Monday, September 28, 2009

Utah for Levelers 2: Seeing Zion and Bryce


 Now that Ken Burns has us ready to savor the wonders of a national park, I'll continue with more on Utah's.

 Just because they are very high or very deep is no reason to miss Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon, arguably Utah's greatest attractions. Wherever you travel never give up on seeing a site you care about - there's almost always a Leveler way.


Zion, accurately called mukuntuweap - straight up land - by its Paiute inhabitants, is laced with steep, narrow trails for visitors who want to get up close and personal with its many impressive formations.

You don't have to spend 12-15 hours hiking "the Narrows" or risk life and limb reaching Angels' Landing.

If you stay at the lodge inside the park you can bring in a car. Better, take the shuttle. During the park's peak season, they run between eight stops from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.

To get a feel for what the Narrows trek would be, take the walk along the Virgin River, the little waterway that did all of this. You'll have good views of the Temple of Sinawava and any climbers who might be making the two and a half-day ascent to the top.

Those are climbers midway up on that whitish ledge at the far right!

Tip: Bathrooms and shuttles are at the start of the Riverside Walk.

                                     Better the paved path along the river.

Riverside Walk is paved and handicap accessible. Elevation changes are gentle and there are a number of benches along the way where you can catch your breath while admiring the spectacular scenery. If you were doing the Narrows, you'd be slogging over those river rocks. You are at 4,000 feet here so take your time.

Tip: To see the rest of Zion, take the shuttle and get off at every stop. Walk as far as is interesting and/or comfortable then turn around and go back to the shuttle stop. While you're waiting (8-10 minutes at the most) for the next one to come, talk to other visitors and find out what they think is worth the effort.

Bryce Canyon is just the opposite: you are looking down. What you see are hoodoos - rock standing like man - to the native inhabitants whose legend was that they were people being punished.

There's a lodge and shuttle here, too, plus ample overlooks for you to see the fancifully named formations. The "easiest" trail into those formations is Navajo, a 1.3-mile long trek I dubbed "the huff and puff" trail, that takes about an hour to hike.

Note: My knee replacement made it through just fine but my flatlander Florida lungs got quite a workout.

Start of Navajo Trail

Although it is quite a feeling to enter those "fairylands" through "Wall Street," a high, narrow slot canyon, there's another Bryce thrill that doesn't require major elevation changes.

What it does require is getting out of bed early. Very early, like before dawn.

Tip: Get dressed, grab a blanket from your room, drive to Sunrise Point and and watch the sunrise over the hoodoos. You can park quite near the railing.

The colors the formations change is beyond belief and very fleeting. That and the silence of dawn followed by the scritching sounds of small critters dashing about to feed before the sun wakes and warms up larger predators is something that will stay with you long after you've forgotten where you put the photos of it.

For more info, go to or and for a full feature on Utah,

Leia Mais…
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Utah for Levelers, Part 1

With Ken Burns' much anticipated series on our national parks premiering next week, I want to talk about Utah's many scenic wonders, including its national parks and monuments.

Tackling Mother Nature can require walking, strenuous and uphill, but parks, national and state, make it as convenient as possible. 

You can travel to Zion and look up at its scenic geological wonders, but you won't get close without a bit of a hike. You can go to Bryce Canyon and look down at its hoodoos, but its easiest trail, Navajo, is a real huffer and puffer in spots.

If you want to see Utah up close and touchable the easy way, do I have a park for you Levelers:

Kodachrome Basin State Park.

Tucked away a short jog off Scenic Highway 12 near Bryce, Kodachrome has a half-mile long, paved, handicapped-accessible trail that takes you through many of the state's geological formations and local flora.

The Nature Trail is self-guided; pick up a printed guide pamphlet at the trail head.

Tip: It's conveniently near the bathrooms.

The pamphlet will identify the purple soil created by iron oxide, a red sandstone knoll with pot holes, chimneys and spires and an arch in the making.

With it you can spot Utah juniper and pinyon pine, lead bush/buffalo berry, Indian blue grass, prickly pear cactus, yucca, four-winged salt brush, snake weed, princess plume, needle and thread grass, ephedra (Mormon tea) and learn what it all does to and for the environment.

You probably won't spot the porcupine, pack rats or termites, but the guide points out their work.

All in all, this is an intimate, human-scaled experience in the midst of incomparable
grandeur and bigger-than-imaginable geological wonders. I highly recommend it.

For info on Kodachrome, go to, for a full feature on Utah,

Leia Mais…
Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ships' Eco Ratings

Cruises are a popular travel option for Levelers so I thought you'd like to know who does it greenest.

In a nutshell, Holland America does, Disney doesn't, according to Friends of the Earth, the San Francisco-based environmental group.

Travel Weekly reports that Friends ranked major lines on wastewater treatment, reducing air pollution, water quality compliance (for those with Alaska itineraries) and accessibility of environmental information to the public.

Here are the grades.

Holland America - B
Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines - B-minus
Celebrity Cruises - D-plus
Carnival Cruise Lines - D-minus
Disney - F

The mouse-eared mariners expect to do better in 2010 when new sewage treatment systems will be installed on the Magic and the Wonder. The line's new ships, scheduled to launch in 2011 and 2012, will have the newest technology.

CLIA, the association of cruise lines, notes that all its members, including those with failing FOE grades, meet or exceed current applicable environmental regulations in the U. S. and around the world. In debunking FOE's criteria, the organization points out the wastewater qualities ships were judged against are targets proposed for Alaskan waters that may go into effect in 2015.

Leia Mais…
Monday, September 14, 2009

Flat West Florida Festivals

Panama City Beach

With very few exceptions, Florida is a flat state, perfect for those of us traveling on the level. Throw in a festival or four and there's even more reason to visit. Consider lower rates, cooler weather and fewer bugs and it's nigh on irresistible.

Now add food to the equation. That's what the Gulf coast - our west coast - does this season. Here are a few foodie fests to consider. 

Note: Check to see if times are Eastern or Central.

Sept. 25-27: Pensacola Seafood Festival.
Oct. 2-4: Destin Seafood Festival.
Oct. 2-3: Oktoberfest, Panama City.
Oct. 3: Blue Jeans & BBQ, Hayes Ranch, Milton, $15.
Oct. 9-10: Festa Italiana, Sons of Italy Lodge, Fort Walton Beach.
Oct. 9-10: St. George Island Oyster Spat Festival.
Oct. 9-11:  Panama City Beach Seafood, Wine & Music Festival.
Oct. 16-18: Annual Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival, Niceville.
Oct. 17: Mexico Beach Art & Wine Festival, $10.
Nov. 5-8: Taste of THE Beach, progressive festival through Destin Harbor, Panama City Beach, Seaside and Miramar; prices vary by event.
Nov. 6-7: Florida Seafood Festival, Apalachicola.

Leia Mais…
Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Historic Hotel and Price

 Your backyard.

Spend one night at the Casa Marina Hotel in Jacksonville Beach, FL, and you'll feel at home.

Spend two nights in the 85-year-old oceanfront hostelry and you'll be part of the family.

This 23-room member of the Historic Hotels of America is that kind of place. Guests and neighbors alike think of it as their place.

Tip: I traveled all of 25 miles to get there but it's an easy drive from Jacksonville International Airport  (JAX) if you live farther away. It's an easy place to stay for Levelers too: There's an elevator and the only stairs you will want to climb - the one-story flight to the Penthouse lounge with the best views in town.

Sterling Joyce shows brides and grooms how to cut that perfect first piece of cake for perfect photos.

Like home, each of the parlor-style guest rooms is different. Like home, there is one person you'll turn to for favorite ghost stories (yes, the hotel has them), advice on places to go in the area and life in general. Sterling Joyce, Maire'D and go-to guy, is that person.

In New England they brag that George Washington slept here and here and here. In Florida, it's Al Capone who slept around and yes, he's supposed to have slept here too, along with - though not together or at the same time - Jean Harlow and several presidents.

Tip: From now through November 30, Sundays through Thursdays excluding holidays, you can take advantage of Capone-era pricing to celebrate the Casa's 1925 opening. The first night's stay will cost $139, the second only $19.25. Including Continental breakfasts. Reserve through or call 904-270-0025.

Actually, weekdays are the best times to come. On Tuesday nights, The Johnston Duo, Debrann and Kurt (he toured with Bono) , entertain - and I do mean entertain - in the Penthouse. On Wednesday nights, The Hackers, a cover band that includes Kurt and many other talented musicians, fills the outdoor patio with local party-ers and dancers.

Leia Mais…
Thursday, September 3, 2009

Steinhatchee Landing: A Great Florida Getaway

Attention travelers: Not all of Florida is theme parks and parking lots - yet. You can see more of the state as it used to be north of Orlando. A blissfully leisurely escape from pavement and cartoons can be found at Steinhatchee and Steinhatchee Landing. 
The name comes from esteenhatchee which means River of Men and it's one of those places that when you're there, you're there. Not a lot else is nearby and, like a lot of older Gulf communities it isn't connected by roads along the coast. You have to drive through miles of pine uplands to the main road to go from one community to another.

You probably won't want to go anywhere else with food, fishing, swimming and updated old-style charm all on the level.  It's the kind of place you can turn the dogs and the kids loose to explore, rock on the porch (or work out in the spiffy gym) then gather all for a cookout.

The Landing is on the Steinhatchee River, three miles upstream from the Gulf of Mexico. Owner Dean Fowler envisioned a place that reminded him of a 1920s Florida Cracker settlement with the amenities of the 21st century and has turned the dream into a reality.

And, he says, "I did everything I could to save every tree possible,"

Cottages range from one-bedroom honeymoon or just-us retreats to rambling houses that accommodate 10-12. In all, 51 of the 66 houses are in the rental pool and are equipped with TVs, kitchens, fireplaces, living and dining areas and porches.

Tip: Many of the two-story units have master suites on the first floor but you'll have to plan ahead because they are the most popular. No surprise to us Levelers, right?

There are boats for the fisherman who don't bring their own and a 16-passenger pontoon boat for groups who just want to putter around. Canoes and kayaks too, plus cleaning facilities for your catch.

The pool is junior Olympic-sized and the fitness center includes a three-person sauna with DVD player (!) and an eight-person swim spa. Kids have lots of play areas plus there's a petting zoo, shuffleboard, archery, ping pong, tennis and a croquet court.

If you travel in groups, there are meeting and banquet facilities. Brides love the Dancing Waters Chapel and their photographers love the many romantic               backgrounds.

Memories and traditions take root here. Many families vacation at Steinhatchee every year. First-timers are likely to make friends they'll want to gather with again next year.

A mile or so away in Steinhatchee itself are several restaurants that specialize in fresh local seafood.

The Landing's Welcome Center serves an expanded  continental breakfast in the morning and by the end of your stay, chances are you'll be wandering over in your bathrobe like many of your other neighbors.

It's that kind of place.

Tip: From Sept. 11 through Jan. 30, 2010 (including the Christmas holidays but not Thanksgiving), travelers who stay four or more nights in a one- to four-bedroom cottage save 50 percent. To book this special, call 800-584-1709 or visit Tell them you want the "Fall 50" when you book.

Leia Mais…
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bite by Bite Blog

OK, Levelers, no more recipes here. The last few posts got me thinking - always dangerous - and I've started a new blog,, where I will put all of the wonderful recipes I've gathered from around the world.

I hope to include tasty souvenirs from fellow travel writers and I'd love to include yours as well.

Take a look at the site, dust off those foreign faves and let's eat our way around the world from the level ground of our own homes.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Leia Mais…
Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Easy but total escape

You don't have to be a millionaire or know one to enjoy a private island. You don't even need a passport.

All you need is a reservation with Private Islands of Georgia for one of their back barrier islands off the coast of Georgia.

A stay on Eagle Island, the first owner Andy Hill opened for guests, puts you in the middle of 10 cleared acres of a 150-acre island where no human had lived since the indigenous coastal population rowed out there for oyster roasts.

You can have one too. Bring your own and do-it-yourself or contract with Andy to handle everything for you. Same with Low Country Boils and pork roasts.

You and your companions will be met by Andy and his staff at the docks in Darien, GA. Your gear - clothes, beverages and food - will be loaded aboard his boat which you, too, will board for the 15-minute ride to Eagle Island.

Tip: It's an easy step off boat to floating dock, but depending on the tides, the stepped ramp up to the large stationary dock can be a bit steep so take advantage of the railings and pull.
It's approximately 182 steps on a level path to the lodge, 18 steps up to the main level of the low country-styled lodge.

Take a look around while everything's brought up to the lodge and pick your sleeping space: the bunk room on ground level with its bathroom, ping pong table, TV, video games and two double-decker bunk beds and a queen-sized bed; the two bedrooms and bath on the main level or the twin beds in the sleeping loft.

The great room is centered with a huge brick fireplace, the kitchen is equipped with tableware for 12. Surrounding you is a huge screened deck with hot tub, fireplace, lounges, tables, a hammock and a sofa-swing that's suspended on chains from the ceiling, even a bookcase.

Sit down near the hot tub, look out and up to see your nearest and only neighbor, a pair of eagles nesting in a tall pine tree. Underneath the deck is a commercially-equipped outdoor kitchen and grill and an anything but commercial outdoor shower for two.

Once you're settled, Andy and his crew leave and Eagle Island is all your and yours alone until they return to take you back to mainland reality.

Private pleasures
Fire pits, fishing tackle and bait, crab traps and a tandem kayak are there for your use. So is a trail that circles the island, passing by the oyster mounds left by those much earlier visitors. There's even a hammock for a nap by the marshes.

Warning: The trail is relatively flat, as is the island, but ground on the trail is very uneven and rooty. Make or take a walking stick for balance.

Andy can arrange for tours of nearby Sapelo Island or guided kayak trips through the tributaries of the Altamaha River and he will orient guests who come with their own boats to local waters. He'll even loan you the keys to the car he keeps on Sapelo.

The rest of the fun is up to you. There is satellite TV, cell phone and Internet service if you must, but my recommendation is to sit back, chill out, swing awhile on the porch sofa, watch the eagles in their nest and listen to the breeze freshening.

Wait a minute. Tell me when you're going and I'll join you!

Leia Mais…