Originally created 12/25/05

Travel briefs



Grand Teton winter

MOOSE, Wyo. - Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway were scheduled to open for the winter season Dec. 21.

Snowmobiling will be allowed on the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail and the Grassy Lake Road. Snowmobiles will also be permitted on Jackson Lake, but only for anglers, according to park officials.

Hours for snowmobiling will be 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and all snowmobiles must comply with air-quality regulations. The fee for snowmobiling will be $15 for one day and $20 for seven days.

Trails for skiing and snowshoeing will be marked with orange flags but mostly are not groomed. They include Teton Park Road, which will be groomed from Taggart Lake to Signal Mountain.

Ranger-led snowshoe hikes begin Dec. 26 at the Moose Visitor Center. The two-hour hikes will be offered every day except Wednesday. Snowshoes are provided and reservations are required.

Winter park camping is being allowed only at the Colter Bay Visitor Center parking area. The fee is $5 at a self-registration box.

Those staying overnight in the backcountry must get a non-fee permit at the Moose Visitor Center. Permits will not be required for day users.

Visit http://www.nps.gov/grte for more information.

Hot Springs lures

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission has reached an agreement with Mike Wurm, a top bass angler, to help promote the city to travelers.

"We couldn't think of a more appropriate way to help spread the word about Hot Springs' reputation as a fishing destination than by having a true fishing legend like Mike Wurm represent the city in at least 20 professional tournaments in 15 states during 2006," commission director Steve Arrison said.

Hot Springs hosted the high-profile FLW Championship bass tournament this year, which drew broadcast and print coverage. Rather than sponsor a lesser tournament in the coming year, the commission chose to seek exposure with Wurm, an angler who has a regular presence in big tournaments. Wurm, who lives in Hot Springs, is a seven-time B.[filtered word] Classic qualifier and four-time FLW Championship qualifier, in 2006.

Arrison said more than 40,000 people came to the Hot Springs Convention Center for weigh-ins and an outdoors show for the 2005 FLW Championship hosted by the commission.

Yellowstone winter

POWELL, Wyo. - Advance bookings for winter trips into Yellowstone National Park through the park's East Entrance are up from last year, according to two tour business owners.

Jon Sowerwine, owner of High Country Adventures, which offers snowcoach tours into the park via Sylvan Pass, estimated winter reservations are up 30 percent from this time last year.

"We've had really good bookings, actually," he said.

Sowerwine said he expects to do more business this season than last winter, even though Yellowstone's 2005-06 winter season starts Dec. 21, one week later than last year's. It runs through March 12, 2006.

Advance bookings for Yellowstone snowmobile tours at Rimrock Ranch are also looking good, considering the confusion over snowmobile regulations the past few years, said Dede Fales, ranch owner.

Rimrock is the East Entrance's only sled provider.

"We're looking fairly steady," said Fales, who manages sled rentals with husband, Gary. "Reservations over Christmas are looking really good and we're starting to fill up January. Of course, we're still wishing those who own their own snowmobiles could go in themselves. It's a shame."

Yellowstone is currently operating under temporary winter use rules while the National Park Service prepares a new long-term winter use plan. There was much confusion last winter about snowmobile use in the park because of competing court rulings.

The temporary rules, in place through 2007, allow a maximum of 720 guided best-available-technology snowmobiles in the park each day, including a limited number through the East Entrance.

In addition to improved advance bookings, both Fales and Sowerwine expect the snowpack in the park to be better this season.

For more information, contact Rimrock at http://www.rimrockranch.com or (307) 587-3970, or High Country Adventures, http://www.yellowstoneadventuretours.com or (307) 587-7669.

Caribbean adventures

NEW YORK - The Dominican Republic is well-known as a destination for kiteboarding and windsurfing, thanks to its Cabarete beach.

But did you know that it's also a worthy destination for mountain-climbing, thanks to its 10,000-foot-high Pico Duarte, reachable via a three-day, 28-mile route.

The January issue of Men's Journal highlights these and other places in the Caribbean where you can temper lazy beach days with adventures.

In Grenada, the magazine recommends diving to the Bianca C, a 600-foot-long luxury liner that sank in 1961. It's one of 30 dive sites near the island.

Also on the magazine's list are bonefishing in the flats and reefs around Andros Island in the Bahamas; surfing in Rincon on the west coast of Puerto Rico; mountain biking on St. Lucia and climbing the island's twin Piton peaks; and diving, bonefishing, windsurfing and kiteboarding in Los Roques National Park, an archipelago 85 miles off the northern coast of Venezuela.

Finally, in the Virgin Islands, Men's Journal recommends a five-day, 35-mile sea kayaking trip among four islands, organized by Arawak Expeditions, http://arawakexp.com or (800) 238-8687.

Fodor's Hawaii

NEW YORK - If you're dreaming of a trip to Hawaii but don't know where to begin, check out Fodor's "Hawaii 2006" ($19.95).

The book offers advice on everything from which island to stay on and how to get from one island to another, to activities and accommodations - whether hotel, all-inclusive resort, rental or B&B.

"Hawaii 2006" lists the state's No. 1 attraction as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, but Oahu is also home to a number of popular sites for tourists, including the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Dole Plantation, and the three-quarter-mile trail to the top of Diamond Head in Waikiki.

On Maui, you can walk through a rainforest in Hana or visit the Haleakala Crater. On Kauai, kayak along the Na Pali Coast or visit Waimea Canyon. And of course there are plenty of options for just lying around on a beautiful beach or enjoying all types of water sports. But the book warns that while it's easy to find surfing lessons, you're unlikely to master the sport in an hour or even a day.

"Hawaii 2006" also notes that room rates are 10 to 15 percent higher between December and mid-April than at other times of the year.

Finally, if your fantasy is to be met upon arrival with a traditional Hawaiian ceremony in which a fragrant lei is draped around your neck, Fodor's recommends making advance arrangements with Greeters of Hawaii, http://www.greetersofhawaii.com, or Kama'aina Leis, Flowers & Greeters, (808) 836-3246.

Tsunami-tourism

BANGKOK, Thailand - Visitors are flocking to Asian destinations struck by last year's tsunami in large numbers this winter, but a full tourism recovery is not expected until sometime next year, a U.N. agency says.

Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand are finally experiencing high hotel occupancy rates after months of flagging tourism following the tsunami, said the U.N. World Tourism Organization in a press release.

But the UNWTO says even with the increased occupancy rates, bookings to Thailand's Andaman coast, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are still substantially lower than before the tragedy and it will likely be 2006 before a full recovery takes place.

Recovery at beach resorts hit by the tsunami has been sluggish. Official statistics show arrivals to Thailand's Phuket still down by 50 percent in August, while October arrivals to the Maldives were down by 23 percent and foreign guest nights along Sri Lanka's south coast were down by 53 percent in August.

But resorts in all three countries are reporting bookings for December and January between 80-90 percent.

Shortage of rooms is also a problem. Phi Phi Island in Thailand only has 400 rooms available compared to 2,000 before the tsunami and in Khao Lak fewer than 500 of the 6,000 rooms have been reopened.

Indonesia's tourist facilities were not damaged in the tsunami but a terrorist attack on the island of Bali in October drove tourism down once again by an estimated 37 percent that month. Officials are hopeful that the recovery will be quicker than following the 2002 Bali bombings, due to stepped-up security and improved communications.

Lake Placid Lodge

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - Flames engulfed the main building of the Adirondacks' historic Lake Placid Lodge as firefighters from nearly a dozen companies spent hours battling the Dec. 15 blaze in below-freezing temperatures.

No injuries were reported, but damage to the nationally recognized and award-winning resort was extensive, fire officials said.

According to a statement from the hotel, the fire damaged the restaurant, wine cellar, meeting rooms, lounge, pub, game room and several guest rooms. Seventeen cabins and 11 other guest rooms were not affected.

Philip Wood, president and chief operating officer of the Garrett Hotel Group, promised the blaze wouldn't be the end of the Lake Placid Lodge.

"It is our intent to keep the cabins open and operating as usual and to start planning the rebuilding process immediately," says Wood. "Our staff and the community have all rallied magnificently. As one staff member put it, 'Lake Placid Lodge is not so much a building, it is the people and their attitude that have always made the difference.'"

The hotel said its cabins and the guest rooms in both Pine and Birch Lodge would open in time for Christmas regulars.

"We're in the hotel business, so there's going to be a hotel in Lake Placid, I can tell you that," Wood told the Plattsburgh Press-Republican.

The fire started in the building housing the kitchen, bar and dining area of the resort nestled along the wooded south shore of Lake Placid, said Greg Hayes, dispatcher for the Lake Placid Fire Department.

The Lodge is one of the Adirondacks' most exclusive mountain retreats. The secluded resort dates back to 1882 when it originally served as a private residence.

"It's a shame we lost such a historic building," said village Trustee Peter Roy.

In the mid-half of the 20th century the residence became the Lake Placid Manor, and eventually was renamed the Lake Placid Lodge.

Zagat recently named the Lodge one of the Top 20 U.S. Small Hotels and Resorts, and Conde Nast Traveler named the resort one of the three best lakeshore hotels in North America.

Rates ranged from $400 to $1,100 a night. Guests were being relocated to The Point, a resort on Upper Saranac Lake also owned by Garrett Hotel Group.

Lake Placid, home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, is in the north central Adirondacks of upstate New York, about 112 miles north of Albany.

Volcanic trail

HONOLULU - Hikers arriving on Hawaii's Big Island could one day chose to embark on trails that weave across the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano, under a plan by federal, state and private agencies.

A system, to include more than 350 miles of interconnected trails, is being considered by Kamehameha Schools, the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy, among others.

The trails would take visitors through unexplored native forests, pasture lands and lava fields, and link the lower peaks of Kilauea and Hualalai, according to a $180,000 feasibility study by Kamehameha Schools and the Hawaii Tourism Authority, which was done with contributions from various agencies.

The plan, which would cost up to $50 million and take at least five years to create, is modeled after long-distance trails in New Zealand, Europe and the United States. It would encircle Mauna Loa at mid-elevations between 4,000 to 7,000 feet.

"It could be truly a spectacular experience with many cultural, educational and economic benefits," said Rob Shallenberger, Big Island conservation director for The Nature Conservancy.

Shallenberger said about a quarter of all U.S. visitors who came to the state in 2003 either backpacked, hiked or camped. It is estimated that as many as 200,000 would use the new trail system, according to a study of the demand for such recreation.

James Dean museum

GAS CITY, Ind. - A museum dedicated to Hollywood icon James Dean is closing less than two years after it moved from the town where the actor spent his teen years to a site near Interstate 69.

The James Dean Gallery will close Dec. 31, owner David Loehr says.

Loehr opened the museum and gift shop in 1988 in a house near downtown Fairmount, where Dean attended high school. He moved the gallery after an electrical fire in early 2004 to a new, 7,200-square-foot building at I-69 and Indiana 22.

At the time, Loehr said he hoped the new site would attract more visitors. He now says attendance increased but not enough to match the cost of maintaining the temperature-controlled museum he built to house his collection.

"The operating expenses and upkeep and payments are just more than we can handle," Loehr told the Chronicle-Tribune of Marion. "I'm just getting further into debt and I just can't do it anymore."

Nearly one-third of the phone calls to the Marion-Grant County Convention and Visitors Bureau are from prospective tourists interested in Dean, said Karen Niverson, the agency's director.

"The loss of any locally owned business is quite a hit for a community," she said. "But I think the loss of the James Dean Gallery as a locally owned business is a harder hit, because it's so integral to the very identity of our area."

Loehr said he would put his collection - including clothing worn by Dean in his three films, school papers and artwork by the actor - into storage. He will continue to operate a separate gift shop in Fairmount, he said.

A June festival in Marion marking the 50th anniversary of Dean's death drew about 6,000 people instead of the 100,000 organizers had expected.

Kutsher's for sale

THOMPSON, N.Y. - One of the last remaining old-line Catskill resorts is for sale, about a month after the Mohawks abandoned plans to place a casino there.

Kutsher's Country Club, a resort that dates back to the booming "Borscht Belt" era, is on the market for $50 million.

The listing comes after the St. Regis Mohawks decided to forgo plans for a casino at the resort. The Mohawks, who had teamed up with Harrah's Entertainment, decided to revive an earlier plan to build a casino at the nearby Monticello Raceway.

"We saw a door possibly closing, and it gave us impetus to look at what options might be out there," hotel owner Mark Kutsher told the Times Herald-Record of Middletown.

The $50 million asking price for the 1,400-acre resort includes a 400-room hotel, an 18-hole golf course, two sleepaway camps, indoor ice skating, sports fields and two lakes, according to the listing on Upstate Commercial Group's Web site.

Despite the language of the listing, Kutsher told The New York Times in Tuesday's editions that he intended to retain the hotel and to sell about 1,000 acres of land.

The sale is the latest twist in long-running effort to remake an area northwest of New York City that once drew a largely Jewish tourist clientele.

Despite a series of casino proposals, no tribe has obtained final approval from state and federal officials.