Tag Archives: vacations

What Independence Day Means for Travel and Adventure

img_0231-1Every year, we Americans celebrate the founding of our nation on the Fourth of July. This commemorates the day in which the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, officially declaring our intention to separate from the British Empire and form our own Nation, or more accurately at the time, confederation of states.

It is an active day, and often an active weekend for the country as a whole.

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Some use the time off to explore some of the country’s most spectacular places.

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Others use it to visit vacation homes, or have quiet weekends by the lake.

Some also flock into cities, to visit friends, and attend festivals.

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As is the case with many holidays, I often wonder whether or not this one loses its meaning. Those that know the true meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo, and Memorial Day will often observe that the way most people celebrate these days is inconsistent with the actual intent of these particular holidays.

What about Independence Day?

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Are these large firework displays appropriate? What are most people thinking about, as they are exploring parks, visiting friends, barbecuing and watching these colorful displays?

How many people are thinking about their own lives vs. the Nation we are celebrating? Or are our minds on regionally specific considerations? For example, in the Rocky Mountains, the Fourth of July is kind of the start of the season for high altitude hikes. After a three-month process of snowmelt in the highest terrain, many trails are finally free of residual snowpack and mud.

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In fact, there is even a trailhead just south of Rocky Mountain National Park that was named the Fourth of July Trailhead.

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Trails originating from here provide access to a series of high peaks just east of the Continental Divide. This particular section of the Central Rocky Mountains is commonly shadowed from the sun and heavily forested. At places like this the snow melts the slowest in the springtime. This trailhead was given this name because it is generally not recommended for hikers to hike here until the Fourth of July!

What people chose to do on the Fourth of July may have something to do with how people view the United States of America.

There’s a spectrum of people across this country, from those that take extreme pride in being “American”, to those that take a more critical view and may wish we adopted some policies of other nations. Where someone stands on this spectrum may have something to do with whether someone sees July 4th as extremely meaningful, or just as a convenient day to have off in the middle of the summer.

Being who I am, I cannot help but reflect, and come to a conclusion that is a bit more nuanced. One of the virtues that this nation was founded on is individual liberty. Even if we have fallen short of that ideal on certain occasions past and present, it still represents an ideal that we aspire to. Liberty, and self-determination are considered a justifiable end here. There are other places where it is not.

As someone who yearns for adventure, it is easy for me to view, with envy, European countries where vacationing for the entire month of August is common practice, and work weeks tend to be shorter. However, that is not the full picture. There are large areas of the world where most people cannot take vacations at all. There are places where the majority of the population lacks the prosperity and/or individual liberty that makes everything we do here possible.

Reflecting on this, it needs to be understood that we are indeed quite fortunate. This does not mean we should not yearn for more, as, in many ways, we can and should do better. It does mean having everything put into proper perspective. With the right priorities, most Americans at least have the opportunity to have an adventurous life. This is something we all should be grateful for.

Winter Fun in the Mountains

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Winter fun in the mountains is about more than just skiing and snowboarding.

People who take wintertime vacations are typically drawn to one of two categories of vacations; Vacations people take to escape winter, and vacations people take to enjoy winter.  The former includes tropical resorts and beach towns in places where a 45 degree evening is considered grounds for remaining indoors.  The later, of course, typically involves mountains, with skiing and snowboarding being the most common activities.

In North America, the winter fun season lasts generally from the later part of November through the end of March.  Based on anecdotal evidence (the people I know and have talked to), the peak time to visit the mountains in winter occurs sometime around the middle part of February.  By this particular part of the year, enough snow has generally fallen to produce some of the best snow conditions of the year.  Also, temperatures have recovered a bit from their mid-January lows, and are a bit more pleasant.

With all of the visitors, not only from all over the country, but from all over the world, other events, and other activities are bound to follow.  In the middle of winter every year, the Village of Breckenridge hosts the International Snow Sculpture Championships, which features snow art from artists from various places around the world (from local artists, to places as far away as Argentina).  These sculptures can commonly be viewed the final week of January through the first week of February.

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Events in the middle part of the winter also include family activities, Mardi Gras celebrations, and random parades through the village, such as this one at Keystone, which features Riperoo, the mascot for Vail Resorts, which owns eight of the top Western U.S. ski resorts in California, Colorado, and Utah.

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And the events that take place in the ski villages throughout the peak part of the ski season are not just limited to family friendly activities.  With the number of visitors that come to the area, high class villages like Aspen, Jackson, or Vail, are able to draw some fairly well known acts to preform during the evening.

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Those with enough energy can ski all day long, and party all evening in many of these western villages (although there might be a limit to how drunk you can get in Utah).  There is even a T-shirt commemorating this type of day.

While the ski resorts themselves are the main draw, and the main reason there are as many visitors to the mountains as there are at this time of year, wintertime activities are not limited to only the resorts and the villages that support them.

As I wrote about last year, there are plenty of outfitters in the mountains that offer dog sled tours.

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Many of these outfitters also offer snowmobile rentals and tours, and many are quite close to ski resorts and resort villages.

Due to geographical features, it is not hard to find hot spring throughout the West.  One of the most popular hot springs in the country, Strawberry Park, is located in Steamboat Springs, less than 10 minutes from the ski resort.

And, with frequent spells of warmer weather, it is quite possible to find a day, even during the peak part of ski season, where it is possible to just take a hike in the woods (that is, if you can handle hiking over a little bit of snow).

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It is a story repeated in many different places throughout the country.  In any place where you have large amounts of visitors, many other activities and events, often catering to all different kinds of people, pop up in response.  This is why we see tons of miniature golf courses, boat tours, and even night clubs pop up in places like Orlando, “Down-East Maine”, and the Wisconsin Dells.  In each case, a primary draw (like water parks, or ocean front) brings people to the region, and then the other amenities follow.  However, in many of these places, the area has become quite congested with people.  Those who have either sat in traffic, or spent a small fortune on strips such as International Drive in Orlando, or the Smoky Mountain Parkway in Pigeon Forge, will refer to places like these as “tourist traps”.

But are these places “tourist traps”?  It is, after all, quite easy to spend a small fortune in Vail right after sitting in major traffic on I-70 to get there.  However, despite the similarities between the “tourist traps” of the East and the mountain resorts of the West, there are still some major differences, with the primary one being the balance between natural and man-made attractions.  Theme parks such as Disney World and Six Flags are completely the creation of humans.  And, although we have lifts to carry us up the mountains, and a nice pool to cover the Hot Springs, the main attractions here are still the natural features that first brought us here.  So, until a roller coaster pops up adjacent to Park City, mini-golf courses start to line South Lake Tahoe, and Dillon Reservoir becomes covered with bumper boats, the mountain west has not become a “tourist trap”, at least not in the same way as the “tourist” traps had developed in these other places.

With that being said, it is still important to remember that there is way more to wintertime in the Rockies than skiing and snowboarding.  And, while there are some visitors who do little else but ski on their visits to the mountains at this time of year (spending most of their remaining time in their condo), there are others that take part in a lot of other activities and attractions in the area.