For some, venturing off the road most traveled doesn’t come easy. Here are several programs designed to help you get where you and your family really want to go: beyond the beaten path.
Lodging and Learning Programs
This is your chance to journey into the wild. But you won’t have to go it alone!
The Yellowstone Association, the official educational partner of the National Park Service founded in 1933 to foster the public’s understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of Yellowstone National Park and its surrounding ecosystem, provides programs almost year-round that enable parents and children to delve deeper into this amazing natural environment.
During the winter, small groups head out with guides, on foot, skis, snowcat or snowmobiles. They’ll learn more about the first national park in the United States and the wildlife that lives within the park's boundaries.
You can choose to head out at sunrise to catch the wolves in action or observe the bison warming themselves near the spouting geysers. Another program takes visitors on cross country skis deep into the interior of the park for a glimpse of reclusive wildlife and vistas seen by few. Yet another group sets off into the Northern Range, where the bears are most plentiful.
Each evening, adventurers return to the hotel or lodge and can participate in spirited educational sessions led by the Park Service before a welcoming soak in the hot tub.
During the spring, summer and fall, additional four- to six-day programs highlight the best each season brings forth.
Choose the Trails Through Yellowstone program and hike throughout the park with an expert guide who will provide insight into the habitat and teach explorers how to travel safely in grizzly country.
What’s not to like about a town that serves up 300 days of sunshine, boasts an average annual temperature of 82 and continues to land on one “Best Place” list after another? That's Tucson.
It’s not surprising that this gem in the desert is tipping the population scale at close to one million people. Arizona’s second largest city, Tucson has had the collective good sense to hold on to its Wild West charm and rugged good looks while attaining status as a new sophisticate, boasting world class art, novel cuisine and luxury spas and resorts.
I am among the city’s legion of fans. For starters, how could anyone not be impressed with the neighborhood? Tucson is in a saguaro-strewn desert basin circled by five mountain ranges—the Santa Catalinas and Tortolitas to the north; the Rincons to the east; the Santa Ritas to the south; and the Tucson Mountains to the west. And if that weren’t bounty enough, three national parks lie just outside the city limits: Saguaro National Parks East and West, and the Coronado National Forest in the Catalina Mountains.
Certainly the natural beauty and conducive-to-almost-everything climate continues to attract weather-weary folks from other parts of the country. But among the city’s most appealing aspect is its authenticity.
The city’s Old Pueblo has a long and complex history that blends the cultures of the earliest Anglo frontiersmen, Native American peoples and Spanish explorers. That history and its remnants provides a richly textured backdrop for the natural playground that beckons outdoor adventurers as well as the modern-day amenities that lure other segments of today’s travelers.
So when you decide to visit Tucson, the hardest part will be narrowing your list of possibilities. As you begin to plan, know that it may be your first trip, but it won’t be your last.
Start by spending time on the Tucson Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s very thorough Web site, www.visittucson.org. There, you will find a wealth of information, including money saving deals and packages, and can request a visitor’s guide. You will also find information about the Tucson Attractions Passport ($15), which provides 2-for-1 offers and discounts to major attractions.
The first decision to make is where to stay. The options are all enticing: downtown historic hotel, rustic guest ranch, luxurious bed-and-breakfast, or world-class spa, golf and tennis resort. Which will it be? This time!
With the kids in tow, any of these resorts are good family-friendly choices:
Two of the world’s best-known spas are in Tucson. These relaxing enclaves may be best enjoyed when the youngsters are occupied elsewhere.
Guest ranch stays make for great family vacations and are an ideal way to sample the Tucson landscape.
Like much of Arizona, Tucson is an athlete and nature lover’s nirvana. There is a whole collection of people, from professional baseball players to serious cyclists, who make this desert oasis their home base for winter training. With so many ups and downs to keep the heart rate pumping, and so little rain in the forecast, you can count on staying in shape during your holiday.
From urban walks in town (take a walk through the University of Arizona campus!) to rugged canyon outings, you could strap on your boots every day of the year and never run short of trails to try. If you must choose one place to start, Sabino Canyon tops my list. For sheer beauty, a chance to see wildlife and plenty of easy to follow trails, this is a winner. And, no matter where you stay, you’ll likely find great hiking options out the front door. Ask for nearby suggestions. Also check www.localhikes.com.
My cycling friends concur: Tucson is a great place ride. With so many mountain trails and well-marked bike paths, it’s not surprising that Bicycling magazine has ranked Tucson as one of the country’s best bike-friendly cities. One example of the local attitude: free bicycle valet parking at Tucson special-events.
If you have even the slightest interest in birding, you will be mesmerized by the plentiful and colorful species that migrate through Southern Arizona. I saw my first Vermillion Flycatcher on a Tucson golf course. Rather than focus on my son’s tournament, I spent the day transfixed by these red-chested beauties as they darted in and out of the trees. Young children delight in the plentiful array of hummingbirds hovering near brightly colored desert plants and feeders.
You could spend a week, a month, even a year playing the more than 40 beautiful municipal, public and private golf courses in Southern Arizona. Most are family-friendly and welcome junior players on the links. You’ll find desert courses (locals call it “target golf”) or more traditional links style courses. If your focus will be tee to green, be sure to check the CVB and resort hotel Web sites for the multitude of packages available. Also note, as the temperatures rise, greens fees fall considerably.
Don’t Miss Sightseeing The Anza Trail
Learn about the significant Spanish and Mexican influence on the region through a tour of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. Anza, an intrepid explorer, led a party of 240 colonists on an expedition from Mexico to found a mission near the San Francisco Bay. The Anza Trail is a 1,200-mile marked route, beginning in Southern Arizona. While this could be a vacation program in itself, you can pick and choose from the many interesting stops on the trail. There are numerous, itineraries to consider. For suggestions: www.arizonaguide.com
San Xavier del Bac Mission
This amazing white, historic structure is often referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of North America.” With delicate paintings on the walls and ceiling and beautiful architectural lines, San Xavier del Bac is a favorite among photographers visiting the area. My children and I enjoy visiting churches during our travels, particularly in historic areas, and this stop was no exception. It remains a Catholic parish serving the Tohono O’odham community for whom it was first established in the late 1600s. www.sanxaviermission.org
Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
I’ve visited this remarkable museum many times, with and without my boys, and would welcome any opportunity to return. This is a great way to introduce children (and adults) to the magnificence of the Sonoran desert and all of its inhabitants. With a world wide reputation in the scientific community as its cornerstone, the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum serves as a zoo, natural history museum and botanical garden in one stop.
Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the more than 300 animal species (including mountain lions, snakes and Gila monsters ) and 1,200 kinds of plants. Check the Web site in advance to find out about special events for the day and children’s programs you will want to schedule into your visit. www.desertmuseum.org
Pima Air & Space Museum
The largest aviation and space museum west of the Rocky Mountains, Pima gets votes from my boys for the more than 250 aircraft on display, from Wright Brothers–style antiques to space exploration vehicles. www.pimaair.org
Center for Creative Photography
For photography lovers, the Center for Creative Photography is a must-see stop. Located on the University of Arizona campus, this museum holds contemporary works of nearly every major North American, 20th-century photographer, including images by Ansel Adams and Alfred Stieglitz. And it’s free. www.creativephotography.org
The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization works to preserve significant and inspirational places worldwide.
Designated World Heritage sites, they're as diverse as Yellowstone National Park, Shark Bay in Australia and the historic center of Vienna, and they symbolize the world's collective history, culture and landscape.
The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization works to preserve significant and inspirational places worldwide.
Designated World Heritage sites, they're as diverse as Yellowstone National Park, Shark Bay in Australia and the historic center of Vienna, and they symbolize the world's collective history, culture and landscape.
Reviewing the list of 911 World Heritage locations provides an impressive history lesson.
Statue of Liberty, New York City. Calling Lady Liberty "a bridge between art and engineering," UNESCO emphasizes the symbolic value of this gift given to the U.S. by the French in 1886. Since then, Americans and immigrants have revered this symbol of freedom, democracy and peace.
Today, the statue's torch continues to shine on New York's harbor, and tours of the figure remain highly popular. Reservations are required to enter the pedestal or climb to the top of the crown.
Kids can learn why liberty is important to preserve and protect and can earn a Junior Ranger badge.
Contact: 212-363-3200; www.nps.gov/stli
Great Wall of China. The serpentine wall meanders 5,500 miles across northern China, spanning more than 2,000 years of history. Constructed primarily during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) as a defense against invasion, the wall was designated by UNESCO for its "architectural grandeur and historical significance."
Parts of the wall now are damaged, disappearing or gone altogether. However, the segments that modern travelers can visit provide a window into Chinese culture and past. A variety of tours, from hikes to overnight or archaeological visits, gives families many options.
Taos Pueblo, N.M. Continuously inhabited for more than 1,000 years, this remarkable community remains a prime example of American Indian culture, tradition and architecture. UNESCO notes the Pueblo Indians' ability to retain long-held traditions despite pressure from the outside world. More than 1,900 Pueblo Indians live full or part time in adobe homes in the community. Take a walking tour and learn the pueblo's rich history, view native crafts and see a unique way of life.
Contact: 575-758-1028; www.taospueblo.com;
Carcassonne and Canal Du Midi, southern France. Step back in time on the cobblestone streets of Carcassonne, a medieval, fortified town on a hilltop in the Languedoc region. Children of all ages will be awed by the walled city, the castle and a Gothic cathedral complete with gargoyles. Tour the town, then head for a second World Heritage site just minutes away. From the Port of Carcassonne, embark on a barge tour of the scenic Canal Du Midi. Noted as an outstanding example of civil engineering and landscape design, the waterway was built between 1667 and 1694. Today's travelers enjoy day trips as well as longer cruises on the 150-mile-long canal, which connects the Mediterranean with the Atlantic via locks, bridges, tunnels and aqueducts.
Historic center of Riga, Latvia. Budding architects and design students will marvel at the art nouveau buildings that moved UNESCO to add this 800-year-old city to its list of heritage sites.
A charming capital alongside the Daugava River, Riga offers a mix of old and new, historic and creative. Visit the opera house, Vermanes Park for the kids, St. Peter's Cathedral and the outdoor markets. Riga is often called the "Paris of the North."
It's said the first Christmas tree was introduced here, in 1510.
View the entire list of World Heritage sites at http://whc.unesco.org.
UNESCO's World Heritage mission:
Photo Copyright Lynn O'Rourke Hayes, Canal di Midi, France. 2010
Accompanied by a tall, handsome young man (OK, he was carrying my luggage) I wandered down the cedar plank, eager to see the digs I had heard so much about. As he unzipped the white canvas door, a slice of heaven was revealed.
I’ve spent my share of nights inside a tent, but none like this. Forget the unrolled sleeping bags on uneven ground. Think exotic bed, laden with thick, silky linens, elegant antiques and carpets warming the wood floor. The entire room was aglow with more than a dozen candles flickering in the early evening breeze.
And then there was the view. From my private deck overlooking the mouth of the pristine Bedwell River, I could see smoke billowing from the lodge fireplace across the water. A bevy of resident canines frolicked on the deep green lawn. Beyond, tree-covered mountains rose, with still higher peaks looming in the distance.
I had arrived at the remote Clayoquot Wilderness Resort near Tofino on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, via seaplane. Away from the watchful eyes of the male members of my family sons, I was looking forward to a little rest and relaxation, and to the camaraderie and nonjudgment of my fellow students—four other “reel women”—for a stress-free, four-day tutorial to hone our fly-fishing skills.
This wilderness lodge and others dotting the planet have combined luxurious, yet eco-friendly amenities with a wilderness setting to create a fresh air-filled getaway some have labeled “glamping” (short for glamorous camping). Somehow, the distinction does not do justice to this elegant outdoor trend. For me, the term thuds to the ground, but the experience is other-worldly.
At Clayoquot, the day begins with coffee or tea service delivered outside your tent door at the time of your choosing. Later, you’ll linger over a delectable breakfast. Consider wild blueberry and cornmeal griddle cakes or homemade muesli along with fresh-squeezed juices, served in the cozy, timbered ranch style lodge, while gathering your strength for an event-filled day.
Guests can choose from guided hiking or horseback riding through old growth forests, deep sea fishing, kayaking, rock wall climbing or relaxing in the wood-fired cedar hot tub overlooking the estuary.
Some opt for a Walk on the Wild Side, a guided outing that combines hiking, strolling deserted beaches, and whale and bear watching.
Heading out for the day? The gourmet dining staff will create a delectable picnic lunch—perhaps free-range roasted chicken, grilled vegetables and aioli on homemade bread—fit for an eco-queen.
And at day’s end, sore muscles are soothed at Healing Grounds where seaside spa tents envelop the weary for a deep tissue massage set to the muffled sounds of water lapping and birds chirping outside canvas walls.
Meanwhile back in the Hemingway-esque fishing tent, the reel women are learning the difference between roll casting and back casting, rainbow and cutthroat trout, and how differently men and women adapt to the sport.
“Women seem to have an easier time learning to cast,” observed Dino, one of two charming and patient instructors. “So many men try to strong arm it and that just isn’t how it is done.”
Our feminine group did express some concern about the well being of the fish. But once we cleared that hurdle it was on to tying our own flies, practicing our casts and preparing for the big catch.
Part of the experience involved testing our skills in the local waters. We rode horseback past massive, moss-covered cedars, climbing through the lush rainforest to cast into deep, clear pools. The following morning we climbed aboard a seaplane and landed on a high mountain lake where Alice, our most determined student, would joyfully land her first big fish.
My only regret: Four days leaves too little time to enjoy this expansive and exquisite wilderness setting. My fly fishing skills had improved, but I hadn’t lounged near the imposing stone fireplace in the outside living room, lingered on my scenic deck, had a second massage, gone Coho salmon fishing or kayaked across the sound.
Remedy: a swift return.
While intimate and romantic, families are also welcome. Reunions and weddings are common. Rates include all activities, three gourmet meals and seaplane transport from Vancouver; mid-May to mid-July and end of August to the beginning of October.
The Resort at Paws Up. Greenough, Montana. Stay at one of several glamping sites, including River Camp on the Blackfoot River and enjoy horseback riding, fly fishing, hiking spa services and a healthy dose of Big Sky. Tel. 800-473-0601, www.PawsUp.com
Sometimes tucking yourselves into the trees is just what the doctor ordered. Turn off the phones. Say no to texting and twittering. Bring out the board games. Listen to the quiet.
Here are few places that may feel just a little like paradise:
At Brooks Lake Lodge, the vast Wyoming wilderness is right outside your door. High mountain lakes, miles of hiking and horseback trails and magnificent views will enhance your experience. One and two bedroom rustic but restored cabins are nestled among the Spruce and Pine trees of the Pinnacle Mountains. Enjoy the sweet smell of the forest from under your goose down comforters. (307) 455-2121; www.BrooksLake.com;
Wheeling, West Virginia.
For more than twenty years my family has spent Thanksgiving weekend in the some of the 50 family cabins at Oglebay Resort. A central meeting point for our clan, the rustic but comfortable cabins are the perfect home base from which to enjoy a 1700 acre wonderland. Sit by the fire or head out for hiking, golf, fishing, a petting zoo, and horseback riding. During the season, don’t miss the extraordinary holiday light show. (800)624-6988 www.oglebay-resort.com;
For that quiet getaway, visit the Forest Houses tucked in the trees in the spectacular Oak Creek canyon. With the stream running just below, and the majestic red rocks in view, the beauty is extraordinary. Hike, fish and explore the art, culture and backcountry of this popular southwestern destination. (928) 282-2999; www.ForestHouseResort.com;
Big Sky, Montana.
Located in the heart of Big Sky, there are few better places for relaxation than on the banks of the Gallatin River. The Rainbow Ranch Lodge accommodations combine the rustic rugged west with a taste of sophistication. Fish, hike, or explore nearby Yellowstone National Park. (406) 995-4132; www.RainbowRanchBigSky.com.
Red River, New Mexico.
The red river winds through this 38 acre respite from the fast pace of life. Choose from among 23 cabins tucked within fir, spruce and aspen trees at the Tall Pines Resort. Hike, fish and explore the pristine area. Then return to cook dinner, picnic style, on your outdoor grill. (800) 573-2241; www.tallpineresort.com
High Sierra Camp, Sequoia National Monument, CA
Rest easy in your cozy canvas bungalow after a day exploring California's Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Dine on three delectable meals served in an al fresco dining pavilion. Sink into your plush-top mattress and feather pillow and dream the night away. Whether you bunk with your honey, a girl friend or the whole family, book three nights and get the fourth night free. www.sequoiahighsierracamp.com
Steamboat Springs has a very strong western tradition, which even the youngest residents celebrate.
There was a time when my middle son, Alex, would don his small cowboy hat, grab an unsuspecting stuffed animal and practice calf roping in the living room. Swinging his imaginary rope, he would nab the stuffed toy, drop on one knee and throw his hands in the air.
The Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series is the most successful weekly rodeo in the country, and an important part of a summer visit to this northern Rockies cowboy town. Every Friday and Saturday evening from mid-June to mid-August, the locals mix with tourists for an evening of plumb western fun.
The town’s rodeo roots reach deep into the region’s vibrant ranching history and can be traced back more than 100 years. No one is quite sure when the first rodeo took place, but mentions of bronco riding can be found in old copies of the Steamboat Pilot newspaper from as early as 1898.
The same paper referred to what may have been the precursor to the modern rodeo: Game Day. The paper reports that the multi-day event drew about 3,000 people to Steamboat to watch ”rough riding, steer roping, pony racing, shooting contests, running races and dances.”
Today, the rodeo tradition is alive and well. The sport’s legends, hall-of-famers, world champions, circuit champions, season champions, as well as raw rookies support the rodeo. Sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), the weekend event takes place in a modern rodeo arena named after local rodeo rider Brent Romick. With a nod to history, it stands on the same ground the original cowboys chose for their competitions a century ago.
Rodeo and western fans will also enjoy a Steamboat Fourth of July. Cowboy Roundup days include all the rodeo favorites: a parade down Lincoln Avenue, a community pancake breakfast, live music and fireworks.
When in Steamboat Springs
Your whole crew will enjoy witnessing this American tradition where the rough and tough iconic cowboy meets good, old-fashioned family fun.
Get there early.
Gates open at 5:30 p.m. The seating is general admission, so if you want a front and center seat for the action, get there by 6:30 for a 7:30 start. There is parking at the rodeo grounds. However, you can avoid the crowds after the rodeo by parking in town and walking the few blocks to the arena.
Don’t miss the barbecue.
Each Friday and Saturday, a family-style barbecue starts at 6:00 p.m. and runs until approximately 9:30 p.m. If front row seats aren’t your priority, get riled up for the rodeo with special entertainment from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m.
Get the kids involved.
Talk with first-timers about what to expect. For some small children, the events can be overwhelming. For arena-ready young wranglers, the just-for-fun calf and ram scramble may be just right for them. There are separate events for kids 5 and under as well as a scramble for kids 6-12. No need to register in advance.
Dress for the cool mountain air. The rodeo goes on, rain or shine. Kids 6 and under are free.
For more information: www.steamboatprorodeo.com.
Located nearly 7,000 feet above sea level in Colorado’s Northern Rockies, this picturesque town boasts six mountains and nearly 3,000 acres of luscious ski- and board-friendly terrain. You won’t find jagged peaks. Rather, they’re oversized “hills,” as I heard one visitor call them, coated with an abundance of champagne powder—the dry, smooth snow for which the Rockies are renowned—and backed by a 75-year Olympic heritage. The combination of rugged authenticity and serious skiing makes for one of the most extraordinary resort destinations on the planet
Never far from its ranching roots, Steamboat Springs, CO remains solidly linked to a western tradition that sets it apart, in a most refreshing way, from other mountain resorts that dot the Rocky Mountain landscape. Fur-swaddled tourists are few and far between. This is a town where ranchers, clad in boots and brand-boasting belt buckles, still go about their business. It’s a laid-back landscape.
I made my first trek to Steamboat while still in college. My only prior ski experience had been on small slopes, the kind commonly found in the Midwest. For me, this Rocky Mountain high country was the big time. The bright western sunshine and the thrill of the famously fluffy powder were exhilarating. I remember thinking: “This is perfection.”
Decades later, Steamboat is still perfect; a perfect vacation destination for families, winter or summer.
Winter Activities in Steamboat
According to local Yampa Valley ranchers, the true measure of a Routt County winter’s severity is determined by how high the snow piles up against their four fence wires. Steamboat enjoys more than its fair share of “three-wire winters.” As Sureva Towler writes in her book, The History of Skiing at Steamboat Springs, “By January or February of a typical winter, snow will cover the third fence wire, usually thirty inches high.” Four-wire winters, generally more than 35 inches at the resort’s mid-mountain location, are not uncommon. That is very good news for those who like to strap on the skis and experience the legendary white stuff.
Steamboat wrote the book on children and family programs, and the resort area continues to innovate. While holding armloads of accolades from magazines and Web sites, its leading edge position has been solidified by providing an array of deals over the past few decades where kids and grandkids fly, ski, rent and/or stay free.
Not wanting to rest on their laurels, the resort added a technological twist to its family-friendly programming with the Mountain Watch program. My friends with young children, who sampled the program during an early visit, described the concept as “Star Wars meets Big Brother.”
Now more commonly used to relieve parent angst, the Steamboat Mountain Watch uses wristband-tracking devices to allow the grownups to keep tabs on their children. By scanning your own watch at kiosks located around the resort, you can zero in on your child’s location on the mountain or know they are tucked safely inside the Kid’s Vacation Center.
“We were able to enjoy our time and have peace of mind just knowing where our son and daughter were,” explained my friends. “When we met at the end of the day, we could ask specific questions about the places we knew they visited while we were relishing a long-awaited day on the slopes.”
Olympic Style Skiing
Steamboat has produced more winter Olympians that any other town in North America, a record 69 and counting. In fact, Steamboat sent more athletes to recent Olympic Games than many small countries. Your kids can hear the story and gather inspiration straight from 1964 Olympic Silver medalist Billy Kidd. He serves as the Steamboat Ski Area’s Director of Skiing and is often available on the mountain.
Those who want a little instruction can also opt for Family Private ski or board lessons. Offered for a half or full day, the whole gang can learn together. Instructors will customize your family clinic to meet the specific needs and goals of your group. I’m told it works best if all participants share a similar level of expertise. Children must be in first grade or older to participate.
Once you’ve brushed up on your skill set, you will be ready to learn the secret of Steamboat: “the goods are in the woods!” If you are game for glade skiing—which involves skiing through trees, rather than on an open slope—this is the place to be, even if you are not a black diamond daredevil. There is a perfect pitch for every ability. I was happy with the tame terrain off the Sunshine Express, while my boys went for the steeper stuff.
Hot Springs Give Steamboat Steam
We took a break from the slopes to visit one of the more than 150 geothermal springs that give Steamboat its name. In the late 1880s when fur trappers were passing through the area, they heard an odd noise they thought sounded like a steamboat. They were pleasantly surprised, much as today’s visitors are, to find the steamy, bubbling springs that soothe tired muscles après ski or after a long days’ hike.
Guests who want to experience the springs can choose from two facilities. The centrally-located Old Town Hot Springs offers swimming pools, a full-service fitness center and a waterslide for the kids. We ventured just seven miles from town, to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs. This venue offers a unique experience, with hand-built stone pools of varying temperatures, tepee changing rooms and a natural and serene environment. Children are welcome during the day. Once the sun goes down, you must be 18 or older and clothing is optional.
Summer Activities in Steamboat
When the warm, western sun once again reveals the fence lines, the games change. Steamboat has received nearly as much acclaim for its summer beauty and vitality as for its world famous snow.
Our warm weather visits have included fly-fishing,, hiking, rafting, attending Steamboat’s famous rodeo and simply admiring the colorful hot air balloons that often dot the sky.
On Thunderhead Peak
Hopping on the Steamboat gondola to the top of Thunderhead Peak makes it easy for the whole family to explore the area by mountain bike, hike along the nature trails, or just relax and take in the breathtaking views.
The gondola operates daily from mid-June through Labor Day. Uphill operations run from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Mon. to Sat., and 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Sun. (weather permitting), with the last downhill trip at 4:30 p.m.
With small kids or less able family members in tow, try the Vista Nature Trail. It’s a one-mile, handicapped-accessible loop that begins near the top of the gondola. A wide, graded, gravel path meanders for the first half-mile then turns into a traditional hiking trail for the second half-mile.
Mountain Biking on the Slopes
Steamboat’s mountain bike trail network has gained an international reputation, but you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy many of the more than 50 miles of trails at the ski area and countless more in the nearby wilderness areas. If you don’t have your own bike, rentals are readily available. The Steamboat Mountain Bike School offers private and semi-private clinics for those looking to improve their bike handling skills throughout the summer.
Camping and Wilderness Areas
With more than 1,000 square miles of public lands, including Routt National Forest several Colorado State Parks and two wilderness areas surrounding Steamboat Springs, the area is nirvana if you love getting into the backcountry for hiking, camping and adventure.
There also are plenty of options for day hikes and excursions. We loved our outing to the easily accessible Fish Creek Falls; the breathtaking 280-foot waterfall spills just four miles from downtown.
Something About That Barn
Years ago, when I left Steamboat after my champagne powder initiation, I returned to my college dorm room with a treasured Steamboat poster depicting two skiers on horseback making first tracks in front of a picturesque, western-style barn.
Nearly three decades later, I walked into my son’s college dorm room. We had never skied Steamboat together, yet he had the same poster on his wall.
We weren’t the only two taken by the beauty of this famous Steamboat landmark. Shot in 1973 by Minneapolis–based photographer, Gerald Brimacombe, the Steamboat Barn poster features Rusty Chandler and Jo Semotan riding, skis shouldered, in front of the Barn. You will see the Barn poster on the walls of the Stanley Hotel in Steven King’s miniseries version of The Shining. It also made SKI Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Ski Photographs, and variations on the image are featured on much of the resort area’s promotional materials.
Steamboat Springs is located 157 miles northwest of Denver, and visitors to this mountain Mecca can fly into the mile-high city and drive, or take advantage of increasing nonstop jet service offered from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Newark/NYC, New York-JFK, New York-LaGuardia or Salt Lake City on American, Continental, Delta, Northwest and United Airlines. All service is direct into the Steamboat/Hayden Airport (HDN), 22 miles/35kms from the ski area..
For first-timers and returning visitors alike, the Steamboat tourist site www.steamboat.com is a great resource.
Whether expecting your first child or your fifth, those days and months before the new baby arrives can be hectic. So why not plan a relaxing and romantic getaway so that parents can greet the new family member with renewed vigor.
Here are five places to enjoy a Babymoon:
1. Baby Me.
Expectant parents who book the Baby Me package at one of 12 W Hotels, will be treated to a copy of Bump it Up, Amy Tara Koch's pregnancy style bible for the chic mommy-to-be. You’ll also garner a pair of Baby Mocs and a cotton Onesie for the new arrival. Craving a little something to snack on? Order delectable goodies from the “Womb Service” menu. Mom-to-be can also relax with a bump-friendly massage designed to relieve tired muscles and sluggish circulation. Contact: 888-625-4988; www.whotels.com.
2. Relax at Biscuit Hill.
Take time for yourselves in Texas Hill Country. Stay at this charming bed and breakfast nestled in a wooded hillside and overlooking a picturesque lake. Tuck your toes into microwaveable, herb-filled slippers designed to provide relief for the expectant mom’s aching feet. Enjoy fruit, chocolate, sparkling juices and a spa bath tote filled with soothing products to take home. Relax by the fireplace or the cozy outdoor sitting area. Contact: 888-998-9909; www.biscuithill.com/babymoons.htm
3. Little Palm Island Resort & Spa.
Off the Florida Keys. For the ultimate pre-baby holiday, get cozy in an oceanfront, thatched-roof bungalow within this luxurious, 5 ½ acre resort only accessible by seaplane or boat. Enjoy his and hers spa gifts and treatments. Then meet for an 80 minute couple’s massage. Relish in the television, telephone-free environment where the only sounds that may interrupt your rest are waves lapping outside the door or birds chirping overhead. Contact: 1(800)343-8567; http://www.littlepalmisland.com/LittlePalmIsland_BabymoonPackage.aspx
4. Canadian Seaside Getaway. Just 20 minutes from downtown Victoria, observe whales, seals and otters frolicking in the ocean from your perch at Amore By The Sea. Relish your stay within this award-winning bed and breakfast where elegant rooms, fine linens, jetted tubs, fireplaces and the quiet ambience combine with luxurious spa treatments, rich chocolates, and specialty lotions and soaps to relax and prepare parents-to-be for the arrival of their new baby. Contact: 1 (888) 828-4397; www.amorebythesea.com/index.html
5. Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa. Birmingham, AL.
While future Dad explores the Robert Trent Jones Trail and the inherent championship golf, Mom-to-be might indulge and relax within the resorts sprawling, 12,000 sq.ft. European Spa. The “Baby Love” massage will restore her energy enough to take in a night on the nearby town. Before heading for home, enjoy an afternoon by the pool, and doze to the rhythmic pulse of the signature waterfalls and fountains.1-888-236-242; www.marriott.com
Hotels are expanding their luxury services for animals to ensure that your beloved canine companion can sleep and dine in style.
An increasing number of upscale lodging establishments gain guest loyalty by throwing a bone to Bob.
“Oh, yes. Bob,” said Sue, who with her husband, Derrick, was telling a story to another couple. Barely within earshot, I heard them continue. “Well, he needs plenty of room or he gets cranky,” she said.
“It’s important that he be able to stretch his legs. He doesn’t like to be cramped,” said Derrick. “And he’s a finicky eater … and frankly, he doesn’t get along well with others.”
An aging uncle? A distant cousin?
No. Bob is their beloved greyhound dog. And there’s nothing too good for Bob.
My friends Sue and Derrick don’t go anywhere without Bob. Hotels, restaurants, parties, resorts. If Bob isn’t welcome, they simply don’t go.
Fortunately, for this Arizona couple, much of the world now sees it their way.
It’s a Dog’s World
An increasing number of lodging establishments are not only posting a welcome sign for your pooches, but they are going out of their way to ensure your pet is comfortable and cozy.
Upscale hotel chains like Loews Hotels and Starwood’s W Hotels, have expanded their system-wide commitments to include guests’ canine companions. With perks ranging from toys at check-in to doggie turndown service, pets have plenty to wag their tails about.
So when you get the urge to enjoy life’s luxurious locations, you won’t have to go alone. Here are a few of the places where your four-legged friends will be appreciated.
My son Ted and I recently spent the night at The Curtis hotel in downtown Denver. A pop culture hotspot, The Curtis features colorful themed rooms and floors, which are all about fun. And if the humans are having a good time, why not include the shaggy set and let the good times roll. The hotel has installed the city’s largest doggie door, allowing pets like Bob and his pals to slip into the lobby in style. He’ll bunk on the “pet-friendly” 8th floor—which is Sci-Fi themed, where images from Star Wars, Alien, Godzilla and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman adorn the halls. www.thecurtis.com
In sunny Los Angeles, The Beverly Hills Hotel, offers a Canine Connoisseur program, with bone-shaped cookies personalized by hand with your pet’s name, as well as doggie beds, bowls and the hotel’s signature hot pink tennis balls. Rooms start at $495 per night. www.thebeverlyhillshotel.com
After a long day of shopping in fashionable Milan, you’ll have no worries. The Hotel Principe di Savoia has a room service menu just for pets featuring tasty treats made out of beef, chicken or veal, served cooked to order or tartar. The hotel also offers vegetable croquettes. (Of course, there is room service for you as well.) . www.hotelprincipedisavoia.com
Headed to Paris with your puppy? The elegant Hotel Le Meurice offers complimentary pet baskets for dogs (and cats), with personalized and custom-designed bowls and name tags, and specific menus and food options—all arranged prior to your arrival. The hotel’s staff members will also be pleased to take your dog for a stroll in the Jardin des Tuileries while you are out and about the streets of Paris. www.lemeurice.com
At the Long Beach Lodge on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, pets are welcomed into beach-front guest rooms or rain-forest cottages. And when those paws get wet and sandy from a feisty romp on the world famous surfing beach, there will be warm towels, special treats and a cozy bed—size small, medium or large—waiting for your treasured friend in seaside accommodations. “Our guests enjoy staying at the Long Beach Lodge with their dogs and having the opportunity to explore the beaches and nearby trails,” explains Sara Holland, a spokesperson for the resort. “We have no weight restrictions and so big dogs—even two big dogs—are welcome to enjoy the beautiful surroundings with their owners.” www.longbeachlodgeresort.com
One of the earliest adopters of the pet-friendly phenomenon, the Cypress Inn is in the pet-friendly enclave of Carmel, Calif. Owned by actress and animal advocate Doris Day, the Mediterranean-style establishment is a short stroll from the beach and offers pet sitting plus suggestions for outings with your canine companion. . www.cypress-inn.com.
With so many hoteliers now eager to please the four-legged crowd and their loyal owners, Doris must be proud.
The take-off is amazing. But, it’s the sound that stays with you, I’d been told. Still, I couldn’t imagine the impending glory of the moment.
I was too cold.
This was my first visit to Willcox, Ariz., for the town’s annual celebration of the sandhill cranes’ migration to their southern Arizona winter home.
Wings Over Willcox Sand Hill Crane Convention
The sandhills’ stop in the Southwest is perhaps their most famous performance. Scouting for a suitable mate, the birds spend nearly a month entertaining avid birders and the casually curious. The crane population peaks around St Patrick’s Day, before they depart en masse for the Arctic, where a demanding breeding season ensues.
I had heard about Wings Over Willcox and had been eager to introduce the birding extravaganza to my sons.
My own interest in the cranes began when I first read A Sand County Almanac (Oxford University, 1970) in my 20s. Aldo Leopold, the late Wisconsin naturalist, wrote of his fondness for the sandhills in his 1949 classic.
Each year this farming community in Cochise County, roughly 80 miles east of Tucson, welcomes winter visitors of multiple species. Plenty of heat-seeking humans show up from places like Vancouver and Kansas. And as many as 30,000 sandhill cranes find their way to a 60-sq.-mile roosting site near Willcox. The Arizona Game and Fish Department owns the land where the birds roost and makes sure it is flooded each year to create the six-inch deep pool the cranes find so appealing.
In an era when social media and sporting events are mainstays for the modern teen, it is not easy to arouse enthusiasm for a weekend spent in a small Arizona town, where the adventure’s highlight is a predawn excursion to see a mass of long-necked, pointy-billed, spindly-legged birds take flight.
I am fortunate to have raised nature lovers. When journalist and youth advocate Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder (Algonquin Books, 2005), sparked a national discussion about the lack of time children spend in the natural world, I have felt grateful my sons have grown up exposed to desert wild flowers, the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River, and now, the dance of the sandhill cranes.
There is much to be learned from these ancient birds that live long lives, up to 25 years, despite an arduous lifestyle; some are known to commute as far as Siberia. The cranes also are monogamous, have several offspring and even dance for their mates. They will mightily defend their loved ones and their territory. Their young even go through voice changes, just as humans do, says Michael Forsberg, a nature photographer and expert on crane migration and social behaviors.
National Geographic considers this avian traveling show one of the continents two greatest wildlife events, sharing honors with the great caribou migration. The residents of Willcox must be proud.
So it was that we found ourselves in the cold, dark Arizona morning, swaddled in warm layers to ward off the chill, waiting for lift off.
Then we heard it. As the rising sun spewed light on the shallows, a jarring whoosh filled the air and washed over us like a wave over sand. In that moment, thousands of birds, with five- to six-foot wingspans, and weighing as much as 14 pounds, took flight. They were embarking on a day that would include lollygagging in nearby cornfields and flying in V formation to the delight of mesmerized onlookers. Later they would return, to roost once again, in this Sulphur Springs Valley sanctuary.
Thankfully, the rising sun, and the somehow haunting ritual, warmed us as well.
As we settled into a welcome breakfast of eggs over easy and piles of pancakes, we spoke of the birds’ flight.
And of the sound.
The amazing sound of the sandhill cranes, in unison, breaking the sacred silence of morning.
If You Go
Every winter, tens of thousands of sandhill cranes come to roost around the town of Willcox, 83 miles east of Tucson off I-10. For several years now, the town has decided to celebrate this event by staging a major festival during the third weekend of January, with birding tours and field trips to Willcox Playa, Cochise lake and the Apache Station Wildlife Area (the main habitats of the famous cranes). Other excursions take visitors to see raptors, sparrows and waterfowl wintering in the mild Southern Arizona climate. Inquire about tour dates and prices. Seminars and presentations on local wildlife are free. Due to limited seating, registration is required for all tours.
For more information, visit www.wingsoverwillcox.com;