Nicole DeJonghe was mountain biking one day when she had a brainstorm.
Why not take a road trip through the Sierra Nevada, visiting as many locations in a week as she could from the Sierra Business Council’s geotourism project?
DeJonghe, senior program director for the SBC, enlisted the assistance of colleague Brittany Todd, and The Great Escape was born.
DeJonghe and Todd, SBC communications specialist, are touring the Sierra in a specially equipped Escape Campervan to find the area’s “hidden gems.”
In addition to the geotourism map, the travelers are posting their adventures on their blog, Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram to give followers an up-to-the-minute account of their journey.
The Sierra Nevada Geotourism MapGuide Project is a collaboration with the Sierra Business Council, Sierra Nevada Conservancy and National Geographic Society.
Through an interactive website and print map, people nominated favorite local restaurants, hiking or biking trails, art galleries or local events in multiple categories.
The Sierra Nevada map has 1,600 destinations, including many in Carson Valley.
DeJonghe and Todd stopped Tuesday in Genoa to visit local shops and the Genoa Bar which is celebrating its 160th anniversary.
“Being out on the road is fantastic,” DeJonghe said. “I sit in the office all day, e-mailing, on the phone, and this is a great opportunity to get out and engage with small-town locals in authentic ways and to discover breathtaking, uncrowded natural wonders.”
DeJonghe grew up in California, and lived in three towns in the Sierra Nevada. But, she said, the week’s journey has shown her how much there is to discover. Every place they stop, someone offers tips on new spots, or wants to make sure they’ve seen a special place.
“I continue to find many more hidden gems,” she said. “There are more than I ever suspected.”
Todd is a newcomer to the Sierra, having moved to Truckee a year ago.
“I feel like a traveler, like someone who would use the geotours to experience an area. I am feeling that ‘homieness’ that locals have who are sharing what makes the Sierra Nevada unique. Everyone is so welcoming. The geotours are effective and this is showing us the value of the project,” Todd said.
Geotourism is defined as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place — its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents — basically anything that is authentic and distinctive to the Sierra Nevada.”
DeJonghe said the week’s experience helps them to understand and explain to business owners what geotourists are looking for.
“It’s been inspiring to meet so many local business owners and residents,” she said, and to see what makes geotourism work.”