By Britt Aamodt
“It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.” Those were the words of 19th-century transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. In July of 1845, Thoreau undertook a two-year odyssey in “simple living” on the shores of Walden Pond. He lived alone in the woods, a mile from the closest neighbor, and recorded his observations in a journal.
Thoreau wanted to get away to discover himself and to find the time to pen a book. Along the way he also uncovered a world of wonder that spread out beneath the canopy of heaven.
Fortunately for you, you don’t have to give up modern conveniences to experience the great wide open. Land, water and air are only a motorcoach tour away, and your destinations don’t have to be limited to secluded cabins in the woods.
A fresh air tour gives the tour operator an opportunity to intertwine the exterior with the interior experience. You and your motorcoach group can bump along a country road on a hay wagon, zip line over a forest canopy and pluck apples straight from the orchard. But you can also dip into a fine dining experience on a restaurant terrace, indulge your taste buds at a local vintage wine tasting and explore caves, ranchlands, tall grass prairie and historic sites through guided tours and interactive presentations.
And like Thoreau at Walden Pond, you and your group may discover that the wonders of a vibrant, natural world engage not just your desire to look at, but also your capacity to experience the moment through all of your senses.
Under a Sky So Blue
The swath that extends up through Central Canada and south through the borderland and America’s corn belt comprises a land of marvels. From Winnipeg, on the fringes of the Canadian Prairies, to Wichita, Kansas, your motorcoach can direct you to some of North America’s most stunning vistas. A step-on guide is a great asset to narrate landmarks and historical trivia, but these noteworthy ports of call speak for themselves.
Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre in Stonewall, Manitoba, offers tour operators opportunities to bring nature to groups of all sizes. An experienced interpreter will introduce your group to the internationally significant marshlands through canoe excursions, indoor interactive programs, hiking trails and snowshoe treks. In December, you can help the center count the winter resident bird species in the Christmas Bird Count. One hour north of Winnipeg are the Narcisse Snake Dens, where spring and fall you can watch the native red-sided garter snakes transit to and from their underground dens.
Kearney, Nebraska is home to more than 80 percent of the world’s population of sandhill cranes, while Kansas’ Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Refuge is considered the most important shorebird migration point in the western hemisphere. Minnesota’s Itasca State Park marks the beginning of the Mississippi River. And where better to embrace nature and the outdoors, but in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at Tahquamenon Falls, the second largest falls east of the Mississippi, on a Twilight Walking Tour learning the history of voyageurs and trappers? Many nature destinations offer year-round and seasonal tours tailor-made to your group.
Tour and Taste
Fresh air tours give you an excuse to feel like a kid again. Part of the adventure of being a kid is that “oh my gosh” reaction to experiencing something for the first time. You’ve had syrup on pancakes, but have you ever tramped in the woods and tapped a sugar maple? At the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls, your group can collect sap and then watch it boil down to syrup in the Sugar Shack. Best yet, you can order a waffle with real maple syrup for lunch.
Kids love to forage in the wild: blueberries, raspberries and honeysuckle. You can re-experience the thrill of fresh air foraging with a vineyard trip at North Dakota’s Red Trail Vineyards (check out their Harvest and Grape Stomp Festival) and Iowa’s Ditmars Orchard and Vineyard, where you can top off your orchard romp with fried peach or apple pie and an apple slushie. The real bonus of sample tours is they curb your group’s snack attack when dinner is still hours away.
Milwaukee offers food tours in an urban setting and Nebraska’s Arbor Day Farm invites you back in time to the estate of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day, to pick heirloom apple varieties no longer available in grocery stores, go creek walking and assist at a commemorative tree planting. And when your group needs its sugar fix, you can take your pick of the Cupcake or Chocolate tour of Chicago.
A New Sense of Self
The point of getting away is to appreciate spectacles and activities you can’t find in your own backyard. Through those experiences you realize something new about yourself. To give that self-discovery a nudge, it’s helpful to go beyond seeing to doing.
“Do what?” you may be asking. Well, for starters, how about a hot air balloon ride in Stillwater, Minnesota? Or even more adventurous: A zip line trip over the Wolfe Creek Preserve in Branson, Missouri? Zip lining is one of those things you see on TV, but never thought you’d do yourself. But it’s a safe and thrilling activity that can be geared to the group trip.
Pick your own gemstone on the Ouimet Canyon and Amethyst Mine Panorama excursion in Ontario. In Illinois, witness a horse ballet at Tempel Farms, and summon ghosts in Alton. Never thought you’d experience a safari? Check out the Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari in Omaha. Participate in a Green Bay ritual, the tailgate party, at a home game in Lambeau Field and see wild horses roam a sanctuary in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Fresh air destinations will heighten your sense of wonder, while also entertaining, educating and connecting people of all ages. Many sites offer handicapped and limited-mobility options, and tour packages are customizable to groups of different sizes and interests. Step-on guides bring the story right to your motorcoach, while immersive activities allow your group to actively participate in the voyage of discovery.
Thoreau taught that nature helped you experience the present moment. With a fresh air tour, every present moment offers something new to see, taste, smell, touch and contemplate from a motorcoach window and at every destination between “oh my gosh” and home sweet home.