So we're coming up on that romantic holiday known as Valentine's Day. Where are you going to take that special someone in your life for a romantic adventure? I have an idea or two for those of you who want to spend this Valentine's Day somewhere special.
One of my favorite spots to go for a romantic getaway was at Capital Reef National Park. Capital Reef is in red rock country and has a vast area for exploring, not that I expect you will see too much outside of your hotel room! For me, this was a trip within the region in which I lived. I was able to be there within a three hour drive and it was a good, quick trip.
So you might be saying to yourself, "But I don't live within three hours of Capital Reef National Park." Well, that's not really the point. Most people don't have time to take off a whole week for Valentine's Day, especially since it's on a Wednesday this year. What I'm getting at is take a couple of days off and go to somewhere regionally close to you and do something similar to what I did. Now I hear you saying, "But you never told me what you did." I thought you would never ask!
Here's what I did. I booked a nice, but expensive bed and breakfast with a great view and a hot tub in the room. Remember, sounds expensive but you're only staying a couple of nights and it's relatively close to home so your travel budget should be able to handle it. We had a great place to stay and a great place to see while we were out of the room. We stayed in a small town right at the boundary of the national park, which also had some outstanding places to eat.
So, here's the recipe in short: a regionally close to you destination, a nice bed and breakfast, some sights to see when you are in a sightseeing mood, and a really nice restaurant to eat at. Find your own nearby and have a great Valentine's Day! Incidentally, if you want to copy mine, stay in Torrey, UT and go to Capital Reef National Park.
When I first started my traveling adventures, I looked up the latest advice on how to get a great deal. This was when websites like Priceline.com were still fairly new and the whole discounted last minute travel boom was in full swing. Reading up on the latest new travel trends I went to a last minute booking website and got a great deal to New Orleans (airfare only). That was the end of the good ideas for my travel adventure, from here on it was one big rookie mistake that ended up making the trip less enjoyable.
So I booked two non-refundable airfare tickets to New Orleans for a steal of a deal, but right after I had done that I got a call about an interview for a job I was interested in, in Washington D.C. The interview was scheduled for the second day of our trip and I couldn't reschedule it. No problem I thought, I'll just book a last minute deal for Washington D.C. and then fly back to New Orleans to finish our trip. Travel Party Foul number one: Don't book non-refunable, last minute tickets unless you're sure that nothing will interfere with your travel, or purchase travel insurance.
Back on the last minute deal website I went and booked a round trip ticket to D.C. from New Orleans for the second day of the trip. Problem was that to get a screaming deal on airfare I had to fly on a red eye one night and fly out late the next day, instead of flying in on the morning and back to New Orleans that same afternoon. Travel Party Foul number two: Don't book non-refunable, last minute tickets unless you can get the flights that work with your schedule.
The day of our New Orleans trip came and we got to the airport right on time, sailed through airport security, and boarded the flight with no problem. That was officially the last right thing that happened on the trip. We had issues with the flight that delayed us getting to our layover hub. When we got there, a mechanical problem cancelled our flight to New Orleans for the night. Although we got put up in a nice hotel and provided with basic toiletries from the airline, we had missed a whole day of exploration of New Orleans.
Early the next morning, our flight departed from the layover city and got us into New Orleans around lunchtime. In order to save a couple of extra bucks, I had booked us a hotel out in Metarie instead of the more expensive hotels right downtown. My logic was that it was near a streetcar line that we could take into town for our explorations. If you know the area around New Orleans, you will know that Metarie is not all that close to the tourist areas of downtown New Orleans and the streetcar stop there isn't in the best part of town. What we spent on taxi rides, public transit, and other forms of transport more than would have made up for the difference in price for the downtown hotels. Travel Party Foul number three: Don't book hotels away from what you want to see unless you really know the area and transit options, just to try and save a few bucks.
Because of the flight delay, I now had to depart for the airport at 3:30 p.m. on the day we arrived in order to make my flight to Washington D.C. for my interview. After we got settled at the hotel we decided to take a walking tour of New Orleans that would last about two hours, which would give me just enough time to see something of New Orleans before my flight. Unfortunately I would have to take my carry on with me in order to head to the airport right after. I walked all around the french quarter and to a couple of cemeteries for two hours with a heavy bag on my shoulder. By the time I got in the cab to head to the airport I was beat and sore. Travel Party Foul number four: Be realistic about your time and your energy level and don't try to pack too much in to one day.
After arriving in D.C. late at night, I had to get settled quickly for my interview the next day after having been tired from the walking tour adventures. After my interview the next morning, I had almost a full day to kill in D.C. before my flight back to New Orleans. I took in the sights with my carry on with me the whole time because I couldn't leave it anywhere. Once again a lot of walking with soreness and fatigue from the previous day. Finally, it was time to fly back to New Orleans and I flew back and got in late on our second to last day of the trip.
Waking up early the next day we took in some more of the sights and flavors in New Orleans and had a great day, that ended far too quickly. The next day we slept late and recovered a little before having to head back to the airport for our flight home. All told I ended with a day and a half in New Orleans out of a five day trip. Travel Party Foul number five: Don't mix a vacation and business trip and expect the unexpected.
What a trip and what an education on travel do's and dont's. Tell us about your travel party fouls in the comments below, or send us your article to be published here. Travel On!
Estes Park is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, but don't be in too big of a hurry to see the Park that you miss out on what I consider to be one of the crown jewels of all of Colorado.
Estes Park sits in a mountain valley, which I know is a shock given that I just said it was the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. It also sits next to a small lake called Estes Lake, again, I know a complete shock.
All those shocks aside the town is home to the Stanley Hotel which is where the movie, "The Shining" was filmed. The Hollywood connection notwithstanding, the Stanley is definitely worth seeing or staying at, if you can afford it and find a vacancy. It is a historic hotel with a lot of the old craftsmanship and the charm that you just can't find in more modern places. If you can't afford a stay or can't find a vacancy there, you can take a scheduled tour through the public areas of the hotel.
The Stanley was named after Freelan Oscar Stanley, who built the hotel to get to the fresh air of the Rocky Mountains due to be afflicted with Tuberculosis. Freelan was also the inventor of the Stanley Steamer, a steam powered automobile in the early days of motoring. Estes Park has a museum of Stanley Steamers that is also an interesting stop to make before going on to see the Park.
Incidentally, while we're talking about Estes Park, we should talk about the drive there. There are two main ways to get to Estes Park, one comes through the small town of Lyons and up while the other comes up through Drake Colorado. Both drives are very scenic and are both similar length (depending on which direction you are traveling), but I always preferred going through Longmont and Lyons to get to Estes Park. I just liked the scenery a little better, but I also liked to stop at a little restaurant in a very small valley right before dropping down into Estes itself. They had the best house made smoked sausages and European meals.
Be advised like many mountain resort communities that are scenic, Estes Park becomes quite crowded with traffic and tourists in the summer time. This is compounded by the many fun activities that are sponsored in the town throughout each week and weekend in the summer. Movement can be challenging by vehicle or on foot, but it still well worth the trouble. Don't miss out on this place just because of some crowds. You can minimize it by going off season or when everyone else is eating.
Speaking of eating there are many fine restaurants in Estes Park to go and try for all price ranges and tastes. Be sure to get reservations for the more popular ones, especially during the summer. Whatever you do though, treat yourself to some of the local flavors and experiences to be had in the town.
My recommendation is to base yourself at the Stanley and spend a week investigating the town and what it has to offer, along with the magnificent Rocky Mountain National Park. Believe me, there are worse ways to spend a week and ultimately you'll come back feeling like you have had a great adventure to look back on.
The quintessential ski resort experience has to be Park City Ski Resort. When you talk about ski resorts that most people recognize and idolize, Park City has to be among the top five. When you want a headline skiing experience and something to look back on for years to come, head to Park City.
Park City Ski Resort is one of very few, if any others, that is about 30 minutes from a major international airport (Salt Lake International Airport). Unlike many other resorts that you have to fly into small and expensive airports, or land a major airport hours away and drive, you can catch a shuttle from the SLC International Airport directly to the resort.
Something to understand about Park City is that it is a former mining town that actually hit its boom in modern times, and not during its mining days. Park City sits in between several terrain features that make the town of Park City very cramped and crowded and unable to have large streets. This is especially an issue during mid January to the end of January when the Sundance Film Festival is going on. The Sundance Film Festival is kind of what made Park City big. It's also what makes Park City very difficult to navigate during the time it is running. Traffic jams can be lengthy, it may be faster to walk to your destination depending on distance.
Sundance Film Festival is something that you should take in if you get the chance. It is definitely worth it, but be aware that all the lodging will be really expensive and hard to find during that time, not that it's cheap anytime.
Park City has some of the most expensive real estate in Utah, and is one of the higher real estate costs for ski resorts in general. Be prepared to pay a pretty penny during the film festival and only slightly less when it isn't in town. However, if you can hit the slopes while the film festival is running you'll find yourself on some fairly deserted runs. Most people are there to see the films, not the slopes during that time.
Speaking of the slopes, Park City Ski Resort has some great terrain and runs. Park City Ski Resort bought out a neighboring ski resort and turned it all into one giant ski resort. You can ski both sides of the mountain and catch buses or a new gondola lift between the two former resorts, now just one. There are several terrain parks, numerous lifts and some hidden powder runs if you know where to go.
When you're all done with your skiing or film watching and are ready for some food, your choices are almost endless. There are some amazing restaurants throughout the town and ski resorts. You have almost every conceivable ethnicity and price. Be aware that like everything in Park City, you will pay a pretty high price for any of the better restaurants.
So much to do and see plan sufficient time to do it right, but keep in mind that your budget may be ready to leave before you are. Even if you can't stay for more than a few days, I would definitely make this one of my stops on my travel adventures.
Many people don't know it, but Arizona actually has mountains and gets snow. One of the many places in Arizona that has some mountains is Sedona, AZ. Sedona sits among some red cliffs and is a very popular tourist destination. Close by is what I consider a gem of a place to visit, Jerome, AZ.
Jerome is roughly located between the destination town of Sedona and the small community of Cottonwood, AZ. The area around Jerome makes for a nice drive that has some impressive views, but the real view is Jerome itself. Jerome is an old mining town that sits perched on the edge of a mountain side. The town is quaint and has a lot of its old time charm still. What Jerome is most noted for however is its population of ghosts.
Jerome offers haunted tours or ghost tours throughout the year as well as some neat mining history. You can tour a former gold mine and museum and meet some former residents if you're lucky, (or unlucky depending on your point of view). The area around Jerome is thick with other history as well, including numerous Native American ruins and sites worth a look.
Jerome has narrow winding streets and some terrain that can best be described as vertical. But it also has a lot of history, museums and places to eat. Speaking of places to eat, if you want to have a good burger while still enjoying some of the colorful historical "people" then try the Haunted Hamburger.
My recommendation is if your nerves and leg muscles can take it, stay in one of the lodging opportunities in Jerome and spend some time exploring it and the surrounding area. You won't be disappointed and when you want to move on, Sedona, Flagstaff and Prescott are all right down the road a piece worth some time of their own to explore.
Kalispell, Montana sits in the northwest corner of the state close to both Canada and Idaho. This is one of the most beautiful places that I have had the opportunity to live in. Within relatively short drives from here you can see Glacier National Park, one of the largest man made reservoirs in the U.S., and miles of forest that make you feel like an explorer. Some people refer to this part of Montana as the Alaska of the lower 48 states.
Most people coming to Kalispell and the surrounding areas and towns are usually there to see Glacier National Park (during the summer season). Summer every year is marked by the official opening of the "Going to the Sun" road (after plowing throughout the spring and early summer months). Glacier is a very beautiful and popular attraction of the area and definitely something you should take in on your trip.
With how popular it is and everything there is to see and do in Glacier, traffic has become a real problem. I would suggest that you carpool your group as much as possible. Also, leave the driving in the park up to the historic convertible shuttle buses that run constantly through the park and make frequent stops.
If you're into hiking, Glacier has some spectacular ones and the views go on for miles. It is the epitome of outdoor adventure. Also keep in mind that Glacier National Park is mirrored on the Canada side of the border with Waterton Lakes National Park. Taken together, these two adjoining National Parks cover a vast, remote area that would take weeks to explore every available corner. Be aware that wildlife, specifically bears, are prevalent in the forests and parks, take proper precautions.
North of Kalispell is a small, yet exclusive, town of Whitefish. Whitefish is home to a ski resort, which is the source of most of the winter season traffic. Whitefish has some of the most expensive real estate in the area and caters to a more upscale crowd with its shops and restaurants. It is worth some time to look around the town and enjoying the atmosphere.
Big Fork is another town near Kalispell that is a must see. It sits on the shores of Flathead Lake, the predominant lake of the area. The town has kept its historic charm and is easily strollable from one end to the other in about twenty minutes. There are numerous shops and restaurants to check out, but the view at sunset is the real jewel.
Lake Koocanusa (actually a man made reservoir) is about an hour and half west of Kalispell near the small town of Libby Montana. There are numerous fishing and boating opportunities as well as some natural falls in the area.
There is so much to see and do it's tough to cover it all in one article, but most people will base themselves in Kalispell with its services and restaurants, and then spend a week or more exploring the area. However long you decide to stay for your vacation, it is a definite must see destination.
We're not in Kansas anymore. Oh, wait...we are! Most people think of Kansas and think of grain fields and maybe that place has the name of the state followed by "City". Incidentally, just a fun fact here, did you know that Kansas City is not the largest city in Kansas? That's because most of the population of Kansas City resides on the Missouri side. That makes Wichita the largest city in Kansas.
So, you've been convinced that Wichita might not be a bad place to visit, but what are you going to do when you get there? Actually, surprisingly there is a lot to do and see. One of the first things that you will see is the new airport terminal that was opened just a couple or three years ago. It is now a modern facility that is easy to navigate and close to downtown.
Wichita is known as the "Air Capital of the World". This is a pretty well deserved title that starts from years back. A lot of aviation companies grew up there and have remained. Cessna, LearJet, Spirit Aerosystems, Hawker Beechcraft and others have a presence in Wichita. If you're an aviation buff this would be a great place to go and drool over some of the toys you see flying or parked on the ground. There is an aviation museum in Wichita located on the north end of McConnell Air Force Base. It tells about the rich history of aviation in and around Wichita along with some samples of the aircraft.
Speaking of the rich aviation tradition around Wichita, you have to check out Lloyd Stearman Field and the Stearman Bar and Grill. The food is great, but mostly it's the location that you come for. It sits right on the historic airfield and you can watch the aircraft take off and land while you dine. It is mostly traditional American fare done right, and has a small play area for the kids. It has a large covered patio to sit out on during nice weather and numerous tables inside climate controlled comfort if you prefer.
Wichita has a pretty great food scene and downtown atmosphere. Check out the river walk or take in the Oldtown Marketplace with its shops and restaurants. There are also some nicely preserved historic districts around Wichita that are good for a stroll or a drive. There are summer events happening every weekend, and if you are going for the aviation culture be sure to check if there are any airshows or fly-ins happening (fly-ins are to aircraft what drive-ins are to classic cars).
All in all you won't be disappointed with a stop in Wichita and you might even come to love America's Heartland.