Science Getaways

By Phil Plait | December 7, 2011 7:00 am

I am very pleased to announce the grand opening of Science Getaways, where you can take a vacation with your brain!

Science Getaways is a new travel company, started by my wife Marcella and me, for science enthusiasts who want to do more than just take a vacation: they want to feed their brain, too. Over the years I’ve been to a lot of cool places, but I’ve always found my experience is enhanced a lot by learning about the science of the region: the geology, the biology, the connection to other sciences. Heck, when we visited the Galapagos Islands a few years back the whole thing was nothing but science — and it was the vacation of a lifetime (as you can read here, and here, and here). Trips like this are becoming popular enough to get written up by the New York Times.

So we decided we wanted to do this too. Voila! Science Getaways, where we do all the work for you: find cool places to take a vacation, then bring along fun, outgoing scientists eager to show you the natural wonders of the region*.

Our first getaway is Science Ranch 2012, September 16 – 20, 2012, at the C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colorado. This is an authentic western ranch where you can ride horseback, fish, hike, mountain bike, and eat gourmet food (trust me on this; we sampled the food there and it was fantastic). We visited a lot of Colorado ranches, but C Lazy U was clearly the place that fits our needs best.

And we made it better: we added SCIENCE to it! We’ve invited Holly Brunkal, a geologist, and Dave Armstrong, a biologist and ecologist, to come along (we have their bios online). Both scientists are experts in the Colorado version of their fields, and have experience with tours. They’ll be taking us on hikes in the valley where the ranch is located, so you can peruse the local rocks and biota, and they’ll give talks beforehand to familiarize you with everything.

I’ll be the third scientist; I’ll give a couple of short talks and run a stargazing session every evening it’s clear — the skies in that part of Colorado are dark dark dark. When we stayed overnight at a ranch a couple of months ago, we went outside at around 10:00 p.m. and Marcella was stunned at how many stars she could see. It was magnificent.

If you read my blog — and I see you there, admit it! — then I suspect you love science and nature as much as I do. Science Getaways is a new way for me to bring the fun and wonder of the Universe to folks, and have a really great time while doing it. I hope to see you in September at C Lazy U!


* Just to be clear, this is something I’ll be doing as well as writing this blog and everything else. I’m having way too much fun writing to stop now!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Geekery, Science
MORE ABOUT: Science Getaways

Comments (37)

  1. Nicholas

    Good Luck with this endeavor Phil! It sounds like a really good new idea. It reminds me of science camps for kids but this time directed towards active adults.

  2. Great idea! Wishing you all the best for this and sure you’ll do superluminously well with it. 8)

    Just hope it leaves you enough time for the blogging we love here and maybe writing the odd extra book or TV series! (Hint, hint!) ;-)

    Hey, any chance you’ll be running a group down to Cairns, northern Australia, for the solar eclipse in November 2012 or the transit of Venus visible here in Oz next June? :-)

  3. Jerod W

    If I can scrounge up the time and money I’ll be in the front row.

  4. Cool. It’s a little out of our price range at the moment (not to mention the cost of getting from NY to CO, and getting someone to watch the kids back at home), but I’d love to go.

    Maybe I can convince my wife to get me go by myself, if I promise to bring back plenty of photos? :-)

  5. Cindy

    How about arranging some tours during the northern hemisphere summer break? I’m busy teaching in September.

  6. nobody

    @Phil: I think I heard something about free tickets for poor cosmology postdocs???
    Alternatively, I could pay my expenses by giving lectures (Modern Cosmology for Dummies) :-D

  7. LawnBoy

    How kid-friendly will this be?

  8. @LawnBoy: Website says not very. Its after labor day when the kids are back in school, so they won’t have childcare/etc for younger kids. Sounds like older kids are welcome though.

  9. BEST. TRAVEL AGENCY. EVER. I’m so there.

  10. Kid in school sort of puts a damper on this for me and my family. Sounds fun though.

    Suggestion: You need to set up a trip to Cerro Paranal, Chile. :D

  11. I’m not getting on that brain plane unless John Agar is there to defend me.

  12. Christa

    GAH!!! What a super fabulous idea!!! My geology professor used to give guided rafting trips down the Grand Canyon and talk about the geology of the place and fossils and time and all sorts of amazing things. I always wanted to go, and didn’t have the cash back in the day. She was British, and had a lovely accent, so it totally would have been worth it. I can still her her talk about the Silurian Seas!

    This is seriously a great idea. I am going to start bugging hubby to go.

  13. Mrs. BA

    Thanks for all the nice feedback. The Science Ranch 2012 trip is appropriate for older kids – say 12+. We will be doing something for younger children in the future. We couldn’t do this during the summer because all the ranches require a 7 night stay during the peak summer months, and our survey of prospective attendees indicated most people wanted 3-5 nights. Also, I couldn’t get any discounted rates during the summer. We’re hoping to have a family trip package for summer 2013. Keep checking sciencegetaways.com for updates.

  14. Jessica Entis

    This is awesome, my husband and I unfortunately can’t afford a trip like this right now, but we love science and we definitely want to try for this in the future! We’ll keep an eye on the website :D

  15. bystander

    Great idea, but $355 a day per person? Are you kidding me? How about something for us retired folks on fixed incomes. Something where we don’t have to blow several month’s budgets for a week’s vacation.

  16. Mapnut

    I wish you well with this venture. I get mailings from National Geographic all the time promoting what they call adventure travel, though it could usually qualify as “science vacations”. There are always various experts along. Two things concern me: cost (usually as much as a deluxe cruise to the same area), and the presence of ships and hundreds of people in pristine areas where tourists don’t really belong, such as Antarctica and (possibly) the Galapagos. I hope your business can offer an alternative.

  17. Hey I know I guy who has worked in the hotel industry, ok very low level and knows a bit of astronomy and free of employment at the moment just click my name and his resume is on his blog. Very very cool idea.

  18. Chris

    @15 bystander
    $355 may sound like a lot but remember you have Neil deGrasse Tyson reading you bedtime stories. He can make spaghettification sound so soothing.

  19. There are somplaces where 355 per night is relatively cheap.

  20. Richard Smith

    If the people are accompanying their brains, could it still count as <reverb>Brains… On… Vacation</reverb>?

  21. Cool idea, really hope it works out. Price is a bit high, but not outrageous.

    Two questions though:

    First, will at least some of the trips planned be family oriented? We love travel, and always try to bring science into any trip we take, but we only do stuff like that with our kids. For our family teaching our kids is usually the main focus of trips.

    Second, I hate being preached at, even about things I agree with. With Phil being one of the top athiest evangelists going, will preaching about that topic be a primary focus of the talks? Not that I disagree with anything he says, I just don’t consider being preached at as recreation, and Phil can certainly wax preachy on this topic from time to time.

    Going on one of these one day would be way cool.

  22. Allen Thomson

    The price is steep ($3538 for a couple for four nights, for a real price of $442 per person-day if I did the obligatory add-ons right), but not out of line for dude ranches.

  23. Bob

    Never thought I would be interested in a package tour, but I am now.

  24. Trebuchet

    Hey Phil, I have a rather personal question which is of course none of my business so feel free to ignore it if you prefer.

    Do you ever regret that your career path has taken you away from actually doing science into teaching it, publicizing it, dude-ranching it, and the like? After all, you spent at least six years (I’d guess) getting a PhD to become a scientist and here you are blogging about it, speaking about it, but not actually doing it. Don’t get me wrong, what you are doing now is very important and I learn a lot from it. But I can’t help comparing it to my last job as an engineer where, after a couple of years doing detail design work they made me a “lead”.

    That continued for almost 20 years, by the end of which I was pretty much no longer capable of doing the detail work I had loved, especially as I could no longer operate the CAD system. I could, of course, have gone back to it and picked up the CAD system quite quickly, but my “lead” job responsibilities didn’t allow for the time. I like what I did as a lead, don’t get me wrong, but always felt something was missing. I suppose that’s part of the reason I enjoy my sill catapults — I get to do conceptual design, detail design, construction and play with the toys when I’m done.

    Anyhow, the TL/DR: Any regrets about the change in career path?

  25. highnumber

    Super cool. I hope you’re still doing it when my kids are old enough to enjoy too.

    (An aside: Tours often have that one guy or gal who monopolizes the guide’s time with all sorts of off topic or tangential or esoteric questions or discussions. Imagine how much worse that person could be if you are culling specifically nerds for the trip. They’d see even more incentive to show off for the class, as it would be. I hope you have some safeguards in place. Maybe trank guns.)

  26. chris j.

    i can’t be the only person who looked at that “brain plane” and saw a minbari cruiser…

  27. mfumbesi

    Man I’m so jealous of the people who’ll get to go there with you. I’m on the other side of this planet, so this is fairly out of reach for me. Man I would love to come…

  28. Jon in CT

    Hey Phil – sounds like my dream vacation – except for the September part! Too many of these great trips run during school and disappear during vacations. Hint, hint? Yes, I’m a teacher!

  29. MTU:
    I intend coming to Queensland for the eclipse, and combining it with a tour of Oz, as I haven’t yet been to your country. I’ll also include my other passion – diving.
    The problem is, it appears that your country’s tourist industry, and especially your airline, is pricing itself out of the market for this. Of course, Oz has the monopoly on this eclipse – there is no other option, apart from a cruise ship – so they are going to cash in on it. But you can only push up prices so far, before everything becomes unaffordable. Qantas are apparently doubling ( at least! ) all their fares for that period; the return flight from London to Sydney is going to cost in the region of GPB1800, or AUD2800!!! And for two domestic flights, from Cairns to Alice Springs to Sydney, it’s going to cost AUD1600, for FSM’s sake!!!!!!
    So it appears that this eclipse will be accessible to wealthy single astronomers only!
    Perhaps the Aussie astronomical community should protest to Qantas and others, to the effect that they should be encouraging overseas astronomers to come, not driving them away with insane prices!
    Apologies to everyone else for being OT.

  30. Grimoire

    Well, if I ever make it to the 1% I’ll definitely try this.

  31. @Grimoire: having a salary in the mid-5 figures, even I can afford this and I’m certainly not in the 1%.

    Phil, I’ve been looking for a dark sky site for a vacation for nothing but astrophotography from, well, a dark sky site. Would it be appropriate for those of us so inclined to bring our own equipment?

  32. bystander (15): We looked into a lot of options for this first getaway, and settled on a guest/dude ranch because it’s the venue that’s best equipped to meet all of our needs; dark skies, intimate interactions with nature, and as a bonus we get the whole ranch to ourselves. Other venues like cruises aren’t ideal for stargazing or spending much time out in nature. Plus, on a ranch all of this can be done at your own pace, which is important to us.

    And, in fact, the price includes gourmet meals, room, fun ranch activities, plus all the science. If you break down any vacation into a price per day, you’ll find this rate is quite reasonable.

    VinceRN (21): Preaching is optional. :) Seriously, this is a science vacation, and that’s the plan we’re sticking with. My talks will be about the night sky we’ll be seeing and other astronomy topics. I have a lot of various interests in life, and after hours or one-on-one I’ll be happy to talk to folks about anything from Doctor Who to my favorite place to get ice cream. But I have no plans, and actually no desire, to use the bully pulpit. It’s a vacation. :)

    As for kids, as my wife wrote in comment 13 above, older kids are welcome. We tried very hard to put together a summer trip as well so younger kids could participate, but we couldn’t make it work out this time. We very much want to make these trips accessible for kids, so we’re working on that for 2013.

  33. Another Chris

    FWIW: Nice choice of venue. I’m familiar with the ranch and it’s location; whoever makes the trip will have no problem enjoying themselves when not talking Science.

  34. Jesse

    Am I not understanding something correctly in the description, or is this really $710 per day for a couple? This is considerably more expensive per day than an Alaskan Cruise or an all expenses paid vacation package in any part of Europe, or really any other vacation I can find anywhere. I really do love the concept, but have a hard time justifying the price when compared to other vacation packages.

  35. RAF

    Not only $710, per day, per couple, but also…from the link…

    In addition to the nightly rate, there will be a 5.7% room tax, 3.9% food and beverage tax and 15% service charge.

    I understanding making a profit, but this is ridiculous.

    I agree with Jessie…love the idea, and it’s even during “anniversary week”. (yes, my wife and I went to one of Phil’s talks as a “gift” to each other, years ago…) but this is just too damn expensive.

  36. Joe W. G.

    Based on RAF’s numbers, for a couple there for four days, that will come out to about (presuming the tax is based on the total for the four days) $3538.64 Mind you, that doesn’t count transportation actually getting there :) If I were to bring my four kids (all 12+), that’d be roughly $10,500. Will definitely have to wait until I a) get wealthy all of a sudden, or b) the kids are all gone from home… another few years.

  37. I have to agree with the others, Phil. LOVE the idea. It looks wonderful, but $700+ per day per couple is a little pricey. I’m all about spending money on a fun vacation (we go to Florida twice a year) but even a week at a Disney resort (with the parks and food) only costs less than $2,000. Unfortunately, I’ve soaked up all of the science that Epcot has to offer. :( Ha ha.

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