Category Archives: Camping/Hiking/Outdoors

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

America’s Great Open Spaces Filling Up Fast

Hiking in Yosemite National Park. National and state parks are in high demand as families look forward to gathering together again after a year of separation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

With more and more people – especially those over 65 years old and the most vulnerable – getting vaccinated, Americans are chomping at the bit to get out there and reconnect with family. For many, the ideal destinations are national and state parks, where there is space and enough outdoors, plus all the experiences being in nature affords, to bring the entire family together. Not surprisingly, bookings are already skyrocketing, with campsites, RV rentals, hotels nearest the parks, still operating with COVID19 restrictions, filling up. Those who are just emerging from an isolation mindset may have awakened to find space already booked.

In fact, Tracks & Trails, which specializes in packaging RV vacations to national parks in the western United States and Canada, citing unprecedented demand, is opening 2022 reservations on April 1.

RV Vacations, Novel Lodgings Surge

RV vacations skyrocketed in popularity over this past year, giving renewed focus on the “road trip,” because they offer the freedom and flexibility of touring the country in a fully-equipped and self-contained unit that has everything needed for a perfect vacation. “Picture it as your personal cabin on wheels going to scenic places where lodges or hotels often don’t exist,” said Dan Wulfman, founder and president of Tracks & Trails, whose specialty is packaging RV vacations to national Parks in the Western U.S. and Canada – not just renting the RV.

RV travel allows friends and families to be autonomous and as private as they please while enjoying the freedom of America’s open roads. Time for lunch? Just pull off at the next scenic turnout and open the fridge. Potty stop? Easy. End the day in the natural beauty of national park campsites chosen especially for Tracks & Trails travelers. 

Wulfman notes that the pandemic is turning millions of non-campers into aspiring RVers, and the trend is exploding. The RV Industry Association found that 20% of US residents surveyed are more interested in RV travel than in flying, tent camping, cruises, or rental stays amid coronavirus concerns.

“But getting in an RV and setting off without a plan can be daunting for a first-timer,” says Wulfman, who introduced the concept of packaged RV vacations in 1996. “That’s where the sage advice, travel tips, and insider knowledge of experts can make or break the experience. Because of COVID, choosing your dates 6 to 12 months in advance is now essential.”

Tracks & Trails is sold out for July and August of 2021, but trips in September and October may still be available. And due to unprecedented demand, the company will begin accepting reservations for 2022 trips on April 1, 2021. 

For those savvy enough to lock in their dates early, the hard part is done. The company’s team of expert planners handles all the arrangements that make it so challenging to organize a worry-free 7-14 day, multi-destination RV trip on your own. Travelers work with their T&T Trip Wizard to select one of the 20 carefully-crafted itineraries, decide on the right RV, and pick optional excursions that suit their tastes. The company takes care of the rest: reserving prime campsites, booking guided excursions with trusted outfitters, and preparing comprehensive documentation that ensures things go smoothly on the road.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of Tracks & Trails’ most popular itineraries is the 13-night Mighty 5: Utah & the Grand Canyon  beginning and ending in Las Vegas that visits all 5 of Utah’s national parks – Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches – and the Grand Canyon. Optional excursions that can be prearranged include canyoneering, rafting, ATV riding, horseback riding, and Jeep tours. The base trip cost, which includes up to 4 people, ranges from $8,000 to $10,000 and is available from May 15 to October 15 (sold out July-August 2021). (www.tracks-trails.cominquiries@tracks-trails.com, 800-247-0970)

Another source for RV vacations is Blacksford, a new recreational vehicle rental business with an all-inclusive pricing model that includes unlimited miles, no generator fees, bedding, bath and kitchen supplies, free Wi-Fi, free annual national park pass and 24-hour roadside assistance. Blacksford also curates road trip experiences by connecting travelers with vetted campsites, guides and other hand-picked attractions. https://www.blacksford.com.

Other sources for places to stay:

An oasis in Death Valley: The historic Inn at Death Valley, one of the Xanterra Travel Collection hotels in national parks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Xanterra Travel Collection (www.xanterra.com) is the management company that oversees lodgings – including the campsites, cabins and lodges – in many of the most popular national parks, including the most iconic hotels, like El Tovar in the Grand Canyon, the Inn at Death Valley, Zion Lodge and the historic hotels and lodges in Yellowstone. For information about what’s open, what services will be available, reservations as well as any travel guidelines in this post-quarantine world, go to https://www.xanterra.com/contact/national-parks/.

Other sources for lodging for DIYers: hotels.com, booking.com, koa.com, glampinghub.com, vrbo.com, airbnb.com,

Tour Companies Enhance Experience

In many instances, the best way to experience the national parks is through a tour program with an outfitter or company that specializes in hiking, wilderness, nature, or any number of specialties. Not only do they bring an extra measure of enjoyment, literally maximizing the experience, but also have access and expertise casual travelers do not have. Tour companies range from those that are laid back, sightseeing oriented – the classic bus tour like Tauck (tauck.com) and Collette Tours (gocollette.com); find more at Escorted National Parks Tours (escortednationalparkstours.com, 800-942-3301) – to active, adventure trips, even private expeditions.

Among them:

Grand Canyon, hiking the South Kaibab Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Backroads has trips to Yellowstone & Tetons, Glacier, Kenai, Olympic, Arches & Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion & Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, Saguaro & Tucson, Hawaii, Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Everglades, https://www.backroads.com/tours/national-park-vacations, 800-462-2848

Roadscholar, specializing in trips for seniors, offers 220 national parks trips in Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Sedona, Yellowstone, Banff, Appalachian Trail, Mt. Rushmore, Group or solo packages include lodging, meals, & expert-guided educational tours. (Roadscholar.org/parks)

Off the Beaten Path (www.offthebeatenpath.com), based in Bozeman, Montana, is an outdoor, active travel company offering guided small group adventures and private custom journeys across the globe, including national park experiences in the Rocky Mountains, Desert Southwest, and Alaska.

Natural Habitat Adventures expedition leaders guide exclusive small groups to the most remote parts of America’s famed nature sanctuaries. https://www.nathab.com/us-national-parks-tours/ 800-543-8917

REI Adventures offers hiking-oriented trips in Great Smoky Mountains, Utah, Alaska, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, Olympic, Rocky Mountain, Big Bend, Yosemite, Grand Canyon national parks (https://www.rei.com/adventures/p/national-parks/a/hiking, 800-622-2236).

Sierra Club Outings, the Sierra Club’s tour operation, offers a variety of active experiences in national parks (content.sierraclub.org/outings, 415-977-5522)

Zion National Park, Utah © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

National Geographic Expeditions (www.nationalgeographic.com) has trips and private expeditions to Alaska; Denali to Kenai Fjords; American Southwest National Parks Private Expedition; Arches, Canyonlands & Mesa Verde National Parks Private Expedition;  Glacier National Park private expedition; Yosemite Private Expedition; Grand Canyon, Bryce & Zion; National Parks Family Journey: Yellowstone & Grand Teton, and Discover American Canyonlands, (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/destinations/north-america/national-parks/, 888-966-8687)

Country Walkers www.countrywalkers.com), renowned for well-crafted itineraries for guided walking and self-guided walking that highlight local cuisine, authentic accommodations, and immersive cultural experiences  has programs in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons (www.countrywalkers.com/tours/wyoming-yellowstone-grand-teton/, 800-234-6900).

Escape Adventures (www.escapeadventures.com) operates adventure travel vacations catering to the full spectrum of active traveler, from road cyclist to mountain biker to electric biker, hiker, and multi-sport enthusiasts, and from first timer to friends and family groups of all ability levels, in the Grand Tetons & Yellowstone (https://escapeadventures.com/tour/grand-tetons-yellowstone-road-bike-tour/) and Zion and Bryce Canyon other national and state parks (800-596-2953).

Western River Expeditions operates rafting trips in Grand Canyon, Utah and Idaho,  866-904-1160 (Local: 801-942-6669) or visit http://www.westernriver.com/. Western River Expeditions is an adventure travel company headquartered in Salt Lake City, with operations and offices in Moab, Utah and Fredonia, Arizona. Annually from March through October it escorts more people down rivers on professionally guided rafting trips in Utah, Idaho and Arizona than any other company. It is the largest licensed outfitter in the Grand Canyon and the largest single tour provider in Moab, UT, through its division Moab Adventure Center (http://www.moabadventurecenter.com/).

OARS (www.oars.com), famous for rafting trips through the Grand Canyon, has introduced a series of “Road to Whitewater” road trips: five itineraries that lead to at least one major rafting adventure, as well as incredible sites and experiences along the way. The itineraries are designed with Covid-19 protocols and precautions in place. Itineraries include: Colorado Rod Trip: Denver to Dino Loop in Northwest Colorado, Utah and Wyoming; the Scenic route to the Lower Salmon and Hells Canyon from Portland Oregon; San Francisco to Southern Oregon to experience national parks, wild rapids, majestic redwoods and coastal vibes; Salt Lake City to Moab, an ultimate Utah national parks road trip; Los Angeles to Yosemite; and The Tahoe to Yosemite Loop (www.oars.com/road-trips, 800-346-6277).

Novel Ways to Experience The Outdoors

With sustainably built, LEED-certified “tiny house” cabins, Fireside Resort in Jackson Hole, is nestled in a wooded setting at the foot of the Teton Range, enabling guests to get back to nature while enjoying the intimacy of a boutique hotel and the ambiance of their own cozy residence. https://www.firesidejacksonhole.com/

Red Reflet Ranch, a 28,000-acre luxury guest ranch in Wyoming.

Guests at the Red Reflet Ranch, a 28,000-acre luxury guest ranch in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, stay in fully-stocked private cabins and enjoy farm-to-table cuisine while participating in equestrian programs, cattle branding, hiking, mountain biking, ATVing, fly fishing, shooting, family-friendly activities and cooking classes. https://red-reflet-ranch.net/

A stay at The Wilson Hotel in Big Sky, Montana, offers the opportunity to explore the surrounding mountains, rivers and Yellowstone National Park. Go hiking through shaded forests and wildflower-filled alpine meadows, float or fly fish a clear, cool river, experience the adrenaline rush of lift-served mountain biking at Big Sky Resort, or tour the natural wonders and wildlife of Yellowstone. https://thewilsonhotel.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

Road Trip: Sunrise, Sunset in Death Valley National Park, Nature’s Geologic Art Gallery

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Laini Miranda, Dave E. Leiberman & Eric Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On our second morning in Death Valley National Park, we’re up before sunrise to race to Zabriskie Point, one of the not-to-be-missed highlights, to watch the brilliant display as the rising sun seems to set the rock faces aflame with color.

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Today’s itinerary in Death Valley National Park is on a strict schedule around Laini’s zoom appointments (COVID has given rise to “worker nomads” and “workations”) – the proximity to the places we wanted to see was one of the reasons we left Designed to Death AirBnB, 45 minutes drive into the park, for the Ranch at Death Valley, just about 7 minutes drive from Zabriskie Point, in the most central part of this vast national park. We rush back to the Ranch at Death Valley, until her next break, so grateful for its close proximity to what we would like to do today. It requires incredible planning and logistics considering the distance to get to places in a park twice the size of Delaware.

But these breaks give me more time to explore and enjoy the Ranch. It is a full resort with a very casual, family-friendly vibe almost like a dude ranch resort; in fact it once was a working ranch and now has stables offering horseback and carriage rides and a marvelous “Last Kind Words Saloon” that looks like it is straight out of a western movie. It is laid out with two-story units of rooms that open out to either a patio or balcony, with everything from a gorgeous swimming pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, playground. There is even a full 18-hole golf course, at 214 ft below sea level, the lowest elevation course in the world. The ranch also offers Jeep rentals to explore the park in a rugged 4×4.

The Ranch at Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The “new and improved” 224-room Ranch at Death Valley is part of a $100 million renaissance along with the nearby Inn at Death Valley (a historic, four-star luxury resort), and is at the vital center of activity in Death Valley. Set along Highway 190 next to the National Park Service Visitor Center, it offers a classic town square with towering date palms and Mission California architecture. Among the improvements: a new restaurant, ice cream and coffee bar, general store with souvenirs as well as groceries.

There’s also a gas station next door. It really is an oasis. (www.oasisatdeathvalley.com/)

The Ranch offers a real surprise when I come upon a museum with an outdoor display (the indoor museum is still closed as a COVID precaution) of coaches, mining implements, even a full train locomotive train, set outside almost like a park. And you realize that this wasn’t all that long ago – the turn of the last century, a blip in context of the eons of time on view in Death Valley’s dramatic geology.

Step back in time at the museum at The Ranch at Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum at the Ranch is not to be missed. When you are in the midst of this unforgiving harsh environment, it is astonishing to realize how people lived and worked here, that they even lived here at all – extracting resources like salt and borax, mining gold. The way the artifacts are displayed, it seems almost as if they had just been left behind – there is this immediate connection.

Step back in time at the museum at The Ranch at Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You are overwhelmed in Death Valley by nature and its powerful force, but here at the museum, you are reminded of man’s handiwork. The first white men to enter Death Valley were gold-seeking pioneers with the Death Valley Wagon Train in 1849, looking for a short cut to California. They came to Travertine Springs, near where we are here at Furnace Creek. Stranded, they eventually walked up to Stovepipe Wells and used wood from their wagons to cook meat of slaughtered oxen. We had seen the marker at Stovepipe Wells Village of “Burned Wagons Camp,” the site of the first tourist accommodations in Death Valley.

Step back in time at the museum at The Ranch at Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You also feel the presence of the workers and miners when you drive through the 20 Mule Team Trail and walk over the Badwater Basin salt flat, visit the Harmony Borax Works and hike passed a mine shaft.

I contemplate all of this as I sit outside on the porch of the wood cabin with a cup of coffee coffee.

We’ve timed it so as soon as Laini has another break we dash back to Zabriskie Point for a short hike (the trail connects to the Golden Canyon trail), before rushing back for her next Zoom meeting.

Hiking into Gower Gulch from Zabriskie Point © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Hiking into Gower Gulch from Zabriskie Point © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Hiking into Gower Gulch from Zabriskie Point © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back again at the Ranch, I do something I rarely ever have time to do: swim in the pool. It is absolutely glorious – naturally heated by hot mineral springs to a perfect temperature. And the scenery! We see what we couldn’t last night when we had the stars – the mountain peaks all around. We lounge for a couple of hours.

We’ve plotted an afternoon hike for when Laini finishes: Sidewinder Canyon.

We eat our lunch in the car as we drive the 32 miles to Sidewinder Canyon, a slot canyon where you are supposed to be able to explore three separate slots.

This trail is really for adventurers, much less visited than the star attractions (there isn’t even an outhouse at the trailhead here); and it’s not at all well marked.

Hiking into the slots in Sidewinder Canyon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are supposed to watch for cairns – stones others have arranged in the shape of an arrow, or a pile of stones to mark the entrances. Even the notes say that the first slot, supposedly at the .8-mile mark, is easy to miss. What we think is the first slot has a fairly dramatic entrance, a stony scramble of pointy sedimentary rock like concrete that has come out of the mixer with lots of stones.

Heads up! Hiking into the slots in Sidewinder Canyon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The second slot though is great – scrambles to get to higher levels – interesting formations with light coming through. It is dramatic when you enter, like something will happen, especially when look up and see a boulder wedged in a space between narrow walls above you. It dares you.

Hiking into the slots in Sidewinder Canyon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The landscape here is really harsh, unforgiving – RoadRunner cartoons come to mind, especially when we see a coyote and what seems to be roadrunner’s feathers on the ground.

Hiking into the slots in Sidewinder Canyon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Hiking into the slots in Sidewinder Canyon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Sidewinder Canyon is more of adventure than I anticipated. Rugged, stony, not a lot of color, more scramble than I imagined (Dave and Laini go further into the canyon while Eric starts back with me), and not as picturesque, making me appreciate the Golden Canyon trail all the more, but in retrospect, a wonderful adventure. We hike uphill for a mile and then return.

Hiking in Sidewinder Canyon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The contrast between these two canyon hiking experiences – the Golden Canyon yesterday and Sidewinder today – is remarkable, in fact, all the hikes prove so wonderfully different.

We again rush back to Zabriskie Point for sunset – we had missed it by five minutes the night before, so this time, we make sure to get here in plenty of time to appreciate the changing light and colors. It proves not what I expected – I actually find myself more entranced by the full moon rising from behind the mountain peaks. (Artist’s Palette is another popular place to watch the sunset – get there at least a half-hour ahead in order to see the rich colors in the rock.)

Sunset at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Moonrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunset at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This evening, we treat ourselves to a special dinner at the luxury, grand hotel, the Inn at Death Valley (originally named the Furnace Creek Inn), sitting outside on a lovely terrace rather than the dining room. The historic hotel, a member of Historic Hotels of America, dates from 1927, built by Richard C. Baker  of the Pacific Coast Borax Company as a means to save its newly built Death Valley Railroad, and played a pivotal role in the transformation of Death Valley from a mining wasteland to treasured national park.

The luxury historic Inn at Death Valley is set in a oasis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Inn was designed by prominent Los Angeles architect Albert C. Martin and landscape architect Daniel Hull. Baker hired the Fred Harvey Company to manage the inn (a similar story to the famous El Tovar Hotel in Grand Canyon), which it did for decades.

The luxury historic Inn at Death Valley is set in a oasis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After 90 years, the AAA Four Diamond resort remains an elegant hideaway- and how much more romantic could it be that it is set in a desert oasis and lists among its famous guests are Marlon Brando, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Open from mid- October to mid-May, it offers fine dining in one of the world’s most remote settings, a magnificent spring-fed pool, lush palm gardens, and golf on the world’s lowest golf course, 214 feet below sea level, located at the adjacent Ranch at Death Valley. Both the Ranch and the Inn at Death Valley are part of the Xanterra Travel Collection (www.oasisatdeathvalley.com; xanterra.com; you can also book at historichotels.org)

Celebrating the day’s achievements at a special dinner, al fresco, at the Inn at Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Before returning to the Ranch, we head to Harmony Borax Works, one of the best places to see stars (I even see a shooting star), though on this night with a full moon, we probably should have gone back to the Badwater Basin salt flats where we likely would have seen amazing shadows cast by the moon. The difference though, is that Harmony Borax Works is just five minutes away from the Ranch versus Badwater Basin, a 30 minutes drive.

Star Gazing at the Harmony Borax Works © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the moonlight, we can make out what remains of Harmony Borax Works. Borax ore was processed here from about 1884 to 1888. It was built by W.T. Coleman who developed the system of 20-mule team wagons that hauled the borax 165 miles across the desert to the railroad at Mojave. But after only five years, Coleman’s financial empire collapsed and the Harmony plant was shut down.

The next morning, we pack up to leave the Ranch, with a plan to hike the Mosaic Canyon trail on our way out of the national park.

The four-mile roundtrip hike into Mosaic Canyon is sensational from start to finish – stunning, improbably smooth marble walls, scrambles on the way in that become natural slides on the way back (from eons of floods, apparently, or perhaps all the backsides that slide down).  This is like amusement park ride from start to finish – sheer delight. We follow cairns in the shape of stone arrows that point the way.

Mosaic Canyon, “a geological art gallery” in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mosaic Canyon, “a geological art gallery” in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mosaic Canyon, “a geological art gallery” in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Mosaic Canyon is a geological art gallery: irregularly shaped fragments of tan-colored Noonday Dolomite, sandy matrix, and limey cement create what seem to be murals on the canyon walls,” the National Park Service notes read. “In other places, dolomite, transformed into marble by heat and pressure, forms colorful swirls in stream-polished whirlpools and chutes in the bedrock. This is because the geologic history of Mosaic Canyon is a succession of fill-and-scour cycles – major flash floods fill the canyon with up to 20 feet or more of gravel every couple of decades, often blocking easy passage with large boulders. Less intense storms slowly scour the canyon again, removing the earlier deposits. The remains of iron railings and steps installed at the first narrows serve as reminders of a filled canyon only a few decades ago. Hiking up the canyon is a visual and intellectual treat. The canyon itself offers evidence of past floods and serves as a vivid reminder of the enormous power of water.” (https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/mosaic-canyon.htm)

Mosaic Canyon, “a geological art gallery” in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mosaic Canyon, “a geological art gallery” in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Using the smooth rock as a slide in Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Using the smooth rock as a slide, at Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mosaic Canyon, “a geological art gallery” in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can take just an easy one-mile roundtrip hike through the narrows or hike 2.2 miles to the upper end of the canyon.

I have to actually try my (minimal) rock-climbing skills, with lots of cheers and support from everyone. It is a hoot. And the colors and patterns!

It takes us less than three hours, gorgeous and fun from very beginning, perfect for our final hike before driving back to Sonoma, with a short stop to enjoy the view of Mono Lake in the late afternoon light.

As we drive away, we start a list of what we need to do when return: the Telescope Peak hike (a strenuous 7-mile hike up 3,000-feet to 11,049 feet altitude, which Eric does just weeks later when he returns); Dante’s Peak (for an amazing view); and Darwin Falls (an actual water fall) top the list.

Plan your visit to Death Valley National Park, nps.gov/deva, 760-786-3200.

Death Valley in art: “Sidewinder Canyon” diptych by Laini Nemett (2020, 12 x 9 in, oil on linen on panel). Visit www.laininemett.com.

See also:

ROAD TRIP: DISCOVERING DEATH VALLEY’S TREASURES, RICHER THAN GOLD

ROAD TRIP: HITTING THE HIGHLIGHTS OF DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

AD-VAN-TURING, NEWEST TRAVEL TREND

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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

Road Trip: Hitting the Highlights of Death Valley National Park

Hiking into the Artist’s Palette, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman, Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tourism began in Death Valley in 1926 with the opening of the first hotels. It became a national monument in 1933 and was elevated to a national park as recently as 1994 with the expansion of 1.3 million acres. It is mind-boggling to realize Death Valley is the largest national park outside Alaska, at 3,422,024 acres – twice the size of Delaware.

A basin below sea level, there is drought and extreme heat, but towering peaks, rising as high as 11,000 feet that ring the basin, get snow. There is even a waterfall. Periodic flooding over millions of years has carved and smoothed ragged rock – a cautionary tale of nature’s power and unpredictability – while oases provide refuge for wildlife and people. Most surprising of all is the diversity of life that has adapted to this harsh location, no more surprising than that there are people here at all – indeed, the Timbisha Shoshone American Indian tribe are repopulating the area around Furnace Creek.

Death Valley is a land of extremes and constant surprises that excite the senses and force you to pay attention. You are never merely a casual observer, but an active participant, often getting to test new skills.

Because Death Valley National Park is so vast, so massive (nearly 1,000 miles of paved and dirt roads, with gasoline and water as much as 78 miles apart) and conditions that can be fairly treacherous, you are advised to research and plan out what you want to do not only to maximize what you see but for safety’s sake.

Driving in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the important safety considerations: especially in summer, you are advised not to start hiking a trail after 10 am (take into account the distance and estimate the amount of time you need – my rule of thumb is one mile per hour); make sure you have sufficient water (allocate a gallon of water per person per day, which you should buy before you arrive); have hat, sunglasses, sunscreen. You are advised not to hike certain trails after a rain or if rain threatens because they can be treacherous. The weather can change dramatically – indeed, you can see where floods have come through and etched the rock – canyons can turn into rivers quickly. The ground temperature in summer can actually be 80 degrees hotter than the air temperature – a temperature of 201 degrees F was actually measured; ground temperature on the valley floor is 40 percent higher than surrounding air temperature. And yet, it can also get very cold – the lowest temperature recorded on the valley floor was 15 degrees F in 1913.  (The best time to hike in Death Valley is from November through March.)

And though you may well see other hikers on the trail (masks!), what stays in your mind is how few, how remote; in four days, we never saw a park ranger on the road. This is no amusement park with pretend thrills. But this sense of the possibility of danger is thrilling.

Hiking the Golden Canyon Trail, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We research the most popular hikes (alltrails.com is a great source) and highlights of Death Valley, set them into geographic areas, calculated an estimated amount of time to visit, mixed hiking with less strenuous touring, and driving time (there is no public transportation in the park) and took into account the time of day and season – you don’t want to be at the far end of a trail when the sun has already begun to set.

So we had cleverly notched one of Death Valley’s most popular highlights, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, timing are arrival in the late afternoon the day before, and on our way back into the park  on our first morning from our Air BnB in Beatty (20 miles away), we explored Rhyolite Ghost Town, which was also high up on our list of “must-sees.”

For our first full day in Death Valley, we’ve etched out hiking the Golden Canyon trail, 20 Mule Team, Badwater Basin, Artist’s Palette, and finishing with the sunset at Zabriskie Point.

Golden Canyon Trail

Red Cathedral off the Golden Canyon trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our first hike, Golden Canyon trail, is the most popular in Death Valley and for good reason. It hits on all cylinders: the absolutely dramatic landscape, patterns and colors of the rocks, but also, the trail itself. The section between the Red Cathedral (really gorgeous) and the turn-off to the spur trail to Zabriskie Point is particularly exciting – you walk a narrow cut in a rounded rock and then over a formation we dub the “Stegasaurus” – like a dinosaur’s back. The full loop is 4.5 miles, winding past Manly Beach and Gower Gulch, just about every step pure joy. The morning sunlight brings out the golden hues in the eroded badlands, contrasting with the red stone cliffs of Red Cathedral. (The hike takes us from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm).

Golden Canyon Trail, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Golden Canyon Trail, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The section of the Golden Canyon trail we dub “Stegasaurus” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Golden Canyon Trail, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Golden Canyon Trail, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Golden Canyon Trail, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Golden Canyon Trail, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Feeling absolutely exhilarated after the hike, we drive through the 20 Mule Team Canyon – driving it actually does feel more like an amusement park ride. There is a narrow, winding, looping, rolling one-way only road that takes you through. You are reminded that this place used to have mule teams hauling out borax. It’s perfect after the hike – a 15-minute drive through.

Driving through 20 Mule Team Canyon, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We drive through Artist’s Drive to Artist’s Palette, where we have a picnic lunch (planning!), but decide to return later in the afternoon when its famous colors will be more pronounced.

Driving the loop-de-loop of Artist’s Drive, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then on to Badwater Basin, probably one of the most famous sights in Death Valley. Spanning 200 square miles, this extraordinarily expansive, giant salt flat doesn’t look it but you can walk 7 miles across, ringed by mountains. At 282 feet below sea level, when we stand here we are standing at the lowest point in North America. The basin consists of sodium chloride (table salt), calcite, gypsum, and borax. 

Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Though named “badwater,” the water is not actually bad but salty, and despite the name, “Death Valley,” it is remarkable to learn that many organisms thrive in it. The pool is home to an endemic snail naturally found only at this location, and its rim is dotted with salt tolerant plants, such as pickleweed. This was once a large inland lake which evaporated over thousands of years, leaving concentrated salt deposits behind that form fascinating geometric polygon shapes.

Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The pool and boardwalk are easily accessible from the parking lot off Badwater Road, but for the best views of the salt polygons, walk out onto the salt flats a half mile or so. Look behind you to the cliffs of the Black Mountains to the east, where there is a sign high above marking sea level. From here, you can also see Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range to the west; at 11,049 ft, this peak is over two miles above you. “Nowhere else in America can you see such a dramatic vertical relief over such a close distance.” (https://www.nps.gov/places/badwater-basin.htm)  (Eric gets to hike up Telescope Peak on his return a month later on his adVANture; see ad-VAN-turing, Newest Travel Trend)

It’s 4:30 pm and there are long shadows bringing out the interesting formations and patterns in the salt. Here, we are famously 282 feet below sea level.  (In summer, it is not advised to walk out on the salt flats after 10:30 am).

Artist’s Palette

Artist’s Palette, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We drive the nine-mile loop-de-loop roller coaster of Artist’s Drive to Artist’s Palette, to see the richer color of the cooler, late afternoon  sun, and scamper across the rolling ridges, literally into the multi-colored palette itself – yellow ochre, burnt umber, sienna, rust, rose, copper.

Artist’s Palette, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Artist’s Palette, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Artist’s Palette, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Artist’s Palette, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Artist’s Palette is one of the most popular places to watch the sunset, but we decide to go to Zabriskie Point instead.

Timing the sunset can be tricky because of the peaks, the day of the year, also. You need to get wherever you want to see the sunset a half-hour before, when the colors begin to deepen. The actual sunset is over in a few minutes, so you have a very short window for the best images.

And so we miss the sunset at Zabriskie Point by five minutes. Even so, it is a gorgeous sight as the rocks take on warm colors, there is a pink rim to along the mountain ridges, and a full moon rises.

Sunset at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunset at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Moonrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunset at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunset,at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Moonrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Fortunately, we will have the opportunity to see the sunrise and sunset on our next day. Indeed, that’s why we decided to book two nights at the Ranch at the Oasis, just a short drive away from Zabriskie Point, instead of driving 45 minutes each way to the Designed to Death Air BnB in Beatty, Nevada, where we stayed on our first night.

We check into the Ranch at Oasis, order out dinner from the menu and sit outside on the lovely terrace adjacent to the restaurant (which also has outside dining, properly spaced). It is sheer perfection (as was the steak with an espresso rub, fantastic!).

Dining al fresco at the Ranch at Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We drop our things in our hotel room (Laini has made sure to get a first-floor room at the end of the hall, close to the door, so we would have minimal time in a public space, and was assured that the rooms are thoroughly cleaned and left for 24 hours before the next guest). We immediately go to the Olympic-sized pool – absolutely magnificent, naturally warmed to a constant 87 degrees by hot mineral springs. The water feels silky, and as we swim we delight in the stars overhead. (www.oasisatdeathvalley.com)

The biggest surprise of all is how diverse Death Valley is – low valley floors, salt flats, rugged mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet, deep and winding canyons, rolling sand dunes, oases. The landscape is not a monotone at all, but a riot of colors, textures, contours. Each hike we take, each highlight we explore is spectacular in its own way, exciting and thrilling, exacting surging emotions and senses – the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, the Golden Canyon, the Badwater Basin salt flats, the 20 Mule Team Canyon, Artist’s Palette, Zabriskie Point – and it’s only been a day and a half.

The next morning, we get up before sunrise to get to Zabriskie Point (about a 7-minute drive away) to watch the brilliant display as the rocks seem aflame with sunlight.

Death Valley in art: “Golden Canyon,” by Laini Nemett (2021, 12 x 9 in, oil on linen on panel). Visit www.laininemett.com

See also:

ROAD TRIP: DISCOVERING DEATH VALLEY’S TREASURES, RICHER THAN GOLD

_______________

© 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

Road Trip: Discovering Death Valley’s Treasures, Richer than Gold

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Laini Miranda, Dave E. Leiberman & Eric Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the quest, so very popular in these days of coronavirus, of finding open spaces to become renewed, revitalized, revel in nature and contemplate one’s place in the universe, there is no better place than Death Valley National Park, spanning California and Nevada.

Our four-day trip to Death Valley has an overlay of planning that goes beyond planning for hiking in a vast desert: the coronavirus pandemic. It impacts our route, where we stay (an Air BnB at the outskirts and the Ranch at Death Valley in the park, having double-checked their COVID-19 protocols), how we organize food and water to take with us (and ice chest) to cut down on the need to eat out.

And our itinerary is designed to pack as much as possible from such an expansive landscape into such a limited time. In the process, we discover that we are very much following in the footsteps of the miners who came before seeking the treasures in these landscapes. For us, the treasures we find are not the material kind, but even more enriching.

With an eight-hour drive ahead of us, we calculate when to depart in order to get to Death Valley in time to begin our exploration. With meticulous planning and organization that the Army would be proud of, we pull away from Sonoma at 5:39 am, taking an interior route, east toward Tahoe, then south, passing the eastern side of Yosemite National Park.

The fall scenery all along the way is breathtaking, going from wilderness, through these little Western towns and ranches.

We pass the ski resorts at Lake Tahoe, where the road takes us up to an altitude of 8,000 ft. and temperatures as low as 19 degrees, and by the end of the day, down to 275 feet below sea level at Death Valley. As we drive out of Tahoe, we watch the thermometer ticking up a degree every mile, until reaching the 80s. Actually, the weather is quite cool and comfortable for Death Valley, which is the hottest place on the planet, with ungodly temperatures that reached 130 degrees this summer, but can also get frigid in winter. Our visit, in October, is actually a terrific time.

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Preserve

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Preserve, Lee Vining, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Laini plots our route so we would stop at Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Preserve, in Lee Vining, California, where we have a picnic lunch. The first sight of Mono Lake from the highway above is astonishing: a stunning, ethereal scene with its brilliant aquamarine color and striking tufa formations. We stop at the overlook and then drive down along the shore to the parking lot. The visitors center is closed (because of COVID-19 restrictions), but we go into a trailhead that leads to a short boardwalk to the lake edge.

California created the reserve to protect these spectacular “tufa towers,” calcium-carbonate (limestone) spires and knobs formed by the chemical interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. The reserve protects the lake surface as well as the wetlands and sensitive habitat for the 1 – 2 million birds that feed and rest at Mono Lake each year.

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Preserve, Lee Vining, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Covering 65 square miles, Mono Lake is ancient – over 1 million years old and one of the oldest lakes in North America. Freshwater evaporating from the lake each year has left the salts and minerals behind so that the lake is now about 2 1/2 times as salty as the ocean and very alkaline. “The extremely high salinity and alkalinity of Mono Lake has created a rare ecosystem, supporting a complex food chain of green algae, brine shrimp and alkali flies, and more than 80 species of migratory birds.” (www.parks.ca.gov)

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Preserve, Lee Vining, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(Highway 395, 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, near the town of Lee Vining, California, 760-647-6331, www.parks.ca.gov; also www.monolake.org).

We stop off at Carroll’s Market (probably the last one we will see), which actually gets high ratings on Yelp, especially for its blue cheese dressing, and has become its own attraction. We buy a dozen gallon jugs of water and stop off to fill up at a gas station.

Death Valley National Park

Father Crowley Vista Point view over Rainbow Canyon, a colorfully striped canyon created by ancient volcanic activity, nicknamed “Star Wars Canyon” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After a long flat stretch with mountains in the distance, we drive the winding mountain road (make sure you have a full tank of gas), entering the park at Panamint Springs. We stop at the Father Crowley Vista Point for the view over Rainbow Canyon, a colorfully striped canyon created by ancient volcanic activity. Nicknamed “Star Wars Canyon”, it’s where the military practices Star-Wars type of flying. The wind today is so intense, it practically throws us over.

(Nearby is Darwin Falls, a seeming oxymoron in this desert place, quickly turning from a gravel canyon to a lush oasis of cottonwoods and willows, creek crossings, and finally 20-foot waterfalls, a two-mile roundtrip hike, which we have marked down for a return visit.)

We stop at the historic Stovepipe Wells Village – like something out of a Western movie – that links back to the very beginning of tourism in Death Valley. In fact, long after mining gold, borax and talc had collapsed, tourism has been the enduring enterprise in Death Valley.

Stovepipe Wells General Store evokes the earliest days of tourism to Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Herman William “Bob” Eichbaum effectively invented Death Valley’s tourism industry here, believing its “beauty, mystery and history” would attract tourists. Indeed, since 1915, motion pictures, automobile companies and writers weaving tales and promoting advertisements sparked interest (early social influencers) in visiting. In 1925, Eichbaum built a 38-mile toll road over Towne Pass and 20 tent-style bungalows, a restaurant, general store and filling station. He opened the Stovepipe Wells Hotel in 1926. Just a few months later, the luxurious Furnace Creek Inn was opened by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, setting off an intense rivalry. Most enthralling is that both places are still around and give you this sensation of stepping back in time. (Open year-round, deathvalleyhotels.com, 760-786-7090).

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s only a short drive from the village to reach Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a little after 4 pm, giving us at least one hour before sunset. We have just enough time to play on the dunes and watch the colors (and temperature) change with the setting sun. People bring cardboard sleds, using the sand like snow.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is an extraordinary setting:  sprawling over 14 square miles, ringed with mountain peaks, the contrast of colors, shapes, contours is just stunning.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In late afternoon, the sand is cool enough to take off shoes and feel remarkably soft granular sand on toes. We climb the dunes –as much as 150 feet high- wowed in the colors of the golden hour as the sun descends.  All the pure joy you had playing in a sand box when you were four comes bursting through.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The best time to visit is the early morning or late afternoon; on a dawn hike, the notes say, you might see tracks of nocturnal animals and if you hike at night in the warm months, they warn, be alert for sidewinder rattlesnakes (I’m still thinking about the tracks of nocturnal animals).

Designed to Death

We drive on, reveling in the scenes of the road disappearing into the far distance, headed to our Air BnB, with the intriguing name, Designed to Death, in the small town of Beatty, about 20 miles outside the park’s eastern border (Las Vegas would be about 1 ½ hours beyond). Though the name evokes Agatha Christie, it is breathtakingly beautiful, cozy luxury, with a bit of a Western vibe – easily explained because the hosts are interior designers and the house is a showplace for their talent.

Preparing dinner at Designed to Death AirBnB, Beatty, Nevada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are here for too short a time to fully enjoy all that the house affords. Set on an isolated stretch of high desert, the 1,200 sq. ft.,  three-bedroom, two-bath vacation home was designed by Peter Strzebniok to incorporate the vistas, providing stunning views while making the desert part of the interiors – merging the inside with the outside. What we do thoroughly enjoy though, is the large open kitchen, dining room, living room, that opens onto a 900 sq. ft deck with hot tub. The Presidential Suite at a five-star hotel would not have been any nicer or more comfortable.

Our Designed to Death Air BnB hosts are Karen McAloon, an interior designer who works in San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and Joshua Tree, who was an HGTV host and her partner was her producer. (They have two sister properties, Hip Modern cottage of Amazingness in Lake Tahoe, @hipmoderncottageofamazingness, and Too Pool for School in Joshua Tree, @toopoolforschooljtree.)

They provide excellent notes – like the nearest place for supplies would be at Family Dollar, but the nearest actual grocery is 70 minutes south at Pahrump. They also supply tour information of nearby ghost towns, museums, attractions and of course Death Valley National Park. There is an interesting note about the wild burros that we might see (there is even a traffic sign like a deer crossing), which are descended from burros abandoned by miners a century ago. “Don’t feed them, they can be destructive. They tend to be down at the creek in the morning and wander into town at night.”

We take full advantage of the gorgeous kitchen to prepare dinner (we brought food for dinner and breakfast).

Rhyolite Ghost Town

Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.

The next morning, we pack up quickly and head out early morning with a plan to stop off on our way into Death Valley to visit an actual ghost town, Rhyolite.

It is so fascinating to try to piece together what this town might have been like and to realize how big it was – most surprising, really (especially when you see the context) is what’s left of a hotel and casino. A casino! “100 years ago, Rhyolite was the largest city in southern Nevada with more than 10,000 residents. Yet after only a decade, the town became a ghostly remnant of itself” – a classic boom and bust story, with all sorts of lessons about the transitory nature of success in the span of history. It is tremendously exciting to wander about these ruins, so dramatically set.

Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.

In its heyday, between 1905-1911, Rhyolite had two churches, 50 saloons, 18 stores, two undertakers, 19 lodging houses, eight doctors, two dentists, a stock exchange and an opera.

The ruins that remain today include the Bottie House, the train depot (there is a caboose there), the remains of a three-story bank building and the jail.

It is one of several ghost towns that are scattered through Death Valley, “the silent ruins of broken dreams.”

Death Valley in art: “Rhyolite Bank Window,” a Death Valley ghost town, by Laini Nemett (2020, 12 x 9 in, oil on linen on panel). Visit www.laininemett.com

Next: Hitting the Highlights of Death Valley National Park

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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

Finding Love in All the Right Places

A wedding proposal on a Bermuda beach. One of the most romantic places on the planet, Bermuda, once known as the honeymoon capital, has safety protocols in place to welcome lovers to the island nation, a 2 ½ hour flight from New York © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, New York State is permitting restaurants to reopen indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, and as of March 15, will allow venues to host weddings at 50% capacity up to 150 guests. Governor Cuomo proposed that couples get engaged on Valentine’s Day and tie the knot on March 15.

Romance is by nature an intimate experience and even in a pandemic, it is possible to find romantic places and experiences. From glamping in nature, to boutique inns, to grand resorts offering specially planned, socially-distanced venues, and from romance to proposal to marriage vows, the coronavirus has certainly reshaped romance and love, but where there is a will, there is a way.  Love conquers all.

Back to Nature

adVANturing in a Moterra camper van © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is nothing more romantic than getting a camper van and following wanderlust, or renting a cabin or lodge or glamping on a lake or mountaintop, with that added spice of adventure and nature (as in, “let nature run its course” or “doing what comes naturally”). Glamping is also providing the setting for back-to-nature weddings and renewal of vows.

Kampgrounds of America (KOA) has a special section for glamping, cabins, and “unique camping options” (a teepee, a yurt, a train caboose, a Conestoga wagon, tree house, wall tent, a vintage airstream among them) that offer the atmosphere sure to get an “I will” or an “I do.” (See: https://koa.com/ways-to-stay/unique-accommodations/)

A glamping wedding in Montana (c) Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

GlampingHub, launched in 2013 as a booking platform for distinctive accommodations, sustainable tourism and  luxury camping, is where you can find glamping spots all over the world, ranging from pet-friendly hotels or eco-friendly hotels, glamping retreats & getaways. It devotes a portal to Romantic Glamping (https://glampinghub.com/portal/romantic-glamping/).

Romantic Getaways

The Daniel Webster Inn in the historic village of Sandwich on Cape Cod is inviting couples to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a Feb. 13-15 package that includes champagne, chocolates, roses; $60 toward lunch or dinner and $15 toward breakfast, and a special gift to take home. Also, a suite-deal package is a one-night escape in an elegant suite with fireplace and oversized whirlpool tub, and chocolates and massages, plus $50 toward dinner. (Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa, 149 Main Street, Sandwich, MA 02563, 800-444-3566, 833-361-4988, https://danlwebsterinn.com/)

What is more romantic than a sleigh ride at Mountaintop Inn & Resort, Chittenden, Vermont (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mountain Top Inn & Resort has all the charm, the warmth, the cozy, intimate hospitality of a country inn, and all the luxury, amenities, activities and quality dining of a resort. The setting is breathtaking – 700 acres surrounded by open fields, a 740-acre lake and mountains beyond, and the Green Mountain National Forest. In addition to a lodge, it offers separate cabins, and a barn/event space. It is no wonder Mountain Top is so popular for weddings (elopements too!) – it exudes romance. (Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com).

With a secluded island setting and the beauty of the Adirondacks as your backdrop, the grand, historic Sagamore Resort is an enchanting destination for a Lake George wedding, proposal or romantic getaway. Besides the hotel, there are separate villa-style lodges. The AAA Four-Diamond resort offers a world-class spa, a Donald Ross-designed championship golf course, swimming and tennis and the Adirondacks.  (110 Sagamore Road, Bolton Landing, NY 12814, 518-644-9400, 866-384-1944, www.thesagamore.com)

Grand Historic Hotels Offer Special Ambiance

Historic Hotels offer ideal ambiance for a romantic proposal, a destination wedding, honeymoon, or special milestone.

The entire list of Historic Hotels of America members, in my book, are ideal for romantic getaways (historichotels.org), but here are a few of our favorites for your proposal:

Romantic gazebos placed along the lake’s edge are extremely popular for popping the question at Mohonk Mountain House, a Victorian jewel in New York’s Hudson Valley (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House (1869) New Paltz, New York: Mohonk Mountain House is an enchanting Victorian Castle perched at the top of a mountain with a private lake. The hotel has 120 “summerhouses” which are rustic gazebos designed for two people to share special moments together; taking in stunning views during or after a hike on 85 miles of trails- all of which provide the perfect romantic backdrop for someone to get down on bended knee. The Sky Top Tower is a hiking destination with panoramic views of the Shawangunk Cliffs and Catskill Mountains and a popular engagement site, along with the boat dock, which provides amazing views of serene Lake Mohonk. This is a full-service grand resort with world-class spa, indoor pool.

The Otesaga Hotel and Cooper Inn (1909) Cooperstown, New York: With its majestic views, The Otesaga Resort Hotel sits on the southern shore of Lake Otsego, known as Glimmerglass in James Fenimore Cooper’s novels, which makes the lake a popular place to pop the question. The lake dock, with its quaint stillness and breathtaking views surrounded by century old oak trees is a perfect place to get down on bended knee. There are some who would rather propose in an old-fashioned boat with the resort as a backdrop and others that would prefer to be on a horse drawn carriage pulling up to the resort’s front portico. Moreover, being the home of the national pastime makes Cooperstown and the Otesaga a unique venue for a baseball themed engagement.

View from our cozy cottage at Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vt., grand historic resort on the shore of Lake Champlain (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Basin Harbor (1886) Vergennes, Vermont: Basin Harbor is a grand yet rustic resort set on the stunning shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont. Steeped in tradition, this 700-acre resort has a variety of breathtaking settings that provide a perfect backdrop for engagements and weddings. From the Orchard Garden, filled with flowers and greenery to the Lodge Lawn with panoramic views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains, there are plenty of places for someone to get down on one knee. There’s just about every activity you could want, including golf course, boating, tennis. Besides hotel accommodations, there are charming cottages.

Jekyll Island Club Hotel (1887) Jekyll Island, Georgia: Built in the Queen Anne style, the Jekyll Island Club Resort is a castle surrounded by Southern charm. With sweeping Spanish moss and hundred years old live oaks, Jekyll Island is one of the most romantic spots in the South. The magic of the island will carry guests back in time to the grandeur of millionaires. From the top of the turret to quiet moments in Crane Garden, this little slice of heaven is perfect for any romantic proposal. Many couples who get engaged at the hotel have grown up coming to the Resort and wanted the destination to be a part of the proposal and eventually, the wedding. Besides the hotel accommodations, there are separate cottages. Jekyll Island also offers elopement packages.

With sweeping Spanish moss and hundred years old live oaks, Jekyll Island Club, Georgia, is one of the most romantic spots in the South (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ledges Hotel (1890) Hawley, Pennsylvania: This hotel’s historic bluestone building and natural waterfall provide a dramatic backdrop for proposals. A life-long commitment made in the shadow of a historic landmark is symbolic of a relationship that will stand the test of time. The tiered decks overlooking Paupack High Falls are one of the most romantic spots to pop the question at Ledges Hotel. It’s a popular destination for engagements no matter the season. During winter, the frozen falls offer a stunning backdrop. Budding trees and rushing waters are a hallmark of spring. Summer by the waterfall is lush and cool, while fall foliage creates a vibrant landscape in autumn.

The Hotel Hershey (1933) Hershey, Pennsylvania: Known for its refined elegance, signature services and abundant amenities, The Hotel Hershey is a marvelous destination for a romantic getaway. The Hotel is rooted in its own romantic love story, between founder Milton S. Hershey and his wife, Catherine, and couples can spend time together in the beautiful Fountain Lobby, which was inspired by the couple’s travels and designed to look like a Spanish-style courtyard with palm trees, a beautiful fountain and a painted sky on the ceiling. The Formal Gardens behind the hotel are a popular spot for proposals. There, guests can find a quiet, romantic, picturesque area with beautiful flower beds, pergolas, fountains and reflecting pools.

See the full list of 2021 Top 25 Historic Hotels of America for a Romantic Proposal

See more suggestions; https://www.historichotels.org/us/experiences/honeymoon-romance.php. Historic Hotels of America, 800-678-8946, historichotels.org.

Micro Weddings

Micro weddings are all the rage. It’s all about keeping your special day small, but significant.

The courtyard of the historic St Francis Inn in the heart of historic St. Augustine, Florida, is a charming place for a small wedding. The couple can plan a private elopement for two or a micro-wedding in the four-season garden with up to 10 guests, flowers, champagne, house-made wedding cake and horse-drawn carriage ride (279 St. George St., St. Augustine FL, 800-824-6062, https://stfrancisinn.com/)

A micro-wedding in the garden of the historic St. Francis Inn, St. Augustine, FL

Then stay at either the St Francis Inn or the Casa de Suenos Bed and Breakfast (20 Cordova St., St Augustine, FL, 904-824-0887 dream@casadesuenos.com, https://casadesuenos.com/), or at a house on the beach.

Southampton Inn on Long Island has more than 20-years tradition of hosting “micro-weddings” – or the “minimony”. The inn has 3 acres of landscaped grounds, 2,300 sq. ft indoor ballroom for intimate but well-spaced wedding celebrations in a romantic setting (91 Hill Street, Southampton, NY, 11968, 631-283-6500, southamptoninn.comreservations@southamptoninn.com)

What may be a renewed old trend: elopement – it is said to date back to the 14th century, taken on new meaning in the 17th century, and was revived in popularity during the Great Depression when resources and money was scarce. Today, elopement packages are seeing new popularity because they have the benefit of catering to small, intimate ceremonies (as few as just the couple and witnesses) and minimizing the stress that typically comes with prolonged wedding planning Hotels also let the couple take advantage of windows of opportunity, compressing the time between “I will” to “I do.”

Hyatt Carmel Highlands Inn offers special wedding and elopement packages.

Hyatt Carmel Highlands Inn offers special wedding and elopement packages that keep intimacy and romance in mind. Designed for 2 to 20 people, the Highlands Elopement Package allows couples to exchange vows on a romantic gazebo overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Hyatt Carmel Highlights 120 Highlands Drive, Carmel, California, 93923, events specialist, 831-622-5461, 831-620-1234, hyatt.com.

See also: Top 25 Historic Hotels of America for a Romantic Proposal

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© 2020 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

ad-VAN-turing, Newest Travel Trend

adVANturing in a Moterra camper van © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Eric Leiberman and Sarah Falter,

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The biggest travel trend to explode out of the time of Corona is ad-VAN-turing – basically a freewheeling adventure in a tricked out van (sleeker than an RV but with most if not all the comforts of a studio apartment on wheels). These high-tech, luxury mobile campers are designed to be self-sufficient, carrying their own water, electricity, toilet, galley kitchen, even solar panels for energy so you don’t have to plug in, but can still have enough power in reserve to run the heat at night so you have incredible mobility and freedom to explore.

In mid-December, we took off with an indefinite week-long itinerary from Sonoma, California, in a Moterra camper van which we picked up in San Francisco.

We spent our first day skiing at Heavenly Resort in Lake Tahoe, California (we stayed overnight a couple blocks away from the parking lot, which made getting first chair easy!).

In place for first chair at Heavenly Mountain Resort Base © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From there, we drove down to Death Valley National Park, spending one night at the Panamint Springs RV park and another at the trailhead for Telescope Peak (fairly desolate this time of year).  We were really impressed with how our van got us safely to the base of mountain treks without issue, thanks to the four wheel drive.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Summit of Telescope Peak Hike, Death Valley © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Gorgeous sunset on the drive from Death Valley to Zion © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Though the mid-December days were short and the nights were cold, we were cozy and comfortable in our van with round-the-clock heat and cooking amenities. And snuggling up on the roof of the van with wine in hand made for some glorious stargazing (we lucked out our first night in Death Valley with a mind-blowing Geminids meteor shower).

After Death Valley, we made our way to Zion National Park, Utah, stopping along the way in Las Vegas, Nevada, to pick-up a quick dinner. The Angels Landing & Narrows hikes are not to be missed. And being able to pull over at picturesque lookout points for homemade (van-made) lunches made the experience in the park all the more special.

Driving through the wintery scenery in Zion National Park © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Near the top of Angels Landing, Zion National Park © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Zion National Park © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Preparing lunch after a hike in Zion National Park © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com


On our way back from Zion, we spent a night in Valley of Fire State Park (about an hour east of Vegas). We were shocked we hadn’t heard of this Nevada state park before. The massive red rocks and scrambly canyons made us feel like we were exploring communities and dwellings straight out of The Flintstones! We spent the night at the spectacular Arch Rock Campground.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
White Domes Trail, Valley of Fire State Park © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Arch Rock Campground, Valley of Fire State Park © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com
White Domes Trail, Valley of Fire State Park © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While making our way back towards the Bay Area (by way of Los Angeles), we already began planning our next adVANture for Summer 2021 – we’re thinking the Pacific Northwest. As fabulous as it was to explore the National Parks in the off-season (we hear Zion especially can get unbelievably crowded and Death Valley is known to have some of the most extreme temperatures in the world), we’re looking forward to our next trip with warmer weather and longer days for exploring.

Moterra Luxury Camper Vans Lets You Pave Your Own Path

You’ve probably now heard of glamping – luxury camping. Now Moterra Campervans offer a novel way to experience the national parks and wilderness by luxury camper van, which also provides amazing self-sufficiency.

With all the luxury of a 50-foot long RV, the Moterra camper vans, at 19-foot long,are  much less cumbersome to drive and park, and can even be used in easier-to-book tent camping spots in national parks, so you can stay away from the busy (and likely booked up) RV parks.

Arch Rock Campground, Valley of Fire State Park © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You don’t even need to plug into electricity because the vans are powered with rooftop solar panels and auxiliary batteries (not noisy generators); or have to plug into a water supply, since they hold between 16 and 24 gallons of fresh water, or bathroom, since they have  their own sink, even their own bathroom facilities (port-o-potty; some actually have its own shower), and with their own galley for cooking and refrigerator, these camper vans provide a new level of mobility.

These camper vans come with bluetooth audio, cruise-control and touch-screen navigation. A backup camera, blind spot sensors and lane assist technology make maneuvering a breeze. You don’t have to stay in an RV park, but can go wherever tents are allowed.

The Moterra camper van is self-sufficient. You don’t need to plug in for electricity or water, so you can follow your wanderlust © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Moterra’s fleet of specially outfitted Mercedes Benz Sprinters, tricked out by Sportmobile, are outfitted with absolutely everything you need for camping, from sleeping stuff (memory foam pillow!), to cooking (marshmallow skewers) and dining, cleaning supplies, amenities like chairs and table, inflatable solar lights, even bear spray.

Enjoying a bottle of wine on the camper van roof and getting set for star-gazing; solar panels provide enough power to keep the heat going all night © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are two models to choose from: The High Roof is perfect for couples – it includes a queen sized bed in the back, galley kitchen, sink, indoor shower and portable toilet. The Pop Top, which sleeps four, is perfect for families, with a double bed down below and a double bed up top in the Pop Top! While the Pop Top does not have an Indoor Shower, you can get as an add-on a solar shower that can be used outside, and has a sink and stove. Both models are rented for $339 a night.

Add-ons available include hammocks & bike racks, and services such as pre-bought groceries.

The Moterra fleet is positioned for adventuring in Yellowstone, Wyoming; the Grand Tetons; Utah; Glacier National Park (Montana); Las Vegas (great gateway for desert adventuring) and California.

Death Valley © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Moterra, which founded by Gabe Aufderheide and Trevor James who were formerly with Backroads, the renowned active travel company, also offers packaged and customized tour itineraries.

All-inclusive packages consist of:

Moterra Campervan Rental and cleaning fee

Day-by-day personalized Itinerary with directions and destination info.

Pre-booked campsites, handpicked and booked in advance where possible, or GPS locations for off-the-grid dispersed camping spots.

Scenic routes that take you to the heart of the action while minimizing road traffic.

Individualized suggestions depending on your preferences for hiking, scenic attractions, restaurants and activities.

A wide range of activities to make the trip your own, like white-water rafting, wildlife safaris, road biking, horseback-riding, kayaking and scenic floats.

Zion National Park is featured in Moterra’ pre-packaged 13-night/14 day Mighty 5+ Grand Canyon trip © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For example, a 13-night/14 day Mighty 5+ Grand Canyon: featuring Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce National Park, Zion National Park, Monument Valley and Grand Canyon National Park is priced from $5999.

A six-night/seven-day family-oriented Yellowstone Handpicked Highlights package features Yellowstone National Park and The Grand Tetons National Park (from $4699).

Moterra operates out of Jackson, WY, Whitefish, MT, Salt Lake City, UT and San Francisco, CA.

Check the website for deals, discounts on early bird bookings, extended trips, spring 2021 discounted add-on for one-ways, and gift cards.

Moterra Camper Vans, 1565 Berger Lane, Jackson, Wyoming 83001, 307-200-7220,

info@gomoterra.com, gomoterra.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

New York’s 750-Mile Empire State Trail, Longest Multi-Use State Trail in Nation, Officially Opened!

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York’s ambitious Empire State Trail, now the nation’s longest multi-use state trail, is now fully opened as of December 31. 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.

 The Empire State Trail is expected to draw 8.6 million residents and tourists annually and will be an economic boon to rural communities, in addition to providing opportunities for healthful activities promoting wellness among New Yorkers.

“Nearly four years ago, we announced plans to build the Empire State Trail and I am excited to announce it’s been completed on time and will open on New Year’s Eve,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “There’s no trail like it in the nation – 750 miles of multi-use trail literally from Manhattan to the Canadian Border, from Buffalo to Albany. Not only does it provide an opportunity to experience the natural beauty and history of New York, but it also gives New Yorkers from every corner of the state a safe outlet for recreation as we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. As we approach the holiday weekend, there is no better time than now to put on your mask and experience it for yourself.”

“During this unprecedented year, the Empire State Trail has been a lifeline for many, as local residents explored recreational opportunities in their backyards while remaining safe during a global health pandemic,”Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said. “The completion of the 750-mile state trail not only makes physical connections between locations across the state, but it also continues to build on how we are reimagining our natural wonders and historic corridors as a source of recreation, economic development and tourism in New York State.”

Introduced in the Governor’s 2017 State of the State address, the Empire State Trail will be open year-round, including winter. It connects 20 regional trails to create a continuous statewide signed route. As part of the 58 distinct projects to complete the Trail on time, more than 180 miles of new off-road trail was created and 400 miles of previously disconnected, off-road trails were linked to eliminate gaps and ease engineering challenges such as railroad and water crossings in high traffic areas.

The New York State Department of Transportation improved 170 miles of on-road bicycle route sections to enhance safety and travel on low-speed rural roadways and city streets when possible. New York State also installed 45 gateways and trailheads along the route to welcome visitors and branded the trail with signage, interpretive panels, bike racks, and benches.

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.

Recently completed projects that finalize the trail include:

Hudson Valley

Biking over the Springtown Truss Bridge over the Wallkill River, featured in the movie “A Quiet Place,” on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, now part of the 750-mile Empire State Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • Albany-Hudson Electric Trail: The Hudson River Valley Greenway constructed 36 miles of off-road and on road trails from the city of Rensselaer to the City of Hudson in Rensselaer and Columbia counties. The $45 million trail follows the historic route of an electric trolley which operated from 1900 to 1929. The corridor is owned by National Grid, which authorized New York State to build a trail on the route.
  • Maybrook Trailway: Metro-North Railroad constructed a new 23-mile rail-trail on its inactive “Beacon Line” corridor from Hopewell Junction in Dutchess County to Brewster in Putnam County passing through the towns of Pawling, Southeast, Paterson, Beekman and East Fishkill. Along the route, the trail winds through rural landscapes and wooded areas featuring seasonal waterfalls and crosses the Appalachian Trail. The $42 million Beacon Line was the first all-rail freight connection across the Hudson River north of New York City. It originally opened as a rail line in 1892 and served as a vital transportation link between New York and southern New England, carrying trains between Derby Junction and Maybrook, via the bridge over the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie that is now the Walkway Over the Hudson.
  • Hudson River Brickyard Trail: The City of Kingston constructed a new 1.5-mile Empire State Trail section along the Hudson River shoreline. The $1.4 million project was built with City of Kingston and Town of Ulster funds matched by state grants from the Department of State and Hudson River Valley Greenway.
  • Battery Park City Gateway: The $450,000 gateway marks the southern terminus of the trail in Lower Manhattan.
The completion of the New York Empire State Trail means you can bike from Hudson River Park in Manhattan, up to the Canada border © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Erie Canalway Trail

Cycle the Erie riders visit the historic Flight of Five Locks at Lockport, the engineering marvel that made the Erie Canal possible © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Gateways: These four gateways in Western New York provide a welcoming connection for trail visitors at key access points in: Buffalo Harbor State Park in Buffalo; at the western entrance to the Erie Canal in Tonawanda; at Five Locks Park in Lockport; and in Genesee Valley Park in Rochester. The gateways include kiosks featuring local and statewide trail information, bicycle racks, and shaded granite block seating. Each gateway features a “Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.” memorial plaque honoring the late owner of the Buffalo Bills. The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation provided $2.6 million dollars for the gateways.
  • Macedon Bridge: NYSDOT restored a closed vehicle bridge over the Erie Canal. The $4.2 million investment created a bicycling and walking trail and created a local park.
  • Erie Blvd-Syracuse: NYSDOT constructed a 3-mile trail in the median of Erie Blvd, from East Syracuse to DeWitt. The project cost $23 million.
  • Loop the Lake Trail-Syracuse: Onondaga County constructed a new 1.5-mile trail on the south shore of Onondaga Lake, including a new bicycle/pedestrian bridge over CSX’s rail line. The project was funded with County and federal funds.
  • Utica: New York State Canal Corporation constructed a new 3.5-mile trail east of Utica for $9.3 million
  • Herkimer County: New York State Canal Corporation completed a new 2.2-mile trail section Lock E18 to Route 167, a new 1.3-mile trail section Frankfort to Ilion, and a new 2-mile trail from Ilion to Mohawk. These projects totaled $16.4 million.
Stopping off to visit the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse during the Cycle the Erie bike tour © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Champlain Canalway

  • Fort Edward to Fort Ann: The New York State Canal Corporation constructed two adjacent trail sections. The $14.3 million investment created a 12-mile trail from Fort Edward to Fort Ann.
  • Fort Ann to Comstock: NYSDOT built a new 0.75-mile off-road trail in Washington County and designated a 7-mile route on local roads and cost $2 million.

“The Empire State Trail is a testament to Governor Cuomo’s vision to make New York State an unmatched destination for outdoor recreation,” New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said. “Everyone from the most experienced long-distance cyclists to family groups with children will enjoy this pathway. People can take a quick bike ride or walk close to home, or they can plan a multi-day adventure to take them from one end of the state to the other.”

“Governor Cuomo’s vision for the newly-completed Empire State Trail merges economic development with the beautiful views along the Canal system to create exceptional outdoor recreation opportunities, both for residents of canalside communities and for visitors from across New York and beyond,” New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton said. “The Erie Canalway and Champlain Canalway Trail segments of the Empire State Trail reintroduce New Yorkers to the historic towpaths of our state’s storied waterways and connect a new generation to the rich heritage of the New York Canal system.”

“Completion of the 750-mile Empire State Trail is a truly historic achievement for New York State that demonstrates the intricate connection between investments in transportation infrastructure and the vitality of our communities,” New York Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said. “This breathtaking trail will allow countless generations of New Yorkers and visitors to explore the world-renowned natural wonders and beauty of the Empire State and provide unparalleled recreational access to users of all ages and abilities – all while promoting environmental responsibility, tourism and economic development. The New York State Department of Transportation is proud to have played a significant role in fulfilling Governor Cuomo’s vision. Excelsior!”

“New York’s landscape offers extraordinary opportunities to explore the outdoors and experience the state’s world-class natural resources while still being able to recreate locally,” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “This exciting milestone for the Empire State Trail enhances one of New York’s premier recreational opportunities and demonstrates Governor Cuomo’s commitment to showcasing our state’s diverse communities, boosting their local economies, and connecting more New Yorkers to our environment.”

“The completion of the Empire State Trail further demonstrates Governor Cuomo’s commitment to invest in canalside communities and compliments the Reimagine the Canals initiative,” New York Power Authority President and CEO Gil C. Quiniones said. “Together, these investments safeguard the Canal’s role as a driver of economic growth. The Empire State Trail also will improve the quality of life of New Yorkers while simultaneously showcasing the historic beauty that already exists in the landscape surrounding the canals.”

“I want to thank Governor Cuomo for his vision, and our talented and dedicated Metro-North project team for giving new life to this area along Metro-North’s Beacon Line,” President of Metropolitan Transportation Authority Metro-North Railroad Catherine Rinaldi said. “This project ensures that New Yorkers and outdoor enthusiasts alike will be able to enjoy the trailway for decades to come.”

“Governor Cuomo’s Empire State Trail announcement completes New York State’s vision to create a Greenway trail between New York City and the Erie Canal, and it caps the efforts of communities up and down the Hudson Valley to develop an iconic multi-use trail,” Hudson River Valley Greenway Executive Director Scott Keller said.

Empire State Trail Brewery Passport

In addition, a virtual passport program showcases the 200 craft breweries closely surrounding the Empire State Trail, in partnership with the New York State Brewers Association. The Empire State Trail Brewery Passport, made available through the NYSBA’s existing New York Craft Beer App, will encourage New Yorkers to visit breweries within 10 miles of the Empire State Trail.

Just off the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and up the road from the River to Ridge Trail is Coppersea Distillery. In conjunction with the Empire State Trail, New York is has created a passport program and an app showcasing the 200 craft breweries closely surrounding the Empire State Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At each brewery along the Trail, visitors can digitally check-in on the app, earning a stamp on both of the app’s passport programs – the Think NY, Drink NY Passport and now the Empire State Trail Brewery Passport.

Exclusive rewards are awarded at levels determined by the number of stamps received on the Empire State Trail Brewery Passport, from neck gaiters, to shirts, to backpacks and more. By checking-in at 200 breweries and completing the Empire State Trail Brewery Passport, visitors will receive a branded cooler backpack and a t-shirt stating, “I completed the Empire State Trail Brewery Passport.”

The New York Craft Beer App is the first state-wide beer app in the country and is available for both Apple and Android devices. The app gives craft beer enthusiasts access to a map containing every brewery across New York State, searchable by region, and includes directions to breweries and allows users to build and save a personal tour of selected breweries. (https://thinknydrinkny.com/the-app/)

Parks & Trails NY’s Cycle the Erie Ride

Parks & Trails NY is hoping to offer the 23rd Annual 400-mile, 8-day Cycle the Erie biking/camping trip on July 11-18, 2021. The state has made improvements to complete the trail, from Buffalo to Albany, as part of the 750-mile Empire State Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Meanwhile, Parks & Trails NY, a long-time advocate and activist for repurposing trails and byways for recreational use, is hoping to offer its 23rd annual 8-day 400-mile, Buffalo to Albany biking/camping Cycle the Erie trip July 11-18, 2021. PTNY is taking wait-and-see to offer the trip, which had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and is delaying registration until March 1.

“We continue to plan for a potential ‘in person’ 2021 CTEC event while remaining flexible in our options, given the uncertainty of the months ahead in terms of the pandemic and state regulations,” write the ride directors.

“2021 is going to be a great year for the cycling community and with so many new additions to the Erie Canalway Trail we cannot wait to share it with you.” (See https://www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal/annual-bike-tour for more.)

Details on the 750-mile Empire State Trail at https://empiretrail.ny.gov/.

See also:

NEW YORK’S EMPIRE STATE TRAIL COMES TOGETHER: BIKING THE WALLKILL VALLEY RAIL TRAIL IN HUDSON VALLEY

Cycle the Erie: 400 Miles & 400 Years of History Flow By on Canalway Bike Tour Across New York State

Cycle the Erie, Day 1: In Lockport, See Erie Canal Engineering Marvel, ‘Flight of Five’, Cruise Thru Double Locks, and Go Underground to Fathom Rise of Industrial Revolution

Cycle the Erie, Day 2-3: A Sequence of Charming Canaltowns, Pastoral Landscapes, Punctuated by City Birthed by ‘Mother of Cities’

Cycle the Erie, Day 4: Seneca Falls to Syracuse, Crossing Halfway Mark of 400-Mile Biketour

Cycle the Erie, Day 5: Deep Dive into The Erie Canal: ‘Mother of Cities’, Empire Builder, Wonder of the World

Cycle the Erie: At Fort Stanwix, Rome, Time Travel Back to America’s Colonial, Native American Past

Cycle the Erie, Days 6-7: Erie Canal Spurs Rise of America as Global Industrial Power

Cycle the Erie, Days 7-8: Schoharie Crossing, Mabee Farm, Cohoes Falls to Finish Line in Albany of 400-Mile BikeTour

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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

Driveable Getaways: Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail in the Great Northern Catskills

Sunset Rock. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

My getaway exploring the Hudson River School Art Trail in the Great Northern Catskills of New York starts at the trailhead to Kaaterskill Falls, where you get an amazing view of Kaaterskill Clove (HRSAT Site #4). You gaze out over the gorge where mountain peaks seem to thread together and compare the scene today to the way it is depicted by Hudson River School artist Asher B. Durand’s 1866 painting.

Kaaterskill Clove. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s a short walk along 23A (watch out for cars on the winding narrow road) to the trailhead for one of my favorite hikes, Kaaterskill Falls (HRSAT Site #5), a stunning scene that looks remarkably just as depicted in an 1835 painting by Thomas Cole, known as the father of the Hudson River School. “It is the voice of the landscape for it strikes its own chords, and rocks and mountains re-echo in rich unison,” Cole (who was also a poet and essayist) wrote.

Kaaterskill Falls. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Kaaterskill Falls were a favorite subject of many of the Hudson River School painters and for me, is the quintessential combination of stunning scenery plus the physical pleasure of the hike – half-mile up to the base of the double-falls, then another half-mile to the top.

Kaaterskill Falls. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls, 175 and 85 feet, is the highest in New York State and was described by James Fenimore Cooper in “The Pioneers” which Thomas Cole, a friend of Cooper’s illustrated.

Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a small trail through the woods to the very top of the falls. Signs admonish hikers that climbing the ledges beside Kaaterskill Falls is extremely dangerous, and has resulted in numerous injuries and deaths. But the falls are not flowing when I come, so I get to walk on the ledges, giving me a really nervous view straight down and beyond, to the Valley and letting me look at the carved initials and graffiti from the 1920s and 30s, some even from the 1800s.  You feel a sense of kindred spirit with those who have passed through and passed on. You feel the height and the proximity to the drop off, and it makes your heart flutter.

At the top of the Kaaterskill Falls. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Later, I will recognize the view in Thomas Cole’s paintings and imagine how he must have stood in this precise place where you are standing.

Kaaterskill Falls. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a half-mile to the base, and another half- mile to the top of the falls, for a total of 2 miles roundtrip. There are some scrambles and it is uphill almost all the way (walking sticks are really recommended), and is thoroughly fantastic.

Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State
© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(The parking lot is just west of the trailhead and across 23A, so you park and walk back along the road, being very careful. Haines Falls NY 12436, 518-589-5058, 800-456-2267).

HRSAT Hikes in North-South Campground 

For my second day, after an amazing breakfast at the Fairlawn Inn, I head to North-South Campground, where there are several of the Hudson River School of Art Trail hikes (as well as many other hiking trails) – the lake itself depicted in paintings such as Thomas Cole’s “Lake with Dead Trees,” 1825 (HRSAT Site #6).

Artists Rock, Escarpment Trail, North-South Lake Campground, on the Hudson River School Art Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Escarpment Trail to Sunset Rock (HRSAT Trail Site #7) begins along the well-marked blue trail (you cut off to the yellow trail to Sunset Rock) that mostly wraps around the ledges, with the amazing views that so enthralled the artists of the Hudson River Valley. Close to the beginning is a fairly interesting scramble, then the trail winds through the woods along side fabulous rock formations before coming out again to the ledges. You reach Artists Rock at about a half-mile. Continuing on, you look for the yellow trail marker to Sunset Rock and from there, to Newman’s Point.

Escarpment Trail, North-South Lake Campground, on the Hudson River School Art Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can either reverse and come back on the Escarpment Trail, or make a loop, coming down the Mary’s Glen trail, passing Ashley’s Falls.

Ashley’s Falls on Mary’s Glen Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mary’s Glen trail can also be the entrance to a more challenging hike, to North Point, a distance of 3.2 miles with 840 feet ascent. It is a mostly moderate climb but has some short, steep scrambles over rock, but you come to large open slabs and expansive vistas at North Point, a 3,000 ft. elevation with some of the most distant views.)

North-South Lake. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back at the North-South Lake, you can follow around the shoreline to see the same views that inspired Hudson River School paintings.

You can also take the trail to the site of the Catskill Mountain House (HRSAT Site #8), one of the earliest tourist hotels. The majestic hotel, which was opened in 1823 and accommodated 400 guests a night (Presidents Arthur and Grant were among those who stayed here), burned down in 1963 but the view that attracted visitors still remains as one of the most magnificent panoramas in the region, and can be compared to Frederic Church’s “Above the Clouds at Sunrise” (1849).

Where the Catskill Mountain House used to stand. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is fun to see the initials carved into the stone ledges from more than a century ago. The Mountain House began drawing thousands of guests each season from all over the country as well as from abroad, who came not just for the cooler, healthier climate but for what had already become one of the most renowned natural panoramas in the young nation: the valley 1,600 feet below, stretching east to the Taconic Mountains and the Berkshires, with the silvery thread of the Hudson visible for 60 miles from north to south.  On a clear day, you can see five states – Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. The hike is just a half-mile with only an 80-foot ascent.

Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a $10/car day use fee for the NYS DEC’s North-South Lake Campground from early May through late October, however the fee is waived for NYS residents 62 years or older midweek. The campground is open May through October; 518-589-5058 or call DEC Regional Office year-round at 518-357-2234, www.greatnortherncatskills.com/outdoors/north-south-lake-campground.

The Hudson River School Art Trail also features Olana, the magnificent and whimsical mansion home of artist Frederick Edwin Church. At this writing, the entrancing mansion was not yet reopened to visits, but the 250-acre grounds and the first-ever legally protected “viewshed” to the Hudson River are open (5720 Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12534, 518-828-0135, olana.org.)

Frederick Edwin Church’s Olana, Hudson, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, you can walk the grounds Thomas Cole Historic Site (the home has yet to be reopened, but is marvelous to visit, especially Cole’s studio). (218 Spring Street, Catskill, NY 12414, 518-943-7465, www.thomasscole.org)

Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill, NY, on the Hudson River School Art Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Get maps, directions and background on the Hudson River School Art Trail atwww.hudsonriverschool.org/hudsonriverschoolarttrail.

View from Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill, NY, on the Hudson River School Art Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, walk on the Hudson River Skywalk along the Rip Van Winkle Bridge to find incredible river views.

In Tannersville: Explore the Mountain Top Arboretum, 178 acres of trails, wetlands, gardens, and native plants; go on a mountain biking adventure at the Tannersville Bike Park, part of the Tannersville-Hathaway Trail System.

In Athens:Rent a kayak or paddleboard at Screaming Eagle Outdoor Adventures; explore along the Hudson River at the Athens Riverfront Park and look for the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse

Places to stay include:

Fairlawn Inn bed-and-breakfast, Hunter, NY, the Catskills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In Hunter, the Fairlawn Inn where we have stayed, oozes charm; open year-round (7872 Main St. Hunter, NY 12442, 518-263-5025, www.fairlawninn.com).

Just outside of Catskill, A Tiny House Resort offers 10 tiny houses perched over the Catskill Creek; open-year-round (2754 CR 23BSouth Cairo, NY 12484, 518-622-2626,www.atinyhouseresort.com).

In Coxsackie, Gather Greene is a glamping destination offering 17 wooden glamping cabins on 100 acres of rolling hills and fields, each is equipped with air conditioning and heating, full bathrooms, a mini-fridge (176 Levitt RoadCoxsackie,  262-448-3683, www.gathergreene.com).

More information from Greene County Tourism, 800-355 CATS, 518-943-3223, discovergreene.com.

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© 2020 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

Driveable Adventures: Hiking/Camping in the ‘Grand Canyon of the East’ – NY’s Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It doesn’t take long once you arrive at New York’s Letchworth State Park to see why this vast preserve merits its nickname, “Grand Canyon of the East.” One of the most dramatically scenic areas in the eastern United States, the Genesee River roars through a humongous gorge that extends the 17 mile-long expanse of the park, over three major waterfalls between cliffs as high as 600 feet, surrounded by lush forest.

Ever since I saw a poster of Letchworth State Park while riding the Long Island Railroad, I said, “Where is that!” So when our plan to camp and hike in the Southwest fell apart this year and feeling safe staying within New York State which has so scrupulously monitored and imposed safety conditions to contain the coronavirus, we sought out a comparable adventure driving distance from home: Letchworth is just south of Rochester in western New York in appropriately named Wyoming County.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Our camping trip was made all the more special by staying in the campground within the state park that had only just reopened (private campgrounds, such as Kampgrounds of America, koa.com, are also available in the area) – so we could cook our dinner in the most spectacular settings – dinner with a view and be in prime places for the early light. (I booked our stay mere minutes after the website, reserveamerica.com, reopened reservations.)

During the two full days we were there, we hiked the most scenic, marquee trails: the Gorge Trail (#1), 7.6 miles following along the rim in the southern portion of the 17-mile long park, and the next day, the Highbanks Trail (#20), 4.5 miles along the rim and through forest in the north part of the park. Indeed, these hiking experiences were reminiscent of hiking the Rim Trail along the southern rim of the Grand Canyon.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Letchworth State Park, (voted best attraction in New York State in 2017) is a geologic wonder. Its main attractions are three waterfalls (and if you visit in the late afternoon, you may well see rainbows over the Middle Falls) in the southern section. The trails take you to the most popular, scenic overlooks, which people can drive to, so they can be bustling with visitors (when we visited, people seemed to be respectful of wearing masks and keeping distance). This is another reason why camping in the park is such an advantage – the driving tourists tend to arrive at mid-day, so you can get out early and have these spectacular scenes almost to yourself.

If you do the hike early in the morning, do it from north to south. It’s out-and-back, so to avoid doing the 7.6 miles twice (that is, 15 miles), you can leave a second car or a bicycle at the end (as we did).

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

The park is huge, about 17 miles long (it takes about 20-30 minutes to drive from the campground to the Upper Falls along the Park Road which is narrow, winding and rolling with dips and rises) to the Upper Falls area. Indeed, the park is so narrow that the hiking trails are just alongside the road, separated in most instances by curtains of trees.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

The Gorge Trail, in the south, brings you to the most spectacular views – Upper Falls and Middle Falls in quick succession, then Lower Falls. The real surprise is coming upon Wolf Creek waterfall and a bridge with a painterly scene. Along the way you come upon these stunning stone look-outs at Inspiration Point, Archery Field Overlook, Great Bend Overlook, Tea Table lookout, which also have stone tables and BBQ set-ups.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Highbanks trail in the north section doesn’t have the awesome waterfalls, but is very special in its own way, providing the expansive vistas that evoke awe over just how enormous and winding this gorge is (respect for Mother Nature’s power) and why Letchworth has been dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Here, the hike brought us into stunning woods where the forest itself makes a painterly canvas.

View from Hogs Back on the Highbanks Trail, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com
Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

We started at the absolutely stunning overlook at Hogs Back (where we parked our car for the hike), going south about 2.5 miles, then reversing and going north from Hogs Back, you walk along the ridge, sometimes almost hanging over the gorge, until you come to the Mt. Morris Dam Overlook. The treat here comes at the end, at the Mt. Morris Dam Overlook Area, where there is a delightful snack bar serving excellent ice cream.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Two of the trails that I believe was closed during our visit, but definitely recommended is the Footbridge Trail that brings you down to the Lower Falls (#6A), just a half-mile long but rated “moderate” and the Portage Trail (#6).

Footbridge, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Altogether, the park offers 66 miles of trails (almost all rated easy or moderate, and most on the west side of the park). But for hard-core hikers, there is a 22-mile Finger Lakes Trail that runs along the entire eastern section of the park

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

I tried to research in advance to find the best places for sunrise and sunset photos, which of course depends on season and weather. I wasn’t able to get any sunrise or sunset photos, but the late afternoon light proved best at the Upper Falls and Middle Falls (where rainbows seem not uncommon as the sun lowers and sends its rays through the mist).

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Instead of eating at the campsite (not that scenic, but very pleasant for sleeping and breakfast), we kept our food in the cooler and equipment in the car and each evening would pick out a different setting – dining on tables with slate tabletops apparently taken from these very cliffs. David would haul out his Coleman stove and tiny propane tank, his culinary tools, cutting board, and perform his culinary magic. We dined at the appropriately named Tea Table the first evening, Wolf Creek the second evening, which proved our favorite, with a virtually private view of a sweet waterfall, that we discovered on our hike. We were going to have our third night’s dinner overlooking the Upper Falls, but realized this is the most popular part of the park, and since a priority was to avoid possible exposure to lingering COVID germs, we decided to return to Wolf Creek which we again had all to ourselves.

Wolf Creek, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Each evening we returned to the campsite and David and Laini made a fire (s’mores for dessert!). The peace of this place, with tall trees opening to a blanket of stars, and fireflies darting about as if they were Superflies! or shooting stars, was perfect and priceless.

Highbanks Campground, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Letchworth, which was voted USA Today’s Reader Choice for Best State Park in the nation in 2015, is well maintained, especially during this heightened COVID-19 health emergency. The campground restroom facility was very clean, and all the restrooms (they indicate which are open), require masks and social distancing.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Our plan for this trip was to be completely self-sufficient so we wouldn’t have to worry about getting water or food, not knowing if places would be open to buy supplies and wanting to cut down our interactions as much as possible. We took enough supplies for our three days, though we did discover that by the time of our trip, this region of New York had achieved Phase 4 reopening, so places were open though with significant limitations, including the Highbanks Camp Stores. (Concessions also were at the Dam Overlook Cafe and Highbanks Pool Snack Bar on the North end; Letchworth Gift shop, Lower Falls, upper Falls Snack Bar.)

(Indeed, for the foreseeable future, travel will involve more planning and forethought, checking ahead what will be open and under what conditions; as a general rule, some places are requiring advance reservations or timed-ticketing.)

Mount Morris Dam, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com
 

The Highbanks campground is wonderful – six miles from the entrance, and several more miles to get to the actual camping loops for tents and RVs. There are also cabins. Several areas accommodate pets.

There are also a few cottages and lodges available within the park. For a family vacation rental experience, the Maplewood Lodge, located at the entrance to the Highbanks Camping Area, sleeps up to eight and has a furnished kitchen, living room with working fireplace, TV and DVD/BluRay player and formal dining room.

Camping was one of the attractions for us to come to Letchworth at this time (so many are choosing camping and RVing and even AirBnBs over commercial hotels), but the park also offers the charming Glen Iris Inn, scenically set right above the Middle Falls.

Glen Iris Inn, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

An inn since 1914, the historic Glen Iris Inn was formerly the country estate of William Pryor Letchworth. Completely restored, the inn offers accommodations and is open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner (banquet and catering services are available for special events). We see people dining on the lovely veranda, as well as in an enormous tent set up on the lawn to further accommodate those preferring to dine al fresco.

Addressing this historic moment, rooms are sanitized with an electrostatic cleaning machine and sealed for the guest’s arrival; capacity in Caroline’s Dining Room is limited to 50%. In addition to rooms in the Inn, the Glen Iris also offers some cottages (585-493-2622, glenirisinn.com).

Just across from the inn is the small stone William Pryor Letchworth Museum which tells the fascinating story of Letchworth Park, paying tribute to William P. Letchworth who preserved the land and its heritage by donating it to the state. The museum tells the history of the Genesee Valley, the canal, and of the Seneca who lived on these lands. Letchworth’s personal collection of artifacts from local Native American tribes is on view.

The museum also relates the compelling story of Mary Jemison, “The White Woman of the Genesee,”  born on a ship from Europe in 1743 and kidnapped from her home in Pennsylvania in 1758 by Shawnee, then sold to the Seneca who adopted her into the tribe, becoming Dehgewanus. (Trail #2 is named the Mary Jemison Trail, the creek is named De-ge-wa-nus Creek and there is a statue of her, erected by Letchworth not long after her remains were brought back from a reservation and reburied on his estate, that Letchworth dedicated to her memory in 1910; read her remarkable story: http://www.letchworthparkhistory.com/jem.html)

We didn’t have the opportunity to visit the museum during our visit, but is one of the top items on our list for our return.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

We also did not get a chance to explore the Humphrey Nature Center which in normal times, offers year-round environmental education programming and interactive exhibits highlighting the geology, wildlife, and ecology of the park.

Highbanks Trail, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Letchworth State Park offers many recreational facilities and activities that were just beginning to reopen at the time of our visit – including nature, history and performing arts programs, guided walks, tours, a summer lecture series. The enormous Highbanks Recreation area has a pool. And since our visit, the park opened a new $2 million outdoor Lower Falls Recreation Center offering table games, badminton and pickle ball courts, bocce and shuffleboard, as well as a fitness loop.

Highbanks Trail, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

The project also involved restoration of a historic bathhouse that is used as the base for the whitewater rafting concessionaire, Adventure Calls Outfitters (https://adventure-calls.com/). Letchworth also offers  kayaking, there is even hot air ballooning (https://balloonsoverletchworth.com/). 

A half-dozen trails allow biking (I wouldn’t recommend biking on the main Park Road), and there is horseback riding as well.

Middle Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Letchworth State Park is open year-round – the fall colors look spectacular, as do the winter scenes when there is cross-country skiing on most of the trails, snowmobiling on four trails, and snow tubing. Winterized cabins are available.

To book a spot in the state campground, go to https://newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com/.

Letchworth State Park, Castile, NY 14427 (there are several entrances, but Mt. Morris Entrance is closest to the highway; check out the wonderful antique shops in Mount Morris); 585-493-3600, letchworthpark.com.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails and boat launches, which were visited by a record 77 million people in 2019. A recent university study found that spending by State Parks and its visitors supports $5 billion in output and sales, 54,000 private-sector jobs and more than $2.8 billion in additional state GDP. For more information on these sites, call 518-474-0456 or visit parks.ny.gov.

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© 2020 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