Monday, March 30, 2015

Enjoy your National Parks with Small Group Guided National Park Vacations

The National Park Service and National Park Foundation will celebrate National Park Week April 18-26, 2015 by waiving entrance fees on April 18 and 19.  

To celebrate “America's Best Idea” Austin Adventures (Austin, TX - based company) offers these professionally guided, small group National Park vacations for 2015:

1.     Grand Canyon National Park – Round up the entire family and visit this mind-blowing, mile-deep canyon in the heart of Arizona’s high desert. Ride the Grand Canyon Railway across the Colorado Plateau, paddle board on Lake Pleasant, swim at Slide Rock State Park and end your 6-day/5-night vacation with a BBQ on the banks of Oak Creek. Starting at $2,158.

2.     Glacier Bay National Park – As no roads lead to Alaska’s Glacier Bay, guests embark on an 8-day small ship cruise that explores this remote national park. See majestic mountains, calving glaciers, narrow fjords, and more. In addition to wildlife viewing, activities include hiking, kayaking, sailing and paddle boarding. Starting at $4,395. 

3.     Bryce Canyon & Zion National Parks – See the “most colorful park in America” and the “land of rainbow canyons” on this 6-day/5-night vacation in two of Utah’s most unforgettable national parks. Bike through Snow Canyon, hike among the hoodoos and wade in the Virgin River between the sheer rock walls of the Narrows. Starting at $1,918. 

4.     Yellowstone National Park – Trust your guide to show you how this place looks even more magical from “behind the scenes.” Hike backcountry trails for access to the best views, learn the secrets of the resident wildlife and rest assured, through Austin Adventures’ relationship with Xanterra Parks & Resorts®, you’ll have some of the finest rooms in the park on this 6-day/5-night award-winning package. Starting at $2,298. 

5.     Grand Teton National Park – Paddle and pedal in the shadow of the most striking mountain range on both sides of the Mississippi. The Grand Tetons are the crown jewel of Grand Teton National Park—the setting for this 6-day/5-night multisport (hiking, biking and kayaking) vacation. Starting at $2,318. 

6.     Yosemite National Park – Rappel down a granite wall, explore by horseback, raft the mighty Merced River and hike to the park’s highlights including Vernal Falls and Sentinel Dome. It’s all included on the itinerary of this 6-day/5-night vacation in Yosemite which celebrates its 125th year as a national park in October, 2015. Starting at $2,558. 
7.     Glacier National Park – Revered as the “backbone of the world” by the local Native Americans, Glacier National Park should be at the top of any bucket list. Activities on this 6-day/5-night adventure include biking Going-to-the-Sun Road, trekking among the towering evergreens on the Trail of Cedars and plenty of wildlife watching. Starting at $2,398. 

8.     Utah - Arches & Canyonlands – Marvel at the more than 2,000 natural stone arches in Utah’s Arches National Park, ride along the scenic Island in the Sky route in Canyonlands National Park and raft a playful stretch of the Colorado River. Base camp for this 6-day/5-night multisport vacation is in the heart of downtown Moab. Starting at $1,998. 

9.     San Juan Island National Historical Park – Consisting of 172 islands, this archipelago in Washington has a lot to offer when it comes to waterfront adventure. Search for orcas while kayaking the scenic bays, bike to historic sites which were once water boundaries and dine on the freshest seafood in the Northwest on this 6-day/5-night vacation. Starting at $2,998. 

All vacations are all-inclusive and more details including departure dates are available in the Austin Adventures adventure vacation catalogs and on its new website, Both scheduled group departures and custom trips can be booked by calling (800) 575-1540 or emailing

Saturday, March 28, 2015

It's Garden Tour Time on Washington's Long Beach Peninsula

A seasonally inspired Rhododendron Tour, including a lecture with breakfast and garden tour, will take place on May 2 at the peak of the hybrid rhododendron season on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. The new event, one of three garden tours offered this coming year, is presented by the Water Music Festival Society, originators of Music in the Gardens.

The Rhododendron Tour will lead off with a Rhody presentation by Steve McCormick, John Stephens and Steve Clarke. They will trace the heritage of hybrid rhododendrons on the Long Beach Peninsula stemming from the work of Dr. J. Harold Clarke, his connection to the American Rhododendron Society, and regional legacy of his Clarke Rhododendron Nursery. The lecture will take place at Seaview’s landmark Shelburne Inn at 10AM. Cost is $15 per person including a sumptuous breakfast. Early ticketing is advised as seating is limited to 40 persons. For online ticket sales and more information, please go to

The Rhody Garden Tour is a self-guided, mapped, motor tour of several historic gardens including portions of the former Clarke Nursery. Gardens will be open for ticket holders from 11AM through 4PM. Tickets are $10 per person and are available online now  and can also be purchased a week prior to the tour at The English Nursery, Seaview, and Bay Avenue Gallery, Ocean Park. Both locations will exchange tickets for tour maps.

“We have great history in rhododendrons to share on the peninsula,” said Steve McCormick, whose home is located on a portion of the former Clarke Nursery. “Dr. Clarke was well respected and renowned for his contributions regionally and nationally.”

After the lecture and tour, rhododendron admirers might also enjoy a leisurely stroll through the towns of Oysterville and Seaview to view additional rhododendrons in full bloom.

On July 18, the enchanting Music in the Gardens Tour will open a variety of local, private gardens to ticket holders.

“Gardens are selected to provide a glimpse into how each garden has been creatively adapted to the particular needs of beach or bay sides,” said Nancy Allen, tour organizer. “Settings vary from windy waterfront climates to more sheltered spaces and garden plantings, from robust vegetable beds to equally lovely showcases of annuals and perennials.”

Many Music in the Garden hosts provide small bites and refreshments; all invite lingering to enjoy the live musical entertainment. Tickets are $20 per person and will be available online April 1 and at two peninsula locations – The English Nursery and the Bay Avenue Gallery. Tickets can be exchanged at these locations after July 11 for a tour map. For more details, please access

The Edible Garden Tour, a benefit for local food banks, is scheduled for August 9, and shares the benefits and beauty of growing one’s own food as well as sustainable ways to do so. Admission is $7 or five cans of food. For details and updates nearer to the tour date as well as images from previous years’ tours, please visit

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Truly Get Away from it All: Unique Ways to Explore Moab, Utah

Moab, Utah is known as one of America’s greatest (and most remote) natural playgrounds. Here beyond the limited network of roads which generally keep to the perimeter is the true wilderness of two national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, plus Utah’s Dead Horse Point State Park.

Escapists can immerse themselves for days at a time in these backcountry regions with the proper equipment and guidance from the staff at Moab Adventure Center, the region’s go-to source for outdoor adventure. They offer a variety of ways to experience the parks that are suitable for all ages and levels of fitness.

For active adventurers, fat tire mountain biking is a great way to fathom the mysteries of millennia ensconced in the iconic red rocks that symbolize the area’s parks. Those new to mountain biking may opt for the Courthouse Loop trail with commanding views into Arches National Park ($95 for age 5+).  The Intrepid Trail inside Dead Horse Point State Park is one of Moab's newest routes and features countless vistas of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park ($95 for age 12+).

One way to explore Arches National Park is on a guided hike into the maze-like Fiery Furnace (Adult: $89, Youth 5-15: $67). Best accessed in the company of an experienced guide, this hike twists and turns among contorted orange-tan fins, towers, spires and arches. Moab Adventure Center guides lead two-hour hikes in this trackless area, pointing out hidden attractions such as Surprise and Twin Arches. Although the hike is moderately strenuous in places, it can be enjoyed by anyone in reasonably good physical condition.

 “But when it comes to pockets of true isolation, Canyonlands is it,” says Pearce. “For example, to get to the park’s Maze District, most people take a long, arduous hike following a long dusty drive to the trailhead. However, by raft on a four-day Cataract Canyon trip (Adult: $1395, Youth 10-15: $1045), you can access a site in the Maze called The Doll House via a scenic hike from the river. The trail is steep, climbing over 1,000 feet from the river to the top of the canyon, but certainly beats the 7.5 hour drive from Moab to get to this location.”

When it comes to exploring Canyonlands, visitors should keep in mind that in this wilderness of stone there are no roads that link from one “district” or iconic point to another. Although these points may appear close on a map, the distances are between two to six hours by car. For this reason, most visitors find it impractical to visit more than one area in a single trip.

One solution is a scenic flyover based out of Moab (tours start at Adult: $123, Youth 3-15: $123, 2 & Under: Free). In a high-wing Cessna aircraft equipped with voice-activated headphones passengers enjoy conversations with the pilot who is also the tour guide. Everyone has a window seat to take in views of Arches, Canyonlands or Monument Valley, depending upon the tour. The pilot will describe the geology and dynamics of the Colorado River and Green River, the Island in the Sky, and the rugged Maze and Needles Districts of Canyonlands, the Windows of Arches and more.

Moab Adventure Center can also arrange for a sunrise hot air balloon flight over the Moab backcountry. Flights last about an hour and are priced at $300 for participants age 6 and up

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tour Idaho by Bike: Bicycle Adventures 2015 Idaho Tours

Last year I had the pleasure of going to beautiful Idaho for a wedding. But I'd like to return to do something even more exciting... like this! Idaho ranks high this season on Bicycle Adventures’ list of preferred destinations that encompass two-wheel tours in North America, Hawaii (the Big Island) and internationally.

Two of the four trips new for 2015 course through a wilderness world of tall timber and jagged peaks. Sun Valley Frugal brings guests into one of the nation’s legendary resort locations for six days for $2,225 per person, double including five nights accommodation, most meals, bicycles, guide services and more. Active options include golf, fly fishing, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding and wine tastings when not pedaling scenic byways. Departure dates in 2015 are July 26 and Aug. 23.

Also new is the five-day Coeur d’Alene Family at $2,295 per person, double, with discounts of up to 30 percent off for children. Rates include four nights’ accommodation, all meals (except one dinner), bicycles, guide services and more.  Two of the car-free bike trails on this adventure are paved: Trail of the Hiawatha and the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes (ranked one of the ’10 Best Car-Free Bike Paths in the U.S.’ by Bicycling Magazine). Families enjoy an indoor water park and mountain bike park at Kellogg, Idaho's Silver Mountain Resort. Departure dates are June 29, July 13 and Aug. 17, 2015.

A company favorite is Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, a four-day adventure showcasing Northern Idaho along a network of paved rails-to-trails paths beside rivers and lakes, through wildlife refuges and pure wilderness with nary a car in sight. Guests may opt for a splash in Lake Coeur d'Alene; hiking and golf are options as well. Overnights are at the Roosevelt Inn, an historic property that was Coeur d'Alene's first permanent schoolhouse (est. in 1905). The per person double rate is $2,050 including three nights lodging, all meals (except one dinner), bicycles, guide services and more. Departure dates in 2015 are June 14 and 28, July 6 and Aug. 9.

Northern Idaho - Selkirk Bike Tour brings guests into what Starnes called “a bicyclist’s Nirvana” for seven days of pedaling and hiking between Northern Idaho and British Columbia. For advanced cyclists, a day brings from 40 to 80 miles of full body workout following the International Selkirk Loop. It's all about the rivers and lakes and mountains in this region: the Bitterroot, Selkirk and Cabinet ranges, Lake Coeur d'Alene, Priest Lake and Lake Pend Oreille, nestled in the mountain ranges of Idaho's panhandle. Per person rates, double, are $2,995 including six nights accommodation, most meals, bicycles, guide services and more.  Departures are July 11 and Aug. 15, 2015. 

For more information on all of Bicycle Adventures Idaho tours please see  
For more details on Idaho please see

In the April edition, Bicycle Adventures was honored as the Best Family Outfitter in Outside Magazine’s Best of Travel 2015 Awards.

Information provided by Bicycle Adventures

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring on the Long Beach Peninsula: Natural gardens galore

The lavish breakfasts at the Boreas Inn are enhanced by
garden flowers
If you’ve even wondered where the edible flowers come from that decorate the breakfast delights at the Boreas Inn or how the busy Depot Restaurant finds time to cultivate such a lovely old-fashioned garden, you are not alone. There are gardens everywhere!

I’ve been following a gardening blog, The Tangly Cottage Gardening Journal, written a very busy gardener on the Long Beach Peninsula of Washington.  The duo who do the gardening, Skyler Walker and Allan Fritz, care for many gardens, public and private, on the Long Beach Peninsula.

Many of the motels and restaurants have spring gardens that are the lovely results of their gardening efforts. And they have been recognized for their gardening work at City Hall.

There is something special about the quaint gardens you’ll discover on the Long Beach Peninsula. They aren’t manicured but they are carefully planned. They are reminiscent of English cottage gardens.
Lovely old fashioned flowers
in the Depot Restaurant gardens

Have a look at the Tangly Cottage blog. They have photos of gardens through the seasons and hints on coastal gardening. You'll even find a tutorial on how to create a deer friendly garden.

The blog makes for a great spring read and will whet your appetite for more. When you visit the Long Beach Peninsula of Washington slow down a bit and enjoy the little gardens.