REI Adventures offers winter weekend getaways

Rei Adventures offers up some great winter escapesLooking to add a little activity and adventure back into your weekends now that the football season is officially over? Then REI Adventures may have exactly what you need. The company, which is the travel arm of the REI gear stores, has introduced several new winter weekend getaways that will get you out playing in the snow this February and March.

These excursions are short – most are just three or four days in length – but pack plenty of activity into the itinerary. Local guides lead groups of active outdoor enthusiasts into some of the more remote, and beautiful winter playgrounds in the U.S., giving them the opportunity to visit those locations at a time when crowds are non-existent.

Amongst the new trips for 2012 is a three day snowshoeing excursion into the Adirondack Mountains, where travelers will stay in a rustic log-cabin while spending a long weekend hiking some of the more scenic trails in the region. Similarly, REI offers a four day snowshoeing trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during which visitors will trek past frozen waterfalls and visit caves along the shores of Lake Superior. And for those looking for something even more adventurous and active, there is a three day escape to the Catskills to do some ice climbing.

These short, but active trips are proof positive that we don’t have to stay inside all winter waiting for the warm weather to arrive. REI Adventures will give you a reason to dig out your warm clothes and boots and head outside for some much-needed winter fun.

World’s largest kaleidoscope near Woodstock, New York

While on a road trip, you’ve probably passed many an attraction that you’ve wondered about. Perhaps, you’ve thought, “Should I stop?” but didn’t because there’s that feeling of getting sucked into a tourist trap that’s not worth the effort of pulling over and parking.

The Kaatskill Kaleidoscope is one that is worth the effort, if you happen to be on your way to Woodstock, New York, or to the Museum of Bethel Woods at the place where Woodstock, the music festival happened–or just tootling around just outside of Kingston, New York. It is literally right off Rt. 28. The kaleidoscope is part of Emerson Place (formerly called Catskill Corners), a collection of higher end shops where you can pick up Catskill Mountain-made type products and a lot more besides. You can’t miss it.

A few years after my kaleidoscope experience, the connected Emerson Resort & Spa opened. The inn that used to be here was destroyed in a fire. From the resort’s description, it sounds like upscale has come to the area. If you’re looking to bask in luxury in the Catskills, this is it. Consider spa treatments, well-appointed rooms, 4-star rating, etc. etc. But back to the world’s largest kaleidoscope.

The kaleidoscope came about when the original owner wanted to do something spiffy and imaginative with a barn silo. Some sort of shop geared for tourists was in order for the attached barn, but the silo was calling out for something different. The size and shape, 38-feet-tall and 50-feet in diameter said, “kaleidoscope.” The result of the idea is a visual/sound experience for folks of all ages. When you step into the inside of the silo, you are stepping into the kaleidoscope. The top of the silo is where the magic happens. Through the use of projected moving images and mirrors, the world’s largest kaleidoscope replicates the kind that you hold against your eye and manipulate by turning your hand. The world’s largest is more fun, though, since you can lie on the floor and look up. If you don’t want to lie on the floor, you can lean against the wall and look up as well.

I remember lying head to head with my mom, my daugher, who was eight at the time and my mother’s best friend, splayed out in a circle like we were getting ready to do a June Taylor dance routine. I don’t remember exactly which show we saw, but I do remember that the images changed rapidly, just as if I was turning them myself. Very cool.

The show changes seasonally and each reflects the theme of the Catskills. While prices in most places tend to rise as years pass, the price of seeing the kaleidoscope show has gone down since I was there. It’s now $5 for adults. I paid at least $8. Children 12 and under are still free. You can’t get cheaper than free.

The reduced price does give you more dollars to spend in the gift shop which has probably the largest collection of kaleidoscopes in the world. They range in price from inexpensive to extremely pricey. Since my mom was along, my daughter got a better one than she would have been able to wheedle out of me.

Back when we were there we ate at the restaurant that was part of the complex, but according to Roadside America, the restaurant is no longer there, unless this has changed since 2004.

Fall Leaf Peeping by Rail

The leaves haven’t started to change in Columbus, Ohio– yet, but they will–soon. This morning the air was crisp and cool. Yep, leaf changing conditions are here, and I expect edges of red will appear in a couple of weeks until eventually there will be bursts of color everywhere. If you are interested in optimum leaf peeping, plan a bit a head. Instead of taking a driving trip for fall splendor viewing, consider taking a train. There are several that pass through gorgeous scenery in various parts of the U.S.

Each of these trains I’ve listed specifically mention fall foliage. I’ve picked these because I’ve been to the areas where they are located– not necessarily in the fall, but they are places I’ve enjoyed and recommend. Here is a link to an article that lists oodles more–some I’ve also been to, and others I have not. Who would have thought there is such a bounty of scenic railroads? (The photo is from the Catskill Railroad Web site.)

The Maine Eastern Railroad goes from Brunswick and Rockland along the coast. This means foliage paired with seaside villages and the trimmings that go with fishing boats, and barnacle covered rocks that edge tide pools.

The Fall Foliage Trains in New Hampshire have five options that range from one hour to several. There are several train routes. One involves dinner.

Essex Steam Train and Riverboat in Connecticut meanders along the Connecticut River and through quaint towns. After the train you can join up with a trip on a riverboat.

The Berkshire Scenic Railroad in Massachusetts has a specific Fall Foliage Tour, and also has a museum.

In New York, the Catskill Mountain Railroad runs a Leaf Peeper Special. This is a simply gorgeous part of the state.

In Maryland, the Walkersville Southern Railroad has fall foliage tours every weekend in October. This train has vintage cars that date to the 1920s. You can also opt to ride on a flatbed car.

Bluegrass Scenic Railroad & Museum in Versailles, Kentucky has fall foliage tours in October. I have quite the fondness for this part of Kentucky.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s foliage tours in North Carolina are in October. This caught my attention. There’s an Oktoberfest Beer train on October 6.

Here’s one I have been on. The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad in Boone, Iowa is run by the Iowa Railroad Historic Society. The first weekend in October is the Pumpkin Patch Train where going to a pumpkin patch is part of the ride.

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad not far from Cleveland, Ohio is one I’ve always wanted to take. I’ve written about it several times, but by the time it’s the fall foliage season, I forget to make reservations and put it on my list of things to do next year.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad that runs between Durango and Silverton, Colorado is a gem. I’ve been on it and the scenery during any season is grand.