GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Travel isn't just about seeing a new destination; it's about forging lifelong friendships and taking unexpected paths.
According to organizers and participants alike, the Museum of Western Colorado takes that message to heart when hosting its annual trips and tours throughout the region and the world, aptly named "Passport to Adventure."
"The world is our classroom," Museum of Western Colorado Executive Director and Tour Director Mike Perry said. "What you gain is more understanding of people ... and cultures."
Tours in 2013 will visit a variety of locations - from a day-long Denver museum trip to week-long explorations in Iceland and the Yucatan, plus active adventures (like climbing a 14er or midnight snowshoeing). All transportation and lodging is handled by the museum, plus pricing for every adventure is all-inclusive. And folks are already starting to register.
Museum-hosted international tours, however, weren't always on the menu.
"We started out putting an emphasis on what's in our own backyard," Perry said, noting that Jeep trips in the mid- to late-1980s focused more on nearby locations like the Bookcliffs and the San Juan Mountains. But, over the years, the concept grew to national- and international-guided adventures featuring knowledgeable experts and a family feel amongst its participants.
"It's about connecting with the museum and making friends," Perry added, and many repeat travelers with the Passport program are able to visit places they'd otherwise feel uncomfortable traveling to.
Grand Junction residents Rob and Beverly Elliott said they've participated in two international trips, as well as many other regional tours, through the museum over the years.
"In 2007, we took a trip to Egypt," Rob Elliott said. "I promised my wife I would get her to Egypt when I met her 42 years ago, and we had been watching for a trip ever since. ... It was all-inclusive with meals and trip insurance. We had local guides when we got there, as well as the museum director. It was a good deal, and it turned into a wonderful experience."
And most recently, the Elliotts traveled with a museum group this past June on a 14-day trip to Peru.
"It was absolutely wonderful, again," Elliott said. "It was long hours, and we had a real adventure on the Amazon."
Even when the group's travel plans didn't quite work out, Elliott said Perry, the trip organizer, was able to improvise wonderfully.
"He managed to arrange a bus, boat and canoes as a substitute for a flight," he said.
Seeing unique animals was a huge priority for everyone on the Peru trip, Elliott noted.
"We saw giant river otters, parrots and macaws," he said. "We (also) got to fish for piranhas. We took them back and everybody got to taste them."
To facilitate personalized, intimate experiences on all museum-chartered trips, Perry said groups are kept small - an ideal number comes in around 20 for international travel.
"The tour group (to Peru) was 22 people, and there was one lady from Mexico that we had gone to Egypt with," Elliott said. "It was a new set of people. When you're traveling together, you make friends. We still have friends we met in Egypt, as well as on the Peru trip."
According to Museum of Western Colorado's Assistant Director Kay Fiegel, shorter regional trips are also a huge draw for families with older kids, singles and couples.
"Day trips are always fascinating because you learn something new about your state or Utah," another local Passport to Adventure participant, Sharon Gisner, said. "I most like looking for petroglyphs and pictographs of ancient cultures, mostly in Utah. My favorite this year was McConkie Ranch near Vernal, Utah. In the past years, 9 Mile Canyon and San Rafael Swells were wonderful."
Gisner added: "I have been traveling with the museum for four years and have yet to be on a bad trip. I heard of the trips from a single grandmother at a Little League baseball game. So, I tried an Indian-art, one-day trip and was hooked. The people are nice and easy to get along with. The guides have patience, lots of good humor, and lots of knowledge. The trips are well organized and you stay in satisfactory accommodations. I think the prices are also very reasonable."
Grand Junction local and museum supporter Betty Hall said she plans to participate in an over-night trip next month, touring a potpourri of Denver museums.
"It's really nice because they do all the driving," she said. "It makes it very, very easy."
When asked what she'd tell folks considering a museum trip of any length, Hall said: "They're going to have a wonderful time, a wonderful experience, and they will want to do it again as soon as they can."