Archive for the ‘Outdoorsiness’ Category

Hey Flyover friends!

Yeah, Jenna and I are still out there exploring and loving the US of A. In fact, you can and should check in with Jenna’s epic cross-country adventure at Round-Trip America. I was able to join her for a few days in South Dakota and we had a grand time, simply grand. She’s doing tons of cool things, writing and posting gorgeous photos. Go see for yourself.

I also recently took a trip to Oregon, where I spent some time on the Oregon coast looking for storms. Big, exciting storms. Click here for a story about that trip. And Sophia in an Oregon Storm is a short video companion to the story, in which I am delightfully buffeted by the wind and rain. I love that kind of thing.


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We all have our own ideas of the perfect winter getaway. For some people, it’s a tropical beach, far from the snow-covered driveway. (Whenever I say I miss snow, living here in Texas, my husband says, “That’s because you never had to shovel a driveway.” Which is true.) For some, it’s atop a ski mountain, or curled up by a fireplace on a cold, cold night.

What’s your dream winter escape?

That’s the topic for today’s threefer and our guest writer is Claire Walter, who has been writing about skiing and travel for years. She’s also blogging every which way, with blogs about travel, Colorado food, and Colorado bargains. She jokes that she’s “a travel writer who rarely leaves my time zone. People from all over the world come for our silky snowy, gorgeous mountains and great climate. I’m here to welcome them.”

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Winter doesn't get much better than this. Photo courtesy Colorado Ski Country USA

For me, the ideal day is snow underfoot and sun overhead. Fortunately, the Colorado Rocky Mountains provide an abundance of both. I’m, equally happy on downhill skis, cross-country skis, and snowshoes, and if I had ever mastered snowboarding, I’d probably love that too.
I used to live in the Northeast where winter days were often gray, and where snow turned quickly to slush on city streets and to near-ice on the ski slopes. I lived in Colorado for two years before I stopped skiing with my toes curled in my boots to feel that I was holding on to the hardpack. Now I expect soft snow underfoot, cornflower-blue skies overhead and the sun shining down.–Claire

winter storm

A winter beach is gloriously empty. Photo by alisonpavlos via flickr (Creative Commons license)

A good thick sweater is essential. Long johns, too. But–and sun worshippers are sure to call me crazy for it–I prefer visits to Jersey shore beaches (and other cold-in-the-winter locales) when everybody else is on the ski slopes. Though I enjoy a good Italian ice and a day of body surfing during high season, there’s something beautiful about a beach that’s empty and slightly somber. Winter waves are a powerful sight to see. I love watching the season’s intrepid surfers take them on. And did I mention the beaches are empty?–Jenna


Cold snow and hot springs are blissful combo. Photo by Sam & Mary Cissel/National Park Service.

My husband and I snowmobiled from Cody, Wyoming to Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone National Park. I don’t particularly enjoy snowmobiles. They’re too loud, smelly, and fast for me and I always feel just one attention lapse away from disaster. Still, the scenery and experiences (including a terrifying race with a buffalo) we had on this 50-mile route were once-in-a-lifetime extraordinary. We ended that long day at the hotel where we rented a room and a private, outdoor hot tub. As we soaked away the day’s exertions, snow started falling, like stars from the night sky. I’d do it all again in a minute.–Sophia

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I’ve been goofing around in Door County, Wisconsin this week, getting a good dose of autumn everything—colors, weather, pumpkins, apples, autumnal scarecrows-and-sheaves-of-wheat displays. Good golly, it’s everything you want autumn to be–so perfect, it’s hokey. Wonderfully so. Here, take a look:

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It has finally arrived. Yesterday, the first episode of The National Parks: America’s Best Idea provided the best excuse in recent memory to avoid all to-dos, to step away from the musts, to ignore text messages and e-mails.

The show began with a quote from John Muir: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”

I thought back on some of the beauty I’ve experienced in the National Parks. The day at Denali when, with just a few other people around, I watched a moose taking a midday bath with her newborns. The afternoon a foghorn broke through the quiet of a hike in Acadia National Park. And the hundreds of images I focused on during a three-day photography workshop in Yellowstone National Park. Here, some of the photos I settle into when I need to pull back from daily life. I hope you enjoy them.

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Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Pawhuska, Okla. Photo by Sophia Dembling

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Pawhuska, Okla. Photo by Sophia Dembling

No such thing as a bad photograph of the prairie. No, really.

I’ve been prairie obsessed since visiting the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Pawhuska, Okla., a year ago. Several months later, an hour tagging barbed wire fencing (as a favor to prairie chickens) in the Oklahoma panhandle convinced me that tromping across a prairie is a thousand times more glorious than even the most glorious photograph.

I wish I’d planned ahead to participate in one of the prairie restoration volunteer projects in Iowa for National Public Lands Day, Sept. 26. Or in activities the following weekend for Prairie Appreciation Week at Homestead National Monument (also Iowa). That sort of thing would be worth traveling for, if I were free to travel those weekends. Maybe next year.

Instead, I’ll celebrate National Public Lands Day 2009 (woohoo!) by searching the website for a volunteer project closer to home, maybe planting aquatic plants. (I’m sure there won’t be many mosquitoes.) There’s probably a project near your home, too. Wouldn’t that be a nice way to spend an autumn Saturday?

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As a total word nerd, I’m always inventing new phrases on road trips.

In the lexicon I’ve developed with my friends, “To Clark” means “to overly plan an adventure in an attempt to make sure everyone will have a great time, only to see the plans backfire, causing disastrous results.”

Clark, disappointed again.

Clark, disappointed again.

The verb is a direct reference to Clark Griswold, he of National Lampoon’s fame, who (at least on the silver screen) consistently made good-natured attempts to provide a good time for his (otherwise indifferent) family—Ellen, Rusty and Audrey—out on the open road, and consistently came up short.

It is pejorative, but lovingly so, as in “I’m exhausted, Matty really Clarked us into the ground today,” or “Matty, don’t Clark it too hard.”

The phrase was hatched in the summer of 2000, when Bret (now an editor at Newsweek) and Dave (now a political pundit) and I went camping for a week in the San Juan Islands of Washington State.

The three of us never had been camping together, and I wanted to make the experience special. I booked us the best campsite. I planned some fun kayak adventures. I scouted good hikes.

Of course, lots went wrong.

It rained on our campsite. Our kayaks rolled in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Bret practically needed a Medevac during our hike on Mount Constitution. To add insult to injury, all three of us fell for the same ballerina (and nobody really got her).

Instead of hating me for these unexpected developments, my friends likened me to Griswold, going so far as to call me “Clark” for most of the trip. The rest, as they say, is history.

For me, the lesson was simple: especially while traveling, avoid over-planning at all costs. Build in down time. Poke around. Explore. The key to a good road trip is serendipity, that wonderful phenomenon by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate.

When you Clark it, the itinerary gets so full, the whole notion of happenstance doesn’t stand a chance.

# # #

Of course one always can Clark the home schedule, as well.

I’m guilty of this often, and I’ve done it again this summer. My intentions were good when I agreed to join the gals at Flyover America, but the birth of my first child has made time a rare commodity around these parts.

With this in mind, I’ll be taking an extended hiatus to focus on child-rearing and other stuff. It’s been a pleasure to write with Jenna and Sophia for these few months, and I’ll be back periodically for guest posts or the occasional three-fer. In the meantime, please follow my other work on my personal Web site and daddyhood blog. Thanks for reading.

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What Cornish left behind

What Cornish left behind

Ruins thrill me. Especially when they’re just…there. When they’re free of guided tours, other people, and too much information. I like to wander decaying exteriors and see how nature has started to claim them for its own. To see trees and plants growing where people once danced or ate dinner. I like to see sunlight filling every hole in the roof or, even better, a full blue sky replacement roof

But, in the past, ruins have always felt more a part of trips abroad. It’s an age thing: for me, the U.S. still feels too new to really have ruins. House tours in the U.S.? Yes, of course. From Newport to San Simeon, we’re a country that loves to celebrate elegant and/or historic homes from days long gone. I love those homes, too, but they don’t send my imagination swirling in the way that a good pile of stone does. The barely standing frame of a house? It’s my bliss.

Last Thursday, I found some local bliss. After a commuter rail trip along the Hudson, I went hiking in Hudson Highlands State Park. Though I’d been to Cold Spring, one of the towns it borders, many times throughout my life, I hadn’t ever hiked the park. It’s tempting to smack myself for that but I do love that, even close to home, there are always new discoveries to make. Besides, Thursday’s hike was a birthday outing with my friend K and what we found there was the best birthday gift I could have stumbled across.

Delaying the end of the hike..

Delaying the end of the hike..

The writeups I’d scanned about the hike mentioned that it featured the remains of the long-abandoned estate of industrialist Edward G. Cornish. It registered but, and this isn’t totally odd for me, I was also a little too focused on the pre-trip details of when to go, what to wear, blah blah blah. Once on the trail, the ruins started to appear pretty quickly: a stone exterior here, a pool filled with mud and rainwater there. I was glad I hadn’t read too much. For a while, these ruins were mine to rebuild in my imagination. And, now that I’m back home, I have plenty of time to read up on what really went on inside their doors–and turn my attention to new ruin-finding outings around the U.S.

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