All National Parks Free to Celebrate Centennial

Visit, appreciate and protect our National Park lands.

NatlParkServiceLogoThe centennial of the National Park Service as been promoted and written about and covered in the broadcast media for months, but the agency’s celebratory freebie long weekend is Thursday, August 25 through Sunday, August 28. On those days, all 412 National Park Service units (Parks, Monuments, Historic Sites) are open to the public for free.

That means no charge for entrance fees, commercial tour fees and transportation entrance fees. Other fees collected by concessionaires (lodging and food service, camping, tours and outfitters such as fishing or climbing guides) are still in effect.

Expect normally busy parks like our nearby Rocky Mountain National Park and communities just outside park boundaries (Estes Park and Grand Lake adjacent to RMNP, for instance) to be crowded. But even as we celebrate, we should be aware of the increased development pressure directly at the edge of popular parks. The 1916 legislation that created the Park Service had a mandate to leave park scenery and wildlife “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” That was then and this now.

Celebrate by Protecting

The Los Angeles Times recently wrote an op-ed exposé, “Can America’s National Parks Defeat Developers at Their Gate?“, pointing out the detrimental proximity of wind farms in the Mojave to protected land and other projects. Grand Canyon Escalade is a frightening plan to construct a huge resort and a tramway that would ferry up to 10,000 people a day to the bottom of the Grand Canyon at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, just outside of National Park boundaries. The developer tries to make a case for how wonderful it would be for the land, the river, the wildlife and the Navajo Nation, while its opponents, including the Grand Canyon Trust, document the abuse of those very same interests of that would result. My feeling is that it is preferable to stop a questionable or outright undesirable project than to “un-build.” Let’s give the parks a big birthday present and put the brakes on rampant development in the neighborhoods of “America’s Best Idea.”

Halcyon Hotel: High-Tech, High-Touch

Boutique hotel with cool Asian eatery opening in Cherry Creek area.

Halcyon-logo. pngWhen it opens on Monday the Sage Hospitality’s Halcyon Hotel in Cherry Creek North will be the high-toned neighborhood’s first new hotel in a decade. The Denver Post’s report, “Halcyon hotel welcomes its first guests in Cherry Creek North ,” lists a bunch features — some high-tech, others high-touch, and still others pure nostalgia.  No pix yet, because I haven’t been there, and there as yet are no images on the hotel’s website, but I’m intrigued enough to post it now. Amenities include:

  • E-bikes and Vespa scooters for guest use included in the room rate.
  • Instead of a front desk, there’s  a “kitchen counter” with complimentary beverages, Intelligentsia coffee and snacks served all day long.
  • With no front desk, hotel hosts equipped with some sort of satchels and iPads check guests in quickly.
  • “Gear garage” from which guests can borrow bicycles, long boards, GoPros, day packs, binoculars, fly-fishing gear–  “even a vintage Leica M3 camera and a roll of film that the hotel will get processed and sent to your home.”
  • In-room turntable and classic vinyl records.
  • In-room Nespresso coffee machine.
  • High-tech, high-speed connectivity.
  • Basic bar set-up, including the hotel’s private-label rum, made by Laws Whiskey House.
  • On-site fitness facility and roof-top pool.

Then of course there’s food, for which Cherry Creek North has a long reputation. The hotel is offering a short-run Cherry Creek North Food & Wine Package, currently priced only through August 14.

Two restaurants are on the docket, a steakhouse and a rooftop eatery to come but opening right away is an outpost of Portland, Oregon-based Departure Restaurant + Lounge. The inspiration, the food and the décor derive from Asia. Gregory Gourdet, a with-it “Top Chef” contender, designed a menu that not only includes various Asian cuisines but also reportedly accommodates guests with gluten-free, vegan and paleo dining preferences.

Europe’s Drinking Water

Is it safe or not? Depends on the country.

Europe-mapIf you’re concerned about drinking tap water when traveling in Europe, I’ve added a page to this blog about which countries have reliably safe drinking water and which don’t. Where the water is possibly unsafe, you might want to heed the usual cautions about fresh but unpeeled fruits and vegetables, water for brushing your teeth and even showering.  And I’ve cited Condé-Nast Traveler as the source of this list.

Terrorism Tragedies Scaring Tourists from Europe

Destinations large and small impacted.

globeAs the years tick past, I wonder when I will no longer be able to put a pack on my back and tow a small rolling suitcase — and head somewhere distant. Therefore, the urge to travel — to see places I’ve never visited —  has increased, not waned.  I want to go afar while I still can.  Asia, Africa and Latin America call, but most of all, so does Europe. I’ve seen quite a bit, but there’s so much more.

Bombings and mass shootings in major cities make headlines all over the world, but incidents where few or none are killed and a few are wounded get less attention. And travels embarked on, experienced and completed without incident make no news at all. But more and more news stories do surface where something happened to tourists somewhere. A recent knife attack on a mother and her three daughters in the resort of Grande-Colombe in the French Alps was reportedly because the attacker thought the victims were too scantily dressed.

In my heart, I know that the chances of being in exactly the place where violence occurs are extremely slim (about like chances of winning the Powerball), but  many tourists still don’t want to take a chance. A piece in the New York Times, Terrorism Scares Away the Tourists Europe Was Counting On, makes me sad for a variety of reasons, but also offers opportunities for travel values. I’m checking out deals. In addition to the terrible tragedy for locals, every awful incident causes nervous visitors to cancel. I will want to get on a plane and go. How about you?

Cuba Flights About to Take Off

JetBlue is the first with regular flights.

JetBllueWith the normalization of U.S. -Cuba relations, airlines are gearing up to start scheduled (i.e., non-charter) service. JetBlue is the first to pull away from the gate with one-way fares from $99 beginning August 1 flying between Fort Lauderdale airport (FLL) in Florida and Cuba’s Santa Clara (SNU) . The carrier has been servicing Cuba with charter flights. If all goes according to plans, Camagüey and Holguín flights are to be added in November, eventually also Havana flights are to begin.

Colorado Promotes Hot Springs Loop

The big five destinations for natural hot springs.

ColoradoFlagAfter I moved to Colorado in 1988, I bought a book called Colorado Hot Springs Guide that listed 51 sites that ranged from the huge and iconic Glenwood Springs Hot Springs Pool to something called the Sand Dunes Swimming Well Pool that once fed a fish farm and at that writing was on private property and not open to the public.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs in the backcountry north of Steamboat Springs.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs in the backcountry north of Steamboat Springs.

The Colorado Tourism Board is now promoting the 720-mile Hot Springs Loop, featuring well-developed hot springs in five communities, three of which have “Springs” as their last names.

Ouray

Orvis Hot Springs. Located just north of Ouray, it maintains electronic-free soaking areas that encourage guests to unplug and unwind. Visitors can book a room on the property, or bring along their camping gear for a truly authentic night under the stars. The Tourism Board doesn’t note that this is a clothing-optional facility, but that is something many visitors like to know in advance.

More hot springs: Ouray Hot Springs Pool & Fitness Center, The Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings, Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs and Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs

Glenwood Springs

Iron Mountain Hot Springs.  Glenwood’s newest wellness destination, with 16 soaking pools filled with pure, hot, mineral water located on the bank of the Colorado River. A freshwater family pool and jetted spa provide additional soaking options.

More hot springs: Glenwood Hot Springs and Yampah Spa & Vapor Caves

Chaffee County

Creekside Hot Springs Cabin.  A private experience — offers a vacation rental home with its own secluded soaking hot springs pool that is fed by the Mount Princeton geothermal aquifer.

More hot springs: Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center, Cottonwood Hot Springs, Alpine Hot Springs Hideaway and Antero Hot Springs Cabins. Frankly, I’m surprised that the state tourism board would select a single thre-bedroom rental home as its lead suggestion, especially in light of the far more expansive and interesting Mount Princeton Hot Springs complex.

Pagosa Springs

The Springs Resort & Spa. Located on the banks of the San Juan River in downtown Pagosa Springs with 23 naturally hot therapeutic mineral pools and a mineral water lap pool fed by the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring.

More hot springs: Overlook Hot Springs Spa and Healing Waters Resort & Spa

Steamboat Springs

Strawberry Park Hot Springs.  Nestled in an aspen grove about 15 minutes from town, the natural spring water and stone pool surrounds offer a rustic and rejuvenating experience, including private massage huts and stay a variety of overnight lodging options including a train caboose, cabin, wagon and more.

More hot springs: Old Town Hot Springs

Colorado Trains Are Nation’s Top Two

Cumbres & Toltec and Durango & Silverton top list.

USATodat-Top10-logoUSA Today sought readers’ votes on several categories of tourist attractions, and two Colorado railroads topped the list. Number one is the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad that is owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico and flirts with the state line between Antonito, CO and Chama, NM. Runner-up was the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad following the Animas River between Durango and Silverton in southwestern Colorado. It even operates in winter, part-way along the route as far as the Wye turnaround.

Huge New Artificial Reef at Pompano Beach

17th vessel being sunk today off Florida coast.

ShipwreckPark-logo.jpgEven as I write this, “Lady Luck,” the 324-foot sludge tanker from New York City formerly known as “The Newtown Creek,” is being sunk to become one of the biggest components of South Florida’s artificial reef system and an easily accessible major dive site. Now redone with an underwater casino theme and known as “Lady Luck,” promoters are billing it as “the world’s only underwater faux diving casino, complete with interactive art exhibits.”

In anticipation of the sinking 1½ miles off Pompano Beach’s shore,  the ship was, of course, cleaned of oil, sludge remnants and other substances harmful to the marine environment. A live auction earlier this month featured such unique memorabilia as the engine order telegraph, passageway lights, portholes and ship’s horn.

I imagine that locals, visitors and area officials are gathering on shore and on surrounding boats to watch the sinking of “Lady Luck” in 120 feet of water to become the centerpiece of Shipwreck Park, a unique underwater arts park. It will be the 17th  wreck there. The Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pompano Beach Resort & Spa (whose name is almost as long as the ship) promoted itself as a great place from which to watch. A lifetime ago, I attended the sinking of the first, a much smaller vessel once a floating restaurant called “The Ancient Mariner” off the Fort Lauderdale shore.

Diving that new, unadorned wreck was a trip, and now, with interactive features and underwater sculptures, has got to be that much more interesting. Fish are quick to investigate a newly sunken ship, and it doesn’t take long for algae and soft coral to cover the vessel.

Roof-Less, Wall-Less Hotel Room in the Alps

Sleep in comfort & under the stars — for a price.

SwissFlagSometimes when hikers backpack, we pitch our tent but decide to “sleep out” as long as temperatures are comfortable and it doesn’t start to rain. Well-heeled travelers have discovered the joy of “glamping,” luxury tent camping derived from Africa’s posh safari camps. But here’s a new one. My friend Ursula Beamish-Mader of Switzerland Tourism posted a link to a Travel & Leisure item called “This Swiss Hotel Room Has No Walls, But That’s A Good Thing.”

The concept is that a beautifully made-up bed, presumably with fine linens and hopefully a down comforter, is placed against one wall in a mountain hollow for “sleeping out” in comfort.  It’s a project of Null Stern Hotels (meaning “No Star”), which briefly operated a luxury hotel in a nuclear bunker that is now a museum.

I admire the imagination behind this outdoor accommodation (which did get noticed by T&L), but paying $250 a night is a bit much, IMO, even though coffee and a breakfast salami sandwich are reportedly delivered in the morning. Did I mention that the “facilities” are in a public restroom 10 minutes away?

If you want to see a picture, click here.

Hot-Foot It to Hawaii for New Lava Hike

Lava flow close-up on Big Island hike,

Kilauea, one of three active volcanoes on Hawaii Island, has been erupting for over three decades and presents ever-changing lava flows. New reports during the first week in July from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory noted an active lava flow across the southeast coastal plain of Kilauea.

Kileea-Lava

This newest lava outbreak provides upfront access for hardy hikers with Hawaii Forest & Trail. The company has revived its Kilauea Lava Hike to take advantage of the opportunity for fit hikers to experience this bucket list adventure. This new version of the challenging Kilauea Lava Hike traverses 6+ miles of rugged lavascape accompanied by professional and experienced Hawaii Forest & Trail guides.

The reward is  series of stunning views of Kilauea’s coastal plain on to the edge of the volcano’s molten lava flow, an experience that has been out of reach for several years. The hike begins at Hawaii Forest & Trails’ Kona headquarters, with an additional guest pickup available at Queen’s Marketplace in Waikoloa.

The company provides raingear, water and flashlights. Long pants and hiking boots are required. The 3.5-hour Kilauea Lava Hike returns to Hawaii Forest & Trail’s vehicle at about 6:30 p.m. when guests then head out for a local-style dinner in Hilo. Hawaii Forest & Trail’s Kilauea Lava Hike is priced at $192 plus tax per person. To reserve, call 800-464-1993,

Award-winning travel blog. Colorado-based Claire Walter shares travel news and first-hand destination information from around the corner, around the country and around the world.