Going on vacation… WITH SCIENCE!

I don't know about you guys, but I'm ready for a vacation. It's been a rough few months and it would be nice to just get away for a little while. I've been researching vacation spots and came upon Phil Plait's new venture, Science Getaways, which sounds amazing. I talked to Phil to ask a few questions and find out more!

What is Science Getaways?

Science Getaways is a science-themed tourism and event company. The idea for it was born when my wife and I were on vacation a few years ago and wound up chatting with some other folks who were experts on the science of that particular region – the geology, ecology, etc. We were fascinated by what they told us, and it really added a lot to our experience, an extra dimension to everything that made the trip so much better! As a scientist I'm always seeking out the science behind where I'm traveling, and it was my wife who put the two together and said “Why not take a vacation package and science it up?”

Read the rest, after the fold..

So we created Science Getaways. We provide a complete vacation package, and then add scientists to the mix. We carefully choose them to be experts in their field and proven communicators – basically, fun people you *want* to spend time with. So for example they can give short talks on their field and how it relates to the area, and then take vacationers on a hike or some other field trip to explore, armed with the new knowledge.

Really, this is the kind of vacation *I'd* want to take, so why not make it available to a whole group of like-minded people?

What inspired you to do this?

It might be fair to say that I'm something of a science nerd. Science is cool, and I've found it always adds an extra dimension to understand the science of something while you're doing it – whether it's looking at a rainbow or hiking in the woods. The vacations I've enjoyed the most, and that have become the most memorable for me, are ones where there was learning involved. It heightens the experience.

Plus, everything I do is flavored with some aspect of science. Who needs a vacation *away* from something you love doing? So we put them together.

Where's the first trip? When?

The first trip is September 16-20, 2012, at the C Lazy U guest ranch near Granby, Colorado. We visited a lot of ranches in the area, and C Lazy U had the most to offer: beautiful private cabins with fireplaces, lots of activities, like horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing, swimming and about a dozen other choices, excellent food, cellular service and wi-fi all over the ranch (because we know people don’t want to be unplugged for too long) and award-winning service.

It's located in a gorgeous valley just south of Rocky Mountain National Park, which really is perfect for exploring the geology and ecology. We have a biologist and a geologist on tap for this, who'll give talks about the native life and rocks, and then we'll go on hikes to see them in action. I'll also be holding a stargazing session every night – the skies there are *dark*. I have a nice telescope I'm bringing and some other observing equipment too. After dinner and sunset (and maybe after sitting around the campfire relaxing for a while) we'll head down the trail to the seriously dark skies just beyond the ranch buildings. My wife, who's been out with me to stargaze many times, was stunned by the skies we saw there. She looked up at that sky and said “Wow, that’s a lot of stars!”

The web page for this getaway is here. I also recommend visiting the ranch’s website to see all the available activities and pastimes.

How active are these trips – do you have to be in really good shape?


That was a concern of ours – we didn’t want physical restraints to hinder anyone’s enjoyment of their vacation. In fact, that’s why we chose a ranch with so much to offer, so that folks can pick and choose the activities that are comfortable for them. If you’re not into hiking, that’s ok. You can attend the scientist talks, then choose what you want to do afterward, whether it’s fishing or lounging in the outdoor heated pool or hot tub. If you don’t want to go horseback riding, you can opt to read a book by the fire in your cabin or play a game with friends in the lodge house. The scientist-led hikes we’ve planned will last for about an hour, with plenty of time to stop along the way and inspect your surroundings. Our goal is to provide the most complete experience possible for every guest, so if someone has a special need or limitation but still wants to participate as much as possible, we’ll work with them to make it happen. Bottom line: whatever your physical fitness level, we’ll make sure you get the most out of your time at the ranch. 

It's a pretty expensive trip – what makes it worth it?

Actually, when you consider that the nightly rate is all-inclusive it’s no more expensive than a luxury cruise or resort vacation. And we're adding a lot of activities that aren’t usually available at the ranch. The whole point is there's value added by having the scientists along and you’ll have full access to them because they’re staying as guests too. Plus, our group will be small enough that you’ll have a chance to get to know everyone and make friends who share your love of science and fascination with the natural world.

Unlike a cruise, where you pay a lot extra for every shore excursion and stand in line an hour to get off the ship, at our science ranch all the options are there any time you want them. You’ll have huge snow-capped mountains, golden whispering aspens, a lush valley with a stream running through it, and possibly herds of elk right outside the door of your roomy private cabin. The rooms are beautifully decorated in modern cabins with luxurious baths, stone fireplaces, and big comfy beds. The food at the ranch is gourmet western cuisine, which includes three meals a day as well as a fruit and goodie basket in your cabin. We're even having an outdoor  chuckwagon barbecue on a hill above the ranch.

Elk at the C Lazy U Ranch
Photo: C Lazy U Ranch
There will also be goodie bags for all the attendees. But that's a surprise!

Do you have a line up of who will be the scientists on the first trip?

We have Holly Brunkal, PhD, a geologist who is an expert on that part of the Rockies as well as many other fields of geology (including volcanoes, one of my favorites). She's very outgoing and friendly, and she'll be a lot of fun on the trip.

Our biologist is Dave Armstrong, PhD, an award-winning University of Colorado professor who's an expert on ranchland ecology. For many years Dave has been leading field trips for kids to senior citizens. He's an expert on Colorado mammals, which is perfect since we’ll have the chance to see elk, moose, bear, and many small mammals at the ranch.

And I'll be there too, of course. I'll give a talk or two, and run the star gazing. I'm also planning on doing some solar observing during the day. The Sun's been very active lately, so that should provide some pretty cool views of sunspots.

The scientist bios are also online.

How kid-friendly are these trips?

There won’t be any sort of child care or children’s program available like what the ranch normally offers in the summer, so this may not be the best choice for young children. Any child old enough to enjoy the science talks, stargazing and all the normal ranch activities would have a great time. An older child or teenager would learn so much that it would definitely make up for missing a few days of school.

What else should people know?

The whole point of Science Getaways is to appeal to people who want to relax their bodies and stimulate their brains. That's why our slogan is "Vacation with your brain." I've given talks all over the country (and in one or two others as well) and everywhere I've gone I've found people are always hungry to learn more science, to have their sense of wonder expanded even farther. Our hope is that everyone who comes to Science Ranch 2012 leaves the ranch feeling like they just spent four of their best days learning cool new stuff with a group of friends. 

Images courtesy Chris Setter & C Lazy U Ranch


Maria D'Souza grew up in different countries around the world, including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Kenya and it shows. She currently lives in the Bay Area and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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