Global Scavenger Hunt Turns Into Personal Odyssey Following Route of Jewish Diaspora (Part 1: VIETNAM-ATHENS)

Channels cut in the siq leading into Petra, Jordan, provided water to the desert city. It is believed to be the place where Moses performed the miracle of drawing water from a stone during the Israelites’ exodus in the desert after leaving Egypt. Archaeological evidence comes from the fact that the chasm was named Wadi Musa – Valley of Moses © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Morocco has just established full diplomatic relations with Israel. But the news was interesting to me because Morocco has a long-standing tradition, going back centuries of welcoming Jews, harboring Jews and even today, protecting the cemeteries and the few remaining synagogues, as I was surprised to discover during a Global Scavenger Hunt mystery tour around the world in 2019.  Each destination was a surprise (we only learn where we are next going when we are told to get to the airport), but most surprising was to find myself on an odyssey of the Jewish Diaspora. It wasn’t my intention or my mission but everywhere we went, I found myself tracing a route set by trade (and permitted occupations), exile and refuge.

It started in Vietnam and then just about every place we touched down: in Myanmar, where I visited the last synagogue in that country, in Yangon, (it’s a historic landmark and still serves a handful of congregants); in Athens, where I discovered evidence of a synagogue that served a Jewish community that had existed in Athens at least since the 3rd century BCE and possibly as early as 6th century BCE (probably dating from the Babylonian Exile in 598 BCE), near where the world’s first “parliament” would have been; in Petra, Jordan, I discovered a connection to Moses and the Exodus (the first Diaspora?).

Moses, Jewish Museum of Greece, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On to Morocco, in Marrakech and Fez, where I learned that the king literally invited Jews expelled by the Spanish during the Inquisition, and the monarch hundreds of years later stood up to the Nazis during the Holocaust; in Gibraltar, a British territory of just 36,000 inhabitants, where Jews continue to make up 2% of the population and where there are four active synagogues dating back hundreds of years; then on to Seville, Spain and Porto, Portugal, where Jews after living in Iberia for hundreds of years, were expelled in the Inquisition.  

And finally, coincidentally this around-the-world mystery tour concluded in New York City, where many of the descendents of Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal ultimately settled, and where you can still visit the synagogue of America’s oldest congregation, Congregation Shearith Israel, founded in 1654.

This Global Scavenger Hunt around-the-world mystery tour turned out to be an unexpected journey following in the footsteps of the Jewish Diaspora in unexpected places. Come along with me:

Vietnam

Vietnam, under the rule of Vichy France in 1940, the French Governor implemented the “Statute of Jews”, limiting Jews to specific professions, dismissing government employees and workers in other professions and expelling Jews from schools. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I learn that, though Jews have been in Vietnam and Judaism practiced in Vietnam since the late 19th century during French colonization,  there are only about 300 Jews left in Vietnam, most of whom are expatriates (or descendants), with virtually no native Vietnamese converts. By 1939, there would have been about 1,000 Jews, but under the rule of Vichy France, in 1940, the French Governor implemented the “Statute of Jews,” limiting Jews to specific professions, dismissing government employees and workers in other professions and expelling Jews from schools. After the war and French expulsion, these limits were overturned, and the Jewish population increased to 1,500. In 2006, Chabad opened a center in Ho Chi Minh City and in 2014, in Hanoi.

Myanmar

Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I learn of the last remaining synagogue in Myanmar while looking at a tourist map of Yangon on the flight back from my Global Scavenger Hunt sojourn that took me to the temple-city of Bagan and villages-on-stilts on Inle Lake. I race to visit before it closes at 2 pm (open daily except Sunday).

By the time I get here, it is 1:40 pm. It is a lovely synagogue in the Sephardic style, built in 1896. The Jewish community in Yangon numbered as many as 2500 before the mass migration of World War II; today, there are only five families (about 30 people). The Samuels, one of the last remaining Jewish families, has maintained the synagogue for generations, a plaque notes. Getting there is interesting, going through street markets with sounds of chickens (for sale), live fish (one almost got away), and the scent of spices.

Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Perhaps not surprising, a short distance from the synagogue is Bogyoke Aung San Market, which since 1926 has been the city’s major marketplace.

See: GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT, LEG 3: BACK IN YANGON, MYANMAR

Jordan

With time constraints and a mad dash to Petra from Amman, and lack of top-of-mind mission, I don’t specifically seek out Jewish sites or history in Jordan, but suffice to say, the Jewish heritage is a layer of Jordan’s landscape going back 4,000 years, back to Biblical times. It is linked, also, to the Roman occupation, and we get to visit Roman ruins in the heart of Amman. Though there are no legal bans on Jews, there are currently no Jewish residents, either.

Channels cut in the siq leading to Petra, Jordan, provided water to the desert city. It is believed to be the place where Moses performed the miracle of drawing water from a stone during the Israelites’ exodus in the desert after leaving Egypt. Archaeological evidence comes from the fact that the chasm was named Wadi Musa – Valley of Moses © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Petra, an archaeological jewel, I later learn, has a remarkable  connection to Moses and the Exodus from Egypt: the siq – that 1.5-mile-long stony cleft you go through to enter the ancient city (which made it defensible), is believed to be the place where Moses performed the miracle of drawing water from a stone during the Israelites’ exodus in the desert after leaving Egypt. Archaeological evidence comes from the fact that the chasm in which the city was built was named after Moses himself—Wadi Musa, or Valley of Moses – and is believed to be the source of water that supplied the desert city, making habitation possible. As you walk through, you can see where a channel system to direct water had been carved in the stone (https://arzaworld.com/israel-travel-guide/israel-travel-destinations/city-of-petra-jordan.aspx)

Channels cut in the siq leading to Petra, Jordan, provided water to the desert city. It is believed to be the place where Moses performed the miracle of drawing water from a stone during the Israelites’ exodus in the desert after leaving Egypt. Archaeological evidence comes from the fact that the chasm was named Wadi Musa – Valley of Moses © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

See: ANCIENT CITY OF PETRA IS A HIGHLIGHT OF GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT IN JORDAN

Athens

We are only in Athens for a day, and  I retrace some of my steps from a previous trip when I took a Context walking tour with a guide, Vassilas. We had met in the district known today as Monasteraki, but as we walked through the flea market area, he mentioned it was originally called Yusurum, named for a Jewish family of tradesmen who built a store in the area. Athens did not have a “Jewish Quarter” per se, he told me, sensing my interest, but just a few blocks away, there once were a few Jewish synagogues, only one that is still in use today.

There is limited information about Jews in Athens during antiquity; most of the Jews who lived in Greece up until modern times came after the Spanish Inquisition, in1492.

In the Agora of Athens, the site of what was ostensibly the world’s first Parliament building. Near here would have been what is believed to be an early synagogue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But as we walked through the Agora, the ancient marketplace and political center where humankind had its first House of Parliament, he pointed to where it is believed to have been a synagogue, serving a Jewish community that had existed in Athens at least since 3rd C BCE and possibly as early as 6th C BCE (very possibly dating from the Babylonian Exile in 598 BCE). This is based on finding a sign etched in marble – in essence, a sign for the synagogue, which comes from the Greek words “synagein,” meaning “to bring together” and the same root word as “agora” which means “a place of assembly.” (Context Travel’s “Everyday Greeks in Ancient Times” walking tour, www.contexttravel.cominfo@contexttravel.com, 800-691-6036)

This way to the synagogue – 3rd century BCE. A replica of an ancient marker taken from the Agora, walking distance from the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He pointed me to Athens’ Jewish Museum, where I found a reproduction of that original stone sign. There I was surprised to learn that the Greek Jews is the oldest Jewish community in Europe. (Jewish Museum of Greece, Nikis 39, Athens 105 57. Phone: 210 32 25 582, e-mail: info@jewishmuseum.gr, visit www.jewishmuseum.gr.)

On another walking tour, with a local guide, through the city’s free “Athens with a Native” program, Constantine E. Cavoulacos, whose family has a prominent real estate development company (his uncle was an engineer on the Jewish Museum building) also sensing my interest, brought me to Ermou Street where two synagogues – old (Ete Haim) and new (Beth Shalom) face each other. It is a quiet street, set off from the busy neighborhood only a couple of streets beyond, but near (as it turns out), the Agora. Also close by, is a Holocaust Memorial – a star exploding under a small grove of trees, with the name of each Greek city where Jewish communities were cut down. (www.thisisathens.org)

“Old” Synagogue Athens, Greece © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In Athens, Jews did not live in a Jewish Quarter, like in Corfu, Rhodes or Thessalonki, but lived around Athens, though they tended to live near the synagogue.

It is not known how many Jews lived in Greece at its peak – during the Holocaust, archives were burned. But prior to the war, Thessaloniki had 70,000 Jews; there were 29 communities.

Holocaust Memorial, Athens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Today, there are 5,000 Jews living in Greece – 3000 of them in Athens (a tiny number compared to the population). There are nine communities that are most active, with Jewish schools.

See:

JEWISH MUSEUM IN ATHENS HONORS THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF HISTORY IN GREECE

ATHENS WITH A NATIVE: VOLUNTEER GUIDE PROGRAM GIVES INSIDER’S INSIGHT INTO ANCIENT CITY’S PRESENT DAY

Next: Jewish Odyssey Continues in Morocco

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

America’s Great Open Spaces Filling Up Fast

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

RV Vacations, Novel Lodgings Surge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other sources for places to stay:

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

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

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

Tour Companies Enhance Experience

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

Among them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Novel Ways to Experience The Outdoors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking in Sidewinder Canyon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

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

ROAD TRIP: HITTING THE HIGHLIGHTS OF DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

AD-VAN-TURING, NEWEST TRAVEL TREND

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

Road Trip: Hitting the Highlights of Death Valley National Park

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

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

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Canyon Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badwater Basin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artist’s Palette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Preserve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death Valley National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Designed to Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhyolite Ghost Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Hitting the Highlights of Death Valley National Park

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

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

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

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave skis Twister © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Love in All the Right Places

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

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

Back to Nature

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

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

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

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

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

Romantic Getaways

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

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

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

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

Grand Historic Hotels Offer Special Ambiance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Micro Weddings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyatt Carmel Highlands Inn offers special wedding and elopement packages.

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

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

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

ad-VAN-turing, Newest Travel Trend

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

by Eric Leiberman and Sarah Falter,

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Moterra Luxury Camper Vans Lets You Pave Your Own Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death Valley © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

All-inclusive packages consist of:

Moterra Campervan Rental and cleaning fee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

info@gomoterra.com, gomoterra.com.

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

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

By Laurie Millman and Martin Rubin,

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Idyllic Hudson River spot near North Creek, NY © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Less than a half hour from Lake George Village, in upstate New York, you can discover cultural and artistic venues in smaller hamlets in the Adirondack State Park all year long without the crowds usually found in the Village. The draw to the small town shops and restaurants are in the quality of locally sourced products they sell and use in food preparation.

Check out some of the Adirondack State Park towns we discovered while driving around Lake George and following the Hudson River:

North Creek, NY – in addition to this town being the location of Gore Mountain ski resort, it is taking off as the art center of the Gore region in the State Park. To get to North Creek, we drove north of Lake George on Rte 9 and Rte 28 for about 35 minutes. The short journey took us along a shallow, yet scenic section of the Hudson River. We found glassblowing, mosaics, local artist exhibits, and regional foods – we spent a day here, but we could easily have stayed over at a local hotel to do more in town and in the surrounding mountains. 

  • Widlund Gallery at Tannery Pond Center – also called the Adirondacks Art Center (228 Main St, North Creek, NY 12853;  518-251-2505 x128; https://tannerypondcenter.org ), runs exhibits by local artists continuously throughout the year (even during ski season). Each exhibit runs for 6-7 weeks. Check out the Center’s site for upcoming exhibits. Socially distanced, outdoor events will begin early Spring, 2021.

    We toured the oil paintings of Elizabeth MacFarland whose art reflects local, natural settings. We purchased a beautiful poetry book for our granddaughter from the Center — Butterfly, Dragonfly – Poetry for Children, which was both written and illustrated by Ms. MacFarland – you can also find this book on Elizabeth’s website (https://www.elizabethmacfarland.com/).

The Center is handicap accessible, with parking spots across the street and a ramp leading up to the main entrance. The main floor contains the exhibits. A performance hall on the lower level can be reached by an elevator. Expect to wear masks while visiting. 

  • North Creek Mosaic Project just a couple of blocks from Tannery Pond Center, we found artist Kate Hartley working on the last major section of the 180-foot long mosaic relief along Main St. For the past 10 years, this project has been a labor of love for Hartley who conceptualized covering the retaining walls on this street with beautiful mosaic scenes representing activities in the Adirondacks. A project of this scale has drawn more than 2000 volunteers to help place pieces of tile, glass, and stone on the walls with Hartley’s guidance. Laurie is now one of those volunteers, by adding one of the last pieces to the mosaic that day. The Mosaic Project, now fully tiled, can be easily viewed from your car, but we recommend walking up to the walls to see close up the variety of materials used to build it. (For more information about this project follow https://www.facebook.com/northcreekmosaicproject/, or go to http://visitnorthcreek.org/project/the-north-creek-mosaic-project/.)
North Creek Mosaic Project © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • Artist-in-residence, Gregory Tomb (https://www.gregorytglass.com) – Reserve a 1-2 hour glassblowing class when Gregory returns to the region as Artist-in-Residence from late spring through late September 2021. For a private class, contact Gregory at 530-318-9413 or info@gregorytglass.com. Gregory’s temporary studio is located at the North Creek Railroad Station Complex (21 Railroad Place, North Creek, NY 12853). Gregory helped Laurie learn to use glassmaking tools to create a beautiful paperweight; Marty learned to blow hot glass and shape it into a bud vase.  The building is handicap accessible with parking on a gravel lot, but no bathroom is located on premise.
Marty takes a glassblowing class in North Creek with artist-in-residence Gregory Tomb © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hudson River Trading Companyacross the street from the North Creek Mosaic Project, the 7,000 sq. foot, multi-level store (292 Main St., North Creek, NY; 518-251-4461) is filled with items for sale which represent Adirondack life and culture. The store has souvenirs distinctive of the region, including NY State maple-covered nuts and confections, accessories and wares for every room in your house, accessories for pets, and clothing for all ages.

As we toured the store, owner Laurie Prescott Arnheiter explained to us how she preserved the original 1898 walls and floors from its days as a livery and stables and later a butcher shop. Look for the posts and numbers where the horse’s yolks were hung on the walls of the lower room.  The retail store also has a kids’ section to keep them occupied while their parents shop – there is a puppet stage, a small piano, and a reading corner (note to us, bring our granddaughter next time). We purchased an Adirondack hoodie sweatshirt for our daughter, an apron for Laurie, some dog treats, local honey, and NY maple-coated peanuts and candies.

Arnheiter also owns the small gourmet shop next door — The Hungry Crow — which is also in a historic building, and offers all locally made shelf and refrigerated food, such as cheeses, ground coffee, chocolates, and pastas. She even scooped for us berry-infused ice cream freshly made from a local dairy. Check the website, https://hudsonrivertradingco.com, for spring reopening and hours.

Children’s Corner in Hudson River Trading Company, North Creek, NY © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gore Mountain – this Adirondack ski resort offers downhill and cross-country skiing and snowboarding. Gore Mountain remains open the rest of the year for activities such as scenic hiking trails, a mountain skyride, downhill mountain biking, and nine-hole disc golf. The 2020/2021 season pass packages start from $499/adult. The pass applies to some of the summer and fall activities, and includes an additional ticket for sharing a winter activity. (793 Peaceful Valley Rd, North Creek, NY 12853; 518-251-2411, https://goremountain.com)

Skiing Gore Mountain. Gore remains open after the snow melts for summer and fall activities, such as scenic hiking trails, a mountain skyride, downhill mountain biking, and nine-hole disc golf. (c) Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bolton Landing, NYthis lakeside hamlet is just 15 minutes north of Lake George Village, as you drive along the lake.  Beautiful views of Lake George and shopping in small businesses with plenty of parking was a huge draw for us to stop and spend an afternoon here. Bolton Landing is also the home of the historic luxury hotel, The Sagamore Resort. 

  • Lake George Adirondack Wineryfor a fun and educational wine tasting experience for up to four people, book online or call any of their three locations in the region: Bolton Landing 518-708-6672; Lake George Village 518-203-2597; Queensbury 518-668-9463, https://www.adirondackwinery.com/. We opted for the Bolton Landing location.

This family-owned winery uses northern New York State and Canadian fresh grapes and fruit to create delicious red, pink, white, and ice wines. Adirondack Winery also effectively infuses semi-sweet red and white wines with seasonal fruit. The Adirondack Winery shops and production facility are open seven days a week for wine tasting and shopping – confirm hours online.

For the “Original Wine Tasting Experience” (just $8/person) we each selected seven different wine samples from a choice of 32 Adirondack Winery prepared wines. We added the  “Locavore Sampler” and the “Cheese Lover’s Sampler”  for an additional $10/person, which allowed us to sample local Adirondack cheeses along with the wines. Our  platter included a mild goat cheese, a champagne-infused cheddar which paired deliciously with Adirondack Winery’s very own “Berry Breeze wine-infused” jam,  locally made chocolate truffles, and crackers and pretzels to eat with them. We finished off the wine tasting with a refreshing wine slushy of the day (additional $5/person).   Masks and social distancing are still required in the wine-tasting room, even though masks may be removed when you are sitting for the tasting experience. Based on our sampling,  we chose four different, full-bodied wines to take home, a block of the champagne cheese and the “Berry Breeze” jam  — they were a big hit with our multi-generational family.

  • Adirondack Extreme Adventure Course is perfect for a multi-generational family with over 100 obstacle courses and 15 ziplines for adults and older kids, and two courses and a playground for younger children. Whether you are a newbie to ziplining, treetop climbing and swinging obstacle courses, or an experienced adventurer, this aerial park offers something for everyone to spend a thrilling day in the wonderful mountain air and beautiful views of the Lake (5 Westwood Forest Ln., Bolton Landing, NY; 518-494-7200, https://adirondackextreme.com)

The aerial adventure park reopens in April 2021. Check the website for hours of operation, pricing of course packages, and minimum age requirements. Reservations and payment in advance by phone or online are required. Masks are required at check-in, during harnessing procedures, and walking throughout the park; masks are not required while climbing the courses. Social distance between separate groups is expected. 

North River, NY – a small hamlet on the banks of the Hudson River, North River is the home of the world’s largest, commercial-grade garnet deposits found on Gore Mountain. In 1969, Governor Nelson Rockefeller officially named the ruby red Barton garnet as New York State’s gem stone.

  • Garnet Mine Tours – currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions; check the web site (garnetminetours.com) to learn when they will reopen for tours of the historic Barton Mines (1126 Barton Mines Rd., North River, NY).  
  • Garnet Hill Lodge  just 15 minutes from the center of North Creek and around 45 minutes from Lake George, this rustic, Adirondack wood lodge, high up on a mountain, boasts a scenic canyon view of Thirteenth Lake from the resort’s meadow. 
Rustic Garnet Hill Lodge © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Garnet Hill Lodge  is a perfect one-stop resort for four seasons of outdoor activities. During winter months, the Lodge offers 35 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails and six different snowshoe trails starting immediately outside the lodge and its Outdoor Center. Every stay at the lodge comes with complimentary trail passes.  The full service ski shop assists guests with equipment, clothing, repairs, rentals, and lessons.

Throughout the rest of the year, lodge guests can enjoy the mountain’s hiking trails, the resort’s tennis courts, sign out complimentary mountain bikes, canoes and kayaks, and enjoy the Lodge’s staff-attended private beach on Thirteenth Lake. While walking around the mountain, in addition to looking out at the beautiful Adirondack mountain scenery and looking up at the beautiful clean sky, try looking down – you just might find a rock with garnets! (garnet-hill.com; 39 Garnet Hill Road, North River, NY 12856; 518-636-1652)

With continued Covid-19 flying and quarantine restrictions continuing throughout the country and world, this secluded, Adirondack State Park lodge and resort is ideal for a destination wedding. Pre-Covid, Garnet Hill was able to accommodate up to 120 guests for an outdoor or indoor ceremony and reception from June through October, and up  to 80 guests between November and May.

A two-night minimum booking for guests at the Lodge included food and beverages in the lodge’s full-service restaurant and pub, the Bobcat Bar and Grill. Guests have complimentary use of the lodge’s outdoor equipment in all seasons, including the lake beach and well-marked hiking and mountain biking trails. Contact Nicole at 518-251-2444 to discuss current capacity limitations, to book a getaway, or a visit and tour of Garnet Hill Lodge for a potential wedding or other group event. Nicole will assist with planning all aspects of a destination wedding or event within state guidelines and restrictions.

Glens Falls, NY

Reclining in zero-gravity chairs, wearing street clothes and covered up with warm, fluffy throw covers, we took off our masks, closed our eyes, and breathed in the medical-grade salt that was being released into the room. Listening to relaxing music, we immediately fell into a deep sleep.  Forty-five minutes later, owner Dawn gently woke us. We walked out of the room feeling quite relaxed, with Laurie commenting that she no longer had the acid reflux cough she came in with, and Marty left with clear sinuses.  The experience was a success for both of us!  We have one recommendation: the room is cool even with the warm comforter, so be sure to wear layers: long-sleeved shirt, jacket, or sweater, socks or booties, long pants.

Halotherapy room at Adirondack Salt Cave Halotherapy and Wellness Center in Glens Falls, NY © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Wellness Center is a holistic healing arts center which also offers Swedish massage, Shiatsu, Reiki, Esthetician services, therapeutic reflexology, and other massage therapy services.  Owners Dana and Greg Russell renovated a 123-year old collar and shirt mill, built out therapy rooms and the large “salt cave” room while preserving the original wood floors, brick walls, and tall windows for lots of natural light in the waiting area. Over 7,000 lbs of Himalayan salt blocks went into creating the long, beautiful, backlit wall that is the focal point of the man-made “salt cave” room. They also built out the front desk and the base of the benches with salt blocks. For pricing of services and packages and to make an appointment,  visit adirondacksaltcave.com, call Dana at 518-798-2343, or email her at dana@adirondacksaltcave.com. Please tell her that Laurie and Marty sent you! (11 Broad St., Glens Falls, NY 12801).

More information at https://visitadirondacks.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

Honeymoon On Lake George In The Time of Corona

Samantha and Evan honeymoon on Lake George, NY © Samantha Mazzia-Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Evan Rubin & Samantha Mazzia-Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our 2020 intimate July destination wedding and honeymoon in Maui were coming together perfectly by March, until our plans were completely squashed due to COVID-19 limitations. Every potential reception venue that was on our list closed abruptly. Since March, our fears filled our heads – not just with the stress any normal bride and groom would have months prior to the wedding, but now this deadly virus was spreading throughout the whole world!

July 22nd 2020 was our 10th anniversary of dating so getting married on that day was something we would not let be postponed. After having a little ceremony with the immediate family in our backyard (the rabbi on Zoom!), we decided to take a getaway honeymoon during the pandemic. Our focus was finding a place where we could discover beautiful and romantic scenery, night life, a cute town to walk around and to be near the water.

With a large lake surrounded by gorgeous views of the Adirondack Mountains, we found the perfect destination in Lake George Village and the Adirondack State Park, New York. Lake George is huge! It is 32 miles long with over 170 islands and home to 13 communities. 148 islands are state-owned and accessible by the public, with reserved camping allowed. This was our first visit to the Adirondack State Park region, as well as our first venture out after sheltering at home for months. With such a wide variety of attractions and activities to experience in the State Park, one trip did not give us enough time to do it all – we’re already planning future return visits.

A view of Lake George Village from Overlook 2 on Prospect Mountain ©Evan Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We knew we could stay busy while remaining socially distant. Businesses in Lake George Village and in other Adirondack State Park hamlets are mandated to follow the state’s strict COVID-19 requirements: all customers and staff must wear masks when not eating or drinking, and enforce social distancing by spacing apart sitting areas and limiting the number of occupants. As we walked around town, we saw visitors, businesses and venue staff adhering to the COVID guidelines. So we felt safe, too.

Lake George Village is expecting to be very active in 2021, primarily from April through October. Contact the Lake George Chamber of Commerce at 518-668–5755  or email  them at info@lakegeorgechamber.com for directions, maps, and customized itineraries and recommendations.

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Check out how we explored The Village of Lake George:

1.   Kayak or paddle board along the southern lake shore. Bring your own equipment, or reserve and rent equipment from local operators. Some of the hotels have private beaches and also offer equipment rentals.

  • On the private beach of the “Shore Meadows Lodge”, we rented kayaks from “Kayak Lake George”. Kayak Lake George offers hourly rentals for one- and two-person kayaks and paddle boards. Since this was our first time kayaking, the staff assisted us by giving us a demonstration. This short demo gave us the confidence to navigate along the bank of Lake George by ourselves without a guide.  Kayak Lake George is in an ideal spot, the dock’s location allows you to either go one direction and explore the active village docks, or go another direction to find a more peaceful setting and travel around a small island. For Spring 2021 pricing and to reserve your kayaks, go to http://www.kayaklakegeorge.com or call 518-302-6005.
  • Some hotels and resorts around the lake also offer guests lake amenities including lake equipment rentals. Surfside On The Lake Hotel & Suites where we stayed has kayak and pedal boat rentals as well as an outdoor pool and private sandy beach, perfect for launching kayaks.
Parasailing on Lake George © Samantha Mazzia-Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

2.    Parasail over the Lake – contact family-owned, local operators such as Parasail Joe’s (518-668-4013; https://parasailjoes.com/; 204 Canada St., Lake George) to reserve a 1-3 person parasail flight. Wear a bathing suit or casual comfortable clothes because you have the option to get dipped into the water. Parasailing is a thrill! Sailing up to 350 feet in the air, you have spectacular views of the lake. Parasail Joe’s operates annually from June through September, reservations are required. A regular parasail ride costs $80/person (5 years old and up; inquire about weight limits, and ask about daily specials).

Cruising Lake George ©Evan Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

3.    Cruise the Lake – there are many opportunities for enjoying a cruise around the lake while following Covid-19 guidelines. Short day and evening cruising run from early Spring through the end of October.

  • Lake George Steamboat Co. has three ships in their fleet for a wide variety of midday and sunset cruising options available to adults only or for families. The ships follow the beautiful shorelines of the lake, starting in the southern section from the docks in the Village of Lake George. During the summer months and for October fall foliage viewing, the ships offer themed, family-oriented dinner cruises, such as a pirate cruise or a pasta dinner. Cruise times range for 1-2 hours for historic narratives with or without food and drinks, to six hours of full-lake sightseeing.  Cruises with itineraries longer than one hour offer opportunities to see some of the 170 islands scattered across the large lake. Check online or call for available dates, pricing, and to reserve space: https://lakegeorgesteamboat.com/; 518-668-5777, ext.4.
Minne-Ha-Ha Steamboat in The Lake George Steamboat Co. Fleet © Samantha Mazzia-Rubin /goingplacesfarandnear.com

  • Lake George Shoreline Cruises – We gathered for an hour-long sunset cruise which offered two complimentary drinks (beer, wine, soda). Coffee, tea, liquors and light snacks were also available to purchase. It is highly recommended to make reservations. Everyone was masked and maintained a social distance as we lined up to set sail for our 6 pm departure. Once boarded, you are free to sit wherever you want, and during the ride, you are free to walk around the boat and sightsee from any of the three levels. You are not bound to a seat, so grab a drink and enjoy the lake from different perspectives. This is a great way to get the night started!  Once you return, you are right in the middle of town with a boardwalk area. Walk along the docks and restaurants that lead to the main Village streets featuring many stores, museums, parks and stunning views. Keep your Shoreline cruise ticket, as it offers a 10% discount for an entrée at the Lake George Shoreline Restaurant, across the parking lot from the dock. Call or check online for available cruise dates, pricing, and to reserve space: 518-668-4644; https://lakegeorgeshoreline.com. During peak season, you may also purchase and pick up tickets directly from the kiosk in front of the two ship’s docks at 2 Kurosaka Ln, Lake George.

4.   Eat a hearty meal overlooking the lake at one of the Village’s upscale, yet casual restaurants. Restaurants you can’t miss:

Dock viewing from the Shoreline Restaurant ©Evan Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • Lake George Shoreline Restaurant (4 Kurosaka Ln, Lake George; (518) 668-2875) – a casual, surf and turf restaurant with a covered deck that provides a view of the dock where the Shoreline cruise boats come in and out. The restaurant has a wide variety of food that is freshly cooked with distinctive flavors. We shared mussels, corn and crab chowder, the restaurant’s famous burger and pasta primavera. Remember to show your cruise ticket to receive a discount on an entrée.
View from our dinner table at The Boathouse Restaurant on Lake George ©Evan Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • The Boathouse Restaurant at The Lodges at Cresthaven (800-853-1632; 3210 Lake Shore Drive, Lake George). The restaurant opens in early Spring. We experienced superb service while sitting at a window table that was literally at the lake’s edge. The staff was warm and friendly, and many of them being locals who grew up in town, were very knowledgeable of the area. They were forthcoming to welcome tourists to explore all Lake George has to offer. They recommended their favorite local activities and tips on how to make our honeymoon memorable!

Our compliments to Chef Paul — the portions of both appetizers (Margarita grilled shrimp, warm rolls, clam chowder filled with fresh clams), and our entrées (chicken parmigiana, a huge Tomahawk steak with homemade steak sauce and lobster tails) were all cooked to perfection, with generous servings! We also ordered flavorful mixed drinks and what became our new favorite locally brewed beer on tap, Adirondack Bear Naked Amber Ale..Check out the restaurant’s Facebook page for photos and current hours of operation: https://www.facebook.com/lakegeorgeboathouse/about.

  • Pizza Jerks (518-668-4411; 59 Iroquois St., Lake George, NY) –  choose from over 25 specialty pizzas, including gluten-free crust, or build your own. Order hot or cold subs and wraps, and add an order or two of their garlic knots.  Their motto is “awesome food for awesome people”– we’re vouching for that. Make sure you order the Jamaican Jerk and Sesame Teriyaki chicken wings (just two of over 14 flavors). Pizza Jerks is open year-round for delivery and pickup.
  •  The Lagoon Bar & Grill (518-685-5009; lagoonlakegeorge.com; 204 Canada St., Lake George). This fun little establishment is all about over-the-top comfort food, such as the “Loaded Mac Grilled Cheese Sandwich” – sourdough grilled cheese stuffed with pulled pork and macaroni and cheese. The 8-oz. “French Mountain” Burger is piled with provolone cheese, grilled onions, mushrooms, and topped with bourbon glaze.
  •  Adirondack Pub & Brewery (518-668-0002; adkbrewery.com; 33 Canada St, Lake George, NY). Hand-crafted lagers and ales using local, Adirondack ingredients are brewed and bottled on-site in this Lake George rustic, log-style building.  The restaurant boasts a large, covered deck for outdoor seating. Menu options combine regular pub appetizers, with some rather interesting ones, such as: eggplant fries, East-ender fish and chips; Black and Blue burger with homemade gorgonzola horseradish creme sauce; and even craft-made, locally brewed root beer. Ask for their S’mores dessert! You can also enjoy their signature and seasonal beer at other restaurants around town and on the lake cruises.

5.    Play a round of mini-golf at one of the many themed, outdoor golf parks. Surrounded by lush landscaped waterfalls, streams, and structures representing an 18th-century town overrun by pirates, the 18-hole  Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf is a favorite activity for playing during the day or late into the evening (518-668-0493, 2115 U.S. 9, Lake George, https://www.piratescove.net/locations/new-york/lake-george/). Open daily from mid-April through late October, a round of golf costs $8.95/adult, $8.50/child 4-12 (kids 3 and under play for free).

6.    Stroll or drive around the center of Lake George Village – with wide, clean sidewalks! The large town center offers many lively bars, restaurants and shops geared towards visitors.  Each has its own unique souvenirs, clothes, antiques, novelties, and specialty treats like fudge, chocolates, local wines, even cotton candy and soft serve ice cream.

The Docks Area at Night ©Evan Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • Walk along the southern Lake George boardwalk and docks – the concrete paths wind alongside bars, restaurants, and pristine waterfront parks. At night, the paths around the docks are brightly lit and visitors can walk around enjoying the nightlife on the lake.
  • Visit  “The House of Frankenstein” Wax Museum (518-668-3377; 213 Canada Street, Lake George, NY).  The two-story attraction houses rooms with animated wax figures that portray historic and literary scenes of horror and torture. We recommend it for kids and adults who can handle walking along darkened hallways and fake gore. General admission is $10.75/adult; $9.81/student 13-17; $6.07/kids (6-12). This attraction is open daily from April through early November. Check the hours of operation in 2021 from the museum’s website (https://frankensteinwaxmuseum.com/tickets/).
The House of Frankenstein Wax Museum ©Evan Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • Travel back in time to the middle of the French and Indian War during the 1750s at  Fort William Henry Museum (518-964-6649; https://www.fwhmuseum.com; 48 Canada Street, Lake George). Take a self-guided tour to hear about the role of the fort during this pre-revolutionary period, or learn from a military guide dressed in 18th-century period uniform. Demonstrations of musket and cannon firing are scheduled throughout the day. It is strongly recommended to call or go online to reserve when you will visit as well as to purchase tickets in advance. Plan to come for the fort’s special events. General admission (and for ghost tours) is $19.95+NYS tax/adult; $15.95+NYS tax/Senior; $9+NYS tax/child (5-15; under 5 free); Military/Veterans are free with a valid ID.
  • Picnic on the grassy hills of the Lake George Battlefield near the Fort. Battlefield Park has a few interpretive signs, historic statues, and monuments. Enjoy a self-guided tour following the Tour Lake George Battlefield Brochure (PDF).
Panoramic view of Lake George Battlefield Park ©Evan Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

7. Explore the Adirondack State Park mountain roads above Lake George Village. One of our favorite drives is up the five-mile Prospect Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway which has a few overlooks to view the Village, the Lake George islands, and the beautiful, tree-lined mountains. Follow the road all the way up to the last overlook and park your car so you can walk up a rather steep but short hill to be 2,030 feet at the mountain’s summit. Here, you can view both local scenery of The Narrows, Lake George, and The Eagle’s Eye. Far in the distance on a clear day, you can also see mountain ranges in Vermont, New Hampshire and Canada – totally worth the trek up the mountain!  Prospect Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway is open from May through Veterans’ Day, weather permitting.

View Lake George from the summit of Prospect Mountain © Samantha Mazzia-Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

8. Book a campsite or reserve your own private island in Lake George by visiting https://www.lakegeorge.com/camping/reservations/.  There are plenty of ways to camp in the Adirondack State Park around Lake George, from tent camping, glamping, RV-rentals, or sleeping on a small docked boat! Kayak or boat to your private campsite on your very own island. Use the online resource, Lake George Camping Guide for tips, contact information and other ways to reserve these unique stays! Although we did not have the opportunity to stay at our own private island, we look forward to planning them for one of our future trips.

Lake George Battleground State Campground ©Evan Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

9. Rent a private boat for the day; Even if you do not own your own boat, you can still enjoy the day on the water! There are tons of vehicles you can rent while staying on the lake. Many boat marinas allow you to use rentals during spring months through fall. You need to be 21 years or older with a valid driver’s license in order to rent and drive a boat in New York. Visit https://www.visitlakegeorge.com/water/boat-rentals for more information on where to book your very own boat rental!

Watching the sun set over Lake George ©Evan Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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