Mystery on the Historic Maine Windjammer Victory Chimes

The historic schooner, Victory Chimes, keeps the legacy of the Great Age of Sail alive © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

By Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a mystery to be unraveled, as intriguing as an Agatha Christie whodunnit, but without the murder and mayhem: How were the 26 passengers on the historic Maine Windjammer, Victory Chimes, who came from as far as California, Utah, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania connected? And who among us is the interloper, unconnected to anyone else? Is it coincidence or providence that brings us together?

The mystery provides marvelous intrigue during the course of the six-day cruise sailing from Rockland, Maine, among the islands of Penobscot Bay.

A windjammer cruise is as much about experiencing the thrill of the Great Age of Sail, when these mighty schooners sailed with the wind and waves to bring the timber, building stones and raw materials that built the nation – literally engines of the economy – as it is about reconnecting with the joys of simple pleasures as basic as conversation and song.

Maine has the largest fleet of historic windjammers in North America. Members of the Maine Windjammer Association fleet come together for the annual Great Schooner Race, re-creating and keeping alive the Great Age of Sail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Song and storytelling, indeed, are the theme of this sailing (many Windjammer cruises have a theme or focus), which features music on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings by singer/songwriters Mike and Amy Aiken. And on another enchanting evening, several of us listen in as Mike and the multi-talented Chef Adam Travaglione (who is also a musician in addition to being a fabulous chef, raised in his family’s restaurant) compose a song honoring the legacy of the Victory Chimes. The Aikens have sailed up to Rockland on the boat they have lived on for the past 21 years from their homeport on the Chesapeake (a clue to solving the mystery).

Harkening back to a simpler age, Mike and Amy Aiken provide evening entertainment aboard Victory Chimes © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Here in Maine are the largest concentration of these historic sailing ships in North America, nine of which are members of the Maine Windjammer Association, sailing out of Rockland and Camden.

Maine has the largest fleet of historic windjammers in North America. Aboard the Victory Chimes, we get to watch he Stephen Taber sail out of Rockland Harbor © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Each has its own story, its own character. And each sailing is different, even on the same ship – the product of the serendipity and alchemy of people (passengers as well as captain and crew), weather (which often provides the drama, whether because of fog or squall), and where we wind up anchoring. There is no itinerary. The captain sets course following the wind, weather and whimsy.

Captain Sam Sikkema, the newest owner/caretaker of the Victory Chimes’ 121-year legacy, reviews the day’s sail, having successfully navigated away from a squall. “The crew really mustered the hell out of that squall.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Each afternoon, after we drop anchor in some cove or harbor, Captain Sam Sikkema, the newest owner/caretaker of the Victory Chimes’ 121-year legacy, gathers us around with a map, reviews that day’s route and tells us the back stories of the people and places where we have sailed. In the afternoon or the morning before we set out again, we tender to shore to explore. (Maine has some 3,000 islands and 7,000 miles of coastline.)

Anchored off of Burnt Isle, we get to walk a beautiful trail along the shore © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Deer Island; Little Island; Burnt Isle (privately owned, but we are allowed to walk a shoreline trail); Merchants Run – so named because of the deep water that accommodated the big ships carrying lumber, granite, cattle, which island residents would stockpile and sell to the bigger ships; Crotch Island – named for its notch – is half its original height because so much granite has been taken out to build buildings in New York City and federal courthouses.

Fog envelops the Victory Chimes, anchored in Brooksville © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

We watch as fog literally rolls in and envelops the Victory Chimes anchored in Brooksville, as we tender back to the ship. Later, anchored in Pulpit Harbor on North Haven (which, Captain Sam tells us, was mentioned by the explorer Samuel Champlain in 1515 and the osprey nest on a rock that leads into the harbor), we again watch as fog rolls in, making everything around seem to vanish as if by magic.

Towing back to the Victory Chimes, anchored at Pulpit Harbor on North Haven © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

The Victory Chimes – the largest in the Maine Windjammer fleet at 128 feet and the only three-masted schooner left in North America out of 4,000 built in the Great Age of Sail – was designed to be sailed by just three, which seems amazing considering how 10 of us line up to help haul in the line to raise the sail.

Victory Chimes passengers get to help raise the sails © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Victory Chimes not only exemplifies the 19th and early 20th century development of large American wooden schooners intended primarily, though not exclusively, for the coasting trade on both east and west coasts, but she is the only surviving example of the ‘Chesapeake ram’ type and one of only two surviving examples of a three masted schooner in the United States.”​

We watch with awe and fascination as Victory Chimes crew work together Victory Chimes passengers get to help raise the sails © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnea

To give you an idea of just how big – and the challenge of keeping such a historic vessel sailing – the masts of Oregon Douglas fir are over 80 feet in height. “A straight tree 110 feet tall is required to get the necessary length a full 21 inches in diameter.”

There is a six-horsepower Sea Gear engine to raise the anchor (the same one that was installed in 1906 to replace the original donkey engine) but no propulsion engine, so now – as then – there is a yawlboat, Enoch, that pushes the ship when the wind is not sufficient. That innovation, indeed, is what made the Victory Chimes such a cash-cow for its original owner, who made back the $12,000 he paid to build her in 1900, in the first year.

The 1906 six-horsepower Sea Gear engine is used to raise Victory Chimes’ anchor  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Designed by JMC Moore, her stout build, simple rig and yawl boat made her one of the most profitable ships ever to sail. The Edwin & Maud (as it was originally named by its first Captain, Robert Riggen for his sons) was one of 30 “Ram” schooners – nicknamed for the way they “rammed through” the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and through the sea. Victory Chimes is the last one.

Captain Sam joins crew to fix a sail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

The schooner rigging – as opposed to the square rigging of ocean-going ships – was a major American innovation that allowed the vessels to be nimble and fast, and operated with a minimal number of crew for maximum profit for the owner.

Cruising each day, we get to help raise the sails, but it is really a marvel to watch the intricate ballet of the crew performing physically demanding tasks – even daring-do – such as climbing those 80-foot tall masts to repair rigging, or snapping to with agility, strength and precision, to reposition sails and rigging to sail us out of the way of a storm.

Captain Sam or Chief Mate Tripp shout commands or signal with hand gestures and the crew calls back, “Ready throat, ready peak. Mainsail halyards hoist away.”

Victory Chimes passengers provide extra muscle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

We pull rapidly, the line flying through our hands, until the line finally strains. Then comes the order to “Heave,” to which we respond “Ho” as two crew members pull down vigorously on their lines. Heave. Ho. Heave. Ho. Then, “Throat make fast. Peak make fast.”

And finally the call to “ease up” which is our order to take two steps forward followed immediately by the command, to “drop the line”.

Victory Chimes snap together to bring down the sails as the Captain navigates away from a squall © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Things get exciting – and we passengers just stand quietly out of the way, watching in awe and fascination – as the crew races to maneuver Victory Chimes out of the way of a squall. Captain Sam shouts out with urgency:  “Hard left. James start the boat. Ahead 2000. Take in the mizzen. Take in the outer jib, then take in everything else. Bring James his foulies!”

Victory Chimes snap together to bring down the sails as the Captain navigates away from a squall © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Captain Sam navigates far south, tacking to avoid the storm. “The crew mustered the hell out of that squall,” he says later with a combination of pride and relief.

I love the language of sailing – “Scandalize the fore main;” “Cast the jigger right off” – and this description of Victory Chimes’ rigging: “The traditional ‘ram’ rig was a standing jib, flying jib, staysail (also called a forestaysail), foresail, mainsail and spanker (or mizzen), which Victory Chimes carries today. The heads of the fore, main and mizzen sails are supported by gaffs and the feet are laced to booms.”

(It’s amazing how many everyday expressions come from sailing: “Above board.” “Learn the ropes.” “Know the ropes.”)

Built to carry cargo, Victory Chimes was converted to carry passengers in 1946 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

The Edwin & Maud worked carrying cargo through World War I, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression and World War II. By 1944, still sailing as a merchant vessel out of Baltimore, Edwin & Maud monitored the anti-submarine mine field at Chesapeake Bay and kept a sharp lookout for German U-Boats.

But then, mechanization of the war effort gave rise to bigger ships that made the old wood ships uneconomical.  Hundreds were burned or just left to decay.

By 1946, the Edwin & Maud ended her career transporting cargo – lumber, mainly, but also salt, pumpkins, fish scrap for fertilizer or anything to pay the freight – and was converted into a new concept of “dude cruiser” by Herman Knust of Chesapeake Bay Vacation Cruises.

Originally, where the cargo hold would have been, are now 19 cabins (15 with two-berths, two with four berths and one each with a single and a triple berth) with the main saloon and galley.

Built for maximum efficiency and profit, Victory Chimes was designed to be sailed with just a crew of three, which seems incredible. It is the only three-masted schooner left in North America, out of 4,000 that were built © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

In 1954, Capt. Frederick “Boyd” Guild brought the ship to the Maine coast and renamed her Victory Chimes after a Canadian coastal schooner he admired as a boy that had been launched on Armistice Day.

She survived a succession of other owners: A Minnesota bank president wanted to sail it on Lake Superior but couldn’t get certified (his own bank foreclosed). It was purchased at auction in 1987 by Domino’s Pizza and renamed Domino Effect. When Domino’s sold off its fleet, Victory Chimes was slated to be sent to Japan to be converted into a restaurant.

Simple pleasures aboard the Victory Chimes © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Captain Kip Files and Captain Paul DeGaeta, who oversaw the Domino’s restoration, purchased the vessel to keep her from leaving the country, changed the name back to Victory Chimes and returned her to the Maine windjammer trade. Maine’s Legislature welcomed her back with a special resolution.

In 1997, Victory Chimes was named an American National Historic Landmark under the Maritime Heritage Program of the National Parks Service, becoming one of only 127 vessels with that designation. (Apparently, though, historic vessels are not entitled to tax credits as historic landmarks.)

I had sailed on the Victory Chimes some years ago in the exciting annual Schooner Race with Captain Kip Files, who was her caretaker for 24 years.

Now Captain Sam Sikkema has the weighty responsibility of being Victory Chimes’ owner/caretaker. He acquired Victory Chimes in 2018 and had a great season in 2019 before being locked down by COVID-19 in 2020 – for perhaps the first year in its long history. PPP funding helped them stay afloat.

Captain Sam Sikkema, who has sailed the world with his cat, Fuji, says, “We are truly honored to be the new caretakers of this vessel and hope to bring new life to her while holding true to the authentic nature of the experience.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Captain Sam has had quite a sea-going career that began with sailing dinghies with his father on Lake Michigan. He has sailed around the world, on every ocean, in schooners, square riggers, training ships, yachts, fishing vessels and commercial vessels, as well as worked with maritime museums and shipyards as a carpenter and a rigger. Over the years, he sailed as crew on Niagara, Bounty, Sorlandet, Denis Sullivan, Californian, Red Witch, Nina, Robert C Seamans, Spirit of Bermuda, Alabama, Highlander Sea, Columbia, Victory Chimes and the 1841 Whaling Ship Charles W Morgan (serving as Captain Kip’s Chief Mate)He has been Captain of the sailing vessels Friends Good Will, Lynx, Tole Mour, Harvey Gamage, and the training ship Picton Castle, taking her across the North Atlantic Ocean four times. And he sailed the world with his cat, Fiji, who delights us with her antics.

“Of all the places I’ve sailed, my favorite place to sail is right here on the coast of Maine.”

Captain Sam Sikkema has sailed the world with his cat, Fuji, who delights us with her antics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

“I am truly honored to be the new caretaker of this vessel and hope to bring new life to her while holding true to the authentic nature of the experience you have enjoyed in the past,” Captain Sam writes to past Victory Chimes passengers.

Cara Lauzon joins Mike and Amy Aiken for their last performance on the Victory Chimes, for this music-themed cruise © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Cara Lauzon joins Mike and Amy Aiken for their Friday evening concert, when we are anchored in Rockland Harbor.

We get to watch the creative process as Mike Aiken  and the multi-talented Chef Adam Travaglione  compose a song honoring the legacy of the Victory Chimes © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

But on an evening when they aren’t performing, song spontaneously breaks out – starting with commercial jingles of our Baby Boomer youth, then going to popular rock and roll songs (Broadway musicals are not allowed).

When the Victory Chimes anchors, Captain Sam is often the first one out in one of the small sailboats © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

For the “A” personalities on board (Sherman, who sailed his own boat up from the Chesapeake to come on this ship, crewed a sailing ship to Antarctica; Karen and Eric were next traveling to Alaska to fish, others share stories about biking trips in Europe), a windjammer cruise provides a rare luxury to just chill out. But each evening when we anchor, Sherman is first to take out the small sailboat (as is Captain Sam), Ed grabs the rowboat, and Glenn jumps into the water for a swim.

When the Victory Chimes anchors, we get to take out a rowboat © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

We scan the waters for seals, porpoises, birds. The photographers among us are constantly looking out for picturesque scenes to capture, reminiscent of the great seascapes of Winslow Homer and J.M.W. Turner and the Maine landscapes immortalized by the Wyeths (which we can see in the Farnsworth Museum, in Rockland).

The Angelique provides a lovely seascape © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Even in the rain it is pleasant on board – the crew puts out awnings so we can still stay on deck if we want and the Victory Chimes, the largest of the Maine Windjammers, with a capacity for 40 passengers, has a fairly large mess area, which doubles as a kind of lounge when it is not set up for dining, where it is pleasant to spend time reading in the evening. There is always coffee and tea, fresh fruit out and whatever dessert is left over from lunch or dinner.

Victory Chimes passengers enjoy macramé while sailing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Eating aboard the ships is one of the distinct pleasures. I can imagine a slight rivalry among the ships for best cook, and Victory Chimes cook, Chef Adam, would easily be among the winners, especially with his freshly baked everything (not too sweet or rich). Chef Adam prides himself on researching alternatives for people who have diet restrictions.

There is a routine to the day around food: coffee is brought up to the deck at 7 am; the bell for breakfast is rung at 8 am, precisely after the flags are raised. Lunch is served at noon. Appetizers are brought up to the deck at 5 pm (there is a cooler for you to store your beer or wine, but wine is served with dinner), and dinner at 6 pm. There is always coffee and tea and fresh fruit available. Meals are served family style – breakfast in the galley, lunch and dinner mostly served on deck.

Chef Adam prepares the fresh (still kicking) lobsters © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

While every windjammer cruise is different, there are certain constants – the feeling of being transported back into this Golden Age of Sail and the traditional lobster dinner. Some of the captains do it on a secluded beach; others, like Victory Chimes, serve on board (as elegant as eating lobster can be) but each one is an unmatched culinary experience of the freshest, most succulent and sweetest lobster in unimaginable abundance that spoils you for lobster forever.

The lobster dinner is a highlight and hallmark of every Maine windjammer cruise © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

The hours spent sailing are relaxing and chilling out – like a floating beach holiday – reading, playing games like backgammon, scrabble. A group is doing macrame (usually there are knitters or knotters). But a main activity is just chatting, which is key to solving the mystery of what brought all of us together on this particular cruise.

Champagne toast celebrating an anniversary onboard the Victory Chimes, we have all blended into one group © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

By the time we depart – having celebrated birthdays and anniversaries as if we have always been joined – Diana has thoroughly investigated and charted the connections, solving the mystery: Just about everybody – through college roommates, music, book club, Philly folk festival, sailing, childhood friendships, neighbors and family, is somehow directly or indirectly connected to the Aikens. Who is the interloper? Me. (See her diagram.)

Diana has solved the mystery of how the Victory Chimes passengers are connected – with one exception © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear
Passengers on the Victory Chimes © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear
Captain Sam charts our journey during the six-day sail on Victory Chimes © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

You stay overnight on Victory Chimes at the dock before departing Rockland (giving me time to enjoy Rockland and an outdoor Blues festival). On return, you depart usually by 10 am, giving you time to see the sights in Rockland – the not-to-be-missed Farnsworth Museum of Art and Homestead (www.farnsworthmuseum.org); walk the three-quarter mile long breakwater to the Rockland Lighthouse, and visit the Lighthouse Museum. If you overnight in the area (there are lovely B’n’Bs like the LimeRock Inn  where I stayed on a prior visit), visit the Owl’s Head lighthouse (www.lighthouse.cc/owls/) and the Transportation Museum, both in Owl’s Head.

A major attraction in Rockland is to walk the three-quarter mile long breakwater to the Rockland Lighthouse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Definitely make time to visit the Farnsworth Museum, an absolute gem of an art museum with an extraordinary collection of Wyeths – NC, Andrew and Jamie.  Reopened after the COVID-19 lockdown, it is presently showing stellar exhibits (all on through December, except for “Parallel Visions”, an astonishing exhibit matching Andrew Wyeth’s paintings with George Tice’s photos, which ends in October to make room for the Farnsworth’s annual holiday display), showcasing Maine’s role in American art. Key exhibits include “Betsy’s Gift: The Works of N.C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth,” “Women of Vision,” “Betsy Wyeth, Partner and Muse,” and “Transforming the Ordinary: Women in American Book Cover Design,” (Farnsworth Art Museum, 16 Museum Street, Rockland, ME 04841, 207-596-6457, writeus@farnsworthmuseum.org, www.farnsworthmuseum.org).

“Betsy’s Gift” is a major exhibit now on view at the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

For 2021, the Victory Chimes is offering 3, 4, 5, and 6-night cruises through Sept 28.

Schooner VICTORY CHIMES, P.O. Box 1401, Rockland, ME 04841, 800-745-5651,  victorychimesinfo@gmail.com, www.victorychimes.com.

The Maine Windjammer Association represents the largest fleet of traditional sailing schooners in North America: American Eagle, 800-648-4544; Angelique, 800-282-9989; Heritage, 800-648-4544; J. & E. Riggin, 800-869-0604; Ladona, 800-999-7352; Lewis R. French, 800-469-4635; Mary Day, 800-992-2218; Stephen Taber, 800-999-7352 and Victory Chimes, 800-745-5651. For information, 800-807-WIND; or visit www.sailmainecoast.com.

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Grand Teton National Park: Mother Nature in Her Purest Form

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

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

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Church of the Transfiguration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

Moulton Barn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

Schwabacher’s Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whitewater Rafting Adventure in Big Sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellowstone National Park in Two Days: Mother Nature Gets Surreal

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

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

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

We also encounter a herd of bison on the road.

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

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Faithful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Thumb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hayden Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

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

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

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

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

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

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day One in Yellowstone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norris Geyser Basin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

Yellowstone National Park in Two Days: Mother Nature Gets Surreal

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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

Wyoming’s Red Reflet Ranch Provides Unmatched Experience for Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, The Buffalo Bill Historical Center , in Cody.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Warbirds’ Continue Tradition Flying in Memorial Day Air Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Where Aviation History Takes Flight’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

A VISIT WITH THE USAF THUNDERBIRDS

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

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

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

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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

A Visit With the USAF Thunderbirds on Long Island

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other pilots include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

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

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

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

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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

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

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

Here are photos from the practice performance including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________

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

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

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camp Rockaway

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

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

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

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

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

Biking, Cycling the Eric Canal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empire State Trail Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discovery Bicycle Tour on Empire State Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adirondacks Preserve Gets Larger

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

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

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

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

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

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