To get The Traveling Professor's monthly travel newsletter, packed with travel tips, travel updates, and first notice of his small group tours to exciting destinations, sign up at the top of this page.
We've heard the pundits say, "don't travel, it's too dangerous". The Traveling Professor assessed the risks, planned carefully, chose "safe" destinations, took advantage of some great travel locations, and hit the road this year in 2020. After a few terrific road trips, The Professor is back home, healthy, safe and sound. We took into consideration we are both in our 60's and decided we are going to travel responsibly and safely.
We selected each destination based on how crowded we thought it would be and trying to avoid those crowds. Every destination was relatively empty with perhaps the exception of Biltmore Estate. We got terrific deals on flights and hotels. The Professor researched CDC and AARP guidance on flying and traveling safely. The Professor and his traveling companion have both been tested negative for COVID-19.
Here are our trips:
Great Barrington MA to Frisco TX: In the summer, we live near Great Barrington, MA and in the winter months we go to Frisco, TX. On our annual drive down we stopped on Long Island to visit family for 2 nights. We then drove to Gettysburg, PA to visit the historic battlefield. We wanted to avoid the Gettysburg visitor's center on a weekend when it was most crowded, so we planned to arrive on Wednesday. We did the battlefields by car and took in the visitor's center in the afternoon. Great trip! The next day we drove down to Asheville, NC and stayed at a Marriott Courtyard not in Asheville proper but very close to the Vanderbilt estate in Biltmore Village. The next day we had a beautiful tour of the Biltmore Estate. Crowds were reduced and we wore masks inside, but not outside. We had a great dinner at Tupelo Honey in Biltmore Village. Our next day was a spectacular one as we drove the nearly empty Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville to Cherokee, NC. There were not a lot of services available on the road, so we took snacks with us. From Cherokee we drove to Chattanooga, TN where we visited family for 4 days. While in Chattanooga, we were sure to take the 6 hour round trip on the historic Chattanooga/Chickamauga Turn train ride from the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. It included a 90 minute stop in Chickamauga, Georgia where we visited the historic Gordon-Lee Mansion. On our way from Chattanooga to Frisco, we did not do our usual stop this time at the Vicksburg National Military Site, because of time constraints. But if traveling that way, I highly recommend it. We arrived in Frisco safe and sound.
Grand Canyon National Park and Scottsdale: Feeling the need to travel just before Thanksgiving, we planned a trip to Arizona with family. We got a terrific deal at the Hilton Boulders Resort in Scottsdale. We flew to Phoenix from DFW and rented a car. Spent 3 nights at a nearly empty resort with no other guests adjoining our casitas. The pool was all to ourselves one day. We also played golf (a great sport to socially distance) and took an ATV out in the desert for fun. The car ride up to Grand Canyon National Park was especially scenic and we checked into the sparsely populated but famous El Tovar hotel for a night. It was the right decision to tour the Grand Canyon minus the crowds. We had a beautiful dinner in the glorious dining room at the El Tovar hotel. We walked right in with no reservations. We chose to ride back to Tucson stopping in quaint Williams, AZ and Sedona before arriving in Tucson to visit family for the day then flying back to Dallas. Again, we all arrived home safe and sound.
South Dakota and Wyoming: Anticipating impending stricter restrictions on travel, we did this trip that has been on our bucket list for years. On December 10, 2020 we flew from DFW up to Rapid City in the center of the Black Hills of South Dakota. We stayed at the perfectly located Alex Johnson Hotel, a Hilton Curio Collection property for an amazing $62 per night. Dining was terrific at Talley's Silver Spoon, just across the street and around the block at Delmonico's Grill and Sabatino's Italian Ristorante. We arrived at a 70 degree Rapid City and did a walking tour of this City of Presidents where a sculpture of every president is scattered about the small city corners. The next day it was a bit cooler but we visited majestic Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. In normal times, 3 million people visit the monument each year. Today, I counted a grand total of 13 cars (no busses) in the one open parking lot. We had the memorial just about all to ourselves and had wonderful conversations with park rangers. From there, we took the scenic ride to the Crazy Horse Memorial. There were maybe 20 cars in the parking lot. We jumped on a private up close and personal tour of the monument with an emotional account of the history of Crazy Horse by our Indian guide, Gary. From there we visited Custer State Park. During the 18-mile Wildlife Loop we encountered few cars but many bison, deer, prairie dogs, and pronghorn. Great scenery for a great day. The next day we headed out to Badlands National Park and the nearly desolate 31-mile Bandlands Loop Scenic Byway. We saw hundreds, maybe thousands of bison. Bighorn sheep and pronghorn practically walked up to the car and posed for photos. The Badlands has perhaps the most spectacular of scenery, in my opinion it surpasses the Grand Canyon. At the end of the day we had the opportunity for a near-private tour of the Minuteman Missile Historic Site on the way back to Rapid City. On our last full day, with considerably colder weather, we ventured out to snowy Wyoming and Devil's Tower National Monument. When we arrived at 10:20 a.m. the Park Ranger said we were only the 2nd car to arrive that day. Needless to say, we had no problem parking and had the opportunity to take fabulous uninterrupted photos. On the way back home we drove through Deadwood and Sturgis, SD but did not get out of the car.
Of all the places we have been, South Dakota seemed to have the most relaxed policies on mask-wearing and social distancing. All the restaurants were open and all attractions that are usually open during the winter season were available.
Again, we did the research, traveled carefully and had a wonderful and safe time.
Don't forget to sign up for The Traveling Professor's monthly newsletter and while you are here, check out the follow-up blog post, How We Traveled Safely in 2021.