Tag Archives: camping

Stepping Into America’s Big Backyard.

APR-Yurts-03Summer’s soft opening happens this weekend with the Memorial Day holiday. Backyard barbeques will be heating up and gas will be pumping to move folks along the highways and skyways. After a long winter of wicked weather across the country, and strange climate conditions happening around the planet, it’s a great time to contemplate how you’ll spend your summer and maybe consider some new experiences and destinations.

Summer offers the perfect excuse to eek out a long weekend—at least once a month—to get out of town, or even to stay in town and finally see and do all of the things you keep meaning to experience. Summer let’s us off the hook. No matter how old you are, there’s something about dreamy summer that awakens our inner child…if we let it. In an age of always being shackled to some device, listen up and heed the call to disconnect and enjoy all of the great opportunities summer sends your way. From simply enjoying a slurpy slice of watermelon to learning something new like stand-up paddle boarding, there’s loads of great stuff waiting for you.

Montana buffalo in their own backyard.

Montana buffalo in their own backyard.

Maybe this is the summer you go big when it comes to travel, in which case I’d like to throw a suggestion your way. Go on safari.

Before you say, “Yeah, right!”— hear me out. Everyone always thinks Africa when they hear safari and, yes, many of the countries on that continent will expose you to incredible, life-changing experiences. But the reality for many folks is that for whatever reason they can’t cross the breach in their mind to even contemplate that kind trip as a reality. The distance, the flight, the cost—these are common roadblocks I often hear people talk about. So how about an American safari? There are some pretty unique experiences lurking in this big backyard.

Did someone say road trip? On the Great Plains of northeastern Montana, the American Prairie Reserve (APR) is 273,000-acres of protected wild grassland teeming with wildlife. This place is the perfect excuse to grab your best friend, or family, pack up the car with snacks, unplug, and shake up the brain with word games. If being on the road for a long stretch of time isn’t your thing, you can fly or take Amtrak to reach the APR and book a rental car from that point. The part I really like about this place is you can go highbrow or lowbrow.

If you’re into cushy digs and aren’t one to skimp on comfort, then Kestrel Camp is the best of both worlds. Opened in 2013, the five luxury yurts here are individual sanctuaries that rival some of the camp accommodations you’d find in African countries. The plush beds, hot showers, and a panoramic view to top it all off makes these climate-controlled, safari-style tent bungalows one sweet treat. You’ll dig into your wallet a little bit on this one but with the money you’ll save on flights, transfers, hotels, and all of the little add-ons, it’s a smart choice. The chance to spend time in one of the few untouched reaches of wilderness in the U.S. and experience it alongside biologists and naturalists is all part of the adventure. I love that APR saw the light and created this experience. They even have sundowners!

The lounge at Kestrel.

The lounge at Kestrel.

Anyone who camps knows there’s nothing like slipping your sleeping bag out of your tent to soak up a starry, starry night. If going back to basics is your thing then Buffalo Camp is the perfect spot. Made up of 4 tents and 7 camper sites, there may be no potable water but at $10 a night in this rustic stretch of paradise you’ll be stealing heaven. Situated near this campsite are hiking trails, biking options, and a prairie dog town. For anyone who likes an unstructured vacation, appreciates nature, and wants to be unencumbered of their “stuff,” the simplicity and stillness that you’ll find here makes this campsite pure bliss.  There’s no cellphone coverage here (which will hopefully enhance the feeling that you’ve left it all behind), and service is also limited in other parts of APR, which might have you shouting yippee!

A low impact platform awaits your home away from at Buffalo Camp.

A low impact platform awaits your home away from home at Buffalo Camp.

Regional campgrounds are also available in the nearby Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge but no matter which accommodation you choose, it’s all about conservation and that’s one of APR’s best experiences. For anyone with kids, it’s a great way to introduce the little ones to nature on a different scale and stoke their interest in animals and travel. If you’ve never been on safari than indulging in one closer to home may inspire you to make the leap next year to Africa. It’s closer than you think.

Summer’s calling. The older you get the quicker it goes, so don’t let the season fly by without indulging in a different kind of travel. Your younger heart and soul will thank you.

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Howl or Stare, It’s The Time of the Season.

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Full tilt at the Full Moon party in Koh Phangan.

Full tilt at the Full Moon party in Koh Phangan.

I am not the same having seen the moon shine on another part of the world.
–Mary Ann Radmacher Hershey

Sunrise. Sunset. These two daily occurrences loom large for travelers no matter their budget. Wherever you may go, these natural—and free—gifts often feature in photos as the main event or as a backdrop to our travel experiences. Depending on the destination, travelers often set their day by that bright and brilliant starburst but there’s another player with a different kind of pull. The moon.

Some travelers plan their trips around this great big ball in the sky. You know who you are. It might seem nutty but knowing when the moon is full is a major bonus to your journey. While some folks might not be able to alter their travel plans based on the lunar calendar, travel advisors who keep this little gem in mind might just add a unique experience to a customer’s trip. Knowing this bit of info may earn you a bit of star status in their book.

Cruising by the light of the moon.  (Photo credit: Carnival Sunshine.)

Cruising by the light of the moon. (Photo credit: Carnival Sunshine.)

A full moon is beguiling, romantic, and hypnotic. Whether you’re on a beach or on the deck of a cruise ship, it lights up the ocean like a Hollywood movie set. Lakeside or hillside, a full moon is a major gift when you’re camping. Road trippers take advantage of the added value of its silvery light, and surfers love it. A full moon safari walk is magical. Yosemite under its light is otherworldly. Moonlight kayak tours are peaceful and meditative. And while I’ve never been, I hear the infamous Full Moon Party at Koh Phangan in Thailand is off the planetary chart. I’m sure there’s a lot more than howling going on there.

An Arizona Harvest Moon.

An Arizona Harvest Moon.

Where are you or your customers this week? There’s a lot happening in the heavens right now. Especially if you’re outside the scope of city lights. Wherever you are, look up.

Talk about celestial seasonings, Venus and Saturn joined forces on Monday and will stick around for the week. They ride low after sunset but anyone with access to a telescope, whether you’re on a ship or in your backyard, will be able to glimpse Saturn’s rings. The star attraction, the full Harvest Moon peaks tonight. I stopped and stared at its near perfect formation last night on my way home, while the sun set behind me. Uranus will cozy up with the moon on Thursday, September 19. Otherwise known as the “green giant,” it’ll come so close that their combined wattage will equal 8 full moons side by side. Get out those binoculars, shoot for the moon and you’ll easily pick out that planet.  I’ve got no  idea what Pisces has to do with this picture but something’s fishy.

It'll be a starry, starry night this week.  (Image credit: Starry Night Software/ A.Fazekas.)

It’ll be a starry, starry night this week. (Image credit: Starry Night Software/ A.Fazekas.)

Lastly, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, I guess it’s time to say goodbye to the summer as autumn enters center stage on Sunday. Bittersweet, yet, but thankfully fall graces us with foliage rich with jewel tones and with more reasons to travel.

If you can work in the full moon on October 18… all the better.

The NSA, Edward Snowden, and the South of Italy.

Italy's Palinuro beach. (Photo credit: G. Nepi)

Italy’s Palinuro beach. (Photo credit: G. Nepi)

Fires, drought, tornadoes, and a relentless heat wave across much of the US.  July pretty much did us in. Now August is here and the government’s put a crimp in our travel plans.

Some people mark Labor Day as the end of summer, not me.  My friends are familiar with my mantra of “summer’s not over ‘til I say it is.”  September sometimes turns out to be the best month. The heavy heat is off your back and most days are clear blue skies. In which case—unless Mother Nature unleashes some more of her relentless wrath for messing with her ground work—by my count there are seven or eight perfect weekends left to get lost. If you can tack on a Friday and/or Monday, all the better.

If you’d planned on any Middle East travel…well, we know what happened to that itinerary. Talk about things getting hot. But let’s get back to August, the quintessential summer month. Now we’ve been told that we’ve got to watch our backs if we’re out there flying the friendly skies internationally. Seasoned travelers roll with these punches and tend not to get freaked out by this type of information. This is when flexibility comes in handy.

Summer in Moscow.

Summer in Moscow.

And then there’s Edward Snowden. For weeks I’ve wondered what the hell he’s been eating in that Netherland of the Moscow airport he’s been calling home. As a food snob, the thought that he’d been subsisting on processed airport cuisine made me cringe. But this young man has friends in high places, so I’m sure he was well-tended. He’s obviously not a traveler. For a man who did work for the folks who play in secrets and shadows, he should have read Ian Fleming in his spare time. Sure, Russia just granted him asylum but of all the places to hole up, he picked the birthplace of the KGB. Poor planning Mr. Snowden, you should have consulted with a travel agent.

Jumbo Rocks campground at Joshua Tree. (Photo credit: Nate2b)

Jumbo Rocks campground at Joshua Tree. (Photo credit: Nate2b)

There are plenty of weekend adventures out there waiting for you. It’s sometimes a little too easy to put a getaway—whether it’s camping, a beach house, or a quick flight—on the back burner.  If friends invite you somewhere, go!  There are always chores to do, especially if you’ve got kids, but you’ll never regret having made the trip. Besides, that’s what the cooler months are for. An Italian barber my guy goes to told him, “September? Phew, Italy in the South–it’s gorgeous!  It’s still hot enough to swim and everyone’s still going to the beach.”

Sounds like an excellent plan to me.