The 6 Best Affordable Golf Courses in the US
National Golf Month is in full swing, golf aficionados everywhere are heading to the closest links. Many travelers make golf their very reason for going, seeking out the best golf courses in the U.S. However, many of the most exclusive courses across the country carry expensive fees or memberships. If you want to celebrate National Golf Month without breaking the bank, there are a number of esteemed golf courses in the U.S. that don’t cost an arm, leg and possibly a putter to play. We’ve rounded up some of the best for you.
Located just north of Memphis, Tennessee, Mirimichi boasts 7,400 yards of course at a very affordable price. Tennessee native Justin Timberlake originally bought the course and put $16 million into revamping it back in 2009. While the singer-songwriter sold the course in 2014, Mirimichi still maintains its status as one of the most eco-friendly courses in the nation. Mirimichi also boasts having the Audubon Sanctuary and the rare Golf Environmental Organization certified status. You can play 9 holes here for as little as $30.
Pacific Grove Golf Links—Pacific Grove, California
If you can’t afford to play at nearby Pebble Beach, the Pacific Grove Golf Links offers affordability and stellar Pacific Ocean views. Located in Northern California in the Monterey Peninsula, Pacific Grove Golf Links features an entire back nine with breathtaking views. Just adjacent to the famous 17 Mile Drive, Pacific Grove Golf Links originally opened in 1932. The 18-hole course sits on the Pacific Ocean, providing the feel of Pebble Beach without the price. For 18 holes, you’ll pay roughly $62.
Country Club of Miami—Hialeah, Florida
If you’re looking for a Miami hotel room, you have plenty of affordable options, which will leave some cash in your wallet so you can hit the courses. Country Club of Miami offers rounds of golf for as low as $25 to $40 per person. Located in Hialeah, Florida, Country Club of Miami features two beautifully manicured Florida golf courses for a total of 36 holes. Founded in 1961, many golf legends have played the Robert Trent Jones designed course. Perhaps the Country Club of Miami’s most famous member was Jackie Gleason.
Wild Horse Golf Club—Gothenburg, Nebraska
In the unsuspecting location of Gothenburg, Nebraska, you’ll find another affordable golf course. Wild Horse Golf Club has been rated as one of the best golf courses in the country, right in the heart of Nebraska. The Scottish style golf course sits close to esteemed Sandy Hills but doesn’t require a membership. Wild Horse Golf Club was even built by some of the same architects, lending a similar vibe and playing field as the private course has. Wild Horse Golf Club costs roughly $60 per player for 18 holes.
Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club—Sandia Park, New Mexico
Set up in Sandia Park, New Mexico, Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club is surrounded by picturesque mountainous terrain and vegetation of the New Mexican high desert. As New Mexico becomes an up and coming member of top golf course destinations, the 27 hole public golf course rests just 20 minutes from Albuquerque and about 45 minutes from Santa Fe, making it conveniently located. To play 9 holes at Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club, you can expect to spend $50 to $60 in the regular season. The 18-hole fee in the regular season runs at $92.
The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa—Grand Junction, Colorado
Travelers in Grand Junction, Colorado can take advantage the Golf Club at Redlands Mesa. Nestled in between looming rock formations and lush mountain ranges, the 18 hole golf course provides enough challenge but also eye candy with views of Grand Junction. Designed by award winning golf course architect Jim Engh, the course features a number of elevation changes for that added challenge. For 18 holes, you’ll spend roughly $50.
Playing some of the best courses in the U.S. doesn’t have to break the bank. These golf courses provide the perfect excuse to take a vacation golf trip without maxing out credit cards to do so.
Best American Mini Golf Courses
Windmills, Astroturf, bubbling foundations and colorful golf balls scream miniature golf. For vacationing families, mini golf can be a great activity while traveling. Not only can you keep everyone entertained, but mini golf is fun for all ages and can provide a nice couple-hour break for road warriors to get out and stretch their weary legs. Families can join in and have a great time in the process. Your skill level doesn’t need to be as fine tuned as the real thing. You can conquer challenges with every tee off, all while having fun. Grab your clubs and sense of competition and try out these mini golf courses across the country. From volcanoes to black light courses, these spaces prove mini golf doesn’t have to be boring.
Molten Mountain Miniature Golf - North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has been known to attract a golfer or two. The area is rich in bucket list courses. And while your standard golf course is all fine and well, Myrtle Beach also takes pride in its mini golf courses. One course you won’t want to miss is Molten Mountain Miniature Golf. Proudly claiming the only active volcano in North Myrtle Beach, the course centers around a 50-foot active volcano, which erupts with fire every 30 minutes, much to the delight of mini golfers. You can take advantage of the 18 or 36-hole course. If the Southern heat is getting to you, Molten Mountain Miniature Golf also has an indoor 18-hole course. The company also boasts a few other mini golf courses in town like Cancun Lagoon and Mutiny Bay. Should you want to try them all, you can always find a nearby Extended Stay America to stay the night where kids stay free.
Urban Putt - San Francisco, California
A mini golf course usually finds a home in the suburbs, where there is ample space for windmills and fountains. However, in San Francisco, California, mini golf is decidedly more urban. At Urban Putt, you can play a high tech 14-hole mini golf course right in the heart of the city’s Mission district. Urban Putt proudly claims the title of the city’s first and only indoor miniature golf course. The course sets up in a historic Victorian building. Technically sophisticated, Urban Putt welcomes all ages to its rare indoor and urban course.
Glowing Greens - Portland, Oregon
When there is rain or bad weather on vacation, most dreams of playing mini golf head straight out the window with the gloomy clouds. Portland, Oregon knows its weather history. Acting accordingly, the city now proudly houses Glowing Greens, another indoor miniature golf course. What makes Glowing Greens unique is the lighting. The 10,000 square foot course is completely under the cover of black light, providing adventure mini golf. With a tropical island theme, all ages can enjoy the 18-hole course. You can even play with 3-D glasses for a truly eye popping experience.
Nothing quite says summer like a round of miniature golf. Whether you are 5 or 55, mini golf can be a fun activity for the whole family on your next summer vacation.
Best Lawn and Beach Games for the Summer
As summer begins, many families and friends hit the road for destinations where being outside is practically mandatory. If you are planning some road trips this summer, you can keep all parties entertained by tossing a few fun beach and lawn games in the trunk. Not only are these games easy to pack, they also involve the whole family.
Even if your road trip this summer is taking you to U.S. destinations, you can still play the part of a Swede by packing Kubb in your vehicle. Often referred to as Viking Chess, the Swedish lawn game has been played in Sweden for more than one thousand years. The components of Kubb are pretty easy to assemble if you know a little bit about woodworking. The game consists of throwing short dowels at your opponent’s pieces to knock them over. Kubb can be played on sand or a lawn and with as few as two people to as many as 12 players. The game is easy to pack on a road trip, as there are just small wood pieces required for Kubb.
If you are looking for summer beach games or summer lawn games to play on a trip to Los Angeles or down to Orlando, horseshoes are always a classic game to play. With origins probably during the Roman Empire when soldiers used to throw horseshoes for distance, the game has become a classic backyard summer activity. At the same time, horseshoes can be played on a beach in the sand. Horseshoes are also easy to pack, as all you need are four horseshoes and two stakes. Players simply drive the stakes into the sand or grass with the goal of ringing the stake with the horseshoe. Games can be played in rounds with usually the goal of reaching 15 points before the opponent.
Not to be confused with cornhole, baggo is practically made for travel. One of the great summer activities for kids, Baggo features boards with a hole in which opposing teams attempt to knock beanbags into the hole for the most points. The easily portable beanbag game requires a flat surface like a lawn to play and generally two teams of two. Many baggo boards fold up like a suitcase, making them easy for travel.
Always part of fun summer activities, bocce ball can also be played while on a road trip. All ages and varying skill levels make bocce ball a very universal game. You will merely need a flat area to play and a bocce set. Players can assemble in teams of one, two three or four people to play. Each team receives four balls with the goal of rolling your ball closest to the pallino or jack ball. Travelers should look out for designated bocce ball courts as they usually provide the ideal surface to play, a court composed of sand.
From bocce ball to kubb, lawn and beach games are a fun way to spice up a road trip. Not only can you keep everyone entertained, but also you can be outside, enjoying the warmth of summer.
Let’s Play Ball: A Tourist’s Guide to Visiting Chicago’s Historic Wrigley Field
Built in 1914, Wrigley Field is a pilgrimage site for many baseball fans, even if they aren’t rooting for the home team. The second oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues is a type of baseball museum, where attending a game is not only a part of baseball tradition but also Chicago tradition. As Wrigley Field gears up to celebrate 100 years young in 2014, travelers should take the opportunity to visit this slice of baseball history. And while the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908, Wrigley Field is still a winner in most travelers’ eyes after a visit. Before you scoop up tickets or head to Chicago’s oldest ballpark though, here are a few points to consider.
Take a Tour
If the Cubs aren’t in town on your visit or you don’t want to pay to go to a game, you can take a tour instead. Behind-the-scenes tours of the legendary ballpark are offered on both game days and non-game days. Visitors have the chance to learn about the park’s 100 years of history. On non-game days, tours take attendees into the Press Box, bleachers, Cubs and visitor’s clubhouses, the Cubs dugout and onto the field. If you are touring on game day, you will see less, namely only the bleachers, indoor batting cage and the field. Tours of Wrigley Field last 75 to 90 minutes. Tickets cost $25 but are free for children under 2 years old.
Select Your Seats Wisely
As Wrigley Field is an old ballpark, it has its fair share of quirks when it comes to seating that a visitor might not know when purchasing tickets. You might see tickets advertised as having a limited view. In essence, there are a number of seats in the ballpark obstructed by structural poles. Ticket prices will also fluctuate depending on how the Cubs are doing and who they are playing. In order to score the best seat in the house on your visit, you can consult WrigleyFieldSeating.com. The website provides a fine resource to help you select your seat. Photos are supplied of every section so that you know what your seat will look like. Sometimes the cheaper seats might have a better view than lower level perches. Before you finalize your ticket purchase, it is best to dig around and learn about your section to make sure your view will be clear.
Save Your Paycheck and Ride to Wrigley
Parking in Chicago is chaotic and costly. Parking in Chicago around Wrigley Field on game day is as maddening as the Cubs record. Even if you have your own set of wheels while in Chicago, you might want to leave your car back at your hotel. It is best to take public transportation to avoid the mess and money you’ll pay to park around Wrigley Field. The Red Line will take you right to Wrigley Field if you get off at the Addison stop.
Wrigley Field Food Isn’t Cheap
Travelers looking to save on their visit to Wrigley might select less expensive seats or ride the L to the game instead. However, your budget will quickly fly like homeruns cruising out of the park when your stomach starts grumbling and thirst presents. Like most ballparks, eating and drinking at Wrigley will cost you. Beers can be around $8 and sodas can cost around $5. For a basic hotdog, you might pay just under $10. You can bring your own unopened water and sodas to the game if you want to avoid paying a premium price for that Pepsi.
After experiencing Wrigley Field, you can head back to your Extended Stay America suite for your own 7th inning stretch. Suites provide a mini-oasis from the Windy City with flat-screen TVs and comfortable beds.
Golfing Vacations for Everyone
Golf appeals to a diversity of people. Because it does not require frequent feats of raw power and extreme endurance, it is a sport that nearly anyone—from the young to the very old—can play. With a little practice, you can hit the links and play a decent game. As well as welcoming a diversity of players, golf welcomes a diversity of approaches. Whether you’re looking to engage in competition or you’re looking to spend some time outside engaged in a relaxing but focused activity, golf is the sport for you.
In order to play a good game of golf, you need a good golf course. And finding a good golf course is not as simple as finding a good tennis court or basketball court. Good golf courses are the result of a good natural environment combined with expert design and landscaping. Most of us have to leave home to get to a great golf course. But, believe me, it’s worth the trip.
Phoenix, nicknamed the Valley of the Sun, is a prime golf destination year-round. Its flourishing golf scene is signaled by the fact that the area boasts over one hundred golf courses. You won’t see too many “I’d Rather Be Playing Golf” bumper stickers in Phoenix. If residents of Phoenix would rather be playing golf, they probably are.
If you are looking for a course that incorporates the area’s mountainous desert surroundings into the landscape design, Club West is just right for you. The verdant, gently rolling hills of this course contrast perfectly with the rather jagged, dry, precipitous desert mountains. If you are a photographer as well as a golfer, you’ll be in heaven. This course is very photogenic.
If you’d like to deepen your experience of the place even more, I suggest visiting the Heard Museum in order to learn about the Native Americans who called the Phoenix area home for many, many years before the arrival of Europeans.
If you want to play a quiet, focused game of golf away from the maddening crowd, this mountainous destination is a great call. Colorado Springs is also a great call if you’re looking to add 10% more power to your drive. Because of the thin mountain air, the ball goes 10% further than at your average sea-level course. When you hit that first drive, you’ll feel like you’re golfing on the moon. The initial satisfaction is really priceless.
A great place to experience your newfound superhuman golfing abilities is the Gleneagle Golf Club. This is also a great place to hold a wedding. If you’re planning a golfing wedding, there is no better gift to the bride and groom than the ability to drive golf balls with the power of pros.
If you’re looking to learn about the area while visiting, visit the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum. Located in the historic El Paso Country Courthouse, which was built in 1903, the museum documents the diversity of cultures that have thrived in Colorado Springs.
After a quality day on the links, you’ll likely be ready to spend some quality time indoors in an inviting hotel. At Extended Stay Hotels, you’ll find everything you need in your room to spend a relaxing and entertaining night in—a fully-equipped kitchen and free in-room Wi-Fi.
Pro-Football Vacations for Pro Fans
While the fall signifies undesirable things for many people—like returning to school, cooling weather and the end of the season of locally-grown fresh vegetables—it also signifies the start of a season that some love way more than any of the four calendar seasons: the professional football season.
Just like many children mark off the days leading up to Christmas one by one, entirely focused on that one approaching point in time, many football fans wait for the first day of the season with the most heartfelt and concentrated yearning. Fantasy teams are readied, and up-to-date team clothing is acquired—both in anticipation of that all-important day in early September: the first day of the NFL season. For the ultimate NFL fan—the fan who feels the need to go to where the action is—there are a number of great pro football destinations to visit.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame
For pro football pilgrims, there’s one undeniable mecca: the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The Hall of Fame building itself, which has been made more and more grand and spacious over the years as the sport it celebrates has grown in popularity and prestige, looks from the outside rather like a church crowned by a half-football rather than a cross. It is a very exciting time for this gridiron cathedral.
Opened in September of 1962 (four years before the NFL and AFL joined together to present the first Super Bowl), the Hall is approaching its fiftieth anniversary. Like a couple celebrating its golden anniversary who make sure they are in top form for the celebration, the Hall has pulled out all the good stuff in anticipation of the increase in visitors during its special year. There are many meticulously arranged exhibits, complete with multimedia tools, displaying football gear and memorabilia and telling the hallowed, dramatic story of American professional football.
Every football fan has his/her team. If you don’t have a favorite, then you’re just an interested observer, not a fan. The word “fan” is—we must remember—short for “fanatic.” Just as football is about striving for excellence on the part of the players, it is about loyalty on the part of the fans.
Despite who their favorite team is, though, all fans feel a deference and appreciation for the achievement of the reigning Super Bowl champions. Just like we, as loyal Americans, feel respect and admiration for the office of the president, regardless of whether we voted for the current holder of the position or not, the Super Bowl champions get a nod of respectful recognition from all fans—even those who are loyal to their most arch of rivals. A New England Patriots fan will grudgingly allow that the 2011 New York Giants proved in the end to be the better team.
There’s never been a better time to visit the home of the Giants. MetLife Stadium, which opened in 2010, is one of the most modern-feeling (though not at the expense of the classic game), well-designed football stadiums in the country. The NFL expressed its approval of the stadium by announcing that it will be hosting Super Bowl XLVIII there in 2014. 2014’s Super Bowl will mark the first non-dome Super Bowl in a city that gets real winter weather.
A Super Hotel for a Super Fan
If you’re one of those football fans who never wants the action to stop, then you’ll probably want a hotel with a TV, a fully-equipped kitchen, and free in-room Wi-Fi so that you can watch highlights of your favorite team and enjoy a little tailgating food at the end of the day.
Arcade Museums: The Next Best Thing to a Time Machine
Those of us in our thirties and forties who spent our childhoods in video-game arcades may not think about those dimly-lit oases from the world of adults all that frequently anymore. But when we do, we think of them fondly—remembering a simpler time when all that mattered was the clink of quarters in our pocket and the ring that our favorite games made when we were winning.
There are fewer arcades now than there were when we were young, due to the popularity of vastly improved home-gaming systems, and those that are still around tend not to feature the classic games we nostalgically remember. Luckily, though, there is, on the East Coast, an arcade museum that features the legacy games that bathed us in their glow in the 70s, 80s and 90s. And on the West Coast, there is an arcade museum where our parents and grandparents can relive their youths (which is still kind of hard to imagine them ever having).
· The American Classic Arcade Museum
This museum housed in Laconia, New Hampshire’s Funspot, the Guinness-certified largest arcade on Earth, is dedicated to the history and preservation of a fast-fading feature of popular culture, but it is also dedicated to fun, fun, fun. An arcade museum is really a misnomer—even though the room does have display cases containing things like antique video-game catalogs and gamer magazines along its walls. The main exhibits at this “museum,” more than 250 classic video games, are there to be played—just like when we were young—not to be gazed upon and discussed.
And just like when we were young, the sounds of 80s hit makers, like Madonna, Pat Benatar and Van Halen, provide the gaming soundtrack—along with the charming bleeps, bonks and booms from games like Galaga, Double Dragon, Spy Hunter, Tetris, Pong Doubles and Punch-Out! The only thing that would make this pleasantly dim room (they put red gels over the florescent lights, just like a lot of the old arcades used to do) seem like more of a time machine is if the gamers were all wearing Hammer pants and the room was full of cigarette smoke.
This museum, at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, has games and mechanical attractions going all the way back to the late nineteenth century. Originally housed at San Francisco’s legendary Playland, which was demolished in 1972, the Musée Mécanique has many 1950s, 60s and 70s arcade games—such as 1973’s Upper Deck, a mechanical baseball game in which you hit an actual ball to make your little men physically run around the bases, and 1961’s Sharpshooter, a game in which you shoot hard plastic bullets at animal targets. It is the perfect place to bring back memories of childhood for members of the Baby Boomer Generation.
When you walk into the game-filled room, the first thing you encounter is Laughing Sal, a giant female dummy with a missing tooth and a very lifelike-sounding wheezy laugh. She is the iconic figure that greeted visitors in Playland from 1940-1972. Walking further into the room, you hear the sounds of the seagulls outside on the San Francisco Bay and antique player pianos playing songs that were popular in the early twentieth century. As the Musée Mécanique is evocative of old-time San Francisco, it is the perfect destination for Road Warriors, who are looking to relive their youths for an afternoon, or for history buffs, who are curious about the important history of popular amusement.
You’ll remember, if you’ll think back to your childhood, that play can be just as exhausting as work. After playing for the afternoon at the American Classic Arcade Museum or the Musée Mécanique, you’ll need a place to rest and relax. Luckily, there are affordable hotels with kitchens, laundry facilities, and free Wi-Fi within driving distance of San Francisco and Laconia.
To Buy or Not to Buy: Is the New PlayStation Vita Worth the Hype?
PlayStation has been a busy beaver in recent months, and with the recent release of its new PS Vita, markets around the US and Europe have finally gotten a chance to play with the new “revolutionary” handheld gaming console. This new gaming console is supposed to revolutionize the way that gamers play, especially while they travel across the country. If you are considering investing in a portable gaming option, then this might be the new toy for you.
The Advantages of the PlayStation Vita
The Japanese gaming markets made it apparent that this new console is preferable to the PlayStation 3, and it has even sold three times more than its larger, stationary counterpart. It still is still yet to be determined whether the PS Vita is going to outsell the Nintendo 3DS or the PSP, which have been selling very well in past months.
So what’s the big deal with the PlayStation Vita, and why should you invest in it? Why would this be considered the end-all for gamers to enjoy while they travel and while they enjoy their free time at home?
- All the Extras
Firstly, it will boast dual analog sticks. Add that on top of motion sensors and front and rear cameras, and you will not be lacking any element of the gaming and social media. Even social gaming is easier with various forums for individuals to chat about games and to form groups for team play. There are also apps for gamers to download to make the system even better.
- Advanced Internet Capabilities
Some critics are calling the Vita an “almost smartphone” for its handiness. For example, you can have 3G coverage added to your Vita that would give you Internet access wherever you go. In addition, the Vita also allows you to see who of your friends are playing nearby you through the GPS, and it allows you to find the cheat codes you need on the browser. The only thing this product can’t do is allow users to make phone calls, but you can console yourself with a movie from Netflix, if you so choose.
- A Variety of Games and Purchase Options
Sony also brought along some of the top franchises in the gaming industry to make the purchase even better. For example, you can play Marvel vs. Capcom 3, or you can also enjoy FIFA soccer. A bonus about this new gaming system is that you can either purchase your new games for Vita through a retail store or through the online store on Vita.
- Bigger and Better
It’s nice to have a gaming system that is handy and portable, but it is also nice to have a clear screen. If your son or daughter is using this gaming system while on the road, he or she will want to be able to see things clearly. That’s where the five-inch screen in the middle of the console comes in. Be aware: the Vita is not a small device; it weighs over half a pound. In addition, the system stands at 3.2 inches, and it boasts a 7.2-inch width.
This is definitely an impressive toy, and if you are considering purchasing one, you might want to spend a few hours fiddling with it until it’s mastered.
National Sports Bar Chains
With spring’s collegiate and pro sports underway and summer’s not far behind, many a road warrior is thinking about the limits of their portable devices and apps. After all, some games just demand the big screen, right? Enter the sports bar…
Over the next few months, we’ll profile sports bars across the country that you might want to check out for their specific features (atmosphere, food choices, celebrity spotting, etc.). But, for starters (we feel your need, fellow fans), we’ll review some national chain sports bars so that you have a good chance of finding one, no matter where your travels take you.
Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar
One favorite with locations across the country is Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, where you can be sure to score good viewing, food and drink. While folks do rave about the wings—offered with a choice of 14 barbecue sauce flavors ranging from Jammin’ Jalapeno to Thai Curry—it’s the sports viewing itself that gets top billing here. Sure, every sports bar has multiple screens, but every Wild Wings location has literally dozens of flat screens and projector screens plus surround sound.
Champps,found in theEast, the Northern Plains, Texas and Colorado, takes a similar approach. The owners built their chain around the philosophy that bigger is better—from burgers to TV’s, party atmosphere (“bring a DJ and have a party every night”!) to “decadent desserts” and rotisseries. The chain prides itself on not being “your average sports bar,” especially in terms of its food and their “slightly irreverent attitude.”
Dave and Buster’s
Another sports bar chain you can find all over the country is Dave and Buster’s. The menu is filled with standards like Philly cheese steak sandwiches, pizza, burgers, steaks, salads and pasta, and the full bar serve beers, wines, and their signature TNTea in a souvenir glass. But what fans really love are the games—and we don’t just mean on the many big screen TV’s. Every Dave and Buster’s is filled with arcade games (old-time Pac-Man to Nascar), plus classics like pool tables, skeeball and shuffleboard. Check out their Eat-and-Play combo where you get a meal and a game card at reduced price.
Smokey Bones BBQ & Fire Grill
Located in the East and Midwest, Smokey Bones BBQ & Fire Grill is a good choice if you’re traveling with folks who aren’t as avid sports fans as yourself. You’ll find sports on the big screens for you and, despite its name, food to please those looking for more than just sports pub grub, such as an Oregon Pear and Spinach Salad and blackened grouper (selections do vary by location). The full bar offers some respectable California vintages and a beer list that includes a few IPAs and microbrews.
Soccer moms and t-ball dads don’t have to give up catching games on the big screens during vacations because there are also family-oriented sports bars—one such is Beef O'Brady's, with well over 200 locations spread throughout more than 20 states. The reasonably-priced food is basic sports bar fare—burgers and other sandwiches, wings, wraps, etc., plus salads, with kid-sized (and seasoned) selections, too.
Another sports bar chain, BJ’s Brewhouse, with its multiple screens for game viewing and its own “fine handcrafted beer,” is not only a treat for adults, but it is also a dedicated kid-friendly place. Their website even has a “kidslink” with trivia and games.
We go to chains for their predictability, right? Maybe that seems dull, but for some of us, it’s important to know that no matter where we are, we can walk into an establishment and be guaranteed our favorite Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap, or that exact same amazing plate of shoestring onion rings, or that there will always be one big screen tuned to international soccer.
Nature Guides for Folks on the Move
It’s a bird...it’s a plane...it’s a… Buteo jamaicensis (red-tailed hawk)! Yes, you, too, can impress your friends, dazzle your kids, or just plain add to your appreciation of new places by being able to identify just what you’re seeing. No longer do you need to lug around a collection of heavy nature guides in order to have detailed descriptions and full-color photos at your fingertips. Below are some producers of nature guides with alternative ideas.
Producer of nature guides since 1934, Audubon Society now offers online versions covering thousands of North American plants and creatures. Use their easy-access homepage to browse for free on your computer by topic (e.g., shells, wildflowers, birds, mammals, mushrooms) or search for specific species by their common names or their scientific designations (e.g., gray catbird or Dumetella carolinensis). In case you might want to print specific pages to carry with you, guides can also be downloaded. For in-the-field sightings, you can buy mobile apps. Especially useful is the advanced search tool, which allows you to narrow down what you’ve seen—whether tree, fish, or shell—by appearance (shape, colors, size), habitat and location, as well as other subject-specific features, such as wing shapes and songs for birds. You can also download guides for specific regions, such as “The Ultimate Florida Nature Guide.” Apps are available for iPhones, iPads, iPods, and (though with more limited offerings) devices running Android. Cost per app ranges from $10 to $15, with a multi-subject app (birds, mammals, wildflowers, and trees) costing about $30.
Another very popular guide series is produced by eNature, for both laptop and mobile devices, though the mobile apps are limited. Perhaps their biggest plus is that all eGuide content online is free. As their website notes, you can find wildlife information covering close to 6,000 species, including a couple of categories not presently offered in Audubon’s mobile apps: sky (stars, planets) and tracks, as well as guides to wildlife in 50 of the National Parks. The basic search process on this site is fairly similar to that on the Audubon site, but you can also do a what’s-in-my-neighborhood search simply by entering your zip code. Also of interest, especially to those with children, are the games, contests and flashcards on the site. Mobile apps are available only for the National Park guides and Chesapeake Bay, and only for iPhones and iPods.
For bird watching in particular, Peterson is the big name, and it too has moved into the mobile guide field. Newly launched in January 2011 is the iPhone and iPad app, Peterson Birds of North America. This app not only provides the kind of in-depth information and identification system for which the hard-copy Peterson guides are renowned, but it also includes such features as a birder’s notebook, which allows you to record (and identify now or later) what you’ve seen and where.
National Geographic, another highly respected name in nature study, has its own birding app, Handheld Birds (now out in version 2.0 for around $15 for iPhone and iPod Touch). Designed to be super user friendly, it has fully-interactive referencing, and it connects you with hundreds of range maps for different species, plus over 1,600 bird images and almost four hours worth of birdsongs to playback as part of your identification process (or just for listening enjoyment).
Gone are the days of having to schlep along a hefty field guide on your walks. No longer do you need to pass a field of gorgeous wildflowers and have no idea what they are. Now, with a laptop or mobile device, you can identify them on the spot. Or just snap a few pictures with your trusty phone. Then, a few hours later, as you relax in your hotel room and begin the ID game at your leisure.