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Fall Weekend Getaways: Miracle Escapes
Walk on water, see a burning tree, and nine other wondrous ways to finish your week.   Text by Jim Gorman   Photograph by Keith Fialcowitz

Photo: Paddling
SOARING SODIUM: Tufa pillars rise above California's Mono Lake.

WEST
Bob in a Briny Lake, California
To thousands of birds winging south, Mono Lake is like the all-you-can-eat buffet at a roadside Shoney's. Brine shrimp and brine flies are the daily special, and large flocks swoop in to refuel. Observe the feeding frenzy—and the salty lake's odd tufa formations, which resemble dripped sand towers—from a touring kayak on a trip by REI ($395; www.rei.com/adventures). But before experiencing the lake's legendary buoyancy for yourself, locate the campground with working showers. You, like everything else that comes in contact with Mono, will be covered in a mineral crust.
 
Discover a Biking Mecca, Oregon
Looking for the next Moab? Try Oakridge, Oregon, a one-stoplight town on the west slope of the Cascade Mountains that's surrounded by 500 miles (805 kilometers) of singletrack. "The trails are smooth and fast, ranging from old-growth forest up into the alpine zone," says Randy Dreiling, owner of Oregon Adventures. Must-dos include the Middle Fork of the Willamette, a 35-mile (56-kilometer) all-day ride through a forest of 500-year-old Douglas fir, and the three-hour descent on the Alpine Trail. Oregon Adventures offers overnight tours that include lodging and lunch ($249; www.oregon-adventures.com).
 
Go for the Gold, Washington
Pretty as desktop wallpaper, the Enchantment Basin, in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, east of Seattle, takes on special luster early this month. October's first chill turns the subalpine larch, a deciduous conifer that grows at elevations above 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), from ordinary to outrageous. In early morning or late afternoon light, the trees radiate like 50-foot (152-meter) golden sparklers. Permits into the basin, always hard to come by, are issued daily by lottery at the Leavenworth Ranger Station (www.fs.fed.us/r6/wenatchee).
 
CENTRAL
Make Sharper Images, Michigan
Picture this: colossal sand dunes framed by fiery maples and backed by azure Lake Michigan. This month you can capture the sublime beauty of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore like a pro, with guidance from outdoor photographer
Mark S. Carlson. "I've been all around the Great Lakes, and Sleeping Bear is the most scenic place in the state to photograph," says Carlson. "The dunes can look just like the Mojave Desert." On his Autumn Dunes Photo Tour, October 19-22 ($591, including lodging; www.thehomesteadresort.com), photographers spend all day in the field, then retreat to the refined Homestead resort, situated inside the park, where Crystal River flows into the big lake.
 
Drift for Days, Missouri  
In a state blessed with a trio of national-caliber rivers for overnight canoe trips, the Eleven Point stands out. "It's the most pristine and remote river in the state," says Ken Haberl, recreation specialist for Mark Twain National Forest. From put-in at Greer to take-out at Riverton, the Eleven Point manages to avoid any trace of civilization for 20 miles (32 kilometers). Four miles (six kilometers) from the launch, take a break and hike to nearby blue-eyed Greer Springs, which disgorges 220 million gallons (833 million liters) of chilled water into the Eleven Point daily. In the evening, choose from among a dozen float camps operated by the national forest. Eleven Point River Canoe Rental, in Alton, rents boats ($35 a day, including shuttle service; www.11pointcanoe.com).

EAST
Get an Outdoor Education, New Hampshire
Long before Dartmouth College freshmen figure out the way to the dining hall, they know Moosilauke Ravine Lodge ($100; www.dartmouth.edu). Accommodations at the rustic jumble of logs and stone are old-school: family-style meals, bunk beds, and shared rooms. But indoor amenities are beside the point. Think of the lodge as a frills-free base camp for climbing 4,802-foot (1,464-meter) Mount Moosilauke and day hiking the 50 miles (80 kilometers) of trail that crisscross the peak.
 
Paddle the October Isle, North Carolina 
Expect an escort of curious bottlenose dolphins when you kayak to Hammocks Beach State Park, an unspoiled barrier island south of Morehead City. "They get so close you can feel the mist they blow out," says Lamar Hudgens of Barrier Island Kayaks, in Swansboro ($50 a day for a kayak; www.barrierislandkayaks.com). Opt for the primitive campsites at the island's west end for genuine solitude and a view of cresting waves at Bear Inlet.
 
Bike for Scones, Pennsylvania
There's no shame in dismounting while cycling up the Endless Mountains. "Everyone confesses they walked at some point," says Frank Fatovic, whose Pleasant View B&B constitutes the midpoint in a four-day inn-to-inn mountain biking tour through the farms and forests of northeastern Pennsylvania ($375; www.bike-inn-to-inn.com). The self-guided routes cover 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 kilometers) each day and steer clear of automobiles by using dirt roads and the abandoned rail bed of the Ontario & Western Railway.
 
ROCKIES
Offtrack in the Desert, Arizona
If not for the blockade imposed by the Superstition Mountains, metropolitan Phoenix might well sprawl all the way into New Mexico: a loss for developers; a boon for backpackers and desert lovers. Combine the best elements of the Superstition Wilderness—narrow canyons, high mesas, and jagged peaks—on a 22-mile (35-kilometer), lollipop-shaped route departing from the Roger Trough Trailhead and using the Rogers Canyon and JF Trails, as well as a moderate off-trail hike through Fish Creek Canyon. Prime campsites can be found in Angel Basin, a grassy meadow hemmed by cliffs, and Fish Creek. For more information, including directions to the trailhead, contact Tonto National Forest (www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto/wilderness).
 
Be a Conservancy VIP, Colorado 
Opportunities to stay at the Nature Conservancy's Medano-Zapata Ranch, in San Luis Valley, are few—just a handful of weekends a year—so guests will do anything to extend their visit. "They volunteer to chop wood or cut the grass," says facilities manager Fidel Sandoval. Who can blame them? The ranch looks out across the spectacular sand piles in Great Sand Dunes National Park and the snow-dusted fourteeners of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Explore it all during the Naturalist Weekend ($425; www.nature.org/colorado), October 20-22. You'll stay in the old ranch bunkhouse or an inn on ranch property, dine on local specialties such as bison burgers butchered from the resident herd, and soak in a hot tub beneath a vault of stars.
 
Ring Around the Volcano, New Mexico
Fifteen miles wide and rimmed by mountains draped in Douglas fir and aspen, Valles Caldera betrays none of the eruptive violence that shaped it 1.5 million years ago. On a three-day bike traverse of the Jemez Mountains with Known World Guide Services ($375; www.knownworldguides.com), you'll ride into the high-altitude realm at the lip of the caldera, then slingshot downhill into a Chihuahuan Desert region of buttes and spires. Daily mileage and route will depend on riders' abilities, but expect slow-going at elevations exceeding 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Guides for Known World ease the burden by relocating camp while you ride. Before you go be sure to put in a request for the teriyaki-glazed pork chops that impressed barbecue whiz and celebrity chef Bobby Flay when he biked with the gourmands—er, guides—from Known World. 

Cover: Adventure magazine

Our October 2006 issue features how to live your Adventure dreamTanzania's man-eating lions; outdoor activities in San FranciscoWorld Class adventure travel trips; and more!


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