Sublime Summer Road Trips
Four in five(ish) from the 405
Although the summer is halfway finished, it’s never too late to jump in the car and spend half a day driving so that you can get to someplace new, have an adventure, eat some good food and recharge the batteries. Sometimes, though, rather than trying to find a city or a town to visit, then figuring out where to stay, what to eat and what to do … you want to simply go to a place that has it all. From a stay at a mountain lodge in New Mexico to a weekend in Arkansas’ most scenic state park, or a couple of days of pampering at one of the country’s most beautiful and historically significant hotels, or even an iconic Midwest tourist destination, we have identified four destinations that are perfect home bases for a last-minute weekend getaway.
Ask any Oklahoman from any generation if they’ve ever stayed in downtown Dallas’ famed Adolphus Hotel, and if they have, they will qualify their stay with something in the vein of “I went there for a wedding” or “That’s where my spouse and I got engaged.” The property is as significant in the lives of those who stay there as it is to the city of Dallas itself. For 106 years and counting, the ceremonious lodging has wowed guests with opulence, gracious staff and nuance.
After such a long and esteemed tenure, two years ago, it was finally time for a facelift. The goal was to revamp The Adolphus to broaden its appeal to today’s young travelers while maintaining the heart of its stately presence. Design firm Swoon aimed to give the hotel a residential vibe by adding curated art, furnishings, books, etc. to give the impression of a savvy young couple inhabiting a European family estate – and they have succeeded.
The hotel’s most elegant space, The French Room features a marble floor and stunning furniture including gilded Louis XVI style chairs, as well as Italian Murano glass chandeliers. And in this dining room, the menu is as regal as the décor. The French Room features an ever-evolving, three-course seasonal menu; a seven-course meal complete with wine pairings; and for the bravest, a 15-course experimental menu designed by executive chef Michael Ehlert. The French Room’s bar is equally exotic, focusing on artisanal cocktails and small plates, in the midst of an amazing collection of museum-quality art.
The hotel also houses City Hall Bistro, a more casual environment featuring dishes created by Louisiana chef Jeramie Robison, and a spectacular rooftop pool. With an uninterrupted view of the Dallas skyline and a full bar, as well as a fireplace, ample seating and cabanas, it’s a tempting place to linger. A limited menu is also available, so if you’re looking for a spot to have breakfast, you could do a lot worse. The spa at The Adolphus is a welcome indulgence after a workout in the spacious fitness center or a stroll through downtown.
While it would be easy over the course of a weekend never to leave The Adolphus property, it is located on Commerce Street in the heart of downtown Dallas, and many of the city’s premier attractions are within walking distance or a short drive. For the shopper, the original Neiman Marcus and Forty Five Ten are a stone’s throw away. The Nasher Sculpture Center and Tony Tasset’s “The Eye” – which is literally a giant, realistic sculpture of the artist’s eyeball – are also nearby, along with The Dallas Museum of Art, one of the 10 largest museums in the country.
Red River, New Mexico
If you’re craving some altitude and Dallas isn’t getting you quite as high as you’d like to be, head to Red River, New Mexico, which is just more than an eight-hour drive from Oklahoma City. At 8,750 feet, Red River is a prime ski destination, but there is plenty to do in the summer, as well. The log cabins at Three Bears Lodge are a perfect place to post up and breathe in the fresh smell of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. The family-run lodge features 11 cabins that range in size from one bedroom to three, and at night, owners Christopher and Deborah Yates host a firepit s’mores roast.
Whether you are into extreme things or simply want to relax, Red River offers a variety of activities. The ropes course challenge at Red River Ski and Summer Area is one of the region’s most popular activities, and the ski area also offers tubing, ziplining and scenic lift tours. New Mexico River Adventures offers multiple rafting trips on the Rio Grande, and if you’d rather see the river from the air, a hot air balloon ride with Eske Air Adventures – who operate out of Taos, a 45-minute drive from Red River – will give you an experience to be remembered.
There are many walks to sample, but for the true hiker, try climbing to the top of Wheeler Peak. Just south of Red River, it is the highest peak in New Mexico at an elevation of 13,167 feet, and offers breathtaking views. There are two paths to the top: Bull of the Woods Trail, a 7.5-mile climb that’s scenic but challenging, and the easier 7.9-mile Williams Lake Trail, which includes a stop at the aforementioned Williams Lake. To see both, simply take one trail up and the other down. With a little planning in terms of how best to get back to your car, this is the best way to see it all.
Just past dusk, after a day of hiking in the hills around Lee Creek in Devil’s Den State Park, the water is still. With multiple waterfalls and caves, stunning hikes and mountain bike trails to explore, the day has been full. The air is thick with smoke as park guests light fires to cook burgers and celebrate another successful day in the wilderness. Tucked into Arkansas’ Ozark Valley, Devil’s Den State Park is perhaps the state’s most beautiful. Its robust oak-hickory forests surround the ethereal blue-green waters of Lee Creek, which is dammed in the center of the park to create the tranquil eight-acre Lake Devil. At the lake’s far end, a dramatic waterfall cascades back into the creek, which continues onward.
As the last pink disappears from the sky, Mother Nature has one more surprise. One by one, along the banks of the creek, tiny yellow lights begin to flash. Soon there are 10 fireflies, then dozens and then a thousand. As the night turns dark, from the viewpoint of an old bridge on the park’s east end, the entire forest begins to flash, each flicker mirrored in the still water below. Frogs sing and campers chatter. Somewhere an owl alerts the world of its presence. Soon, the Milky Way creeps out above the horizon, complementing the light show as it continues on into the night. It is sublime.
One of Arkansas’ many Civilian Conservation Corps projects, the park was built in the 1930s and is one of the state’s most treasured. Folks are drawn to it not only to enjoy the tranquility of Lee Creek and Devil Lake, but also because of the selection of hiking and mountain biking trails throughout its hills. For the novice, there are three walks around the lake and through the park’s beautiful forests. More ambitious visitors will find six moderate hikes. Yellow Rock Trail takes hikers up 300 feet in elevation, where there is a grand lookout over the entire park. The Devil’s Den self-guided Recreation Trail has perhaps the most to offer: Spanning a mere mile and a half, it includes grand vistas, lakeside trails and birdwatching opportunities as you hike above the canopy. It ends in climactic fashion with two stunning waterfalls located side by side – one you cross by way of a bridge and another you walk underneath.
The park is also home to unique geological features and wildlife. Devil’s Den features both sandstone and limestone caves – a geological rarity – the longest of which is the 550-foot Devil’s Den Cave. For wildlife enthusiasts, the caves are home to a variety of bats, although most are now closed to the public to prevent erosion and to protect declining bat populations.
The park has pet-friendly cabins that range in size from three bedrooms to studio, and recently added camper cabins that create a camping/cabin hybrid experience. Each lodging features screened porches and beds, but shares restrooms with other guests outside the cabin. There are also dozens of campsites, as well as hike-in camping opportunities, for those seeking a more rugged experience.
Big Cedar Lodge is much bigger than its name. It tries to expand on itself with the tag line, “America’s Premier Wilderness Resort,” but even that doesn’t begin to describe the myriad activities to be enjoyed at this Ozark getaway.
Yes, there is a lodge – a couple of them. But accommodations also include a variety of cabins and cottages; it might be wilderness, but none of the facilities could be considered roughing it.
Located on beautiful Table Rock Lake, the resort boasts the expected water activities, and rentals and professionals to make those things happen – all sorts of water craft, fishing equipment, guides, even a summer ski school and bowfishing lessons. The Goin’ Jessi is an exact replica of vintage Chris Craft, perfect for a cruise complete with champagne. A larger boat, the Lady Liberty, offers sunset dinner cruises several times a week during the summer season.
Games are the thing, from shuffleboard to sand volleyball, horseshoes and miniature golf. Add board games and bonfires, the fitness center and 5k walking trail and you’ll never be bored. Swimming pools, hot tubs and a spa and salon serve sybarites.
In addition to the attractions around the lodge area, guests won’t want to miss more Big Cedar experiences just short drives away. The Top of the Rock, perched on limestone cliffs, features several do-not-miss attractions, including the nine-hole, par-three, Top of the Rock Golf Course that incorporates the talents of three of golf’s greatest players: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson. Meanwhile, the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum includes one of the most important collections of Native American artifacts ever assembled, and a nature trail winds through Lost Canyon Cave, offering views of waterfalls and impressive canyon walls. Top these off by dining in the Osage Restaurant with a spectacular view of the lake.
Just about 16 miles from the heart of the Lodge is Dogwood Canyon, 10,000 acres of beautiful Ozark country. Almost everyone who comes here wants to take one of the tram tours that wind through the park, even crossing into a bit of Arkansas. The tour passes brilliantly blue trout pools, waterfalls and scenic bridges, and spotting bison, elk and longhorn cattle are highlights. Other activities available include horseback riding, biking, trout fishing, dining, mill demonstrations and climbing into a treehouse built by Treehouse Masters.
This long list of amenities at Big Cedar is far from complete. There are also two other golf courses – the 18-hole, Tom Fazio-designed Buffalo Ridge Springs course and a 13-hole, Gary Player-designed short course. Also convenient is the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Academy, which offers training and experience in shooting sports from trap and skeet to sporting clays.
Big Cedar is truly a something-for-everyone destination. It combines nature, sport, entertainment, education and family fun in one great package.
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