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Travel Options In Austere 2009

Hey, let's look on the bright side of travel news here as we turn the calendar to 2009. Gas prices are down, everyone from the airlines to Amtrak is lowering prices on fares, Hawaii is still sunny and warm, and there are lots of great deals to be had on hotel rooms and travel packages. Paris still has chocolate shops, New York will open a new stadium for the Yankees, and the national parks of Utah haven't yet been drilled, baby, drilled for oil.

Lots of people will be looking to make shorter trips to explore places that are close to their backyards. In that spirit, my family and I saw in the New Year from the rustic, elegant Skamania Lodge, a resort alongside the Columbia River in tiny Stevenson, Washington. The U.S. Forest Service has a ranger station right outside the door of the resort, because it is located in the thick of National Forest land, with the Pacific Crest Trail running practically through the lobby of the hotel. A big, double-sided stone fireplace sets the coziness quotient in the lobby, which has floor-to-ceiling windows framing the mighty river, and an outdoor hot tub is one of the great places to become one with a Northwest rain storm.

Dave Griffin, the hotel's new Sales and Marketing Director, gave me a tour and showed off suites with fireplaces and upgrades like new plasma TVs in every room. But it was Dave's wife, Norma Jean, just arrived from their previous posting in the Midwest, who reminded me why you explore places like Skamania. She was blown away by the mountains – within just a few miles are Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier of the mighty Cascades range – and the views of water that the Northwest delivers almost casually. She was ready to explore everything from local wineries and farmers markets to hiking trails and fishing for sturgeon on the Columbia. It reminded me how much there is to see in our own backyard, and that travel doesn't have to be halfway across the world to make a difference in our lives.

To all my readers I wish a safe and happy new year, and happy travels.