Richard Crawford, Author at RichardCrawfordLuxury.com
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The magical interplay of rock, water and time has given rise to a host of hauntingly beautiful geological features that draw visitors to the American southwest. The winding canyons and steep cliffs of Zion National Park, located in the southwest of the U.S. state of Utah, a little under an hour’s drive from the easy-going and active city of St. George, offer visitors a glimpse into both the deep geological past and the cultural history of the Native American people who inhabited the region for several thousand years. The environment you will find today in Zion National Park is a testament to change and I guarantee a visit to this beautiful place will leave you changed as well.
Zion National Park was established in 1909 and has now grown to encompass 229 square miles of sandstone and desert where erosion continues to shape the land and uncover the buried secrets of the earth’s long history. The colorful sandstone features that give Zion its breathtaking beauty are part of a much larger formation, known as the Colorado Plateau, which also plays host Zion’s famous southern neighbor, the Grand Canyon. Due to the way erosion and uplift have worked in these two locations, the bottom layer of rock exposed at Zion is actually the same as the top layer of the Grand Canyon. So after visiting Zion and looking up from the valley floor, head south to the Grand Canyon and look down. You will then be able to envision yourself in the midst of many millions of years of sedimentation, rock formation, uplift and erosion. It’s an awe-inspiring thought. Fortunately, your visit to Zion will provide you with plenty of opportunities to diffuse any potential existential crisis by distracting yourself with adventure and discovery in the outdoors.
The opportunities for outdoor recreation at Zion National Park are almost endless, with hiking, backpacking, climbing, horseback riding, bicycling, and bird and wildlife watching among the popular activities available. While adventure sports like rock climbing, canyoneering, and long distance hiking and backpacking draw outdoor sports enthusiasts, ranger-led expeditions and programs for children, along with the wide variety of hiking trails that include short and easy walks, make the park a great destination for families as well.
Climbing: With sandstone walls towering 2,000 feet over the canyon floor, Zion is a playground for big wall climbers.
Hiking: There are so many options for hikers at Zion that anyone should be able to find their ideal experience. Hikes vary in length from easy half mile strolls that should take under a half an hour to 14-mile, eight or nine hour hikes over extremely challenging terrain. Many of Zion’s trails fall between these two extremes and promise exceptional scenery and the opportunity to see into deep layers of earth. The sandstones that make up the rock features at Zion formed from deposits of sediment that accumulated around 240 million years ago near the edge of a shallow sea. For those who don’t mind getting wet, a spectacular and unique hike known as “The Narrows” requires walking upstream in the Virgin River as it enters the narrowest part of Zion Canyon.
Bicycling: The elimination of private vehicle traffic through Zion National Park has been a boon for bicyclists who are able to travel the park’s roads, except through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel with relatively little interference. Off-road bicycling is not permitted except on the three and a half-mile long Pa’rus trail. Just make sure when you travel that you take the right gear when you´re going on a trip.
Human History: The history of Zion National Park doesn’t end with the geology. In fact, the story of the human inhabitants of the area and their relationship to the land is equally interesting and Zion’s museum collection contains over 290,000 artifacts. Some are on display for visitors to enjoy at Zion’s Human History Museum where visitors can learn about the 6,000 years of human beings adapting to the ever-changing environmental conditions of the area.
Staying in or near Zion National Park is easy. Along with a lodge and campgrounds in the park, hotels and restaurants are available in the nearby town of Springdale, Utah from which a free shuttle service ferries visitors from several locations in town to Zion National Park. Shuttles run daily through the summer months, cutting down on traffic both outside and inside the park where private vehicles are not permitted from March through October.
Inside the park, propane-powered shuttles run every few minutes along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, stopping at trail heads, rest rooms and the Visitors Center and Human History Museum, ensuring easy access for visitors to the sites they wish to visit within the park while keeping the air clean and the atmosphere peaceful. I visited Zion National Park in the winter when visitor counts were lower than the busy spring and summer season. However, the park’s smart decision to keep vehicle traffic to a minimum means that even at the busiest times of the year, you will be able to find some quiet moments in this natural wonderland. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this awe-inspiring place and I’m sure you will, too.
Top Ten Things To Do At The Sundance Film Festival
I’m heading to Park City, Utah again this year for the Sundance Film Festival. Here is my Top Ten list of things to do during the festival.
Above all else, Park City is an epic destination for skiers with three of the top Rocky Mountain ski resorts right at your doorstep. With over 9,000 skiable acres of perfect powder and hundreds of runs, the only thing missing will be the crowds. During Sundance, the majority of Park City’s visitors are attending screenings, panels and parties, leaving the slopes and lifts significantly less crowded than during a normal week in the height of the winter season.
2. Zoom Restaurant
This top-rated restaurant owned by the Sundance Kid himself, Robert Redford, occupies the lovingly restored old train station on Park City’s Main Street and serves a wide variety of hearty American cuisine using fresh, local ingredients. You know a restaurant is doing something right when diners rave about the Brussels Sprouts appetizer! The menu includes specialties like Pan Seared Salmon, Wood Grilled Filet, Buffalo Ribeye and Lamb Shank as well as other favorites, perfect for replacing some of the calories you burned on ski slopes.
3. High West Distillery
This distillery with a ski-in saloon is a true “must” experience in Park City. Using quality ingredients and distilling their spirits in small batches in a traditional copper still, High West Distillery produces a range of whiskeys with colorful names like Yippee Kai Yay and Rendezvous Rye that reflect the Old West and Park City’s mining heritage. The food and the atmosphere at High West Distillery are as beloved as their spirits. The fire pit in the front courtyard is the perfect place to enjoy a warm-up cocktail like Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Elixir which combines High West’s Double Rye, Applejack, Saint Elizabeth Allspice Dram, maple syrup and butter. Ski in for a cocktail, and you may end up staying for a dinner of frontier favorites like the chicken pot pie or bison burger. Ask your server about a whiskey pairing for your meal to enhance the experience.
4. Le Spa at Chateaux Deer Valley
Located in the Chateaux hotel in Deer Valley, a visit to Le Spa will keep you in top form for enjoying the mountains. If you’ve recently arrived from sea level, you’ll need to try the Altitude Adjustment Body Wrap, a 50 to 80-minute treatment consisting of a mineral-rich aromatherapy wrap with essential oils to combat the drying effects of the high altitude and leave you energized to take on the outdoor sports and the epic party scene that accompany the Sundance Film Festival.
5. Celebrity Spotting
Frequenting the film festival hot spots in the hope of spotting one or two of your favorite celebrities is as much a signature experience during the Sundance Festival as watching the films. Be on the lookout at the pop-up lounges hosted by festival sponsors and at the door of the hottest parties where, if you take a polite approach, you might even be able to talk your way in.
6. Snowmobile Excursions
There’s more terrain to experience around Park City than you can see on skis. For a backcountry experience, try a snowmobile excursion with Snowmobile Adventures at Thousand Peaks Ranch. Tours at Thousand Peaks take advantage of the ranch’s 60,000 acres with altitudes up to 1,000 feet. If you have the time, take the Sunset Tour to experience the beauty of the Rocky Mountain sunset. It gets cold after dark but halfway through the ride you’ll stop at backcountry cabin with a roaring fire to warm up for the return trip. Friendly, knowledgeable guides and brand new snow machines make this adventure a first-class experience.
7. Apres Ski
Park City’s J&G Grill is a perennial favorite for an after-ski cocktail, complete with views of the Deer Hollow ski run and sodas they make themselves. The signature cocktail here is the 7452 Bloody Mary, served at 7452 feet altitude and includes wasabi, celery espuma, cayenne pepper and a garnish of black lava salt. Another unique experience is a visit to the Powder Champagne Ice Lounge at the Park City Waldorf Astoria. Here, on the patio adjacent to the hotel’s Powder lounge, Champagne is served from a 14-foot bar carved from ice. A fur blanket will keep you warm as you sip Champagne under the stars.
The best shopping in Park City is along Main Street where 70 retail stores ranging from souvenir shops to unique boutiques and galleries can fill every need. From fashion apparel and jewelry to art, souvenirs, books, and, of course, outdoor gear, schedule some time to wander along Main Street to see what you’ll find. Visit Dolly’s Bookstore to stock up on reading material for your flight home or pick up some athletic wear and accessories from Roots, Canada’s famous apparel brand at their Main Street shop.
Have a cup of coffee and a made-to-order crepe at Java Cow, which doubles as an ice-cream parlor, on Main Street in Park City. Both the ice cream and coffee at Java Cow are visitor favorites but what sets this coffee house apart are the delicious pastries and made-to-order crepes that you can order to accompany your beverage.
10. See Some Movies!
While you’re in Park City for the Sundance Film Festival, you might as well see some movies, right? There are a variety of options available for film buffs to purchase an all-access pass and tickets for individual films are available at the festival office on Main Street. Without a pass, your best bet to see the film you’re interested in may be to attend one of the early morning showings while the majority of festival-goers are sleeping off a night of partying.
Get Lost in Time at the Ardanaiseig Hotel
The wild, majestic beauty and romance of the Scottish Highlands has inspired many a legend, including a modern day story centered on a special place, untouched by time and hidden from the rest of the world, where love is enough to make the traveler want to stay forever. Of course I’m talking about my visit to the stately Ardanaiseig Hotel in Argyll on the shores of the beautiful Loch Awe, a property that is full of luxury and character and surrounded by breathtaking highland scenery.
This luxury hotel is special for many reasons, the first of which being that it doesn’t seem like a hotel at all. Occupying a grand manor house two centuries old and set on a large estate appointed with beautiful gardens, the Ardanaiseig’s transformation from grand family home to hotel was done very delicately in order to preserve the character of the building and the feeling of being a guest at a fine private home. This is one of my top five favorite hotels in the world, a truly first class experience that envelopes the visitor in the heritage and unique beauty of this very special part of the world.
Arriving at the hotel is truly like leaving everything else behind. The last few miles of the drive to the property are on an old, single track road that really emphasizes the sense of a place that is set apart. When you drive up to the large, grey stone house on the circular gravel driveway, you will be greeted at the front door by the reception staff, a lovely touch that sets the tone for the feeling that you’re staying in a large private home rather than a traditional hotel. Once inside, the elegant but warm and comfortable décor with antique furnishings and accessories, working fireplaces and views of the beautiful grounds and the lake beyond, will have you falling in love and wanting to extend your stay before you even set foot in your unique and delightful room. Every large guest room at the Ardanaiseig is individually decorated and beautifully furnished. Two outbuildings available for rental on the property, the Boat Shed which features a modern style of furnishing and large windows facing the lake and the Rose Cottage a traditional stone cottage decorated in a cozy, traditional style, offer even more room and additional privacy.
I prefer to stay in the Ardanaiseig’s main house, where the dining room, the bar which houses an excellent variety of whiskey, and the cozy and comfortable drawing room are all within easy reach. There are three categories of guest rooms in the main house, the grand Master Loch and Master Garden rooms and the slightly smaller Garden View. Each one is decorated differently and each room is known by its name, rather than its number, so if you prefer a room with a view of the Loch, you might find yourself in the softly colored Ben Luis, the deep red Cruachan with a its large four-poster, gold canopy covered bed, the bold green Ichrachan, the Tervine with its deep red walls, bay window and ornate gold headboard, the bright Inishail with beige walls and furniture upholstered with red textiles, or the Kilchurn with regal purple sofa and chairs and a four-poster bed dressed in navy blue bedspread and canopy. The Master Garden rooms overlook the estate’s beautiful gardens and are equally appointed with comfortable, traditional furnishings and each has its own unique style and special features. The fireplace in the Ben Neagh room adds an extra bit of coziness while behind a curtained archway in the dramatic and romantic Cuaig lies a claw foot tub situated to take advantage of the view out the window. The Etive, the Hayfield, which also boasts a cozy fireplace, and the Orchy are equally quirky and charming. The smaller Garden View rooms, the Awe, Nant, Nevis and Starav are beautifully furnished, bright and comfortable with lovely views of the grounds below.
The luxurious and charming guest rooms are a warm place to rest after spending the day immersed in the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands. While many fabled destinations, including Ben Nevis, Loch Ness, Glen Coe and Loch Lomond can be found nearby, the hotel’s own gardens and grounds offer many beautiful walks, opportunities to enjoy the lush natural setting and enjoy the privacy and peace that surrounds the property. I recommend taking some time to explore the walled garden and the woodland paths where you will likely encounter some of the wildlife that makes this area a favorite among sportsmen. Loch Awe itself, which is right at your doorstep, is Scotland’s longest freshwater loch and offers a perfect environment for fishing. Rowboats equipped with motors are available for guests to explore the lake and fish for the trout and salmon to be found in its waters. The shores of Loch Awe are a paradise of rugged green hillsides and historic buildings, including the often photographed Kilchurn Castle. With so much to do and explore outside, I also enjoy spending an afternoon with a book in the hotel’s lovely drawing room, preferably with a fire in the huge fireplace. This activity, or lack thereof, takes full advantage of the building’s quiet, homey atmosphere.
Immersing yourself in an authentic Scottish Highland experience includes dining on the best of local cuisine and fortunately, the Ardanaiseig’s dining room offers the best of the region’s specialties for guests to enjoy. A full Scottish breakfast is just the thing to get you ready for a day of exploring. The Tasting Menu, offered for dinner, is also a must as is the local salmon. Food is carefully prepared and seasoned with herbs grown in the hotel’s walled garden. You will dine in an elegant dining room overlooking the loch and perhaps retire to enjoy a cocktail in the roaring fire in the drawing room. Like me, you will never want to leave.
Who doesn’t dream of escaping to an exotic oasis retreat for a few days of relaxation in luxurious surroundings? I recently had a chance to do just that at the Kempinski Hotel in Ajman, U.A.E., a location supremely convenient to Dubai but worlds away from the frenetic pace of the extravagant, modern mega city. If you’ve been drawn either as a tourist or a business traveler to this shimmering country perched on the edge of the Persian Gulf, a stay at the Kempinski Hotel as an add-on to your Dubai itinerary may be just the way to experience the richness of the region’s desert heritage and stunning beaches.
Alternatively, with Ajman’s proximity to all that Dubai has to offer and the hotel’s convenient shuttle service, you might wish to make the Kempinski Hotel your base while sampling the delights of this flourishing desert nation.
Taking full advantage of its spectacular setting aside the Persian Gulf, the Kempinski Hotel offers guests an ocean view from each luxuriously appointed room. Balconies overlooking the pristine beach and the sparkling ocean offer the perfect spot to watch the setting of the hot Arabian sun. Guests who would prefer to immerse themselves in the oasis-like atmosphere of the resort’s stunning pool area can book a room with a patio at the poolside. Like a true desert paradise, the pool area and the grounds surrounding the hotel are shaded by an army of palm trees. I like the traditional Arabian style of the hotel’s architecture where stone columns, arches and fountains in the public areas provide a sense of place that is sometimes missing in the modern structures ubiquitous in neighboring Dubai. The décor, as well, includes elements of traditional Arabian design which add character to the fresh, clean and modern furnishings.
A highlight of any stay at the Kempinski Hotel has to be enjoying an evening meal overlooking the beach at the Café Kranzler, the hotel’s 24-hour restaurant that caters to every taste with a variety of cuisines including Middle Eastern and Mediterranean. Chinese and Indian cuisines are also well represented at the hotel’s other fine restaurants, Bukhara and Hai Tao, or you can get your pizza fix at Sabella’s Italian Restaurant. After dinner,enjoy a cocktail overlooking the beach at Zanzibar, one of the Kempinski Hotel’s seven bars catering to every interest from cigars to hot tea. For additional rejuvenation, a visit the resort’s full-service spa will complete the experience of being pampered at a desert oasis.
The Kempinski Hotel will definitely be part of my itinerary on my next trip to the U.A.E. and it might just be my only stop.