America the Beautiful – An American Explores Her Own Country
by Olivia Balsinger
Although I have been to almost 100 foreign countries, the number of states that I ventured in my own home country barely reaches double digits. So, I decided to retire my passport for a while and explore the splendor of my own backyard. Below are the highlights of my travels, which particularly opened my eyes to the bucolic magnificence of the United States.
Westward ho! The first leg of my adventure brought me to mountainous Colorado, a state whose opportunity for outdoor adventure is as unmatched in the summer as it is in the winter. While I didn’t get the chance to break out the skis on this trip, the warm weather I was able to soak in the sun and partake in numerous adventures.
My journey began in Denver, where a cozy night at the Sheraton Hotel downtown rested me up for the journey to come. Denver has grown exponentially within the last half decade, emphasized by development of neighborhoods such as “RiNo” –River District North—a creative environment where you can find some of the best food, music, and art in the country! In addition to its innovations in food truck culture and its elaborate street art visions, Denver is also a mecca for live music. The Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which produces what is arguable the greatest natural sound in the state, is only 20 minutes outside of the city. After rocking out at a live show, I spent the night at the newly debuted Origin Hotel Red Rocks.
I then drove to Breckenridge, nicknamed “Breck,” a resort town 90 minutes southwest of Denver. Once a hotspot for mining gold in the 1800’s, the town is now famous for its abundance of outdoor adventures and hillsides. And that is precisely what I set out to explore. With the help of the Colorado Adventure Guides, I found myself at the door of the famed Francie’s Cabin — a year-round staple for outdoor enthusiasts since 1994. Here the night sky illuminated with tens of thousands of stars, sweeping across an infinite distance, watching over me as I snuggled for warmth in a sleeping bag I rented from Ridden, a local outfitter in Breck. Fortunately, with the grand opening of the counterpart to Francie’s cabin, more people can be accommodated so they too can experience this gorgeous corner of the world. Known as the Sister’s Hut, the new hut will be the first of its kind build on public lands in 22 years!
Of course, not all my time in Breckenridge was spent roughing it. In fact, I indulged in the utmost of comfort at Grand Colorado Peak 8, a luxurious condominium complex located right on the mountain base. When I wasn’t soaking in the hot tub or getting their Signature Massage at their acclaimed Infinity Spa, I would use the hotel as my jumping off point for all my Breckenridge adventures. Nestled in the Rockies, the town delivers so much more than its simple “ski town” reputation—the art’s district, for example, showcases a thriving and creative community, where you can soak up culture, have a delicious meal at one of their many restaurants—including Twist, which offers eclectic American food paired with mountain views—or watch artists craft in their workshops. I even tried my hand at glassblowing with Breckenridge Creative Arts and let’s just say it is harder than it looks!
Fort Collins, nicknamed FoCo, is a happening new travel destination, whose impressive, energetic art scene and entrepreneurial spirit makes the hour long drive from Denver well worth it. I strolled its streets as if it was a movie scene, where an invigorating creative spirit permeated its quirky, niche culture and spreads across to the pristine natural landscape that frames it. It nurtures a large “maker” culture, offering delicious brews that utilize the freshest of local ingredients. It is a hip place that continues to grow as a hub for artists and creatives, who value the significance of community as much the solace of the natural environment.
Perhaps one of the best ways to get acquainted with the spirit of Fort Collins is seeing the unique art that it inspires. At Martha Trimble Court Artisans, a cooperative gallery, I shopped for remarkable, one-of-a-kind ceramics and jewelry— a mosaic of diverse creations.
The theme of “handmade” is a prevalent one in Fort Collins, speaking to its consciousness to craft and connectedness to the environment. At Farm Fusion, I enjoyed farm-to- table delicacies and learned how they are made with interactive instruction. Similarly, at the newly opened Ginger & Baker I participated in a demonstration dedicated to spreading the enjoyment of healthy, local food. The only way to follow an incredible homemade meal comprised of the freshest ingredients is with chocolate. Fort Collins is home to incredible artisanal chocolate shops, such as Nuance Chocolate. Using premium roasted cacao beans, sourced ethically from all over the world, Nuance grinds their batches for three consecutive days, after which they are transformed into a range of delectable treats.
In a place ample with opportunity for outdoor adventure, it is no wonder that so many successful lifestyle brand retail stores began in Fort Collins. One such company is OtterBox, specializing in protective cases for my electronics, which began in a basement. Meandering the streets of FoCo, you are immersed in a “makers” breeding ground.
National Geographic declared Boulder “The Happiest City in the USA” for good reason. Boulder is a city of wide open spaces, eclectic cuisine and accessible nature. I stayed right on the pedestrian friendly Pearl Street at The Saint Julien, which delivered luxury and convenience. From here I was able to indulge in one of my travel pleasures: shopping! Just like FoCo, Boulder has a vibrant creative culture, which draws in and welcomes warmly a community of dreamers, doers, and innovators.
One night I headed to nearby Lyons for a farm dinner with “Top Chef” winner, Hosea Rosenberg and his team of inspired chefs at Blackberry Market on the gorgeous creekside lawn at Lyons Farmette. Once a boutique catering company, Blackbelly has evolved into a highly acclaimed full-service café.
Once you visit Boulder, it will not take long to catch on to the collective connection to the the land, which it relies on for both the delicious and nutritious meals cheffed up in its eateries as well as medicinal remedies whose healing properties can help with ailments in a holistic way. Dipping my feet in herbalism, I visited Three Leaf Farm, I learned about botanicals and created a spirt bag filled with herbs.
Like FoCo, Boulder is home to an amazing community of artisans, artists, and designers. Eric Lyon and Jason Olden are two “makers” with the innovative idea to see outdoor product development for millennial in a new light. They created the aptly named clothing line Mountain Standard in Boulder in 2014 and Lyon’s sentiment holds true for both his brand and other “doers” in his community.
“We are making Mountain Standard the new standard for authenticity as we push the outdoor market forward by catering directly to the end user and their true pursuits…We are relatively simple people with complex ideas and an adventure-ready spirit,” explained Lyon.
Finally, wanting to try something quirky, I stayed overnight at Wee Casa, the world’s largest tiny house resort in Lyons, a few minutes from Boulder. The alternative lodgings are arranged side-by-side in a park like setting that uses space and resources as efficiently as possible, showcasing progression and sustainability.
My next odyssey took me to Door County, Wisconsin, which rests on a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. The county is known for its long-stretching shoreline and magnificent parks, including Peninsula State Park, home to the must-see Nicolet Beach, where you can camp and wake every morning to the calming crash of its waters. First on my list was exploring the county’s diverse landscape on their Sunset Trail, beginning at the Fish Creek entrance and continuing through such spectacles as the Weborg Marsh, the ancient, awe-inspiring cedar and maple trees and the cliff communities.
I also explored Newport State Park, located on Lake Michigan, a wilderness park with a labyrinth of trails for nature enthusiasts. For those looking to expand there hiking prowess, Potawatomi State Park is fringed by limestone cliffs.
Another unforgettable experience was hiking Whitefish Dunes State Park, where I hiked to “Old Baldy,” the park’s tallest dune which rises 93 feet above the lake level.
While blazing the wooded trails is a great way to get acquainted with the bucolic majesty of Door County, traveling is always about exploring new vantage points. And what better vantage point than smack dab in the middle of one of the continent’s Great Lakes? Sister Bay Scenic Boat Tours are a great way to traverse through the monuments hidden in places that may only be reached by sailing the adjacent Green Bay, offering narrated tours to Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, Death’s Doors, and the numerous islands, secluded beaches, and coastal bluffs contained in Door County.
When I desired more adrenaline, I headed to Door County Adventure Rafting, which led me to the beautiful sites of Anderson Dock, shipwrecks along the lake, and the deserted beaches of Horseshoe Island and Chambers Island.
All of this adventure built an appetite; luckily, there are a number of delicious options within the area to choose from. One of the county’s traditions is an authentic Fish Boil dinner at Rowley’s Bay Restaurant. Introducing each dinner is a storyteller that relays the history of the fish boil in front of a fiery cauldron, followed by an unforgettable meal of whitefish caught freshly from Lake Michigan, prepared in the tradition of the Scandinavians that settled in the area one hundred years ago. Additionally, Wild Tomato Wood-Fired Pizza and Grille, located just outside the south border of Peninsula State Park, is a warm, homey, and rustic take on my staple food. This recently opened, family-operated establishment pride themselves on their hand-tossed dough, and perfectly curated ingredients.
I rested my head each evening at Eagle Harbor Inn, a quaint bed and breakfast with resort amenities, including whirlpool suites which felt especially soothing post days out in the Wisconsin wilderness!
And last but not least, it was time to relive childhood, and return to my home state of Connecticut to stay at Club Getaway, an adult sleep-away camp complete with cabins, campfires and s’mores. Only a 90-minute bus drive away from New York City, I reached Kent, Connecticut, bright-eyed and eager to live out my summer camp days. I signed up for a variety of activities, including classics like kickball, swimming, egg toss and water skiing. However, being an “adult” camp, I indulged in a few more mature, nonetheless whimsical, options, such as hunting for wine through the lush woods or mixing cocktails at a dance party.
Club Getaway’s luxurious two person cabins gave me the nostalgic, rustic feel of my younger years, with the added bonus of more hygienic facilities and comfortable lodgings. Instead of the traditional sleep away camp fare of bug juice and fries, Club Getaway spoils with paella, lobster, sundae bars and Chardonnay. Though each camp weekend is a different theme, all share the ability to relinquish fond childhood memories.
While I have explored much of the world, my identity as an American can still be a mystery to me. I am fortunate to have began my adventure in the homeland and am enthused to keep the adventure going.
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