialist “trip designer” to customize your itinerary (what used to be known as FITs, or foreign  independent travel).

What Reco offers are links to experts in a destination or a type of travel, who essentially offer their skills and you get to choose. You pay a single fee of $200 for their help preparing the itinerary, regardless of how simple, how long, how complex or expensive. It can be a reunion of family members coming from different parts of the country to an andbeyond safari camp in Kenya or a hiking/camping trip to Machu Picchu.

“Reco from Tripadvisor is seeing increased demand for ‘big, trip-of-a-lifetime’ vacations as Americans look forward to traveling again,” said Erik Ornitz, General Manager of Reco, which debuted in December 2020.

“Trip Designers on Reco are helping make long-awaited vacations possible with personalized planning and expert advice on navigating today’s complex world. The excitement of newlyweds actually being able to plan their honeymoon, or families getting ready for a trip together after months apart, is a light at the end of this long tunnel.”

A sampling of recent trips planned for Reco travelers showcases the diversity of destinations and experiences in both international and domestic locales:

Overseeing the planning of these highly anticipated, hand-tailored getaways are more than 300 highly qualified Trip Designers whose expertise spans more than 100 countries.  Each Reco Trip Designer specializes in one or several destinations he or she is personally connected to; many have access to special perks like complimentary room upgrades and breakfasts, even special pricing. Trip Designers work directly with each client on custom plans, and remain in contact to help adjust or change plans throughout the entire trip journey. The one-time fee to hire a Reco Trip Designer is $200 (the trip planning does not include airline travel; also, travel agents typically earn commission from the travel suppliers they book).
 
How Reco Works

Travelers start by simply sharing details and preferences about their next trip on HelloReco.com – such as destinations, the type and purpose of the trip, their interests, who they are traveling with, and budget parameters, in an online questionnaire. The Reco platform immediately matches users with a selection of curated Trip Designers that meet their specific needs.
 
After an initial conversation via messaging within the platform, the traveler chooses one of the trip designers and pays a $200 hiring fee for the selected Trip Designer to begin designing, planning, and booking a custom itinerary for a stress-free and highly memorable travel experience. Throughout the process (pre-, during-, and post-trip), Reco connects travelers with their personal Trip Designer and saves all important travel documents and confirmations. The Trip Designer remains available to Reco users throughout their trip and can also navigate and help manage any changes or cancellations.

“Every trip designer has either lived in destination they specialize in or traveled there many times,” Ornitz  said. ”They are incredibly knowledgeable about destinations they are creating itineraries for – most have contacts at the beautiful hotels, know the concierge, can get room upgrades, complimentary breakfast. For example, trip designer Danny specializes in culinary and wine experiences through Portugal and Spain; an American, he has lived there for over 10 years and has gotten to know so many of the wine makers (that most don’t know about) that he can get clients in to meet the winemaker for private tastings.”

A visit to Rully castle, Burgundy France. European Union countries including France are reopening to Americans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Traditional travel advisors have already been seeing renewed interest among travelers who appreciate the time-savings, and reduction in stress that comes with trip planning. Very often, travel experts can also build in greater value and savings or taking advantage of special pricing.

I tell Ornitz that I find it a bit ironic that Reco, which is old-school people-to-people is a subsidiary of ‘new-school” online travel.

“It is a bit old-school but also new school – that’s what we’re excited about,” said Ornitz, whose role in TripAdvisor was to run its new ventures team.

“The travel economy is large, with lots of innovation. TripAdvisor.com is the world’s largest travel site but we see startups, small companies, doing things we haven’t done. The ventures team was born out of that. We looked for a start up that expanded our reach, our scope in travel.

“Quickly, we started talk to customers – TripAdvisor has access to data about travel but also travelers. TripAdvisor came into the industry to help travelers DIY – linking to every hotel, activity, restaurant, so you can pull your trip together. Millions of people do that every day. But we also heard about special trips, occasions, places people had never been, more complex itineraries, and people asking, ‘Can I get more help?’ We dove into the world of travel advisory and custom travel planning – what can we do to help those travelers looking for good advice, local knowledge, insight? How can we serve them?

“On other side, there are a phenomenal number of travel advisors, some in industry for years, some just started, who launched a career on Instagram or social media.

“Reco was born out of the idea of matching those – TripAdvisor with travel advisors – for curated trips – custom, bespoke, luxury.”

Reco is not a travel agency, but rather recruits travel advisors who may be part of different host agencies. Essentially, it is a platform that connects travelers with travel experts, who are independent.

The travel advisors – who may be part of prestigious agencies like Virtuoso or Signature Travel Network – are vetted in order to be part of the Reco platform. They may also be earning commission on the travel services they book, which is why they can afford to do the work on a $200 flat fee.

“Two things are unique with Reco: we pride ourselves on curating trips with amazing trip designers, and matching travelers with them – a lot who have never worked with advisor, and have no clue how to find such a trip designer.” That’s what the Reco platform does.”

He expects clients to span a demographic spectrum – millennials to retirees – and everything from safaris and food-and-wine trips to destination weddings.

One of the specialty areas that caught my attention was the ability to help design trips for families who have autistic and special needs children.

“As a company, we care about inclusive travel, helping travelers with all sorts of needs travel better. As a team, we are thinking about different ways we could embody that mission to be an inclusive travel company, and several trip designers said it is difficult for family with autistic children to travel – especially with all these [COVID-19] restrictions.” There are five trip designers whose specialty is working with families who can curate such trips.

“It shows we can accommodate special needs, complex travel. It is an initial effort by us to serve those families, helping those families travel again in a world where it is harder to travel.

“It goes to the root of Reco – we are all about custom travel, matching people with right designer who can meet their needs, whatever they are.”

HelloReco.com, a wholly owned subsidiary brand of TripAdvisor, Inc., is currently available for U.S. residents and is also available as an iOS app. An Android app will be available in coming months. Visit www.helloreco.com to start the process.
 
Tripadvisor is one of the largest travel guidance platforms in the world, helping hundreds of millions of people each month travel better, from planning to booking to taking a trip. Travelers across the globe use the Tripadvisor site and app to discover where to stay, what to do and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before. With more than 884 million reviews and opinions of nearly 8 million businesses, travelers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodations, book experiences, reserve tables at restaurants and discover great places nearby. A travel guidance company available in 49 markets and 28 languages, Tripadvisor facilitates travel planning of all types. 

In addition to www.helloreco.com, Tripadvisor’s online travel brands and businesses include: www.bokun.iowww.cruisecritic.comwww.flipkey.comwww.thefork.com (including www.lafourchette.comwww.eltenedor.comwww.bookatable.co.uk, and www.delinski.com), www.holidaylettings.co.ukwww.housetrip.com,
www.jetsetter.comwww.niumba.comwww.seatguru.comwww.singleplatform.comwww.vacationhomerentals.com, and www.viator.com.

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 © 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Long Island’s American Airpower Museum – Where Aviation History Takes Flight – Offers Chance to Reenact D-Day Parachute Drop

Up up and away: Andrew Beard, of North Babylon, pilots the C-47, “Second Chance,” troop transport plane, from the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, to the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The American Airpower Museum is gearing up for a return of its C-47 D-Day living history flight experience on June 12. You can sign up, grab your gear and done your WWII helmet and uniform and fly in the troop transport plane, reenacting the experience of paratroopers on that historic and fateful day.

The flights on Saturday, June 12,will also celebrate the start of summer and a return to normalcy, after the COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines.  

To accommodate demand, AAM has scheduled three flights between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.  Seats will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis. To book a flight, call (516) 531-3950, visit the Museum’s gift shop or call (631) 454-2039, Thursday – Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  (a great gift for Father’s Day!).

“Parachutists” board the WWII Douglas C-47 Skytrain Troop Transporter at the American Airpower Museum, Farmingdale. D-Day reenactment flights will be held on June 12. (Photo courtesy of American Airpower Museum)

AAM’s Living History Flight Experience is a one-of-a-kind immersive educational program, where re-enactors take you up in an original WWII C-47 to get a sense of what our 101st and 82nd Airborne Division Paratroopers felt on their incredible 1,200-plane D-Day assault.  This unique immersive flight experience includes: a mission briefing; a chance to wear authentic military field jackets, helmets and gear; the actual sights and sounds as the C-47’s engines fire up and you’re off into the blue; see and hear the crew operate their C-47 and paratroopers getting ready for battle; and you actually form up and hook your parachute to a static line!

This is a family-friendly experience for all ages.  The program is about 1.5 hours long and each flight takes 25 minutes.  A flight experience entitles you to bring along an additional person who can visit the Museum all day free of charge. The cost of the C-47 flight is $350 – which goes toward supporting AAM’s mission to honor veterans and U.S. aviation history by preserving the aircraft and their legacy for future generations. 

‘Warbirds’ Continue Tradition Flying in Memorial Day Air Show

Andrew Beard, of North Babylon, pilots the C-47, “Second Chance,” troop transport plane, from the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, to the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Over Memorial Day Weekend, the American Airpower Museum (AAM) continued its traditional participation in the Jones Beach Air Show, flying their fabled “Arsenal of Democracy” warbirds.  AAM’s fleet of iconic and meticulously restored military aircraft included a B-25 Mitchell Bomber, Douglas C-47 Skytrain troop transporter, Grumman TBM Avenger Torpedo Bomber, Curtiss P-40 Flying Tiger, P-51D Mustang Fighter, AT-6 Texan Warbird and AT28D5 Nomad Vietnam Era Fighter.

The Grumman TBM Avenger, piloted by Nick Ziroli , touches down after flying in the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visitors to the museum got to watch the pilots start their engines, taxi and lift off, performing flybys before leaving to join the Jones Beach Air Show, then watched the aircraft return, touch down and taxi back to Hangar 3.  

The B-25 that General James Doolittle used as transport. Doolittle mounted the first air raid over Japan after Pearl Harbor (they were known as ‘Doolittle’s Raiders”) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
American Airpower Museum’s “Warbirds” take off for the Memorial Day Bethpage Air Show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Warbirds take off from the American Airpower Museum for the Memorial Day Bethpage Air Show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We had the special experience of seeing the close-up and meeting pilots and crew of two visiting U.S. Navy EF/A-18 Super Hornets. The Hornets are supersonic, high-tech combat jets, capable of flying at Mach2 (twice the speed of sound), designed as both fighters and attack aircraft, which have the capability to use electromagnetic energy to disarm the guidance of enemy missiles. 

US Navy pilot Wes Henderson pilots one of the most sophisticated fighter jets in America’s arsenal, the F-18. The Wyandanch native was inspired to fly during his visits to the American Airpower Museum. Watching the young children looking in awe at the collection of aircraft, spanning much of aviation’s military history, you can see that same look of awe and inspiration.

Two young fellows, aged 17 and looking to start college next year, were clearly star-struck in the presence of Henderson and his three other Navy crew, who flew from their base in Whidbey Island, WA in two of the F-18 Super Hornets, to spend Memorial Day Weekend with family and be part of the inspirational events taking place. Both young men are already pilots: Joe Jannelli of Dix Hills, inspired to learn fly after seeing a pamphlet at high school, has his ambition set to become a US Navy pilot (he’s headed to Embry Riddle next year) and C.J. Grasso of Amityville wants to join the Air Force (he’s going to Maritime College) and will actually be flying with the GEICO Skytypers.

Pilots Wes “Chunk” Henderson of Wyandanch, and Ryan “FNQ 1” Ballester of Remsenburg, Long Island and crew Pete “Lil Sippy” Stern of Westchester and Dave “Woogie” Keller of Long Island, discuss their flight plane before departing American Airpower Museum for their US Navy base at Whidbey Island, WA © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Boeing EA-18G Growler, a US Navy SuperHornet jet capable of Mach2 speed, uses electro-magnetic energy “cannons” in the wings to disarm the enemy’s missile guidance systems visits Long Island’s American Airpower Museum for Memorial Day weekend © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We also got to see up close a U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II, “The Warthog”. 

The aim of the event: “To honor the men and women of the ‘Greatest Generation’ who built, maintained and piloted the iconic warbirds of yesteryear in a bold defense of freedom during World War II, as well as active duty military, national guard and reservists who continue this mission and command the skies in advanced supersonic jet aircraft to our present day,” said AAM founder Jeff Clyman.  

The A-10 takes off from the American Airpower Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The A-10 takes off from the American Airpower Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

‘Where Aviation History Takes Flight’

What makes Long Island’s American Airpower Museum so special among aviation museums is that this is so much more than a static display of vintage aircraft. This is living history –just about every day you visit, you can see these historic aircraft fly – you can even purchase a seat to fly in AAM’s AT-6 Texan and Waco Biplane.

The Airpower museum is all about honoring that sacrifice and commemorating the people who flew the missions, parachuted into danger, reported on the war. Rather than tell the history of aviation writ large, it is more about the story of specific planes and people. There is a lot that puts you into the story – you get to climb into a fuselage and take hold of a machine gun with the ammo belt, climb into the C-47 troop transport plane that would shortly take off for its turn in the Air Show, piloted by Andrew Beard of North Babylon (who spent eight years flying for the Canadian Air Force, even piloting Canada’s Air Force One carrying the Prime Minister.)

Long Island’s only flying military aviation museum celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.

Its impressive collection was started by Jeffrey Clyman, president of the museum and the foundation.

His first acquisition was the P10-17 WWII training biplane which used to fly in air shows. His second was the Avenger. The third, the AT-6 “Texan” came from the Spanish air force where it was used for desert warfare in the Sahara

Pilot Nick Ziroli back on the ground after his flight on the Grumman TBM Avenger © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Grumman TBM Avenger is the same plane model which George H.W. Bush few in WWII in which he was shot down (the other two crew members did not survive); you can see where Bush autographed this plane.  Known as the “ship killer,” so many Japanese ships were destroyed by the torpedoes it carried, that upon seeing it coming, crew would jump off, the museum’s publicist, Bob Salant, tells me during my visit.

You can actually buy a seat for a flight in the WACO UPF-7 biplane (the initials stand for Weaver Aircraft Company of Ohio) and a North American AT-6 Texan, which give you the unparalleled experience of flying with an open cockpit.

Thom Richard pilots “Jacqueline,” a P-51 Mustang fighter © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
“I try to beat gravity every day, and every day I fail,” jokes Thom Richard, pilot of “Jacqueline”.  Richard runs Warbirds Adventure flying school in Florida. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can also buy a seat in a D-Day reenactment flying aboard the WWII Veteran Douglas C-47 Gooney Bird, which carried parachutists – you wear an appropriate uniform, there is the radio speech of President Eisenhower sending the troops into this fateful battle, and while you don’t actually parachute, at the end, you are given a card that says whether you lived or died.

Andrew Beard, of North Babylon, pilots the C-47, “Second Chance,” a troop transport plane – the same type of plane used for D-Day (and is used in the museum’s “D-Day Experience” where you get in the same uniforms, fly in the aircraft as if about to parachute. Beard flew for the Canadian Air Force for 8 years, including Canada’s Air Force One that carried the Prime Minister. This C-47 was used in the Berlin Airlift, and spent 30 years in the Israel Air Force (you can see where the Star of David was overprinted, and there is Hebrew on one of the boxes in the cabin) – very likely used in the Yom Kippur and 7-Day wars © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

That’s what “Living history” means to the American Airpower Museum.

Indeed, just about all the aircraft you see in the hangar and on the field (a few are on loan), are working aircraft and have to be flown to be maintained, so any time you visit, you are likely to see planes flying.

Among the planes that played an important role in history is the “Mis-Hap” – a North American B25 Mitchell bomber that was used as a transport plane for General Doolittle, famous for mounting the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo – the first attack on Japan’s mainland after Pearl Harbor. It was General Hap Arnold’s personal plane (subsequent owners included Howard Hughes).

The B-25 that General James Doolittle used as transport. Doolittle mounted the first air raid over Japan after Pearl Harbor (they were known as ‘Doolittle’s Raiders”) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another is the Macon Belle, on view in a fascinating exhibit that pays homage to the Tuskegee Airmen, one of whom, William Johnson is a Glen Cove resident. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII. They flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa, earning more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

You can walk through the Douglas C-47, the same plane as was used on D-Day to drop parachutists into France, and even purchase a seat for a D-Day reenactment © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can walk through the Douglas C-47B. Built in 1935 and in service since 1936, the DC3 started as one of the first commercial civilian airliners. It was best known for being used in the Berlin Airlift, dropping food, clothing and medical supplies to Berliners suffering under the Soviet occupation. The plane is dubbed “Second Chance” possibly because after World War II, it was sold to the State of Israel and saw more than 30 years in the Israel Air Force (very possibly flew in the Yom Kippur and Six Day wars). Today, the C-47B is used in D-Day reenactments.

Kids are inspired at the American Airpower Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Inside the hangar, there are several excellent exhibits, including one showcasing the WASPs – the Women Airforce Service Pilots who were used to fly planes to their missions. Another focuses on women war correspondents, among them, Martha Gellhorn, considered one of the great war correspondents of the 20th century, reporting on virtually every major world conflict over her 60-year career (she was also the third wife of novelist Ernest Hemingway).

Kids are inspired at the American Airpower Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Clyman, who started his museum in New Jersey, moved it to Farmingdale, Long Island, the “cradle of aviation,” where America’s aviation industry began and many of these planes were built, and where the people who built them, maintained them and flew them, still live. Many of the docents as well as the pilots are former Republic workers and veterans.

“My dad was a combat pilot in WWII. So was my uncle. My mom was a nurse,” Clyman tells me. “But just as the 1920s followed WWI, and the 1950s after WWII, they didn’t talk about their experiences in war until they were about to die.” His mission is to not only legacy of the planes, but honor the people.

Kids are inspired at the American Airpower Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The structure that the American Airpower museum occupies, some 65 years ago, was a crucial part of America’s “Arsenal of Democracy” – it was home to Republic Aviation, the complex where more than 9,000 P-47 Thunderbolts were produced.

“Today, no American aviation museum with a squadron of operational World War II aircrafts has a more appropriate setting for its flight operations,” Clyman says. “Taxing to the very runways and hangars that dispatched Thunderbolts to war, vintage aircrafts recreate those turbulent years and allow the public to watch these planes in their natural environment – the air.”

The hangar where the museum is located is now part of a historic preservation district, as a result of the effort of Senator Charles Schumer and them-Congressman Steve Israel.

There are uniforms, equipment, even two Nikon cameras adapted for use by astronauts that flew in the Space Shuttle.

Here are more photos that capture the homecoming of the F-18 Super Hornet crew:

Wes “Chunk” Henderson arrived in style to visit his family for Memorial Day Weekend from his US Navy Airbase in Whidbey Island, WA – by F18 Growler, a SuperHornet capable of Mach2 speed, uses electro-magnetic energy “cannons” in the wings to disarm the enemy’s missile guidance systems, landing at the American Airpower Museum. As a boy, he was inspired to become a military pilot visiting the museum from his home in Wyandanch. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Joe Jannelli, 17, from Dix Hills and C.J. Grasso, 17, of Amityville, are already pilots and huge fans of Wes “Chunk” Henderson, pilot of the F-18 SuperHornet. Jannelli wants to become a Navy pilot and Grasso wants to be an Air Force pilot © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Wes”Chuck” Henderson and Dave “Woogie” Keller of Long Island before taking off in their F18 Super Hornet © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The US Navy’s F-18’s were not flying in this year’s Memorial Day Bethpage Air Show – that role went to the US Air Force’s Thunderbirds, who flew the practice show on Friday, then returned for a special edition on Monday after being rained out Saturday and Sunday. Henderson and his comrades got special permission to bring their state-of-the-art jets to Long Island and put them on display at the American Airpower Museum. It was Henderson’s first time home since 2018 – his father, George, passed away from COVID-19 exactly a year ago but there was no funeral. This was his first time seeing his mother, Eve, since then. For her part, this was her first time seeing her son land and take off in the F-18. Wes’ girlfriend, Kate Wise, was also able to attend © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Local boys reach heights as US Navy fliers, piloting and crewing on the F-18s: Pete “Lil Sippy” Stern of Westchester; Ryan “FNQ 1” Ballester of Remsenburg, Long Island; Dave “Woogie” Keller of Long Island; and Wes “Chunk” Henderson of Wyandanch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
All in the family: Ryan Ballester of Remsenburg, li, with father Lou, a flight instructor who taught his son to fly (another son flies Sea hawk helicopter and third son is an air traffic controller in San Diego © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 Wes “Chunk” Henderson of Wyandanch and Dave “Woogie” Keller of Long Island in the cockpit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
Ryan “FNQ 1” Ballester of Remsenburg, Long Island and Pete “Lil Sippy” Stern of Westchester in the cockpit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
The US Navy Super Hornets take off from the American  Airpower Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The US Navy Super Hornets take off from the American  Airpower Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The US Navy Super Hornets take off from the American  Airpower Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The US Navy Super Hornets take off from the American  Airpower Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The American Airpower Museum, “Long Island’s only flying military aviation museum,” is located on the landmarked former site of Republic Aviation at Republic Airport, Farmingdale, NY.  The Museum maintains a collection of aviation artifacts and an array of aircraft spanning the many years of the aircraft factory’s history.  ‘Where aviation history takes flight!” The Museum is a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Educational Foundation Chartered by the New York State Board of Regents

The American Airpower Museum, Hangar 3, 1230 New Highway, Farmingdale, NY 11735, 631-293-6398, info@americanairpowermuseum.org, www.americanairpowermuseum.com.

See also:

A VISIT WITH THE USAF THUNDERBIRDS

WAYS TO SEE LONG ISLAND’S BETHPAGE AIR SHOW AT JONES BEACH DESPITE WEATHER

16TH ANNUAL BETHPAGE AIR SHOW AT JONES BEACH, LONG ISLAND, HONORS SPIRIT OF MEMORIAL DAY

PHOTO HIGHLIGHTS FROM 15TH ANNUAL MEMORIAL DAY BETHPAGE AIR SHOW AT JONES BEACH, LONG ISLAND

______________________

© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

A Visit With the USAF Thunderbirds on Long Island

USAF Thunderbirds’ #5 Lead Solo Pilot Maj. Michelle Curran is an inspiration to women and girls everywhere © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

US Air Force Major Michelle Curran is aware that she is such an inspiration to women and girls everywhere – a role she embraces, along with her mission, as a member of the Thunderbirds demo team to “recruit, retain, inspire.” It is hard to say which she enjoys more – the look on a young girl’s face when she realizes that Curran was flying those death-defying  maneuvers in her F-16 fighter jet, or the thrill of flying those death-defying maneuvers in her F-16 fighter jet, going from 1500 feet altitude straight up to 15,000 feet in a matter of seconds.

I got to watch the USAF Thunderbirds arrive at MacArthur Airport ahead of their headlining appearance at the Bethpage Air Show over Memorial Day Weekend at Jones Beach State Park, and then got to speak with the pilots. I confess that I have admired Michelle Curran, only the fifth woman (since 2005) to pilot one of the formidable F-16 jets, since I first saw her in the 2019 Bethpage Air Show, when she was the #6 (opposing solo) pilot. This year, she is the lead solo doing the daring-do maneuvers, where two opposing fighters come at each other at, like, 1200 mph. And she does it upside down (almost the equivalent of Ginger Rogers doing it backwards and in heels?). I couldn’t be more excited to meet her if she were Beyonce. And I am not alone.

I can do that! Maj. Michelle Curran as lead solo in #5 (upside down) and Maj. Kyle Oliver as opposing solo in #6 F-16s © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 “People come up and say ‘I’m so proud of you,’ – something your mother would say. It shows the impact we are having,” she says.

She reflects that last year, the personal contact with people was lacking, but the team did city- flyovers, honoring health workers, essential workers and first responders. People would send photos and such, showing how moved they were to see the flyover.

“it has been awesome to be part of that, to be in this position, in this time of history. I will look back.”

She reflects what it is like to be part of this very special team – there are 130 on the team.

The flags on the side of her F-16 show the countries where the Thunderbirds have performed. In many, Maj. Michelle Curran is the first female fighter pilot they have seen. The number ‘5’ is upside down because Maj. Curran spends the most time inverted.© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It’s like no other organization I have ever been a part of,” said Curran, who has been in the Air Force for 12 years.  “I fly for them, not to let them down.”

But she adds, “And for all those little kids – they may not ever become a pilot, but they may think, ‘Maybe I can do that hard thing I didn’t think I could’.”

“Moms drag their daughter over, ‘She just flew!’  I makes them realize doors are open to them.”

The team flies in many countries and parts of the world where it is unthinkable for a woman to be a combat pilot. And she is aware of what seeing a woman in her role can mean. “I see that look on faces – that light bulb moment.”

She is the fifth woman to fly with the Thunderbirds (the first was in 2005). Just 2% of pilots are women. “We know each other – a sisterhood.”

It’s become more accepted, but she is aware of things that women have to “navigate” that men don’t even think about.

USAF Thunderbirds’ #5 Lead Solo Pilot Maj. Michelle Curran is an inspiration to women and girls everywhere © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Curran is in her third year on the air force’s elite demonstration team – usually, the special assignment only lasts two years, but because of COVID-19, the tour is extended – and now is the lead solo pilot. The number of her jet, 5, and on her uniform, and the uniform of her crew (who are also women), are upside down, because in her role, she spends most of her time inverted, even as she makes that thrilling opposing pass.

We ask what it feels like to fly. Is she nervous at all? They practice so much, it is all quite routine, even the communications between pilots. “It’s all very professional in the air with the comm. No. 6 [the opposing solo] gives the challenge and the response, but I can hear his energy. When all six [of the Thunderbirds] come together, if the air is smooth, we’re all firing on all cyclinders, it’s a cool feeling.  But when we’re down on the ground, and talk to each other, we might say, ‘Wow, we worked hard.’ Or ‘ We really crushed it.’”

“I do normal things in the morning. It hits me when I step out to the jets. Game on. There is a charge of adrenalin, but once I take off, it is just focus. I’m in my happy place. I know what I need to do. Focus.”

Focus! Maj. Michelle Curran as lead solo in #5 (upside down) and Maj. Kyle Oliver as opposing solo in #6 F-16s come directly at each other © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Her call sign is “Mace” (which she uses in her social media, @mace_curran)– and while she doesn’t reveal the secret to what is behind the nickname, she says it is a tradition in a fighter squadron to get a call sign they are mission qualified. “The whole squad gets together, talk about dumb mistakes – and then you get a call sign.” But the origin remains a secret.

Curran entered the Air Force in 2009 with a Reserve Officer Training Corps commission from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. She completed the Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training in Columbus, Miss., and was assigned to the F-16 at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Curran has flown more than 1,500 hours in the F-16, including 163 combat hours over Afghanistan in support of operations Resolute Support and Freedom’s Sentinel. Prior to the Thunderbirds, she was an F-16 Instructor Pilot and Flight Commander at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas.

Zane Taylor was inspired to fly when he first saw the USAF Thunderbirds when he was just a boy of four or five © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I also get to chat with Maj. Zane Taylor, the right wing pilot flying the No. 3 jet.

He is the epitome of what the Thunderbirds are about. A native of Orlando, Florida, he reflects that he first saw the Thunderbirds when he was just four or five years old, and was so awed, he wanted to fly. “I knew it was something I wanted to do – not that the dream would come true but there are steps and I could do the best I could.”

He didn’t imagine then he would become one of the Thunderbirds, and even now, reflects “being proficient is one thing, but it takes luck and timing to get the F-16.”

The F-16, he says, is basically an “engine with wings” – it can fly at supersonic speed (though the FAA no longer allows it at air shows).

He reflects that he is ‘just a standard Air force fighter pilot, flying every day, multiple times a day to master maneuvers.” Except for the pretty paint and smoke, the maneuvers the Thunderbirds fly are the same for what are used in their combat training.

Like Curran, he says it is the team of 130 that make the Thunderbirds possible. “The plane doesn’t fly if just one doesn’t do their job.”

It isn’t really surprising that USAF Thunderbirds Pilot Zane Taylor says one of his favorite things is riding roller coasters © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

His call sign is “Strobe.” He wouldn’t give the back story of how he came to be called “Strobe’ either, except to say, “As a young pilot, I thought I knew what was going on. Most call signs are not flattering.”

Taylor is a 2010 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he majored in Systems Engineering. Prior to joining the Thunderbirds, he served as an F-16 evaluator pilot, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. He has logged more than 1,700 flight hours, including more than 280 combat hours over Iraq and Syria in support of Operations Inherent Resolve.

He is in his third year on the Thunderbirds. He expects he will go back to a combat air squadron after this assignment is finished, and based on his age and experience, could become the director of operations.

He says that among his favorite things are riding roller coasters (he was looking forward to getting a ride on the Cyclone at Coney Island).

USAF Thunderbirds arrive at MacArthur Airport for their appearance in the Memorial Day Weekend Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The other pilots include:

Col. John Caldwell is the Commander/Leader of the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron. In addition to flying the No. 1 jet, and leading all air demonstrations, he commands the 130-person squadron. He entered the Air Force in 2002 as a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Caldwell graduated from the F-16 Replacement Training Unit at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., in 2005. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School and has logged more than 3,100 flight hours with 667 hours of combat pilot experience. He is in his third season with the team and hails from Orlando, Fla.

Maj. Ian Lee is the Left Wing Pilot for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, flying the No. 2 jet. He is a 2010 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he double majored in Economics and Management. Prior to joining the Thunderbirds, he served as the Chief of Weapons and Tactics of the 79th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School and has logged more than 1,700 flight hours, including more than 470 combat hours in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. He is in his first season with the team and hails from Cerritos, Calif.

The USAF Thunderbirds display extraordinary precision and teamwork, flying as close as 18 inches apart, here at the practice for the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Maj. Michael Brewer is the Slot Pilot for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, flying the No. 4 jet. He is a 2005 graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, and commissioned from Officer Training School, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., in 2010. Prior to commissioning, he flew as a commercial flight instructor, cargo pilot and airline pilot. Prior to joining the Thunderbirds, he served as an F-15E Instructor Pilot and Flight Commander of the 334th Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. He has logged more than 5,800 total flight hours and 1,050 hours in the F-15E, including more than 315 combat hours over Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve. He is in his third season with the team and hails from LaGrange, Ill.

Maj. Kyle Oliver is the Opposing Solo Pilot for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, flying the No. 6 jet. He majored in Communication Technology and Music and earned his commission in 2010 as a graduate of Ohio State University’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. Prior to joining the Thunderbirds, he was an F-22 Instructor Pilot at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. He has logged more than 1,300 flight hours, including more than 230 hours of combat experience over Iraq and Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. He is in his second season with the team and hails from Beavercreek, Ohio. 

The USAF Thunderbird pilots all credit their team of 130. “The plane doesn’t fly if just one doesn’t do their job,” says Maj. Zane Taylor © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lt. Col. Kevin DiFalco is the Director of Operations for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, flying the No. 7 jet. He majored in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder and earned his commission in 2004 through the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. Prior to joining the Thunderbirds, he served as the Assistant Director of Operations of the 555th Fighter Squadron and Director of Operations for the 31st Operations Support Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy. He is a graduate of the USAF Weapons School, a 2016 and 2020 NASA Astronaut Air Force nominee and has logged over 1,900 hours of flight time, including more than 297 hours of combat pilot experience. He is in his second season with the team and hails from Fort Collins, Colo.

The Air Force’s official air demonstration team, designated the 3600th Air Demonstration Unit, was activated at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona in 1953. The unit adopted the name “Thunderbirds,” influenced in part by the strong Native American culture and folklore from the southwestern United States where Luke Air Force Base is located.

See more, including their schedule of performances, at the US Air Force Thunderbirds site, afthunderbirds.com.

See also:

WAYS TO SEE LONG ISLAND’S BETHPAGE AIR SHOW AT JONES BEACH DESPITE WEATHER

16TH ANNUAL BETHPAGE AIR SHOW AT JONES BEACH, LONG ISLAND, HONORS SPIRIT OF MEMORIAL DAY

PHOTO HIGHLIGHTS FROM 15TH ANNUAL MEMORIAL DAY BETHPAGE AIR SHOW AT JONES BEACH, LONG ISLAND

______________________

© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Ways to See Long Island’s Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach Despite Weather

Among the thrilling maneuvers by the US Air Force Thunderbirds, is this high-speed opposing attack by solo pilots Michelle Curran and Kyle Oliver, seen during Friday’s rehearsal of the 17th annual Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island over Memorial Day weekend. The Saturday performance was cancelled due to weather, but the rehearsal footage is being livestreamed on WABC TV © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Update: At this writing, the Bethpage Air Show was scheduled for Memorial Day, Monday, May 31. All tickets for Saturday and Sunday were to be honored.

The Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park was canceled Saturday due to weather, the state Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation said in a statement. However, a livestream of Friday’s practice sessions – include footage from go-pros from the pilots and a Thunderbirds chase plane that shadowed the F-16s in their thrilling maneuvers –  is airing on  Saturday, 10-3 pm.  It can be seen on WABC-TV, as well as on WABC’s Connected TV Apps on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku. The original plan was to livestream the rain date of Sunday, May 30, 2021. (It was not known whether Sunday’s show would also be canceled for weather).

The $10 event passes to the show can be returned in exchange for two free passes to visit any state park.

The show, which would have been the 17th at Jones Beach State Park, brought special excitement because of having been cancelled last year due to COVID-19, and the opportunity for crowds – albeit at 50 percent capacity – to gather again is a vital sign of the region’s return to normalcy. At this state park and many others around the state, free COVID-19 vaccines were being administered (with two-day passes to state parks as an additional incentive).

Here are photos from the practice performance including:

Show headliners the United States Air Force Thunderbirds returning to the Bethpage Air Show for their 8th appearance, performing some new maneuvers; the United States Army Golden Knights Parachute Team performing in their 15th Bethpage Air Show; the United States Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II, the first aircraft to be designed for close air support of ground forces (and built on Long Island); and the U.S. Coast Guard Search & Rescue Demonstration. 

USAF Thunderbirds fly in the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
USAF Thunderbirds fly in the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Major Michelle Curran flies her #5 F-16 upside down in perfect precision with opposing solo pilot Major Kyle Oliver in this year’s USAF Thunderbirds show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
USAF Thunderbirds show their extraordinary precision – flying at high speed as close as 18 inches – in the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
USAF Thunderbirds pilots Col. John Caldwell (#1), Maj. Ian Lee (#2),  Maj. Zane Taylor (#3),  Maj.Michael Brewer (#4) show their stuff at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
USAF Thunderbirds fly in the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplcesfarandnear.com

Civilian performers at this year’s Bethpage Air Show include the world-famous GEICO Skytypers and their flight squadron of six vintage WWII aircraft, the American Airpower Museum Warbirds, Long Island’s own David Windmiller, the Bayport Aerodrome Society, the SUNY Farmingdale State College Flying Rams who will fly seven of their 22 college-owned aircraft in a fly-by piloted by their top academic professional pilot performers, and Mike Goulian, North America’s most decorated aerobatic pilot.

US Army Golden Knights parachute team battle high winds to stick the landing at Jones Beach
State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Long Island’s own David Windmiller returns to the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The United States Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II, the first aircraft to be designed for close air support of ground forces (and built on Long Island), at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Two of the World War II-era “Warbirds” from the American Airpower Museum, based at Republic Airport, Farmingdale © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mike Goulian, North America’s most decorated aerobatic pilot, gives a thrilling performance above Jones Beach State Park at the Bethpage Air Show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mike Goulian, North America’s most decorated aerobatic pilot, gives a thrilling performance above Jones Beach State Park at the Bethpage Air Show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mike Goulian, North America’s most decorated aerobatic pilot, gives a thrilling performance above Jones Beach State Park at the Bethpage Air Show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

An air show first, livestream viewers will be treated to a special inside look at performances. The GEICO Skytypers, the A-10 Thunderbolt, David Windmiller and Michael Goulian will have cameras on board their planes to provide viewers with an in-cockpit perspective, live, during the show. It’s these videos which will be streamed in place of Saturday’s performance.

Hometown favorites, the GEICO Skytypers demonstrate battle tactics in their World War II-era planes at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Bach State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Hometown favorites, the GEICO Skytypers demonstrate battle tactics in their World War II-era planes at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Bach State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Hometown favorites, the GEICO Skytypers demonstrate battle tactics in their World War II-era planes at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Bach State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At this writing, there was no decision on whether the Sunday performance would take place. Known to many as the Greatest Show on Long Island, the Bethpage Air Show was canceled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Show organizers instead held the first Bethpage Virtual Air Show which enabled fans to experience performances straight from the pilots’ cockpits.

The Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach is one of the largest and most respected air shows in the country.  During the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds’ most recent headlining appearance in 2019, over 366,000 attended the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach.   

For up-to-date information about this year’s show, visit  www.bethpageairshow.com or https://www.facebook.com/BethpageAirShow/, or contact the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Regional Office, Recreation Department at 631-321-3510.

See photo galleries of Jones Beach Air Shows from 2019 and 2018:

16TH ANNUAL BETHPAGE AIR SHOW AT JONES BEACH, LONG ISLAND, HONORS SPIRIT OF MEMORIAL DAY

PHOTO HIGHLIGHTS FROM 15TH ANNUAL MEMORIAL DAY BETHPAGE AIR SHOW AT JONES BEACH, LONG ISLAND

______________________

© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

From Glamping to Biking to Hiking, New York State Makes it Easy to Get Out There!

After a year’s hiatus, registration for the 2021 Cycle the Erie 8-day, 400-mile biking adventure from Buffalo to Albany is now open for a limited 350 riders. The 350-mile long Erie Canalway is now part of the state’s 750-mile long Empire State Trail Network © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, when so much was locked down and out of reach, New York State parks and outdoors were a godsend, providing needed respite. Indeed, the state’s parks received a record number of visitors, even as measures were in place to control capacity. And throughout the year, the state consistently made improvements and found ways to be available to more people.

The improvements are part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s NY Parks 100 initiative, which renews the historic commitment to investing and expanding the State Park system by committing at least $440 million over the next four years.

“This critical period of revitalization will culminate in the 2024 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the State Park Act, which first created our nation-leading State Park system in 1924 under Governor Al Smith. NY Parks 100 will continue crucial investments in park infrastructure while enhancing opportunities to reach the full range of New York State’s recreational and cultural offerings, including local parks and trails, regional flagship parks and historic sites, and vast wilderness parks. The initiative will focus on creating places to recreate locally, relieving overcrowded parks, welcoming new visitors, and protecting New York State’s environmental and historic legacy. This new plan will ensure people from all communities and across all ages and abilities can fully experience our outdoors, our culture, and our heritage,” the state said.

Here are some of the improvements that will welcome visitors this year:

New York State has formed a new public-private partnership for a new tent camping service with 45 sites at four State Parks in the Hudson Valley. Tentrr’s fully outfitted campsites are available to reserve at the Sebago and Silver Mine areas of Harriman State Park in Orange and Rockland Counties; Taconic State Park and Lake Taghkanic State Park in Columbia County; and Mills-Norrie State Park in Dutchess County.

The service provides tents, sleeping accommodations and an array of equipment needed for camping at each site. All items are set up and ready to use upon arrival for added convenience and sites are maintained by Tentrr staff.

All locations include a 10-foot by 12-foot, canvas-walled tent atop a raised platform. Each site is outfitted with a queen-sized bed and memory foam mattress, a propane heating source, a solar-powered “sun” shower, a camp toilet, water container, Adirondack chairs, a fire pit, grill, and a picnic table with storage and benches.  

Tentrr camping site at the Sebago area of Harriman State Park, New York. The tenting service has a partnership with New York State to provide 45 glamping sites at four state parks in the Hudson Valley.

Guests have the option of single, double, and triple sites. Singles sleep up to six (two occupants in the main tent and four occupants in a provided pop-up tent). Double sites – or buddy sites – sleep up to 12 (two occupants in each of the two main tents and four occupants in each of the two provided pop-up tents) and triples can accommodate group camping. 

Sites are $135 per night, with a portion going toward the maintenance and stewardship of New York State Parks.

While Tentrr’s sites are naturally socially distanced, Tentrr adheres to state guidelines for maintaining and sanitizing the sites. Tentrr will continue to keep sites clean and wiped down with high-grade sanitizers and encourages guests to follow recommended COVID requirements and protocols. For more details on Tentrr’s COVID-19 protocols, visit here

To make a reservation, visit tentrr.com/nysp. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance.

Camp Rockaway

Through the Reimagine the Canals initiative, Camp Rockaway, a New York State based outdoor excursion company, is managing the site at Lock C-5 on the Champlain Canal in Schuylerville between Memorial Day weekend and September 8, with possible extension through early October. The glamping site will offer vacationing New Yorkers an opportunity to experience the vast history and bucolic landscapes of one of New York’s oldest canalside communities by enjoying luxury camping on the banks of the Canal.

Through the Reimagine the Canals initiative,  Camp Rockaway, a New York State based outdoor excursion company, will manage the site at Lock C-5 on the Champlain Canal in Schuylerville between Memorial Day weekend and September 8, with possible extension through early October.

Reservations are now being accepted for a glamping experience on the Champlain Canal that will attract visitors to the State’s historic upper Hudson Valley and boost the local economy that is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This new glamping experience is the latest innovation from Governor Cuomo’s $300 million Reimagine the Canals initiative that is revitalizing the Canal corridor as a tourism and recreation destination while simultaneously boosting economic development and the resiliency of canalside communities.

Visit https://camprockaway.com/schuylerville/.

Biking, Cycling the Eric Canal

Parks & Trails NY is offering its sensational eight-day, 400-mile biking adventure along the Erie Canalway for a 23rd year in 2021, after a hiatus in 2020. Riders will leave Buffalo July 11 and reach Albany on July 18. Registration is open for spots, limited this year to 350.

The route follows the legendary Erie Canal passing locks and aqueducts and winding through historic villages and rural farmlands. Over the course of the eight days, cyclists enjoy stunning pastoral scenes, fascinating history extending 400 years in which the story of how America came to be unfolds, and some of the best cycling in the United States. Covering between 40 and 60 miles per day, cyclists travel along the Erie Canalway Trail, which is now more than 85 percent complete and the east-west axis of the statewide 750-mile Empire State Trail.

You can’t help but become immersed in history on Parks & Trails NY’s annual Cycle the Erie ride, 400-miles from Buffalo to Albany and 400 years of history © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Designed as a supported camping trip, accommodations are provided with showers, toilet facilities, some with pools or lakes for swimming; eight breakfasts and six dinners; two daily refreshment stops along the route; evening entertainment including music and historical presentations; guided tours of the Canal, historic sites, museums and other attractions including the Women’s Rights National Historic Park, Erie Canal Museum and Village, Fort Stanwix National Monument and a boat tour through the Lockport locks; kick-off reception and end-of-tour celebration; Cycle the Erie Canal t-shirt; baggage transport; SAG wagon and mobile mechanical support; daily maps and cue sheets; painted and arrowed routes; pre-departure info packet including training tips. Other amenities available (at additional fee) include fresh daily towels, gourmet morning coffee, tent and air mattress rental and set up (for those who don’t want to pitch their own tent).

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the safety of riders, volunteers, staff, vendors, and local community members is at the forefront of planning. With this in mind, the tour is limited to 350 participants and volunteers; all registrations will be for the full eight-day option; and to keep everyone safe and meet state and local COVID-19 regulations, registration fees have increased this year.

The price up until June 7 is $1200/adult, $650 youth (6-17); $290 child (5 and under); shuttle is $100.

The PTNY coordinators are following the guidance from New York State, and will be prepared to follow all regulations in place in July. Registrants will be notified of any updates or changes. Visit New York State’s COVID-19 Travel Advisory to stay abreast of restrictions that might impact your travel plans.

Find answers to questions riders may have on the Cycle the Erie Canal FAQ page. If there are questions that aren’t covered, email  eriecanaltour@ptny.org.

Can’t do the Parks & Trails NY’s Cycle the Erie ride? Among the bike tour companies offering the trip, Wilderness Voyageurs offers a self-guided inn-to-inn tour (https://wilderness-voyageurs.com) and Classic Adventures (https://classicadventures.com/) and Womantours (www.womantours.com) offer guided itineraries.

Cyclists ride the Erie Canalway as Erie Canal Adventures’ Lockmaster sails by © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another way to enjoy the Erie Canal is by boat – and bring a bike along. Erie Canal Adventures’ fleet of 11 custom-designed Lockmasters sail from Macedon, near Rochester, NY, and with enough time, you can cruise some 200 miles from Buffalo to Lake Oneida in Syracuse along the canal. Besides sailing along the Erie Canal (as far as , you can also sail on other waterways, taking spurs south to the Finger Lakes, or north up the Oswego canal to Lake Ontario. Erie Canal Adventures, 315-986-3011, www.eriecanaladventures.com.

With all these marvelous ways to enjoy the Canalway, the trail system was more popular in 2020 than any prior year, according to the 2020 Who’s on the Trail report from PTNY and the NYS Canal Corporation. The system saw a record 4.2 million visits in 2020, with 3.97 million visits made to the 360-mile Erie Canalway Trail between Albany and Buffalo and 288,000 visits to the 90-mile Champlain Canalway Trail between Waterford and Whitehall.

And now, the 353-mile long Erie Canalway, from Buffalo to Albany is linked and part of the state’s Empire Trail Network – 750 miles of interconnected off-road and on-road biking and recreational trails and lanes from the tip of Manhattan to the Canadian border.

Empire State Trail Open

New York’s ambitious Empire State Trail, now the nation’s longest multi-use state trail, is now fully opened. The trail network spans 750-miles total, 75 percent of which is off-road trails ideal for cyclists, hikers, runners, cross-country skiers and snow-shoers. The new recreational trail means you can go from New York City north-south through the Hudson and Champlain Valley to Canada, and east-west from Albany to Buffalo along the Erie Canal on a safe and incredibly scenic pathway, discovering fascinating historic and cultural sites along the way.

Biking over the Rosendale Trestle, 150 feet above the Rondout Creek, on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, part of the New York Empire State Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Empire State Trail website provides quick and easy access to trail information including segment descriptions, access points, trail distances, parking areas, restrooms, and nearby amenities and attractions. The website’s responsive and user-friendly design allows users to access interactive maps from mobile devices, zoom in to specific location of interest, and download/print maps of trail segments. Cyclists can print “cue sheets” with highly detailed directions for following a selected trail segment. The site also features information about the variety of activities and destinations on or near the trail such as campgrounds, parks, historic sites, and popular stops among the local communities. (empiretrail.ny.gov/)

To promote the opening of the Empire State Trail, the state has formed a partnership with the nationally-known Boilermaker race to create the “Empire State Trail Challenge” virtual race where participants can register and log their miles to reach milestones tied to virtual progress along the Empire State Trail, through July 31.  

Participants can register now and begin logging their miles walking, running or cycling. Participants would complete the mileage of at least one leg of the Empire State Trail: either the Hudson Valley Trail: 210 miles (New York City to Albany); the Erie Canalway Trail: 350 miles (Albany to Buffalo); or the Champlain Valley: 190 miles (Albany to Canada Border at Rouses Point). Participants can sign up as teams or individuals. For more information or to register, visit the website.

Although people are encouraged to the explore the actual Empire State Trail, participants can run, walk, or ride anywhere geographically, on local trails and running/bicycling routes near where they live to log and complete the challenge.

Each entrant receives a t-shirt with their $25 entrance fee for a single leg of the trail. If interested, participants can register for additional legs at the time of registration or any time during the race period at $5 per leg. Challenge participants will enter their mileage on an online platform over the duration of the race window, reaching milestones tied to virtual progress along the Empire State Trail, and have the ability to share their experiences on social media.

State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “The Empire State Trail Challenge is one of the ways we are building back better at our state parks and trails. Our parks and trails have been safe and healthy outlets for everyone during the pandemic. Whether enjoying a fun nature break with friends and family, or truly testing their limits, the Empire State Trail Challenge offers participants of all ages and abilities a rewarding and socially distanced opportunity to enjoy New York’s outdoors.”

The Empire State Trail website provides quick and easy access to trail information along the 750-mile route including segment descriptions and an on-line map identifying off-road trails connecting on-road sections, trail distances, designated parking areas, restrooms, and nearby amenities and attractions. (https://empiretrail.ny.gov/)

Discovery Bicycle Tour on Empire State Trail

Here is what well may be the first bike touring company to come out with a guided, inn-to-inn trip along the recently completed north-south section of the Empire State Trail in New York State:  Discovery Bicycle Tours’ has introduced a six-day itinerary that rides from the very tip of Manhattan, to Albany.

The six-day trip rides 200 miles of the newly completed Empire State Trail, which actually extends 750 miles from Manhattan to Canada and from Buffalo to Albany.

Discovery Bicycle Tours’ six-day Empire State Trail trip starts on the Hudson River bikeway at the tip of Manhattan and rides up 200 miles on newly connected trails to Albany © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.

The Discovery Bicycle Tour goes through a wide variety of landscapes in New York State. Cycle passed the Freedom Tower and Manhattan skyscrapers, through forests, along lakes and rivers, with a triumphant finish in Albany, the state capital. You can be one of the first to enjoy this full section of the newly finished Empire State Trail, which allows cyclists to traverse the state almost entirely on dedicated hike/bike paths and routes.

Many miles are on dedicated rail-trail. And the riding is fairly flat with gentle hills. Look for vistas of the Catskill and Shawangunk mountains as you follow the gorgeous Hudson River Valley — favorite subject of Hudson River School landscape painters in the mid-1800s. As a bonus, you cycle across the Walkway Over the Hudson, the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, and the iconic Rosendale Trestle.

Rated Level 1 (easier), daily cycling mileage ranges from 28 to 47 miles.

Accommodations are in casual and historic inns and a stylish boutique bed-and-breakfast.

The tour includes: 5 nights’ lodging, 5 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 4 dinners (you are on your own for 1 dinner in Rhinebeck), cycling routes with detailed maps and/or app-based navigation for those interested, plus bicycle, helmet, tour guides and van support, free week-long parking for guest cars in Hawthorne, NY. Free transfer on final day to either the Rensselaer Train Station (Albany) or take the van transit back to Hawthorne.

The trip is scheduled June 6-11, July 25-30, Aug. 1-6, Aug. 29-Sept. and Oct. 3-8, and is priced at $2,495; https://discoverybicycletours.com/empire-state-trail-bike-tour.

Discovery Bicycle Tours, Woodstock, VT., 800-257-2226, info@discoverybicycletours.com,  www.discoverybicycletours.com.

Adirondacks Preserve Gets Larger

Meanwhile, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state has acquired 1,263 acres of land in the Warren County town of Johnsburg in the southern Adirondacks. The parcel includes Huckleberry Mountain, an elongated peak that tops 2,400 feet, with spectacular cliffs on the ridge’s south and southwest face.

“Through the Environmental Protection Fund, New York State continues to invest in land acquisitions that conserve open space and preserve the natural beauty of this great state for future generations to visit and enjoy,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said.  “Preservation of the spectacular Huckleberry Mountain lands will benefit the region for generations to come, providing new opportunities for visitors to explore the outdoors.”

Hiking in New York’s Adirondack Preserve. The state just acquired 1,263 acres of land in the Warren County town of Johnsburg in the southern Adirondacks. The parcel includes Huckleberry Mountain, an elongated peak that tops 2,400 feet, with spectacular cliffs on the ridge’s south and southwest face. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation purchased this property from the Open Space Institute for $770,000 using resources from the State’s Environmental Protection Fund. Permanent conservation of this land will enhance recreational access in the region and offers opportunities to connect New Yorkers with nature, protect crucial watersheds, and improve important wildlife habitat in this part of the Adirondack Park. The newly protected land adjoins Wilcox Lake Wild Forest, which includes Crane Mountain, a popular, publicly accessible mountain peak that also provides access to exceptional cliffs for climbers. The Huckleberry Mountain parcel contains a wide range of wildlife habitats, including a high quality cold-water stream—Crystal Brook—that is excellent for brook trout, cliff faces that are a preferred nesting place for the endangered peregrine falcon, and a wetland complex home to an active heron rookery.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses, boat launches and more, which were visited by a record 78 million in 2020. To book a spot in a New York State campground, go to https://newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com/. For more information, call 518-474-0456 or visit www.parks.ny.gov.

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Travel Industry Embraces Climate Action

Great Schooner Race. Want to save the planet? Go old-school on a historic Maine Windjammer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The travel industry is often vilified as a contributor to global warming because of its reliance on transportation systems that emit carbon, like airplanes, buses, cars, cruiseships. Just the simple act of going anywhere, it is charged, leaves a carbon footprint –bottled water, toiletries and especially airplane travel. The most scathing attack on reputation comes from climate activist Greta Thunberg, who preferred to cross the Atlantic Ocean during a record season for storms by sailboat rather than fly to the Climate Conference which had been rerouted to Madrid, Spain.

But the calculations are wrong and unfair. A cost-benefit analysis would show that travelers provide the economic underpinnings that protect cultural heritage and fund environmental protection and conservation, and that the industry is among the most aggressive in not just curbing carbon emissions and developing the technology to transition clean, green, sustainable energy and economy, but modeling the techniques that travelers take back to their own homes, communities, and decision-makers. Travelers are not just ambassadors for peace and understanding among peoples, they also serve as ambassadors in the cause of climate action – sharing what they learn after seeing an offshore wind farm off Holland (so popular for its windmills), solar panels on farm houses in Germany, battery chargers for e-bikes in Slovenia, learning the story of energy innovation at the new Museum of Energy in Utica, New York.

Solar panels on a farm house in Germany, seen from a train enroute to Passau for the start of our trip on the Danube Bike Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In effect, travel industry companies such as The Travel Corporation, with its wide-ranging brands, Hurtigruten and Lindblad Expeditions are catalysts for climate action in wider society.

After all, the existential threat posed by climate change and global warming poses to the planet – the super storms, wild fires, flooding, drought, sea-level rise, pandemics, famine and conflict – pose an existential threat to the travel industry, too.

Whole segments of the travel industry (largest in the world, generating $9 trillion -10% -to the global economy and 20% of jobs) are dedicated to sustainable, responsible travel.

Hotels, like the Sand Pearl in Clearwater Beach, Florida, are being purpose-built with LEED standards, use low-flow plumbing, cold washing and drying for laundry, farm-to-table dining, and few or no plastics.

Smaller, expeditionary-style cruise ships are being designed with pioneering technology to eliminate carbon emissions.

Expeditionary cruise company Hurtigruten developed the world’s first hybrid battery-powered cruise ship, MS Roald Amundsen, which made its maiden voyage in 2019 through the Northwest Passage (photo by Karsten Bidstrup)

Hurtigruten developed the world’s first hybrid battery-powered cruise ship, MS Roald Amundsen, which made its maiden voyage in 2019 through the Northwest Passage (ironically only navigable because of global warming); its sister ship MS Fridtjof Nansen was launched in 2020. Hurtigruten also pioneered battery-powered, no-emission snowmobiles for use in the Arctic, generating renewable energy from the Arctic winds and the midnight sun. (For Earth Day, Hurtigruten was offering up to 40% off per person on select expedition cruises to remote destinations such as Alaska, Norway, the British Isles and North America in 2021 and 2022, 844-991-1048, hurtigruten.com).

Another expeditionary cruise company, PONANT is launching the first electric luxury polar ship in 2021. It will operate with a mix of liquified natural gas (the cleanest fuel on the market) and electric battery (zero emission and can operate for up to eight hours at a time). Le Commandant-Charcot will be fitted with the latest technology for minimizing environmental impact, as well as a scientific laboratory for conducting operational oceanography missions and research, in which guests will be able to participate.

In Iceland, see how geothermal energy is turned into a clean, renewable source of electricity and heat © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, the push to green technology and sustainable practices is throughout the cruise industry, even the mega-ships that are as big as a small city, in effect demonstrating solutions from waste recycling and desalinization to producing energy from food waste. “Green technologies are being incorporated into newly built ships and are sometimes retrofitted onto older ones — think solar panels, exhaust ‘scrubber’ systems that help minimize emissions, advances in hull design that let ships cut through the water more efficiently, cooking oil conversion systems and energy-efficient appliances. Some cruise lines also collaborate with nonprofit organizations and government agencies to collect data about the ocean’s health and climate changes,” writes CruiseCritic.com, in a report on the latest green practices of the major mainstream and luxury cruise lines.

Then again, you can literally go old-school on one of Maine Windjammer Association’s fleet of nine historic sailing ships (sailmainecoast.com).

Great Schooner Race. Save the planet? Go old-school on a historic Maine Windjammer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the industry’s biggest enterprises, The Travel Corporation, which owns major travel brands, has gone whole-hog into sustainability, implementing a five-step Climate Action Plan to be carbon-neutral by 2030 and source 50 percent of electricity from renewable sources across the organization by 2025. This includes TTC’s 20+ offices, 18 Red Carnation Hotels, 13 Uniworld ships, six accommodations/facilities, 500+ vehicles and more than 1,500 itineraries operated worldwide by its 40 brands including ContikiTrafalgarInsight Vacations and Uniworld

Among Contiki Holiday’s destinations worldwide is Petra, the archaeological wonder in Jordan, visited on its “Israel and Jordan Uncovered” tour. Contiki Holidays, one of The Travel Corporation’s companies, has declared it will be 100% carbon neutral by 2022 as part of a new five-point Climate Action Plan and sustainable travel policies. Travelers are vital to providing the economic sustenance to preserve sites like Petra, but controls have to be in place to prevent the ravages of over-tourism © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The goals also include: reduce food waste by 50% across all hotels and ships by 2025; increase the use of local and organic food products by our supply chain by 2025; reduce printed brochures by 50% by 2025; eliminate as many unnecessary single-use plastics from our operations and itineraries by 2022; include at least one MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience on 50% of TTC itineraries by 2025; achieve a 20% increase of itineraries visiting developing regions for select specialist brands by 2025; increase employee and market sentiment regarding diversity and inclusion across brands; complete 30,000 volunteer hours by 2025; and ensure all wildlife experiences across TTC brands adhere to the Animal Welfare Policy by 2021.

Since launching its first sustainability strategy in 2015, TTC has invested in energy conservation and reducing its environmental impact across its portfolio of brands. Advancements to date include installing solar panels in 2020 at the Uniworld head office in Encino, California, implementing a 400kW Tesla plant supplying over 95% of Xigera Safari Lodge’s energy, which opened December 2020 as part of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, and the recent shift to 100% renewable electricity by Contiki’s Chateau De Cruix and Haus Schöneck as well as Red Carnation Hotel’s Ashford Castle.  

Red Carnation implemented a 400kW Tesla plant supplying over 95% of Xigera Safari Lodge’s energy (photo provided by TTC)

Looking forward, TTC has committed to carbon neutral offices and business travel beginning January 1, 2022, through its partnership with offset provider South Pole. Contiki is moving to become a completely carbon neutral business, meaning unavoidable emissions from all trips departing as of January 1, 2022 will be offset. 

As part of its climate action plan, TTC’s philanthropy, TreadRight Foundation, is investing in two new developing, nature-based solutions for removing excess carbon from our atmosphere: Project Vesta‘s mission is to harness the natural power of the ocean to remove a trillion tons of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and permanently store carbon in rock; and GreenWave is a regenerative ocean farming organization studying how kelp can be added to soil to increase its carbon storage potential while decreasing harmful nitrous oxide emissions on farms. (Learn more at Impact.TreadRight.org.)

Another pioneer in sustainable travel, Lindblad Expeditions offers its passengers an easy way to calculate the carbon footprint of your flights and choose a project to invest in to offset that footprint. “It costs less than you probably think, and it’s an easy and quick way to take climate action.” In addition, Lindblad supports three major National Geographic initiatives including the National Geographic Pristine Seas project (expeditions.com).

Lindblad Expeditions is resuming voyages to the Galapagos on the National Geographic Endeavor this summer (photo provided by Lindblad Expeditions).

Off Season Adventures trips (they travel off season to minimize impact) allocates a portion of the tour price to its sister nonprofit, Second Look Worldwide organization, which supports infrastructure projects and improvements in the destinations it visited. The first initiative, Kakoi Water Project, brings a sustainable year-round solar-powered water source to the 15,000 people who live on the border of Tarangire National Park in Tanzania (offseasonadventures.com).

Biking Albania with aid of e-bikes – many hotels now have charging stations for e bikes © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travelers should also be mindful when they select travel providers, including hotels, tour companies and operators that they adhere to responsible travel principles. Travelers can also choose the most sustainable styles of travel which exert the least impact on the environment while maximizing interactions with local people and sustaining local economies: biking (biketours.com, pureadventures.comwilderness-voyageurs.com, discoverybicycletours.com), hiking (www.offthebeatenpath.comwww.nathab.com, www.rei.com), walking (www.countrywalkers.com,), multi-sport outdoor adventures (grasshopperadventures.com, backroads.com, duvine.com, escapeadventures.com);  kayaking, canoeing, rafting (www.westernriver.com; www.oars.com), sailing (sailmainecoast.com); use local transportation (find local links at rome2rio.com, flixbus.com); traveling in electric vehicles (hotels like the Inn at Death Valley and the Tenaya Lodge outside Yosemite National Park provide electric charging stations); camping/glamping (koa.com, glampinghub.com) and staying at eco-lodges (andBeyond.com; www.sachalodge.com); and traveling in off-peak times and exploring less traveled, off-the-beaten track destinations.

Designated parking spots for electric vehicles at the historic Inn at Death Valley in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Great sources are the Center for Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.org) and Green Global Travel (greenglobaltravel.com)

For the travel industry, every day is Earth Day.

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Wine & Art: The Perfect Pairing in Sonoma, California

Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin with Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda, Eric Leiberman & Sarah Falter
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wine and art are a perfect pairing, we discovered touring Sonoma, California, famous for its vineyards and wine-tasting experiences.

Think about it: wine-making is the absolute synthesis of nature, science and art, the vineyards are themselves these bucolic pastoral settings that inspire art. Indeed, there’s a calming aesthetic  to the neat, symmetrical  rows, the pleasing colors, the sense of renewal.

Art is almost as ubiquitous as wine in Sonoma, art galleries like the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg, have their own wine-tasting; vineyards have art, like the Donum Estate vineyard with a substantial sculpture garden, as well as special art, music and cultural events, like Gundlach Bundschu Winery which organizes pop-up outdoor art shows (concerts and weddings also when COVID restrictions are lifted), and Imagery which has its own art gallery of commissioned works for its labels.

Artist Laini Nemett at opening of “Between Walls” at the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Sonoma wineries – along with restaurants, art galleries, shops, and the whole visitor ecosystem – have made accommodations to continue to welcome guests to wine tastings while maintaining health protocols. Visits are by advance reservations to limit capacity, served outside (heaters are ubiquitous now); the art galleries and shops are well ventilated, and at this writing require masks inside and social distancing.

Sonoma County has a remarkable range of terroir and microclimates – from the Pacific coastline, the redwood forests, fertile valleys and mountains – that has produced one of the most diverse winegrape-growing regions in the world, and also one of the most picturesque.

We experienced wineries and vineyards almost daily – visiting several for tastings, to be sure, but also as the scenic backdrop to biking. They are not only so exquisitely scenic – bucolic, pastoral landscapes with color and pattern of the rows rippling with the rolling hills – but offer interesting, even dramatic histories. And just as their wines are distinct, so is the tasting experience and ambiance.

On one of my bike excursions, I came upon Buena Vista Winery, which has an entertaining way of presenting history and its own back story with a claim to being California’s oldest commercial winery, in fact, the birthplace of the state’s modern wine industry:

Buena Vista Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The founder of Buena Vista Winery, Count Agoston Haraszthy, came from Hungary initially in pursuit of gold but in 1857, decided instead to build a stone winery on the property. He introduced cuttings from Europe’s best vineyards to California and basically proved that California could produce wine. You can sign up for the “Be the Count Experience,” wine blending as the Count might have done it, or taste a flight while touring the Wine Tool Museum. “If you run into the Count himself, don’t be surprised; it’s all a part of the experience.”

Buena Vista Winery, 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, CA 95476, 800-926-1266, tastingroom@buenavistawinery.com, www.buenavistawinery.com

Imagery Estate Winery boasts “we’ve been exploring the intersection of art & wine for over 30 years.” They are extremely proud of inviting major artists to design their wine labels and even have an art gallery of the original paintings. We thoroughly enjoyed our 45-minute alfresco tasting of five small production wines at Imagery, a winery that prides itself on “crafting rare wines from uncommon varietals and character-rich vineyards, Imagery Estate Winery was forged from a thirst for experimentation.” They spotlight interesting, non-traditional varietals like Lagrein and Tempranillo, “creating expressive wines that broaden the palate.”

Imagery Estate Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Imagery Estate Winery infuses art throughout the winery, from specially commissioned artwork from notable contemporary artists, to its art gallery where the original artwork is displayed.

Imagery Estate Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reservations are required, and the tasting room is currently open for outdoor seated tastings and outdoor picnic tables. No outside food is allowed yet, but there is an option to order a Charcuterie box with the reservation. Imagery was planning to reopen its picnic experiences in May. At this writing, the winery was anticipating some lifting of restrictions (so call).

Imagery, 14335 Hwy 12, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, 877-550-4278, 707-935-3000, www.imagerywinery.com, Open for outdoor seated tastings, limited to groups of 6, by appointment only Thursday-Monday

Benziger Family Winery, the sister winery to Imagery, for more than 25 years, has farmed the ranch on Sonoma Mountain using Certified Biodynamics, an organic and sustainable farming method. The result is a portfolio of memorable wines which visitors can explore through a seated tasting or other tours. Set just above the small town of Glen Ellen, the winery occupies one of the most beautiful locales in Sonoma Valley. The ranch is home to numerous species of plants, animals and insects, with gardens and an insectary that play an important part in their Biodynamic farming techniques.

Benziger is currently offering a 1.5-hour  Private Tribute Estate Tour & Tasting. providing an in-depth look at the Biodynamically farmed Sonoma Mountain Estate, complemented by wine tastings along the way (limited to private group of up to 6 guests).

Benziger plans to begin opening reservations for indoor tastings later this month, and plans to launch its picnic experiences in May.

Benziger has yet to re-start its two-hour ”Biodynamic Tram Tour, one of the most distinctive winery experiences in Sonoma Valley. Introduced in 1994, more than one million guests have taken the tour which highlights sustainable green-farming practices. “The true goal of the tour program was to create an experience for guests that went beyond the tasting room.  We wanted to immerse them in the natural environment of the land and help them understand the complexity of the Sonoma Mountain property and how it made our wines exceptional. This remains our number one goal… As our winemaking process evolved into Biodynamics with the release of our Estate grown Biodynamic wine, Tribute, in 2001, our tour evolved as well to what it looks like today.

“With the introduction of our caves, the tour was fine-tuned to give a full educational overview of the grape growing process, winery production facilities including barreling and cellaring to wine tasting. Visitors were now able to follow the full process of a working winery from the vineyard to the bottle. Further, at one of just a handful of Biodynamic vineyards in North America… ‘Farming for Flavors,’ our Certified Sustainability program, is still one of the most comprehensive sustainability programs in the country.” (Learn more about Benziger’s green farming practices here.)

Benziger Family Winery, 1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, 707-935-3000; benziger.com. Open Thursday-Monday by appointment only.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gundlach Bundschu makes a claim to being the oldest family-owned winery in California: for six generations and more than 160 years, since 1858, the Bundschu family has farmed the Rhinefarm estate vineyard at the crossroads of the Sonoma Valley, Carneros and Napa Valley (www.gunbun.com/history/). Gundlach Bundschu offers a delightful, bucolic setting.   The winery has been offering pop up art shows and when restrictions are lifted will return to presenting concerts and weddings.  We enjoyed music with a DJ during our wine tasting.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gundlach offers tours aboard a six-wheeled Pinzgauer – an Austrian-made military vehicle – to get WAY off the beaten path on a Sonoma vineyard tour. Sip five estate selected wines at stops along the way, stop for an impromptu picnic in the vines, learn about modern grape farming techniques and soak up the views of the vinneyard on this off-road adventure. A minimum group size of 6, maximum group of 10 people is required to book. $85 per person + 18% gratuity.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another option: a walking tour through the vineyards, guided by a wine educator to learn about their Green Business Practices, Fish Friendly Farming and other sustainable vineyard practices. Sample five estate wines sourced from the 320-acre property. (No children under 12 years old or pets on the tour0. This private group experience requires a minimum group size of 6 guests, maximum of 10, and is available seven days a week. $65/person + 18% gratuity.

Open daily 11am-4:30 pm; must book reservation in advance; groups limited to six; dogs actually welcome

Gundlach Bundschu Winery, 2000 Denmark Street, Sonoma, CA 95476707.938.5277, info@gunbun.com, www.gunbun.com

Donum Estate: Wine merges with art at Donum Estate, renowned for its open-air sculpture collection featuring over 40 works by world-renowned artists. The Discover ($95) and Explore ($150) experiences are by appointment only and include tours of open-air art sculpture collection. 

Donum Estate is renowned for its outdoor sculpture collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Donum Estate, 24500 Ramal Road, Sonoma, 707-732-2200, thedonumestate.com.

We didn’t have the opportunity to do a wine tasting at Hanzell, which commands one of the most stunning views of the hillsides and mountains, but happened to be there at sunset. We plan to return. Hanzell Vineyards was founded by Ambassador James D. Zellerbach in 1953 with a vision to create wines that could compete on the world stage.  Named after his wife Hana, Hanzell sits at the southern toe of the Mayacamas mountain range overlooking the south-western end of Sonoma Valley and San Pablo Bay.  After extensive time spent in Burgundy, Zellerbach returned inspired and educated by the region’s wines and grapes—Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  He planted these two varieties at a time when there were less than a few hundred acres of each planted in North America. 

Hanzell Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Since 1975, Hanzell has been solely owned by the de Brye family, who is dedicated to the preservation of tradition with a progressive and holistic approach to ensure the sustainability for generations to come. The Hanzell Tasting experience takes place overlooking its historic “Ambassador’s 1953” vineyard block on one of its new outdoor platforms. During the 60-minute visit ($45/pp), you get to taste three current release wines while learning about the Hanzell story, our progressive integrated farming practices and winemaking philosophies. Tastings by appointment only; limited to six people. 

Hanzell, 18596 Lomita Avenue, Sonoma, CA 95476, visit www.cellarpass.com to make your reservation or call 707-996-3860.

People have the idea that wine tasting is an expensive activity, but many of the wineries in Sonoma County offer either free wine tasting or waive the tasting fee with a wine purchase.

Here’s the insider’s tip: it is often better value (cheaper) to join the wine club and enjoy a free wine tasting, rather than pay for the wine tasting, which provides additional privileges including discounted prices; they typically ship the bottles you choose.

Also, Sonoma County Tourism sells one- and three-day tasting pass (on mobile) that you can redeem at the wineries you choose to visit. For more information about what is open, arrangements to visit and lodging, and purchasing the tasting pass visit Sonoma County Tourism, https://www.sonomacounty.com/destinations/wine-regions

Art Experiences Abound

On the other side of the equation, art galleries pair with wine. Indeed, it was art, not wine, that brought us to Sonoma.

Our trip was timed for a special event: the opening of Laini Nemett’s art exhibit, “Between Walls” at the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg, near Sonoma (paulmahdergallery.com).

Wine-tasting room at the Paul Mahder Gallery amid sculpture (and what is claimed to be the largest moss wall in America) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Healdsburg is a wonderfully vibrant town, culturally rich with some 25 art galleries and a food-and-wine haven with marvelous restaurants and 30 wine-tasting rooms. Healdsburg has become a haven for foodies, drawn to restaurants leading Sonoma County’s farm-to-table movement. Many are along the streets lining the Healdsburg Plaza, including artisan bakeries, local wine bars, and restaurants with locally-sourced ingredients from the surrounding gardens and farms. We loved our lunch at Bargas, and our dinner at the H2Hotel restaurant, with gorgeous outdoor seating areas, set around a lovely village square.

Healdsburg, California, a wine-food-art haven © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Healdsburg, which like Sonoma, depends on tourism, has taken public health precautions very seriously:  signs say you will be fined if you don’t wear a mask, and there are sanitizing stations at the crosswalks. Restaurants are organized for take-out and outdoor dining (space heaters available), menus are either disposable, online, or can be wiped off to minimize transactions; the retail stores have sanitizing stations, require masks, limit capacity and kept their doors open for added ventilation. The same for the art galleries like Paul Mahder Gallery, which is unusually large, well ventilated, and, as an added treat, has a wine-tasting experience, the wine bottles decorated with Paul’s paintings.

Artist Kevin Kearney in his studio/gallery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a special experience to meet the artist at a gallery opening who gives personal insights into the work and creative process, but visiting an artist in his studio adds another dimension – seeing works-in progress on their easels, an entire career on display, and the opportunity to discuss the nuances and background of the works in such a personal setting.

In fact, Sonoma County has, since 1985, offered an Art Trails self-guided tour that gives visitors opportunities to learn first-hand from the artists what inspires their art, how it is made and where it is made. Juried professional artists invite you to explore Sonoma County, engage with artists in their own studios and collect beautiful art.  Art Trails is held in the fall. (https://sonomacountyarttrails.org/)

During our visit to Sonoma, we had that experience with Kevin Kearney, who epitomizes the marriage of art and wine (he used to own a vineyard)

Detail in painting by artist Kevin Kearney © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Kearney is a master of exquisite, mind-blowing fine realistic detail reminiscent of the Dutch masters, but with a quirky sense of surrealism and modern sensibility, often playing on ancient myths and images. He tells us that it took 100 hours just to paint the carpet in one of his works.

Artist Kevin Kearney in his studio/gallery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“In Kevin Kearney’s work, there are everyday chairs from which the viewer sees the world realistically. And there are magical thrones from which the viewer imagines haunting creatures on patterned carpets floating through cerulean skies above cerulean seas. His red walls and surreal ceruleans look tranquil enough, but beware, any minute, a tsunami could erupt,” writes Barry Nemett, in the catalog for Kearney’s 2019 exhibit, “Red Walls, Surreal Ceruleans, and a Tsunami,” at the Ice House Gallery, Petaluma.

Hearing the stories behind the symbols and the imagery from the artist directly transports you into the canvas and the artist’s mind.

Artist Kevin Kearney studio/gallery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can request to visit the studio/gallery of artist Kevin Kearney who has his own vineyard and wine collection (https://www.kevinkearney.org/, https://www.kevinkearney.org/contact/)

Biking amid Sonoma’s vineyards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During our visit, we rented bikes to ride on a gorgeous recreational trail that connected to back-country roads flanked by vineyards, riding into neighboring Napa county.  When biking, it is fun to happen upon – discover, if you will – historic sites like the Depot Park Museum and General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo’s Home, which you come upon along the trail (Wine Country Cyclery, 262 W Napa St, Sonoma, CA 95476, 707-996-6800; Sonoma Valley Bike Tours & Rentals, 254 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476, 707-996-2453)

Biking amid Sonoma’s vineyards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We did wine-tastings at several vineyards and visited art galleries and shops; went hiking on the Kortum Trail along the Pacific Coast (what an amazing contrast to our hiking holiday in Death Valley National Park!), dined outdoors at restaurants (loved Salt & Stone, Kenwood, www.saltstonekenwood.com, 707-833-6326), played tennis on community courts, went to the farmer’s market – each and every place, from the hiking trails to the vineyards, to the restaurants, galleries and shops – all followed stringent health protocols. 

Biking amid Sonoma’s vineyards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, many Sonoma County wine and food experiences are still available but certain activities have been temporarily restricted or were unavailable. Sonoma County Tourism has a See What’s Open website, and encourages everyone to follow public health authorities’ recommendations and to review the Safe Travels Promise.

“Sonoma County is an ideal destination to reset and recover post-pandemic,” said Birgitt Vaughan, Director of Global Media Relations. A lot of this is attributed to the nature immersion that happens when you’re in Sonoma County. Sonoma County Tourism shifted years ago to a Destination Stewardship organization, instituting a Travel Kindly pledge and partnership with Kind Traveler. Part of your lodging cost go toward supporting local charities.

“Sonoma County Tourism just began a partnership with our Regional Parks and Leave No Trace to help ensure visitors who enjoy the region’s parks and other natural resource areas do so responsibly and sustainably.” Check out how Life Opens Up in Sonoma County (https://www.sonomacounty.com/life-opens-up) and view Sonoma County Tourism’s 2021 Spring/Summer Inspiration Guide.

Sonoma County Tourism can help plan your getaway (request a Sonoma County visitors guide and map).

Sonoma County Tourism, 800-576-6662, info@sonomacounty.com, www.sonomacounty.com.

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Scavenger Hunt Turns Into Personal Odyssey Following Route of Jewish Diaspora (Part 3: Iberia-NYC)

Take a walking tour of Porto, Portugal to discover vestiges of Jewish heritage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I was surprised to discover during a Global Scavenger Hunt mystery tour around the world in 2019 that I was actually on an odyssey of the Jewish Diaspora.  It wasn’t my intention or my mission but it seems that everywhere we touched down (we only learn where we are next going when we are told to get to the airport), I found myself tracing a route set by trade (and permitted occupations), exile and refuge.

It started in Vietnam and then just about every place we traveled: Yangon, Myanmar, where I visited the last synagogue in that country (it’s a historic landmark and still serves a handful of congregants); in Athens, where I discovered the site of a synagogue, serving a Jewish community that had existed in Athens at least since the 3rd C BC and possibly as early as 6th C BC, near where the world’s first “parliament” would have been. In Petra, Jordan, I learned of a connection to Moses and the Exodus (the first Diaspora?). Then the ancient cities of Marrakesh and Fez in Morocco, which has only recently established full diplomatic relations with Israel, and on to Gibraltar, which made me feel I had been deposited in Brigadoon. From Gibraltar, I walked into Spain and took the bus to Seville, where my Jewish odyssey continued:

Seville, Spain

This part of my odyssey is like going to ground zero for the Jewish Diaspora, at least in the past 600 years, when Jews were forced to convert or be expelled, in the Inquisition in 1492 (many who stayed practiced in secret, as Marranos).

Las Casa de la Juderia, once the Jewish Quarter of Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At some point in my walk-about in Seville, I find myself in front of a gate with a sign on the wall that says “Juderia,” which, I later learn was the old Jewish Quarter (before Spain evicted Jews, in 1492, known as the Inquisition). It has been converted into a hotel, Las Casas de la Juderia, comprised of a vast complex of interwoven dwellings, a city within a city, a sprawling maze of 27 houses and two palaces, restored to their 15th century glory, literally in the shadow of the Cathedral and the Alcázar (https://www.lascasasdelajuderiasevilla.com/en/).

“Unmistakably Spanish, the family-run hotel is an alluring retreat hidden right in the heart of the city,” writes Trafalgar, a tour company which features this “accommodation with a story” in its Seville program.

“At Las Casas de la Juderia, you‘ll tread in the footsteps of nobility and even royalty. Over the centuries, Christopher Columbus, The Duke of Bejar and The Count of Villamanrique have all stayed here. In fact, after returning from America, Columbus’s men all resided in these houses. Perhaps most compelling of all is the network of subterranean tunnels connecting houses commissioned by former owner, the Duke of Segorbe. You can wander through these today; in fact, breakfast is taken in the captivating underground Hall of Mirrors.” (https://blog.trafalgar.com/2018/02/26/stays-stories-sevilles-las-casas-de-la-juderia/)

Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I learn later that Jews had lived in Seville since the 6th century BCE. Though persecuted by Visigoths, Jews were protected under the Moors. Persecution began again in 1391 under Catholics – the Jewish Quarter was burned down. The Inquisition began in earnest in 1381, all Jews who did not convert (and some continue to practice secretly) were expelled by 1492. About half of the 300,000 Jewish Spaniards left, writes Fiona Flores Watson (https://www.andalucia.com/history/jews.htm), who suggests visiting the Centro de Interpretación Judería de Sevilla to learn more about the history of Jews in Seville.

It bears reminding that Columbus set out on his voyage of discovery of the “New World” in 1492, the same year as the official start of the Spanish Inquisition. Many believe that Marranos – secret Jews – were among his crew and founded the first white settlements in the New World, on Caribbean islands like Jamaica (one imagines that Jews missed the opportunity to claim the New World, but oh well.)

“The year of discovery in 1492 was also the seminal year of the Sephardic diaspora, when Spanish Jews were required to convert to Catholicism or to leave Spain.  Much of the population moved on to Portugal or found homes on the Mediterranean littoral. Columbus’s first crew included several conversos, or Spanish-Jewish converts to Christianity, notably the interpreter, Luis Torres. Importantly, three conversos in the Spanish court were influential in securing royal approval for the controversial expedition.” http://brown.edu/Facilities/John_Carter_Brown_Library/exhibitions/judaica/pages/geography+.html

Columbus’s letter to the Court of Spain, outlining the importance of his discovery, was addressed to Santangel, the chancellor of Aragon, one of three important conversos in the royal court. Others were Gabriel Sanchez, the royal treasurer, and Juan Cabrero, the king’s chamberlain. Additionally, Jews were responsible for the technology that made the explorations possible: Abraham Zacuto developed astronomical tables, almanacs, and maps, while Levi ben Gerson is credited with the invention of the sea-quadrant or Jacob’s staff, used to guide marine courses.

Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The theme of this part of my journey could well be exploration. I had not realized that the first trip to circumnavigate the world originated from Seville: in 1519, Ferdinand Magellan began his voyage from the very spot where I stand on the bank of river; crossing the San Telmo bridge, you can see the armillary sphere that commemorates mile zero of that voyage.

“Seville in the 16th century was the mercantile center of the western world, and its river was the main maritime route for Atlantic traffic for more than 200 years…Seville was known as ‘the city where the world’s heart beats’. Its maritime activity permeated commerce, population, culture, and its own urban development, making it unique,” the visitor bureau notes (www.visitasevilla.es/en/history/guadalquivir-river).

See: GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT: SEVILLE TO PORTO TO COMPLETE TOUGHEST LEG OF 23-DAY AROUND-THE-WORLD MYSTERY TOUR

Porto, Portugal

Like Spain, Jewish heritage in Portugal is complicated. Jews lived here from 5th to 15th centuries – 1000 years before being expelled. After being kicked out of Spain, many Jews went first to Portugal, but Portugal adopted Spain’s Inquisition in 1496 in order to consummate a politically-advantageous wedding. Like in Spain, many Portuguese Jews pretended to convert to Christianity but remained secret Jews.

At one end of Praça da Liberdade, Porto’s elegant Belle Époque main square, is Porto-Palacio das Cardoas Hotel, the first luxury hotel in the historic city center. It was opened in 2011 after being converted from the 18th century palace home of a wealthy Jewish merchant, Manuel Cardoso dos Santos, who bought the property from an order of monks when they were forced from the city. It was originally built as the Lóios Monastery.

Praça da Liberdade, Porto’s elegant Belle Époque main square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

According to the New York Jewish Travel Guide: Porto, Portugal’s second city, is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the country. The city was spared the destruction of the 1755 earthquake that destroyed much of Lisbon. Porto remained largely intact so you can see the narrow streets and balconied houses of former Jewish quarter with street names like “Rua Monte Judeus,” “Escadinhas do Monte dos Judeus,” and Pátio das Escadinhas do Monte dos Judeus.” 

The main synagogue stood on the Escadas da Vitória, a place still locally called “Escadas da Esnoga,” meaning “stairway to the synagogue.” A plaque that marks this site.

Balconied houses, Porto, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nearby, there is an ancient Jewish cemetery at Passeio das Virtudes.  It was there that the largest numbers of Conversos (also known as Marranos), descendants of Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition but secretly practicing Judaism, lived.

But the Jewish experience here in Porto – I am surprised to learn – is relatively modern: in the 1920s Porto became the center of a modest Jewish cultural revival led by an army captain, Arturo Carlos de Barros Bastos. A Converso, Bastos converted to Orthodox Judaism at the age of 33. He became known as the “Portuguese Dreyfus” because he was dismissed from the Army for being a Jew.

Basto established a Yeshiva in Porto, which ran for nine years educating more than 90 students. This is what brought him to the attentionof the government, especially after an estimated 10,000 families across Portugal admitted to practicing Judaism in secret. False charges were brought against the Captain and he was court-martialed, stripped of his rank and was forced to close the Yeshiva. After leaving the Army, Captain Basto established a synagogue in Porto.

As the congregation grew he moved into a new building donated by Elly Kadoorie, a wealthy Sephardic Jew. The Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue was built on property bought and donated by Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Paris.  

The Hebrew part of its name, “Mekor Haim,” means “Source of Life,” while “Kadoorie” is the surname of Hong Kong-born Jews who donated  the funds to complete the building, in honor of a deceased family member, Laura Kadoorie, who descended from Portuguese Jews. Her husband, Sir Elly Kadoorie, died in 1944 and is still the Honorary President of the Israeli Community of Oporto, the New York Jewish Travel Guide reported.

Remnant of Jewish community in Lisbon, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, built with donations from Jews from all over the world and with décor that blends Art Deco and Moroccan,  was inaugurated in 1938, at a time when synagogues were being burned in Germany. It is the largest synagogue in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the largest in Europe.

Indeed, I learn that during World War II, Portugal gave refuge to thousands of Jews escaping Nazi persecution. Their existence has been legal in Portugal since 1912, and today there are Jewish synagogues in Lisbon, Porto, Trancoso and Belmonte (https://www.visitportugal.com/en/content/jewish-legacy).

You can take a Jewish Heritage walking tour of Porto

New York City

How fitting that our next and final stop on this 23-day, 10-country around-the-world mystery tour is New York City, where many of these displaced descendants of Iberian Jews wound up, generations later from Holland, Brazil and the Indies.

Indeed, there is some suggestion that secret Jews (Marranos) were on board Columbus’ ships, and established the first white settlement in the New World, on the island of Jamaica.

Congregation Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation established in North America, founded in 1654; the present building dates from 1897 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can still visit Congregation Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation established in North America. It was founded in 1654 (just 34 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plimoth) by 23 Jews, mostly of Spanish and Portuguese origin, who had been living in Recife, Brazil. But when Portuguese defeated the Dutch for control of Recife, bringing the Inquisition to Brazil, the Jews left. Some returned to Amsterdam where they had originated; others went to Caribbean islands including St. Thomas, Jamaica, Surinam and Curacao. The group that came to New Amsterdam arrived in 1654.

“They were not welcomed by Governor Peter Stuyvesant, who did not wish to permit Jews to settle in New Amsterdam.  However, these pioneers fought for their rights and won permission from the Dutch West India Company to remain here in 1655,” according to the synagogue’s historic notes.

The original synagogue was in the Wall Street area. As New York City continued to grow and the population moved northward, Shearith Israel opened its present building in 1897 – the congregation’s fifth building – on 70th Street and Central Park West, on a plot of land that was previously a duck farm.  

The architect was Arnold Brunner, an American-born Jewish architect. The building was designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, who created the extraordinary glass windows and planned the interior design and color scheme.  (I’ve attended a Purim service there, and walk by it often, on Central Park West.)

On this last day of the Global Scavenger Hunt, still in hunt mode, I walk up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where the task is to find artifacts related to the places we have been. I find myself in an extraordinary exhibit, “The World Between Empires,” which interestingly serves almost as a summary of all the places we had gone, all the cultures we explored, while fitting in some missing archaeological pieces from places like Petra, Jordan.

“The compelling works of art in this exhibition offer a view into how people in the ancient Middle East sought to define themselves during a time of tremendous religious, creative, and political activity, revealing aspects of their lives and communities that resonate some two millennia later,” stated Max Hollein, Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in a video that accompanies the exhibit.  “Further, in focusing on an area of the world that has been deeply affected by recent conflicts and the destruction of sites, monuments, and objects, this show also engages with complex questions about the preservation of cultural heritage.”

3rd C biblical wall paintings discovered in the Dura-Europos synagogue were exceptional because they demonstrated that early Jewish art included figural scenes. Metropolltan Museum of Art, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibition evokes a journey along ancient trade routes, beginning in the southwestern Arabian kingdoms that grew rich from the caravan trade in frankincense and myrrh harvested there and used throughout the ancient world. Camel caravans crossed the desert to the Nabataean kingdom, with its spectacular capital city of Petra, which I have just visited, walking through very much as the caravan travelers would have.

Ossuaries, 4th Century BCE, Israel, on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“From here, goods traveled west to the Mediterranean and north and east through regions including Judaea and the Phoenician coast and across the Syrian desert, where the oasis city of Palmyra controlled trade routes that connected the Mediterranean world to Mesopotamia and Iran and ultimately China. In Mesopotamia, merchants transported cargoes down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the Persian Gulf, where they joined maritime trade routes to India. These connections transcended the borders of empires, forming networks that linked cities and individuals over vast distances.

“Across the entire region, diverse local political and religious identities were expressed in art. Artifacts from Judaea give a powerful sense of ancient Jewish identity during a critical period of struggle with Roman rule. Architectural sculptures from the colossal sanctuary at Baalbek and statuettes of its deities reveal the intertwined nature of Roman and ancient Middle Eastern religious practices. Funerary portraits from Palmyra represent the elite of an important hub of global trade. Wall paintings and sculptures from Dura-Europos on the River Euphrates illustrate the striking religious diversity of a settlement at the imperial frontier. And in Mesopotamia, texts from the last Babylonian cuneiform libraries show how ancient temple institutions waned and finally disappeared during this transformative period.”

Dead Sea Scroll, on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the astonishing artifacts that I come upon is the “unique” Magdala Stone, discovered in a first-century synagogue at Migdal (ancient Magdala) with imagery that refers to the Temple in Jerusalem and wall paintings from a church in Dura-Europos that are the earliest securely dated images of Jesus.

The Magdala Stone, 1st Century, Migdal, Synagogue, on the Sea of Galilee. The stone, whose exact function is uncertain, dates to a time when the temple in Jerusalem still stood. One short side features a 7-branched menorah – the earliest such image known in a synagogue – flanked by amphorae and columns. The Migdal synagogue would have been in use during the lifetime of Jesus, whom the Gospels describe as preaching in synagogues throughout Galilee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From my visits in Athens and Petra, particularly, I appreciate this synergy between trade, migration, environmental sustainability and technology (in Petra’s Archaeology Museum, you learn how the ability to control water supply was key to the city’s development) and the links to economic prosperity and political power, and the rise of art, culture, and community. (I recall the notes from the National Archaeology Museum in Athens that made this very point.)

Happening upon this exhibit made the travel experiences we had to these extraordinary places all the more precious.

It is a humbling experience, to be sure, to go to the origins of the great civilizations, fast forward to today. How did they become great? How did they fall? Greatness is not inevitable or forever.  Empires rise and fall. Rulers use religion, art and monuments to establish their credibility and credentials to rule; successors blot out the culture and re-write history.

For additional information visit GlobalScavengerHunt.com or contact GreatEscape Adventures Inc. at 310-281-7809.

See also:

FEELING LIKE A FOREIGNER IN MY HOMETOWN: GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT ENDS IN NEW YORK CITY

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT TURNS INTO PERSONAL ODYSSEY FOLLOWING ROUTE OF JEWISH DIASPORA (PART 1: Vietnam-Athens)

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT TURNS INTO PERSONAL ODYSSEY FOLLOWING ROUTE OF JEWISH DIASPORA (PART 2: MOROCCO-GIBRALTAR)

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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