Nostalgia Ballooning puts heads in the clouds, accompanied by licensed pilots soaring giant, kaleidoscopically colored hot air balloons. Packages include private and group voyages over mountainous landscapes and include memorable touches such as champagne toasts. For those left enthralled with the skies, Nostalgia Ballooning also offers introductory piloting lessons, prepping the airborne for a life amid the birds.
Before taking lessons in a one-room schoolhouse, a visitor hops aboard a stagecoach, interviews a worker at a uranium mine, examines authentic adobe pottery, and heads inside a saloon. Such is the scene at Museum of the West, one of the three campuses of the Museum of Western Colorado where curators eschew the notion of “look, but don’t touch.” From the interactive labs at the Dinosaur Journey Museum to the live demonstrations of early 20th-century life at the Cross Orchards Historic Site—whose buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places—the staff encourages its guests to get up close and personal with the region’s past.
Housed in a historic coal-fired power plant on the banks of the Animas River, the Durango Discovery Museum sparks scientific curiosity with a cavalcade of interactive and educational exhibits. A family day pass activates the inner Einsteins of groups including toddlers, cousins, grandparents, or imaginary uncles. Visitors examine the intricacies of Durango Discovery Museum’s heliostat-fueled solar mirrors, craft movie magic at the Animation Station, or introduce wee ones to scientific principles in the Discovery Kids Zone. With new exhibits such as the Mensch Spark Shop coming soon and a rotating roster of journeymen scientists showcasing robotics, photosynthesis, and in-depth examinations of brain freeze, Durango Discovery Museum blends childlike wonderment with grown-up learning better than bedtime stories about the periodic table.
More than 130 years after its construction, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad still pulls its cars with the same coal-fired, steam-powered locomotives that commuted miners to the gold and silver lodes in the San Juan Mountains. The precious ore was exhausted midway through the construction of the Colossus of Rutherford B. Hayes, but what's left are the San Juan National Forest's true treasure—pristine vistas of vertiginous canyons, waterfalls, and mountain peaks.
On select rides, a guide shares stories about the railroad's conception and construction, as well as the science behind the old-fashioned techniques that are still used to maintain the train today. Cars range from photo-friendly open-air gondolas to private coaches outfitted with Victorian furnishings. For an even more authentic experience, the railroad offers cab rides. And during the holiday season's Polar Express, the train's chefs, conductor, and North Pole denizens bring Chris Van Allsburg's classic children's book to meticulously detailed life.
The professional guides at Red River Adventures expose adventurous individuals to the rugged and untamed splendor of Utah's rocks, rivers, and canyons with trips designed for all skill levels. The Fisher Towers whitewater-rafting trips pair smaller, intimate groups of four to six paddlers (40 lbs. or more) with a licensed Utah river guide for a 14-mile adventure along Onion Creek, Professor Creek, Cloudburst, and Ida Gulch. Before provoking the Class III wrath of Poseidon, the guides will review safety procedures and outfit swashbucklers with U.S. Coast Guard–approved lifejackets. From the safety of the river-faring craft, paddlers absorb a soaring view of the Fisher Towers, as well as canyon walls that line the waterway and enable time-bending communication with ancient yodelers.
Castle Creek Winery rests on the Red Cliffs Adventure Lodge ranch, tucked between the rolling rapids of the Colorado River and high-rising red rock cliffs. The winery’s lush vineyards cut stark green rows through the rugged Western landscape that surrounds them. With the fruits of these vines, Castle Creek produces more than 30 wines—approximately 8,000 cases each year—all of which are filled, labeled, and kissed goodbye at the winery. Tour guides usher visitors throughout the production facility, elucidating the process by which grapes travel from vine to bottle. At the tasting room, wine experts pour complimentary sips while enlightening visitors on the notes, pairings, and complexities of each varietal. The facility opens up to a 4,000-square-foot hospitality area that adjoins a deck with views of the river.