What, a place in California where there are hardly any people — and yet is so strikingly beautiful that it’s been called the Switzerland of California?
OK, I’ll ‘fess up — I’m the one who called it the Switzerland of California, as I hiked recently along a mountain trail bordering meadows blanketed with wildflowers and sporting gorgeous views of 11,000-foot peaks that still displayed pockets of snow in early August.
And its very name — Alpine County — certainly evokes Switzerland as well, as does its semi-official nickname, the “California Alps.”
The area was first explored by non-native Americans when John C. Fremont and his scout, Kit Carson, passed through in 1844. Soon after came contingents of Mormon settlers and gold prospectors, and much later still vacationers and second-home owners.
Alpine County isn’t very large — it’s the eighth smallest… Continue reading
Cotopaxi, a company that makes backpacks, jackets and other outdoor gear — and donates a percentage of its earnings to worthy causes around the world — has come out with an infographic in celebration of this year’s 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service.
It shows the top five U.S. National Parks in terms of annual visitation, plus five “Hidden Gems” that are far less visited.
The top five visited National Parks, in order, are Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, Arizona’s Grand Canyon, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain, California’s Yosemite, and Yellowstone, which extends over parts of three states: mostly Wyoming, but also Montana and Idaho.
I’ve visited all of the most popular ones at one time or another, but have to admit I’ve never been to any of the Hidden Gens: Washington’s North Cascades, Florida’s Dry Tortugas, South Carolina’s… Continue reading
One of the best perks for turning 62 — if you’re a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident — is the “Senior Pass” that allows those aged 62 and over to enter any of the U.S. national parks, monuments, and recreation areas for all of ten bucks. Let me repeat that. That’s a “ten” with one zero.
And that’s not all, fellow baby boomers! The pass is good for life. It never expires until you do (and if you never expire, so much the better!).
And wait, there’s more! You can get your pass as you drive into many of those same parks and recreation areas. Just ask the attendant at the gate, show some proof of age (driver’s license is good), and you can usually get your pass on the spot. For $10.
Those under 62… Continue reading
In recognition of Global Wellness Day — June 11 this year — I thought it would be apropos to mention a few of the more unusual ways to promote health while traveling. As a baby boomer, I’m prone to the usual stiff joints and other nagging ailments, and love the idea of medical tourism, even if it’s mostly an excuse to go somewhere exotic.
- Water-based Meditation.
While I don’t practice meditation, I have a few good friends who do, and they always seem focused and calm. Does meditation have this effect, or are naturally calm and focused people drawn to meditation?
I don’t know, but I do know I could use a little more calmness and focus in my life, and I love being on water, so maybe I’ll try:
The Mekong Spa at Belmond… Continue reading
I’m in the process of cleaning out the rest of our possessions from our house in upstate New York to complete our move to Tucson, Arizona.
Our house in Tucson is maybe half the size of our house in New York, and therein lies a problem: what to do about the hundreds of books that we no longer have room for and can’t afford to move anyway?
The problem is particularly acute with one genre of books that dominate my old office: travel guidebooks.
To say that I have a sizable collection of them would be a bit of an understatement. They date back to my earliest trips abroad in the 1970’s and continued proliferating in the decades since, reaching a crescendo in the early 1990’s just before the Internet began turning print guidebooks into dinosaurs.
Still, being a baby boomer… Continue reading
During our recent visit to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southern California, my wife, Catharine, and I and four of our closest friends went searching for spring wildflowers, cactus blooms, and palm oases, and hoped to spot some of the park’s iconic bighorn sheep on our hikes.
We were successful on all fronts except for catching a glimpse of the elusive bighorn sheep, which probably spotted us first and decided to retreat into the park’s rugged canyons and mountains.
But we did see something that I wasn’t expecting at all: one of the greatest displays of public art I’ve ever encountered in the U.S., occupying the desert flat lands outside the town of Borrego Springs, which lie adjacent to the most traveled areas of the park.
As our friends from California… Continue reading
Though hardly a household name outside its region, southern California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the Golden State’s largest, spanning some 600,000 acres of the Colorado Desert about two hours’ drive northeast of San Diego.
Anza-Borrego has rugged canyons, badlands, mesas, nature trails, campgrounds, oases, cacti gardens, Native American rock art, and wildlife, all surrounded by rugged mountain ranges, the latter of which are virtually all road-free wilderness areas.
My wife, Catharine, and I just spent several days there with friends from California — hiking, rock scrambling, seeking out springtime blossoms, four-wheel driving over sandy, bumpy “roads” leading to remote outposts of desert boulders and vegetation, and searching in vain for signs of desert bighorn sheep, the elusive animals that take to Anza-Borrego’s mountainous, rocky terrain. (“Borrego”… Continue reading
Except for some brief stops at the Phoenix, Arizona, airport, I hadn’t been in the “Valley of the Sun” region for about 30 years until recently, when some friends invited us to spend a few days in their timeshare at the Sheraton Desert Oasis resort in Scottsdale, which lies north and east of Phoenix.
My memories of the area weren’t particularly positive. Our previous Phoenix visit — poorly timed for August, when it was 110 degrees in the shade — was spent futilely searching for the “there” there, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein. If there was a downtown Phoenix, we couldn’t find it back then. It just seemed to be a mass of sprawl in the desert.
Because I had imagined Scottsdale to be just another Phoenix suburb, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of… Continue reading
When last we left my daughter, Lia, then age 11 and on her first whitewater rafting trip on California’s American River, it was the calm before the storm. The storm that lay ahead was called Troublemaker, a Class III++ rapids, and our normally jovial Adventure Connection guide, Lumpy, had turned deadly serious, issuing instructions that left Lia (and the rest of us in the raft) feeling just a bit apprehensive. What came next justified those feelings, but left a lasting impression on a young adventurer.
Here is Part 2 of Troublemaker: A Whitewater Memoir, by Lia Norton.
Slowly, our raft — the last in the convoy — drifted towards the drop. The current pulled us along, allowing us an opportunity to view the swirling mass in its entirety, as we watched the rafts ahead… Continue reading
When I wrote my first family travel guide to California for Fodor’s 20 years ago, I took my children — Grael, then age 14, and Lia, then age 11 — all over the state as a vital part of the research.
Usually I could sense right off the bat which attractions and activities they liked: going on rides at Universal Studios theme park, good; driving endlessly around Lake Tahoe checking out hotel rooms, bad. Camping in Death Valley, good; walking tour of Monterey Bay Historic Park, bad. (Lia was particularly bored with that one.)
One activity I knew didn’t bore her, though, was our whitewater rafting trip on the American River in the California Gold Country, with an outfitter called Adventure Connection. What I didn’t know for sure at the time was whether she found it exhilarating or terrifying.… Continue reading