On your next holiday, stay somewhere surprising. Here are a hand full of out of the ordinary options:
Kokopelli's Cave Bed & Breakfast, Farmington, NM.
Not far from the Four Corners where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah converge, you’ll find this underground sanctuary, originally created as a one-of-a-kind office for a geologist. Expect plenty of creature comforts including a waterfall-style shower and Jacuzzi tub. Southwestern style furnishings fill the 1650 square foot haven carved into sandstone 70 feet below the surface. Breakfast items, including oatmeal, fresh fruit and muffins, are provided. You’ll also find plenty in the cave fridge to create a picnic style lunch, assuming you’ll be exploring the surrounding area. Bring your own grill-friendly food and enjoy cooking on the balcony while enjoying sweeping views of the surrounding mountains. The cave entrance is a ten minute hike from the parking area. Recommended for children eight and older.
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.
No oxygen masks required when you check in to stay inside this refurbished Boeing 727 fuselage. Located in the jungle, minutes from the Manuel Antonio National Park, the whole family will enjoy the unique lodging that once served as transport for South Africa Air. The aircraft now rests atop a 50 foot pedestal, offering magnificent views of the treetops and ocean in the distance. Kids will love telling their friends about relaxing on the deck and communing with the local residents that include toucans, squirrel monkeys and sloths. Sleeps six in two air-conditioned bedrooms.
Contact: 1 (866) 854-7958; www.costaverde.com/727.html
Big Bay Lighthouse, Big Bay, and MI.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this lighthouse is run by three avid preservationists eager to share local history. Their goal is to maintain the romance of an era when mariners relied on the skill of a Light Keeper to bring them safely through this challenging stretch of Michigan coastline. Today visitors enjoy the peaceful solitude of the pristine location on Lake Superior. Hiking, biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are available on 40 acres of trails. A full breakfast is included. For safety reasons, children must be 16 or older.
Houseboat Holiday, Boston MA.
Book the 58-foot Cuckoo’s Nest house boat docked in Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard to begin your floating holiday. Fall asleep to the sounds of waves gently lapping in the harbor. Relax on the roof top sun deck then hop aboard a free shuttle bus, water taxi, or water shuttle and head into the city for sightseeing and dinner. Children and pets are welcome. Explore houseboat getaway options in Baltimore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.
Contact: 413-652-1400; www.SleepAfloat.com.
Mary Jane’s Farm. Moscow, ID.
Check into a stylish wall tent on Mary Jane Butters’ farm and the worries of the world will melt away. Gather your own eggs for breakfast. Pick vegetables you’ll enjoy for lunch. Visit the library housed in a barn. Burn calories helping out with farm chores. Relax in the outdoor living room area nestled in a grove of plum trees. Go for a hike or play cards or board games. Later get clean in the outdoor tub or showers.
Contact: 888-750-6004; www.MaryJanesFarm.org.
Whether you know it as the “Main Street of America” or the “Mother Road” as John Steinbeck labeled the byway in his prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, there is no doubt that Route 66 has consistently caught and held the imaginations of intrepid travelers who seek freedom, adventure and a slice of Americana.
Through Pixar’s film, Cars, a new generation of road trippers were introduced to the iconic roadway that stretches from Chicago, Ill to Santa Monica, CA.
The next time your family yearns for the magic of the open road, relive the glory days along Arizona’s continuous stretch of Route 66.
Here are a few suggested stops:
While standing on “The Corner” in this quaint, old railroad town you’ll be reminded of the 1972 tune Take It Easy, music that made both the town and the Eagles famous. Check into the historic La Posada hotel and enjoy train watching, outstanding food and a visit to the nearby Petrified Forest.
This gateway to the Grand Canyon celebrates its Route 66 history with an annual celebration that includes vintage cars, arts and crafts and musical tributes to the Mother Road . Visit The Museum Club, built in 1931, a classic roadhouse famous for their extraordinary taxidermy collection. Classic hotels from the mid-century still line Rt 66 as it winds through the center of town.
Local shopkeepers have brought this town’s colorful history back to life with sassy saloons, ghost-ridden bordellos, cowboy gunfighters and ice cream parlors all eager to serve travelers a taste of Route 66 hospitality. Kids will enjoy the historic Grand Canyon train trip to the South Rim which includes old-time musicians and an occasional “hold-up” by the local outlaws. Don’t worry. The U.S. Marshall arrives just in the nick of time.
Seligman , AZ
Recognized as the community that inspired the movie Cars and as the birthplace of Route 66, this railroad town is full of historic gems. Thanks to the work of residents and fans of The Mother Road, the well-preserved quirky shops, restaurants and iconic signage make this a popular stop. Don’t miss the landmark Snow Cap Drive-In for tasty burgers, root beer floats and some good-natured funny business from the crew behind the counter. Contact: www.seligmanarizona.org.
Visit the Route 66 Museum in the Powerhouse Visitor’s Center and then grab a bite at Mr.D’s Route 66 Diner. It is worth the trip to nearby Oatman where wooden boardwalks and vintage saloons are reminders of a by-gone boomtown era when gold hid in the hills. Kids will thrill to the sight of wild burros that still roam the streets, descendants of those that assisted the early day miners. Expect daily shootouts on Main Street when costumed cowboys strut their stuff for visiting tourists.
For more history and suggested Route 66 itineraries visit the National Scenic Byways site at www.byways.org/explore/byways/2489/itinerary/59554
Lately, I have been thinking about and discussing with friends, family, and colleagues, the delicate balance we seek when managing risk, fear, preparation, wisdom, loss, knowledge and exploration.
Perhaps our formula is different when the situation involves our children.
The American Civil War, a conflict of considerable scale, was fought on home soil.
Sixty percent of the battles were fought in Virginia. Communities, parks and museums, primarily in the East and South, will continue to offer living histories, lectures, and tours noting this era in our history.
Gettysburg. Gettysburg, VA.
Visit what is perhaps the best known of the Civil War battlefields where many believe the outcome of the war was determined. Free Ranger led tours are available for various areas of the park. You and the kids will enjoy driving tours through some of the more significant areas including Little Round.Top, Culp’s Hill and Pickett’s Charge. This is the well known scene of Abraham Lincoln’s famous address marking the victory and the creation of a new nation. Contact: 866-889-1243, www.nps.gov/gett; www.gettysburgfoundation.org
American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. Richmond, VA.
Situated on eight acres on the James River in downtown Richmond, this is the first museum to tell the war story from the African American, Confederate and Union points of view. Through multi-faceted education programs, including their signature exhibit, In The Cause of Liberty, the organization seeks to tell the whole story of the conflict that continues to shape the country. A National Historic Landmark, the Tredegar iron works site was the primary armament producer for the Confederacy. Contact: 804-780-1865; www.tredegar.org.
Antietam National Battlefield. Sharpsburg, MD.
In what is deemed as the bloodiest one day battle in American history, more than 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing at Antietam. Join a park ranger for a battlefield talk and learn how the twelve hour conflict ended the Confederate Army’s first invasion into the North and resulted in President Lincoln’s first step toward the Emancipation Proclamation. It was here, in the Maryland cornfields, where the First Texas Infantry lost 82 percent of their soldiers, the highest Confederate casualty rate in a single battle. Kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge and may enjoy taking part in the driving tour scavenger hunt. Contact: 301- 432-5124; www.nps.gov/anti/
Civil War Museum. Fort Worth TX.
Learn about the 90,000 Texans who served in the military in the Battles of Antietam, Gettysburg and beyond. View civilian and military artifacts from the era, including a Confederate flag collection, and Victorian dress. The film “Our Homes, Our Rights”, detailing Texan’s involvement, is shown every half hour. Children under seven are admitted free. Contact: 817-246-2323; Resource: The Texas Historical Commission publishes a brochure noting Civil War sites. It is downloadable at no charge at www.thc.state.tx.us Kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge. Contact: 703-361-1339; http://www.nps.gov/mana
Resource: www.civilwartraveler.com; www.CivilWar.org; www.CivilWarTrails.org.
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.
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 Facebook, video games 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 feel 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 a 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.
If you go:
Diving boards and the deep end have been replaced by slippery slides, raging waterfalls and lazy rivers.
Today’s resort pools and water parks offer enough excitement to keep the kids engaged for a weekend or longer.
Here are a few cool pools worth the plunge:
Grand Wailea Resort, Maui, Hawaii.
This island haven may be most famous for its beaches, but don’t pass up the chance to explore what this resort has to offer. The whole family will be eager to check out the 25,700 square foot area that includes nine free form pools. Travel via a “river” to check out the slides, waterfalls, caves, water elevator, swim up bar, rope swing and more that are part of this water wonderland. The tropical 40 acre resort also includes an infant pool.
Fairmont Scottsdale. Scottsdale, AZ.
With the magnificent McDowell Mountains as a backdrop, families relish this oasis in the desert. By day, keep cool within the 6000 square foot Sonoran Splash complex, featuring a zero deck area for the youngest set. Kids wade right into the water, just like at the beach. Nearby a large sandbox with Tonka trucks and a bounty of beach toys beckon, keeping the kids entertained. Have fun slipping down two of Arizona’s largest slides. Come nightfall, enjoy dive-in movies from deck chairs or while floating on your raft.
Atlantis Resort. Paradise Island, Bahamas.
With more than 141 acres of water rides and pools, who has time to hit the beach? From the Mayan Temple to the ominous Power Tower to fun-filled Splashers Island, water play lovers will find 18 adrenaline-pulsing slides for kids of all ages. Ride the waves and rapids in the Current. Lounge around your choice of 11 different pools. Twist and turn through tunnels and emerge in an acrylic tube deep within a shark-filled lagoon. The thrills never end in this water-filled fantasy park.
Marriott World Center, Orlando, FL.
Think 1,000,000 gallons of cool water. That’s what you’ll find at this Orlando resort where indoor pools, outdoor pools, whirlpools, waterfalls and a 106 foot slide make for an enticing recreation area. Pool side fun includes sidewalk chalk, ping pong and pool tables, limbo contests and scavenger hunts. Lounge on deck or join in a game of water volleyball.
Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort, San Antonio, TX.
Float through the resort’s beautifully landscaped grounds aboard a trusty inner tube, making your way 950 feet along the Ramblin’ River. Stop by the activity pool and join in a game of water volley ball or basketball. Or make it a beach day and settle on the private, sandy man-made beach. Lounge on the sundeck before heading to the golf course or an afternoon at the spa. Grown-ups can enjoy the Texas-shaped adults only pool, while the kids take advantage of Camp Hyatt activities or teen-focused Underground events.
Mineral hot springs offer the chance to soak in healing waters and to learn about their ancient origins. Here are five places where you and your family can enjoy the warm water.
1.Steamboat Springs, CO.
In the late 1880s fur trappers passing through this Colorado enclave, heard an odd noise resembling a steamboat. They were pleasantly surprised to find more than 150 geothermal steamy, bubbling springs that today soothe tired muscles après ski or after a long days’ hike. The centrally-located Old Town Hot Springs offers swimming pools, a full-service fitness center and a waterslide for the kids. Just seven miles from town, the Strawberry Park Hot Springs offers a unique experience, with hand-built stone pools of varying temperatures, tepee changing rooms and a natural and serene environment. Note: Children are welcome during the day. Once the sun goes down, you must be 18 or older and clothing is optional.
2. Thermopolis, Wy
Visit the world’s largest mineral hot spring in this western town where the whole family can swim, slide, soak and steam inside or outdoors. See the mineral-formed rainbow terraces and other natural creations as well as the local buffalo herd at the Hot Springs State Park. Learn how paleontologists work, participate in a real dig or wander through the museum at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. Don’t miss the 108 foot Supersaurus stretching overhead.
Contact: 1 (877) 864-3192; www.Thermopolis.com
3. Glenwood Springs, CO.
Royals, presidents and Ute Indians have all found these steamy pools to provide great respite from the rest of the world. Two blocks long, the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool complex includes a kiddy pool with water slide, a diving pool and a therapy pool. Relax in the warm waters and enjoy the Rocky Mountain scenery. Later, step next door to the Yampah Spa & Vapor Caves for a natural sauna in rock caves. Spend the night in nearby geothermal-heated hotel rooms.
Contact: (970) 945-6571; www.hotspringspool.com
4. Calistoga, CA
The Palisade Mountains provide a picturesque backdrop to a day spent relaxing in this comfortable, family-run spa in Napa Valley. Warm up in an 80-foot-long lap pool, a 90-degree kiddie pool with a waterfall or the 100-degree pool. The steamy therapy pool is for adults only. Mud baths, massages and a fitness facility are also available. A multi-generational favorite, rooms with kitchenettes make a family overnight easy to handle.
Contact: 866-822-5772; www.calistogaspa.com
5. Rio Grande Village, TX.
Soak in the scenery as well as the warm water within Big Bend National Park. Look for painted pictographs on the cliff walls as you enjoy the one mile loop hike past historic buildings and the area where various Indian groups lived and traveled. The large hot spring on the bank of the Rio Grande River gushes with steamy water that fills the foundation of an old bathhouse creating a popular natural hot tub.
Contact: (432)477-2251; www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/soakinthesprings.htm
Southern Arizona guest ranches offer families a healthy mix of outdoor adventure and American tradition.A stay on a guest (or “dude”) ranch gives families a chance to unplug from the modern world and sample a taste of the Old West.
Equal parts adrenaline rush and eco-tour, adding a zip line experience into your vacation itinerary can satisfy the adventure quotient for every member of the family.
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