Road Trip

Not an airplane, but a Pendleton-themed AirStream

Airstream Pendleton

It’s not an airplane – but this new, limited Airstream trailer is a pretty swanky way to travel – and a good way to support the country’s National Parks during their 100th anniversary year.

Airstream, the company that makes that iconic “silver bullet” travel trailer, has partnered up with Oregon-grown Pendleton Woolen Mills, creators of iconic blankets and western wear, to make a Limited Edition 2016 Pendleton National Park Foundation Airstream Travel Trailer.

It’s a good match. In 1916, Pendleton made its first National Park Blanket -in Glacier Stripe – and that was the same year the National Park Service was born. Pendleton now features ten parks in its blanket collection.

Airstream produced 100 special-edition trailers that include park-inspired Pendleton decor and accessories, including a queen size bed with Pendleton bedding.

Want one? The Pendleton Airstream lists for $114,600. Airstream will donate $1,000 to the National Park Foundation for each of the special edition Pendleton travel trailers sold. The National Park Foundation will use the donated funds to support priority preservation projects at Grand Canyon and Glacier National Parks.

All I can say is …. road trip!

pendleton airstram

On the road: Deadwood and Wall Drug

Wall Drug Jackalope

Two South Dakota spots I recently visited – Deadwood and Wall Drug – face with the classic tourism challenge: how to get people to come visit. And then visit again.

Here’s a slightly edited version of the story I put together for CNBC:

Since its Gold Rush-era founding in 1876, the South Dakota frontier town of Deadwood has been through several booms and busts.

Yet it retains a veneer of the Wild West and keeps fresh the stories of legendary residents such as Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok.

But Deadwood is trying not to live up to its name: the town that helped spawn a popular cable series is looking for a shot of something new.

“All destinations need to evolve over time, even those that that wish to remain the same,” said Alan Fyall, a professor in the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Since November, 1989 — the year that Deadwood joined Las Vegas and Atlantic City as a cohort of then U.S. cities with legal non-reservation gaming — more than $18 billion has been wagered in the town. That activity has generated millions of dollars in tax proceeds to restore historic buildings in Deadwood, and to promote tourism statewide.

But despite the addition of keno, craps and roulette this past summer, Deadwood is no longer confident of its winning hand.

Recently, state data showed the city’s gaming revenues have plateaued, prompting some officials to suggest the town has to adapt to a more competitive landscape.

“Gaming is now ubiquitous nationwide, and Deadwood can’t just rely on gambling or its Western culture anymore,” said South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard

On that score, Deadwood’s Revitalization Committee recently commissioned a 96-page action plan that contains recommendations on how the town can capitalize on its history and place in popular culture.

Deadwood’s popularity is at least partly attributed to HBO’s three-season-long “Deadwood” TV series (which was canceled in 2006 but is still popular online) and attractions such as Kevin Costner’s memorabilia-filled Midnight Star casino and restaurant on Main Street.

“The town has so many things going for it beyond gaming,” said Roger Brooks, whose tourism consulting firm put together the revitalization report. “Plus, with a name like Deadwood, it doesn’t get much better when it comes to being able to stand out.”

Brooks would like Deadwood’s Wild West-themed streets to be more authentic and pedestrian friendly. He’s also urged the town to create a central plaza where regular entertainment and activities can take place. Meanwhile, the town’s business community is grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns and rallying around those recommendations.

“We developed 55 action items from the report, and have been busily working on making them happen,” said Mike Rodman, executive director of the Deadwood Gaming Association and a member of the Revitalization Committee.

Currently, the town is building a new welcome center and in town more technology-friendly parking meters now accept credit cards and cell-phone payments.

“We also cleaned up our signage, put up baskets of flowers on the street lights and wrapped some electrical boxes to make them less visible,” said Rodman.

Next on the list: finishing plans for two downtown plazas and raising the $8.8 million needed to move that part of the plan forward, said Rodman.

Meanwhile, at Wall Drug

Deadwood may need to change, but Wall Drug credits its success to remaining pretty much the same.

Now a block-long oasis of kitsch visited annually by more than a million visitors traveling along a lonely stretch of Interstate 90, Wall Drug got its start in the 1930s when the owners of a struggling drug store put up highway signs advertising free ice water.

Thirsty Depression-era travelers pulled over for refreshments and purchased ice-cream and other small items while they were there.

Over the years, Wall Drug evolved into one of the country’s most famous pit stop, with a cafe, restaurant, art gallery and shops that sell everything from postcards and T-shirts to jackalope hunting permits, turquoise jewelry and high-end cowboy boots and western wear.

Dozens of free, photo-friendly attractions were built as well, including a giant jackalope, a replica of Mt. Rushmore, a shooting gallery arcade and a giant Tyrannosaurus rex that roars to life every 15 minutes.

The ice water is still free, the coffee is just 5 cents and many grandparents make a point of reliving their childhood Wall Drug experience with their grandchildren.

“My father and my grandparents wanted Wall Drug to be someplace where people could stop, have a nice meal and enjoy themselves without spending much money if they didn’t want to,” said Rick Hustead, current Wall Drug chairman and the oldest grandson of founders Dorothy and Ted Hustead.

“Our guests spend on average two and a half hours here and 50 percent of our business is repeat customers, so we must be doing something right,” Hustead added.

Wall Drug coffee

On the road: RV sales picking up

Heading out on a road trip this summer?

You might stay entertained on the highway playing Punch Buggy, a game in which passengers slug each other in the shoulder whenever a Volkswagen Beetle goes by.

But to learn something about trends in the economy while out on the highway, watch for a different type of vehicle.

“I’m starting to see a lot more RV products on the road. And it’s not just because it’s summer,” said Kathryn Thompson, CEO of Nashville, Tennessee-based Thompson Research Group.

“An RV is as discretionary a purchase as you can think of,” she said. “So if someone is buying an RV, something must be working.”

Eiswerth_trailer

Photo courtesy Rich Eiswerth

According to Thompson, sales of recreational vehicles in the United States hit a low point during the recession, bottoming out in the spring of 2009 with the bankruptcy of two large motor home manufacturers—Fleetwood Enterprises and Monaco Coach.

Yet these days, RV sales have improved along with the economy. Lower priced towables and trailers, with price tags that can start at around $10,000, led the recovery. Sales of the more expensive motorized RVs, including motor homes that can have price tags well over $500,000, caught up later.

“In North America sales were was running over 300,000 units a year until 2008,” said Tom Walworth, president of Statistical Surveys in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “In 2009, sales dropped to 206,000 units. By 2013, they went back to 303,000 units. So in four years it came back 47 percent from the bottom, which is very impressive as an economic indicator,” Walworth said.

During that time, sales of towable RVs (including folding trailers, truck campers and travel trailers) rose 46.4 percent, while sales of the more expensive motorized motorhomes (categorized as Class A, B or C) gained 51 percent from the 2009 low.

This year, shipments of new RVs to dealers will total 349,400 units, an 8.8 percent over 2013, said RV analyst Richard Curtin, director of the Consumer Research Center at the University of Michigan. In 2015, he expects shipments to rise another 3.1 percent.

Who’s buying all these RVs?

“Boomers are the largest demographic of RV owners,” said Mac Bryan, vice president of administration at the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. “But those age 35-54, the younger consumers who want to be active and outdoors, are the fastest-growing demographic.”

And when friends and family members go along on RV trips, or just hear about them, “that introduces even more people to the RV lifestyle,” Bryan said.

“We have an increasing number of friends and acquaintances ‘of a certain age’ who have chosen the RV lifestyle full or part-time,” said Richard Eiswerth, president and general manager of a Cincinnati public radio station who is in his early 60s. “If and when I retire, who knows?”

Longtime tent campers, Eiswerth and his wife, Susan, last May dipped their toes in the RV ownership market with a small, retro-style, teardrop trailer they bought in Wisconsin before heading west for a trip to Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

The couple has large dogs, so they also bought an attachable add-on tent to cover the crates the dogs sleep in at night.

“We didn’t want to simply have another, more expensive, version of home on wheels with all the frills and luxuries of our actual home. We wanted to be able to travel to and camp in a variety of locales, not just asphalt RV compounds,” Eiswerth said.

He lists the advantages of the small camper as better gas mileage than a larger RV, ease of maneuverability, speed and convenience of set-up and tear-down and heat and air conditioning, when necessary.

And best of all, he said, “Much like a tent, this has a connection to the outdoors.”

(My story on recreational vehicles sales increasing first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior).

 

 

Summer camp: not just for kids anymore

Happy Solstice! Summer is finally here and for a lot of kids that means summer camp is just around the corner.

But why should kids have all the s’mores and all fun?

Here’s a round-up of some of the adult camps I found for a feature on CNBC Road Warrior.

clowns

From fantasy sports camps with major league players to boot camps for aspiring astronauts, rockers, clowns, zombie slayers and world poker players, there are plenty of summertime options for adults seeking to cross big-ticket items off their bucket list or or just try something new.

Music fans can take lessons from rock stars who serve as counselors at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp held in Las Vegas and, starting in October, at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. Four-day packages begin at about $5,000 and include loaner instruments and lunches, but not lodging.

The hefty fee didn’t deter 51-year-old Ron Cianciaruso, a musician and a senior vice president at a major bank in Jacksonville, Florida, from signing up for what will be his second session at Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp: the upcoming four-day camp that will feature The Who’s Roger Daltrey as one of the counselors.

Rock camper Ron Cianciaruso with Billy Hinshe and rock camp band members

Ron Cianciaruso (in red T-shirt on the left;) along with rock counselor Billy Hinsche (in the hat), a former member of Dino, Desi & Billy who also played with the Beach Boys; and co-campers Nick, Ted, John, Bill and Pat, who joined Ron in the camp band, Outside the Box.

Yes, it’s a lot of money,” Cianciaruso told CNBC. “But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And when you do anything like this as an adult you can appreciate the value in doing the things you love.”

Sports enthusiasts can hang out with their heroes at a wide variety of baseball and basketball fantasy camps, many with registration fees for adults hovering at around $5,000 as well.

Wish you could go into space?

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, offers a weekend-long Adult Space Academy for those who want to learn what it’s like to train to be an astronaut. Campers get to hang out in one of the world’s largest space aircraft collections, construct and launch rockets, and train on simulators, including the one-sixth gravity chair and Multi-Axis Trainer.

The three-day camp costs $549 per person while the four-day program runs $649. Meals and lodging are included.

For those worried about a zombie attack, weekend-long sessions at the Zombie Survival Course, held near Whiting, New Jersey, teach campers age 21 and older skills that might come in handy should there be a zombie apocalypse or some other disaster.

“It’s very much a camp-like experience, but with crossbows, pistols and training in advanced first-aid techniques and hand-to-hand combat,” said Zombie Survival Course founder Mark Scelza.

The $450 price includes lodging and meals.

“We’re ready for zombies, hurricanes, earthquakes, even martial law now,” said 34-year-old Ivory Mejia, an ultrasound technologist from Hull, Georgia, who took the course recently with her husband.

“Adult camps often take place in traditional camp settings and can be the adult version of a kid’s camp,” said Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association. And adult campers are likely to be baby boomers interested in “taking their vacations while supporting their vocations,” she said.

According to the ACA, the 12,000 organized camps in the United States are part of a $15 billion industry, with 11 million children and youth and more than 1 million adults attending camp each year. The ACA’s Find a Camp tool lists 200 adult camps, while its business affiliate GrownUpCamps.com has more than 800 paid listings for camps, courses and experiences.

Here are a few more options:

In Ely, Nevada, two of the three Railroad Reality Week summer sessions offered by the Nevada Northern Railway Museum are for adults only. The hands-on experience promises time spent maintaining 19th century locomotives and rail cars “with all the dirt and grime, you’d expect” and working as part of a railroad crew out on the track.

(Next session: August; price: $995; extra fees for bunkhouse lodging and “Be the Engineer” experiences.)

World Poker Tournament Boot Camps in Las Vegas (of course) cover everything from basic poker instruction to tournaments and tells (betting patterns and physical behaviors). And the Culinary Institute of America offers two- to five-day-long boot camps ($895 to $2,195) on such topics as wine, pastry, grilling and barbecue at its three campuses in New York, California and Texas.

Many CIA campers are food and wine enthusiasts who want to learn in a professional kitchen with professional chefs, but the short sessions sometimes serve as gateways to something more serious. “We have had people attend Boot Camp, decide it was a life-changing event and then enter into the degree program,” said Amy Townsend, CIA senior project manager for consumer marketing.

Museum exhibits celebrate the classic road trip

Interstate highways and the demise of Main Street America have turned many modern-day road trips into boring long hauls from here to there.

Brooks Stevens Housecar_bw

A Streamlined House Car designed by the Brooks Stevens firm of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, circa 1936. From a Private Collection / Courtesy Harley-Davidson Museum

Those yearning for the good old days — ones that may have included station wagons and stops at roadside attractions — might want to motor on over to two new museum exhibits celebrating the rise of car culture and the transformation of the family vacation into an American ritual.

On Saturday, the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, rolled out “The American Road,” an exhibit that uses hundreds of artifacts and many personal stories to examine the evolution of the quintessential American road trip from its early beginnings in the 1930s to what it has come to represent in our culture today.

“The 1930s was the decade when you had a lot of infrastructure coming into place, including improved roads, full-service gas stations, early auto courts and other services, so we start there,” said Kristen Jones, manager of exhibits and curatorial at the Harley-Davidson Museum.

In the early 1930s, there were about 160,000 travel trailers on the road, Jones said, so on display in the exhibit’s first gallery is a 26-foot house car designed by American industrial designer (and Milwaukee native) Brooks Stevens. “It’s built on a truck chassis and has many of the comforts of home, including a galley kitchen, a bed, a dinette and a bathroom,” said Jones. A 4-foot salesman’s model of a mid-1930s trailer is also on display, complete with a hinged top that opens to display details such as an upholstered couch and a tiny fake plant.

The 1950s and ’60s were the “Golden Era” of the American road trip, Jones said, when many people had more vacation time, and more disposable income, to travel. “During this time you went west not in a covered wagon, but in your station wagon, and from this post-World War II era of travel we have everything from a 1962 Ford Country Squire station wagon with wood paneling to neon signs that became important beacons to entice travelers to pull off the highway and into the lots of motels, eateries and other attractions and businesses,” she said.

For years, a classic American road trip was along Route 66, the highway that originally ran from Chicago to Los Angeles and now ends in Santa Monica, California. The highway and its history is the focus of “Route 66: The Road and the Romance,” an exhibition that opened on June 8 at the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles celebrating the decommissioned highway as both a road and a romantic notion.

“There are several Route 66 museums actually on the highway that look at the road’s history in that state or region, but we take a national view and look at factors that led to its creation and how it became a fixture in popular culture,” said Jeffrey Richardson, the Autry’s Gamble curator of western history, popular culture and firearms.

Among the 250 objects on display at the Autry are the oldest existing Route 66 shield, a handwritten page from John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” manuscript that introduces the term “Mother Road,” (one of the many nicknames for Route 66), a classic 1960 Corvette and the original 120-foot-long typewritten scroll of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

Autry_JackKerouac On the Road Scroll

Jack Kerouac’s original On the Road manuscript, written in scroll form.

If you go:

The American Road” at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, runs through Sept. 1 and includes special meals in the restaurant and special road-trip themed events.

Route 66: The Road and the Romance” will be at the Autry National Center of the American West through Jan. 4, 2015, and also includes seminars, tours, family activities, films and more.

(My story about museum exhibits celebrating road trips first appeared on NBC News Travel)