Tag Archives: view

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.

The Zen of Downsizing

February 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in March/April 2015 Omaha Home magazine.

Anne Ginn’s epiphany came when she was ankle-deep in a pile of leaves.

“It came to me while I was raking,” says Ginn. “I was filling the last bag of leaves of the season and decided that it would also be the last bag of leaves of my life.”

So Anne, whose husband, Bob, had passed away in 2012, sold her Loveland-area home and packed her belongings. Well, some of them anyway. “One of the things that wasn’t negotiable were my art books,” she says. “We had hundreds of books…voracious readers…but I kept only my art books.”

It’s no surprise that Ginn, who now lives at Riverfront Place, could not part with the source of such creative inspiration. Ginn was a co-owner of the now-closed String of Purls knitting shop. She is, of course, an accomplished knitter, but she is also an artist in her own right and is perhaps best known for her wildly imaginative pattern designs for sweaters, scarves, and accessories.

Another grouping that would make the move with Ginn was her marble collection. The much-travelled Ginn, who also scours the globe in search of the most spectacular of scuba spots, amassed the collection one country at a time.

 

“They are just little works of art in glass,” Ginn says. “Besides being things of great beauty, they are storytellers. Each one reminds me of where I’ve been. They are almost like little sacred objects, all with a meaning and story of their own.”

Joining the construction of Gallup’s headquarters and the National Parks Regional Headquarters, Riverfront Place was the residential keystone of the city’s first major NoDo riverfront development. The Phase 1 tower, where Anne rents her space from the unit’s owners, was completed in 2007 along with an adjoining block of 57 townhomes. Phase 2, completed in 2011, added a second tower and an additional 50 townhomes.

Ginn’s end-cap condo offers floor-to-ceiling exposure to the East, South, and West. The three-fold orientation, she says, offers almost perfect symmetry. Ginn begins her day in the glow of a cobalt-blue sunrise on one side of her condo and, after the shortest of commutes, ends the day basking in the flame-red sunsets on the opposite side.

Riverfront Place boasts some of the most dramatic sightlines of any downtown living space. Looming below is the towering Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, whose base is grounded by a plaza featuring a popular, get-your-feet-wet water feature.

By June, the plaza will also have a removable stage and will increasingly become the home of evening concerts in the shadow of “The Bob,” Omaha’s signature structure.

Her 9th floor perch happens to place her at eye-level with flocks of soaring Canada geese. It’s also the perfect vantage point for taking in the breathtaking fireworks that light up the night sky during the holidays, the NCAA College World Series, and other special events. On the day of the interview, perfectly round orbs of ice swirled as they elbowed their way downstream in the river below. It was an ethereal, otherworldly sight, one not unlike a work of abstract art that had come to life. The mesmerizing ice dance mirrored images of the undulating, slow motion ballet performed by the jellyfish at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.

“I worried that this [Riverfront Place] would be too remote,” says Ginn of the site that isn’t exactly downtown and isn’t exactly at the core NoDo. “But it turned out to be just the opposite. I’m not in the middle of anything, but I’m sort of in the middle of everything. Just look,” she says with a sweep of a hand in gesturing to the river, bridge, TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, CenturyLink Center Omaha, and the city’s skyline.

Ginn’s move to condo living was something of an experiment for her. Now she says she’s considering buying a condo at Riverfront once her lease expires.

“This has become the perfect place me,” she says. “Add to that all the amenities [indoor parking, concierge service, health clubs, access to miles of hiking trails on both sides of the river, and more] and I am just really enjoying life here.”

Ginn is an avid disciple of Bikram yoga who teaches at Creighton University during the summer. She is also a spiritual director, one who has taken a decidedly Zen-like approach to downsizing.

“Things—physical things, belongings, stuff—require care and maintenance,” she explains. “There is a weight to them, both physical and mental, that occupies and distracts the mind. The kind of weightiness I now seek is in other, more meaningful aspects of my life.”

20150126_bs_7744

The Magnetts’ Dunsany Flats Condo

August 20, 2012 by
Photography by minorwhitestudios

Charlie and Sherri Magnett were driving through Omaha’s Little Italy neighborhood when they spotted the vintage Dunsany Flats building near 10th and Pierce streets. It was built in 1901 to house railroad workers. They found their dream condo inside. The deck first caught their eye.

“The deck sold us on this condo,” says Sherri. A glass wall leads to a spacious deck with a ceiling fan, couch, and chairs. Their deck overlooks a “green” roof where living plants flourish. The colorful roof provides insulation for the garage below, keeping it warm in winter and cool in summer, as well as a pleasant view for condo owners.

Sherri Magnett admires her view of Little Italy.

Sherri Magnett admires her view of Little Italy.

Charlie and Sherri were so struck by what they saw, the Millard-area homeowners sold their place two years ago, then bought two Dunsany condos and melded them into an airy 1,900-square-foot home. A brick wall was removed and replaced with sliding oak doors that were the original unit’s front doors. Windows flood the rooms with natural light.

The original exposed brick walls and woodwork that were new the day the building opened more than a century ago were retained and restored during renovation. Ornamental iron flower boxes sit just outside the windows of the condos.

20120628_sd_3248-Edit-copy_2

The media room is wired for sound. Electronics are hidden in a closet to give the room an uncluttered look. Posters from movies popular with family members—which include daughter Page, 19, and son Chase, 22—hang from the walls. Each chose a favorite movie to feature: The Wizard of Oz (Charlie); Silence of the Lambs and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Sherri); Reservoir Dogs and Forrest Gump (Page); and Boondock Saints and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Chase).

Movies made in Nebraska are saluted in posters that line a hallway leading to the bedrooms of Page and Chase: Sideways, Election, Up in the Air, and About Schmidt. Reverend, a fluffy white puppy who lives with the Magnetts, appears not to have a favorite movie. We would have guessed 101 Dalmatians.

Son Chase spends a good chunk of time in the media room.

Son Chase spends a good chunk of time in the media room.

The couple invested in a system that uses a strip running along the upper wall with wires that hang down to hold the posters, making the hanging job easier. Also on the front hall walls are framed maps that Charlie collects. Shelving in the hallway was custom-made for them from 100-year-old salvaged wood.

They’ve had as many as 50 guests in their double condo. But it’s unlikely the neighbors were annoyed by noise. Acoustical flooring, 12-inch-thick masonry walls, and a sound-proofing system assure privacy and quiet. “You barely hear your own footsteps,” says Charlie.

20120628_sd_3246_4_5_adjust-Edit-copy_2

The custom-designed, European-style kitchen was Sherri’s project. Cabinet doors open accordion-style above the Corian counters. “The one thing Charlie wanted in the kitchen was an integrated kitchen sink (sink and countertop are formed together),” she says.

“We bought the appliances on eBay,” adds Sherri, who relishes a bargain.

20120628_sd_3251_49_50_adjust-Edit-copy_2

Bedroom closets feature backlit, glass doors. Lighting makes it easier to find clothing and shines through the glass for a soft light in the bedroom. An attic was added by the Magnetts to supplement the storage space already available. A metal ladder folds down to allow access to the attic, which doubles as a bedroom when Chase’s friends visit.

Before settling into the Little Italy neighborhood, Sherri checked City of Omaha plans and learned the area is targeted for revitalization. The Blue Barn Theatre’s new building is scheduled to go up by 2014 across the street from their condo.

20120628_sd_3254_2_3_adjust-copy_2

There’s a lot going on in walking distance. They can stroll to the Old Market, Durham Museum, and TD Ameritrade Park, where Charlie caught the College World Series. They can watch July 4th fireworks from Downtown Omaha and hear music from Stir Cove across the Missouri River.

Charlie now has only a seven-minute walk to Union Pacific headquarters where he is an engineer. Sherri’s commute to Peter Kiewit, where she is an IT worker, also is shorter than from Millard.

20120628_sd_3292-copy_2

They wanted to be closer to their jobs and closer to the center of action. “There’s so much to do. It’s a different lifestyle,” says Charlie. “We’ve been talking for five years about doing this.”

They found new friends and a lively neighborhood in Little Italy. The couple ride bikes and attend ball games with neighbors. Sherri and a friend won this year’s tournament on the neighborhood bocce court, even though she had never played.

“We know everybody by name,” says Sherri.