Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is lined with beaches along Lake Superior to the north and Lake Michigan to the south. The Keweenaw Peninsula in the greater U.P. is also lined with Lake Superior beaches to the east and west. Views from each side vary, but are beautiful across the board. I spent the afternoon at a small beach on Lake Superior called Betsy Beach. Aside from a kayaking pair, we had the sandstone beach to ourselves and I did what anyone with a camera in the summer on a beautiful beach would do: took photos of pretty flowers. Enjoy.
If you’re the outdoorsy type, it’s hard not to enjoy car camping, as long as you find a destination and campground that are compatible with your interests and needs. Not that I’m speaking from experience, but … let’s just say the romantic, roughing-it weekend my ex and I had planned in southwestern Colorado a few years ago turned into pitching a tent in a trailer park populated by elderly snowbirds.
If you’re carless, or want something more adventurous/rigorous/off-beat, or safe for your bad back, I’ve got a few alternatives for your consideration. The good news is, the price points for these adventures ensure there’s at least one that will fit your budget. Depending upon where your travel plans are taking you, some regions even specialize in these types of camping trips. So get online, do some research and don’t forget the sunscreen. Happy Trails.
There are hut systems located all over North America (as well as in other alpine terrain worldwide); perhaps the most famous are Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Huts. Whether you’re a novice hiker or a backpacking machine, there’s a hut hike suited for you. Tip: book well in advance. You can sometimes find last-minute beds, but this type of trip really requires advance planning.
If mountains are your thing, get on a horse or mule and take a pack trip. The Sierras, Rocky Mountains, and Cascades in particular are known for their alpine scenery and well-regarded pack trains. Tip: there’s no reason you can’t do a pack trip if you’re a novice rider, but you need to choose the right outfitter and destination; many trips are for experienced riders (you can even bring your own horse sometimes).
I love sea kayaking, but I’m too novice to attempt a big paddle on my own. When I was living in Seattle a couple of years ago, I found an outfitter who, for a reasonable price, took me on a private paddle out to one of the many deserted islets off of Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island. We camped, watched bald eagles, gorged on a Marionberry pie picked up en route, and what do you know? He taught me how to read a tide chart well enough to give me the confidence to try this type of mini-excursion by myself.
Some coastal, riverfront, or lakeside destinations offer water taxis to get you to and from your campsite. Although Kauai no longer offers this service for return hikers coming off the famous Kalalau Trail, there are plenty of other exotic options. I once took a water taxi from Picton on the South Island of New Zealand, in order to embark on a two-day hike of the gorgeous Queen Charlotte Track. Bonus: a pod of dolphins kept pace with us the entire ride out.
Sometimes, it’s just not practical or possible to do a backpacking or camping trip with a car. In a couple of weeks, for example, I’m going to do Colorado’s West Maroon Pass, which is a roughly 11-mile hike over the Elk Mountains, from Crested Butte to Aspen. Since I’m going it alone, I’m arranging for Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle to bring me back. This Gunnison Valley-based airport shuttle addition also offers summertime returns for hikers coming off the Pass. At $60 a seat (as long as they have more than one passenger), it’s worth the price to not have to sort out the logistics of a car swap or transport. Best of all, you can take a nap after all that walking.
Who wants to move to Bend, Oregon, with me? Oh, I know what you’re thinking. I already have a perfectly good place to live. Why would I need to move to a small city in Central Oregon? If you’re asking yourself this question, you’ve probably never been to Bend, because it’s one of those places that gets under your skin. Drop by for four or five days, as I did earlier this month, and you can’t help but envy those who call this place home.
Bend makes it onto a lot of Best Places to Live lists, particularly the ones you see in Outside, Men’s Health and other publications that value recreational opportunities and craft beer, rather than career climbing. I was fully prepared to be disappointed by the place, but instead I was seduced. The weather was perfect with sunshine, temperatures in the 70s and clear blue skies and vistas of snowcapped mountains in every direction. And everyone we met, even those we encouraged to tell us something bad about Bend, told us the same thing: we love it here.
My first I-Want-to-Move-to-Bend moment came on a hike to Dillon Falls, just minutes outside of town. We were hiking on a path alongside the cool, rushing waters of the Deschutes River. The sun was out and it was perfectly quiet, save for the melodic rush of the powerful rapids. I watched the river flow and couldn’t help but view it as a metaphor for how quickly life goes by. It’s too short not to be in a place you love, right?
Before you quit your job and move to Bend based upon my half-baked advice, I should admit that it isn’t perfect. The unemployment rate is 11.3 percent and that number doesn’t even accurately reflect how bad the economic situation really is, because there are also lots of people who have only part-time work or full-time McJobs with wages so low that they are forced to drink mass produced beer. (Contrary to popular belief, you cannot use Food Stamps to buy craft beer in Bend, at least not yet.)
Bend experienced one of the country’s steepest boom and bust real estate swings, before and after the Great Recession, and though the price of homes has gone down, it’s still far from cheap. And although the climate is sunny and dry, it can get quite cold in winter. So there you go. Bend isn’t perfect. No place is. But even if you don’t want to move there, you at least have to visit. Here’s why.
And even if you’re not a skier, take the ride out to Mt. Bachelor and continue on the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway (parts of this byway are open only in the summer) for some glorious alpine scenery.
When it comes to good beer, there’s an embarrassment of riches in Bend. I have no clue how 10 brewpubs and three breweries (with more set to open soon) stay in business in a city of 80,000, but as a visitor, you can only benefit from the stiff competition. I visited seven brewpubs in four days and felt like I had just scratched the surface of what must be the best craft beer scene in America.
My favorites were McMenamins Old St. Francis Brewery, for its killer English Brown Ale and its atmospheric pubs, Crux Fermentation Project, for its tasty Marzen beer and its patio, and 10 Barrel Brewing Company, because I love their fire pit and indoor/outdoor bar. But all of Bend’s breweries are worth a visit, and if you manage to hit them all and collect stamps to prove it, you’ll get a nice little souvenir mug from the visitor’s information office.
For a city of its size, Bend has a remarkable array of good restaurants. I didn’t have a single bad meal anywhere. I had a carnivore’s pizza at Deschutes Brewery that was out of this world; some very memorable oatmeal cookies at Lone Pine Coffee Roasters, a stylish little café in an alley location in downtown Bend (thank you, Anna Brones); and some surprisingly outstanding New England Clam Chowder at Parrilla Grill. My colleague Pam Mandel sent me to the Sparrow Bakery for breakfast and I quickly became addicted to their vanilla and cardamom spiced ocean rolls (see photo below).
But the Bend restaurant that I’m still dreaming about, a week after returning from Bend, is Big Island Kona Mix Plate, a casual Hawaiian-style place in the Old Mill District. I had the mixed plate with bulgogi and spicy chicken and couldn’t remember the last time I tasted anything so divine (and affordable at $10 a plate with two sides.)
When Cate Cushman, a real estate broker we met, moved to Bend in 1976, the town had a population of less than 15,000. Cushman, a Georgia native, had been traveling across the country in a Winnebago with her first husband when they fell in love with Bend and decided to stay. Nearly 40 years later, she’s certain that she made the right move.
Bend’s population more than doubled in the ’90s, and continued to rise in the last decade, from 52,029 in 2000 to 76,639. Much of the population gain can be attributed to Baby Boomers from California moving to Bend to retire, but you don’t have to look very hard in Bend to find young people who have moved there as a lifestyle choice. Some call Bend a place to experience “poverty with a view,” but I think that, for many who move there, the point is to step out of the rat race, slow down and enjoy the finer things in life.
Take Sibel Edmonds, for example. I met Sibel at the Bend Brewing Company one afternoon this month and she told me that she looked all over the whole world for the perfect place to live and raise her daughter, Elle, and settled on Bend, thanks to its natural beauty, cultural offerings, good schools and sunny, dry weather, among other things. I don’t know if Sibel is right or not, but I like the idea of being in a place with so many idealistic people who are looking for their own little utopia. Bend may or may not be a good fit for us, but I got enough of a taste of Bend’s good life to know that I want more.
When you think of wintery weather, Oregon might not be the first state that comes to mind. It certainly wasn’t for me until I visited snowed-under Crater Lake National Park and other snowy, high altitude spots in the Beaver State last week. It was 76 degrees and sunny on the day we left Klamath Falls, Oregon, for the park, which is only 70 miles to the north, and even though I’d been told that Rim Drive, the scenic route around the park, was closed due to snow, I didn’t quite believe it.
To me, it was like being in South Beach on a toasty, warm day and hearing that there was snow in West Palm Beach. But Crater Lake is about 2,000 feet higher than Klamath Falls and sure enough, the place was still buried in snow.
“All the hiking trails are covered in deep snow,” said the park ranger who took our $10 entry fee. “But we rent snow shoes if you’re interested.”
We drove on towards the visitor’s center and were astonished to see huge snowdrifts on both sides of the neatly paved road. Over at the lake’s Discovery Point lookout, it was 41 degrees according to our rental car’s temperature gauge, but when I stepped out of the car, I was almost knocked down by a ferocious wind that made it feel as though it was in the teens. I had brought a hat and gloves but there were a few other hapless tourists there in shorts and T-shirts grimacing in pain.
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States at more than 1,900 feet (seventh deepest in the world) and the water is remarkably clean. I have never seen a deeper shade of blue in my life and the contrast of the snow against the steep cliffs along the lake makes for an unforgettable view. According to the Moon Guide to Oregon, Kodak used to send apologies along with photos they processed of the lake because their technicians couldn’t believe that the water at Crater Lake was that blue. It is.
Rim Drive was indeed closed after Discovery Point to traffic but that made it pleasant to walk on and although we couldn’t really take advantage of the park’s 90 miles of hiking trails with two kids and no snow shoes, it was delightful to have a national park practically all to ourselves, even if it was bitterly cold and windy.
After leaving Crater Lake, we spent four days in Bend, one of America’s most beautifully situated cities with snowcapped mountains in almost every direction, and had more wintery surprises in store for us. McKenzie Pass, reputed to be one of the most scenic drives in the Cascade Range, was closed due to snow, as was most of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, despite the fact that it was nearly 80 degrees in nearby Bend.
But only 20 minutes outside Bend, the Mt. Bachelor ski resort was not only open but also busy with skiers. The place remains open through Memorial Day and at this time of year visitors to Bend can ski in the morning and play tennis or golf in the afternoon. For a guy who lives in the flat, boring Midwest, the quick and dramatic changes in altitude and weather are reason enough to get on a plane and head to Oregon.
One of the fastest growing segments of the consumer electronics market over the past couple of years has been in the action camera category. These small, super-durable video cameras are used to capture footage of everything from family vacations to the latest crazy extreme sport. The leader in this burgeoning market is clearly GoPro, a company whose name has become synonymous with the term “action camera.” But there are alternatives for the aspiring filmmaker who is looking for a high quality, fully featured cam that won’t break the bank.
One such alternative is the ContourROAM 2 from Contour. This unique and rugged camera has all the tech specs you would expect out of any action cam all wrapped up in a lightweight metal body that is designed to absorb all the punishment you can throw at it. The ROAM 2 features a 5 mega-pixel sensor for capturing solid, if not outstanding, still photos and it even includes a time-lapse mode to snap shots at a variety of predetermined intervals. But you don’t buy this type of camera to take still photos, as shooting video is where it truly excels. Contour has given the ROAM 2 the ability to capture video in full 1080p at 30 fps or 720p at 60 fps. A third, intermediate mode, shoots video in a resolution of 1280 x 960 at 30 fps as well, giving users a happy middle ground in terms of image quality and file size.
The ContourROAM 2 is far more than just a collection of video resolutions, however. The camera also features a custom glass lens that shoots in a wide 170° angle and can rotate up to 270° to catch just the right shot, even while mounted on a helmet, bike or other stationary point. The camera uses MicroSD cards to record the captured footage and Contour includes a 4 GB card in the box. That’s enough storage to get you up and running, but you’ll definitely want to invest in higher capacity cards when you get serious about using this device. The ROAM 2 supports memory cards up to 32 GB in size, which is enough to hold about five hours of footage when shot at the camera’s highest resolution.
The ROAM 2 is so simple to use that it is pretty much the epitome of “point and shoot.” A single switch on the top of the camera powers the device on and toggles it into video recording mode. The device is quick to start up and it rarely misses any of the shots you’re trying to capture, which is especially helpful when you’re taking part in fast paced activities or when faced with the opportunity to record an event that is fleeting. I was continually impressed with how quickly this camera was to power up and begin capturing what ever it was I was pointing it at.
Unlike most traditional consumer video cameras, action cams don’t always come with an LCD screen to help you see what it is you’re actually shooting. Because these cameras are often mounted on a mountain bike or snowboard helmet, such a screen is not all that useful to begin with. Contour has come up with a clever solution to help us shoot just the right scenes, however, as the ROAM 2 has a built-in laser that comes in handy for making sure our shots are level and that we’re actually aiming the camera in the right direction. It doesn’t completely replace a viewfinder but it is an effective approach none the less – particularly when the camera is actually mounted on something and not actually in our hands. Contour’s upscale model, the Contour+ 2 also ships without a built-in screen but it gives users the option to connect to a smartphone via an app, which then can serve as a remote display screen. This alleviates the issue of not having a screen in a very innovative way.
While simplicity is one of the ROAM 2’s greatest strengths it also presents some challenges too. For instance, since it doesn’t have a built in screen of any type, users don’t have quick and easy access to configuration menus either. Instead, the camera must be attached to a computer to update various mode settings. That can be problematic when heading out into the field, as you’ll either have to lug a laptop along with you or keep the camera configuration the same the entire time you’re using it. Considering the fact that there are so few settings to choose from, this may not seem like a big deal, but if you decide to switch down from a resolution of 1080p to 720p to save memory card storage space, you’ll first need to connect the camera to a computer. Again, the more expensive Contour+ 2 gets around this issue by allowing the user to adjust settings via the mobile app.
The ROAM 2 ships with two different mounts that can allow the user to attach the camera to a variety of surfaces. The profile mount is perfect for attaching the camera to the side of a helmet for capturing footage while rock climbing, snowboarding, mountain biking or just about any other activity. Alternatively, the rotating flat surface mount serves as a do-it-all option for just about any other type of surface. Both of these mounts feel a bit flimsy but manage to get the job done surprisingly well. Contour also offers a wide variety of other options for just about every users needs, including specialized mounts for your handlebars, the dash of your car, a headband and many more. Each of those mounts allows you to capture high-quality footage from a relatively stable platform, often from unique perspectives.
I was impressed with how solid and durable the Roam 2 feels in your hands. Contour has built this cam to stand up to a lot of punishment, which is necessary for any action cam to actually try to compete in this increasingly crowded market space. This camera is even waterproof up to a depth of 1 meter, which may not sound like a lot, but it does provide good piece of mind in wet environments and allows the user to capture some underwater shots without the need for an extra case. That is provided they don’t go particularly deep on their aquatic adventures. If you’re a scuba diver however, you’ll certainly want to invest in a decent case if you want to use your ROAM 2 in deeper water.
Of course, all of these features and functionality doesn’t amount to much if the camera doesn’t shoot good video footage. Fortunately, the ROAM 2 delivers in that department as well, capturing crisp, clean images that look great at every level of resolution. For a sample of what this camera is capable of, check out the video below.
Audio is a bit more of a mixed bag. The internal mic does an adequate job of capturing voices and other ambient noises, but add a little wind to the mix and things start to get a lot more muddled. Once again, the more expensive Contour+ 2 can alleviate the issue to a degree as it includes the ability to attach an external mic. That improves sound quality greatly and it would have been a nice addition on the ROAM 2 as well.
For amateur filmmakers, the ContourROAM 2 video camera is an excellent entry-level product. It delivers great visuals and performs well in all kinds of difficult conditions. On top of that, it is built to withstand just about any kind of punishment that you can dole out. Its rechargeable battery is good for about 3.5 hours of shooting time, which is excellent for this type of camera, and all of the extras that are included in the box (memory card, two mounts, etc.) make it a bargain at $199.99. It is even available in four different colors for those who want to add a little character to their device. In contrast, the Contour+ 2 that I mentioned several times in this article costs twice as much, but does offer a lot more functionality and comes with built-in GPS capabilities, a waterproof case and even the ability to live-stream directly to the Internet. That camera is aimed at the more advanced user, but packs great value as well.
Either way, I think you’ll be impressed with what Contour has brought to the table here. They may not have the same name recognition of someone like GoPro, but their cameras are fantastic alternatives and do some things that even the competition can’t. If you’re looking for a quality action camera to capture your own adventures, it is extremely tough to beat the ROAM 2 – especially at the same price point.