It's that time of year where people sit down and make out their list of 2017's top restaurants, best movies, and favorite destinations. Here at The Path Less Chosen we'd like to share our list of the five favorite things we did this year. These are not necessarily what will show up on the local travel bureau's brochures, but we had fun doing them. We hope you also had great travels in 2017 and we look forward to sharing more off the beaten track spots with you next year.
1. Total Solar Eclipse - Lonedell, Missouri.
Since this eclipse was a once in a lifetime event it had to be number one on this list. The eclipse this past August could be seen across the entire United States. We traveled to a small private campground southwest of St. Louis. It was only one mile from the center line of totality. That meant we saw the total eclipse for about two and a half minutes. But the lead up to the eclipse was spectacular. The color and quality of the sunlight changed dramatically. The birds and insects went quiet. At the moment of totality the entire horizon turned orange, like we were experiencing a 360 degree sunset. Next the tree toads and other nocturnal animals starting making noise. That only lasted about three minutes until the sun came out again. Possibly the best part was, that on a very hot day, we watched the whole thing while standing in the campgrounds pool.
2. Hiking Devil's Backbone - Loveland, Colorado
We went to Colorado to participate in a charity bicycle ride. While there we also took some time to visit the area. Devil's Backbone is one of two places from that trip that made this list. Located north of Denver Devil's Backbone Open Space is 2,100 acres of grassland and rolling hills, bisected by towering rock formations that run in a basically straight line for 12 miles. Hiking and biking trails follow the rock line in a north and south direction. A few loops diverge from the main trail to take in interesting sites along the way. The Open Space is not a wilderness area, rather it is an area that has been set aside from development to allow people to take in the natural beauty of central Colorado. As you hike you will see large ranch-style homes and subdivisions to the east and west. Despite that, the actual hiking is fantastic, although it can be hot and dry depending on the time of year.
3. San Antonio | the Saga - San Antonio, Texas
The Alamo and the RiverWalk are the two best known attractions in this southern Texas city. For the visitor who is willing to venture out a bit, the evening light show on the side of San Fernando Cathedral is enthralling. The show is a combination of video, lights, and music that tell the story of San Antonio from its founding to the present day. The video pixel mapping technology makes the front of Cathedral seem to move and transform before your eyes. The 30 minute show takes place on the Main Plaza, in the heart of San Antonio, and runs three times a night on the weekends. The Plaza won the 2017 Grand Pinnacle Awards from the International Festivals & Events Association. On a side note, the remains of the Heroes of the Alamo are buried at the Cathedral and are recognized by a plaque near the front door.
4. Hiking Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore - Empire, Michigan
There are 100 miles of designated trails in this National Park Service unit. We only hiked a few miles, but they were glorious. Sleeping Bear Dunes, while part of the NPS, is not a designated National Park. That doesn't make it any less beautiful. Along with the 400 foot high dunes, there are two islands, North and South Manitou, that make up the National Lakeshore. We did a couple of short hikes in the Platte River area. One was the three mile Bass Lake loop. The other was a one mile out and back route to the where the river empties into Lake Michigan. We made the weekend at the Lakeshore into our own modified triathlon. On the first day we went hiking we also did a 13 mile mountain bike ride around Long Lake. On our second hiking day we kayaked on Long Lake. And we were close enough to the wineries of northern Michigan to go wine tasting when it rained.
5. Playing Rolle Bolle at New Belgium Brewing - Fort Collins, Colorado
This may seem like a pretty silly thing to be on a year-end favorite's list, but it was a blast. First off, New Belgium Brewing makes great beer and their facility in Fort Collins is laid out well, with out door seating areas, guided tours, and beer geek merchandise for sale. Behind the tap room is a small outdoor area where the Rolle Bolle game is set up. If you've never played, imagine rolling an enormously oversized hockey puck down a down-sized half-pipe. Like shuffleboard, you don't want your puck to fall over the end line. Our group used various methods of rolling, throwing, and chucking the pucks. I'm not sure if our team won, but I am sure that we had good beer and good laughs while playing.