Experience The Wilderness – In Style

Colorado has a couple of things one can find in abundance. There is plenty of wilderness for countless outdoor activities and adventures. And there are plenty of luxurious resorts with breathtaking scenery and plenty of pampering. Pairing the two together is not an easy thing. Many scenic resorts, for example, are in popular ski areas, so the wilderness views tend to include neon-colored ski bunnies. And a remote cabin in the woods is unlikely to have concierge service. Fortunately, you can indulge in both aspect of Colorado’s wonder at Elk Mountain Ranch. Located 16 miles southeast of Buena Vista and a pleasant two hour drive from Denver or Colorado Springs, Elk Mountain Ranch only accommodates up to 30 guests for its weeklong, all-inclusive, quintessential dude ranch experience. Days are filled with horseback riding, white water rafting, hiking, riflery, fishing and other activities set against a backdrop of unending vistas. It’s the ultimate in traditional western vacations and perfect for families, couples, singles and small groups. Cabin accommodations vary in size and number they can sleep, but all are comfortable and enhance the western outdoor theme.

But a little pampering is in order, too, and you can get that here as well. On-site spa services include massage and Jacuzzi. Oh yes, there is concierge service, and it is very much the affable and accommodating staff that contributes to the pampering experience. Elk Mountain Ranch encompasses a delightful combination of the Rocky Mountain state’s strongest appeals.

Tip: Although Elk Mountain Ranch is ideal for all types of groups throughout much of the season, it offers adults only periods (weeks of Sept. 2 and Sept. 9, 2012) with an emphasis on riding, relaxation and a picturesque romantic setting.


Take A Train To The Big Easy

To most Oklahomans, the idea of leisure travel by train probably seems a bit antiquated, a hold over from a bygone era. And that’s one of the reasons that a summer vacation aboard a train could be an exciting adventure. From Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer terminal in Oklahoma City, you can access a rail network that can literally take you from sea to shining sea. For rail novices, a trip from OKC to New Orleans is a great way to start. The route takes you through a varied terrain, stops at interesting locales and drops you off to experience all the Crescent City has to offer.
The trip takes you on a winding 27-hour journey, but you’ll want to break it up and disembark at some of the fantastic stops along the way. You’ll change trains in Fort Worth and San Antonio, so definitely plan to explore those cities while you’re there – the trains run most days, so take as long as you like. Your route also allows you the opportunity to stop over in Austin and Houston, as well as a host of smaller towns and cities.

Bonus: Through a partnership with the National Park Service, guides from the Amistad National Recreation Area are on board the train between Houston and New Orleans to interpret the unique Gulf Coast ecosystems the train passes by.

Oklahoma: Oklahoma City > Purcell > Norman > Pauls Valley > Ardmore
Texas: Gainesville > Fort Worth > Cleburne > McGregor > Kileen/Fort Hood > Austin > San Marcos > San Antonio > Houston > Beaumont
Louisiana: Lake Charles > Lafayette > New Iberia > Schriever > New Orleans


Pump Out Some Adrenaline In Arkansas

Just over the Ozarks to the east, Arkansas offers more than just a lush varied environment and scenic retreats. It presents innumerable opportunities for adrenaline-pumping adventures on land, in water and in the sky.

Aerialists have long enjoyed hang gliding at Mount Magazine and Mount Nebo, which offer spectacular views and frequent ideal conditions. For a more extreme experience, Skydive Ranch in Siloam Springs can get you trained and up to speed to personally answer the axiom, Why would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane?

Once back on earth, landlubbers will enjoy hiking or mountain biking the Womble Trail in the Ouachita Mountains and the Syllamo Trail near Mountain View. If you’re packing a specialty vehicle for your Arkansas adventure, the Superlift Off Road Vehicle Park’s challenging course is amenable to motorcycles, ATVs, buggies and four wheel drive vehicles. Rock climbers and bouldering enthusiasts cite Sam’s Throne and Horseshoe Canyon Ranch as two of the greatest regional locations for hands-on challenges. Halfway between the ground and the sky, zip lines offer you excitement with terrific scenery. There are numerous zip lines across the state. Okolona’s Rowdy Adventures, the largest outdoor adventure park in the South, has 15 zip lines in its 300 acres. The Buffalo River Canopy Zip Line Tour in Ponca offers a scenic experience in the Ozark treetops.

If cool water is ideal for your adventure, you can drop your canoe or kayak in countless rivers and streams or on 600,000 acres of lakes. Veteran kayakers s can challenge themselves on the Cossatot River and Cossatot Falls, which features Class IV and Class V rapids.

Whether its relaxing hiking or plummeting from the sky, Arkansas lets you choose just how much adrenaline you want as part of a memorable experience.

“Type B” Adventuring: If your idea of roughing it is domestic champagne and you still want a little Arkansas adventuring, consider an aerial excursion aboard a comfy hot air balloon. Little Rock is home to several purveyors of scenic ballooning experiences.


Fly Fishing In New Mexico

There’s an aura of tranquil beauty, of rightness, of connection to nature surrounding fly fishing. Few other activities conjure up such evocative imagery as that of a cool stream and the rhythmic pattern of fly fishing. However, while a river might run through it, most of us haven’t a clue how to land fish out of it in the arcane sport of fly fishing.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to be that way. You can pick up the necessary skills, plenty of practice and solid advice – all while enjoying the quintessential experience – at Santa Fe Fly Fishing School. Just 25 minutes from Santa Fe, Santa Fe Fly Fishing School sits on a big bend in the Pecos River as it approaches the Village of Pecos. The river runs from out of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the north and offers good fly fishing. First, though, you will want to learn what you are doing and what kind of gear you will need. The expert instructors at Santa Fe Fly Fishing School will help you develop the skills you need to be more successful at trout fishing with a fly rod. Other schools often focus on catching fish, but here the focus is on helping you develop the skill set and knowledge you need to be able to fish independently. Instruction is available at different levels and offered to individuals and small groups. With the skills you acquire you will be prepared and in an ideal location to finally indulge in the vaunted sport. Stocked rainbow and brown trout ranging up to 16 inches abound in the Pecos River, surrounded by nearly pristine wooded land. The skills, the setting, the lurking trout – it all adds up to a chance to turn vacation fantasy into memorable getaway reality.

Other Great New Mexico Fly Fishing Sites:
Red River
San Juan River
Cimarron River
Gila River
Rio de los Pinos
Jemez Mountains
Rio Penasco
Upper and Lower Rio Grande


Learn To Surf In SoCal

Frankie and Annette movies and Beach Boys music might come across to many as outdated, but the appeal of riding the crest of a wave hasn’t lost its epic cool appeal. And, for the uninitiated, you’ll need to leave Oklahoma to catch actual waves no matter how hard the wind comes sweeping down the plain!

Due west is where you’ll need to go, to San Diego and to the Pacific Surf School. The experts can get you up and riding the waves in no time. Well, it will be some time, but not much. Pacific Surf School offers a guarantee that you will be standing up on your first lesson or your next one is free.

That’s powerful motivation for solid instruction and that’s what you will find during your lessons on Mission Bay. All friendly instructors are experienced and trained in ocean safety.

You can choose to learn in private, semi-private (2-3 people in each semi-private lesson) or group environments, available seven days a week, with each lesson lasting about 90 minutes. You can also organize your own group for lessons. Lessons include basic technique, stretching and board familiarity, ample water instruction, water safety and ocean awareness, paddling and positioning, ocean safety, basic wave “reading” and more. In the summer, lessons also include one free hour of board rental after instruction. But by then, of course, you’ll be hooked and ready to use your new skills in the Mission Bay waters, which are less crowded with surfers than many other nearby sites. It wont take long before instructors rapidly progress your skills to the point where you can be off on your own, enjoying riding the waves and maybe hearing just the faint melody of Beach Boys tunes in your head.

Greatest Surfing Movies Of All Time
The top ten, from SurferToday.com
10. Thicker Than Water
9. Step Into Liquid
8. Second Thoughts
7. Point Break
6. Occy: The Occumentary
5. Bra Boys
4. Castles in the Sky
3. Big Wednesday
2. The Endless Summer II
1. The Endless Summer


 Immerse Youserlf In Mark Twain National Forest

Sometimes adventure takes the form of completely escaping the trappings of civilization and immersing yourself in nature. Well, maybe you don’t want to dodge all of society’s trappings – level camp sites, lavatory facilities or even a simple cabin can be nice. To truly appreciate getting away from the everyday, though, you’ll need just the right natural environment. Missouri’s spectacular Mark Twain National Forest is just the right place to do just that. Covering a whopping 1.5 million acres in 29 different counties, the forest offers you plenty of canopy under which to commune with nature.

Communing might not be all the adventure you want, but fortunately there is wilderness action available in abundance throughout. There are few better hiking sites in the region and scores of trails throughout offer diverse surroundings for you to enjoy. Sutton Bluff Recreation Area lets you camp, hike trails (including the nearby Ozark Trail), enjoy facilities, mountain-bike, swim or just enjoy placid scenery. Crane Lake Conservation Area’s centerpiece 100-acre lake is blue and crystal clear and near 12 miles of hiking and biking trails. You will want to head to Council Bluff Lake for stocked fishing and a sandy beach – canoes and paddleboats are also available nearby. If you’re an experienced hiker and prepared for something more like a backcountry adventure, Bell Mountain Wilderness Area is both some of the highest elevation in the area and among the least influenced by man. There are 9,027 acres with tall peaks, Shut-in Creek and a spring-fed stream with several gorges along its course. Fourteen miles of designated trails are established for hikers and equestrian use within the wilderness. The Bell Mountain Wilderness Trail turns rugged and is for equipped and veteran hikers only.

Biking, fishing, horseback riding, limited off-roading and hunting in addition to a slew of water based activities are also there for the taking when you choose to immerse yourself in Mark Twain National Forest – a live-action “Choose Your Own Adventure.”

Passes & Permits: Depending on your individual plans for your Mark Twain National Forest immersion adventure, you might need a permit or pass. Common activities that may require a permit include wood cutting, mushroom picking, rock collecting, cutting a Christmas tree, riding an ATV or Motorcycle on designated trails, or holding a recreation event. Check the website or inquire of staff.


Indulge In A Texas Barbecue Tour

For a distinctive culinary adventure, you need look no farther than Texas. Despite the long rivalry, most can agree that our neighbors know their barbecue – and they do it better there than most anywhere else. Few culinary experiences, then, are as rewarding as tasting your way through Texas and its best purveyors of barbecue.

Texas Monthly food editor Pat Sharpe offered her take on the best and that’s a good thing. The magazine does exhaustive research annually and invests a ton of man-hours into traversing Texas on the barbecue trail (tough work though it may be). “Central Texas is the barbecue belt,” Sharpe says. “There are good places all over Texas, but the best is in central Texas.”

Sharpe recommends you start in Taylor at the famous Louis Mueller Barbecue, where guests are met with a taste of brisket just to chew on while perusing the selections. Just don’t reference “amuse-bouche,” or you might draw some funny looks. From Taylor, head to Austin, which unsurprisingly has a couple of fine establishments of its own. What is surprising is that Austin’s Franklin Barbecue only launched in 2009 – in a trailer no less – and a year later Bon Appetit named it the best barbecue in the U.S.   

“It’s the hottest place right now,” Sharpe confirms.

South Austin’s JMueller is also a must-visit while in town. Meanwhile, little Lockhart, Texas, is your next destination and home to two famed establishments – Smitty’s and Kreuz, both of which routinely vie for “best” labels. City Market in Luling, Sharpe says, is also worth a visit.

However you plot your course across the Barbecue Belt, remember that brisket is the king in Texas barbecue, pork ribs the preferred variety, and those places that make their own sausage deserve brownie points. Sauce is okay, as long as its not used to cover up inferior barbecue – which, done properly, should be plenty flavorful on its own. Armed with map and scorecard, it’s time to hit the trail to Texas for a taste bud adventure.

Tip: Texas Monthly food editor Pat Sharpe highly recommends the website www.fullcustomgospelbbq.com for reviews, research and all other things barbecue.


 Explore The Wild West In Kansas

Chances are when you think of the Wild, Wild West, Kansas isn’t the place that comes to mind. Yet, Kansas played an integral role in cowboy history. From the 1860s until the late 1890s, millions of cattle were driven from Texas ranches, through Indian Territory to railheads in Kansas along the Chisholm Trail. Just across the Oklahoma border, Caldwell marks the trail’s entry into the state. The Ghost Rider monument, a series of life-size, iron silhouettes recreating a historic cattle drive, marks this period of the town’s history. A walking tour tells the stories of Caldwell’s days as a legendary town of the Old West.

Wichita too began as a cowtown. That history is preserved at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum and the Old Cowtown Museum, a 23-acre living-history museum that recreates a Wild West town and a rural period farm. Want to dress for the occasion? Head to Sheplers, the world’s largest western wear store, established in 1899. Complete your stay in Wichita with a barbecue dinner and authentic cowboy music at the Diamond W Chuckwagon Supper. Other points of interest include Newton, where you can still see paths carved in the earth by millions of cattle marching north; Abilene, long the northern terminus of the Chisholm Trail and a major city of the era; and Ellsworth, once known as the wickedest town in the West.

Your journey ends in Dodge City, the legendary Old West town made famous by the likes of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday and the television series Gunsmoke. The authentic flavor of Dodge City’s cowboy history is preserved in its historic downtown and the Boot Hill Museum, with its recreated 1870s storefronts, gunfights and Long Branch Saloon, where Miss Kitty performs daily, and the infamous Boot Hill Cemetery. You can learn more about the colorful history and Hollywood legacy of Dodge City by walking the Dodge City Trail of Fame or taking a historic trolley tour. Dodge City is also one of the few places where you can still see the Santa Fe Trail – 150-year-old wagon ruts from the trail are still visible. And if you want to get a feel for real cowboy life, visit Moore Ranch, a working longhorn ranch that offers visitors authentic cowboy experiences.

Want to ride a stagecoach?: Visit the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop in Olathe, Kan. The last Santa Fe Trail stagecoach stop open to the public offers stagecoach rides Wednesday – Sunday, Memorial Day – Labor Day.


 Climb A Glacier In Montana

You won’t find glaciers in Disney Land – or even EPCOT Center. In fact, there are not many places to see them in person at all in the continental U.S. But for a true adventure of a lifetime, pack for cool weather and rugged activity and head to Montana’s Glacier National Park. Located on the continental divide, on the northern border of Montana, the UNESCO World Heritage site is a stunning display of the many geological changes that have occurred in North America over the past billion years. Numerous ecosystems, wildly diverse flora and fauna and among the most beautiful scenery in the nation all contribute to making the park a unique destination.

For those, though, looking to get up close and personal with nature, the hiking environment is unparalleled. Glacier National Park is a rock and ice-climbing paradise complete with climbs ranging from beginners’ to expert. You’ll want to familiarize yourself in advance with those climbs that match your proficiency and comfort, as well as with the park’s own classification of climbs. For a non-stressful, easy climb with a great view at the top, Mount Oberlin is definitely a good choice. Another easy climb for beginners, Reynolds Mountain is a great choice. Considerably more challenging is Blackfoot Mountain, which requires ice ax and crampons and ropes. The biggest challenge is the adventure of getting past a 60-foot ice wall, but the payoff is worth it. Surrounded by breathtaking scenery, you’ll be amazed that the views are even better at the top.

Several guides are available in the vicinity of the park, able to lead day or overnight excursions – and it’s a good idea to make plans in advance. The result of proper planning is a true adventure of a lifetime.

Accommodations: While many visitors prefer to camp in beautiful Glacier National Park, others like to keep the adventure daytime only. Many Glacier Hotel is the park’s historic flagship and largest hotel, a Swiss chalet style campus alongside Swiftcurrent Lake.


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