Winter Travel Guide 1996
When the snow piles up on the windowsill and your car's engine balks at turning over in the morning chill, your thoughts naturally turn to warmer climes. If the tropics seem too far, too expensive, or too much effort to get to, there are alternatives closer to home. From the Sunbelt beaches to the Southwestern desert, you'll find some fast, easy, and affordable antidotes to your winter funk. Here are a few of our favorites:
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, California
It's best to start from the west, about 40 miles east of Escondido, and drop in on paved Route S22, which winds down about 5,000 feet from the Laguna Mountains to the desert floor at park headquarters. The three-mile round-trip hike from the campground to Borrego Palm Canyon takes you to a 30-foot waterfall shaded by a forest of palms. Dozens of songbirds trill, and bumblebee-size hummingbirds flit about.
Back at park headquarters, head east through the town of Borrego Springs, then south on Route S3 through Yaqui Pass--the entire south hillside is dotted with barrel cactus--which deposits you at the park's best campground, Tamarisk Grove (shade trees and showers, $16 per night). When you get to S2, proceed south through Earthquake Valley (yes, a fault runs through it). Of the many stops along S2 as it slices through the park to the southern boundary 63 miles to the south, one of the best is Blair Valley (just beyond mile marker 22). Half a mile in on the dirt road is Foot and Walker Pass, where Butterfield Stage passengers had to push their coaches over the rocks. Three miles in there's a steep, one-mile walk to the homesite of Marshall South, who foisted his Thoreau-in-the-desert dreams on a less-than-willing family back in the 1930s; a rougher dirt road leads to some American Indian pictographs a few miles on.
Farther south on S2 is the adobe shell of Vallecito Stage Station, worth a gander, and 14 miles south is Mountain Palm Springs, worth a walk on a covey of short trails that lead to half a dozen palm groves, all of them quiet and little-visited. If you've racked a mountain bike, continue on S2 to Canyon Sin Nombre--the trailhead is at Carrizo Badlands Overlook--and ride the jeep
road through an eerie rock cleft and on into the badlands: the kind of gnarled, wind-eroded country that gives deserts their ominous reputation. Go as far as you dare, then retrace your ride and your drive back to Tamarisk Grove Campground or to Palm Canyon Resort in Borrego Springs (doubles begin at $75; 800-242-0044), or continue 13 miles south to Interstate 8. Park information:
619-767-5311. Campground reservations: 800-444-7275.
Grapevine Canyon Ranch, Pearce, Arizona
Or you can opt to just ride. Great daily trail riding on well-trained quarter horses is, for most guests, Grapevine's strongest appeal. Rides are always in small groups (even individual) with wranglers, and range from slow-paced to fast, short breakfast rides to all-day challenges--like one on steep, rocky trails into the Cochise Stronghold, where the Dragoons retain the ruggedness and solitude of the last refuge of the Chiricahua Apaches. Another all-day ride takes you through Apache Pass along the old Butterfield Stage Trail in the nearby Chiricahua Mountains, and ends up at the ruins of Fort Bowie.
Roundups are in November and May, but Cowboy Camp, the third week of each month, is nearly as exciting. Mentors teach branding, roping, basic horsemanship, even how to buy cattle at auction. ("Surprise, honey...")
Your "bunk" is likely to be a king-size bed in a casita with full bath, a well-stocked fridge, sitting room, and Dragoon vista. Tip: Ask for the Chiri-cahua Casita for a view of the corral and watch wranglers at work. Buffet-style grub is suitably hearty (roast beef with all the trimmings, homebaked bread, flapjacks for breakfast, sandwich bar for pack-your-own trail lunches), and is followed once a week by an evening of cowboy music and poetry.
Winter rates start at $130 per person for a double cabin, $150 per person for a casita, and include three squares a day and all horseback riding. Call 800-245-9202.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Base yourself out of one of the park's three developed campsites (Cottonwood, Rio Grande Village, and Chisos Basin; $7 per night) and sample the desert through a series of day hikes (pick up maps at park headquarters, 915-477-2251). You'll find the trailhead for Chimneys (4.8 miles round-trip) just off Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, 1.2 miles south of Burro Mesa Pouroff Road. Seven miles farther south on Ross Maxwell, you can meander the length of Tuff Canyon (about two miles) and enjoy the frantic construction crews--thousands of cliff sparrows improving their adobe condos in the volcanic ash along the canyon walls. For a more riveting avian performance, hike the 13-mile loop to the South Rim in the Chisos Mountains and watch peregrine falcons dive to pick off jackrabbits. Then, at sunset, unwind with a warm soak in the thermal springs near Rio Grande Village.
Big Bend's three dramatic gorges--Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas--are best seen from a raft on the Rio Grande as it cuts its radical bend through the desert. Far Flung Adventures (800-359-4138) runs one- to three-day trips ($75-$300), as well as its Gourmet Trip, a three-day cruise ($600 per person, November 8-10) that features world-renowned chef Fran‡ois Maeder
whipping up rack-of-lamb. Rio Grande Adventures (800-343-1640) and Big Bend River Tours (800-545-4240) also offer rafting trips.
Banning House, Santa Catalina Island, California
The rustic 11-room inn sits on the isthmus between two harbors at the island's western end. From their hillside perch, guests have a sweeping view of water edged by golden hills, with the hazy mainland way off in the distance. Divers head down the hill to the West End Dive Center (310-510-2800) to rent gear and sign on for boat dives ($15-$65 per person; certification and refresher courses also available). Minutes from the dock, you'll find kelp forests teeming with brilliant orange garibaldi, huge sheephead, and harbor seals. You can also rent sea kayaks (singles, $8 per hour; doubles, $11 per hour) and slip into secluded coves and caves reachable only by boat.
Hiking trails branch out over terrain that was once farmed by the Spanish explorers who settled there. Thanks to the Catalina Island Conservancy, 86 percent of the island remains undeveloped. A few hundred bison are milling around, left behind from a movie shoot years ago. You'll see them on the hillsides on the Conservancy's Jeep Eco-Tours ($65 per person; 310-510-2595) or with Safari Bus ($15 per person; 310-510-7265).
December through March, doubles at the Banning House are $78-$140 weekends, $54-$98 midweek, including breakfast and transfers from the dock; a six-night scuba package ($489 per person) includes five two-tank boat dives. Or you can reserve a seaside campsite (from $8 per person per night) or rent a cabin ($39.50 per night). For reservations, call 310-510-2800.
Bahia Honda Key, Florida
Grayton Beach, Florida
Grayton Beach State Recreation Area (904-231-4210) occupies a mile-long swath between the communities of Grayton Beach and Seaside. Described as "the perfect beach" by beach-rating coastal scientist Dr. Stephen Leatherman, Grayton has an adjacent fishing lake, 37 campsites, and a nature trail that explores the various habitats: salt marsh, scrub-hickory hammock, and pine
forest. Nearby you can rent a New England-style cottage on the Gulf (one week, $2,200-$2,500 for a two- or three-bedroom house; 904-231-4224) or stay at Patrones Hideaway (bungalows and studios, $75-$85 per night; 904-231-1606), which rents canoes and pontoon boats in addition to bungalows and studio apartments. For a broader range of food and lodging options, most visitors drop
their bags in Destin, a town 20 miles west that claims the largest charter-boat fleet and best fishing in Florida. Top choice is Sandestin (doubles, $55-$95; 800-277-0800), a beachside resort with 575 rooms and villas on 2,400 acres; rent sailboats and other watersports equipment at Baytowne Marina (904-267-7777
Filed To: Snow Sports