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  5. To-Do List: Ride in Style

To-Do List: Ride in Style

Unusual Paths to Get From Point A to B

Image Caption: Photo Credit: Emily and Mark Fagan

There are all kinds of unusual travel modes out there in this big, beautiful country of ours. We’ve enjoyed quite a few that rolled on tracks, sailed on water, and even required our own pedal power. Here are a few of our favorites:

unique methods of transportation

Photo Credit: Emily and Mark Fagan

Dolly Steamboat

Cruise through the Arizona desert on a steamboat

Hiking through Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is a great way to experience this lush and rugged land, but gliding through the desert on a serene lake can be even better. Beautiful Canyon Lake is about 45 miles northeast of Phoenix, and the Dolly Steamboat Scenic Nature Cruise takes you on an hour-and-a-half ride through a remote and stunning part of this desert.

We were awestruck by the steep cliffs rising on either side of us as the boat’s bow wave broke through the glassy water on its voyage down the narrow and twisting the canyon. We kept a sharp eye out for bald eagles, bighorn sheep, saguaro cacti, and other flora and fauna that live in this arid land. The views were breathtaking, and the excursion was both relaxing and informative.

Dolly Steamboat has multiple sailings each day with a Twilight Dinner Cruise and an Astronomy Dinner Cruise that provide dinner with a view while watching the sunset or stargazing. If you love bighorn sheep, the Game & Fish Bighorn Sheep Cruise goes to the animals’ favorite haunts along the water’s edge.

unique methods of transportation

Photo Credit: Emily and Mark Fagan

Mount Washington Cog Railway

Climb the highest peak in the Northeast … effortlessly

Step back in time and ride into the heavens aboard a train that goes straight up to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Built in the 1860s so visitors could see the views from the mountaintop without enduring a strenuous hike to get there, the unusual railroad tracks have a third rail that allows specially designed trains to claw their way up the side of the mountain, no switchbacks needed.

The first train to ascend each morning is a coal-fired steam engine sporting genuine 1875 technology, and we watched in amazement as the fireman shoveled coal into the fire to keep the steam engine’s water at a rolling boil. The train’s engine is uniquely designed so it sits level as the train climbs and descends (at one point the grade is 37.4 percent).

As we climbed into the mountain peaks, immense valley views expanded around us. At the top of the mountain, true to Mount Washington’s reputation, the weather was foggy and cold, nothing like the warm summer sunshine we’d left at the bottom. An hourlong trip each way (just 45 minutes in the modern eco-diesel trains that run the rest of the day), this was on exhilarating ride.

Waterton Shoreline Cruise

Cross the U.S.-Canadian border in a national park on a historic vessel

On the Canadian side of Waterton-Glacier National Park, which spans both Alberta and Montana, a charming boat ride takes you down Waterton Lake across the border between Canada and America and into Montana waters, passing through exquisite Rocky Mountain scenery the whole way.

Before we even boarded the boat, we were dazzled by the towering peaks surrounding the shimmering lake as well as the elegant Prince of Wales Hotel that proudly overlooks it all from a bluff. The M.V. International is a lovingly maintained historic wooden boat that has been carrying passengers up and down this seven-mile-long lake since its launch in 1928, and our knowledgeable host, Kevin, entertained us with unusual insights into both the natural and human history of the area throughout our two-hour ride. The Waterton Lakes National Park and its Shoreline Cruise were truly sensational.

unique methods of transportation

Photo Credit: Emily and Mark Fagan

Joseph Branch Rail Riders

Propel yourself down an original narrow-gauge railroad in Oregon

If you want a ride that is a little more hands on (or “feet on”), then Joseph Branch Rail Riders is for you. Located in the remote village of Joseph in eastern Oregon, this family-owned company operates a fleet of open-air railway “cars” that ride independently on the narrow-gauge rails and are propelled with foot pedals similar to a recumbent bicycle.

Each car seats two to four people (you can even take a dog in a crate if your pooch wants to come along), and you can pedal as fast or as slow as you wish. But you can’t pass the next car because there are no passing lanes on the railway lines! We did the six-mile excursion from Joseph to Enterprise and back in about 45 minutes and loved every minute of it.

Offering both exercise and the spectacular scenery of the Eagle Cap Wilderness in the Wallowa Mountains, this rail ride was an outing to remember.

Stehekin Ferry

Cruise to a village in Washington’s North Cascades—not accessible by car

Many boat rides are simply sightseeing excursions, but the Stehekin Ferry actually takes you somewhere special… a place accessible only by boat. Cruising most of the 51-mile length of narrow Lake Chelan, this two-hour ferry ride traverses crystal-clear and often jade-colored water between tall, craggy mountains on its way to the village of Stehekin at the base of the North Cascades.

The town was settled by homesteaders in the late 1800s; the captain of the ferry, Jim Courtney, is one of their direct descendants.  If you choose to visit the Stehekin Valley Ranch, his brother Cliff is a host there. He’ll show you the one-room schoolhouse where the whole family went to school and the log cabin their grandpa built for their first overnight guests in the 1930s.

Leaving our fifth-wheel in the ferry’s safe and spacious parking lot before boarding the boat, we spent a memorable night in a cabin at the ranch (the food is out of this world). Next time, we’ll spend more than just one night, and we’ll stay in the new Truck Wagon cabin, a setting charmingly familiar for all RVers.

Grand Canyon Railway

Travel through the Wild West to the Grand Canyon

The scenery at the Grand Canyon is magnificent, but dealing with the traffic and congestion in an RV at the heart of the South Rim can be nerve-racking. An alternative is to stay in an RV park in the town of Williams for a night or two, leave the driving to an experienced train engineer, and take the Grand Canyon Railway instead.

The Grand Canyon Railway goes through ponderosa pine forest, open prairie, and piñon pine landscapes, but the real fun is the campy entertainment provided on the trip. It starts with a cowboy shootout before you even board the train. We loved listening to the musicians who wandered through the train cars while we were traveling.

But the cowboys on horseback who held up the train in the middle of the ride were the high point. The train lurched to a stop, and a “shootout” ensued in an unexpected diversion that was especially exciting for the kids. After soaking in the extraordinary views of Grand Canyon’s South Rim, we enjoyed a relaxing train ride back to Williams.

Beal & Bunker Ferry

Experience a remote island lifestyle in deep Down East Maine

There are all kinds of ways to get out on the ocean in Down East Maine, but one of the most delightful is to take the Mailboat Ferry used by the local islanders to commute to work, get to school, deliver the mail, and generally get around between the Cranberry Islands.

Circling between Mount Desert Island (home of Acadia National Park), Ilsesford, and Great Cranberry Island, the Beal & Bunker Ferry is the lifeline between these remote island communities and the rest of civilization. We spent a wonderful day island-hopping via this ferry boat, chatting with workers on their commute, and then sitting with the school kids and their teachers on their way to school.

Each island is delightful and can be enjoyed on foot (even better would be to bring your bike!), but it was learning about this unique island lifestyle from the ticket man and the islanders on the “Double B” Mailboat (which runs daily year-round, rain or shine, sleet or blizzard) that was the special highlight for us.

As you make your travel plans for your upcoming RV adventures, keep an eye out for these special rides and for the many others that can be found in every state and province

Emily Fagan
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