Welcome to dystopia: when vacation meets lockdown
When Mee and Sean Gray pulled into the driveway of their Colorado Springs AirBnB, they were excited to see what their trip would hold. However, they quickly realized something was off. Despite staying in a cul-de-sac of a suburban neighborhood, they never saw their neighbors. In fact, they never saw anyone walking around the area at all. Although the town boasts of a population nearing half a million, very few cars were on the roads. Traffic seemed nonexistent.
In search of clues to the culture of the place in which they found themselves, the Grays ventured out of the house and into the city. Yet leaving home base made the city feel more unnatural. Without open bars, restaurants, and shops, there was little to be surmised. Even the grocery store was strange because only half faces were visible. “It was just very eerie,” Said Mee. “You think that you will be able to feel the energy or the vibe of the place, but when we got to Colorado Springs that is what was so hard because there was nobody out and no one doing anything so you could not really feel the energy or the vibe of the city.“
For a majority of their stay, the only other human interaction was with essential workers. “Other people that are out working,” said Mee, “you know at the grocery stores. They were very nice, but that was a little weird too. Being so isolated. Everyone wearing a facemask.” Her husband Sean agreed, saying, “it definitely felt like all the typical characteristics of being human were taken away to some extent”. But what is culture without humans? Just as New York is not New York without the commuters, drag queens, and Deli workers, neither is Colorado Springs without its Air Force Cadets, Hippies, and Chaco wearers.
Slowly as the city began opening up, more of the inhabitants emerged from their homes, but the couple was surprised by who the mystery inhabitants actually turned out to be. “Coming to a place where you couldn’t really meet people or see people” said Mee “and then not being able to ask anybody any questions because there was no one around really” allowed for them to make up a narrative about the town that was not entirely true. They were surprised by the conservative bend of the city. As the second largest town in a blue state, Mee and Sean assumed the town would be more progressive and diverse.
During a time when many states are still in various forms of lock down, is it still possible to experience the culture of a town, city or countryside? Without experiencing local life, the culture of a place is vastly altered. AirBnB Experiences has been attempting to offset their inability to perform physical tours by replacing them with virtual ones for the time being. Other tour services, like Tours by Locals, are offering limited outings based on the guide’s discretion. Although the culture is difficult to access and many public areas are closed or severely limit the number of individuals allowed, exploring a new place might not be a fruitless pursuit.
Instead of focusing on culture during the summer, Mee believes it might be more productive to venture out to a different environment and enjoy the contrast to your lifestyle. Substituting mountains for beaches, or the countryside for towns. Trips can still be used to discover a new place, reconnect with oneself, or take a break from the busy world.
Alternately, Sean believes in going to a place that fits one’s personal culture. For example Colorado is the perfect escape for an outdoorswoman. Sean believes it is important to research the culture a traveler wants to experience, he said “If you’re going to go to a place, make sure they like the same things you like, they like to do what you enjoy doing. Otherwise you're going to get there and it's going to be even more challenging for you.”
The last time the United States experienced a pandemic was 102 years ago in 1918 with the H1N1 virus. Anyone old enough to remember traveling during that period of time is likely dead. If you choose to travel during this time, remember that the fact that you are experiencing what it is like to travel during a pandemic is incredibly unique. And travel is all about new expereinces. “No matter where you go,” said Mee, “you will get a different perspective, and right now we need different perspectives to address this thing.”
Grace Klaus is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado.
Riddle of hidden treasure chest is finally solved with a Rocky Mountains discovery
The famed millionaire art and antiques collector, Forrest Fenn, kicked off a popular treasure hunt ten years ago by hiding a bronze chest filled with gold, rubies, diamonds and prehistoric jewels in a secret spot in the Rocky Mountains. And after teasing out cryptic clues to its whereabouts over the years Mr Fenn revealed in a surprise statement on Sunday that the search is finally over: the treasure has been discovered. "It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains and had not moved from the spot where I hid it more than ten years ago," Fenn said in a statement to a blog run by treasure hunter Dal Neitzel. "I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot." Mr Fenn never revealed exactly where it was hidden but he did post clues to its whereabouts online and within the stanzas of a poem he published in his 2010 memoir The Thrill of the Chase, which included the lines: Begin it where warm waters haltAnd take it in the canyon down,Not far, but too far to walk.Put in below the home of Brown. The popular quest had drawn droves of people to the New Mexico Rocky Mountains over the past decade, eager to make the discovery. It even inspired an annual gathering known as Fennboree, where treasure hunters and their families camped out, celebrated and swapped maps and clues. Even though the riddle of the lost treasure been solved, one mystery remains: the identity of the person who discovered the bounty. Mr Fenn told the Santa Fe New Mexican that the man did not want to be named but claimed that he had confirmed his success in the quest by sending Mr Fenn photographs of the chest's contents. This article originally ran on our sister site, Lonely Planet.
The 5 worst ways to die in a national park (and how to stay alive)
#1: Dissolving in a Yellowstone hot spring People from all over the world go to marvel at the geysers and hot springs of Yellowstone National Park. Occasionally, people decide to avoid warnings, fences, and pathways in order to get into one of the hot springs - an activity known as “hot potting.” Unfortunately for many who decide to partake in this very illegal activity, both the heat of the springs and the strong acidic nature of them make this a very dangerous idea. 22 people have died throughout the park's history doing this. In 2016, a brother-sister pair were on a trip to Yellowstone National Park when they decided to try to hot pot at the Morris Geyser Basin, considered one of the hottest geysers in the park. After walking past the pathway and several signs, Colin Scott went to dip his toe in the water when he slipped and fell into the pool. By the time his sister Sable found help, Colin’s body had almost entirely dissolved by the acid in the pool. His flip flops were the only piece of him ever seen again. How to stay alive: Never go swimming without ranger permission. #2: Falling off of Angel’s Landing in Zion Angel’s Landing is one of the most formidable hikes in the USA, not for anyone with any fear of heights. The final half mile traverses the spine of a 1500-foot high rock formation. The trail is very narrow in places, only 5 feet wide, with an iron chain to hold onto - it is the only thing separating you from falling down the 1500-foot straight drop into Zion Canyon. ©Ryan Kelehar/Shutterstock Unfortunately, that’s exactly what has happened to at least 10 people since 2004, who have fallen off the side and perished. In 2018, a 13-year-old girl was hiking Angel’s Landing with her family when she decided to turn back and meet them at Scout’s Lookout. When her family returned from the hike, they were unable to find her and reported her missing. Search crews found her body the next day, and determined she had fallen off the cliff to her demise. How to stay alive: if you’re going to climb on a ledge 1500 feet off the ground, make sure you’re as safe as possible. ©Bram Reusen/Shutterstock #3: Murdered by a serial killer in Shenandoah National Park Distance hiking is typically an activity where the dangers come from natural forces - things like storms, bears and cold. Hikers don’t typically have to plan to come into contact with a serial killer, but that’s exactly what is alleged to have happened to Julianne “Julie” Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans in May of 1996. The two women were on an overnight hike in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia when their throats were slit, they were stripped of their clothing, and their bodies dumped near that Appalachian Trail. Investigators initially suspected that the murders were committed by a man named Darrell David Rice, who was indicted for the crimes in 2001. Rice is suspected to be the “Route 29 Stalker” that abducted women in Northern Virginia in the 90s. The charges were eventually dropped after investigators could only establish circumstantial evidence that Rice was in Shenandoah National Park that day. There are a few other potential suspects, none of which can be conclusively tied to the murders. The case remains unsolved. How to stay alive: Constant vigilance while distance hiking. Don't murder people. SSDGM. #4: Eaten by a bear in Katmai National Park Alaska’s National Parks are some of the most remote places in the world, which was part of the appeal to Timothy Treadwell. Timothy was an environmentalist who established a foundation called Grizzly People, dedicated to protecting bears. He spent 13 summers camping in Katmai National Park living with grizzly bears and studying them. ©Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock In 2003, he was camping near a salmon stream that was a popular grizzly feeding spot. He was accompanied by his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, even though she was reportedly afraid of bears. When a remote plane pilot landed to pick up the pair, he couldn’t find them and reported them missing. When park officials arrived to search for them, they found their mangled remains nearby, with a large male grizzly aggressively protecting the campsite. All that was left of Timothy Treadwell was a partially disfigured head, spine, and an arm with his wristwatch still on. Investigators also found a video camera nearby, which included a 6-minute audio recording of screaming and cries as the bear attacked the duo. This is the only known occurrence of a bear attack in Katmai National Park. How to stay alive: bears don’t want to be your best friend. Leave them alone. #5: Getting lost in Death Valley Death Valley is the hottest place in the United States, and often in the entire world, and anyone visiting the National Park needs to be prepared for extremely high temperatures. In 2009, a mother and her 6-year-old son got lost in Death Valley when a GPS unit told them to turn down a remote backcountry road. Alicia Sanchez and her son Carlos were only supposed to spend one night in Death Valley. Instead of using a paper map, Alicia was relying on the GPS unit in her car. The GPS turned them onto a gravel road, where they got stuck with a flat tire. She fixed the flat tire, and then continued on into the desert, where it is unclear if she was lost, disoriented, or trying to turn around. Eventually her car got stuck in a patch of sand, and for 5 days, she and her son were stuck in the hottest desert in the western hemisphere waiting for help. Her son succumbed to dehydration and heat exhaustion the day before his mother was found by a search and rescue team. How to stay alive: Always carry a paper map and more water than you think you’ll need.
How two American cities are encouraging safe travel in the era of COVID-19
Around the United States cities are starting to roll back COVID-19 pandemic-fueled regulations and encourage stateside travel. The States just surpassed 2 million cases of COVID-19 and many states are seeing an uptick of new cases. Non-essential travel is still not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Before you book a trip be sure to check the status of coronavirus at the destination you’re visiting to make an educated decision about whether it’s worth the risk. It’s too soon to tell if reopening destinations for tourism is wise, yet many destinations are moving forward and implementing new health and sanitation practices to keep locals and visitors safe. Here is how two major US cities are moving forward with tourism operations in the time of COVID-19. Chicago, Illinois Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism board, has announced the Tourism & Hospitality Forward program in hopes of responsibly welcoming travelers to visit Chicago to stimulate the local tourism industry and expedite the city’s economic recovery after COVID-19 restrictions. Chicago has seen a decrease in COVID-19 cases and is in its third phase of reopening and has lifted the previous stay-at-home order. “Our first priority is to promote socially responsible tourism. We will demonstrate to our guests that through the operational changes and precautions taken, it is safe to enjoy Chicago again,” Glenn Eden, Chair of the Choose Chicago Board of Directors, said in a press release. A major component of the program will be encouraging staycations and engaging locals to explore the Windy City. Seasonal initiatives will target leisure travelers from neighboring states. Over 250 local tourism and hospitality businesses have pledged to adhere to socially responsible tourism and hospitality. The program has established best practices and safety measures for the health and safety of residents and visitors when cultural institutions, hotels, attractions, and restaurants return to regular business. The city is working directly with museums, attractions, festivals, and sporting events to collaborate with the long-term Reopening and Recovery Task Force. The Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association is keeping team members and guests safe when travel resumes with increased cleanliness and safety standards. The Illinois Restaurant Association reported that by mid-April fifty-five percent of the state's industry employees were laid off or furloughed. As hotels and eateries begin to reopen, tourists can expect to see them adhere to public health guidance. They’ll be required to implement contactless options, use protective gear, and rearrange their physical space to increase social distancing. All staff must wear face masks and receive proper PPE training. Restaurants are encouraged to use disposable menus, containers, and condiments, although those single-use items are terrible for the environment. Anything non-disposable must be sanitized between each use including table and chairs. There can only be six guests per table and the tables must be six feet apart or have physical barriers. Accommodations must clean high contact surfaces frequently, provide housekeeping only upon request, and remove non-single use items from guest rooms and public spaces. Social distancing is regulated at Chicago’s parks and gardens using physical barriers to regulate the flow of foot traffic. Activities are limited to non-contact sports and playgrounds remain closed. Amber Gibson is a travel writer in Chicago who is fine with the city welcoming tourists. “Small businesses really need the business now and I think businesses that have opened up are taking all the proper precautions. I wish airports would take temperatures of arriving guests. This seems like a simple enough procedure to implement,” she said. Nashville, Tennessee Visit Music City, Nashville’s tourism board, reported that approximately 50% of the local tourism and hospitality are currently unemployed. In addition to the pandemic, the city is also recovering from a deadly tornado. Unfortunately, Nashville is currently seeing a slight increase in new COVID-19 cases. Nashville Tennessee at sunset. Photo by Laura Brown Nashville resident Tomiko Harvey is hesitant about her city reopening. “Gatherings of 25 or more are still banned and residents are asked to continue social distancing but most residents aren’t adhering to the rules. I’m taking precautions by using hand sanitizer, wearing a face mask, and limiting time in public places because health officials warn that getting back to normal too soon will not be without consequences,” she said Music City is hoping to move into phase three of their reopening plan within the next two weeks. Some measures include that masks must be worn in public, restaurants will be open at full capacity, bars open at half capacity, and socially distant live music performances. Retail businesses and services like nail salons and tattoo parlors will be open at full capacity. All staff at any of the aforementioned businesses are required to be screened daily and wear face masks. Large sports and music venues will remain closed but museums will be allowed to welcome visitors. To prepare for reopening tourism, Vanderbilt Health and Ryman Hospitality have created a citywide Good to Go program aimed to keep visitors and community members healthy. The program provides uniform industry guidelines and comprehensive toolkits for businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses have been granted free access to Vanderbilt's leading infectious disease experts who are available to provide guidance on best practices, the latest research and public health guidance, and answer questions about reopening. Participating businesses will be easily identifiable with a green music note signage displayed on their website and at their locations. Tourists who want to visit Nashville can check out listings on the Good to Go website to find hotels, attractions, venues, and restaurants that meet the Metro Public Health Department (MPHD) and CDC guidelines. “We encourage every business in Nashville to join Good to Go. We want to show the world that through cooperation and collaboration, Nashville is safe and sound,” Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of NCVC, said in a press release. Spyridon wants Good to Go to give all who live and come to Nashville confidence and peace of mind. Lola Méndez is a sustainable travel advocate who writes the responsible lifestyle blog Miss Filatelista.
From stagecoach to motorcoach, a history of RVs in the USA
Duck into the Old West Museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming and you'll see so many chuck wagons, sleek phaetons, and sturdy stagecoaches you'll think you stumbled onto a Clint Eastwood film set. The museum, part of the broader Frontier Days rodeo complex, is home to the largest collection of of pre-automobile vehicles West of the Mississippi. It's also, somewhat unintentionally, a prologue to the sprawling RV/MH Hall of Fame in Ekhart, Indiana – the midwest manufacturing town that's turned out most of the motorhomes, travel trailers, toy haulers, and recreational vehicles you'll see on highways not only in the US, but around the world. That's because long before Winnebago was a household name, and even before companies like Ford made the automobile king of the road, the buggies, coaches, and wagons you'll see on exhibit in Cheyenne or the Plains Museum in Laramie were the original RVs that helped Americans get outside not for work, but for the sheer fun of it. Now a century later, RVs are having something of a renaissance. Not only have sales gone up in recent years, RV users are increasingly diverse. And many in the industry are predicting that the COVID-19 pandemic is about to create a major boom for motorhomes as many adopt RVing as a way to travel while practicing social distancing. But how did these rolling homes on wheels get their start? To answer that, you'll have to travel back to the wild west, and the rugged landscape of Wyoming. One of the original touring coaches used to guide visitors around Yellowstone National Park before the advent of the automobile © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely PlanetThe history of the first RVs One of the jewels of the Old West Museum is an original Yellowstone stagecoach in the signature bright yellow hue that's still standard for the park's current fleet of buses and snow coaches. The Tally-Ho Touring Coaches, as they were known, were manufactured by Abbot-Downing Company of Concord, New Hampshire especially for the Yellowstone Park Transportation Company. The century-old paint job is flaking off the museum's example, but it's still easy to get a sense of what it would be like to tour the United States' original national park behind a team of horses after making the long journey from cities back east via the Northern Pacific Railroad. Long before major thoroughfares like the Lincoln Highway or Route 66 linked states from coast to coast and made road trips to national parks possible, visitors arrived in train cars and stayed in grand hotels built by the railroad companies themselves, often with an architectural style that blended western rustic with Old World alpine motifs – a genre that came to be known as "parksitecture." Back then, a multi-day tour through the park cost about $50 a passenger (over a $1,000 today if you account for inflation), and took you from the North Pacific Railroad's station in Cinnabar, Montana, to the hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs, which you can still visit today. Little boy sitting on bumper of early RV circa 1915. © Vintage Images / Alamy Stock PhotoSoon the well-to-do tourists who went to the trouble and expense of trips out west wanted their own recreational vehicles in which to tour national parks, or the countryside closer to their homes and summer retreats. Carriage companies began to add extra features like fold-out beds, sinks and "potted toilets" to the landaus they were already manufacturing – landaus being a kind of precursor to the modern convertible, with a broad passenger seat and a fold-down top. In 1910, Pierce-Arrow debuted its new Touring Landau at the Madison Square Garden auto show. It was a swift, sporty carriage equipped with many of the comforts of home, perfect for the leisure class's recent yen for escaping the polluted, crowded city in favor of outdoor adventures. The Pierce-Arrow was not only the first RV as we know them today, it was also the ancestor of today's Type B motorhomes – part car or truck, part home on wheels. A car pulls an early caravan with tent construction in the Kaibab National Forest on the northern edge of the Grand Canyon circa 1929 © Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Alamy Stock PhotoRVs in the age of the automobile It didn't take long for other carriage makers to roll out their own versions of the Pierce-Arrow – or for the burgeoning auto industry to get in on the small but exciting RV trend. Some of the innovative wealthy converted Packard trucks into the first ever Class C motorhomes (the mid-size RV models built on truck chassis, often with a bed in a pop-out over the cab) and in 1910, a Michigan company called Auto Kamp started rolling out the first pop-up campers much like the ones you know today, with space for sleeping, cooking, and dining. What set the Auto Kamp apart was that it was designed not to be pulled by horses like the Touring Landau, but by the brand new Model T's that rolled off Ford's Detroit factory lines just two years before. The age of the automobile had arrived, giving a broader swath of Americans access not only to Yellowstone, but the six other national parks that had been established in the decades following the United States' first national park, including Sequoia, Yosemite, Mt. Rainier, Crater Lake, Wind Cave, and Mesa Verde. An exhibit at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart Indiana shows a number of RV styles from decades past © Vespasian / Alamy Stock PhotoJust three years after Pierce-Arrow introduced the first RV and five years after the Model T debuted, an instructor at Cal State invented his own model of travel trailer to tow behind his own "Tin Lizzy," as the Model T had affectionately become known. It was called the Earl after its inventor, who hired a local carriage company to build out his design, which is still on display at the RV/MH Hall of Fame. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, as automobile ownership continued to increase and slews of new national parks were designated from Grand Canyon to the Everglades to Great Smoky Mountains, new types of RVs debuted, too. It was an era of "Tin Can Tourists" as one RV enthusiasts club called itself, a reference to the gleaming silver campers of the era – a style that lives on in the perennially popular Airstream, which debuted in the early 1930s. No longer were visitors to national parks limited to the railroad's massive lodges. Now they could camp throughout Yellowstone and its descendants – and at a variety of other outdoor destinations, too, including the first proper RV parks that cropped up across the country, along with filling stations and motels along brand-new "auto-trails" like the Dixie Highway, Egyptian Trail, Evergreen National Highway, and New Santa Fe Trail. Desi Arnaz and Lucile Ball appear in the film "Long, Long Trailer" © United Archives GmbH / Alamy Stock PhotoHow RVs became part of American culture Though the Great Depression slowed the sale of RVs along with everything else in America, the Civilian Conservation Corps was hard at work on numerous projects in national and state parks around the country, constructing campgrounds and other outdoor recreation facilities still in use today. By the time World War II was over, the economy was roaring again and Americans were eager to explore. The age of nuclear family road trips and summer vacations had arrived, and so had a new generation of RVs that were bigger and more luxurious than ever, packed with new technology and ready to run on plenty of cheap gasoline. Sprawling Class A models (the largest size of RVs, which often resemble tour busses) rolled onto dealers' lots, along with the first RVs known as "motor homes." RVs had started to make their way into pop culture through films like 1943's What's Buzzin' Cousin? and 1953's Long Long Trailer. A decade later, a VW microbus appeared on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, just a year after Donna Reed took her fictional TV family on western vacation in a Dodge Travco RV. Also in 1962, an aging John Steinbeck hit the road in a camper named for Don Quixote's horse, in search of the American essence and whatever the country was becoming, perhaps unaware that his journey itself, and the means by which he traveled, typified the very questions he was trying to answer. Steinbeck's experience, recorded in the great travelogue Travels with Charlie, later inspired CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt to start filming America's back highways for a segment called On the Road, a project that ultimately lasted twenty years and six motorhomes. By the end of the 1960s there was no denying that RVs were firmly cemented in both mainstream family life and counterculture, as American as apple pie. A family packs up for a summer vacation in their travel trailer sometime in the 1960s © ClassicStock / Alamy Stock PhotoMotorhomes from the midcentury to today Many of the carriage manufacturers who started the RV travel trend had been put out of business by big auto decades earlier, but a new generation of RV-builders were about to become household names. Small buses and conversion vans like the VW Type 2, Westfalia Vanagon, and conversions of Dodge and Ram commercial vehicles came to the fore in the 1950s and 60s and have stayed popular to this day. Meanwhile, Winnebago released its first model in 1966, and thanks to its iconic design and affordability, the brand quickly became genericized, the company's name synonymous with RVs in general. Competitor Jayco was founded two years later, and in 1972, a small family-run building supply company in Red Bay, Alabama, purchased an ailing RV manufacturer and turned it into Tiffin Motorhomes. That was the same year the RV/MV Hall of Fame Heritage Foundation was started in Elkhart, which later developed the Hall of Fame. Barbie got her first RV in 1970, the same year the Partridge Family hit the road in a brightly painted Chevy school bus to make their first gig at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. It was just a few years before the oil crisis put a dent in the RV industry juggernaut, slowing sales. But by the 1980s, America was still in love with RVs, giving them pride of place in popular films like Space Balls, The Blues Brothers and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, proving that travel – even in far-flung galaxies – was still very much synonymous with the all-American motorhome. RVs are gaining popularity with Latinx and African American outdoor enthusiasts in recent years © Wendy Ashton / Getty ImagesIn recent years, new demographics have been getting in on RVs. As the outdoor industry diversifies, so have rentals and purchase of the recreational vehicles people use to access their favorite destinations. The popularity of the vanlife movement and a proliferation of RV influencers on YouTube and social media have contributed to RV's shedding their retirees-only image, as new generations of "schoolies" and "dirtbags" adopt vintage school busses and new models like the Dodge Ram ProMaster and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans as permanent rolling homes. Meanwhile, Volkswagen is putting the finishing touches on an all-electric version of its classic surfer van, ushering in a new, more sustainable era of RVing. Many of those now-classic brands like Coachmen and Fleetwood that became synonymous with motorhomes over fifty years ago are putting out new models with a host of features modern travelers demand, like USB chargers and faux-marble countertops. And there's been a crop of glampgrounds mushrooming around the world where guests can savor the style of vintage Airstreams and Shastas, from Hotel Caravana in the Hudson Valley to The Vintages Trailer Resort in Oregon wine country. The first century of RVing has been a long, strange trip. Fortunately, if you're still curious to learn more about how your contemporary adventure rig evolved, you can gas up your current model and head to the Old West Museum, Plains Museum, the RV/MH Hall of Fame, John Sisemore Traveland RV Museum, Steven Katkowsky Vintage Trailer Museum and beyond to see the original recreational vehicles for yourself, not to mention those gleaming space-age Tin Cans, canned hams, Winnies, toy-haulers, and everything in between. You might just run into a national park or two on the way, and see some of the places that inspired your favorite motorhomes all those years ago. This article first ran on our sister site, Lonely Planet.