Blog Posts Tagged ‘Great Outdoors’
PARIS, Ark. — Two-lane roads snake up, down and around hills and mountains of Arkansas. They lead to more than 50 state parks and countless recreation areas and boat-launch ramps.
Along these roads, you traverse cattle pastures, forests and villages so small you wonder how they got incorporated. For example, there’s St. Joe, population 85.
The rolling hills are dotted by occasional trailer homes with an array of kids’ toys out front, by tidy farmhouses. Those with tumble-down wooden barns hint of both history and ultimately misfortune.
The gently leaning barn along a rural road in Arkansas implies there's a history to be heard
Every so often there will be a long driveway from the blacktop up to a magnificent, multistory estate. Some of these are owned by ranchers who have cashed in, while others are retirement manses for wealthy northerners. “Money from Chicago,” you hear the locals comment.
It’s only a two-hour drive through this scenery west from Little Rock to the state park system’s handsome lodge atop Mount Magazine, Arkansas’ highest point at 2,753 feet.
Opened in 2006, the 60-room, 13-cabin lodge is all rustic timbers and earth tones, with a patio behind the lodge lined with rockers to take in the view of the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake below.
While the lodge has a restaurant offering continental takes on local food and an indoor pool, this is a destination for people who enjoy the outdoors.
The Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park has a variety of room sizes and pricing seasons.
The park has roughly 14 miles of trails and enough observation points that “You can see about a quarter of Arkansas and even a big hill over in Oklahoma, about 50 miles west,” notes Don Simons.
The slightly built Simons has been at Mount Magazine for about 11 of his nearly 30 years as a state parks interpreter. In that job, he leads visitors on trail hikes, but a walk with him actually is a combination botany-entomology-wildlife-history lesson.
“Most of the mountain’s slopes are covered by virgin timber,” he says, leading me up an easy slope, “because the sides were too steep to easily cut the trees. The tops were logged, and settlers were here after the Civil War, farming.
“Most stayed until the Depression, and finally the government bought out the rest” to create the park,explains Simons, who is a nationally Certified Heritage Interpreter.
Simons interrupts our walk every few yards to identify some living thing. A former president of the state Audubon Society, he cocks his head to listen, then names the birds he hears: “Squeaky wheel . . . Pee-wee . . . red-eyed vireo. (Later, at the visitors center’s indoor observation room, he points through the large windows at the American goldfinch, indigo bunting and various hummingbirds at the feeders.)
Along the path, Simons uses his decal-decorated walking stick to point out plants such as the fly poison, ginseng, wild yam, paw paw and sassafras. “Down in Louisiana, where I came from, they grind the sassafras leaves for file gumbo.”
Butterflies became the specialty he shares with his wife, Lori Spencer. She has a master’s degree in entomology and has published she a book on butterflies. She and Simons have identified more than 85 species of butterflies within Mount Magazine State Park.
But Simons says that most of what he knows of nature is from “years of self-teaching, getting on the trails, then learning what it is that I see.”
He admits he was never driven by education when he was young. “I had no ambition out of high school. I got a full-time job at McDonalds – I was one of those geeks,” he says, a smile breaking through his brown beard.
“I drove up to Arkansas (from his Louisiana home) and in a park I saw a ranger handling snakes, and I thought that was cool. So I went to college and got a degree in wildlife management. I learned to handle bison and bighorn sheep, because my teacher was from Utah and that’s what he knew.”
The smile grows larger.
The view from the tallest peak in Arkansas, Mount Magazine, overlooks Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake.
Having reached the summit of Mount Magazine, Simons stops to talk about the bill he and his wife had introduced in the legislature to have the Diana fritillary named the Arkansas state butterfly.
Almost on cue, a great spangled fritillary lands on me – “He wants to lap up the sodium in your sweat,” explains Simons – before it moves to the ranger’s hand.
Simons and his wife live a couple hundred yards from the multimillion-dollar lodge, which he sees as a mixed blessing, because it is expected to draw a half-million visitors annually to this park.
“It’ll bring the kind of people . . . who want to enjoy the beauty of nature,” he says. By their coming, “I know the peace and quiet I enjoy will be lessened.
“But I know where all the neat, secret places are, and I can go there.”
If you go
The Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park offers four room types, plus 13 cabins that have fireplaces and kitchens. There are four pricing seasons.
For more, go to www.mountmagazinestatepark.com or call (877) 665-6343.
For more on all of Arkansas’ state parks, go to www.arkan sasstateparks.com.
Juneau, Alaska — Larry Stauffer’s job assignment the past couple of years has been pretty straightforward:
Figure out how to make the standard shore excursions in the busy Alaskan market so special that passengers aboard the Disney Cruise Line’s first-ever trips there this summer will buy its pricier versions.
For Stauffer, that meant getting the lumberjacks, dog mushers, gold-panners, helicopter pilots, totem-pole carver, glacier guides, train conductors and fishing boat operators to come up with something distinctively better.
Disney passengers can dress in protective gear and get a helicopter ride to a glacier near Juneau, then set off with ice axes to explore.
To achieve that, the manager of Disney Cruise’s Port Adventures (the Mouse’s term for excursions) twice flew from Orlando to Alaska, sampling about 20 excursions, then meeting with the operators.
“I absolutely challenged them to come back to us with ideas that were different for Disney. I told them we would be coming with 1,000 kids, told them what we already do on our existing itineraries,’’ Stauffer told me as he led a media tour to the ports last fall.
The Disney Wonder begins the first of 18, one-week voyages May 3 from Vancouver. It will call on Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. Here’s a sampling of the Wonder’s up-market excursions it terms the Signature Collection:
Ketchikan – A popular tour visits Totem Bight State Historical Park, for a walkabout and explanation of the symbolism represented by its 14 totem poles. The Signature Collection touch takes place at the adjacent Potlatch Totem Park:
Youngsters help create a new totem pole, portraying a sea monster. Each child will be given paints and a piece of wood bearing a stenciled design – either feathers or gills for the monster. Each newly painted piece will be attached to the 20-foot-tall pole, to be finished by the end of the summer season.
For something flashier, the long-running Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is down-sizing logs and equipment, for shows performed just for Wonder passengers.
Youngsters get to try their hand at a special version of the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, in Ketchikan.
The lumberjacks will select about 10 children — as young as 5 – to take part in pint-sized versions of several stunts.
Skagway — The famed White Pass & Yukon Route railroad, an engineering marvel when built between 1898 and 1900, carried about 365,000 tourists in 2010 on its 27-mile, narrated, trip.
For those Wonder passengers selecting to upgrade, White Pass will form special Disney trains, carrying up to 120. They will get the standard trip as the train chugs up the mountain pass for about 100 minutes.
But Signature Collection passengers will stay onboard for the return trip, rather than getting into buses. On the downhill ride, kids will be placed in their own railcar. They will get special activity books, including an I-spy bingo style game to keep them checking the slowly passing scenery.
The White Pass & Yukon Route railroad climbs through the same passes as it did when built for the Yukon gold rush.
There also will be a costumed character – either a railroad figure or a prospector — spinning tales of the gold rush era.
The passengers are then taken to train the attraction named Liarsville. Here, Wonder passengers will watch an exclusive performance of a puppet show and listen to costumed staff explain that the gold prospectors had to carry about a ton of goods to help them survive the harsh winter.
The kids will be sent on a scavenger hunt for those supplies, in the tent village that is Liarsville. Next, the youngsters will try panning for gold flakes, with help from the Liarsville staff – and Donald Duck, resplendent in a traditional and matching ear-flaps hat.
Juneau — Perhaps the most-spectacular of the Signature Collection trips occurs out of Juneau, atop the Upper Norris Glacier.
In a typical summer, helicopter operator Tim Cudney (cq) and 16-time Iditarod musher Linwood Fiedler (cq) will haul about 10,000 passengers up to the glacier and put them on two-mile loops around the glacier in dog sleds. According to Cudney, “It is a life-changing experience … We have people (saying) this is on their bucket list.’’
And that’s without the tourists’ getting to put booties on the dogs to protect their paws – just one of the add-ons fashioned for the Signature passengers. They will also select the lead dog, then help harness the dogs to the sled.
Finally, these passengers can take the place of the professional musher – though youngsters will be just holding the sled’s handles while the pro stands behind them on the runners. The trips will be doubled to about four miles.
Also, Fiedler said, “We’ll show them how 150 dogs and 20 people can live on the glacier in a tent city, without flush toilets and light switches.’’
For more information
For rates, sailing dates and more information about the Disney Wonder, consult a travel agent or go to http://disneycruise.disney.go.com.