With fuel prices (way) up, that dream vacation is no longer practical. The airlines still want you to travel with them as long as you don't bring any luggage or ask for anything to eat or drink. And long car road trips? With gas at $4 per gallon -- for now -- they seem to be coming to an end. Even a quick trip to Seattle for a Mariner game could cost more than $100 in fuel.
So, unless you're either saving the world by driving a hybrid or you don't mind dropping a fortune for plane tickets, it's time to look to your backyard for your summer adventure.
"(The Inland Northwest) is the hub of outdoor recreation," says REI manager Sally Vantress-Lodato. "There is so much to do, even within an hour's drive." Vantress-Lodato believes a lot of vacationers will stay near home and take advantage of the region's jewels.
"Whether it's going down to the park, trying a paddle sport for the first time, using the Centennial Trail, riding the Hiawatha trail, or camping at Riverside (State Park), there's plenty to do," Vantress-Lodato says.
Both Riverside, located along the Spokane River, and Farragut State Park, on Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho, have seen a greater influx of June campers this year. For the past month the 226 camping sites at Farragut have been 70 percent to 80 percent full, says park manager Randall Butt.
"Most people like to go at least an hour away for a vacation, but we do have people come to Farragut from Spokane for a week. They turn off their cell phones and forget how close they are. They concentrate on making a full week of it," Butt says. "They're trying to find that vacation feeling without traveling 300 to 500 miles."
Butt also sees another rising trend in vacationing this summer: Travelers offsetting high gas prices by ditching the more expensive hotel for the cheaper camping site.
"If you can tent camp a few nights as opposed to a hotel you drop your total vacation cost," Butt says. "I believe because of the overall economy, we'll see a lot of that."
But swapping out the crisp sheets and the free HBO for the great outdoors may seem daunting to some. Some private campgrounds and resorts are mindful of that and are marketing their "luxury camping" options to consumers ( & lt;a href="#cushy" & click here & lt;/a & ).
The high volume of campers from late June has already made up for the initial drop in numbers caused by spring's late snows and cold weather, says Claudia Webb, reservation specialist with Reserve America, a company that handles camping reservations for private camp sites and state parks across the country.
"Still, though, whether there is an increase for the entire summer remains to be seen," Webb says. "If everything dries up and (campers) can't build fires -- then reservations for camp sites will drop off drastically."
Webb believes the number of campers nationwide will depend more on the weather than gas prices. However, she does foresee a drop in RV camping over the next few years.
"It's difficult to say whether people are going to totally change their habits," says Farragut's Randall Butt. "But I think we'll see people making more and more conservative plans over the next couple of years."
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & Y & lt;/span & our legs burn as you make the final push to reach the plateau at the top of the ridge. Slipping on the gravel, the last 20 feet of the climb is done on all fours. You look back on the trail you just scaled -- the Spokane River snaking along in the background of a breathtaking view -- and a great sense of accomplishment begins pumping through your veins.
"I only had to fill up one tank of gas for this," you say out loud, beaming with pride. "Oh, and I guess that hike was pretty cool, too."
Welcome to the most cost-efficient vacation this summer: The outdoors.
REGIONAL OUTDOORS DESTINATIONS
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & H & lt;/span & ere's our Top 10 List (in no particular order):
Glacier National Park, Montana -- Offers a park-and-ride shuttle system for those really looking to save on gas. The shuttle goes throughout the park and drops riders off at camping sites, hiking trails and scenic locations.
Farragut State Park, Idaho -- Take a swim and go fishing in Lake Pend Oreille or use the 42 miles of hiking trails to find some isolation during your daily cardio-burn.
Riverside State Park, Washington -- Features a 600-acre off-road vehicle area, plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails and scenic views of the Spokane River's spectacular rapids. Plus, it's probably less than a gallon of gas away for most Spokanites.
Hiawatha Trail, Idaho -- Running 15 miles through the Bitterroot Mountains along the Idaho/Montana border, this breathtaking bike trail travels along an old railroad, winding through tunnels and up high trestles.
Centennial Trail, Washington and Idaho -- Bike, walk, skate or unicycle the 37 miles of paved trail connecting Spokane to Coeur d'Alene. For any non-motorized watersport desire you might have, the trail provides numerous access points to the Spokane River.
St. Joe River, Idaho -- A little oarsmanship and the power of rushing water will be all you need for an exhilarating, perhaps even terrifying, trip down one of the Northwest's premier rafting rivers. There are plenty of spots to park and fish too.
Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, Idaho -- The 72-mile paved trail on an old Union Pacific railroad bed from Mullan to Harrison can be bicycled in a day or done piece-by-piece, depending on your fitness level or time frame.
Palouse Falls State Park, Washington -- The great Lake Missoula flood left some amazing geologic formations in our region, including this 200-foot waterfall about 23 miles southeast of Washtucna. It's a great place to hike and camp.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Idaho and Oregon -- The deepest river gorge in North America offers opportunities for hiking, bird and wildlife watching, horseback riding, mule pack trips, river rafting, hunting, fishing and camping.
Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, Washington -- A short day trip from Spokane. The federal wildlife area near Cheney isn't a camping destination, but it's a great place to spot dozens of bird species, in addition to mammals as large as moose and elk.
--ROBBY DOUTHITT AND DOUG NADVORNICK
TRAILS TO NOWHERE
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & ackpackers have more stories than sailors, soldiers and fishermen. Lost newbies, attacks by salt-deprived marmots, compasses thrown off by ore deposits, mosquitoes from hell and miles marched in the rain -- the laughter rolls on and on about situations that "weren't funny at the time." Yes, even the not-so-great trips gain currency as bragging rights. These folks are a special breed: Individuals who thrive on adventure, beauty, simplicity and the desire to stretch themselves by seeing how far they can go -- always stopping short of foolishness and outright danger.
"Others take their vacations to Hawaii; we go on eight-day backpacks," says Dennis Cowley, a backpacking instructor with the Spokane Mountaineers. "From my point of view, this is probably one of the premier spots in the country. You can go anywhere -- north, south, east or west -- and there's great backpacking."
Veteran backpacker Ken Ratz agrees: "You can get out into the wilderness around here and you can walk for two or three days -- and if you bump into anyone, it surprises you."
There are plenty of great hiking areas in the immediate vicinity of Spokane and a two-to-three-hour drive can get you anywhere a backpacker wants to be. 100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest, by Rich Landers, is the hiker's bible for this region. It provides concise descriptions of the best trails in the area, along with difficulty ratings and maps to the trailheads.
There's a calming tranquility afforded by the great outdoors that for some borders on a spiritual experience. The backpacker is immersed in the quietude of the natural order, far from the world of machines, concrete, traffic and deadlines. The view from the top is addictive, and there's always one more hill... but tender-footed city dwellers should seek the wisdom of the experienced before heading out into the mountains with their Swiss Army knives and brand new boots. [Wisdom Nugget: Be sure to break in your boots before attempting a serious hike or backpacking camping trip.]
"Essential number one," says backpacker Karen Jurasin, "is to tell somebody where you're going and when you will be back." You can get more solitude than you bargained for if the trees and hills start looking the same. Jurasin recalls one backpacker who wandered off from camp at night only to discover later -- after his rescue -- that his cries for help were mistaken for the mating calls of elk. (Ha ha now, but it wasn't funny at the time.) Other essentials are a map of the area and a compass, sun protection, fire starter, first aid kit, extra water and/or a water purifier, emergency shelter, a knife, some sort of signaling device like a whistle or a mirror, and a flashlight. Extra food and clothing are a must, too.
The uninitiated could benefit from books like How to Shit in the Woods, by Kathleen Meyer, according to Jurasin. "It even has a special chapter for women: 'How Not to Pee in your Boots.'" As shortsighted as it may seem, some people are unprepared for biological inevitabilities. On the same subject: The beasts and critters that might invade your camp to lick your body salt off your belongings can be distracted by a decoy. Go pee on a flat rock away from camp.
Serious backpackers sometimes go to extremes to shave weight off their packs. "I've cut my toothbrush handle off so it's lighter," Ratz confesses. If his pack weighs more than 35 pounds, he dumps it out and searches for unnecessary items. But it's all a matter of priorities. The petite Holly Weiler says she'll shoulder a 50-pound pack, because "I have to have my French press along or else I'll be grumpy in the morning." She requires fresh food instead of dehydrated, too. As a rule of thumb, according to Cowley, your pack shouldn't weigh more than 20 percent to 25 percent of your body weight. It gets heavier with every mile. Many newbies fill their packs with stuff they just don't need, he says.
Apart from the solitude and the beauty, Weiler says she enjoys the realization that "I didn't know I could do that," only to find out that she could. She's planning a 100-mile trip this summer over the course of about four to five days. (No French press for that hike -- she'll compromise with instant.)"It's not that I'm ever in any actual danger," she says, "but I like to see what I can accomplish." She also enjoys doing trail work -- clearing the way of fallen trees and picking up trash. "It feels good to give something back," she says. Sad, but true: Not everyone shares the same values when it comes to keeping the wilderness clean. For those who need to be told: If you pack it in, pack it out. Leave the smallest footprint you can on Mother Nature's garden.
Opinions are mixed about long, solitary treks, but it can be rewarding for the experienced. (And probably should not be attempted by novices.) Cowley once went nine days by himself. "That's a trip I'll remember for the rest of my life," he says. "It's just good for your soul."
But group adventures offer a unique bonding experience, too.
"See these guys here?" Cowley says, speaking of his fellow Mountaineers, "I don't know what it is about backpacking, but I trust these people. If I need them, they'll be there for me. Those people who are a little bit nuts and you don't know what they're going to do -- they don't stick around very long. They get weeded out."
-- MICK LLOYD-OWEN
& lt;a name="cushy" & CUSHY CAMPING & lt;/a &
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & ome outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen -- you probably know a few -- are Camping Fundamentalists.
It's not truly camping-with-a-capital-C, they preach, if you don't return caked in dust, mottled with mosquito bites, sporting a mountain man beard, and carrying a freshly skinned bear pelt. The bugs and rain and heat and sap and suffering aren't just nasty side effects of camping -- they're the entire point.
It's what Northwest author Patrick McManus calls a "fine and pleasant misery," the sort of camping experience that Calvin's Dad in Calvin and Hobbes justified by proclaiming that "it builds character."
But many people are choosing to stray a bit from camping orthodoxy for the sake of comfort.
Maybe it's the dawning realization that instead of fumbling with tent poles, tent snaps, and tent pegs with cold, wet hands near-paralyzed by the pounding rain, they'd much rather just unlock a door, step into a nicely furnished cabin, and flick on the heater.
The Luxurious Outdoors
Campgrounds across the country are scrubbing away the grit and grime of the traditional camping experience, sanding off the crustiness and dustiness, and replacing it with a gleaming sheen of glitz and glitter.
At the Paws Up Resort in Missoula, Montana, they call it "glamping" (a combination of "glamorous" and "camping." While other campgrounds force campers to lug their own tents and set up on the uneven, rock-strewn dirt, at Paws Up the tents are simply waiting. And they're a bit more flashy than the average model: They're around 300 square feet, fully furnished with skylights, electricity, and 300-thread-count linens. Each tent contains its own master bathroom, decked with heated slate floors and rain showers. These are tents that have art hanging on the wall.
"It's like a five-star hotel room under a tent," Paws Up Resort director of marketing John Romfo says. "Some of our tents are actually two bedroom suites."
Somehow you get the idea that the Paws Up clientele doesn't fancy mosquito bites or bear pelts.
And the luxury continues even outside the tent. Instead of settling for hot dogs roasted to a charcoal crisp over the campfire, campers can simply walk to the dining hall three times a day, and receive gourmet meals prepared by a professional chef.
Paws Up even caters to the sort of campers who get squeamish around bugs. "We had a guest call to the butler in the middle of the night to remove a spider," Romfo says. "And so of course we took care of it."
Yes, Paws Up has a butler. Who can remove spiders.
Romfo admits that the accommodations at Paws Up bare little resemblance to the traditional camping experience. "That's not camping," Romfo says. The only camping part comes from the environment outside the tents.
Romfo says that the demand for the spots at Paws Up has been so high that the resort just installed a second, almost identical campground called "Rivercamp" closer to the water.
Of course, with tents running $595 to $795 a night, Paws Up may be a little outside the realm of fiscal responsibility for a middle-class family.
Idaho and Washington state parks, meanwhile, are also being upgraded -- on not as grand a scale -- adding slightly more conventional amenities to soften the not-so-great aspects of the Great Outdoors. For example, full-scale, regularly cleaned bathrooms with hot showers are replacing the traditional vault toilets wreathed with flies.
In a bow to camper demand, in the last few years the Washington State Parks Department has built cabins, yurts and teepees and allowed historical housing -- like officers quarters at Fort Canby on the coast -- to be rented by campers. Some of the deluxe cabins feature living rooms, kitchen areas, bedrooms, and their own bathrooms.
In Idaho too, a number of campgrounds -- including several at Priest Lake and Farragut -- offer 12-foot-by-12-foot cabins. Jennifer Wernex from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation says the goal is to offer a range of camping experiences. Some campers prefer bare-bones, spartan, vault-toilet sites while others want something a little more cushy and comfortable. Idaho offers both types, Wernex says.
Linda Burnett from Washington State Parks attributes the rising popularity of cabins to campers who want to spend more time relaxing than fussing with tent setup.
"What appeals to them most is that they can stay warm and dry, but still be camping at the state park," Burnett says. "It's the state park itself that's the draw."
Other campers drive their cabins around with them. While gas prices are causing some RV owners to cut back on the length of their trips, state campsites have steadily been upgrading to accommodate the RV users who'd rather not stay at a KOA.
Ponderosa State Park manager Dennis Coyle says he runs a new campground with a full range of RV hookups, including sewage, water, and electricity. The large Star Destroyer-class type of RV requires not only a 50 amp power hookup, but also a large space to park and maneuver in.
Gary Vierra, assistant park manager at Riverside State Park, says that with the increase in RVers -- which he attributes partially to the wave of retiring baby boomers -- comes the need for campground improvements.
"You got a lot of baby boomers who have the self-contained motor homes. And they don't want to get out of them," Vierra says. "They want a big site. They don't want a little itty-bitty 12-foot site where they can't get their extra vehicle in. They want a minimum of two 30 amp breakers."
Wireless in the Wilderness
While motorhomes might make Camping Fundamentalists a bit queasy, campgrounds offering wireless Internet service have to seem downright blasphemous.
According to a USA Today survey, 50 of California's 278 state parks offer wireless Internet service. Idaho is following suit for two reasons, says Wernex. First, a random survey revealed that many Idaho campers overwhelmingly favored wi-fi in campgrounds. Secondly, wireless Internet -- connected to a satellite -- allows remote campgrounds to communicate with each other far better than the alternatives.
Still, Idaho's state parks are being purposefully subtle about adding wireless. Most will only have wireless in the visitor's center, Wernex says. (The wireless signal often can't reach the rest of the forest through the trees.) The Internet will be beamed out from a small trailer, not a looming steel tower. Finally, the advertising campaign is limited to a small sticker on visitor centers' windows.
Maybe that's why, at Ponderosa State Park, the number of campers who use the wireless service is relatively low. Coyle says out of the 500 or 600 people he sees filter through the visitors center every day, only two or three choose to connect.
Washington's state parks, meanwhile, are digging in their heels, remaining unmoved by such wide cries for wi-fi.
"Some of our commissioners feel that it takes away from the outdoor camping experience." Burnett says, "We want to encourage kids to get outdoors."
For nomadic RV owners like Mike and Mary Ashby, however, connecting to the Web is more necessity than luxury. The Ashbys get their Internet fix through their Verizon cell phone service. Without it, they say, they'd be sunk.
"The Internet's just too valuable of a thing to be without," Mike Ashby says. That need reaches beyond e-mail. The Web's often the most practical way to conduct banking or make reservations for campsites, the Ashbys say.
But whether the campers can connect to the Internet or not -- and whether they're sleeping in a tent, RV, yurt, cabin or hammock -- Coyle says state parks' value is in the unique experiences that they offer families.
"It's a lot of fun to play a board game on a picnic table with a kerosene lantern," Coyle says. "It's a lot different than playing on the kitchen table at home."
-- DANIEL WALTERS
VOLUNTEER YOUR VACATION
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & ho wants to sit under a polka-dotted umbrella drinking cocktails on a warm beach anyway? You can do that any year. Besides, with the price of gas where it is, a trip to a tropical climate is too expensive for most of us.
As we see it, you have several options for this summer's holiday. The first is to not do anything. Sit at home. Catch up on soap operas and take turns on the slip-n-slide. It could be fun, but it's definitely not exciting. The second option is to go someplace fairly close like Yellowstone. Still, you're shelling out for lodging, your park pass and, of course, the little Yellowstone toy collectibles made in China.
A third option is to work on your vacation. While that may completely contradict the idea of taking a vacation, you can save some cash and do something useful by volunteering for an organization to, say, pull noxious weeds a few hours a day. You're probably going to sleep outside. You're going to have to hear about how to protect the environment. Finally, you're going to have to sweat a little bit. That's still a far cry from sitting in a tiny cubicle and staring into your computer. At least you'll still be exchanging fluorescent lighting for vitamin-enriched sunlight, and if you try hard enough you may even get a tan.
The Spokane branch of CONSERVATION NORTHWEST offers day hikes to the Colville National Forest. The organization was founded in 1989 by a Bellingham man named Mitch Friedman, who says his mission is to protect our old-growth forests and reconnect us with the natural world. Group members generally meet on Saturdays outside the Rosauers located at 9414 N. Division. They drive you to Kettle Falls and lead hikes aimed at teaching you about the flora and fauna of the region's wild lands. The best part is that the hikes are free. The only catch is that you bring your own gear.
The trails in the forest range from easy to difficult, and Conservation Northwest posts the difficulty levels for the planned hikes on its Website.
The Colville National Forest itself stretches across 1.1 million acres in northeastern Washington with plenty of old-growth trees and varied species of inhabitants. "With high fuel prices that likely won't be going down anytime soon, it's worth considering why someone would spend a couple tanks of gas to drive to the crowded roads and trails of Yellowstone or Glacier national parks when you can hike in relative solitude where grizzly bears, woodland caribou, wolves, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and Canada lynx still roam a hundred miles or less north of town," says Crystal Gartner of Conservation Northwest. "We encourage people to hike locally. It not only saves gas and carbon emissions but builds a base of advocates for protecting what we've got right here."
An organization called WILDERNESS VOLUNTEERS leads service projects in remote forests; volunteers work with the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove noxious weeds and do other chores on federal land. They charge you $259 for the trip and you provide your own camping gear and transportation. Some upcoming destinations include the Bighorn Crags in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, Idaho, from July 13-19; the Sawtooth Wilderness, Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho, from Aug. 3-9; the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon from Aug. 24-30; the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana from Aug. 31-Sept. 6; Glacier National Park in Montana from Sept. 7-13 and the Olympic National Park in Washington from Sept. 14-20. The group promises to provide plenty of free time for participants to go exploring.
The WASHINGTON TRAILS ASSOCIATION offers a free Northwest Forest Pass when you join a work party cleaning up trails. Most of the trails the organization works on are on the west side, although a few work parties are planned east of the Cascades -- at the Yakama Indian Reservation from Aug. 2-9 and at the Wenatchee River Ranger District from Aug. 16-23.
If you check with your favorite charity or with your church, they may take trips that you can join at a low cost. You can get a vacation without facing outrageous gas prices, you get to do something on your vacation besides just sitting around eating and drinking, and you might just learn something.
35 W. Main Ave.
PO Box 22292
Washington Trails Association
2019 Third Ave., Suite 100
-- TAMMY MARSHALL
FIRED UP ABOUT CAMP FOOD
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & here's a Nadvornick family recipe that I've heard about but never tried. It's something my wife and kids picked up several years ago at a Camp Fire weekend at Farragut State Park. The dish is called "macheeto" and it's made in a tin can over an open fire. I'd never considered a tin can to be a cooking utensil so this intrigued me. Just the other night, I asked my wife about how to make it.
"Boil macaroni in water over the fire," she started. "Then drain the water off, add a can of tomato soup and a handful or two of cheese and you've got it." Macaroni, cheese and tomato soup. Ma-chee-to. Get it?
I didn't find macheeto in our 25-year-old Camp Fire cookbook, but I found lots of other simple, cooked-in-the-fire meals that intrigued me. There's Adventurer's Goulash: chili beans, corn and hot dogs, made in a soup pot (or can). Tasty! Hobo Dinner in a Can: hamburger patties topped with sliced tomatoes and corn, wrapped in foil and placed in a can, topped with a spoonful of biscuit batter and cooked on the fire. Yum! And you can't beat Wilderness Hash (what a great name for a camping meal): bacon, onion, hamburger and kidney beans fried over the fire. My mouth's watering!
My tastes are pretty simple when it comes to outdoor cooking. I like meals with just a few ingredients and cooked right over -- or in -- the fire. No need to haul camp stoves and the fuel to run them. Just claim your place next to the fire, bring the kids (they love to assemble and cook their own meals), find a nice spot in the coals for your foil packet or your can and watch it cook. Test things occasionally so they don't burn to a crisp, then enjoy a tasty treat.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & et's face it: My camp cooking skills are pretty rudimentary. On the other hand, Ruth Gessner -- a Spokane woman with a lot of experience cooking and camping -- is much better at it. "For some reason, I enjoy cooking when we're camping out," says Gessner. "I like to use my imagination. I try to simplify things and pick dishes that are quick and easy to make."
Gessner doesn't confine her cooking to the fire. She'll bring a stove and a cast iron skillet. A typical breakfast? "I'll cut up and fry an onion, potatoes and a green pepper, some sausage and eggs, and wrap it all up in flour tortillas with a bleu cheese dressing," she says.
For lunch and dinner, she looks to one-pot meals, like a marinated steak with potatoes, cooked in the campfire, or a Hamburger Helper-type of dish, such as a poor man's stroganoff with hamburger instead of steak.
Taking it one step farther than Ruth Gessner is Anna Vogel, executive chef at Luna. Since moving to Spokane last fall, Vogel's been too busy to do much camping, but when she does she likes to "go crazy. I'll buy corn, potatoes, squash, onions, tomatoes. Sometimes I'll even take along a rack of lamb," she says. "I take my spice wheel from REI. I have French and Italian herbs, some rubs, rosemary and olive oil. And a bag for marinating meat."
Vogel likes to cook on a grill over the fire or in the coals when possible. If it rains, she has a small stove ready with a shelter to stay dry.
For those of us with little imagination, camp cooking revolves around the same few dishes, but Vogel has been known to create four-course meals at the campsite.
"You might start with a salad, then an appetizer -- maybe a cold cut plate with cheese, or nachos with a bowl of fresh salsa," she says. For the entr & eacute;e, Vogel suggests fish tacos. "I like to cut up cabbage, mix it with some lime juice and cilantro, then add a nice white fish; halibut holds together well. Put a nice rub on the flesh then grill it until it falls apart. I also like to grill a tomatillo and put it all in a tortilla." For dessert, she suggests fruit, perhaps a piece of cantaloupe.
A four-course meal may be fancier than what you want, but Vogel says camp cooking doesn't need to be complicated to be good. For the kids, she says, grilled hot dogs with some condiments and a pot of chili on the fire is a good choice. She suggests simple side dishes, such as potatoes wrapped in foil and cooked in the fire or ears of corn grilled in the husk.
"Just use a little imagination," she says. Bring metal sticks for shish kebabs or, if you'll be near the ocean, bring a stock pot for a clam or crab bake.
"Everything you do at home, you can do while you're camping," says Vogel.
-- DOUG NADVORNICK