My travels the past year have been to several family friendly destinations as well as some interesting places across the globe. Last Thanksgiving we knocked off an item from our Bucket List and flew out to Bozeman, Montana for a long Wolf Watching Weekend in Yellowstone National Park. Our private guide was Kevin Sanders, commonly known as Bearman http://www.yellowstone-bearman.com/ This trip Is not for everyone as the winter weather in Yellowstone is very cold and there is a certain amount of standing around as one waits and hopes for wolves to appear. Bearman is in constant radio contact with the rangers and scientists, so once a pack is sighted, we would quickly head out to the site, accompanied by other observers. A camaderie quickly forms in this frosty environment. Bearman provides a scope for viewing and once we sighted a lone wolf near the road, calling for his pack, we were able to see his eyelashes through the scope. He howled for an hour, a haunting beautiful sound reverberating throughout the valley. There is nothing like the thrill of sighting a wild animal in his natural environment. Of course if bears and warm weather is your thing, by all means, contact Bearman for a summer excursion.
We have spent our holiday weekends the past two summers exploring the mountain resort towns of Colorado and the northern corners of New Mexico. In Colorado, Steamboat Springs was one of our favorites for its all- around family atmosphere including hiking, biking, and reasonable great places to eat, many of them with outdoor patios. We stayed a small B & B called the Mariposa Inn, at the edge of town, and it felt like staying in someone’s home. The place was rustic cozy, quiet and included a hearty breakfast. We were there in May when the rivers were swollen with mountain snow runoff. Driving back from a mountain hike, we spotted two baby bears caught up in a swift river current. Soon after we spotted the Mama Bear emerge from the water on the opposite side of the river bank, obviously very distressed. She ran up the bike path as everyone quickly jumped out of her way , except one foolish man who stood his ground taking photos of the oncoming bear. Miraculously the bear stopped momentarily , the man took the photo, and then got out of the way. We headed downstream following a plaintive raspy wailing sound, and, sure enough, one of the baby bears was clinging to a small tree branch in the middle of the river, calling for his Mama. By then the police and rescue squad had arrived and was shooing away all visitors. It would be a difficult and dangerous rescue and we were never able to find out if the baby bear was reunited with his Mama.
Breckenridge and Winter Park were two other mountain resorts with lots of summer family fun. Breckenridge sported lots of biking and hiking and outdoor activities and Winter Park featured a vast open area of tobaggoning, miniature golf and is a big draw for mountain bikers. We watched all the young mountain bikers head down the mountain in all their colorful gear. You can buy an all day family pass for all the activities. Being New Jersey born and bred, it struck me as the Colorado mountain equivalent of a day on the boardwalk, popcorn, pizza, and ice cream included.
Our New Mexico weekends included driving trips to the remote northeast corner of the state stopping at old pioneer villages and historic hotels in towns like Clayton and Las Vegas. But our favorite area is always the enchanting trio of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos. Albuquerque offers great shopping in the Old Town and prices are much more reasonable than Santa Fe. When you are in that area you must eat at the Casa de Café, behind the big church in the center of Old Town. The restaurant is located in a spacious former hacienda with wonderful atmosphere and food at reasonable prices. We have dined there several times for breakfast and dinner. Family attractions include the Sandia Peak Tramway and a very nice Children’s Museum. Santa Fe is one of our country’s most unique capital cities, given its small size and unique combination of Spanish and Native American culture. Albeit expensive, it is certainly worth a stay of a couple of nights or at least a day trip to visit the historical center and stroll down Canyon Road with its many art galleries and jewelry shops. A guided walking tour is the ideal way to learn about the history of the city. Last, but not least, is Taos, the wonderful artist haven. There is so much to do in and around this charming little town. An absolute must is a visit to nearby Taos Pueblo where you learn firsthand about the Native American culture that built and still resides in this adobe village. After your one hour Native American guided tour, you can stroll about on your own and sit by the river or engage the locals in conversation or watch the local artists create beautiful things from silver and leather, all available to purchase if you wish. You should arrive early in the day to avoid the midday crowds and also to be there early enough to sample the yummy brick oven fresh baked bread.
Last month we enjoyed a very special experience just north of Taos which was an all day llama trek with Wild Earth Adventures. http://www.llamaadventures.com/ This fun filled educational excursion should be part of any family trip to this area. We had about 8 in our hiking group accompanied by 5 llamas. The llamas are all rescued llamas who have been socialized and who carry your gear and the tasty picnic lunch. The hike is an easy to moderate one, with frequent stops. Our llama was named Diego and it is hard to tell who led whom. Diego was the leader of the llama pack and would often stop to make sure the rest of the group was close behind us. We soon learned to speak llama and trust his signals. After a while you can hear the llamas hum to one another and NO – they do not spit at the tourists. After several hours of a gentle uphill hike, we sprawled out in a beautiful meadow for our picnic lunch. The setting looked like a western movie set with tall trees and soft green grass. After lunch we walked down into a gold mine tunnel hewn by a lone prospector over 20 years in his search for gold.
Another offbeat area we recently visited was South Central Idaho. We spent a full day walking and hiking the other worldly Craters of the Lava Moon National Monument. http://www.nps.gov/crmo/index.htm The lava terrain is cris-crossed by paved roads and paved walking rails. You can even hike up a lava crater for half an hour for a fabulous 360 degree view of the valley below. The Oregon Trail passed through here and the local museum displays diary entries of the pioneers who found this place to be very fearful indeed. Pick up a book on the Oregon Trail while in the museum shop. We headed north of there to Sun Valley of former movie glory fame. On the way we stopped to explore the Indian Ice Caves. These are natural caves that provided unlimited amounts of ice to the locals up until the 1930’s. The ice was so thick young orphaned boys were used to squeeze into the narrow spaces and bring back the ice in buckets.
Beside family friendly trips, I did a Girlie Getway to the Great Wall with my best friend. Last winter we flew to China for a whirlwind tour of Beijing, X’ian (Clay Warriors) and Shanghai. Make no mistake, China is a population driven economy. Both Beijing and X’ian have populations of 20 million people with choking traffic to match. But Shanghai, which is now 27 million and rapidly growing, has minimal traffic problems by comparison. They build circular ring roads over the city which drivers use to get to their destination and then hop off , so there is little car traffic on the local streets. The center of Shanghai now has 5 ring roads over that part of town. Of course when they need to build a new road, the government simply advises the local people they have to move out. There are no town meetings and discussions like we have here in the U.S.A. The Chinese I interviewed during our trip were quite honest with the situation and would reply with a shrug of the shoulders, “It is a lot better than it was 20 years ago.”
Not long after I headed down to Brazil for another inspection trip. Besides a return visit to Rio, one of my favorite cities, I explored the Pantanal, a vast area that is the largest pristine remaining wetlands area in the world, mostly privately owned by ranchers who want to keep it that way. It is a birders paradise. From there I traveled to Ouro Preto , a former Portuguese colony famous for its mining and preserved in time as if it were 150 years ago. I spent my last night in Sao Paulo. Despite its large size and population (20 million) it reminded me of New York City with its many tree lined little neighborhoods. It is now one of the most expensive cities in the world, thanks to Brazil’s booming economy. The most interesting part of the trip was a morning guided tour by jeep to a favela in Rio. The favelas are slum areas which the city governments are trying to improve and clean up, especially with the upcoming World Cup and the Olympics, the first in South America. I was surprised to find a working class neighborhood, and was told by the guide that most people living there have jobs in the restaurants and hotels in the downtown area. The favela residents buy the materials and build their own homes and the city provides a police station, soccer field, school, and city services such as electricity. The favelas are known to have the best views in all of Rio. Many homes had folding chairs on rooftops to enjoy the sunset. The view is so good that the new condo complexes are moving uphill, closer and closer to the favelas. The next 10 years should be interesting.
And speaking of exotic places, be sure to take a gander at our SPT summer 2013 trip to Peru, one of the most popular destinations in Latin America. Join other single parent families visiting fabulous Machu Picchu, colorful Cusco and awesome Lake Titicaca.
¡ Buen Viaje!