Tag Archives: outdoor

Southwest Escape

April 7, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

We’re creatures of habit. We live and breathe routine, and for the most part, we are comfortable in our ways. We’re busy. We think ahead. We worry. We wonder. We drive to work and run errands. Once in a while, however, we stop for a moment and realize that we need a break.

What happens when we decide to escape from routine? If only for two weeks? The possibilities are infinite. Omaha Magazine’s creative director, Bill Sitzmann, and his family of four know this firsthand. Sitzmann, his wife, and their two kids (ages 5 and 9) packed up their Subaru Outback in early June 2016 and hit the road with no specific destination in mind, rather a region: the Great American Southwest.

“We knew when we needed to leave and we knew when we needed to be back,” Sitzmann says. “My dad lives in Tucson, so we knew we wanted to go there and see him. But other than that, we just picked the general areas we wanted to hit.”

The Sitzmann family rolled out of Omaha, looking forward to the two-week camping adventure ahead. Sitzmann says that the trip was exciting from a parental standpoint because, while he was accustomed to teaching his kids things that he already knew, they were headed into uncharted territory for the whole family.

“For all four of us to experience it for the first time, all at the same time, was pretty cool,” Sitzmann says, recalling their two weeks of close quarters on the road.

Driving from Omaha, their stops ranged from Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.

They discovered beautiful, lightly populated trails and campsites by venturing off the beaten path. The family decided to stop by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado, chosen by Sitzmann on a whim, based solely on pictures that he’d seen of the place.

Surrounded by trees with no spectacular view in sight, the drive into the park had them questioning their sanity. But the side trip turned out to be one of the more rewarding outdoor destinations for the family when they walked along a trail at sunset and stumbled upon a massive canyon nearly 100 yards away from their campsite. As they looked around, they realized that they had the hidden gem all to themselves. Sitzmann made a point to wake up at sunrise the next morning for coffee with a view.

They hit a total of 10 national parks over the course of their 3,200-mile journey across the rugged Southwest of the United States. The region is home to countless national parks, along with myriad monuments and historic sites, offering unlimited variations to the ultimate family road trip.

In the Southwest, several National Parks are located in close enough proximity that more than one could be visited in a single day. The natural formations of the land might be close in location, but tend to differ greatly when it comes to their visual appeal.

In Utah, the impressive forest of tall, narrow eroded rock at Bryce Canyon National Park is less than 90 minutes from Zion National Park—where massive cliffs, gaping canyons, sparkling streams, and waterfalls can be seen. Those two parks alone could make a day of adventure (or a week of discovery) for visitors.

 “I think it’s important to have that long-term period with your family,” Sitzmann says. “Most of us, we talk about providing for our family—and that’s what we think our main job is. You teach [your kids] that you can provide and work hard, but there are other things in life that we miss and that we kind of lose touch with over the years.”

The family was able to disconnect from social media, spend the evenings under the stars, and chase the sunrise each morning.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Not every moment was saturated with unexpected beauty. One night, they couldn’t find an open campground, so they camped directly under a fluorescent light in an RV park. But that was a learning experience, in its own way.

Sitzmann’s son turned 9 on the road and received a pocketknife from his father as a right of passage into the world of responsibility.

Road trips to the Southwest have occupied a pivotal point in the lives of many. For my own family, the Southwest was the basis for two unforgettable road trips. The first journey, my parents took in their 20s before having kids. The second, they undertook with seven children in tow (four years ago).

Unlike the Sitzmanns, the Smith crew rolled out of Omaha in 15-passenger rental van. Our approach to the itinerary was more regimented and less laissez faire. We hit the road with all lodging booked. While the Sitzmanns cooked on campfires all along the way, we munched on endless amounts of processed snacks packed into the van.

My dad drove, my mom blogged, and the seven of us kids—ages 5 to 19—bonded in the backseats singing songs, playing games, and marveling at the changing colors and landscapes that we had never seen before.

Over the course of the 3,259 miles that we drove, we spent 10 days in five different states. We grew closer as we conquered new territories. We mastered packing and unpacking the car in a matter of minutes; white-water rafted in Colorado; played cards by the campfire at night in Utah; and came up with silly inside jokes that we remember today.

While there are countless ways to make a road trip through the Southwest, the adventure is unlike any other. Experiencing the purity and the simplicity of the landscape, joined by the people you love, is an indescribable experience. It is an opportunity that doesn’t come around often.

My parents had wanted to go on family road trip to the Southwest ever since their own trip some 20 years prior. It was a right of passage for our family as a unit, because my eldest sister had just graduated high school and the youngest was about to start kindergarten.

As we begin graduating from college, these sorts of road trips will become increasingly difficult to coordinate. So, to seize the moment, we are now in the midst of planning another massive family road trip.

The Smith Family’s Southwest Itinerary (10 days):

From Omaha, we drove through Colorado and landed in Utah where we visited: Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park. We then continued to head south where we hit Arizona and visited the Grand Canyon National Park and Lake Powell. We headed back up north where we made an impulsive stop at the Four Corners, then carried onto Mesa Verde National Park and the city of Durango in Colorado. Then, we returned to Omaha.

The Sitzmann Family’s Southwest Itinerary (14 days): 

From Omaha, they headed to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. From there, they went to New Mexico where they visited Carson National Forest and White Sands National Monument. They continued onward to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park and Antelope Canyon in Arizona, and then went back up to Utah to hit Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The family made their way back through Colorado, where they visited the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park before they returned to Omaha.

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Old World Vintage Placemats

July 15, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Decoupage is making a comeback (Or, maybe it never left?). For me, it’s always made for an enjoyable art project. And, if done right, decoupage can be used to create some very cool home décor.
The following project took a little longer than expected. Honestly: You’ll need some patience and the good part of a weekend. But I think the results are worth the trouble.


Supplies:

  • Wood
  • Mod Podge glue and sealer
  • Sandpaper
  • Several photos of your choice
  • Stain

Directions:

  1. You’ll need four, 14×14-inch pieces of wood. At Home Depot, they cut your wood to size for free.
  2. Sand each piece and round the corners.
  3. Stain both sides and let dry. I used a dark walnut color so my pictures really stood out.
  4. After the stain has dried, follow the directions on the bottle of Mod Podge. I used “Matte” Mod Podge from Hobby Lobby.
  5. Lay everything out first prior to gluing. Use a small sponge applicator to put a thin, even coat on the back of each photo.
  6. Once finished with both front and back, re-apply the same stain again to give it a more aged look. I used a soft, dry rag. After the surface was completely dry I went over it with a high-gloss sealer.
  7. My theme was food. I thought it would be fun to have a picture of the dish on the front with the recipe on the back.
  8. These mats should be great conversation pieces, not to mention the fact that I will have several good recipes looking me in the face for years to come.
  9. Have fun with your projects and please send us your own ideas. We’d love to feature your creation.

 

 

Installing an Outdoor Fireplace

August 29, 2013 by

One of the fastest growing backyard trends is an outdoor fireplace. When deciding to install your own, one of your first choices is to select the fuel type. Will it be a wood-burning unit, or are you looking for the convenience of gas? If you decide on wood fuel, make sure to pick a fireplace location with proper clearances for good draft and check your local building codes to make sure you are in compliance.  If you select a gas-burning fireplace, managing the smoke and draft are not issues. Keep in mind you will need a gas source, whether it’s propane or natural, and there may be some plumbing and possibly some trenching required to get the gas line to the fireplace unit.

Once you’ve decided your fuel type and fireplace location, you’ll need to determine what it will be made of. The two basic types of construction are custom masonry and prefabricated. The benefits of masonry construction are that it will most likely last a long time and will produce more heat, if that is a priority. The prefab units are built as a metal shell with a metal chimney and often have a firebrick liner, replicating the look of a masonry fireplace. Because there is less mass, they may not produce as much heat. On the plus side, a prefab fireplace allows for a faster, easier installation.

Most outdoor fireplaces are finished with a stone or brick veneer. There are many varieties in terms of size, shape, and color to choose from, so coordinating your fireplace look with your home’s style or color is easy. Whatever outdoor fireplace you choose, you are sure to have some memorable times sitting around the fire with friends and family!

To see a selection of options for your outdoor fireplace, visit the Lumbermen’s showroom at 13709 Industrial Rd. in Omaha. For more information, visit lumbermens.biz.

Be Our Guest

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“They tell me, it’s up to you to change things out. We trust you.” Alex Ostblom, a landscape designer for Lanoha Nurseries, strolls across a newly transformed Westside lawn, naming flowers off the top of his head. Impatiens, begonias, mandevilla, and sweet alyssum are planted in great swaths of color, sweeping along sidewalk, driveway, and around to a brand-new back yard. Guests to the remodeled home might never suspect what the place looked like just a few months earlier.

Ostblom explains that the homeowners wanted a lawn that matched their refinished house’s new capabilities: to blend in with the rest of the stately neighborhood and to provide a perfect space to entertain family members and close friends. “Other than that,” he says, “they didn’t have too many particulars.” So Ostblom let his creativity loose, beginning the design process in March and construction in May. The entire project was completed by June 15.

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The first order of business was to redesign an unsightly retaining wall that led around the north of the house to the back yard. Originally made of concrete block, the five-foot wall created a tight alley between the house and a small mountain of unusable back yard. Its considerable height so close to the back of the house blocked off half of the dining and living room windows. A cramped patio made a stab at bringing hospitality to the space.

To simultaneously create a much less imposing wall while also making the yard itself usable, Ostblom removed tons of dirt to create tiers of lawn that allowed him to install a limestone wall less than two feet tall. The limestone complements colors in the house and can actually be found in the landscaping of nearby homes, bringing the property more into the neighborhood’s fold. Large blocks of the limestone accent the front and back yard, “giving the grandkids something to climb around on,” Ostblom points out.

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Thanks to the greatly shortened wall, guests in the dining and living rooms can enjoy a panorama of seasonal annuals (“One of the owners just loves lots of color,” Ostblom says), a rose cutting garden, and mature evergreens. “They wanted everything to look like it’d been there for years,” Ostblom says, so Lanoha Nurseries set field-grown spruce and conifers in place with machinery. “That’s a one-time deal,” he explains. “If the trees don’t take to this well, we can’t get the equipment back in here to put in more of that size.” So he’s monitoring their progress closely, already eyeing some barely noticeable brown needles on a spruce. “That one might be under stress from over watering.”

Frequent entertainment of friends and family meant the homeowners needed a large, welcoming space. In particular, they wanted a gas fire pit large enough where several people could comfortably gather. The idea of an L-shaped outdoor kitchen was tossed around, but the couple decided instead to place a simple grill out of sight around the home’s south corner to ensure that the fire pit remained their outdoor gathering place. A gas line leads from the house to the grill; no empty propane cans here.

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Ostblom notes that establishing such a mature landscape within six weeks calls for careful attention to how light will change over the seasons. Most of the yard is in at least partial shade, particularly in the front yard and to the north. To the northeast and east, the yard transitions into full sun. To cope with the variety of landscape elements (varying light, drainage, and plants with differing needs), Ostblom says he redesigned the home’s irrigation entirely. “They have turf, trees, annuals…it all requires different watering.” To facilitate easy maintenance by Lanoha Nurseries without disturbing the homeowners, Ostblom had the irrigation clock moved from inside the garage to just inside the gate in the backyard.

“I visit about once a month,” he says, though he admits he makes the rounds in the neighborhood frequently, checking in on this and other landscaping projects for any signs of trouble. “Communication. That’s the biggest part in making sure it all looks amazing.”

Harvest Fun

August 16, 2013 by

Fun festivals don’t end when autumn rolls in—there is still plenty to do in Nebraska as the dog days of summer draw to a close and the school year begins.

Harvest festivals are a great way to celebrate the end of summer and the transition to a new season. It’s a time to enjoy the prosperous crop and an exposition for the year’s produce. Many communities statewide celebrate the harvest with their own autumn festivals.

Nebraska City’s 45th Annual Applejack Festival is one such festival. The whole family can enjoy a parade, a car show, and an arts and crafts fair from September 20-22. If activities are what you’re looking for, participate in the Fun Run/Walk, boogie at the AppleJam Carnival street dance, and stop by Kimmel Orchards or Arbor Day Farms to pick your own apples and feast on homemade apple pies and sweets.

And there’s more than just apples. You can pick your own produce at Roca Berry Farm in Roca, Neb., Martin’s Hillside Orchard in Ceresco, Neb., or Bloom Where You’re Planted Farm in Avoca, Neb. Kids will love scouring fields for pumpkins, picking raspberries, taking in the sights on hayrack rides, eating caramel apples, and exploring all kinds of farm-related activities.

After you’ve enjoyed the state’s fall harvest festivals and picked your bounty, head to one of Nebraska’s state parks for cool autumn events. Visit Mahoney State Park and gaze at the stars on August 16 and September 13, or listen to and tell great stories on September 14 at the 11th Annual Moonshell Storytelling Festival.

If adventure is what you’re looking for, head up to Ponca State Park September 21–22 for the 9th Annual Missouri River Outdoor Expo to learn about wildlife-related and outdoor recreation activities including wildlife viewing, fishing, hunting, archery, shooting sports, camping, off-highway vehicle recreation, and boating recreation.

The season may change, but the fun doesn’t have to stop!

Go to VisitNebraska.com to find more festivals and events to make your autumn truly festive.

Family Camping

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s something about lying under the stars in a sleeping bag surrounded by trees and chirping crickets that’s calming. It’s the spirit of camping—that feeling of being completely absorbed in the wonders of nature.

It’s also a feeling that many people don’t experience anymore. Some say it’s because they don’t care much for being outdoors; others say it’s because they’d miss the comforts of home too much; and still others say it’s because they don’t have the patience to spend that amount of “quality time” alone with their families.

But ask any camper, and they’ll tell you that you’re missing out on a peaceful experience, one that all family members can benefit from and appreciate.

Papillion firefighter Michael Borden, 33, is a big proponent of camping. While growing up in Harlan and Underwood, Iowa, he went camping often with his parents and grandparents. “My grandparents had a Winnebago at a spot near Stanton [Iowa],” he says. “They slept inside while we slept outside in a tent. We’d set up all season long on the weekends with them, so I have a lot of fond memories of camping.”

Borden says that, while he could do without the bugs, he still thoroughly enjoys camping as an adult. “My idea of camping is a backpack and maybe a tent. Just hiking out where we won’t see anybody and spend a couple of days out there.” His wife, Tracy, however, doesn’t share the same view of camping. “If it were up to her, she would have an RV and be out at Mahoney [State Park] with a swimming pool and activities for the family.”

Borden explains their different takes on camping reflect their different personalities. “She’s the worrier and likes to plan things. I’m more go-with-the-flow and just like ‘whatever’…but we usually compromise. We’ll take the car out and set up tents. We find middle ground.”

“My idea of camping is a backpack and maybe a tent. Just hiking out where we won’t see anybody and spend a couple of days out there.” – Michael Borden

But it’s not just Borden and his wife that go out camping. They also bring their two daughters, Ella, 8, and Ayda, 6, who enjoy creating memories while family camping.

“Two years ago when we were camping, the cicadas were coming out, and the shells were everywhere,” remembers Borden. “My oldest, Ella, was 5 or 6. I consider her to be the girlier of my two, but she thought the shells were so neat.

“She had a friend there, too, and both of them were filling all of the cupholders in our camping chairs with the shells. It’s fun to watch kids go camping because they see things so differently—like everything is just fascinating.”

The family used to go camping nearly every free weekend, spending a lot of their time out at Two Rivers State Park, but Borden says it’s harder to go camping now because his daughters are older. “They’re involved in things, so we’ll try to get out as much as we can, but it depends more on schedules—swimming lessons, soccer, and everything else.”

_DSC0906_WebThey have a few camping trips planned for this summer, so long as the weather cooperates. “I wish we did it more often,” he says. “But it’s nice during the summer because I have odd hours [as a firefighter], and Tracy is a teacher, so she has the entire summer off. We can go out on a Wednesday during the summer instead of a weekend, which is usually busier.”

Borden believes it’s good for kids and their parents to spend time outdoors because it’s a perfect opportunity to be together as a family. “We just got Ella an iPod Touch for her birthday, and she always wants to be listening to music, playing games, and texting friends. I remember playing when I was a kid. We didn’t have cell phones or computers. There’s almost too much accessibility with that stuff, so it’s nice to get away from all of it and just be in the moment.”

Like Borden, Elkhorn native Elizabeth Bullington, 27, grew up camping. “It’s always been a part of the family tradition,” she says. Bullington’s brother, uncles, and grandfather were all Eagle Scouts, so her family has been very involved with the Boy Scouts, which meant plenty of camping opportunities.

“One camping trip I’ll always remember was a Boy Scouts outing my sister and I went on with our dad and the scouts,” Bullington recalls. “It was almost wintertime, so it was really cold. My sister and I were sleeping together to keep warm, and our dad came in and tucked us in to make sure we’d stay warm. The next morning, our bodies were warm, but our heads were freezing,” she laughs.

Bullington, who now works as a program supervisor with Childhood Autism Services, says camping is a tradition that she’s been able to share with her husband, Nick, and almost 2-year-old son Reese.

“There’s something about being lost in nature that develops imagination and other useful skills. It’s important for kids to discover the outside and learn to relax and have fun.” – Elizabeth Bullington

“I think a lot of people find it hard these days to go camping because of the comfort issue. [Nick and I] have a queen air mattress in our tent, but sometimes people in my family like to sleep under the stars in sleeping bags. We’ve done a camper once before, but we prefer a tent because it feels more like camping.”

For Bullington, it was easy to share this experience with Nick because his entire family camps also, gathering every year at Ponca State Park for an annual camping trip. In fact, the idea of doing an annual family camping trip spread to Bullington’s family as well. “My parents wanted to find something we could all do, and we thought, ‘Let’s go camping!’”

Bullington says she and her family are planning to meet for their annual camping trip in Clear Lake, Iowa, this July, and she’s looking forward to it. She and Nick have gone on the family trip for the last three years. “We try to choose somewhere between Madison, Wis., and Omaha because my sister lives in Madison and the rest of us live here. We’ve camped in Iowa the past few years.”

Nick and Elizabeth Bullington on a family camping trip outside the Amana Colonies in Iowa before the birth of son Reese.

Nick and Elizabeth Bullington on a family camping trip outside the Amana Colonies in Iowa before the birth of son Reese. Photo by John Gawley.

The annual trip became a lot more special for Bullington when she was able to bring Reese, even though he was still fairly young when he went for the first time last year. “We’re not going to let the age of our child stop us from camping. The way we see it, he’ll adapt to the outdoors just as we do,” she says.

Though Reese wasn’t yet walking the first time they went camping, Bullington says it was fairly easy to take him with on the trip. He slept on his changing pad in the tent with them, and they brought toys to keep him entertained while they were inside and outside of their tent. “We didn’t do a whole lot of water activities or hiking, but you have to give up some of the things you like to do to include family. [But] that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun.”

Bullington agrees that society’s dependence on technology has made it difficult to get children (and even other adults) to spend time outdoors. But she maintains, it’s an essential part of childhood. “There’s something about being lost in nature that develops imagination and other useful skills. It’s important for kids to discover the outside and learn to relax and have fun.”

Watch Out for Heat Stroke

Most people—especially those of us who know how muggy and hot Nebraska summers can be—have suffered from heat exhaustion at least once. It usually hits us after we’ve spent too much time outdoors in the blazing sun and haven’t been drinking enough fluids to keep us properly hydrated.

Heat exhaustion is pretty easy to recognize. Muscles cramp up, fatigue sets in, and sometimes lightheadedness or fainting can occur. But never write off heat exhaustion as “not that big of a deal” because it can be a precursor to a more serious heat injury called heat stroke.

Robert Muelleman, M.D., Chair of Emergency Medicine in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UNMC, explains that heat stroke usually causes alteration or damage to a person’s mental state. “It could be as mild as confusion or as severe as seizures,” he says. “Heat stroke damages a lot of different organs—brain, heart, liver, kidneys. That’s why it can be so deadly.”

Dr. Muelleman categorizes heat stroke into two types: classic heat stroke and exertion heat stroke. “Classic heat stroke is the one you read about during a heat wave in the summer. It typically affects elderly people with chronic medical conditions, like diabetes, hypertension, or emphysema. The issue there isn’t necessarily the daytime highs but rather the nighttime lows. If the temperature doesn’t drop below 80° for 72 hours, that’s when we’ll see classic heat stroke. The body doesn’t have a chance to cool down.”

“Heat stroke damages a lot of different organs—brain, heart, liver, kidneys. That’s why it can be so deadly.” – Robert Muelleman, M.D., UNMC

Exertion heat stroke, however, can happen to anybody, and it doesn’t even have to be that hot outside. It’s more about the heat index, explains Dr. Muelleman. “Heat index takes into account the humidity. If the heat index rises above 105°, then everyone is at risk. If it rises above 115°, then athletic and outdoor events really should be canceled.” With exertion heat stroke, it’s a matter of whether or not your body is unable to dissipate the heat or is generating too much heat.

When the body’s temperature control is overwhelmed, it can’t effectively cool down the body. Sweating is the normal response to overheating, but several factors can inhibit the body’s ability to cool itself—things like high humidity, obesity, fever, mental illness, poor circulation, heart disease, sunburn, and prescription drug or alcohol use.

Healthy children and adults are susceptible to heat stroke exertion in the summer because working in the heat or participating in summer sports can put them at risk. Babies, too—especially those left in cars when it’s hot. “Car temperatures rise so fast,” Dr. Muelleman says. “It’s extremely dangerous to leave a baby in the car during the summer.”

As for the symptoms of heat stroke, the Mayo Clinic recognizes the following:

  • High body temperature—usually 104°F (40°C) or higher
  • Lack of sweat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Rapid breathing
  • Racing heart rate
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
  • Muscle cramps or weakness

If you suspect someone is suffering from heat stroke, immediately call 911 or transport them to the hospital. Any delay seeking medical help can be fatal. While waiting for aid, move the person to an air-conditioned environment and attempt to cool them down by removing unnecessary clothing, fanning air over them, wetting skin with cool water from a cloth or sponge, or applying ice packs.

Get Your Game On!

Staying fit can be a real challenge for a busy mom, particularly when she spends a good chunk of her day behind a desk at work or playing chauffeur to active kids. So, too, can finding time for socializing with friends, who often have similarly hectic schedules that make planning a get-together nearly impossible.

Committing to play in a weekly beach volleyball league is an ideal way busy moms can ensure they get regular, quality exercise time in the outdoors, while at the same time enjoying a few hours socializing with teammates. It’s scheduled “me time” with physical fitness built in!

The Digz, a beach volleyball facility at 4428 S. 140th St. in Omaha, is a popular destination for many who enjoy the bump, set, spike sport. The sports arena features eight outdoor sand volleyball courts and, beginning this summer, four indoor/outdoor sand courts that can be enclosed during the colder months.

The Digz offers sand volleyball leagues year-round. New sessions of six-on-six recreational co-ed leagues, and four-on-four competitive leagues start every eight to nine weeks. Games are scheduled Sunday through Friday from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Courts are lit for nighttime play, and the facility also features a sports bar and grill, so players can catch a bite before or after a game or spend a bit more adult time catching up over a beverage.

Manager Mary Nabity says Digz sees about 400-600 players each night for league play during its summer session, which runs through Aug. 11. “We’ve been open now about eight years,” she says. “People really enjoy it. It can get crazy-busy here some nights, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Sempeck’s Bowling and Entertainment Center, at 20902 Cumberland Rd. in Elkhorn, offers its Sandbaggers Beach Volleyball in three sessions: spring leagues run April 21-June 20; summer leagues run June 21-Aug. 20; and fall leagues run Aug. 21-Oct. 15. Recreational, intermediate, and power play leagues are all offered, as are women-only and co-ed team play. Games run Monday through Friday from 6:30 p.m. on, and on Sundays beginning at 4:30 p.m.

The Sandbaggers’ facility, which opened in spring 2012, features six outdoor courts, all with nighttime lighting and automated scoring. A nearby playground allows older kids to enjoy some outdoor playtime during Mom’s matches (though it’s unsupervised). A horseshoe court and beanbag games are nearby as well. After games, Sempeck’s large, outdoor patio offers guests full-menu service and features live entertainment on Friday nights in the summer.

Owner Steve Sempeck says more than 180 teams were registered to play in the center’s spring leagues this year—that’s double last year’s team count. “We anticipate our summer leagues will fill to capacity with 275 teams,” he adds. “That’s about 1,500 players.”

Sempeck says Sandbaggers attracts a wide array of players. “Everyone from young singles just out of college to old guys like me in their 50s,” he jokes. “The majority are here for the recreational leagues and the social aspects of play. But we do have a power league—two on two, just like in the Olympics—and they’re in it competitively. They’re great to watch.”

This spring, Omahan Vicki Voet joined a beach volleyball league after a long absence from the game. “I just started back in April,” she says. “I had been in a league about 20 years ago with my husband, Perry, at the Ranch Bowl—before kids.”

Now an empty nester, Voet says she was looking for a way to reconnect with her interests and friends.

“I have been trying to find myself since the kids left for college,” Voet shares. “Volleyball is something I’ve always enjoyed…it’s very competitive and requires endurance, and exercise is very important to me. It’s great because [playing again] allows me to be with my friends and socialize at the same time. And I enjoy playing as a team.”

Since joining the spring league, Voet says she’s thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “The weather is usually good, and I love being outdoors. And it’s something I look forward to each week. We all just get out there to have fun!”

The Digz
4428 S. 140th St.
402-896-2775
thedigz.com

Sempeck’s Bowling & Entertainment Center
20902 Cumberland Dr.
402-289-4614
sempecks.com

Hit the Trails

Photography by Nebraska Travel & Tourism

Allow the beauty of Nebraska to inspire your family to get out and play together. Experience miles of renowned bike trails and hiking paths that wind through scenic splendor and offer breathtaking views. Nebraska is crisscrossed with dirt, gravel, and hard-surface trails that will guide you through some of the most beautiful parts of the state. So load up the bikes, lace up your hiking boots, and get the family moving.

One of the state’s premier destinations for trail seekers is Chadron State Park, tucked into the northwest corner of Nebraska. Mountain bikers come from far and wide to ride what are considered to be the top single- and dual-track destinations in the nation.

If hiking is more your style, head to Toadstool Geologic Park north of Crawford, Neb. Here, you will discover an unexpected, lunar-like terrain that’s perfect for exploring. Or take in the natural beauty and winding trails of western Nebraska’s Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area near Gering, Neb. Here, trekkers will discover rocky buttes and picture-perfect wilderness virtually unaffected by the passing of time.

The eastern end of the state offers a bounty of outdoor adventure as well. Hikers and bikers alike will enjoy the Cowboy Trail between Norfolk and Chadron, the nation’s longest rail-to-trail project in progress. The trail’s signature sites are its long bridges that offer spectacular views.

For mountain bikers, the Steamboat Trace Hike/Bike Trail along the Missouri River or the more metropolitan MoPac Trail West in Lincoln are great choices for an invigorating excursion.

Despite being surrounded by nearly a million people, Bellevue’s Fontenelle Forest is a haven of deep solitude with 17 miles of walking trails. In North Omaha, Neale Woods Nature Center’s nine miles of trails weave through heavy forests, hilltop prairies, and riverside woodlands.

With a state park system that stretches from border to border, you don’t have to go far to find quality trails. Spend a weekend camping at Branched Oak Lake State Recreation Area or rent a cabin or teepee at Platte River State Park—parks near the metro that offer several hiking and biking trails. Indian Cave State Park is almost 30 minutes southeast of Nebraska City, Neb., and near the city of Shubert on the Missouri River. It’s a 3,052-acre region that’s ruggedly pristine and has 22 miles of hiking and biking trails.

Hundreds of trails are waiting for you to explore, so go to VisitNebraska.com to find one to tackle today. Or order the new Nebraska Bicycle Map at transportation.nebraska.gov.

Q&A: Jason Decker

Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Elite Landscaping

As a kid, Omahan Jason Decker was known as the neighborhood yard boy. Today, as owner of Elite Landscaping, he still spends most of his days working outdoors, creating and installing beautiful landscapes and outdoor entertaining spaces for homeowners. “I can’t picture myself doing anything other than this.”

Q: When did you first discover your love for working in the outdoors? How did you get your start in landscaping?

A: Growing up in Armbrust Acres, I mowed 15 yards a week all through grade school and made good money for a young kid. At 15, I started working for a local lawn and landscape contractor. While I worked for my old boss, I read many books on landscaping and learned trial by fire. My parents were always my guinea pigs. They were my first pond, patio, landscape design, fire pit, lighting job, etc. School was never my thing. I just loved being outside, the hard work, seeing the fruits of my labor, and interacting with people.7_BackyardFirepit_Web

Q: What education and training do you have in landscape design? Who were your mentors?

A: I graduated from Millard North High School in 2001 and then attended Metro Community College for one-and-a-half years, taking classes in advanced landscape design and plant knowledge. For the most part, I am self-taught. My mentors were definitely my father, Bob, and mother, Rose, who instilled in me great ethics and morals and taught me at a young age that hard work pays off. My mom continues to support me in my business as the company’s office manager.

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Q: What kind of projects does Elite Landscaping take on? Who are your customers?

A: Our main area of work is in outdoor patio and pool projects. We are the main installer for Lumbermen’s high-end clients, and Bell Pools and New Wave Pools are great companies we work well with, referring business to each other. I do all my own landscape project work—meeting with each client, designing and bidding each job, then watching over the job site through completion. We only do around 15-20 projects a summer, and we continually keep in touch with clients, keeping their properties in peak shape with maintenance annuals, potting, and service work, etc. My customers are generally very hard-working professionals—small business owners, doctors, lawyers, financial advisors, executives for local businesses. They love their homes and yards and want them to be one-of-a-kind retreats where they can spend time relaxing and getting away from the rigors of work and enjoying family time. Ninety percent of my work is referral-based, while a few jobs are generated by my website and my exhibit at the Omaha Home Show.IMG_8731_DxO_Web

Q: What part of landscaping do you enjoy the most? What inspires your designs?

A: The most creative and enjoyable part is the design process—I’ve come up with some very unique and challenging designs, and I have a great team of guys who are very skilled and able to execute our designs well. Traveling is what inspires me! I travel about every six weeks, and at least once a year out of the country—Rio de Janeiro, Thailand, Mexico, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, Miami, Las Vegas…It gives me something to look forward to, and it refreshes the mind and body.

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Q: How do you enjoy your spare time?

Spending it with my girlfriend, Christie. She is the first woman who’s ever been able to get me away from work in the summer, our busiest time of year. We enjoy going to movies, sitting on the outdoor patio with friends for drinks, and dining out at Pitch Pizzeria, J’s on Jackson, M’s Pub, Roja, among others. We also like going downtown, and the Benson area is always fun. I also like to golf or just hang out with my bulldog, Diesel, and watch sporting events.

For a photo gallery of past projects or more info on Elite Landscaping, visit elitelandscapingomaha.com.