5/13/11: Happy National Tourism Week! A Grab-bag of favorites

And so this is National Tourism Week, and what have you done?
I’m going to pretend for a moment that money is no object, and that I have the “I-Dream-of-Jeannie” power to bonk my head and be anywhere I want, right now. This is where I would be:
1. Staying at Kona Village Resort, Kona, Hawaii. Not only would I have to have the travel powers to get here, I just learned that I would also have to have the powers to rebuild the place, since it was damaged following the recent tsunami in Japan. Believe me, if I had those powers, I would use them. This is my favorite place on earth, so far. The accommodations are bungalow-style “hales” that are the opposite of rustic. Located amid paradisiacal flowers and trees, set among paths that meander to the blue-oh-so-blue Pacific Ocean, this land of “Lost” living is the way to go. Sit on your lanai and watch the manta rays seemingly fly out of the water (they do!), sample the roasted pig and poi at the luau, snorkel in the crystal waters or lay in the white sand. Do whatever it takes to get your lei on. Just leave your cell phones and computers behind–they’re not allowed in common spaces.
2. Hiking the Narrows, Zion, Utah. All my life, I’ve wanted to like hiking. I grew up hiking, surrounded by hikers who would go 7, 10, 14 miles with nary a blister. Me? I get bored after about an hour. But The Narrows in Zion National Park changed that. Here, you rent waterproof suits, neoprene boots and a walking stick and take it to the river, the Virgin River. The trail is the riverbed, itself, and ranges in depth from ankle deep to your head (time to turn back at that point). Hoof it upstream, past waterfalls, over mild rapids, around tenuous boulders into the depths of the canyon, on a hike you’ll never forget.
3. Relaxing at Cynthia’s in Tecopa, California. Located two valleys away from Death Valley, Cynthia’s is about the opposite of Kona Village Resort, in every imaginable way. But it is no less wonderful. Here, you can stay in well appointed tipis on a working date farm, savor a date milkshake, hike over mudhills that look like sleeping dinosaurs, stare at the stars and engage in a refreshing conversation with the wise Cynthia, who owns the place and lives on the property. Something about Tecopa is healing. Whether it’s the nearby hot springs, the hot desert air, or Cynthia, herself, this is the place to be when you just want to be.
4. Freaking myself out in Colorado City, Arizona. If you’ve every wondered what a clash between “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Twilight Zone” would look like, you’ll find that, and more, in Colorado City, home to the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints, and their leader, Warren Jeffs (when he’s not in jail he has quite an impressive compound here, even by Pakistani standards). Colorado City isn’t exactly a tourist destination, but my love of subcultures and polygamy-curiosity really embrace this place. There’s nowhere to stay here (plan a day trip from Zion), and the sisterwives in matching dresses and the old man at their helm will stare you down when you walk into the Vermillion Cafe, but this is a slice of Americana you can’t get anywhere else. Expect the kids roaming the streets to yell “apostate!” as you pass, prepare to see lots of lube and pregnancy tests (and fresh goat meat) at the neighborhood grocery, and know that you’ll meet a lot of people with the last name of “Barlow” while you’re there. To read more, check out the piece I wrote years ago for Las Vegas Weekly.
5. Reveling in Kuma’s Corner in Chicago. The polar opposite of Spiaggia, Kuma’s is an investment of a different kind. Don’t come here unless you have four hours to spare. The wait regularly pushes three hours, but you’ll forget about that lost time as soon as you sink your teeth into the Plague Bringer burger (topped with roasted garlic mayo, tortilla strips, jalapenos, house-made hot sauce, jack cheese) or the Led Zepplin (topped with pulled pork, bacon, cheddar and pickles). This heavy-metal-bar-with-an-attitude is a ground-meat revelation. A burger will never taste the same. Thankfully, Kuma’s is just about a mile down the road, so I’ll get my fill tonight.
This is just a short sampling of where I’d fly on my magic carpet. Other spots include Shanghai Joe’s in New York for Soup Dumplings, Ninfa’s in Houston for about anything that could be tortilla-wrapped, Origin India in Las Vegas for their chicken makhani, Estes Park for a creepy stay at The Stanley, Big Bear in California for a trip to the four-star Alpenhorn Bed and Breakfast, and the list goes on. But I better stop now. If I keep bonking my head in hopes of tele-transport I could soon hit the wall.

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