Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stand-up paddling is the latest water craze

“Will I get wet?” I asked when contemplating the new sport of stand-up paddle boarding on a recent trip to Florida’s northwest coast.  “Not if you don’t fall in,” was the reply. But I wore my bathing suit just in case.

So I’m kneeling on the Yak board, just as Tom Losee has instructed. A quick shove moves me away from shore—and I’m ready to stand up. No worries—this board features the stability of a kayak and the fun factor of a surfboard.  Before long I’m upright paddling across Grayton Lake, surprised by how easy it is.

It’s a combination of surfing and paddling that Losee and his friend Jeff Archer quickly got hooked on, claiming it was like walking on water.  Five years ago they introduced stand-up paddling, or SUP, to the area when they started a business based in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida called YOLO—You Only Live Once—with their own line of paddle boats.

Stand-up paddling is really catching on in their neck of the woods near Seaside and Rosemary Beach. “This area is a hot bed of paddle boarding because Florida has so many waterways,” Losee says.  He attributes the company’s popularity to easy access to the Gulf of Mexico, bays, harbors, natural springs, Intracoastal Waterway, and coastal dune lakes. “Florida will be to paddle boarding as California is to surfing,” he adds.

Larger than a traditional surfboard, YOLO boards are buoyant and stable. The Yak model is even suitable for fishing, and you can strap on supplies for a picnic when you feel like resting. SUP is quickly becoming the newest way to navigate brackish waters that lead to the Gulf.  “Especially in summer the water can be glassy, and there’s always a breeze,” Losse says.

During my SUP experience I found that it’s great low impact exercise, but good leg muscles definitely help balance your body as you switch the paddle from side to side.  The good thing is you can stop paddling any time, even sit down and enjoy the scenery. You have an excellent opportunity to observe marine life up close because the water is often clear enough to see all the way to the bottom. 

Excited by my success in this new venture, I’m happy to report that my swim suit stayed dry. Lessons are available for individuals or groups, but you’ll find it only takes a few minutes to get the hang of paddling while standing. For prices check www.yoloboard.com or call 850-687-5700.

Photo by Larry Burmeier

Thursday, May 26, 2011

National Parks remember America's soldiers on Memorial Day

From its post-Civil War origins as a day when soldiers’ graves would be decorated, Memorial Day occurs during a season of rebirth – in national parks and in home towns across the country.

“Though it is a solemn occasion, Memorial Day also reminds us of our good fortune,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “It honors not only our fallen warriors, but the powerful conviction to which this nation owes so much. On this Memorial Day, we should be both inspired and grateful, and though it is a single day in a year of hundreds, its significance endures throughout time.”

Take a walk around Bear Lake in
Rocky Mountain National Park
Photo by Beverly Burmeier
Memorial Day is also the unofficial start of summer in America. It begins the busiest part of the year at the 394 national parks, monuments, memorials and historic and cultural sites that make up the National Park System. More than 280 million people visited national parks last year.

Jarvis reminds travelers to drive safely when vacationing this summer at national parks or elsewhere. “If you’re 30 minutes or half a day ‘off schedule’ don’t worry. We’ll be here when you arrive,” he says.

A good idea gets even better on June 21, when National park visitors can look forward to a day of free admission to all national parks (some are free year round). That's an especially good time to help preserve local history while participating in a variety of recreational opportunities.

For a list of summer activities in national parks please visit http://www.nps.gov

Read more travel at Striped Pot  and Austin Adventure Travel

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tauck tour is a tribute to Civil War anniversary

Ken Burns, award-winning documentary filmmaker and creator of The Civil War, brings personal stories, insightful interpretations and behind-the-scenes perspectives to Most Hallowed Ground, one of Tauck’s Civil War tours.

Cannon at Gettysburg
Photo courtesy StockVault.net
This 11-day trip chronicles some of the most pivotal events and venues of the Civil War, highlighted by guided visits, living history reenactments and unique access to some of the war’s most significant sites; private presentations and talks by experts in their fields, from history to music and more; a behind-the-scenes experience at the National Archives with an archives expert; and an interactive experience during which guests assume the identity of an actual Confederate or Union soldier.

Film vignettes by Burns offer his unique perspectives on the terrible conflict and its pivotal role in shaping the nation we live in today. Sharing fresh insights to accompany images from his documentary, The Civil War, Ken’s vignettes enliven travels in Washington, Gettysburg, Harpers Ferry, Charlottesville, Appomattox and Richmond.

Most Hallowed Ground begins by fast-forwarding to the end of the conflict – the tragic night of April 14, 1865 – when President Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by actor John Wilkes Booth at the Ford Theater. A guided tour examines the beginnings of the nation’s capital as well as its role in the Civil War, and views the White House, the Capitol, the Mall, and the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. The human cost of the war, as well as its ironies, commands attention of guests on a poignant visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where 285,000 veterans of America’s wars are buried on what had been the estate of General Robert E. Lee.

As the tour progresses guests learn how the seeds of discontent grew into secession and war. Visits include the National Museum of Civil War Medicine; Antietam National Battlefields; national cemetery at  Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Harper’s Ferry, Virginia where John Brown’s raid failed in 1859; and other important Civil War sites.

The Civil War was fought in 10,000 places, the majority of them in the South. As armies swept across American farms and burned American towns, private homes became headquarters and hospitals. A look at life at one of those homes in the prewar South begins at Montpelier, the former estate of President James Madison and his wife Dolley.

You’ll feel the presence of author, statesman, scientist, and third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson during your guided visit to Monticello.

Battlefield at Manassas
Photo by Beverly Burmeier
Journey from Charlottesville to Appomattox Court House where town resident Wilmer McLean had moved to escape the tumult of war after the First Battle of Bull Run had raged across his property in 1861. But on April 9, 1865, he was thrust into history when Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant met in his parlor and agreed to terms which would lead to reunification of the nation – so it could be said that the conflict began in McLean’s backyard and ended in his parlor four years later.

The tour ends in Richmond, once the Confederate capital, where you’ll experience Union, Confederate and African-American viewpoints at the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar and the Tredegar Iron Works, the Confederacy’s industrial heart.

Tour dates are available in September and October 2011. Tauck World Discovery, 800-788-7885

Read more about the Civil Way anniversary at Striped Pot

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hang gliding and whitewater rafting when you visit Chattanooga, TN

Tennessee’s fourth largest city should be remembered by visitors for more than a choo-choo song.  With a mild climate that’s neither too hot nor cold for outdoor adventures, Chattanooga offers plenty of ways to enjoy the beautiful scenery or to challenge your muscles to the max.

Getting ready to hang glide.
Hang gliding off Lookout Mountain: Soar through the clouds, feeling free as a bird while gliding through the sky over Lookout Mountain Flight Park.  After being strapped into a protective harness, first timers ride tandem with an experienced instructor. 

The ride starts when an ultra light plane tows the glider and its two passengers up to 2,000 feet and then releases it for a gradual descent (about 12-20 minutes). This procedure has made possible the dream of quiet flight for millions of people who never imagined themselves jumping off a cliff  while hanging onto a kite-like structure.

Soaring in the sky under the broad
wings of the glider.
While the instructor maneuvers the craft by catching thermals and wind drifts, you can just stretch out and relax for the duration of this magical ride. Floating through clouds gives an incredible sensation of freedom—at the mercy of the winds, yet controllable with body movements.  Too soon, the glider drifts down, and you’re on terra firma again—looking up where you just floated through the sky. Of course, with a little more time, instructors at America’s premier hang gliding school will teach you how to manage the craft and hang glide on your own.  www.hangglide.com 888-688-5637

White water rafting on the Ocoee River: One of the most rafted rivers in the country, the Ocoee River near Chattanooga provides thousands of people each year with an opportunity to splash and dash their way through exciting class III and IV rapids.  More than 3,000 river guides are kept busy each summer running five miles of rapids with names like Grumpy, Double Trouble, Table Saw, and Hell’s Hole.

In a pact with Tennessee Valley Authority that has allowed commercial rafting since 1975, the water past the dam is drained from the river every night for use in produce hydroelectric power.  Early every morning, before the first runs start at 8:00 a.m., the process is reversed, filling the river in about an hour and a half.

Outfitters provide life jackets and other equipment for the half day excursion. Guides give explicit instructions, which they expect you to follow, often given in a split second as water crashes overhead and the raft bounces in the current. The run is challenging—guaranteed to soak and thrill everyone—yet it’s reasonably safe, even if you become a “swimmer” (fall out of the raft).  White water rafting on the middle Ocoee begins in June, but kayaking and other river activities are available now. www.ocoeeadventurecenter.com  888-723-8622

 Read more adventure stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Canyon of the Eagles celebrates 20 years

Canyon of the Eagles is a Texas gem that many visitors in the state have yet to discover.  Located a little more than an hour’s drive north of Austin, 90 minutes north of San Antonio, and two and a half hours southwest of Dallas, this 942-acre nature preserve and resort provides plenty of activities  to keep everyone in the family busy—or plenty of opportunities to hang back and relax while enjoying a symphony of bird songs and glorious sunsets on the lake. 

To celebrate its 20th anniversary in December 2019, Canyon of the Eagles is offering an affordable opportunity to experience this unique and scenic property in the Highland Lakes Region. The promotion is $99 per room per night from December 1-23 which can be booked directly on the website or by calling 512-334-2070 using code COTE99.

Set on  Lake Buchanan, the largest in the chain of Highland Lakes, Canyon of the Eagles can be a destination that you never leave or a starting point for nearby adventures.  The resort offers dog-friendly guest rooms and full-service amenities as well as RV and camping opportunities.

Here’s an example of what you can do during your stay:

*Take a scenic pontoon boat ride on the original channel of the Colorado River to see a variety of wildlife, waterfalls, sheer cliffs, and migratory birds.

*Look to the skies at Eagle Eye Observatory, an on-site state-of-the-art viewing area with two high-powered telescopes. The dark sky location makes it one of the best astronomical viewing locations in Texas.

*Explore along 14 miles of nature trails, keeping eyes open for wildlife including the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo.

*Enjoy a “movie under the stars,” a tradition of Canyon of the Eagles.

*Savor sunsets and panoramic views of Lake Buchanan while dining on dishes prepared with local ingredients and accompanied by Hill Country wines at the award-winning Overlook Restaurant. 

*Paddle under Fall Creek Falls on Lake Buchanan in a kayak or canoe. Or try standup paddle boarding.

*Test your navigational skills with a geocaching scavenger hunt.

*Venture out: Go underground at Longhorn Caverns, taste wines at Perissos Vineyard or Fall Creek Vineyards, try antiquing at Marble Falls, or cast your fishing line in Lake Buchanan.

*Get comfy in one of the rocking chairs on your back porch or at spots like The Perch and Sunset Point to enjoy a good book or simply gaze at the bounty of nature’s beauty.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Free things to do in Moab, Utah

As gas prices escalate, travelers are looking for one-stop locations for their summer vacations.  If you’re looking for a place where outdoor adventure is plentiful, consider Moab, Utah.  Known at the gateway to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dead Horse Point State Park, the Colorado River, and the La Sal Mountains, Moab is the # one adventure resort town in the Four Corners area of Utah.

There are more national and state parks within a 200-mile radius of the city than any other location in Utah. Add to that a vibrant downtown where you can shop, browse, eat, and enjoy the charm of this “outdoor wonderland” and you have a great place for families to appreciate nature this summer.  Once there, you’ll find plentiful free activities.

Hiking. The Moab area contains a large number of day hikes trails suitable for all experience levels and for families. Hike along cool streams at Negro Bill and Hunter Canyons or take in spectacular sandstone arches like Corona Arch.
Mountain biking. Moab offers a huge variety of trails for mountain bikers from beginners looking for a scenic ride through beautiful canyons and mesas to seasoned bikers seeking the ultimate challenge.
Four-wheel driving. Rent a jeep and explore among the thousands of miles of trails in Grand County.  See stunning back country scenery while diving on unmaintained trails from mining or prospecting for minerals such as uranium, vanadium, radium, copper, gold, and oil.
Canoeing and kayaking. The rivers in the Moab area provide miles of wide, calm water, often reflecting a mosaic of rock cliffs and sky.  Float trips or kayaks and rafts work well on Ken’s Lake, a nearby manmade reservoir.
Movie museum and location tour. Since 1949 the Moab area has been a popular location for Hollywood movies, commercials, and music videos. Take a self-guided tour of movie locations and visit the Film Museum at Red Cliffs Lodge.
Driving tours. Three officially designated Scenic Byways and one Scenic backway routes feature diverse scenery including arches, canyons, red rock formations, the Colorado River Gorge, petrogylphs, dinosaur tracks, historical bridge, movie locations and the LaSal Mountains.
Rock art. Sample some of the easily accessible ancient Indian rock art around the Moab area. A self-guided tour will share types, dates, artists, and cultures.
Dinosaur tracks. View dinosaur bone fragments and impressions and remnants of an old copper mill and the Halfway Stage Station at Copper Ridge Sauropod Tracksite.
Art galleries. Stroll Moab’s galleries, shops, and cafes and view fine locally created Moab art. The Moab Arts Festival on Memorial Day weekend offers a myriad of free family activities.
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. A visit to Moab isn’t complete without a day in each of these magnificent parks—not free but only $10 per car, a bargain by any standards.

Leave a comment about your favorite outdoor experience in the Moab area.  

For more information visit www.discovermoab.com or call the Moab Area Travel Council, 800-635-6622.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
Read more travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nature programs abound at Canyon of the Eagles in central Texas

Appreciating nature and learning more about plants and animals native to the Texas Hill Country are primary goals of Canyon of the Eagles.  With that in mind, the resort offers a variety of educational and interpretative programs at no extra charge to guests.  Check the web site or guest services for scheduled dates and times.

These snakes are friendly.
Shake, Rattle, and Coil is a hands-on program featuring non-venomous reptiles to demonstrate natural relationships of animals. You’ll have the opportunity to touch, even hold, some of these fascinating creatures while a certified naturalist provides interesting facts about the park’s ecosystem.

History, Mystery and Magic shares history of the area including building of the Lake Buchanan dam, Native American occupation and artifacts, and early settlement by Europeans.

Scales, Tales, and Shells is an aquatic program in which the naturalist shares finds along the lake’s shoreline and tells guests about creatures that live below the surface of the lake (fish) and fly above (birds).

Owl Prowl calls screech owls to the amphitheater in the woods so guests may observe flight patterns and hopefully come eye-to-eye with these nocturnal birds.  Offered from September to January only in order to protect endangered song birds that nest in the area.

See jackrabbits like this on Walk on the Wild Side
Butterflies of Central Texas occurs in spring and summer when a it’s possible to discover the life-cycle of native butterflies. 

Walk on the Wild Side takes participants on a guided hike along various paths in the park.  Terrain is reasonably level, and you’ll learn to identify trees and shrubs of the Hill Country as well as insects, flowers, bird habitats and reptiles.

Eagle Eye Observatory provides exceptional nighttime stargazing under the auspices of Austin Astronomical Society.  Two high-powered telescopes enlarge your view of the moon and planets.
Movies under the Stars— Snack on s’mores and hot chocolate while enjoying a family movie under a blanket of stars on the patio.

Cowboy Poetry and Storytelling is presented by authentic Kerrville cowboy Dennis Gaines.  Author of “New Tradition: Western Verse” and winner of several prestigious national awards for Western comedy and poetry, Gaines presents original poems and tall tales spiced with his witty brand of trail humor.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Monday, May 9, 2011

Austin Steam Train provides a fun family outing

With Mother’s Day behind us, you might be wondering what kind of special activity to plan for Father’s Day, June 19, 2011. Why not take the family for a fun journey through the Texas Hill Country on the Austin Flyer Steam Train.  Treat Dad (and everyone else, too) to a delicious lunch and a memorable adventure on a three-hour round-trip journey to Bertram. The train leaves Cedar Park at 11:00 a.m. and stops long enough in Bertram for visitors to tour the fully restored 1912 train depot.

If that date isn’t available, check out the original 66-mile journey departing from Cedar Park at 10:00 a.m. most week-ends. After a two-hour ride through the scenic Hill Country, you’ll arrive in Burnet, where you can have lunch, shop at the downtown square, or just enjoy exploring town.  The train leaves Burnet about 2:15 for the return trip to Cedar Park, just outside Austin.

If you prefer a shorter ride, the Bertram Flyer departs  from 401 E. Whitestone Boulevard in Cedar Park on Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and returns at 5:00 p.m.  A special Magic Flyer tour is scheduled on June 5, where magicians perform tricks during the ride.

The web site  lists numerous summer dates for twilight tours, an opportunity to experience a train ride after dark.  If you’re a fan of Western movies, join the Capital City Mystery Players as they try to stop a notorious outlaw gang from robbing the train on the True Grit—An Outlaw’s Downfall ride, June 18 and July 16.

Special musical entertainment will be featured on the Independence Day Flyer on July 3, and you can pamper your little princess with tea and biscuits on the August 7 Princess Flyer.  Find other special occasion rides, schedules, and prices at the web site. Discounts are given for tickets purchased online.

The Austin Steam Train is a great way to introduce young family members to this nostalgic means of travel while experiencing the sights and sounds of the countryside. Trains are maintained and run by members of the Austin Steam Train Association, and volunteers don traditional conductor uniforms to entertain and educate guests along the way.
www.austinsteamtrain.org      512-477-8468
Photos courtesy of Austin Steam Train Association

Read more travel articles at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel