Category Archives: Outdoors Adventures

Bike Tour Operators Respond to Booming Demand With Itineraries Near & Far

E-biking through Albania with Jim Johnson of Biketours.com. Responding to a surge in demand for cycling trips, bike tour operators are offering itineraries as near as the Hudson Valley and as far as Japan and as novel as Norway and Albania © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bike tour operators, many still with marvelous fall 2021 itineraries available, are gearing up for 2022, many offering next year’s tours at this year’s prices for those who book early (most have liberal cancellation or change policies).

Responding to a boom in demand for biking, they are back to offering itineraries to international destinations that are classic favorites as well as newly emerging, off-the-beaten track places, as well as coming up with new domestic trips.

Biking has been extremely popular – ideal for enabling people to explore uncrowded destinations while being outside and sufficiently distant, while the wide availability of e-bikes have expanded the boundaries of where cyclists can venture.

Bike tours have been my favorite form of travel – you get to see things at just the right pace to really experience and enjoy, but still cover enough ground to be constantly delighted.

The best bike tours are designed to bring you to the most scenic and interesting places and attractions, provide accommodations in quaint local inns or even incorporate boat or barge.

There is a lot that the tour companies do, beginning with designing itineraries that maximize gorgeous scenery, immersion in local culture, and give you a great ride. They also shuttle bikes to the start and end of a daily ride if you aren’t riding point to point; shuttle luggage inn-to-inn (unless you are on a boat or barge tour, the added beauty of a boat or barge tour is that you don’t have to pack and unpack); booking charming accommodations and dining; and often arrange sightseeing as well as dining experiences. They also can change the itinerary on the spot should circumstances warrant and provide assistance if there is any difficulty along the way.

Self-guided trips also provide a lot of support beginning with an intensive orientation by a guide who provides detailed maps of the route (if not online GPS navigation) and vouchers to the pre-booked accommodations, shuttle luggage from one inn to the next, makes sure the bike properly fits and provide links to service if necessary.

Jim Johnson, Biketours.com founder and company president, preaches the benefits of bike tourism as one of the best ways to explore and become immersed in a destination, heritage and local cultures, a low-carbon, ecologically-friendly way to travel, and especially now, with more interest in being away from crowds.

“By creating a world almost devoid of tourism, the pandemic has provided us with a unique opportunity–a blank slate, in effect–to define what tourism will look like in the future. Bicycle travel provides a superb model for more responsible tourism, for better, more authentic experiences, and for more comfortable traveling,” Johnson writes on his Tailwind blog.

Biketours.com’s Venice-Trieste-Istria self-guided biketour brings us to colorful Caorle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

BikeTours.com has a fabulous catalog of European destinations, from Albania to Bosnia and Herzegovina, to Estonia and Montengro, Romania and Slovenia.

Johnson offers this list of eight lesser-traveled European bike tour destinations deserving a visit: Bulgaria; Transylvania; Slovenia; Connemara Ireland; Apulia, Italy; Umbria, Italy; the Balkans.

I’ve traveled with BikeTours through Albania (by e-bike), on an incredible bike and boat tour through the Greek Islands, and guided tour of Slovenia, and self-guided trips on Danube Bike Trail and Venice to Croatia. The company is a broker for superb in-destination bike tour operators that provide excellent service, bikes, delightful accommodations, and offers excellent value.

I’m next eyeing one of Biketours.com’s Amsterdam-Bruges by bike and boat.

You can join Johnson on his Founder’s Tour, November 6-13, 2021, for Bike the South’s final Athens to Savannah tour of the 2021 season.

“I founded Bike the South during the pandemic, and I hope some of my BikeTours.com friends who have delayed overseas travel will join me for this last-minute domestic opportunity.”

The cost per person, double occupancy, $2,879, includes a donation to the Georgia Hi-Lo Trail, a 250-mile paved path under development from Athens to Savannah. This tour also helps create awareness about the project and demonstrate the potential economic impact of the trail and sustainable tourism on rural Georgia. (Contact jim@bike-the-south.com, www.bike-the-south.com/tours/athens-to-savannah). 

Biketours.com, Chattanooga, TN, 877-462-2423, info@biketours.com, biketours.com.

Discovery Bicycle Tours’ Coast of Maine cyclists enjoy a classic view at Thurston’s Lobster Pound © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can lock in your Discovery Bicycle 2022 biking adventure and your preferred dates for international tours, including the Moselle River Bike & Barge, by booking by November 1.

The 8-day Moselle River Bike & Barge tour, August 13-20, 2022, is maxed out at 24 passengers on the Iris. Just as on other Discovery Bike barge tours, there are two guides and a support van that accompany the riders; breakfasts and most dinners are on board. Cabins have two beds and a shower ($3695).

International travel will likely be extra popular in 2022 so it is recommended to book early.

Here are other international offerings from Discovery Bicycle:

In Europe tours are scheduled in ScotlandEnglandIreland or Denmark; in Italy,  three itineraries to choose from:  TuscanyPuglia and Dolomites to Venice; in Iberia, cycle Spain’s gorgeous Catalonia or take a voyage on the ancient paths of El Camino de Santiago; or visit Portugal and taste the treasures of the sea.

Other international cycling trips are available in ChileNew Zealand and Vietnam. Closer to home, is Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

Discovery Bicycle Tours offers what may be the first to design an itinerary on New York State’s new Empire State Trail, from the tip of Manhattan to Albany (the trail continues north to the Canadian border, and connects with the 353-mile east-west Erie Canalway).

In addition, Discovery has domestic bike tours to Coastal Maine (which we enjoyed this summer); Cape Cod; Idaho; Mickelson Trail & Black Hills, South Dakota; Tucson & Saguaro National Park; Lake Champlain Islands; Crater Lake & Scenic Bikeways; Texas Hill Country; Florida Keys, Florida Gulf Beaches; California’s Death Valley; Taste of Southern California; and Vineyards , Canyons and Charming Inns of California.

Discovery Bicycle Tours, 2520 W. Woodstock Rd., Woodstock, VT 05091, 800-257-2226, info@discoverybicycletours.com, www.discoverybicycletours.com.

Crazy Horse Memorial is visited on bike tours along the Mickelson Trail, South Dakota, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bicycle Adventures is giving a $300 discount on 2022 bookings made by October 31. (No code is needed when booking online, your discount will be applied automatically to your balance payment.)

Bicycle Adventures has itineraries on some of the most wonderful rail trails, like the Mickelson in South Dakota (6 days, $2948) and Trail of the Coeur D’Alenes in Northern Idaho (5 days, $2898), which are ideal for beginners, and Washington’s Olympic National Park & Discovery Trail (6-days, $3398).

Its selection of road cycling itineraries include California Redwoods (6 days, $3698) and Montana’s Lewis & Clark Country (6 days, $3098), a new tour through the Valley of Fire & Death Valley in Nevada (6 days, $3148).

There are also international offerings including a new Ireland ‘s Wild Atlantic Way (7 days, $4373) and a new France Bike and Barge from Strasbourg to Lagarde in Alsace (7 days, $5123); other itineraries are available to Spain’s  Medio Camino, Scotland’s Isle of Arran, Chile’s Lakes and Volcanoes, Mexico’s Yucatan, and for advanced riders, a bike, hike, paddle and sail through the Sognefjord, Norway’s longest, deepest fjord (8 days, $5180).

Bicycle Adventures, Seattle, WA, 800-443-6060, bicycleadventures.com.

Wilderness Voyageurs offers supported bike tours on the Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wilderness Voyageurs has a marvelous selection of bike tours oriented around rail trails including the New York’s Erie Canalway, Florida’s Sun Coast, Idaho’s Hiawatha Trail, Pennsylvania’s Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath; Wisconsin’s  Elroy-Sparta Trail, Missouri’s Katy Trail, South Dakota’s Mickelson Trail & Badlands (which I enjoyed). Explore Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon cycling the Pine Creek rail trail, starting and ending in Black Lick that also features Bald Eagle State Park and Ghost Town trail (3 days, $975).

Wilderness Voyageurs offers a broad selection of road bike trips. Among the intriguing offerings is a “Kentucky Bike & Bourbon” tour that explores the state’s horse farms and whiskey-making (four days, $2100), plus trips through Pennsylvania including Amish Country,  Gettysburg and the Civil War; in Virginia, Colonial Williamsburg Shenandoah and Skyline Drive; Washington’s San Juan Islands, and Texas Big Bend. The operator also has expanded its super-popular New York Finger Lakes bike tour to six-days ($2150).

Another featured bike tour is Cuba Clasico through central Cuba that takes you off the beaten path and Cuba’s tourist track. Biking from Havana, Santa Clara, Trinidad and Sancti Spiritus, Cienfuegos, it’s a tour through Cuba’s heritage and homeland from the best seat in the house—a bicycle seat (8 days, $3990).

Wilderness Voyageurs, 103 Garrett St., Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania 15470, 800-272-4141 , https://wilderness-voyageurs.com/

Biking in Peru with Butterfield & Robinson

For 2022, Butterfield & Robinson is launching the collection of new trips that were supposed to be launched in 2020, but kept back because of the coronavirus pandemic. New scheduled trips for 2022 have been refined further to accommodate local regulations and are limited to 16 people – you can join other travelers on a scheduled departure or take over a trip and turn it private with your family and friends.

Kyushu Biking: In true Japanese style, each intricate detail of this trip was crafted with intention. Pedal into lush subtropical landscapes with green tea fields and smoking volcanoes on the horizon. Connect with the fascinating local culture from samurai practice to mythological stories and “power spots.” Talented chefs, brewers and artisans  bring you closer to deep cultural roots, while each stay shows you a new way to relax and rejuvenate.

Alsace E-biking: Wind passed stretches of tidy vineyards, take the time to explore colorful towns and sample regional wines along the way. Alsace is a mix of France and Germany, blending cultures, flavors which make for a unique and hyper-local experience.

Butterfield & Robinson (which offers hiking and walking tours as well), has bike tours in Africa (for example, eight-days Morocco e-biking and Namibia Bespoke), Asia, Europe (like a 7-day Bulgaria biking and 6-day Cotswold-Bath biking), Latin America (like 7-day Chile Wine country and a Costa Rica Bespoke), and North America (for example, Quebec Bespoke). There is a selection of self-guided trips, as well as guided.

Butterfield & Robinson, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 866-551-9090, www.butterfield.com, info@butterfield.com

Biking over the Rosendale Trestle on the Wallkill Rail Trail, Hudson Valley, New York, part of the 750-mile long Empire State Trail Network © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 2022, Duvine Cycling & Adventure Co. is traveling to England for the first time, hitting the rolling hills for a new Cotswolds Bike Tour (5 days, $4895).

The company has an extensive catalog of “classic” bike tours all over the world including the United States, like a new four-day Hudson Valley Bike Tour ($3695); a new six-day Maine tour to Camden and Penobscot Bay (3995); a new Santa Fe and Taos bike tour (5 days, $3595), a four-day Shenandoah Valley ($3595) and a four-day Blackberry Farm Bike tour in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains ($6495)

Also new is a Sardinia Yacht & Bike Tour in Italy (7 days, $7695) and new private tours including an 8-day Maui Villa bike tour (8 days, $6995); a 7-day Tuscany Villa Bike Tour (7 days, $5995) and a 7-day Mallorca Villa Bike tour.

Duvine, Somerville, MA, 617 776 4441, 888 396 5383, info@duvine.com, duvine.com.

Trek Travel is celebrating 20 years of cycling vacations in 2022 by inviting people to cycle through a bucket-list destination and the company sure offers many of them spanning the globe.

Trek Travel is celebrating 20 years of cycling vacations in 2022 by inviting people to cycle through a bucket-list destination and the company sure offers many of them spanning the globe – in Europe like a new self-guided Ireland trip (6 days, $2599); a new self-guided Scotland tour (6 days, $2299); a new self-guided Portugal tour through Alentejo region (5 days, $2199). For avid riders, a new “Classic Climbs-Slovenian Alps Tour” (6 days 3899), and a 6-day tour through the Greek islands of Crete and Santorini ($5499); South America (Chile, 7 days, $5699); Asia (Japan Bike Tour, 7 days, $8799) and North America (South Dakota Glamping, 5 days, $3299).

What could be more “bucket list” than “Classic Climbs: The Tour Bike Vacation” which has you ride the most famous climbs of the Tour de France on a nine-day cycling tour of the Alps and Pyrenees. You ride the legendary cols of Aubisque, Galibier and the mythic Ventoux, along with the test of all tests: the grueling ascent up Alpe d’Huez, following in the tracks of pro riders.

Trek Travel, 613 Williamson St., Madison,WI, 866-719-2427, https://trektravel.com/

Biketours.com’s bike/boat trip through Greek Isles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

BSpoke Tours curates cycling itineraries with an eye toward eco-friendly cycling holidays to European destinations: For history and wine lovers, Bordeaux; for cyclists looking for an adventure in an authentic corner of Spain, Asturias where one third of the region is environmentally protected with nature reserves and protected landscapes.

Among its new trips is a curated tour by e-bike in Sussex and the Cotswolds, starting in the north at Moreton-in-Marsh and an opportunity to visit Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, continuing down the picture-perfect countryside to the south, stopping in beautiful towns and villages, including Bourton-on-the-Water, Upper & Lower Slaughter, Tetbury, Cirencester and Bibury and ending in the Roman spa town of Bath.

Another new UK program explores Scotland’s most iconic castles and coastlines by road bike.

BSpoke Tours also offers itineraries throughout Europe –including e-bike and boat-and-bike programs, food-and-wine, eco-friendly, luxury, self-guided, group. New offerings include the island of Sardinia, and in Puglia in Italy; and Andalusia and Camino di Santiago in Spain.

BspokeTours is touting its flexible booking policy because of uncertainty about travel plans. Deposits have been removed and change fees eliminated so you can change your date and destination for no cost up to 12 weeks before departure (monies paid are secured through ABTA and ATOL).

BSpoke Tours, info@bspoketours.com, bsoketours.com (has a live chat option).

Discover France is featuring biking trips through the Loire Valley, where there is a 800 km cycle route. A large stretch of the Loire is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; in parts it’s also known as France’s Valley of the Kings and as The Garden of France. All along The Loire Valley, you stick closely to France’s last great wild river, with its sandy banks and islands, its vine-covered slopes, its typical towns and villages, its fine food and its unique atmosphere. The route ends at the Loire’s Atlantic estuary.

A five-day/six-night “Loire Valley Secret Castles” bike tour starts in Joué-les-Tours and takes you to Azay-le-Rideau, Langeais, the Chateau de Villandry and Ussé, and the famous Fontevraud Abbey. You cycle through some important wine regions such as Chinon and Saumur for some wine tasting. This is a self-guided trip (start any day), priced from 760E.

Among the new itineraries: self-guided French Riviera-South of France by the Coast, from Nice to St. Tropez (6 days, 1280E); and self-guided Veloscenie From Nogent le Rotrou to Mont Saint Michel (7 days, 1570E).

Also: an 8-day Bordeaux Vineyards by Bike tour travels Saint-Emilion to Entre-Deux-Mers (1550E); a 7-dayAlsace by the Wine Route (1350E). There are also itineraries through Champagne and Burgundy.

Discover France, 427 Rue Hélène Boucher, Mauguio 34130, France, 800-929-0152, discoverfrance.com.

Biking in Mekong with Grasshopper Adventures

Other prominent bike tour companies include Backroads Bicycle (backroads.com), Pure Adventures (pure-adventures.com), Escape Adventures (escapeadventures.com), Freewheel Holidays (ww.freewheelholidays.com, www.freewheelholidays.co.uk) Grasshopper Adventures (grasshopperadventuers.com), Ride & Seek (www.rideandseek.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

Our Favorite Hiking & Camping Gear for 2 Months On the Road in our Converted Subaru

Wild camping in our REI Half Dome 3 Plus tent by Little Payette Lake, ID © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Laini Miranda & Dave E. Leiberman, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We just returned home from two months living out of our converted Subaru while we traveled 8,300 miles around the country. We outfitted our Subaru Forester with a platform bed and two drawers underneath to maximize storage, which we designed and built ourselves, and brought along enough creature comforts so that we didn’t miss a thing while we were on the road or wild camping.

Our wild camp spot outside of Silverton, CO, just before the rainstorms © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here’s more of our round-up of our favorite hiking and camping gear (See also: Car Camping in Comfort: How We Turned our Subaru into Our Home On the Road):

WEARABLES

Smith’s Chromapop Lowdown Slim 2 are the perfect polarized sunglasses to enrich every day of our 7 weeks on the road. There’s not a day we spend without these glasses © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Smith Chromapop Sunglasses – $179.99

These sunglasses are probably the most important gear we own and the most noticeable improvement to this trip versus our previous desert adventures. Dave has enjoyed Warby Parkers in the past and both of us are usually very happy with our standard >$20 sunglasses. These Smith glasses, however, are game changers. I have the rose gold lenses, Dave the green/grey, and we both love how they don’t change the color of the world outside but just enhance it. The polarization is different from any other “polarized” glasses we’ve tried.

The true otherworldly colors at the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park come through with our Smith Chromapop Sunglasses © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Outside almost all day everyday on this trip, we notice that the way the Smith Chromapop Sunglasses filter intense sun while balancing shadows and contrast throughout the day is nothing short of magic. They are also light enough that you don’t notice you’re wearing them all day. Dave even wore them inside a few times without realizing they were still on.

Laini initially bought these Keen Targhees for a 6-day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu and has sworn by them for the past 11 years © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Keen Targhee – $130-150

Merrell Moab Ventilator – $100

Good hiking shoes are everything. Laini initially bought these Keen Targhees for a 6-day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu and has sworn by them for the past 11 years. The soles have just finally started to come loose a bit, but it wasn’t anything that some Shoe Goo (another recommendation) couldn’t fix. Dave has also owned his Merrels for many years and had a similar issue with his sole towards the end of our road trip. Both shoes provide so much comfort and support that we barely even notice our feet on 7+ mile hikes. We especially love these shoes for their Vibram soles that seem to let us scale pretty vertical slickrock boulders with zero slippage. They are also both waterproof, making them perfect for creek hikes (for deeper or more frequent waters we’d recommend an actual water shoe like Keen’s Newport style).

Dave has been hiking in his Merrels for years and the shoes provide so much comfort and support that we barely even notice our feet on 7+ mile hikes © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Darn Tough No show Lightweight Hiking Sock – $17

We bring multiple pairs of socks with us, but find ourselves washing these out overnight to reuse them since they’re the most comfortable, lightest weight socks we’ve tried. The merino wool lets you wear them for two or three days straight before you even need to wash them (we try to stick to no more than two). These work great for our low hiking shoes, but they also make them in mid-calf for boot styles.

HYDRATION

Using our Hydrapak 4L Seeker to fill up water bottles on our hike through the Dry Fork Slot Canyons of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hydrapak 4L Seeker – $28

This collapsible water bottle/bag is indispensable for us on our long hiking days. We fill up with our water pump, throw it in a backpack on our way out, and roll it up when we’re finished with it. The super durable handle is also useful for clipping to a backpack and the large threaded mouth is both pleasant to drink out of and compatible with most 42mm threaded filters. The BPA & PVC-free material can also be frozen or filled with hot water. Generally this 4L container plus two water bottles hydrates both of us for 6-7 mile hikes. On longer hikes we bring a water cube and stash it after a mile or so. They also sell a handy Plug-N-Play Cap Kit that can turn your Seeker into a solar shower or camp tap.

Made from 50% recycled plastic, the Recon Hydrapak water bottle is super lightweight, has a great drinking spout, and doesn’t spill when closed tightly, great for this hike at Craters of the Moon National Monument © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Recon Hydrapak Water Bottle – $17

Made from 50% recycled plastic, this water bottle is super lightweight, has a great drinking spout, and doesn’t spill when closed tightly. It touts a “patented twist cap that provides an experience like drinking out of a glass”, and as someone who hates drinking out of Nalgenes, I can attest to that branding. It’s so lightweight and comfortable to carry with its durable and flexible handle, I usually prefer to hold it while hiking instead of clipping to my backpack.

Hiking with the Recon Hydrapak water bottle in hand © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

FANS

Karacel Battery Operated Rechargeable Fan – $16.99

Rechargeable Tent Fan with Light – $29.99

These fans are indispensable in desert camping. We did a ton of research to find ones that were rechargeable, kept their charge throughout the night, and didn’t make too much noise. We prefer the convenient hook and fan/light combo of the $29.99 model and find that this is all we need for most nights in the tent, but the Karacel is a great second fan for extra hot nights in the tent or car.

COOKING ESSENTIALS

The Classic Coleman 2-Burner Stove with our Stanley Boil & Brew bring comforts of home to our wild camping at Badlands National Park © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Stanley Boil + Brew French Press – $25

Does just what the name suggests and makes a delicious cup of coffee. We also love that it’s the same height as a standard 16oz Propane tank and our mess kit so all three fit perfectly side by side in the front compartment of our car kitchen drawer.

Overmont Lightweight Mess Kit – $28.99

This may not be the best mess kit out there, but for the price you really can’t beat it. We’ve used this for the past 3 years and love it. The food-grade anodized aluminum is super lightweight, compact, and everything nestles inside each other to fit in one small carrying case. On our road trip we only take with us the two pots, sponge, and spatula, and keep our mugs inside the pots. 

2-piece Stainless Steel Travel Mugs – $17.99

Again, there are certainly better versions out there, but we love how lightweight and inexpensive these mugs are. They fit perfectly in the pot of our mess kit and can be clipped to our backpack if we’re on the move.

Coleman Classic 2-Burner Stove – $43.99

It’s a classic for a reason. 

PERSONAL CARE 

Advanced Elements Solar Shower is also handy for washing our feet after a trip to Third Beach in Olympic National Park © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

5 Gallon Solar Shower – $34.99

We shopped around a bit, but I ended up going with Wirecutter’s pick for best solar shower. With the hooks on each edge of the bag and some reusable zip ties, we strap this to our roof rack clear-side-up and by the time we reach our campsite the water is as hot as our home shower (sometimes after extra long summer drives we actually need to leave it in the shade for a bit to cool it off before using––the thermometer on the bag is really helpful for this scenario). The durable strap is made to hang from a tree, but we use it just as much from the roof of our car. In the backcountry of the desert when no one else is around for miles you don’t even need to worry about a privacy tent. Pull the nozzle down from the hose to open the valve, push it back up to close. Two of us can shower (one of us with long knotty hair), and we still have water left in the bag.

Triptips Portable Toilet – $38.99

You might wonder where one goes to the bathroom when backcountry camping. If you must know, this portable toilet is actually excellent. The accordion wall design collapses to a mere 2 inches and fits in its own carrying bag when traveling. When we set up camp, we pop in the bottom circle which makes the accordion take its cylindrical form, place the seat over the top, and it can apparently hold up to 330 lbs. The seat is surprisingly comfortable for being so small, and it closes so tightly that you really can’t smell a thing when it’s latched. We use these compostable toilet bags (only for solid waste) and tie them to the roof rack until we get to a dump station. TMI? Sorry.

Our makeshift powder room with “HI NINGER collapsible sink by Little Payette Lake, ID (the sink collapses to a cutting board for food prep) © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

MISCELLANEOUS

Bamboo Charcoal Air Purifying Bags/Shoe Deodorizers – $14.79/12-pack

This is perhaps the best $15 we spent in our car living. We stick one of these in each shoe when we take it off and don’t even notice we have several pairs of sweaty sneakers and sandals in our car. These things may actually be magic.

Thermarest Compressible Travel Pillow – $25.99 (bought for $14.99 at Mountain Steals)

Ok, so our secret to comfy camping is that we bring our big pillows from home because we generally prioritize our sleep, but a last minute thought to throw one of these in the car was great for our long driving days. We continue to keep this in the car since it compresses into such a compact log, and even becomes a nice lumbar support. In the future we may just bring two of these on longer road trips since they are actually quite comfortable––just make sure you give it enough time for the shredded foam filling to fully expand. The attached cover is so soft you don’t even need an extra pillow case.

The soles of our hiking boots have just finally started to come loose a bit after many years of wear, but it wasn’t anything that some Shoe Goo couldn’t fix © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Shoe Goo – $3.98

This 1oz tube is a lifesaver for when you need a quick shoe repair on-the-go. Parts of both of our soles came loose at certain points with all the hiking we do between slickrock and loose dirt. We use this goo at night, hold it in place with some masking tape (painter’s tape, really), and the shoe is good to go the next morning.

Reusable Zip Ties, 100 pack – $13.99

We use these for so many things while camping we can’t leave them off the list. The 10” ties hold up to 50 lbs, and are sturdy enough to secure our solar panels and solar shower to our roof rack even while driving on major highways. 

See also: Car Camping in Comfort: How We Turned our Subaru into Our Home On the Road

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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 Watkins Glen State Park is Spellbinding

By Karen Rubin, David Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rainbow Falls, one of the highlights of the Glen Creek Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walking the Gorge Trail in Watkins Glen State Park in New York’s Finger Lakes is, in a word, spellbinding.

The centerpiece of the 778-acre Watkins Glen State Park is a 400-foot deep, narrow gorge cut by the Glen Creek that was left “hanging” when glaciers of the last continental glaciation, some 12,000 years ago, deepened the Seneca valley, creating rapids and waterfalls through layers of hard rock. The textures and shapes of the soft shales, sandstone and limestone – which erode at different rates – are gorgeous.

If you have ever visited a slot canyon, and marveled at the smooth, twisted, perfectly contoured curves, walk the Glen Creek Gorge Trail, where you can watch Mother Nature working her magic.

Rainbow Falls, one of the highlights of the Glen Creek Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We don’t waste time after arriving at the Six Nations Campground in the park in the afternoon, in order to take advantage of the beautiful sunlight. So we drop out things and rush down to the Gorge Trail for a taste of what we will see more completely the next day.

In the course of a 1.5 mile stone trail, with 800 steps and beautiful stone bridges you see 19 incredible waterfalls.

Cascading falls on the Glen Creek Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The waterfalls range from those that flow from dramatic heights of 200 foot-high cliffs, to those that cascade; you see waterfalls coming in together from different directions, cutting through the sedimentary rock of shale, sandstone and limestone, making exquisite, remarkably perfect shapes and cuts that are astonishingly precise and straight or curved, and cascades of falls that twist.

Rainbow Falls, one of the highlights of the Glen Creek Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In this “hanging valley,” we also see “hanging gardens” – the tender mosses, ferns, mosslike plants (liverworts) that drape over the rocks and down the rock walls, the delicate plants that stubbornly grow, albeit slowly in crevasses in the rock walls. They depend on continuous moisture trickling down, and you can see differences in ecosystems based on the amount of sun, shade and moisture that a section of the rock wall gets. (Visitors are told not to pick anything.)

A place of perfect peace, Watkins Glen State Park, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You are enveloped by a feeling of perfect peace – the sound of the flowing water, the cool of the green moss and moist rock, the fresh smell, the late afternoon light that turns the tops of the trees into shades of yellow and gold. The gorge is fairly narrow, so you feel cocooned in this primal, Jurassic Park-like setting.

Looking down into where the water flattens out at one point into soil what appeared to be a giant fossil skeleton, exposed in the low water. It is exciting to imagine.

Could this be a titanoboa fossil, only just exposed in the Glen Creek? © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk back to Mile Point Bridge where we follow the trail back into the Six Nations Campground, after this brief survey mission.

Back at our campsite, we set up our tents and go downtown to where John, who checked us into the campground, had recommended as the best place in Watkins Glen for sunset: the marina on the southern tip of Seneca Lake. There is a rock wall that is very popular for people to walk out to watch. We opt to go to the Village Marina for dinner where we can dine outside and take in the sunset.

Blazing sunset from the Village Marina in Watkins Glen © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The colors that blaze through the sky, reflect back in the water, after the sun went behind the hills, are spectacular.

The next day, we stroll down from our campsite to the Gorge Trail.

We enter the Gorge Trail at Mile Point Bridge, giving us our first stunning view. We walk the half-mile to the end, at Jacob’s Ladder (a set of 180 stairs that goes to the Upper Entrance), and then return, choosing to go back along the Gorge Trail rather than connect to the Indian Trail that goes along the rim for views down into the Gorge. Going back this way on the Gorge Trail we go down in elevation towards the Main Entrance in the village (many people who don’t want to do the 1.5 mile trail both ways start park up here, hike down, and take a shuttle bus back, $5).

Glen Creek Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, is spellbinding © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just beyond the Mile Point Bridge is Frowning Cliff, a gorgeous waterfall, then the climatic scene, Rainbow Falls (most dramatic from the other direction on the way back; you walk behind the falls along the trail), aptly named because, on some afternoons, the sunlight comes at just the right angle to create rainbows.

Rainbow Falls, one of the highlights of the Glen Creek Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On to the Central Cascade (plunging more than 60 feet, this is the highest waterfall in the Gorge), Glen Cathedral (the horizontal layers of shale were formed 380 million years ago; ripples in the rock were created by wave action at the bottom of an ancient sea floor that eventually turned to stone), then a steeper descent, through the Spiral Tunnel (hand cut in 1927) to the Cavern Cascade, where you again walk behind the waterfall) and across Sentry Bridge (look for a round flume hole in the rock where, in the 1800s, water was once diverted to power a mill where the visitor center now stands) to the new Visitor Center and main entrance on Franklin Street in Watkins Glen.

Cascading falls on the Glen Creek Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Walk through the Spiral Tunnel (hand cut in 1927) to the Cavern Cascade, where you walk behind the waterfall, Watkins Glen State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Along the way, we meet up with a park ranger who we tell about seeing what appeared to be a giant fossil. He tells us that it was exposed only two days before and might well be a titanoboa – a giant sea snake that could be as big as 45 feet long. This exciting news passes from one to another as people come to that spot to view it. Another park ranger tells us that a naturalist is coming to investigate.

For awhile, visitors to Watkins Glen State Park that morning had an extra thrill beyond the breathtaking scenery: the prospect of seeing a newly discovered fossil of a prehistoric sea snake, Monster in the Glen.

A place of perfect peace, Watkins Glen State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We finish walking the trail, have a delightful lunch at the Harbor Hotel on the lake. By now it is the afternoon and markedly less crowded (everyone seems to come out early for the walk) as we walk back on the Gorge Trail.

By the time we get back to where the “titanoboa fossil” would have been, we see the naturalist has etched in the soil, “Not a Fossil,” and smudged the image completely away, having revealed the fossil to be a hoax (people had remarked on what they thought were footprints leading to it).

Not a fossil! But now the mystery remains: who created it and how? © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So, if we didn’t witness a major fossil discovery, we were witness to the hoax. ow the mystery is: Who created the hoax? How? Anyway, it got everyone buzzing that day.

Also, on my walk I saw in black rock what looked like an ammonite. That too was smudged away on our return.

Glen Creek Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, is spellbinding © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This stunning gorge has been visited by tourists since 1863 and was privately operated as a tourist resort ($1 admission per person, equivalent to $34 today) until New York State acquired the property, in 1906 for a state park. (It is named for Samuel Watkins; “glen” comes from a Greek word meaning “small, narrow, secluded valley”.). After the 1935 flood destroyed the trail, it was rebuilt with a stunning series of stone walks, staircases (there are 800 steps altogether), bridges and tunnels cut through the rock, by Franklin D Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps between 1935-1940. (You can do the trail one way and take a shuttle bus, $5, back).

The stunning rock formations, created by the rushing water, on the Glen Creek Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Capping this experience is the beautiful Six Nations Campground – beautiful trees, excellent restroom facilities, and a glorious Olympic-sized pool. There are also a couple of pavilions that can be rented for groups and even the Iroquois Lodge, which is essentially a house that can be rented instead of a campsite (altogether, you can imagine a wedding here, with photos in front of waterfalls; there are also lovely accommodations in town including a luxury Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, right on Seneca Lake, where we enjoy lunch). Where we camp, we are just a short walk down to the Gorge Trail.

Our campsite at Six Nations Campground, Watkins Glen State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Six Nations Campground is named for the Haundenosaunee Confederation, more commonly known to us as Iroquois (Haundenosaunee means “They made the house”), a reminder of whose land this was before the European colonists came. The loops of the campground are named for the nations of the Confederacy: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the park brochure notes, is renowned for its organization and democratic system, one of the first of its kind (Ben Franklin is said to have drawn upon the Iroquois Confederation for our US Constitution; suffragist Melinda Gage drew upon the Oneida’s matriarchal structure, in which women could be chiefs, own property, have custody of their children in a divorce, to set out demands for women’s rights in 1848).In 1842, what remained of the First Nations were relegated to the Six Nations Indian Reserve. (More information is available at nearby Ganondaganb State Historic Site, 7000 County Rd. 41 (Houghton Hill Rd), Victor, NY 14564).

Walking the stone trail along the Glen Creek Gorge, Watkins Glen State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are seven moderate trails in Watkins Glen State Park ranging from 0.7 to 7.6 miles and from 479 to 1,171 feet above sea level, but we focus all our time on the Gorge Trail (1.5 miles), captivated by the views and the enchantment of the place. Other trails – the Indian Trail (2.4 miles) and the South Rim Trail (2.6 miles) provide views of the Gorge from above. You can connect from the Gorge Trail to Lovers Lane Loop which takes you to a Suspension Bridge for a view above the gorge. You can also do a Gorge Trail, Outer Rim and Finger Lakes Trail combination (7.6 miles, about 3 hours) (see alltrails.com for more detail). (The trail is closed in winter.)

Cavern Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s about 3:30 in the afternoon when we return to the campsite. We go to the gorgeous, Olympic-sized pool to refresh before returning to the campsite for an amazing steak dinner David and Laini prepared over the campfire they built for our second night camping.

The gorgeous Olympic-sized pool at Watkins Glen State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is no wonder that Watkins Glen State Park was awarded the third best among 6,000 state parks nationwide in 2015, and is consistently among the state’s top parks.

Watkins Glen State Park, 1009 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY 14891, 607-535-4511, https://parks.ny.gov/parks/watkinsglen/maps.aspx.

There is so much to do in Watkins Glen, in the heart of the Finger Lakes, you could easily make this your base for a week.

Auto enthusiasts know Watkins Glen for its famous NASCAR races. The pavement is dotted with names of winners throughout the years, the crosswalks painted like the race start/finish. Auto racing is still sacred here, with much of the quaint village (the downtown was a recipient of New York State’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative award) themed for autos.

Wine enthusiasts know Watkins Glen as the southerly point of Seneca Lake, from which you can drive up Winery Trails on both sides.

Nearby is the Corning Museum of Glass; about 1 ½ hours drive away is another jewel,  Letchworth State Park, “The Grand Canyon of the East,” where we camped and hiked last year; a half-hour away is Ithaca.

The Finger Lakes region has over 1,000 waterfalls and gorges, 650 miles of shoreline, more than 16,000 acres of National Forest, and over 2,000 miles of hiking and biking trails. There is plenty to explore indoors at museums, art galleries, historic sites, theaters, wineries, breweries.

With summer turning to fall foliage season (which is amazing here), plan early and secure tickets and lodging.  

Excellent planning aids are available from The Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance, 309 Lake Street Penn Yan, NY 14527, 315-536-7488, 800-530-7488, www.fingerlakes.org.

New York State Begins Weekly ILoveNY Fall Foliage Reports; New Interactive Map

The 2021 fall foliage season is underway in New York State. Fall is one of the most popular travel times in New York, attracting visitors from around the world to explore the state’s unique communities and support local businesses. To help travelers and foliage enthusiasts plan a fall getaway, I LOVE NY has begun issuing its weekly fall foliage reports and will now include a new enhanced interactive progression map (www.iloveny.com/foliage).    

The foliage report is compiled each week using the on-location field observations from I LOVE NY’s team of volunteer leaf peepers. More than 85 spotters extending across the state’s 11 vacation regions are tasked with keeping track of the color change in their area as leaves progress each week. Reports detail the predominant leaf colors, approximate percentage of change, and how much color change has progressed relative to peak conditions.  

View from Chimney Mountain, The Adirondacks. ILoveny.com/foliage report helps you monitor the progress of fall foliage throughout New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New this year, I LOVE NY is introducing an enhanced, interactive map that tracks weekly foliage change and progression across the state throughout the season. The map, located on the I LOVE NY foliage website, showcases great foliage viewing locations in each of the various regions throughout the state. Visitors can also use the map to see what the foliage is like during peak viewing in a given area, and learn about nearby, must-see attractions. 

Thanks in part to its size and location, New York State has one of the longest and most colorful foliage seasons in the country. On any weekend from late September through mid-November, part of the state is likely experiencing peak foliage.  

Travelers are also invited to share their photos of New York State’s amazing foliage on social media by using the #NYLovesFall hashtag. Photos submitted to this hashtag have a chance of being featured on the I LOVE NY fall foliage website and official I LOVE NY social media accounts reaching nearly two million followers. Reports and the new interactive map are updated Wednesdays throughout the season at www.iloveny.com/foliage.Reports are also available toll-free by dialing 800/CALL-NYS (800/225-5697) from anywhere in the U.S., its territories and Canada. For more information on how to volunteer for as an I LOVE NY leaf peeper, e-mail your name, address and phone number to foliage@esd.ny.gov.

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

Grand Teton National Park: Mother Nature in Her Purest Form

View to String Lake from the trail, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

If Yellowstone National Park makes you feel you have fallen into some surreal, other-worldly, “I can’t believe this is real” state, next-door neighbor Grand Teton National Park, barely an hour’s drive away, is Mother Nature in her purest, most pristine condition.

We leave West Jackson, going through Yellowstone Park. We realize we will miss Old Faithful by just a few minutes so go straight to West Thumb again (Eric had missed it the day before), wanting to be immersed, again, in its calming Zen – with the broad blue lake and intense thermal pools. The hour of the day changes the experience, but West Thumb is marvelous.

Then we are off to the Grand Tetons. Less than an hour’s drive away, Grand Teton National Park is a majorly different landscape and different experience from Yellowstone.

Leaving Yellowstone National Park from the South entrance, we drive into the Grand Teton National Park on the John D. Rockefeller Jr Memorial Parkway, encompassing 24,000 acres. Rockefeller bought up the land to preserve it and donated 32,000 acres to the federal government.

View from Signal Mountain, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here, there are sweeping vistas to snow-capped mountain peaks. Indeed, the 2.7 billion year old rocks in the core of the Teton Range are some of the oldest in North America, yet the mountains are mere youngsters in the planet’s geology. Ten million years ago, the movement on the Teton fault generated massive earthquakes, pushing up the mountains while the valley floor dropped, then erosion and glacial action sculpted the landscape and created habitats for plants and wildlife.

We see this on display when we stop at the overlook to Mount Moran, which, the notes say, “reflects all the geologic forces shaping the Teton Range. Formed of a massive block of metamorphic gneiss, cut by dikes of igneous granite and diabase, capped by sedimentary sandstone and flanked by glaciers, this formidable peak dominates the park’s northern skyline. The gneiss and granite are among the oldest rocks in North America, 2.7 and 2.5 billion years old. They form the core of the Teton Range. The vertical ‘Black Dike’ of 775 million year old diabase is about 150 feet wide and juts from the mountain face because the surrounding gneiss has eroded away.”

We pick up a picnic lunch at a well-stocked market at the Colter Bay Village and drive to the Chapel of the Sacred Heart for a scenic place for a picnic (swim, also), stopping along the way for some of the iconic views of the park, like Mount Moran.

Jenny Lake, nature’s playground, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We head next to Jenny Lake, one of the most visited places in Grand Teton National Park for good reason. Tucked away at the base of the Teton Range, the lake is a centerpiece of the park. From the east shore, you have stunning views of Teewinot Mountain, Mount St. John, and into Cascade Canyon. From the west shore, you can look back across the lake towards the valley of Jackson Hole. Here you find the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, housed in the historic Harrison Crandall Studio, dating from the 1920s.

Walking the Jenny Lake trail, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We opt for the most scenic hike, which proves to offer just the right amount of challenge, that takes us to the most impressive features – Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point (about 3 miles one way), with an option to either walk back, finish the loop (5 miles more), or take the shuttle boat (fee charged) from just below Inspiration Point back to the Jenny Lake Lodge.

Hiking the Jenny Lake trail, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hike is absolutely gorgeous and fun – Hidden Falls, cascading 100 feet, is stunning, and the extra hike a half-mile almost straight up to Inspiration Point gets interesting with a rocky, sheer cliff as a special finishing touch to make you feel you have really accomplished something.

Hidden Falls, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From here, you can connect with the Cascade Canyon trail, and we go in search of a spectacular view that is supposed to be just about the next bend, and the next bend, and the next.

Hiking up to Inspiration Point on the Jenny Lake trail, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cascade Canyon, a glacially carved u-shaped canyon, passes between Teewinot and Mount St. John to provide easy access into the Teton backcountry. This out-and-back trail is a popular option with visitors who want to get into the mountains without gaining a significant amount of elevation. While following Cascade Creek, the trail provides spectacular views of the surrounding peaks, including the Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot. This trail also provides an opportunity to spot wildlife like moose and bears (really recommended to have bear spray with you and we heard a harrowing story from a restaurant manager encountering a bear here), as well as some of our alpine species like pika. (We spot a marmot.)

Cascade trail, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The trail continues 4.4 miles back into the canyon before splitting but you can turn back, making the hike as long or as short as you like. (Cascade Canyon is accessible via the Jenny Lake Loop Trail, 14.6 miles roundtrip, or you can shorten the hike to 8.8 miles by taking the shuttle boat.)

Marmot pokes out on the Jenny Lake trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

David, Laini and Eric continue further on the Cascade Canyon trail while I return to Inspiration Point for our hike back down, deciding to take the shuttle boat back. (If you are planning on using the shuttle boat, check their hours and prices – we are told to be at the dock no later than 7 pm; tickets are purchased directly at the boat dock; you can also rent a kayak at the marina.) 

Hiking the Jenny Lake trail, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We finish our day in Jackson, an absolutely stunning town that makes a great effort (and success) to keep its Western charm.

Western charm in Jackson, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We manage to get a table on the outdoor patio at Roadhouse Brewing Co for dinner (sensational beer).

National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our second day in the Grand Tetons starts with a photo safari, as we hunt for iconic photos of the Grand Tetons. Indeed, the layout of the Grand Tetons – those vast vistas with the backdrop of snow-capped mountain peaks – makes this area especially popular with photographers. (Actually, Jackson Hole is a base for one of the most iconic wildlife photographers, Thomas D. Mangelsen, who has a gallery in Jackson, Images of Nature, as well as several other marvelous galleries; you can also visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art, 307-733-5771, www.wildlifeart.org.)

Church of the Transfiguration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So we set out to find the iconic places, pretty much following Route 89/191 before swinging back on the Teton Park Road. (Of course, the time to be here is sunrise when the colors are most dramatic, but we do the best we can with what we have.)

Moulton Barn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We head to the top photo site on everyone’s list, Mormon Row on Antelope Flats, and the most photographed barns in Wyoming, possibly the world (probably because it is billed as the “most photographed barn”): the Thomas Alma Moulton Barn with the pointed roof and John Moulton Barn with the rounded roof, in front of the towering Tetons. If you are really lucky, a bison or few may wander into view. The structures date back 1890s, built by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints homesteaders. The best time is at sunrise.

Schwabacher’s Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Next is Schwabacher’s Landing – absolutely so picturesque. Here I am lucky to have the river calm and reflecting the mountain range. We walk a short distance and find a lovely spot under a tree to have our picnic lunch. I spot a beaver dam which is largely responsible for setting the scene, by damming up this branch of the Snake River and creating the ponds that let us photograph the reflection of the Tetons when the water is calm.

Paying homage to the legendary landscape photographer Ansel Adams, recreating his iconic image of the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We continue on to the Snake River Overlook, a scene made iconic by Ansel Adams who was commissioned to photograph it for the National Park Service in 1941. His famous photograph showed the Snake River meandering through a pine forest, with the Tetons in the background, but in the more than 75 years since, pine trees have blocked a lot of the river bend so you can’t re-create the scene. Nonetheless, you feel you are channeling, or at least paying homage to Ansel Adams, when you shoot your own, using the filter to change to black-and-white for better effect.

Elk Ranch Flats: classic Wyoming image © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Right at the Elk Ranch Flats, we get that iconic Wyoming image of a herd of bison in front of the snow-capped mountains.

Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The famous Oxbow Bend provides another great reflection of the Grand Tetons and Mount Moran in Snake River. 

View from Signal Mountain, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We next head over to the Signal Mountain road, off of the Teton Park Road, for the sweeping views of the valley from the summit.From here, you can see clearly the geology that controls the park’s natural communities, from valley wetlands to mountain alpine. The NPS notes describe how Ice Age glaciers periodically blanketed this landscape, last retreating 14,000 years ago, leaving behind river channels, outwash plains, glacial moraines, potholes, deep canyons and jagged peaks. Glaciers act like conveyor belts depositing rocky debris as ridges called moraines that contain rocks ground to the consistency of flour. Rock flour retains moisture allowing lodge pole pine forests to flourish. As glaciers retreat, blocks of ice drop to the valley floor and become buried in outwash gravel and when the ice melts, the resulting depression (pothole) forms a pocket of forest or wetland surrounded by a sea of sagebrush in the outwash plain. (This place is best at sunset, but then you would have to drive back down the steep, winding, narrow road in the dark).

Of course, the best photos are taken at sunrise and sunset – but that isn’t always practical, so you do the best with what you have.

Leigh Lake, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After our photo/sights safari, we want to literally get into the swim of this exquisite wilderness. We head back to the Jenny Lake Lodge area to hike along String Lake trail, just north of Jenny Lake, which connects to Leigh Lake. Again, the scenery is just breathtaking -stunning views of the “Cathedral Group,” which includes 12,325-foot Teewinot Mountain, 13,770-foot Grand Teton and 12,928-foot Mt. Owen.  At almost six-tenths of a mile we pass the Leigh Lake Trailhead. From here the trail continues to follow along the eastern shore of the narrow lake. We go purposefully to take in the gorgeous view of Mt. Moran, which, at 12,605 feet is the fourth highest mountain in Grand Teton National Park. It was named for artist Thomas Moran whose landscape paintings played a critical role in the creation of Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park (as we saw when we hiked the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone trail).

A swim in String Lake, Grand Teton National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the way back, we scout a great place for swimming in the glacial water (many of the areas have communal bear boxes for you to stow your stuff while you swim; we actually spotted some very large scat on the small wooden bridge). Refreshing. Brisk. Exhilarating. And the backdrop!

More help to plan your visit to Grand Teton National Park: www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/index.htm.

The town of Jackson is really fun, and so striking. The mountains come right into town (Snow King ski resort is right there); the National Elk Refuge is there (the herd seems to spend the summer elsewhere); an incredible network of bike paths take you all the way into the national park (there are many bike rental shops, plus City Bike which Eric and David used to explore).

Biking passed the National Elk Refuge. Jackson has a marvelous bike path network © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We finish the evening in Jackson at Figs, a Lebanese restaurant (who would imagine!) at the swank Jackson Hotel (the meal is excellent), then wander around.

The Playhouse, Jackson, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can have a western musical dinner (“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and a saloon-style dinner at the Playhouse (Monday-Saturday, 307-733-6994, www.MTIShows.com.

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, Jackson, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Check out the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, a popular place for drinks, dancing and live entertainment since 1937, with an iconic vintage neon sign of a cowboy on a bronco.

The Elk Antler Arches that mark the four corners of Jackson’s historic George Washington Memorial Park (Town Square), is another iconic feature of Jackson. A stage coach makes a regular rotation around the square.

Jackson maintains its charming Western ambiance: a stagecoach passes one of the Antler Arches that grace the town square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next morning, we get to explore the town more, before I head out to the Jackson Hole Airport and David and Laini continue their road trip in their Subaru Forester they converted into a camper van, for points west.

Flying into Jackson Hole Airport, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We loved our stay at the Elk Country Inn, delighted with the accommodations (we booked months ago) that include two queen beds plus a sleeping loft with another queen bed, refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, balcony, parking. The hotel also has an indoor/outdoor pool, laundry facilities (really appreciated), serves a lovely full breakfast, and is walking distance to everything, and a very short drive into the Grand Teton National Park. (Elk Country Inn, 480 West Pearl Avenue, Jackson 83001 WY, 307-733-2364).

(The Elk Country Inn is one of the Town Square Inns of Jackson Hole; the others are the 49er Inn & Suites, Antler Inn and Cowboy Village Resort, 800-4-TETONS, townsquareinns.com).

We split our stay among three hotels, staying two nights in each – in Gardiner, West Jackson and Jackson – researching and booking on hotels.com and booking.com. We appreciated the ability to cancel reservations (sometimes a special rate is nonrefundable, but most bookings on hotels.com can be cancelled for free) which gives us the ability to modify our itinerary. Seeing all the “no vacancy” signs everywhere we went confirmed we were clever to book early, especially this year when travel is resurging and the national parks top the list.

Whitewater Rafting Adventure in Big Sky

Between Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton, we spend a day in Big Sky, Montana, to go whitewater rafting on the Gallatin River, with Geyser Whitewater Expeditions.

Whitewater rafting on the Gallatin River with Geyser Whitewater Expeditions, Big Sky, Montana
(Crystal Images Photography photo by Rob Hunt/Bigskyphotos.com )

We take the half-day (three hours) rafting trip on the Lower River, which affords “the most exciting” part with class III-IV rapids. Indeed it is. There is very little floating, most of the time being splashed, bumped, soaked and generally thrilled as you go through rapids with names like Screaming Left, Straightaway, House Rock and down the Mad Mile. Much of the setting is scenic, under the rock walls, but much is also alongside the road. The rafting is really fun, and our guide, Clay Kincer, is excellent – competent (most important), funny and informative and clearly enjoying his job. They rent the wetsuit as a separate charge (usually recommended).

Whitewater rafting on the Gallatin River with Geyser Whitewater Expeditions, Big Sky, Montana © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is also an Upper Whitewater trip, with Class II-III rapids (not as rough but you get some good soakings), and a scenic float (class I-II gentle cruise).

The company, founded in Big Sky by Eric Becker in 1992, also offers Adventure Zipline Tour; Nature Zip Tour (a half-day rafting and a pass to the Zipline Adventure Park), whitewater kayaking, and an Ousel Falls bicycle adventure (46651 Gallatin Road, Gallatin Gateway, MT, 406-995-4989, www.raftmontana.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

Yellowstone National Park in Two Days: Mother Nature Gets Surreal

The Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We set out on the second full day in Yellowstone National Park to see its climatic attraction with the dramatic name that seems to come out of the 19th century: The Grand Prismatic. Indeed, it was named by geologists in 1871 for its striking coloration, mimicking the colors created by a prism dispersing white light into red, orange, yellow, green, and blue.

But though we are in a hurry to get to the Grand Prismatic as early as possible (because of the anticipated crowds), en route, we stop off at another site with the intriguing name, Artist Paint Pots. To be candid, after the spectacular sights of our first day in Yellowstone (Mammoth Hot Spring, Norris Geyser, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone), this place was a bit underwhelming, but you get close to puckering bursts of bubbling goo, spots of color that look a little like boiling paint, and little spits of steam, which Laini dubs “random boiling earth.”

Artist Paint Pots, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We also encounter a herd of bison on the road.

Encountering bison on the road, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Encountering bison on the road, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

The Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin is the largest hot spring in the United States and the most photographed thermal feature in Yellowstone National Park, thanks to its surreal colors and enormous size – 330 feet in diameter and more than 120 feet deep.

The Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The striking colors are produced by thermophiles – microorganisms that flourish in the extremely hot water. Each band of color is a different collection of thermophiles, because they have specific ranges of temperatures in which they can live.

The Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This easy 1.6 mile boardwalk trail overlooks the hot springs – but there are places where there is nothing between you and the Grand Prismatic (so be especially careful of children). (Since this trail is one of the most popular places in the park, weekdays and early mornings are the best times to visit).

The Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Excelsior Geyser Crater is the other major feature in the area. Once an active geyser, Excelsior Geyser blew itself up and now is a 200 x 300 foot hot spring sitting in a crater. It discharges an impressive amount of water, at the rate of more than 4,000 gallons per minute.

Excelsior Geyser Crater, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From here, we drive to the trailhead that leads to the Fairy Falls Trail, but cuts off to an observation platform that looks down at the Grand Prismatic, so you can see it in its extraordinary entirety. We decide not to hike the trail and travel on, actually in search of a swimming hole that Eric knows. (https://www.nps.gov/thingstodo/yell-trail-fairy-falls.htm)

The Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We turn off to a gorgeous two-mile drive through a canyon along the Firehole River with a gorgeous view of Mystic Falls. The swimming area is actually closed, but we go further on to a place where people fish but folks seem to have commandeered for swimming – just above where the water begins rushing to the falls. 

Mystic Falls, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Swimming in Firehole River, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Old Faithful

It’s a short drive further on to the Old Faithful area, just as the world-famous geyser is shooting up in air.

Old Faithful Geyser is one of the most famous geysers in the world and the most renowned feature of Yellowstone. What is so remarkable is how predictable the eruptions are – averaging 94 minutes plus or minus 10 minutes – based on the duration and height of the previous eruption, hence the name. (The National Park Service publishes the time for the next expected eruption, https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/geyser-activity.htm; allow time to find parking and get to the geyser). There must be a thousand people gathered around a wide semi-circle to watch.

Old Faithful averages an eruption of 130 feet into the air, lasting 90 seconds to 5 minutes, shooting out 3,700–8,400 gallons of water. Water temperatures have been recorded at 203°F at the vent, which is above the boiling point of water at this elevation.

Old Faithful is just one of 150 geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin, four of which are even more predictable © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is not the only hydrothermal feature to see in the area. In fact, Old Faithful is just one of hundreds of hydrothermal features in the Upper Geyser Basin, including 150 geysers—four that are even more predictable than Old Faithful—within one square mile, plus hundreds of hot springs. An extensive trail and boardwalk system provides up-close views of many of these features, and connects to nearby Black Sand Basin and Biscuit Basin.

You can hike a 1.6-mile there-and-back Observation Point trail, and can add 0.9 miles by continuing west to Solitary Geyser—a frequent erupter—then down to the Geyser Hill boardwalk and back to the trailhead. Or connect with the Upper Geyser Basin trail for a 4.9-mile hike (heavily trafficked) (see: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/wyoming/upper-geyser-basin-and-old-faithful-observation-point-loop).

The historic Old Faithful Inn, built in 1904 using native wood and stone, is an attraction in itself with a very surprising architecture inside. The architect was Robert Reamer, who set an architectural standard for luxury accommodations in the park that blended with the landscape. He designed more than 30 Yellowstone projects between 1903 and 1937, 18 of which still grace the major areas of the park.

The historic Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, a guy in front is counting off 35 people to enter at a time; a woman controls capacity entering the gift shop. We get ice cream and make our way to a terrace overlook to Old Faithful. This is our rest stop to get us to the late afternoon, when we plan to drive through Hayden Valley, the other most popular place (besides Lamar Valley) where wildlife are most likely to come out to the watering holes.

Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(Yellowstone park’s lodges and campgrounds, including Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Lodge Cabins, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Canyon Lodge and Cabins, and Roosevelt Lodge Cabins are managed by Xanterra, 307-344-7311, www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com).

West Thumb

We head over to West Thumb, which proves to be a total surprise.

West Thumb is a caldera within a larger caldera formed after a powerful volcanic explosion 174,000 years ago that caused the earth’s crust to collapse. The depression produced by the volcano later filled with water to become this large bay of the Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake at high elevation in North America.

West Thumb, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are active hydrothermal features on the lake bottom here and elsewhere in the lake, which cause stunning ripples and patterns in the water.

West Thumb, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Perhaps because it is late in the afternoon, and all is so still and quiet (and West Thumb isn’t as crowded as Grand Prismatic or Old Faithful), I feel an incredible tranquility here at West Thumb. The predominant colors – blues and greens – are so calming, so Zen.

West Thumb, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

West Thumb Geyser Basin is the largest geyser basin on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, but what is most interesting is that we see hydrothermal features that lie under the lake, too. The heat from these features can melt ice on the lake’s surface. I overhear a Ranger say that early visitors would catch a fish, then cook it over the boiling cone, appropriately named Fishing Cone.

Along the mile-long boardwalk trail you see Fishing Cone (known to have erupted in 1919 and 1939), Black Pool (a hot spring 35-40 feet), West Thumb Paint Pots and Abyss Pool (a hot spring about 53 feet deep). (See: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/wyoming/west-thumb-geyser-basin).

Here, too, there are the stunning colors in the pools produced by thermophiles – those heat-loving microorganisms.

West Thumb, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Yellowstone Lake has 131.7 square miles of surface area and stretches roughly 20 miles long by 14 miles wide. It also has 141 miles of shoreline. At its deepest, it reaches 430 feet though it averages a depth of 138 feet. It is the largest lake at high elevation (above 7,000 feet) in North America.

The lake’s main basin is part of the Yellowstone Caldera, which was formed 630,000 years ago. West Thumb was formed by a later, smaller eruption, 174,000 years ago. The arms of the lake were formed by uplift along fault lines and sculpting by glaciers.

Framed on the east by the Absaroka Range, Yellowstone Lake is considered the heart of Yellowstone, its waters the lifeblood of the fauna and flora © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Framed on the east by the Absaroka Range, Yellowstone Lake is considered the heart of Yellowstone. Its waters are the lifeblood for a large network of plant and animal communities including trumpeter swans and moose that thrive on the aquatic growth in shallow waters along the shore; trout which live on zooplankton living in these waters; cutthroat trout that are food for pelicans, otters, eagles, black and grizzly bears, and other wild life.

And just as we round the turn on the way out, we spot a deer feeding at one of the pools, oblivious to the people watching. Laini had just commented that the scene didn’t look real but like one of those enhanced reality apps, and then we spot the elk, so graceful, so uncaring about our presence, drinking. Laini dubs it “Narnia Pond.”  It truly seems enchanting.

Like a scene from “Narnia.” West Thumb casts an enchanting spell © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Deer comes to feed at West Thumb, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hayden Valley

We have now reached the best part of the day for wildlife viewing. So we head off to the Hayden Valley, considered one of the best places in the park for wildlife (Lamar Valley, which we drove through on our way into Yellowstone, is another.) for what proves to be a photo safari.

Bear, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Coyote, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sure enough, we spot a bear, a mule deer, a fox, a coyote. The trick is to watch where others have stopped and look where they are pointing – we come upon a large group and just catch the last patch of black of what we are told was a mother bear with two cubs going back into the forest.

Fox, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Elk, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear
Bison, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
Mule Deer, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We arrive at a promontory where a line of serious photographers have staked out a place with their tripods, binoculars and massive lenses, communicating sightings by walkie talkies. One spotter sees a family of wolves – but it is 1 ½ miles out.

Photographers, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hayden Valley is covered with glacial till left from the most recent glacial retreat, some 13,000 to 14,000 years ago and is marshy today. The valley has historically been the major location of the bison rut (mating season), though recent trends have seen the herds move north to the Lamar Valley. Grizzly and black bears are often seen in the spring and early summer. Coyotes and wolves are also seen in the valley.

Bison, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the south end of Hayden Valley is Mud Volcano, a hydrothermal area rich in features that let off a “rotten egg” smell from hydrogen sulfide gas.

It’s about an hour’s drive from Hayden Valley in the center of Yellowstone, to the town of West Jackson. We get the last rays of sun and a sunset. By the time we get to West Jackson, where we have booked the next two nights of our stay, it’s after 9 pm, and Eric has staked out restaurant reservations at Madison Crossing, housed in what was West Yellowstone’s first school, built in 1918.

Then it’s on to our charming cabin accommodations at the Elkhorn Country Inn and Cabins, which we found on booking.com. A plaque tells the story how our cabin was restored and repurposed from historic cabins that was used to house US Army troops from 1886-1916. The cabins were moved around until ending up at the hotel’s property in the 1950s. The owners preserved and reused the wood – 100-year old floor boards were used for the headboards – and even found old military fatigues used as insulation. The hotel serves a pleasant continental breakfast (excellent coffee).

Elkhorn Inn and Cabins, West Jackson, at the West entrance to Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Elkhorn Inn & Cabins is located just a few blocks into the park but with the popularity of West Jackson, bustling tourist town, loaded with charming restaurants and shops, this West entrance is much more crowded, with a line up of cars that extends for blocks. Patience.

(Elkhorn Inn & Cabins, 29 Gibbon Ave, West Yellowstone, MT, 59758, 307-733-2364, 800-246-8357)

More planning help at: www.yellowstonenationalpark.com and www.YellowstoneLodging.com.

See also:

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

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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

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

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camp Rockaway

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

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

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

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

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

Biking, Cycling the Eric Canal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empire State Trail Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discovery Bicycle Tour on Empire State Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adirondacks Preserve Gets Larger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: 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

Topnotch Skiing at New York’s Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks

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

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On what must have been one of the busiest ski days of the season at Gore Mountain – the last day of Presidents’ Week, bluebird sky, no wind, crisp and comfortable temperature in the 20s and gorgeous powder after a couple of snowstorms – we were among the delighted downhillers, having snagged capacity-controlled lift tickets, easing into the COVID-19 routine to enjoy a sensational day on the slopes.

Winter resorts provide refuge, revitalization and renewal, especially in this time of COVID, and understandably, the three New York State-owned Olympic Regional Development Authority ski areas – Gore Mountain and Whiteface in the Adirondacks, Belleayre in the Catskills – sold out their Ski3 season passes early on. Lift tickets, capacity controlled, should be booked online to make sure there is still space. So the day we visited was one of the busiest of the season because the tickets were sold out. Even so, the mountain was gloriously uncrowded, even on the busiest day. And it was heavenly.

The modifications for COVID safety in facilities and services are pretty seamless, even ordinary, by now. In fact, they have led to improvements, like the ability to order food online from the lift and pick up at the Base Lodge, and RFID direct-to-the-gate ticketing.

I went through the rental process – the large room kept as open and as uncrowded as possible, with minimal transactions and the attendants behind a plexiglass protective screen.

A sign of the COVID-times: wearing masks on the lift at Gore © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The base lodge had no tables or chairs inside to minimize the amount of time people stay inside, but you could still purchase grab-and-go items at the food court (we brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and water to have on the mountain). You are urged to use your car as your personal base lodge but that wasn’t necessary. Other concessions to COVID this season: there isn’t day care for non-skiing kids or ski school, but private lessons are available (families and pods okay).

There was a line to get on the lifts from the base – the Northwoods Gondola and the Adirondack Express quad – with people generally keeping a social distance (skis helps provide natural distancing), wearing masks as required. Even though the lines were a bit longer because of the policy to keep non-affiliated individuals on separate chairs, it moved quickly enough under the watchful eye of a couple of ski ambassadors, who pleasantly supplied a trail map upon request and answered any questions.

There are new RFID readers so no person needs to click or read the lift ticket – the gate opens automatically as it reads the lift ticket in your jacket pocket.

The ride up the 7109-foot long Adirondack Express was so delightful, depositing us right at the Saddle Lodge at mid-mountain, where, peeking in, there did seem to be a lot of people standing around, but in their own groups, socially distanced from other groups. The restrooms were extremely clean, with a sign posted that only two people should be inside at any one time.

To warm up, I started down Sunway, a 2.2-mile long green, back down to the base, and back up.

From there, we hopped on Upper Wood-In, a blue-trail, to get to the High Peaks chair – new this season! – which brings you all the way up to the summit. The High Peaks chair replaced a double chair which deposited you lower down, and you would ski to the Streetbrook Quad to get up to the summit. Now, I was able to take the High Peaks chair to the top of one of my favorite blues on the mountain, Cloud, where you have the spectacular view from the Gore’s summit at 3,600 feet altitude.

Riding the new High Peaks chair to Gore’s summit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As a perennial blue-trail/intermediate skier, Gore Mountain is one of my favorite places – while Dave and Laini love the black diamond trails and the glades (Gore was one of the first Eastern ski areas to develop gladed terrain!). Nestled in the Adirondack Mountains, it offers expansive views of a real wilderness. And with a vertical of 2,537 feet, you actually feel as if you were in the Rockies.

It is surprising to realize that Gore is the biggest ski destination in New York State (and New York, with 50 ski areas and resorts, has the most in the nation!), with the most skiable acres (439 acres), 121 trails (10% beginner, 50% intermediate and 40% advanced), including 110 alpine trails, 28 glades, 8 freestyle areas and 11 cross-country and snowshoe trails, serviced by 14 lifts including a gondola (a year-round attraction, they cleverly post fun historical notes in each car). Besides the stunning views, the wilderness, what I love best is the long cruisers – the longest run is 4.4 miles and six of the trails are longer than 1 ½ miles. In all, Gore offers 42 miles of skiing. There is even night skiing (at North Creek Ski Bowl).

Cloud, a blue trail from Gore’s summit, accessed by the new High Peaks quad © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With a vertical drop of 2537 ft. from the summit at 3600 ft. down to the base at North Creek Ski Bowl (998 ft.),  Gore also offers the 6th greatest vertical in the East – a greater vertical drop in fact than such famous mountains as Stowe (2360), Sunday River (2340), Okemo (2200), Jay Peak (2153), Mount Tremblant (2116), Mad River Glen (2037), Stratton Mountain (2003) and Mount Snow (1700) –  and comparable to ski resorts in the Colorado Rockies (Copper Mountain’s vertical is 2600 ft.)

Gore Mountain skiing consists of nine faces across four mountains: Gore Mountain is the biggest and highest, at 3600 ft., Bear Mountain rises to 3200 ft., Burnt Ridge Mountain rises to 2735 ft. and Little Gore Mountain goes up to 1900 ft. The areas are so well laid out and contoured, you can easily move among them, and it’s simple to get back to the base lodge and food-court or the mid-mountain Saddle Lodge to grab a bite or warm up.

And besides having outstanding variety, Gore is an ideal a family-friendly ski destination, with a lot of natural separation of skier abilities; even the way the trails merge together – in most cases flowing together instead of having fast skiers fly down a black and crossing over a green or traverse trail– which makes it a lot more pleasant.

Gore Mountain has great contours and flow among the trails. In all, it offers 110 alpine trails – 42 miles! © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Each of Gore’s four mountains have their own features and character, and among them is an astonishing array of terrain, not to mention views and the fact that if conditions are not the best in one area or are too crowded (not likely because of the way skiers are dispersed), you can simply move to another. Gore has seven distinct areas:

Northwoods on Bear Mountain is the biggest area, with 29 trails, 5 glades, on 146 acres, and has the lion’s share of green (easiest) trails, including the delightful Sunway that goes into Lower Sunway, a total of 2.2 miles of absolutely marvelous skiing, down to the base. The concentration of beginner trails are accessed by a new Sunway chair. It has the most gorgeous cruisers, including Twister, a long, wide and forgiving blue, lined with trees and providing gorgeous views of the Adirondacks.  There are four black diamond trails including three that have free-style (Lower Sleighride, Wild Air and Pot Luck). The area is served from the base by the Northwoods Gondola, the Adirondack Express high-speed detachable quad, a double and four surface lifts.

Sunway, a 2.2-mile long green trail, gives you lots of time to practice your turns © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The High Peaks Area, known as “The Dark Side” (“where experts like to hide”) offers “Classic Adirondack” skiing with 12 trails (9 blue, two blacks and a double black, Lower Steilhang) and 4 glades on 31 acres. It is accessed by the new High Peaks chairlift which now goes all the way to the summit and the top of Cloud.

It was enjoyable to take Cloud to Headwaters, both blue trails, to the Straight Brook Quad, back up to the summit. Here, though, are a group of some of Gore’s more challenging trails, Chatiemac, Hawkeye, Open Pit and the double-black trails, The Rumor, Lies and Upper Darby.

Straight Brook on Gore Mountain offers a variety of challenging terrain and glades and is where you will find two double-black runs, The Rumor and Lies, rumored (unconfirmed) to be the steepest train in the East. Chatiemac, a black, is one of Dave and Laini’s favorites on the mountain. There are also a couple of intermediate trails – like Cloud – which connects to other blues and greens to ski the whole way down. In all, this area has 10 trails, 4 glades and 55 acres accessed by the Straight Brook quad.

A bluebird ski day at Gore Mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Topridge is where Dave and Laini go for southern exposure diamonds with views of Gore summit, plenty of pitch and sunshine. It offers five trails (3 blue including Tannery and Lower Uncas) and two blacks, on 45 acres, accessed by the Topridge triple chair.

The North Side – called “Natural North” because they keep it natural – is off the beaten path, and offers an array of easy-going cruisers and gorgeous views. It’s great for families, with uncrowded trails you feel you have to yourself (9 trails, 2 glades on 37 acres serviced by the North quad).

Burnt Ridge is noted for its geology and great views of North Creek Village and the Hudson River. Its seven trails, five glades (The Cirque is one of the longest glades in the East) on 76 acres are serviced by “one of the most luxurious rides” on the mountain, the Burnt Ridge high-speed quad. This area has Sagamore, another one of Dave and Laini’s favorite black trails on the mountain.

A bluebird ski day at Gore Mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

North Creek Ski Bowl, which is owned by the town of Johnsburg but managed in partnership with Gore, is where two triple chairs access a surprising variety of trails – two greens, four blues, three blacks including a half pipe and skier/boarder X, and a double black, 46er – on 47 acres on Little Gore Mountain. The trails are relatively short, with a vertical of just under 1000 ft. A new Hudson chair lift connects Gore to the Ski Bowl (open for twilight skiing on weekends and holidays). There also is a shuttle bus between the two bases.

North Creek Ski Bowl also has the Nordic ski area, with 5k network of trails (3.7k with snowmaking and night lights) and snowshoeing (also “uphilling,” which is snowshoeing up the ski mountain).

The Ski Bowl has a long and storied history – when it opened in 1934it was one of the first commercial ski areas in the nation; skiers from New York City came up by train to North Creek. (Gore’s lift ticket is valid, and you can use it for twilight skiing; a Nordic trail pass is $20.)

We had focused on the upper part of the mountain for much of the day to avoid lines on the Adirondack Express or the Gondola at the base.

Dave skis Twister © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By the afternoon, the mountain really emptied out (it was Sunday at the end of President’s Week, after all, and people were probably not lingering over lunch), and we hit Twister which proved my absolute favorite – a long, winding blue, not intimidating, but enough of a challenge to make you feel like a real skier and bump up your skill. It turns out it is just about everybody’s favorite trail. It was no problem to come down to the base (there are two relatively steep drops at the end, but the conditions made it okay) and it was so great, we went back up again for a final run before heading out.

State-owned Gore Mountain, along with Whiteface in Lake Placid and Belleayre in the Catskills, has benefited from significant capital investments in improvements– including enhanced snowmaking, new and improved lifts and lodges – but also for year-round appeal.

Saddle Lodge, one of the many improvements that New York State’s Olympic Regional Development Authority has made at Gore Mountain over the past few years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In warm weather, enjoy rides on Gore’s gondola and chairlift, hiking, mountain biking and special events.

There isn’t a set closing date for skiing – so far the season has been exceptional – but typically, skiing is open until after Easter, or mid- to late April.

Gore began as a destination ski area – after all, it wasn’t that easy to reach. But over time, especially as the New York Thruway and Northway made it so easy to reach from Albany, Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls and even Montreal, Gore can be a day trip.

But Gore Mountain and the Adirondacks have so much to offer, longer stays are warranted. The landscape is breathtaking, and significantly, still wilderness. You also have some marvelous resorts and lodging – the grand, historic Sagamore Resort on Lake George is 45 minutes away (they offer a shuttle bus to Gore), and in North Creek, the Copperfield Inn is as intimate as an inn (only 31 rooms), but with all the services of a luxury hotel (Copperfield Inn, 307 Main Street, North Creek, NY 12853, 518-251-9808, www.copperfieldinn.com).

North Creek is a charming village with several delightful bistros and shops, and the village offers a free shuttle bus to the mountain, less than 10 minutes away, every 20-30 minutes throughout the day, in season.

Gore Mountain, 793 Peaceful Valley Road, North Creek, NY 12853, Snow Phone: 518-251-5026, info 518-251-2411, goremountain.com.

See also: Plenty to Discover, Experience Exploring New York’s Adirondack Hamlets 

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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