In This Issue:

FEATURED TRIP: Magnolia Holiday
CRUISE OF THE MONTH: Our First European Trip in Years
JOURNEY OF THE MONTH: Great National Parks of the West
BEHIND THE SCENES: In Praise of Conrad
THE WAY IT WAS: Rafting the Snake River
PHOTO OF THE MONTH: Trying Something New
DID YOU KNOW? The Story Behind Temple Square
HISTORIC SNAPSHOT: Convention of Queens
A TASTE FOR TRAVEL: Heartland Macaroni & Cheese
TRAVEL TIPS: Don’t Miss These Sights!
NATIONAL PARK TRIVIA: Surprise Geysers
IN YOUR OWN WORDS: Guests Speak Up

 

EXCLUSIVE OFFER FOR NEWSLETTER READERS

FREE NIGHT IN FLORIDA! Receive a second free pre-trip hotel night in Ft. Lauderdale prior to our 57-day European Holiday roundtrip cruise from Fort Lauderdale on March 10, 2016. Note that this is an EXCLUSIVE offer that is made available ONLY to subscribers of this e-newsletter and must be redeemed by calling Uncommon Journeys at 1-800-323-5893. This offer expires Friday, August 28.



Featured Trip

 Magnolia Holiday

We have long been fond of Memphis, home of the Blues, Rock and Roll and a rich history, as well as Natchez, simply one of the most charming and picturesque towns in America, famed for its magnificent plantations and Southern hospitality. The only thing nicer than visiting these two cities at the perfect time of year is adding a third great destination, New Orleans, and we are delighted to feature all three in one brilliantly organized holiday with fine hotels, wonderful dining and a leisurely pace. Best of all, our vacation concludes with travel from New Orleans to Chicago aboard Pullman Rail Journeys superb overnight service, a private 1950s era train of great elegance with Pullman sleeping cars, fine dining and excellent service, traveling over the historic Illinois Central “Main Line of Mid America” celebrated in song and verse.

The charm of the Crescent City.

Our 10-day Magnolia Holiday journey is one of the nicer trips to the South we have ever created, with two- and three-night hotel stays in every city but one, iconic features like the famed Arch in St Louis, the marching ducks in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, and a visit to justly-famed Café du Monde in New Orleans for the best café au lait and beignets on the planet. All sightseeing and admissions are included as is a professional tour manager to handle all of the details so you need only to worry about what dessert to order at the celebrated Palace Café in New Orleans. Truth be told, there is only one flaw with this leisurely holiday and that is that it operates only twice so prompt reservations are most wise.

• Hosted by a professional tour manager from start to finish.
• Our own dedicated deluxe motorcoach with no smoking, no long trip segments and brilliant stops en route. On the day we drive from Memphis to Natchez, we stop en route in Oxford, MS the literary Capital of the South and the home of Ol' Miss. On our drive from Natchez to New Orleans we stop at Oak Alley, perhaps the grandest of all great houses along the Mississippi River.
• Two nights in Memphis at the Residence Inn. We enjoy the acclaimed Backbeat Tour, a special sightseeing bus with an onboard singer who performs the songs by Elvis, Johnny Cash and Otis Redding as we travel past the sights made famous by these musicians. There is time to visit Graceland and we have included a meal at justly famed Rendezvous Barbeque as well as a visit to Beale Street, home of the Blues.
• Two nights in Natchez, perched high atop the Mississippi and a repository of some of the grandest plantation homes in America.
• Three-night stay in New Orleans at the Royal St Charles Hotel, an excellent location right on this St Charles Streetcar Line and a five minute walk from the French Quarter. We even include a French Quarter tour with fabled Café du Monde, a visit to the World War II Museum and a Mississippi River cruise aboard the steamboat Natchez. We have included some grand dining in New Orleans including the Palace Café, Breakfast at Brennan's and brunch at the Court of the Two Sisters. Another highlight is dinner at the historic Crescent City Steakhouse, the original inspiration for Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, with the same excellent steaks pan-broiled in butter!
• Train travel from New Orleans to Chicago aboard Pullman Rail Journeys’ excellent private streamliner train service. All guests enjoy comfortable Pullman sleeping car comfort, fine dining and deft service on this overnight journey. All meals, wines & spirits aboard are included.

Beginning at just $2,995 per person and offered twice only on March 12, 2016 and November 26, 2016, our 10-day Magnolia Holiday journeys will sell quickly so call us at 1-800-323-5893 for more details.
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 Our First European Trip in Years

We know our guests love Europe. In fact, it is one of the more popular destinations when they’re not traveling with us so we’ve wanted to add a European trip for quite some time but we just couldn’t find a way to do it and have it live up to our standards for a leisurely pace and exquisite pampering. That was until our friends at Holland America Line came up with a grand 57-day European Holiday roundtrip cruise from Fort Lauderdale on March 10, 2016. What a wonderful adventure and here is the most amazing part of visiting 30 ports in 13 countries with no flying and no packing or unpacking: the trips begin at just $7,995 per person. For comparison purposes, a roundtrip business class airline ticket to Europe actually costs almost as much as this entire two-month vacation!

Our First European Trip in Years

Best of all, this one-time only voyage is offered on Holland America Line’s Prinsendam, a mid-sized ship that offers an intimate experience lost in today’s megaliners. She was originally built in 1988 for defunct Royal Viking Line, a luxury cruise company. That means you get more space and more amenities combined with the ability to pop in and out of smaller ports off limits to the big ships. Among all of the cruise ships in the world, the Prinsendam occupies a special realm. With elegantly appointed public rooms, a superb spa, acres of open deck space and roomy staterooms, all with walk-in closets, Prinsendam evokes a now vanished era of cruising.

So for this great ship we have found the greatest European itinerary in years, sailing roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale allowing our guests to sail in luxury to some of the most amazing cities on Earth including Lisbon, Athens, Venice, Istanbul, Florence, Rome and Barcelona to name just a few. We stop in epic locations like lovely Madeira, Sardinia, Malta, Santorini, Olympia, Monte Carlo and the Azores.  Along the way, you will transit the Strait of Gibraltar, sail through the Dardanelles, cruise past Stromboli and its great volcano, glide into the Bay of Naples for a visit to Pompeii, and visit Seville in Spain.  Great seldom-visited ports are also included like Valletta in Malta, Kusadasi in Turkey, Durres Albania and perhaps nicest of all, stunning Kotor in Montenegro reached by a long fjord. All of this is done in supreme comfort, unpacking once.

So, for little more than the cost of a round-trip air ticket to Europe in business class, this epic voyage, offered only once, takes you to the greatest places in the Old World in safety, grand style and convenience. The trip is hosted by one of our most beloved tour managers, Conrad Tausend, with special cocktail parties and events, both aboard ship and ashore. To ease you into your vacation, we feature an overnight deluxe hotel stay in Fort Lauderdale the evening before sailing, including breakfast and transfers to the ship on sailing day. A special evening in the Prinsendam’s Pinnacle Grill as well as dinner in Canaletto are included along with a special day in Provence just for our guests on the day we dock in Monte Carlo. A special coach takes us to the highlights of the French Riviera including quaint Villefranche, chic St. Jean-Cap Ferrat and Nice. It’s the ultimate day in this stunning part of the world.

With some of the largest staterooms afloat, enrichment activities, acclaimed dining and service and Holland America's Tradition of Excellence, this voyage will sell out quickly.

• Fully hosted by Conrad Tausend with special cocktail parties and events, both aboard ship and ashore.
• Overnight deluxe hotel stay in Fort Lauderdale the evening before sailing including breakfast and transfer to the ship on sailing day.
• Dinner in the Pinnacle Grill one evening as well as in Canaletto one evening.
• Special 'Our Day in Provence' just for our guests on the day we dock in Monte Carlo with a special coach to take us to the highlights of the French Riviera including quaint Villefranche, chic St Jean-Cap Ferrat and Nice. The ultimate day in this stunning part of the French Riviera.

Beginning at just $7,995 per person, this 57-day European Holiday departs March 16, 2016 and is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Call us at 1-800-323-5893 for more details.
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 Great National Parks of the West

This 12-day Great National Parks of the West train tour features a private restored Vista-Dome Streamliner train, our very own Great Western Limited. The only holiday to feature Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Yosemite all in one glorious holiday, this trip also boasts of two nights in San Francisco with a fine hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf. Never before to our knowledge has there been an elegantly crafted tour to the Great National Parks of the West that offered up, in one glorious vacation, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Yosemite, with a scenic crossing of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and time in San Francisco as added benefits. Nicer still, our guests enjoy something that no other western holiday offers, travel aboard our own classic 1940s era vintage streamliner train with Vista-Dome cars for your viewing pleasure. With a sensible pace (most of our hotel stays are two nights long), comprehensive sightseeing throughout, a professional tour manager to handle all of the details and much more, there is simply no nicer nor better way to travel from the Crown of the Continent at Glacier National Park to Yosemite than this holiday.

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

  • Free or low-cost travel aboard Amtrak's Empire Builder train from Seattle/Portland or Chicago/Midwest points to our starting point in Glacier National Park, Montana, an overnight journey. Guests with less time may fly into Kalispell, Montana with a free shuttle to our hotel in Whitefish.
  • Two-night stay in quaint Whitefish, Montana with complete touring of stunning Glacier National Park including the famed Red Jammer buses over the extraordinary Going to the Sun Highway.
  • Overnight visit to Yellowstone National Park with comprehensive sightseeing including Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
  • Two-night visit to Jackson, Wyoming with touring of Grand Teton National Park and a float trip on the Snake River.
  • Train travel from Provo, Utah to Sacramento aboard the Great Western Limited, an overnight journey in Pullman sleeping car comfort over the Union Pacific Railroad. All meals, wines & spirits are included aboard your private train.
  • Full day visit to Yosemite with complete touring and overnight at the Yosemite View Lodge along the rushing Merced River.
  • Two-night stay in San Francisco at Fisherman's Wharf with Bay Cruise and Farewell Dinner. A leisurely relaxed pace with more time in Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National than most tours offer.
  • Many meals including breakfast daily.
  • Complete sightseeing from start to finish including all admission fees, excursions and transfers.
  • Fully hosted by a Professional Tour Manager.

Beginning at just $3,295 per person, this 12-day trip departs on July 4, 2016 and August 25, 2016. Call us at 1-800-323-5893 for more details.
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  In Praise of Conrad

Born to tour

At Uncommon Journeys, we understand that there’s more to memorable trip than just amazing destinations, incredible nostalgic ocean liner ships, inspirational restored trains, superb cuisine and friendly guests. The element that brings all these together is our tour managers. We are fortunate to have some of the very best such folks in the business and we can say with confidence that of all the notes and letters of praise we receive, the overwhelming majority sing the praises of our tour managers.

One of our hardest-working tour managers and one who has been with us for many, many years is Conrad Tausend. He is universally loved by our guests and we are in awe of the way he makes everyone feel at home and takes those extra steps to make each guests feel special. We recently sat down with Conrad to learn a bit more about what makes him tick:

Where were you born and raised and what did you like most about this city or town?  
I was born in Milwaukee and it’s your basic slice of the Midwest with great family values and a distinct change of seasons.

Where do you live now, why did you move there, and what do you like most about it? 
I returned to Milwaukee 15 years ago after spending 15 years "on the road." I’ve learned that discoveries can't be made by reading a book and looking at the pictures.

What experiences as a child made you the ideal fit for the tour manager position?  
Mom and Dad took us traveling as kids by any method they could think of, ranging from an old Nash Rambler station wagon to an inter-continental Pan Am Boeing 707.  My passion to travel was ignited, and that flame still burns stronger than ever over 50 years later.

As a child, what else did you dream of doing when you grew up and what was appealing about that job?
Daydreams convinced me as a 7-year old that I could become an astronaut. Obviously, I fell quite a bit short of that goal. It seems that all my travel remains "land-based."

How did you first get into escorting tours? 
It was something I always wanted to do but never pursued it assertively. I saw an ad for Uncommon Journeys tours in USA Today in April of 2009 and followed-up on it. I was lured by the phrase "every tour escorted by a professional tour manager to handle all the details."  I thought that had my name written all over it so I sent a polite but assertive cover letter with my resume. I was interviewed over lunch in Chicago in May and started in August on a short training tour with tour manager Barbara Abegglen here in the Midwest. I’ve now done well over 60 tours on my own and tend to get more tours assigned than any other member of the staff because I love it so much I make sure I’m always available when they need me!

What is your favorite place to visit on an Uncommon Journeys trip and why?
I love the U.S. National Parks, there's nowhere else like them in the world! We have the best of everything right here in our own backyard!

What is your favorite thing about leading a tour group and why?
It’s fun to make certain that each itinerary comes to life ensuring that expectations are not just met but exceeded. I try to impart a narrative that's accurate and complete with factual history mixed with interpretation, folklore and humor.

Tell us your favorite touching or amusing story about a group or destination.  
One day I was walking briskly along the south rim of the Grand Canyon on my way to accomplish something simple having to do with passenger service, and I caught myself saying, "Conrad, look where you are!"

Who is the most memorable or inspiring person you met that was part of a tour group with Uncommon Journeys? 
I once met a retired Korean War-era Major in the U.S. Marine Corps who told me that he would have been happy to have me in his command back then. I respectfully responded that we could have been effective co-Commanders for the benefit of all.

What do you like to do in your spare time and why is that your favorite hobby? 
I'm a film enthusiast and have the opportunity to see discount matinees in un-crowded theaters during the week. By the time the Oscars roll around in March, I've seen them all!

Who has inspired you in your career the most? 
My loving parents, who at an early age insisted on the best of everything. They were always demonstrating empathy, kindness, creativity, and consideration for others. They gave me a moral compass that always had fresh batteries in it.

What is the motto you live by? 
That's easy: "Every Day is Saturday!"

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Rafting the Snake River

The simple pleasure of river rafting.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, here at Uncommon Journeys we think getting there is half the fun and that the journey itself is the destination. We also have a reverence for certain forms of transportation. We’re not big fans of cars, interstates and traffic jams. But we love the sound of a train whistle, the clack of the tracks and the elegance of a beautifully-restored carriage from the heyday of rail travel. We think that the notes of a steam-powered calliope emanating from an authentic steamboat, its bright red paddlewheel thrashing the Mississippi, are straight from heaven. And the sight of a sun dipping into the sea as seen from the deck of an ocean liner is nirvana. We love going places. But we’re head over heels in love with how we get there.

But there’s one form of transportation that many travelers forget all about. It doesn’t involve wheels (no covered wagons) or hooves (so no horses). It does involve paddles (but it’s not a paddlewheel steamboat). It was actually one of the most basic means for pioneers, fur trappers, and frontiersmen to travel the rugged wilderness of America’s western territories. We’re talking about river rafting.

Two centuries ago, things were a bit different than they are now. Most rafts were made of logs lashed together and those riding them knew little about the nuances of the wild rivers that traveled along. Rocks could tear rafts apart and swirling eddies could capsize the flimsy log platforms easily.

On many of our vacations that include Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, we spend a half day reliving the traditions of the early explorers with a morning float trip on the Snake River with the backdrop of the most impressive mountain range in North America, the Grand Tetons. Unlike the pioneers, however, our guides know every inch of the river and there is no possibility of coming to grief in raging rapids, being torn asunder by uncharted rocks or capsizing in unknown currents. In fact, the chances are you’ll never even get your feet wet.

There’s something about a float trip that seems almost prehistoric, especially in a location as beautiful as Jackson Hole, WY and the Snake River. A tributary of the Columbia River measuring more than 1,000 miles in length, the Snake River is as old as the landscape itself. In fact, the Snake River Plain owes its existence to a volcanic hotspot under Yellowstone National Park and the route it follows was carved out by glaciers retreating at the end of the last Ice Age. Native Americans lived along the river 11,000 years ago and the river traces its name to a misunderstanding. A sign showing a fish made by the Shoshones was misread by early settlers and fur trappers as a snake and the river took on the misnomer.

In the early morning light, with the Grand Tetons towering in the distance, the prehistoric becomes the present. River rafting is quiet and it’s easy to bond with the surrounding landscape, soaking in the silence and imagining this land as it once was. That’s the beauty of our Western journeys; you don’t have to close your eyes to imagine what life was once like here. The land is so unchanged that you can keep your eyes wide open and still have a sense of the long history and the majesty of nature’s creations.

Yes, we love trains, steamboats and ocean liners. But sometimes it’s the simplest forms of transportation that can be the most rewarding. Rafting on the Snake River is featured on trips such as our 14-day Best of the West train tour departing September 6, 2015 and our 12-day Great National Parks of the West train tours departing September 1, 2015, July 4, 2016 and August 25, 2016.
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Trying Something New

Wine and Cheese on the Rails

When you vacation with Uncommon Journeys, you’re assured of stylish travel on historic, restored trains such as our Great Western Limited, an exquisite Vista-Dome Streamliner. While aboard, all meals and spirits are included as well as a bevy of snacks. Recently, we tried something new that instantly became a big hit. There’s just something about the romance of the rails, the clickety-clack of the tracks, the sun settling onto the western horizon and the golden glow that envelops the domed lounge car that calls for something truly special. We decided to add a wine and cheese feature in late afternoon as the perfect prelude to a multi-course, white-gloved meal. You’ve no doubt been to wine and cheese parties before but can you think of any better place to sample the best of the farmer’s and vintner’s talents than aboard a classic train at sunset? We sure can’t!

If you’d like to see a photo from one of your own Uncommon Journeys trips featured in our newsletter, just email it to us at uncommon@uncommonjourneys.com and be sure to note in your email that we can use it for marketing purposes.
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The Story Behind Temple Square

The beautiful grounds of Temple Square in Salt Lake City

While the Constitution makes it clear that the government cannot advocate for one specific religion and demand that its citizens follow that religion (as was quite common in Europe in the 1600s and 1700s and is the case in some places in the Middle East today), thus defining America as separating church and state, the very settlers who came to our shores in the 1600s did so primarily to avoid religious persecution in their home countries. Here, in the wilderness that was the American continent, they could worship as they pleased.

Interestingly, as America grew, became a nation and added territory, not every religion felt comfortable worshipping as they pleased just anywhere. In fact, some wanted to be left alone by the government to such an extent that they traveled as far as possible from civilization to realize their dreams. We find the history of one group in particular to be truly fascinating and at Uncommon Journeys, we feature a number of trips that feature that group’s home state.

Utah and the Mormons are forever intertwined because it was the Mormons who came west and settled this remote area, eventually building a stunning temple complex in what is now downtown Salt Lake City. Temple Square covers 10 acres and is the hub of downtown Salt Lake City. Owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), it is a quiet oasis in what is now a bustling metropolis with the glass towers of downtown looming all around. The square itself houses a couple of visitor’s centers, the Salt Lake Tabernacle where the legendary Mormon Tabernacle Choir clears their pipes, the Seagull Monument, an assembly hall, and the crown jewel of Mormon life, the Salt Lake Temple.

Though the temple can only be viewed from the outside because it is a sacred structure, one of the visitor centers has an enormous and fascinating cutaway model of the building, revealing the secrets within. Dedicated in 1893, the 250,000-square foot temple was actually the sixth one built by the Mormons and the fourth since they fled Nauvoo, IL in the 1840s. The temple took four decades to finish and is the largest LDS temple anywhere in the world.

It is where the Mormon’s First Presidency meets each week as well as the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The temple is not just a place of worship but also a place for meetings with numerous rooms built for specific purposes that aren’t needed in other, smaller LDS temples. In all respects, the Salt Lake City Temple is unique in the Mormon universe.

The temple’s location was the surveying work of Mormon prophet Brigham Young who designated the spot for the temple just days after the Mormons arrived in Utah. Architect Truman Angell created a building that borrows elements from other great religious structures but combines them in a new way, blending Romanesque and Gothic design in a building higher than the original Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.

The construction was not an easy task, with the original sandstone foundation replaced with a type of quartz when it was discovered the sandstone was cracking and wouldn’t be able to bear the weight of the building to be built atop it. When dedicated in 1893, the temple’s crowing feature was a 12.5-foot golden state of the Angel Maroni, a figure described in Revelations as the angle who would herald the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Today, the Salt Lake City Temple stands tall in Temple Square, surrounded by gardens, swaying trees, lush green grass, pathways, fountains and flowerbeds. Many of our guests enjoy bringing a picnic lunch to the square, sitting in the shadow of the mighty temple, and enjoying the serenity of this little slice of heaven in the midst of a major American city.

We invite you to join us on one of our trips that feature Salt Lake City such as our 14-day Best of the West train tour departing September 6. We’re also crafting a number of trips for 2016 that feature Salt Lake City which we’ll be announcing soon.
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Convention of Queens

A meeting of two stately queens. Photo courtesy of Cunard Line.

It’s not that often that you can bring famous ships together in one place. We see it every few years with a gathering of tall ships somewhere on the world but when it comes to the three Queens operated by venerable Cunard Line, such gatherings of the world’s most famous ocean liners are even fewer and further between. A few years ago, the line’s flagship, the Queen Mary 2, met up with the newest member of the fleet, the sleek Queen Victoria, in England. The twilight setting, the glittering lights of these great vessels and the uniqueness of the occasion was too much for us not to share this wonderful photo with you. We offer a cruise tour featuring the Queen Mary 2, our 16-day Canada and New England with the Queen departing September 26, 2015 and the Queen Victoria is the centerpiece of our 20-day Panama Canal with the Queen cruise tour departing January 21, 2016.
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Bill Bryson

 

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” Bill Bryson
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Heartland Macaroni & Cheese

Recipe courtesy of Uncommon Journeys guest Jim Lida

Just like Mom used to make.  

Uncommon Journeys offers trips all over North America and, in 2016, even as far afield as Hawaii, the Panama Canal, and Europe. However, there’s nothing quite like a train trip right through the Heartland of America where the people are friendly, the smiles are large, the food is simple and the meals are reminiscent of what your mother or grandmother used to make. An easy and favorite dish that we find throughout the Midwest is macaroni and cheese but most versions today are creamy and taste much like the versions that come in a box at the grocery store. This recipe is a return to the good old days of stick-to-you-ribs casserole goodness with ample cheese and a firm consistency that will take you back to another era. Enjoy!

YIELD
8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 large block, sharp cheddar cheese, sliced 1/8 inch thic
  • 2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 box of elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1 cup crushed seasoned croutons
  • ¼ stick of butter or margarine

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook elbow macaroni according to box directions and drain. Mix shredded Parmesan cheese with macaroni until melted and coated. Spoon macaroni into bottom of greased glass casserole dish, layer cheddar cheese and continue layering macaroni and cheese until both are gone. Pour milk over casserole. Melt butter and mix with crushed croutons, set aside. Bake covered for 30 minutes, remove from oven, sprinkle one cup of seasoned crouton mixture on top and continue cooking uncovered for 10 more minutes at 400 degrees. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving. Pepper to taste.
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Don’t Miss These Sights!

The Seattle skyline’s golden sunset glow.

Our trips here at Uncommon Journeys have so many highlights, we’re often asked what our favorites are. Different trips appeal to different people for different reasons. Some people love trains and pick the journey that maximize their time on the rails. Others are in it for the National Parks and gravitate toward the park-packed trips. Some go for fall foliage, others to experience a steamboat and still others because they love ocean liners.

However, there’s one trip that combines the best of all worlds and that’s why our guests love our 16-day Yosemite to Denali journeys departing June 12, 2016; July 10, 2016; and August 7, 2016 next summer. As it says in our brochure, they really are a visual feast with San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, the Cascade Mountains, Seattle, Vancouver, the Inside Passage, Juneau, Skagway, Seward, Denali, Anchorage, and the McKinley Explorer Train all in one exquisite holiday. This journey really spans the spectrum and below are the top sights you don’t want to miss on our Yosemite to Denali vacations.

Sunset over Puget Sound – Seattle is one of America’s most beautiful cities and nothing drives that point home better than watching the sun dip below the Olympic Peninsula as the last rays shimmer across Puget Sound. I like to grab some fresh crab legs from one of the cafes in Pike Place market and sit on the grass a couple blocks away high above the Sound to watch nature’s fireworks. Taking in the view from the waterfront is also highly recommended as you not only get the panorama of the sunset but also its reflection behind you in the glass towers of Seattle’s dramatic skyline.

San Francisco’s cable cars – While it must sound like a cliché to say that the cable cars are a highlight of this trip, they really are! While the system that runs them is fascinating and the steep hills make each ride an adventure, what I love most about the cable cars of San Francisco is that they’re not there for show. Real people ride them to real jobs, to do real shopping and to get to real places. There are the well-to-do with shopping bags, people eating warm pretzels and silky Ghirardelli chocolate and the free-spirited carrying guitars. A cable car is a wonderful slice of life of San Francisco you can’t get anywhere else.

The Great Western Limited’s overnight Streamliner cars – One of the best things about train travel is sleeping on a train with the gentle rocking motion and the subtle yet ever-present clicking of the tracks as the miles slip by. Doing it in an authentic Streamliner car is like stepping back in time.

Red Dog Saloon in Juneau – Speaking of stepping back in time, the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau has the feel of the old days of the gold rush despite being a popular tourist spot. The best time to visit is just before you head back to your ocean liner. Enjoy a glass of beer, some peanuts and an ambiance straight out of the late 19th century.

The White Pass & Yukon Narrow Gauge Railway – For sheer drama, this is one of the best rides in the world of trains. Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, this narrow gauge railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a designation shared with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. The railway was considered an impossible task but it was literally blasted through coastal mountains in only 26 months and climbs almost 3,000 feet in just 20 miles and features steep grades of up to 3.9%, cliff-hanging turns of 16 degrees, two tunnels and numerous bridges and trestles. It really is breathtaking!

Cruising the Inside Passage – I’m a fan of ocean liners and Holland America Line does it better than almost anyone. Their ships have an Old World feel blended with modern touches. There’s nothing cozier than sitting on the Promenade Deck in a wooden deck chair wrapped in a blanket against the chill while a steward serves you afternoon tea. In front of you, a cavalcade of snow-capped peaks, waterfalls and vistas rolls right by.

McKinley Explorer train ride – Traveling through Denali National Park on a train is a dream come true and on this route to Anchorage, there’s always something to see. Over the years, I’ve lost count of the wildlife I’ve seen, yet I can remember each as if I just saw it yesterday because they make such a lasting impression.

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park – Rising more than 4,700 feet from the valley floor, Half Dome is perhaps Yosemite’s most recognizable feature and its most dramatic. Surrounded by the sweet grasses, pine trees, bubbling streams and singing birds of the valley, I can’t help but be awed by this enormous rock rising to the heavens. The contrast between the softness of the flora and fauna and the harsh geographic power of Mother Nature is a moving experience.

Two nights in Denali National Park – One of the least visited and most remote National Parks but unquestionably one of the most dramatic, Denali should be on everyone’s bucket list. Two full nights here at the McKinley Chalets Lodge give you a real feel for the spectacular beauty of Alaska and the poignant landscape of this unspoiled gem.
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Surprise Geysers

The dramatic geysers of Yellowstone

Sometimes, the expected turns into the unexpected. When we think of changes that take place in our national parks, we think of changes that occur over a very long period of time. We think of mountains forming, glaciers receding and advancing and lava slowly growing the cone-shaped peaks of mountain ranges. If we do think of more rapid change, it’s usually focused on the seasons. Yellowstone under a quiet blanket of white snow in December has a much different atmosphere than June when trees and grasses are waving in the summer breeze, wildflowers are blooming, eagles soaring and buffalo roaming.

As lovely as our national parks are (and Yellowstone is among the loveliest), they can sometimes surprise us in just one day and serve to remind us why they are both important to preserve but also critical to understand.

A stop in Yellowstone, often for multiple days, is a highlight of a great many of our trips out west. And though it’s off the beaten path and guests don’t normally see it, a geyser that sprang to life a year or so ago was an exciting event.

The tallest active geyser in the world, Steamboat Geyser is far more shy than Old Faithful, which our guests do visit and delight in its clockwork performances. Shooting hot water and steam more than 300 feet into the air, Steamboat Geyser does not run on any particular schedule and chooses to display its power only on rare occasions. Until the recent eruption, it had been quiet for nearly a decade.

The geyser is located in Yellowstone National Park’s Norris Geyser Basin. Yes there are so many areas with geysers in Yellowstone that they have to be named! In fact, with more than 1,000 active geysers of one form or another, Yellowstone is home to roughly half of all those found on earth. Steamboat’s eruptions might last just a few minutes or for nearly an hour. At one point for a half century, from 1911 to 1961, it didn’t erupt at all. Steam pours out for a couple days after each eruption. The symbiotic element of nature is a key ingredient to Steamboat Geyser: while it was erupting, Cistern Spring near the geyser drained until empty. After the eruption stopped, it started refilling and is now topped off and ready to feed the next eruption in a few months (it erupted twice in 2002 and three times in 2003), a few years or a few decades.

The recent eruption took place in the evening and lasted only 9 minutes, according to news reports. NBC News reported that only about 40 park visitors saw the impressive eruption; they just happened to be in the right place at the right time. A spokesman for Yellowstone National Park was quoted as saying “it's the favorite geyser of folks that come here and of park service employees." He noted that the vent roared and the ground actually shook as the geyser shot skyward and one observer stated that the superheated plume could be seen from miles away.

Old Faithful, which erupts every 91 minutes, is one of the top attractions in Yellowstone National Park and a highlight of our trips to the park. But it is geysers like Steamboat Geyser that remind us how complicated and fragile nature is and restore our sense of wonder in everything that is preserved within America’s natural parks. Uncommon Journeys is proud to be one of the companies that bring people to experience these natural wonders and we invite you to join us on a vacation that will enlighten and educate you as much as it will relax and pamper you. A trip by any other name is not an Uncommon Journey.

Yellowstone National Park is featured on trips such as our 12-day Great National Parks of the West train tours departing September 1, 2015, July 4, 2016 and August 25, 2016.
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Guests Speak Up

“I would just like let you know that we recently returned from our first Uncommon Journey vacation and it was wonderful. Our tour Manager, Conrad Tausend, was the main reason for the trip being totally enjoyable. Conrad was so enthusiastic about the national parks we visited and was a wealth of information on various subjects. We had a great group of fellow travelers, we would highly recommend Uncommon Journey Tours and Conrad to our friends. This completed two items on my ‘bucket list’ with a train trip and visit to Yellowstone. We will certainly be looking for a future adventure through your company. Thank you!” -Jan and Jerry G.

“My family and my mom recently took the train trip out west to the national parks with Conrad Tausend. We were blessed to be on this trip to begin with and having Conrad as our tour manager made it that much better. Not being the typical demographic on this type of trip (we were traveling with a 7- and 10-year old) he was very gracious and accommodating not only with us but the other needs on our trip. He is top notch but I’m sure you are already well aware of that! His attention to detail is second to none and we have never met someone who is so in tune with each traveler from day one all the way up until some mail my girls received yesterday from him. We hope someday our paths cross again. I wanted to make sure you knew how memorable this trip was for our family and give a shout out to Conrad and all he does for Uncommon Journeys!" – Tracy A.

"My wife and I just completed the Yosemite to Denali rail/cruise tour. Our tour manager was Don Downs. Don is an outstanding, professional tour guide and is the kind of person I would like working for me: competent, courteous and congenial. Don certainly went the extra mile for me, as I have Parkinson's Disease. He ensured I had assistance whenever that assistance was required. I appreciated his special attention. Don's daily notes pertaining to that day's schedule and activities were very informative and helped, I'm sure, all in the group. It was apparent to me on the first day that we need not be concerned about anything during our trip- since Don had everything under control. Thanks for a great trip!" - Richard & Judy B.

" My husband and I just returned from the Canadian Rockies tour to Banff with Moira as our tour guide. We had a rough start as we missed our flight from San Francisco to Seattle, but with the incredible assistance and patience of Anthony, we made it to the train (from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, to Spokane, and meeting the train at 3:00 am)! We want to let you know that Anthony went above and beyond to assist us, as did Moira, to make our trip wonderful. Please extend our sincere gratitude to both of them for us. With folks like them in your organization, you will always be successful. We hope to take another Uncommon Journeys trip in the future!" - Barbara & Larry S.

To submit your own comments about a trip and to be featured in our monthly newsletter, just email us.
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* Note that this is an EXCLUSIVE offer that is made available ONLY to subscribers of this e-newsletter and must be redeemed by calling Uncommon Journeys at 1-800-323-5893. This offer expires on Friday, August 28, 2015 and is only available for new bookings.