By ABBY METZGER, Discovery Feature Writer
It’s one thing to gaze at a forest of Ponderosas through the glass panes of a tour bus, and an en- tirely different thing when you get to smell and touch them. Wanderlust Tours, based in Bend, affords guests a first-hand greeting with nature with their half-day or full-day excursions that cover everything from hikes, cave tours and snowshoeing. Whether you enjoy dipping your hand into mountain spring water on a guided canoe trip or the chill of snowflakes as they kiss your nose, the tour company provides an encounter with the natural world for all generations—not just for the young and daring.
Initiated in 1993, Wanderlust Tours is owned by David and Aleta Nissen, who met as tour directors in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. As a guide for a large tour company, David remembers enjoying taking people through the western part of North America, but passengers only got to see some of the region’s stunning sites by bus. “The guests never got out and felt, smelled or listened to the natural world through which they were passing,” he recalled. This experience ultimately acted as the impetus to start Wanderlust, and Bend, with its large demographic of nature-goers, was the perfect location.
Since its inception, Wanderlust has grown leaps and bounds. Aleta, now working as the PR and marketing person and featured on the cover of Cascade Discovery, and Dave, the self-described Jack of All Trades, have ten employees working for them. Even though a small company, Wanderlust has gained noteworthy recognition for their work. In 2000, the tour company received the Governor’s Tourism Award from Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber in recognition of their leadership, cooperation and support for building sustainable tourism in Oregon.
The Nissens give credit for this award to their strong commitment in familiarizing people with the landscape and the story it has to share. But if you think exploring the outdoors is only for the brave of heart, then you are misguided. “Our tours bridge generations. They are for everyone,” said Dave. “We have more seniors than you would imagine on snowshoes.”
If you want to go cave spelunking in some of the high desert’s marvelous volcanic creations or explore Central Oregon’s waters and eat grilled salmon, then you might want to pay Wanderlust Tours a visit. Dave recalls having 70-year-olds build a snow cave and sleep in it overnight, a daring feat that may not be for everyone. But, volcano tours feature easy walks and are a great way to learn about Central Oregon’s natural surroundings from Wanderlust’s knowledgeable guides. The tour company has even seen a 65-year-old celebrate his birthday bash on Central Oregon waters last summer during a canoe trip.
Their winter recreation options are manifold, and include moonlight snowshoe trips and bonfires in the snow. Lately, Wanderlust has conjured up more ways for residents to indulge in the outdoors. “We’re a small company. I think the element of smallness enables us to think outside of the box,” said Dave. The Nissens typically sit down with General Manager Steve Liebig and toss around ideas. Their latest brainchild combines pure fun with a bit of genius. Outdoor lovers can now participate in a re-spun scavenger hunt that teaches you how to use a GPS system. “This is something eight-year-olds to 78-year-olds can take part in,” said Dave.
Not only do you learn about Central Oregon’s terrain and native species during a Wanderlust tour, but you also learn to appreciate the opportunity to explore the outdoors. Some, who may be limited by lack of equipment or experience, can still soak in the high desert’s boundless beauty. “Our hope is to bring the outdoor world alive for people, and that means for every generation,” concluded Dave.
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