Tag Archives: trail

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.

Waterford

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Beautiful landscaping, nature at your doorstep, a state-of-the-art clubhouse and fitness center overlooking the serene pool…Sounds more like a dreamy vacation destination than a permanent residence.

Waterford is a cozy neighborhood tucked away at the corner of 156th and Ida streets in northwest Omaha. “It is a quiet neighborhood with a lot of families and is a place where you really get to know your neighbors,” says Jennifer Magilton with CBSHome Real Estate. “It has that small-town sense of community.”20130602_bs_8867_Web

Resident Kim Brown attests to Waterford’s tight-knit community. “The neighborhood is friendly, quiet, and the neighbors are very supportive, caring, and gracious. We are all very close and know what each other needs. If you’re going to be gone for a week, no problem…Your neighbor will get your mail or mow your yard. And when a neighbor is going through a tough time, we all pull together and do whatever needs to be done,” says Brown.

The residents of Waterford enjoy throwing holiday parties for the kids. “Traditionally, we have a Halloween party, an Easter Egg Hunt, and Santa comes on a firetruck,” says Brown. “We have people bring cookies for the Christmas event and candy for the Halloween event. A committee gets together to plan and solicit any donations or other items that need to be purchased.”20130602_bs_8818_Web

Brown and her family have lived in Waterford for six years and do not plan on moving anytime soon. “In the area where I live [northeast], we are pretty established…there are only a few lots left. So, if you want to buy, hurry!”

The subdivision offers three housing options, all with access to the private clubhouse, 24-hour fitness center, two swimming pools, lake, and walking trails: single-family homes, estate lots, and villas/townhomes with lawn and trash services included.20130602_bs_8786_Web

“The neighborhood has a variety of architectural [home] designs, from ultra-chic modern to Colorado cabin, as well as traditional homes in a wide range of prices…lots of different styles of homes throughout because of all of the different builders,” says Magilton. Homes sell for $250,000 to $700,000.

The winding roads of Waterford are a calming retreat from the city noise and traffic. The streets are lined with neat rose bushes, shrubs, and local prairie grasses. The neighborhood has a private clubhouse equipped with a pool and 24-hour fitness center. A second pool sits on the southeast side of the subdivision.20130602_bs_8785_Web

Outdoors enthusiasts enjoy the secluded 30-acre lake stocked with fish and the biking/jogging trail. “I absolutely love the access we have to nature in terms of green space and walking trails,” says resident Maria Minderman. “You can access Standing Bear [Recreational Area] and many other trails through the trail system.”

The clubhouse is an excellent resource for residents. It’s a charming space that includes a kitchen and a large, open space plus a sitting area with couches, a television, and fireplace. Several of the Waterford community activities are hosted there.20130602_bs_8831_Web

“If you have a small party, I would guess the clubhouse would comfortably hold anywhere from 25-50 people. It would be a great place for a rehearsal dinner, graduation, or birthday party,” Brown adds. “It is a very nice treat for residents if they do not want to go into Omaha…There is something right here that they can use. Plus, you don’t have to clean your house!”

The neighborhood is unique in that it’s located in both the Omaha Public and Bennington Public School districts. Minderman’s children—who just finished kindergarten, second, and fourth grades—go to Saddlebrook Elementary in OPS, just 1.5 miles from her house. “I absolutely love Saddlebrook. The school is brand-new and has a library and a community center. I don’t think you could find a better school in Omaha,” says Minderman.20130602_bs_8823_Web

Brown’s two children attend Bennington Public Schools. “We have a lot of different school systems represented in Waterford,” says Brown. “I know families that attend St. James [Catholic], Lifegate Christian School, and Concordia [Lutheran] School of Omaha.”

Brown and her family built their two-story, traditional home and were very pleased with their building options. “We didn’t want a cookie-cutter house,” says Brown, adding she admires the other unique homes in the area. “A house was just built down the road from us that is absolutely beautiful. It has more of a Colorado feel to it. There are a couple of really unique homes that resemble a Frank Lloyd Wright style.”20130602_bs_8814_Web

Waterford offers the proximity to modern conveniences without sacrificing the natural elements. “We have geese that make their home at the lake most of the year. It is very serene to walk around the lake and see the geese, ducks, and bunnies. I saw a bald eagle the other day,” says Brown.

At the same time, the subdivision is just a couple miles from the shopping and dining at centers at 144th and 156th and Maple streets. Target, Wal-Mart, and HyVee are just a quick drive away.

And if you’re a golfer, Stone Creek Golf Course (156th & Ida) is just a stroll across the street.

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.