Your Island Escape: Sanibel Island, Florida
By Marika Flatt
It’s got Southern charm, the laid-back Gulf beach vibe that Florida is known for and even a tropical island feel. Sanibel Island, just off the coast of Fort Myers, is one of Florida’s seashells to discover. From Texas, you can fly direct to Fort Lauderdale on Southwest Airlines; however it’s about a 2 ½ hour drive to the island (but about $200 per ticket or less) or you can fly into Fort Myers which is about a half-hour drive.
Because you’ll spend the better part of a day getting there, definitely plan to stay longer than three nights. We spent five, and were able to really experience what the island offers.
High season runs November through April because so many snowbirds come down to enjoy long-term rentals on the beach. The island offers a wide range of rental options (homes, villas, cottages) but we recommend a two-bedroom, two-bath condo at Sanibel Siesta. It’s about 20 yards off the beach and the condos are fully equipped, clean and spacious. A king bed in one room, two singles in another, and a foldout sofa in the living room was ideal for our party of five.
There are grills and a pool in the courtyard, and the condos have a fleet of bikes for rent. Sanibel Island is one of those beach towns where you really should just park your car and leave it for the entire stay and get around on two wheels. The paved bike paths run throughout the island for a smooth and flat ride.
You can spend your days on the beach (you’ll find some of the world’s most epic shelling on Sanibel Island) and there are many beaches to enjoy from one end of the island to the other. Here are a few activities we recommend:
Enjoy the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Take the 90-minute tram ride provided by Tarpon Bay Explorers for an uber-educational look at the bird life that takes refuge in the mangrove forest. Don’t expect to see a lot of other wildlife, but you’ll earn a degree in birding. The refuge, which covers the entire back portion of Sanibel Island, is an example that other countries visit to emulate. In the refuge, where “people are not the priority,” you’ll find wildlife categorized in three areas: endangered, threatened, and animals of special concern.
Captiva Cruises on Captiva Island (just across the bridge from Sanibel) offers a Dolphin Watching Cruise out of the harbor. This 90-minute boat ride is likely to treat you to an up close and personal experience with dolphins enjoying their natural habitat. We were thrilled to have a group of dolphins swim and jump alongside our boat for nearly 10 minutes!
Take a bike ride to the historic lighthouse on the end of the island. From Sanibel Siesta, it’s just a few miles down the bike path for a gorgeous view of the Gulf of Mexico, some of the best photo opps and a feel for the history of Sanibel. (The lighthouse has been there since 1884 when the whole area was a nature preserve.)
Get in a round of golf at The Dunes golf course. You’ll find a real Florida Everglades scene on this course (not many sand dunes, but lots of water). Keep a lookout for alligators and friendly snakes who want to partner on the links.
Tired of cooking in your condo? There are many dining choices up and down the island. The Bubble Room on Captiva Island is full of eye candy, with their golden age of Hollywood theme (think black and white photos of movie stars and vintage toys). Other local eateries include The Island Cow, The Lazy Flamingo and The Lighthouse Café.
Heart-Racing High Altitude Adventure: Utah’s Wasatch Mountains
By Doug Flatt
If lazing on the beach isn’t your idea of recharging your batteries, try the polar opposite with a winter venture through Utah’s Wasatch Mountain Range, just a stone’s throw from Salt Lake City. With direct flights on Delta from every major metro city in Texas, Utah skiing is conveniently accessible.
Ski Utah offers a unique program that gives the advanced to expert skier the opportunity to ski six resorts in the Wasatch Range in one day. The Interconnect Tour allows skiers access to beautiful backcountry led by 25-year veteran guide Deb Lovci, who was named “Best Skiing Guide” in Outside Magazine’s 2015 Best of Travel guide.
Your 26-mile skiing experience starts at Deer Valley, continues to Park City, then to Solitude Mountain Resort, on to Brighton and back to Solitude for lunch. Carb-loading at the Round House at Solitude is a must to tackle what lies ahead on the Interconnect. The Himalayan and Wasatch-inspired cuisine includes mountain-sized portions of shepherd’s pie, lamb curry and chicken makhani.
After lunch, take a lift to the top of Solitude, cross over the ropes and traverse a ridge, aptly named Highway to Heaven.
For a Texan who was breathing sea level air just a few days before ascending to above 10,000 feet, this traverse was tough. Physical fitness is as important as skiing ability for the tour.
After skiing the famous Grizzly Gulch at Alta, cross over to Snowbird for the sixth and final resort of the day. If you can ski groomed black trails, you won’t have a problem with this backcountry.
Celebrating a frosty beverage with your fellow backcountry adventurers is a perfect ending to an unforgettable day. When you cover 36,000 vertical feet in one day, there are plenty of stories to share!
Hauling ski gear with you all the way to the mountains can be daunting and expensive. Ski Butler will completely change the way you think about ski rentals. Instead of waiting in long lines at rental shops, Ski Butler comes to you. Have a problem with your gear once you start skiing? They’ll meet you at your resort and make any adjustments you need on the spot. Ski Butler supplied our group with Rossignol Soul 7’s, all-mountain, extremely versatile skis that perform beautifully on groomers as well as backcountry powder.
Skiing is the first outdoor activity that most folks think of when planning a Utah trip. However, for the traveler looking for adventurous and relaxing activities off the beaten path, the Wasatch Range offers many options:
- Have you always been an alpine skier and want to try something new? The Nordic Skiing Center at Solitude Mountain Resort offers a heart-pounding alternative to downhill. Be patient, it’s more difficult than it looks!
- Try the latest craze at the home of the first USA Cycling Fat Bike Championship. The multi-use groomed trail at the top of Hidden Lake covers six miles and tops out around 8,800 feet with about 700 feet in elevation gain.
- If you’re looking for a one-of-kind experience to soothe those sore muscles, The Homestead Crater is a geothermal mineral water spring that stays at a steady 95 degrees. It’s hidden within a 55-foot, beehive-shaped limestone rock.
- Cat skiing at Powder Mountain is a powder skier’s dream. With 7,000 acres of skiable terrain, this is one of the largest ski resorts in the US. Powder Mountain is also plugged in with local artists and offers a weekend summit series, allowing visitors to experience the unique local culture.
- The Solitude Yurt experience includes snowshoeing through a moonlit tree line to a mountain yurt. Once there, our group of night hikers enjoyed a chef’s creation of clam chowder, salmon, asparagus and a popcorn-infused custard with a hardened caramel crunch.