Category Archives: Outdoors Adventures

Bike Tours Are Most Satisfying Way to Experience World Sustainably; Operators Expand Horizons

Biketours.com bike-and-boat trip among the Greek Islands © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Celebrate Trails Day on April 23 follows immediately after Earth Day for a good reason – biking fulfills the best attributes of sustainable, responsible travel while minimizing the adverse impacts of tourism. Biking lets travelers, adventurers, explorers experience places far and near with the least carbon impact of going place to place; taking the slow-road so you can really connect to local communities you would never see otherwise and spending your tourism dollars with the people who need it most; you can stop and get off to interact with people, take a photo, travel at a pace and a perspective – sitting in a saddle without the wall of windows – to really see, focus, smell the roses, and yet have an ever changing view to see, with the excitement and intrigue of new experiences that might be around the next bend.

And then there’s that endorphin thing that happens as you pedal and take in the fresh air that revs the brain and fills you with good feelings. And biking also affords  a way to be in community but socially distanced and in open, uncrowded spaces.

Tour operators are responding to the desire to explore by bicycle with new itineraries, near and far: such as close-to-home (reachable by car) programs that take advantage of New York State’s new 750-mile Empire State Trail (you can ride north-south from the tip of Manhattan to the Canadian border and west-east from Buffalo to Albany), or for a close-to-home foreign experience, biking in Quebec, as well as to trips to exotic locales – like New Zealand, Vietnam, Chile. Or how about Albania, Bulgaria or Transylvania?

More offerings that combine boat and bike make the trip even more convenient (you only unpack once) and add a special element of plying waterways by a small river boat, canal boat or barge, or go from island to island. And many offer an e-bike option, opening a whole new dimension for exploration on two-wheels, especially for people who are concerned about physical abilities.

Here are examples of what’s being offered:

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

Discovery Bicycle Tours has an amazing array of itineraries in the United States (including new itineraries on the NYS Empire Trail), Canada, Europe, Chile, New Zealand and Vietnam. What I love best (I biked with them last summer on the Maine Coast/Acadia national park, and before that Vermont) is that the programs are really geared for a vacation, the guides there to make your experience purely enjoyable. There are all these extras, as well. A new itinerary on New York’s Empire State Trail; an itinerary on the Erie Canal Trail and New York’s scenic lakes, canal path from the Buffalo area with added scenic riding along Lake Ontario to the Finger Lakes on six-day Erie Canal & NY Lakes tour; a new 3-day Hudson Valley Weekend tour (bike car-free paths & quiet roads, dine at the famous Culinary Institute of America and visit a family-owned winery; a gentle six-day Lake Champlain Islands bike tour with beautiful views of the Green Mountains and Adirondacks; and a challenging six-day biking/camping Green Mountain Gravel Adventure  on gorgeous Vermont dirt roads and trails and experience famous Vermont craft breweries and swimming holes.

Nearby but exotic: a six-day tour of the Quebec Eastern Townships known for their beauty, their villages and their wineries.

Among Discovery Bicycle’s international itineraries is a new six-day in England, Cotswolds & Stonehenge Bike Tour and a Moselle River Bike & Barge tour. From close to home to far, far away, Discovery is introducing an 11-day New Zealand Trails tour to experience New Zealand’s unmatched scenery, riding car-free rail-trails and quiet bikeways along deep blue lakes amid soaring ice-covered peaks, through rolling grasslands and hidden valleys (Nov., Jan., Feb.)

(Discovery Bicycle, 800-257-2226, info@discoverybicycletours.com, discoverybicycletours.com)

The Crazy Horse Monument, just off the Mickelson Trail, is visited on Wilderness Voyageurs’ Badlands Black Hills bike tour in South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wilderness Voyageurs, starting out from its home base in Ohiopyle, PA, has spread throughout the US. We’ve traveled with them on their South Dakota “Badlands & Black Hills” tour and on rides along the Great Allegheny Passage with Rails to Trails Conservancy.

Wilderness Voyageurs’ 4-day Chesapeake Bay Bike Tour takes advantage of the easy elevation gain for a charming journey along the Maryland coastline. Cycle through farms, woodlands and see bald eagles and endangered species in the Blackwater National Wildlife Preserve. Enjoy seafood feasts, ferry rides, and century-old architecture.

Wilderness Voyageurs is also featuring a specially designed five-day Type 1 Diabetes Ride on the Great Allegheny Passage (July 24)., biking, hiking, visiting Fallingwater, with Dr. Jody Stanislaw, a naturopathic doctor and a Type 1 diabetic, who will be guiding each day with tips on the balance between insulin, exercise, and diet. It’s an ever-changing equation and if you’re tired of the sugar roller coaster, this is an exceptional opportunity. Ride together with fellow type 1s and Dr. Jody. 

Other Wilderness Voyageurs biketours include Katy Rail Trail: Iowa Trestle Tour; Idaho Coeur D’Alene The Hiawatha; New Mexico Hub & Spoke; Colorful Colorado; Seneca Lake Backroads and Brews.

(Wilderness Voyageurs,103 Garrett St., Ohiopyle, PA 15470, 800-272-4141, bike@Wilderness-Voyageurs.com, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com)

Predjama Castle, improbably built into a crevasse halfway up a 123-meter cliff-face, and connecting to a cave system, visited by our BikeTours.com group on the Slovenia tour © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

BikeTours.com, specializing in European biking adventures (guided, self-guided and bike/boat tours), has listed its top destinations for 2022: The Greek Islands (which I did); Czech Republic; Croatia; Transylvania, Romania; Salzburg, Austria; Umbria, Italy; Scotland; Dolomites, Italy; Southern France and Albania (which I did). I’ve also taken their self-guided Venice-Croatia trip and their guided Slovenia biketour and for our first self-guided bike tour, the Danube Bike Trail (ideal for families and first-timers).

“If you’re itching to get back in the saddle with a European bike tour but want to explore destinations heavy on beauty and light on people for most or all of your tour,” Jim Johnson, president of BikeTours.com, suggests Bulgaria, Slovenia (which I did – biggest surprises were visits to Predjama Castle and Postojna Cave), Apulia (Puglia), Transylvania, and Connemara (Ireland).

But this year, recognizing that some may still be more comfortable traveling closer to home, is offering new tours from its sister company, Bike the South. One of them is “Tennessee Hills and Stills,” focusing on the state’s whiskey producing tradition.

Check the really user-friendly site: Biketours.com, info@biketours.com, 877-462-2423, 423-756-8907.

Butterfield & Robinson, long known as a luxury tour company, has introduced a series of departures geared to families with young adults (late teens and up), who will relish this opportunity to share an experience before their YA flies the coop. Among the itineraries: Switzerland E-Bike, Alsace E-Bike, Tuscany biking, Berlin to Prague Active, Mallorca E-Biking, Prague to Vienna; Alentejo, Portugal; Catalonia; the Camino do Santiago Biking,

Perhaps most intriguing: Cambodia & Vietnam: in Cambodia, see the spectacular ancient Khmer temples at Angkor, comprising one of the most jaw-dropping temple complexes in the world; then head to Vietnam and experience the buzz of Ho Chi Minh City and the serene landscapes of Can Tho; delve deep with three nights in Hoi An and wrap up in the Imperial City of Hue.

 (Butterfield & Robinson, travel@butterfield.com, 866-551-9090, butterfield.com)

More biking tours are incorporating camping options. TrekTravel is going a step further, with a new partnership with AutoCamp (autocamp.com) to provide (get this) Airstream suites (those famous RVs) for two brand new itineraries; Palm Springs & Joshua Tree, and California Wine Country.

Among TrekTravel’s most popular itineraries this year: Prague to Vienna, New Mexico (cycle on the historic streets of Santa Fe, within the expansive pine forests, and beneath high desert mesas and Badland formations).

The itinerary I’ve been eying: Portugal, featuring the Alentejo wine region, a majestic countryside of wheat, olive trees, vineyards, and the seat of the world’s cork production where you see the cork tree groves and Roman temples in towns like Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

TrekTravel is also continuing to offer private trips for 10 or more guests (Top 5 destinations: California Wine Country, Ashville to Brevard, Puglia, San Juan Islands, and Tuscany).

(TrekTravel, 866-719-2427, Trektravl.com)

Duvine Cycling & Adventure Co. is another high-end active travel company with trips that combine wine and gastronomy in such lavish places as France (Ride Through France’s Most Fabled Terroirs) and Italy. Duvine’s newest itinerary is Bike and Boat in Amalfi: The Amalfi Coast has dazzled travelers for decades, but there’s another side of this destination that’s rarely seen. Our two new tours hold the key to the Cilento Coast, Italy’s best-kept secret. Whether by bike or private yacht, you’ll wend up the Amalfi Coast with views stretching back to Calabria, climb to towns memorialized by Hemingway, and hike Positano’s Path of the Gods to vertiginous vineyards.

(duvine.com, 888-396-5383)

B’spoke Cycling Holidays, based in London, are geared for the harder-core, but for more leisurely cycling, look to their sister brand Cycling for Softies which offers luxury cycling tours in Europe’s famous wine regions.

BSpoke Tours, Unit 3, Walton Lodge Laundry, 374 Coldharbour Lane, London, SW9 8PL, info@bspoketours.com, bspoketours.com.

I’m headed to Europe for Boat Bike Tours’ eight-day Bruges-Amsterdam tour. A leading European operator of boat-and-bike tours which more or less founded the concept 40 years ago, the company offers 70 itineraries in Netherlands, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Danube Countries, Austria and Serbia. Germany, Greece, Hungary, France, Italy, and Slovakia incorporating their fleet of 50 ships, from barges and sailing ships to motor yachts. (More when I return.) You can live chat on their website, boatbiketours.com, +31 20 72 35 400

Celebrate Trails Day

Riding over the Rosendale Trestle on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, near New Paltz. Now part of New York’s 750-mile Empire State Trail, the trail has been improved largely with the advocacy of such groups as Parks & Trail NY and the Rails to Trails Conservancy © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnar.com

Hosted on the fourth Saturday of April, Celebrate Trails Day (formerly Opening Day for Trails) is an annual spring celebration of America’s trails. Started by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in 2013, the celebration encourages people across the country to get outside and enjoy the nation’s exceptional trails and trail systems. There are featured events throughout the country, and if you let RTC know you will #CelebrateTrails, you can win prizes (railstotrails.org/celebratetrails).

“Trails make getting outdoors and around by foot, bike and wheelchair more accessible for everyone. These essential outdoor spaces give us the space to swap car trips for bike trips, reducing emissions and helping the environment; bring  powerful economic opportunity to communities big, small and in between; and deliver health and happiness for so many people. This year, in a time when trails are more in demand than ever, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating these special places. Let’s get out and make more trail moments!” the organization states.

Rails to Trails advocates for creation of multi-purpose trails using strong arguments of health and quality-of-life for locals, economic opportunities for communities along the route, and climate benefits of non-carbon-emitting transportation. Since 1992, RTC has advocated for more than $15.6 billion in funds to support more than 54,000 trail and active transportation projects. The Trails Transform America campaign has this message for Congress: Trail networks are as fundamental to America’s transportation systems as roads and rail lines and deserve robust federal investment. Explore trail network projects that are bringing transformative benefits to communities nationwide.

The most ambitious of projects is The Great American Rail-Trail which, once completed, would enable riders to cross the entire nation on linked rail trails. Stretching more than 3,700 miles between Washington DC and Washington State, through 12 states, the trail will directly serve nearly 50 million people within 50 miles of the route. 

The RTC site is also a great place to find trails near and far and download the TrailLink app, https://www.traillink.com/mobile-apps/

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, 2121 Ward Court, NW, 5th Floor, Washington, DC 20037, 866-202-9788, www.railstotrails.org

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Experience Sonoma Like a Local

A late afternoon stroll in our Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

You know the refrain: “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” Rare is the place that is equally precious to visit and reside. Fortunately, our family has decided to reside in such a place, and I get to visit: Sonoma, California.

Just 43 miles northeast of San Francisco, Sonoma has long been a retreat for urban dwellers, offering a “healthier” climate.  

Sonoma is the perfect combination of man and nature, as the vineyards attest, and residents today are obsessive about preserving that balance. In fact, the Sonoma County Tourism, as part of its continued commitment to encourage responsible stewardship from visitors and residents, has just joined the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

The historic plaza is the centerpiece of Sonoma © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is my second visit to Sonoma and while my family works, I get to explore like a local, hopping on a bike to ride the delightful paved recreation trail that goes right into the exquisitely quaint, historic village center and out to the vineyards. On my first trip, we biked, visited wineries, and hiked the spectacular Pacific coast. This trip, I focus on Sonoma’s history, heritage and the fascinating people who shaped it. What is more surprising is how contemporary the history feels – truly, history repeats.

Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma’s historic village plaza © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It starts at the village plaza – utterly charming today with lovely restaurants, wine tasting rooms and boutiques – but dotted with really important historic sites that are part of Sonoma State Historic Park, a collection of six sites located throughout the community.

Sonoma’s City Hall © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I start at the Barracks, a military post of Mexican soldiers established in 1834 to serve as a buffer to Russian expansion from Fort Ross (!!!). The Russians had come in 1812 to produce crops and trap furs to supply their Alaskan settlement. (The Russians ultimately moved out, ironically, just before gold was discovered.) You can see a room furnished as if the soldiers were still there. It is interesting to learn that they had to supply their own uniforms, horse and supplies, and basically buy them back from the Commandante. The barracks turns out to be the best place to start my journey because it offers an excellent video that encapsulates the history of this place, and puts everything into context.

The Barracks in Sonoma’s historic plaza © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From 1834-1846, it was the headquarters for General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, the Commandant of the Frontera del Norte – the northern Mexico provincial frontier – who built it, as well as the Plaza. More than 100 military expeditions set out from Sonoma to subdue rebellious Wappo and Cainameros or Satisyomis native tribes trying to overthrow Mexican domination. For ten years, until 1844, the Presidial company of Sonoma was considered the most powerful military force in California. During the short-lived California Republic, the barracks housed Republic followers until July 9, 1846, when the Stars and Stripes flag was first raised at Sonoma. It then served as an army post.  In 1860, Vallejo remodeled the barracks to serve as a winery. (Vallejo’s story, I learn, underpins just about everything in Sonoma.)

Mission San Francisco Solano was founded in 1823 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Across the street from the Barracks is Mission San Francisco Solano – the last of 21 missions established in California. It was founded in 1823 to convert Native Americans to Christianity – often forcibly. Indians would come to the mission first out of hunger –since the colonists introduced disease, technology and livestock which depleted the corn that was their mainstay. The Indians’ had their own culture, religion, lifestyle which “was contrary to the colonists” and so, had to be eradicated. Under the mission system, families were split up, children taken for indoctrination. Indians revolted and tried to escape the mission and the soldiers would hunt the “fugitives” down and bring them back. I learn in the video in the Barracks. (There is a display, “Collision of Cultures,” which acknowledges the tribes’ experience.)

“The Sonoma mission’s sphere of influence reached its peak around 1832, with nearly 1,000 Native California Indians in residence and 10,000 acres of land used to raise crops and livestock.” In 1834, the Mexican government secularized all the missions into parish churches – which was General Vallejo’s task.

The dining room at Mission San Francisco Solano now exhibits watercolors created between1903-5 by Chris Jorgensen depicting the 21 missions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Dining room today houses a marvelous exhibit of watercolors created between 1903-5 by Chris Jorgensen depicting the 21 missions that remained. His watercolors helped generate interest in preserving the missions. It is most interesting to see his watercolor of this mission as it stood.

Mission San Francisco Solano, as captured by Chris Jorgensen © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The small adobe chapel on the west side of the Padres’ Quarters, built and furnished by General Vallejo in 1840, replaced the original mission church.

The small adobe chapel on the west side of the Padres’ Quarters, built and furnished by General Vallejo in 1840, replaced the original mission church © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is here in the mission that I meet Ranger April Farnham. When I ask if she is a native Californian, she tells me of her great great great aunt, Eliza Farnham, born in Rensselaerville, NY in 1815, who came to northern California in 1849 with her two sons (her husband, Thomas Farnham, was apparently a rogue). What a character! Wikipedia describes Farnham as a novelist, feminist, abolitionist and activist for prison reform (she worked as the matron of Sing Sing prison’s women’s ward). She returned to New York in 1856 and  in 1859, organized a society to assist destitute women find homes in the West. She returned to California, but died in New York City, at the age of 49, of consumption.

(I’m so intrigued about her, I look up her publications: Life in the Prairie Land, 1846 – An account of life on the Illinois prairie near Pekin between 1836 and 1840; California, In-doors and Out, 1856 – A chronicle of her experiences and observations on California; My Early Days, 1859 – An autobiographical novel; Woman and Her Era, 1864 – “Organic, religious, esthetic, and historical” arguments for woman’s inherent superiority’ and The Ideal Attained, 1865 – The heroine molds the hero into a worthy mate.)

General Vallejo’s Home

“Lachryma Montis,” the “Yankee Home” of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, provides a window into Sonoma’s fascinating founder ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I get back on my bike to visit General Vallejo’s home, Lachryma Montis, a 20-acre site (out of his original 500 acres) just along the path about a mile from the mission. Here you appreciate what a visionary – even progressive – Vallejo was, and how instrumental he was to the founding and nurturing of Sonoma through its multiple transitions. By the time he was 40, he had lived under four flags – Spanish, Mexican, the Bear Revolution and then the United States.

Born in 1807 to an upper class Spanish family, his career paths were limited to the military, politics or church. He chose the military. At the age of 25, a lieutenant, he commanded Presidio de San Francisco, the “director of colonization.” In 1826, he was ordered to secularize the missions and transfer power from the church to civil authorities.

The Mexican government fell into chaos; there were frequent changes of governor in his district. Vallejo got no assistance from Mexico and had to pay his soldiers out of his own pocket. The settlers became Mexican citizens, learned Spanish but were different from the “Yankees” who began to come through.

After Mexican Governor Jose Castro proclaimed that the purchase or acquisition of land by foreigners who had not been naturalized as Mexicans “will be null and void, and they will be subject (if they do not retire involuntary from the country) to be expelled whenever the country might find it convenient.” 33 Yankees lead the Bear Flag Revolt against Mexican authorities. They attacked Sonoma, took Vallejo prisoner, imprisoning him at Sutter’s Fort for two months, where he contracted malaria and was a dath’s door before being released. “His imprisonment lasted longer than the Republic” (communication was slow). At the time of the Bear Flag Revolt, (June–July 1846), there were 500 Americans living in California, compared with between 8,000 and 12,000 Mexicans.

Despite the Treaty of Guadeloupe that ended the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) assuring the Mexicans their property ownership would be respected, the Yankees claimed the property belonged to them “by right of conquest”.  Mexicans, including Vallejo, had to fight in court to prove title and that often put them in debt. His holdings were reduced from 500 acres to 20 acres, but he kept his vineyards.

Vallejo family photos on view in a small museum in the visitors center of his home, part of the Sonoma State Historic Park, give insight into Sonoma’s founder and visionary ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, Vallejo also had a hand in developing wine-making in Sonoma. His two older daughters married sons of Count Agoston Haraszthy, who began the first vineyards (you can learn this part of the history at Haraszthy’s Buena Vista winery).

Ever adapting, Vallejo went on to be elected state senator for Sonoma, serving until 1853.

“Lachryma Montis,” the “Yankee Home” of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, provides a window into Sonoma’s fascinating founder ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is striking about Vallejo’s home is that it looks like it was deposited here from New England. Vallejo referred to his dwelling as the “Yankee Home” or “Boston House,” departing from traditional adobe style. That was deliberate on his part, to symbolize change (and acceptance) of becoming part of the United States.

You start your visit in the Chalet, a Tudor-style structure which originally was a storage house and granary, now a visitor center that houses a museum with family photos and personal artifacts of Vallejo and his family (he had 16 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood), as well as their magnificent carriage. The furnishings in the main house, too, are mainly from the family.

Seeing the home as if the Vallejo family still lived there ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You visit the parlor, which Vallejo furnished with items from around the world, the master bedroom, his daughter, Maria’s, bedroom, the nursery. You visit the bedroom of Luisa, his 15th child, who was born here, married here and, after being widowed, raised her three children in the house; she cared for her elderly parents and inherited the estate where she lived until her death in 1943 at 87. She sold the estate to the state of California in 1933 and served as its curator from 1933-1943.

The picturesque stone and masonry reservoir supplied the Vallejo home with water from natural artesian springs ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are several other interesting buildings and structures: the picturesque stone and masonry reservoir was constructed in the 1850s to collect water from natural artesian springs; a tiny cottage, the Hermitage, or “Napoleon’s Cottage” at the top of a winding stone staircase above the reservoir, where Vallejo’s youngest son, Napoleon, moved in 1865 at the age of 15, and kept 14 dogs, two monkeys, three cats and one parrot.  

A monument to the Bear Flag Rebellion, which briefly established the California Republic ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sonoma’s Plaza itself – the birthplace of the state’s Bear Flag – is picturesque. You can see a monument to where rebels raised their new, homemade flag and declare their own republic, June 14, 1846. (The Bear Flag Republic lasted just 24 days; then the United States took over).

There is also City Hall, a pavilion for outdoor events, and across the way, a lovely old-timey movie theater.

The Sonoma State Historic Park (363 Third Street W, Sonoma CA 95476, 707-938-1519). includes six sites – in addition to the Mission, the Barracks and Lachryma Montis, it also includes Casa Grande (Vallejo’s home on the plaza), the beautiful Blue Wing Inn (built to house soldiers it later accommodated such famous visitors as US Army officer Ulysses S. Grant); and Toscana Hotel. For a schedule of docent-led tours, visit www.parks.ca.gov or call 707-938-9560. (The $3 admission includes same-day visit to the Barracks and General Vallejo’s Home (363 3rd St. West) and Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park (3325 Adobe Road, Petaluma).

The Buena Vista Winery. Count Agoston Haraszthy planted the first vineyards in Sonoma; Vallejo’s two daughters married his sons © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My biking takes me into the vineyards that completely ring the village. I return to the Buena Vista Winery, founded by Count Agoston Haraszthy, who came from Hungary initially in pursuit of gold but in 1857, decided instead to build a stone winery on the property. He introduced cuttings from Europe’s best vineyards to California and basically proved that California could produce wine. Buena Vista Winery, 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, CA 95476, 800-926-1266, tastingroom@buenavistawinery.com, www.buenavistawinery.com.

There are about 90 vineyards and wineries you can explore, see Sonoma.com.

I also come upon a wonderful local community garden, Sonoma Garden Park, which is a working farm, education center and “vibrant gathering place” where I encounter a gardener who comes up from San Francisco and learn about sustainable gardening in this drought-plagued place (Seventh St. East & MacArthur).

Jack London State Park

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another marvelous example of this merging of man and nature is the Jack London State Park in nearby Glen Ellen, where we go for a hike and discover a most intriguing history.  I was expecting to hike in the woods, but the historic and biographical features blew me away.

I always associated Jack London with San Francisco and Alaska. It was a complete surprise to learn that Glen Ellen was home to the writer/adventurer from 1905 until his untimely death in 1916, at age 40, of gastrointestinal uremic poisoning. London pioneered new agricultural techniques here at his 1,400-acre Beauty Ranch.

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“London was well ahead in the real estate game in 1905 when he began buying up what was then exhausted farmland around Glen Ellen,” writes Kenneth Brandt, The Short, Frantic, Rags-to-Riches Life of Jack London,” in Smithsonian (www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/short-heroic-rags-riches-life-jack-london-180961200). “His intention was to restore the land by using innovative farming methods such as terracing and organic fertilizers… ‘I see my farm,’ he declared, ‘in terms of the world and the world in terms of my farm.’ Today, docents lead tours showcasing London’s progressive ranching and sustainable agricultural practices.”

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We wander through the ruins of his old stone winery and see a stone barn. You can visit the magnificent ruins of London’s 15,000-square-foot Wolf House mansion, built out of native volcanic rock and unstrapped redwoods, that would have had 26 rooms and nine fireplaces, a library measuring 19 x 40 feet, a two-story high living room, a wine cellar and – befitting a forward looking innovator – electric lighting and built-in vacuum cleaning system. It cost $75,000 ($1.9 million today) to build, but burned to the ground a month before completion.

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Built out of native volcanic rock and unstripped redwoods, it was to be the rustic capstone of Beauty Ranch and architectural avatar Jack London himself. He was devastated over the fire but vowed to rebuild. He would never get the chance,” Brandt writes.

I learn how contemporary London actually was, his writings and outlook remarkably prescient (or else you realize things don’t actually change but only repeat) – he could have been writing today. “He also remained politically engaged,” Brandt writes, quoting London from a 1914 letter: “If, just by wishing I could change America and Americans in one way. I would change the economic organization of America so that true equality of opportunity would obtain; and service, instead of profits, would be the idea, the ideal and the ambition animating every citizen.”

We set out on our hike (there are 20 miles of trails) through lush forest, majestic redwood groves, and meadows (a scenic six-mile trail leads to the top of Sonoma Mountain; you also can explore by horseback or bike), passing by a gorgeous vineyard to get to the trail. (We note the sign warning about rattlesnakes as we enter.)

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I must return to visit the museum housed in “The House of Happy Walls” where there are displays of London’s books along with artifacts London and his second wife, Charmian, brought back from their 27-month sailing adventure among unexplored South Seas islands. (Volunteer pianists play on Charmian’s 1901 Steinway grand piano in the cottage where she lived from 1934 until she died in 1955.)

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The park is very popular with locals in the know about all there is to do here – including concerts, performances, lectures, piano recitals; year-round there are free docent-guided tours, docent-led Sunday morning hikes, and other park events. Download a park map.

(Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, 707-938-5216, jacklondonpark.com).

You can pick up picnic supplies, as we did, at the superb Glen Ellen Village Market or croissants, mini-sandwiches and other baked goods at Les Pascals bakery.

In the late afternoon, we take a walk in the “neighborhood”:

A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Moon rise during our late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

See also: WINE & ART: THE PERFECT PAIRING IN SONOMA, CALIFORNIA (https://goingplacesfarandnear.com/wine-art-the-perfect-pairing-in-sonoma-california/)

For excellent planning materials, visit Sonoma County Tourism, 800-576-6662, info@sonomacounty.comwww.sonomacounty.comwww.sonomacounty.com/things-to-do.                

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© 2022 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

What a Discovery! Skiing Oak Mountain in New York’s Adirondacks

Oak Mountain ski area in New York State’s Adirondacks has been delighting skiers since 1948 © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Dave E. Leiberman and Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s 2:30 pm when we leave The Lorca, our lodge just up the road from Oak Mountain. By 3 pm we’re on Einstein’s Express, the quad chairlift that takes us up this delightful ski area, likely overshadowed by nearby major Adirondacks ski destinations, Gore Mountain and Whiteface. Looking behind us, the snowy Adirondack lake vista of Speculator bears a beauty that reminds us of the scene when you ski down Heavenly Mountain and come upon that sweeping view of Lake Tahoe. 

Our first run down is Sacandaga, a lovely green cruiser with gorgeous views, some nice bends, and exquisitely groomed snow. Our Weather app says it’s 9 degrees, but in the sun we don’t notice it. Perfect warm-up run.

Oak Mountain ski area in New York State’s Adirondacks has been delighting skiers since 1948 © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We check out Upper Ryan’s Run (a black) and Lower Ryan’s Run (a blue). For a small, very family-friendly mountain that is so close to Lake Pleasant, Indian Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, and other popular Adirondack lake towns, Oak Mountain surprises us with its variety of trails to explore. Nova, Alternate, Skidway, and the other trails on that side of Einstein’s Express aren’t open, but we enjoy an hour of runs down Oak Mt. Run, Fifth Ave, and the trails surrounding Sacandaga. 

It’s fun (and educational!) to see the local high school ski team practice as we ride the chairlift. It inspires us to work on our weight-shifting and carving for the remainder of our spontaneous Friday afternoon ski outing. 

We hear great things about Acorn Pub and Eatery down at the base where there is often live music. We’ll need to check it out next time for après ski. 

This quaint ski area – popular with families since 1948 though a new discovery for us – offers 22 trails (snowmaking on 40%), a 650-foot vertical from base (1,750 feet) to summit (2,400 feet), and four lifts (quad, two T-bars and a surface lift). The longest run is 7,920 feet.

In addition to downhill skiing and snowboarding, Oak features four lanes of snow tubing and miles of snowshoeing trails that take you through a majestic forest.

Lift tickets to Oak Mountain are very reasonable. Full-day tickets are $44, four-hour tickets are $37, and two-hour tickets are only $30. We highly recommend starting or ending the day with even just an hour of skiing at Oak Mountain.

(Capacity is limited, and lift tickets, rentals and lessons must be booked in advance online.)

Oak Mountain is a three-season resort in the Southern Adirondacks, an easy drive from Albany, Utica or Lake George.

Oak Mountain, 141 Novosel Way Speculator, NY 12164 518-548-3606, www.oakmountainski.com 

Oak Mountain’s website lists nearby accommodations and “Play and Stay” packages.

Among them is Lorca ADK, our lodge which we recently renovated from a historic motel, to accommodate stays year-round.

Lorca ADK is a classic drive-in lodge, reimagined as a self-check property for the contemporary traveler (c) Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lorca ADK is a classic drive-in lodge, reimagined as a self-check property for the contemporary traveler. It’s surrounded by forests, across the road from Indian Lake with gorgeous islands. The eight units provide coffee, tea, mini-fridges, s’mores and firewood. The property offers grills, fire pits, lawn games, a seasonal pool with weekend hours, and a nature walk. Lorca ADK is about 20 minutes from Oak Mountain, and about 30 minutes from Gore Mountain Resort.

Lorca ADK, Sabael, NY, 518-300-3916, hello@thelorca.com, thelorca.com/adk

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© 2022 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

Travelers Navigate a Tricky Landscape in 2022

One of the historic Maine Windjammers, the Victory Chimes, is enveloped in fog. Big cruiseships may be a dubious proposition, but small ships – riverboats, barges – and even a self-piloted canalboat will be desirable ways to keep sailing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Where to go in 2022 is as much a question of “how to go” and “why to go”.

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We can see just how important travel is in our lives – to our wellbeing, our growth, our connections to family and friends, and as literal ambassadors of peace, understanding and shared innovation.We know this from the huge surge that occurred during 2021, after the COVID-19 vaccine opened floodgates to travelers, by making it safe(r) to be out and about. Even during the worst of the pandemic, before a vaccine, people found a way to continue to embrace experiences, drawing upon the infinite possibilities to tailor something that felt right.

It may well be that the Omicron variant, by virtue of just how transmissible but less dangerous (at least for those who are vaccinated and use precautions like masking, social distancing) will help bring about the end of the global coronavirus pandemic, as more people develop immunity. Or not. It may well be that new variants will arise – perhaps progressively less dangerous. Or not. And it is more likely that some form of virus will be endemic and dealing with it will be part of the “new normal” of everyday life. And people will find a way to go on with their lives and have this in mind: life is precious and our time is finite, make the best of every day. And that includes sharing experiences with the ones you hold dear. And top of the list to achieve that is travel.

Where to go in 2022 is as much a question of “how to go” and “why to go”.

I’m thinking that many of the same trends of 2021 will hold in 2022 – a focus on outdoors activities, low-density destinations, open-spaces (national and state parks), bike trips, driveable destinations, RVs and camping.

Parks & Trails NY’s Cycle the Erie eight-day, 400-mile biking/camping trip will be back at full strength, 650 riders, July 10-17 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even if the Omicron variant of COVID-19 abates, as is expected, and is less dangerous than Delta, and travelers are much more likely (even required) to be vaccinated and show a negative test, people will be concerned about whether there is yet another variant around the corner that can break through, whether destinations will impose new restrictions, from mandated quarantines to capacity controls to shutting borders altogether (airlines, tour operators, hotels and the like must continue flexible cancellation policies if they want to stay in business at all). There likely will be the continued need for advance purchase of ticketing, and possibly a return to capacity controls, as well as requirements for masking and social distancing. This will define the new “normal” because the protocols won’t be going away any time soon – certainly not until there are months that go by without a coronavirus outbreak before anyone feels safe enough.

Taking a flight from Mexico just before the Christmas holiday rush and the onset of Omicron. There is increasing resolution that some form of COVID-19 will become endemic and become part of a “new normal” for travelers © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But because there is now widespread vaccinations, masking, and testing will be much more available (and free), people will continue to travel and live their lives. COVID will be “endemic” – embedded in how we live.

And the lure of travel – for all the benefits travel affords in terms of personal growth, renewal, bonding, discovery – will be very strong, even stronger. And where there is a will, there will be a way.

People will opt for travel that does not require a lot of connections (if taking air) or complicated itineraries, will many will seize opportunities to travel last minute because of the changeability of the situation. They will look for flexibility (and ability to cancel or change), and travel styles that give them more control.

Travel companies have already adapted: like G Adventures (gadventures.com), with a new “Travel with Confidence” policy; Moab Adventure Center (www.moabadventurecenter.com) and its parent, Western River Expeditions, which organize customized small-group trips.

Attractions like the Skunk Train railbike in Fort Bragg, California, will likely continue with COVID-19 protocols © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The innovations and adaptations – on airlines, at hotels and resorts, attractions, restaurants –  that have already been put into place will be continued, improved, enhanced. Many have actually been very popular improvements.

Indoor attractions may well continue capacity limits, advance purchase and online/touchless ticketing.

A concern for health and wellness will likely overhang travel planning. People should be monitoring CDC and WTO health reports and State department – not just on infection rates, but what destinations, travel suppliers, hotels, restaurants are doing to take COVID-19 health protocols seriously. Use your own protocols – the more protective N95 masks, hand-sanitizing. (New: Fend Wellness Sanitizing Hand Wipe Mitts are wearable hand mitt wipes that provide a protective liner between you and all surfaces that come in contact with your hands, available on Amazon and online, fendwellness.com).

For complicated, long-distance and expensive itineraries, use a travel advisor (www.travelsense.org, www.virtuoso.com, ustoa.com, and the new Reco from Tripadvisor (helloreco.com). Try to make plans with flexible cancellations or change policies; use respected and well established tour operators and travel companies which can adapt quickly on the ground and revise itineraries as necessary and even extract you if conditions warrant. If traveling abroad, purchase travel insurance that incorporates health coverage (your domestic health insurance does not provide much coverage; my go-to travel insurance company is worldnomads.com)

Check with State Department (travel.state.gov) and CDC.gov as to conditions. Make sure vaccinations (and cards) are in order (many countries are much more restrictive than the United States). Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP, Step.state.gov), which shares your contact information with the nearest U.S. embassy and sends travel alert notifications. The STEP app is worth downloading prior to traveling.

So high on our list for travel in 2022:

Letchworth State Park, New York, considered the “Grand Canyon of the East.” 2022 will still be a year of discovering fantastic attractions within driving distance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Road Trip!: Continue to discover destinations, experiences within driveable distance, or, for long-distance holidays, revert to the old-school “road trip” and string together destinations in an itinerary that make a loop. An excellent way to do that is to go to historichotels.org because each of these 300 member properties from 44 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, are destinations in their own right. Hotels and resorts are being scrupulous about cleaning and sanitizing and have installed procedures and technology. You can also create your own itineraries using hotels.com (which offers extremely flexible cancellation policy), booking.com, airbnb.com.

Major ski destinations, like Gore Mountain, in New York’s Adirondacks, are within driving distance of major metropolitan areas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ski/snowboarding/mountain resorts holidays – More people taking up skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, uphilling which are ideal outdoor activities during winter. Fortunately, there are many major ski areas within driving distance. Ski passes like Vail Resorts’ EpicPass and Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon Pass, which provide access to dozens of destinations, let you really explore. And to help, Alterra just introduced the Ikon Pass Travel, a trip planning service (ikonpass.com/travel).

Renting a camper van, like this one from Moterra, to explore will continue to be a trend in 2022 © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Renting RVs/camper vans will continue – last year was a boom for camper van rental companies like Moterra (307-200-7220, gomoterra.com); Blacksford, offering an all-inclusive RV pricing with unlimited miles, 24-hour roadside assistance and a free annual pass to national parks (www.blacksford.com); and Tracks & Trails markets packaged national park RV vacations, 800-247-0970, www.tracks-trails.com). Another idea: pilot your own canalboat – like an RV on the water – on the Erie Canal (eriecanaladventures.com, 315-986-3011).

Pilot your own canalboat on the Erie Canal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And while big cruiseships may be a dubious proposition, small ships like Blount (blountsmallshipadventures.com, 800-556-7450) and riverboats like CroisiEurope (croisieurope.com, 800-768-7232), and historic sailboats like the Maine Windjammers (800-807-WIND,  www.sailmainecoast.com) will be desirable ways to keep sailing.

State parks like Watkins Glen in New York’s Finger Lakes will be a big draw in 2022 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Camping/glamping –Check out New York State campgrounds in state parks like Watkins Glen and Letchworth State Park; book at 800-456-CAMP,  newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com). Last year, New York expanded glamping/camping opportunities along its picturesque canals through Tentrr (tentrr.com/nysp). To find private campgrounds, visit Campground Owners of New York, 585-586-4360, campnewyork.com, and Kampgrounds of America (our favorite: Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA, Herkimer, NY (315-891-7355, www.herkimerdiamond.com). If California is your destination, visit www.camp-california.com.

Our campsite at Watkins Glen State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And nationally: Kampgrounds of America (koa.com); Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resorts with 75 locations  throughout North America (pools, water slides, splashgrounds, activities, www.jellystonepark.com); and, internationally, Glamping Hub, with 22,000 locations around the world, from safari tents, yurts, treehouses, to cabins (glampinghub.com); and Pitchup, which has 5344 campgrounds, glamping sites throughout the Americas, Europe (www.pitchup.com)

Bike tours, like Discovery Bicycle’s Maine Coast trip, afford the opportunity to get off the bike and enjoy the sights © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bike tours are among our favorite modes of travel – a perfect pace and immersion into surroundings with scenic and important heritage routes, that are offered as inn-to-inn, bike/boat tours, or as bike/camping trips, and as guided tours or self-guided. Among our favorite bike tour companies: Bike Tours (biketours.com), Wilderness Voyageurs (855-550-7705, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com), Discovery Bicycle Tours, which has a new Vermont Gravel biking/camping trip (800-257-2226, discoverybicycletours.com). Also, Parks & Trails NY is back with its 24th Cycle the Erie Canal,  eight-day, 400-mile biking/camping trip, from Buffalo to Albany, (July 10-17); registration has just opened (https://www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal/annual-bike-tour)

The Grand Prismatic, one of the most dramatic –and surreal – sights in Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visits to national and state parks will again be popular this year.  There are tour operators that have organized tours, and you can do what we did last year, go to AirBnB, hotels.com and booking.com to get availability, but there are two companies that dominate in-park lodging: Xanterra (xanterra.com) and Delaware North (delawarenorth.com)

Our own cabin at the Elkhorn Inn, West Jackson, just outside the entrance to Yellowstone Park, booked on hotels.com © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Delaware North last year implemented its Rest Assured Commitment to Care comprehensive health and safety program at the lodging properties it operates, including re-engineered operating procedures to minimize contact risk and bolstered hygiene protocols aligned with guidelines of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Delaware North Parks and Resorts operates lodging in and near many iconic national and state parks, including Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Shenandoah, Sequoia & Kings Canyon and Olympic National Parks and Niagara Falls State Park, as well as at cultural attractions such as Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (www.delawarenorth.com/divisions/parks). 

Book early if you want to visit the Grand Canyon National Park this year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Known for its “Legendary Hospitality with a Softer Footprint,” Xanterra Travel Collection has operations in Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Zion, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Parks, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Xanterra Travel Collection also owns and operates the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel in Williams, Ariz., The Grand Hotel in Tusayan, Ariz., The Oasis at Death Valley in Death Valley Calif., Windstar Cruises, Holiday Vacations, VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations, and Country Walkers.

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

Wellness travel – There will be more interest in visiting resorts that cater to wellness (not the same thing as medical tourism), like Canyon Ranch or like the The Inn at Leola Village, Leola, PA, touting its Paid Time Off Wellness Package (theinnatleolavillage.com). The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness tourism as “travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing…an opportunity to maintain and improve our holistic health.” A helpful source is spafinders.com.

Wellness and glamping combine at Picocanoa Rodavento, an eco-lodge in Veracruz, Mexico where thrill seekers can explore the surrounding jungle-clad hills by whitewater rafting, mountain biking, rock climbing and even zipping across the canyon and colorful treetops. The glamping site offers traditional wellness treatments, including a traditional Mayan temazcal prehispanico steam bath, as well as an outdoor pool and bar surrounded by lush greenery, a campfire for enjoying traditional batucada drum parties and safari tents and cabins that travelers can book for $98/night on outdoor accommodation website.

Beachfront resort, Nayarit, Mexico © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Beach and golf resorts that afford lots of space, uncrowded, perhaps with own villas and beachfront will be in high demand. Many Caribbean and Mexican resorts, for example, are emphasizing their COVID-19 protocols and healthful ambiance. Club Med, a pioneer of the all-inclusive concept, for example, is touting its spacious low-density resorts surrounded by nature, spread across 50 acres, operating at a limited capacity, its enhanced safety and hygiene protocols, free onsite antigen testing, and free cancellation policy, as well as unlimited culinary options, and inclusive activities from skiing and snowboarding to standup paddle boarding and snorkeling and family activity programs (www.clubmed.us, 800-Club-Med)

A villa vacation in Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Villa-style vacations, where you have a base to stay and go out from there, offer the advantage of being stand-alone. Many resorts offer villa accommodations, like Banyan Tree Mayakoba, an all-villa five-star eco resort on Mexico’s Riviera Maya (banyantree.com); also the Altamer Resort, Anguilla (altamer.com). Sources include villasofdistinction.com, thetopvillas.com, vrbo.com, airbnb.com/villas, exclusiveresorts.com.

Dude Ranches check off all the items on our list for being outside, inclusive and pure fun. New York State has a surprising number of these delightful venues. Among our favorites: Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (866-600-0859, www.pineridgeduderanch.com); Ridin’ Hy (518-494-2742, www.ridinhy.com); and the ever-popular Rocking Horse Ranch (877-605-6062, www.rockinghorseranch.com).

The Red Reflet Ranch, in Ten Sleep, Wyoming. Dude and guest ranches are ideal venues for 2022 family vacations © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Want the real West? Dude Ranch Association, with 100 members across the western United States and Canada, each entirely different from one another, can help you choose where to go (307-587-2339 duderanch.org); another source is the Colorado Dude Ranch Association (866-942-3472, coloradoranch.org).

More focus on experiential and purposeful travel – those bucketlist experiences that resonate at a fundamental level with one’s being, the experiences that are important enough to risk going outside one’s comfort zone. It could be anything: hiking/camping trip to Machu Picchu (alpacaexpeditions.com); wildlife safari in Kenya (EF Go Ahead experts navigate travel and health and safety guidelines and plan fully refundable trips with no change fees, 800, 590-1161, www.goaheadtours.com); a voyage to Antarctica (atlasoceanvoyages.com, 844-44-ATLAS) or a cooking class in Paris (cooknwithclass.com).

A wildlife safari in Kahna Tiger Preserve, India. Travelers will choose destinations and experiences with more intention and not put off what’s on their bucket-list © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A corollary of this is more focus on sustainable, responsible tourism and ecotourism. Even if much of society has become entrenched in “me-me-me” view, people who are travelers tend to have a more open, one-world sensibility, and are sensitive to the need to protect and appreciate environment, heritage, ecology. There is a lot more interest in seeking out travel experiences that immerse you in local cultures and use tourism to bolster local economies in order to sustain local communities and culture, and do as much good in the world as for oneself.

TRIPS by Culture Trip, is touting its “ extremely flexible and generous cancellation plan in place should Covid restrictions change your plans, including rebooking for free up to 48 hours before departure and if TRIPS by Culture Trip cannot change your booking dates, they will refund the booking (culturetrip.com/trips, 678-967-4965).

Even though you may want to hold out to survey the situation, you are best advised to book early because dates will fill, and take advantage of flexible cancellation or rebooking policies. National Plan for Vacation Day is January 25th.

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© 2022 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

Weekend in Mendocino: Historic Skunk Train Introduces a Novel RailBike Experience

The legendary Skunk Train on the Pudding Creek track, out of the historic depot in Fort Bragg, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman & Sarah Falter

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our Mendocino, California weekend sojourn continues. From the Brewery Gulch Inn, where we stayed our first night, it is a picturesque 20 minute drive up the coast to Fort Bragg for the Skunk Train, a vintage steam train that weaves through the redwood forests of the Noyo River Canyon. That was alluring enough, but what really captured our imagination was the idea of riding a “railbike” on the same train tracks through the forest. Railbike?

Before you board the Skunk Train or railbike, sure to visit the model train display and the historic exhibits across the track from the Skunk Train depot © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Train buffs will be absolutely ecstatic to visit the historic train station, walk across the tracks to a fantastic model train exhibit and historical society exhibit housed in appropriately aged buildings (so atmospheric), then board the train for a fairly short ride about 3 ½ miles down the track along the Pudding Creek, to Glen Blair Junction before returning, for a total of 7 miles. Weather permitting, you can ride an open car or sit inside the vintage cars.

Boarding the Skunk Train at Glen Blair Junction © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Since 1885 the historic Skunk has made its way through these old-growth redwood groves, over scenic trestle bridges, through tunnels, and into the heart of the Noyo River Canyon, primarily for logging purposes. Today, the repurposed train offers five trains that ply two different routes and two different railbike experiences.

First the railbike experience.

Riding the railbike through the redwood forest en route to Glen Blair Junction © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Two of us have already gotten onto our railbike (it seats two people) – custom-built, patent pending, specially designed like a recumbent, where you sit back, outfitted with electronic-assist, and virtually silent so you can really appreciate the forest.

Riding the railbike through the redwood forest en route to Glen Blair Junction © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We take the more modest of the railbike trips that are offered, The Pudding Creek railbike trip, which gives you an excellent taste and can be done by just about anyone. It is 7 miles roundtrip traveling along the same tracks as the scenic train – in fact, the trips are coordinated so the railbikes leave first, then the train, then the train leaves and the railbikes follow. (Note: it is downhill most of the way but uphill most of the way back, along a grade that is higher than most railroads – no problem, you have the motor assist!). There are two guides who accompany us – one in front and one in the back. People follow one after another but everyone is independent.

Railbikers return to the station © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One person is designated the “driver” (the other is the passenger) who is given an orientation before we set off how to brake and use the electronic assist; the passenger just pedals (it is manageable for a parent and young child). It is fun, and you get this wonderful opportunity to just chat and be together as you roll through the forest.

The Puddle Creek railbike excursion takes less than two hours, including time at Glen Blair Junction where we get off (as the railbikes are reversed for the return), and can walk a delightful forest loop trail.

This gives the historic train time to arrive, the train passengers to also get out and stretch, and depart before the railbike riders start back. The guide gives us some narration here and points to where the train tunnel has collapsed.

While Eric and I set out on the railbike, Sarah boards the train at the Fort Bragg depot for the relaxed, scenic 7-mile roundtrip journey on the Pudding Creek Express, traveling along the same Pudding Creek Estuary through primeval ancient redwoods forest to the Glen Blair Junction.

The stop at Glen Blair Junction gives the railbikers time to hike a short trail in the redwood forest which brought industry and settlers to Mendocino © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Trains also stop at Glen Blair Junction for 15 minutes, allowing the passengers to get off and explore. But if you would like to spend more time walking the trails among the redwoods, you can stay behind and catch the next train (roughly two hours later). You can bring a packed lunch (to enjoy at the picnic tables set out there.

We organize it so I switch off with Sarah who has come on the train so she can experience the railbike and I can experience the train on the way back (how clever of me since the return was more uphill). Both were delightful experiences and the length well suited to families with young children.

The Skunk Train claims to be the crookedest train in the West © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the way back I hear the narrator say these were some of the first tracks ever laid down by the California Western Railroad in 1885 and have been used in some fashion just about ever since. He claims it is also the most crooked train in the West, possibly the world (though I would need confirmation of that). 1940s music is playing as we roll along. I mostly stay in the open car but wander through the passenger cars to see what that is like.

The Skunk Trains operate with both Diesel-Electric engines and a #45 Baldwin 2-8-2 Mikado Steam Engine, the Super Skunk, pulling the passenger cars, including a bar car with snacks, non-alcoholic drinks, beer, wine, and spirits, as well as an open air car.

Train buffs will love the back story of this historic train: the Fort Bragg Railroad was formed in 1885 to make transporting lumber easier, eventually being incorporated into the California Western Railroad, commonly known as The Skunk.

The train played a vital role transporting families and workers to their logging camps along the route, making The Skunk a different type of railroad, the website notes: It not only was key to the area’s economic activity but also its social and cultural life. “No other logging railroad in America has made the deep impression on American life that was created by the line from Fort Bragg – first by the natural beauty of its route and later, by the distinctiveness of its equipment,” the website boasts.

The nickname “Skunk” originated in 1925 when motorcars (actually railbuses or railcruisers) were introduced on the line. These single unit, self-propelled motorcars had gasoline-powered engines for power and pot-bellied stoves burning crude oil to keep the passengers warm, but the fumes they emitted had a very pungent odor that people living along the line said smelled like skunk. “You could smell them before you could see them.” (No longer the case.)

The Skunk Train dates back to 1885 and played a vital role transporting families and workers to their logging camps along the route, and not only was key to the area’s economic activity but also its social and cultural life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The California Western Railroad was first operated as a division of the Fort Bragg mill (Union Lumber Company, Boise-Cascade). In the mid-1960s, Arizona-based Kyle Railways began managing the railroad and purchased it in 1987. In August 1996, a group of local Mendocino Coast investors purchased California Western, marking the first time in its 111-year history that the line operated as an independent business. Today the Skunk Train is owned and operated by Mendocino Railway.

The Pudding Creek train operates year-round and the railbikes operate rain or shine, so just bring raingear if the weather isn’t great).

The Pudding Creek railbike excursion is $250 for one or two people; the train is $41.95 (Ages 13 and up); $25.95 (Ages 2-12), Infant: $10.95; Dog: $10.95.

Be sure to visit the model train display and the historic exhibits across the track from the Skunk Train depot © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Train buffs should consider the longer excursion, the two-hour Wolf Tree Turn a scenic 16-mile roundtrip journey departing from the Willits valley floor that takes you over the summit of the line (1740 feet elevation), through Tunnel #2, and down into the Noyo River Canyon where you are immersed in the redwood forest that made Mendocino County famous. The train stops briefly at Crowley, giving passengers the opportunity to visit one of the oldest and most iconic trees along the route, the Wolf Tree (named for the large growth off of one side which woodsmen called “wolf trees”) (Adult: $49.95; child: $29.95; Infant: $10.95; Dog: $10.95).

There is a much longer, more ambitious railbike experience, as well: a four-hour excursion that travels the Redwood Route takes you 25 miles along the meandering Noyo River and deep into old-growth redwood groves on a section of track now reserved exclusively for the railbikes ($495/railbike for one or two people).

Eric and Sarah pedal the railbike © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are loads of seasonal and themed events as well: Cinema in the Redwoods; Music in the Redwoods; Magical Christmas Train; Easter Express, Pumpkin Express; summer BBQ trains, murder mystery trains, the Mushroom Train, the Crab & Cremant train and Railbikes by Moonlight. The trains can also be used to host corporate meetings, picnics, parties, proms, weddings, baby showers, and  team building.

The Pudding Creek railbike excursion is $250 for one or two people; the Pudding Creek Express train departing Fort Bragg year-round is $41.95 (Ages 13 and up); $25.95 (Ages 2-12), Infant: $10.95; Dog: $10.95.

Skunk Train, 100 West Laurel Street Fort Bragg, California 95437;
299 East Commercial Street Willits, California 95490, www.skunktrain.com.

Glass Beach

Polished sea glass like gemstones at Glass Beach, Fort Bragg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From here, it is a very short distance to go to Glass Beach in Fort Bragg – one of the absolute highlights of this place. The intriguing name and spectacularly picturesque scene belie the origins of the beach and why it is covered with tiny, shimmering pebbles of sea glass like gemstones: Rather than the sea glass floating in on waves from various places and mysteriously collecting here, the sea glass is in this space because it was once a garbage heap and the glass bottles tossed away over the years have broken down, smoothed and rounded by the rhythmic waves. There is a finite amount of glass so though it is illegal to remove any glass, people take what they think is an insignificant amount, and over the years, has drained the beach of much of what it used to have. Still, it is magical.

Polished sea glass like gemstones at Glass Beach, Fort Bragg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The water crashes against rocks just off the shore here, making for dramatic scene (but not suitable for swimming or letting kids venture into the water). You can hike north up to Pudding Creek Beach where a paved multi-use trail crosses over an old train trestle; other trails go south from Glass Beach to other glassy beaches.

Dramatic scenery at Glass Beach, Fort Bragg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Glass Beach is at the southern end of the sprawling MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg, which is noted for birdlife and harbor seals.

Dramatic scenery at Glass Beach, Fort Bragg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Polished sea glass like gemstones at Glass Beach, Fort Bragg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
You can hike from Glass Beach north up to Pudding Creek Beach where a paved multi-use trail crosses over an old train trestle; other trails go south from Glass Beach to other glassy beaches © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From here, we follow the Brewery Gulch Inn’s concierge recommendation to lunch at Princess Seafood in Noyo Harbor, an actual fishing port where various restaurants have sprung up to serve the fresh catch. Princess Seafood not only is totally operated by women, but the fishing boat that brings in its catch is run by women, as well.

We take the short drive into Mendocino to explore this charming place.

Headlands Coastal Trail

You literally step across Main Street from Mendocino’s charming shops and eateries to enter Mendocino Headlands State Park, a 347-acre park that envelops this enchanting village. The coastal trail is nothing less than spectacular: dramatic 70-foot bluffs providing views of rocky offshore islands, tide pools and beaches below. The hiking trail begins at the Ford House Visitor Center and continues for some 2 miles around the entire bluff of the headlands to the north side of town.

Hiking the Headlands Coastal Trail, you get a great view of Mendocino and Portuguese Beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our hike starts overlooking Noyo Bay, then snakes around to open views of the Pacific.

One of the highlights of this incomparable trail is Portuguese Beach, named for the Portuguese sailors from the Azores who were among Mendocino’s early settlers. The tide is low enough when we take the stairs down to Portuguese Beach to come upon these fabulous formations of driftwood, and can see at water level the rock arch. Eric can’t resist and with great abandon, plunges into the frigid water. The beach, its sand surprisingly soft, is aptly named, since it is reminiscent of the beaches in Portugal’s Algarve.

Encompassed by high bluffs, Portuguese Beach is reminiscent of the beaches in the Algarve of Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Continuing on the trail, we see remnants of the logging that was Mendocino’s primary industry, and, at a promontory about half-way along the trail, you take a small path to a blow hole/punchbowl where the ocean smashes up through a hole in the rocks, with a roar and a splash.

Coming upon the blow hole on the Headlands Coastal Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rounding the bend, there are dramatic rock formations. Offshore and north of the west end of Little Lake Street is Goat Island, a large flat offshore rock that is part of the California Coastal National Monument where you are also likely to see various shorebirds and seabirds. Indeed, it is a good idea to bring binoculars because whales and birds can be seen throughout the year.

Headlands Coastal Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Headlands Coastal Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The visitor center for Mendocino Headlands State Park is in the Historic Ford House on the south side of Main Street near the beach. It is worth a visit especially if you are interested in local history and the flora and fauna you are likely to encounter at the beaches and on the trails nearby. Walking tours are also available. There are public restrooms at the north and south ends of the Headlands- on Heeser Drive and near the Ford House.

Headlands Coastal Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Headlands trail is a fabulous place to watch the sunset – the sun literally falls into the ocean – before we head to our next destination, Little River Inn.

Headlands Coastal Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Headlands Coastal Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Headlands Coastal Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For excellent planning help: Visit Mendocino County, 866-466-3636, 707-964-9010, www.visitmendocino.com.

See also:

WEEKEND GETAWAY IN MENDOCINO: BREWERY GULCH INN

WEEKEND GETAWAY IN MENDOCINO: LITTLE RIVER INN

WEEKEND GETAWAY IN ENCHANTING MENDOCINO

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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

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

*Black Friday & Cyber Monday Deals*

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