Mother Nature is working overtime to get our attention. For travelers, the signals are harder-than-ever to ignore.

The battle with the COVID-19 global pandemic started at the beginning of the year, bringing air and cruise travel to a standstill. While the coronavirus still rages (nearly 200,000 have died in the U.S. alone), some travelers set their sights on trips within the U.S., since most international destinations still are closed to U.S. travelers.

The fares are low and the airlines are working overtime to inspire confidence with travelers with extra cleaning, universal mask-wearing and empty middle seats.

California is a favorite holiday spot with Alaskans. But southern California started heating up, with September temperatures of 110-120 F. Then came the wildfires throughout the state, many of which were sparked by lightening.

Soon, fires started in Washington and Oregon as well. Much of the West Coast still is on fire. The air quality is some of the worst in the world.

Friends near Santa Rosa were evacuated because of the nearby fires — and almost had to be re-evacuated as the flames came closer to Healdsburg. I just spoke with them yesterday. They’re back at home and their wine-tasting room is open on the weekends.

My sister is in Eugene, where the air quality has been “hazardous” since Labor Day. My step-mother is in Salem, where she was afraid because the sky over the western hills was bright red. Friends in southern Oregon could see fires raging through the small town of Talent from their deck.

The smoke was so thick last week that Alaska Airlines canceled flights into Portland, Spokane and several smaller airports.

If travelers set their eyes on the Gulf Coast, think again. Hurricane Sally is dumping more than 20 inches of rain in parts of Alabama and Florida. My brother-in-law lives in Gulfport, Mississippi. He spent a couple of days preparing for Hurricane Sally to hit the beach head-on. As it was, they received “about a tenth of an inch” of rain. But his cousin in nearby Mobile, Alabama lost his boat as the hurricane swept ashore. In fact, the entire pier was gone. A section of the Interstate 10 bridge in Pensacola collapsed.

If Hurricane Sally wasn’t bad enough, the National Hurricane Center predicts this fall will spawn a bumper crop of hurricanes.

Now that Mother Nature takes center stage during 2020, travelers have some choices to make. Will this year’s dramatic events change the way we travel? The answer certainly is “yes” in the near term, since we still cannot travel internationally outside of a few destinations. Even the Canadian border remains closed to leisure travelers … perhaps until Thanksgiving. Forecasters predict travelers will do road trips closer to home — or fly domestically on shorter flights.

What about Hawaii? There was some encouraging news this week that the islands, which have been effectively shut down to vacationers since late March, will begin to open up on Oct. 15. That’s the date that Gov. David Ige plans to roll-out a pre-arrival testing program that’s similar to Alaska’s plan. Many details must be worked out, but travelers may be able to get tested 72 hours prior to arrival in Hawaii in order to avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

With many of Alaska’s favorite holiday destinations smoked-out, washed-out or closed off, perhaps it’s time to take in the pretty fall colors on a road trip.

Major Marine Tours has a “fall colors” package in Seward that includes a 3.5-hour Resurrection Bay cruise and overnight accommodations at the Harbor 360 hotel. The “Kenai Fjords Wildlife Cruise” stays inside the protected waters of Resurrection Bay. Watch for whales, sea lions, seals, puffins and other critters. The cruise leaves at 1:30 p.m. each afternoon through Oct. 11. The hotel is right on the harbor and the boat pulls right up next to it for boarding.

Package prices start at $116 per person, double occupancy during September. The prices drop to as little as $98 per person in October. Be sure and plan a visit to the Alaska Sealife Center when you visit Seward.

If Seward isn’t far enough, keep driving to the end of the Homer Spit. Off-season prices now are available at Land’s End Resort. The resort offers a “Getaway” package that started earlier this month. The package is available through May 6, 2021. Choose a one- or two-night stay from $139 per couple, which includes dinner for two at the Chart Room restaurant. Hang out in the oceanfront hot tub, or take a long walk on the beach.

The fall colors are blazing in the Matanuska Valley. This drive is on the way to the Lodge at Black Rapids. To get there, drive all the way to Glennallen, then turn left and drive for two hours up the Richardson Highway towards Fairbanks. It’s a beautiful drive through the mountains that parallels the trans-Alaska pipeline.

The lodge is at Milepost 227.4 on the Richardson Highway, up on bluff overlooking the Delta River. Annie and Mike Hopper built the 7,300 square foot “timber-framed” lodge over the course of 10 years and opened it in 2009.

The lodge is open all winter on Friday and Saturday nights. “There are great hikes available all around the lodge,” said Annie. “Plus, we’ve been seeing some northern lights right off the deck,” she said.

Annie loves to hike and can tell you how to explore the nearby glaciers and ice caves. The lodge also features a sauna and hot tub.

The Hoppers offer Alaska residents a rate of $190 per night at the lodge. The staff cooks up breakfast, lunch and dinner, which are sold separately.

There are plenty of other getaway destinations to explore the country and take in the fall colors, such as Alyeska Resort and Sheep Mountain Lodge. For at least one moment (i’ve got my fingers crossed for luck), while Mother Nature is leaning in on some of our favorite places in the Lower 48, she’s putting on quite a show here in Alaska.

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