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Zip lines zoom guests to treehouse B&B near Austin

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Zip lines zoom guests to treehouse B&B near Austin





07:13 PM CDT on Saturday, July 8, 2006

By SUZANNE MARTA / The Dallas Morning News


SPICEWOOD, Texas Ever since I saw Swiss Family Robinson, I wanted to live in a treehouse.


This summer, that dream came true at least for a night.


But instead of climbing to my quarters on rickety ladders, I soared through the trees on a zip line.


Cypress Valley Canopy Tours has hosted about 2,000 visitors on an adrenaline-filled tour of its narrow, densely forested valley on zip lines since it opened last year. This year, owners David and Amy Beilharz opened a more advanced ropes-style challenge course and our home for the night: Lofthaven.


The adventure starts around 6 p.m., with a thorough outfitting of gear and a quick but useful lesson on zip-line techniques.


My friend and I step into harnesses that connect to a trolley that latches to a steel cable about 8 feet above the ground. This is what carries us as we zip through the forest. We get a quick overview of how to keep from spinning, stop and get ourselves back to a platform if we get stuck in the middle.


The course starts at the wheel house, where the Beilharz family has created a water wheel to help generate energy for their 88-acre ranch.


For 90 minutes, our two guides take us through six different and thrilling zip-line rides. The guides help us on and off the zip lines. They also make sure we're clipped to safety lines, ensuring that we won't stumble out of a tree.


Each platform is roughly 40 feet off the ground and offers gorgeous views of the lush cypress, fragrant cedar elm and ash juniper. It's shady and cool under the thick tree canopy, with few bugs to bother us.


Along the way, our guides point out various flora and fauna, including a 4-foot-long water moccasin watching for frogs and salamanders by the creek.


The majestic cypress trees are more than 600 years old in some cases. The platforms were built in a way that wouldn't harm the giant trees. In one, we spy a prickly pear cactus precariously positioned 60 feet up in the branches the work of a bird's seed distribution.


The narrow valley also reveals centuries of erosion and rock formations, including hollow "soda straws."


After our longest zip about 350 feet we see our home for the night, hidden behind the massive cypress hosting our landing platform.


The 200-square-foot room is supported by a steel plate and has a wraparound balcony. The dark khaki canvas helps it to blend into the surroundings.


We finish our final two zips, head back to the longest one and zip to our treehouse.


Growing up in Oregon, I spent countless hours using the towering Douglas firs as my jungle gym. My sister Christi and I would return at dinnertime with a thick coat of sticky sap on our hands.


But the treehouse we played in was always somewhat disappointing. Just a wood platform nailed to a few branches. It was OK for daytime adventures, but not at night.


The Cypress Valley treehouse isn't like the kind you dreamed of as a kid.


It's powered by wind and solar electricity, enough to run lights, a cooling fan, coffeepot and toaster oven. A sky bridge takes visitors to the other side of the narrow valley to a full bath equipped with towels and handmade soaps.


Inside Lofthaven, a buffet with a carafe of iced water and a pitcher of purple hibiscus-mint iced tea welcomes us, along with a bowl of whole fruit that would make Paul Czanne grab his brushes.


A queen-size bed, piled high with decorative pillows and draped with muslin netting, enchants. And an elegantly set table for two, complete with chargers and cloth napkins, reminds us this isn't for kids.


A picnic basket holds our dinner: roasted vegetable and turkey sandwiches, a fancy spinach salad and a bag of organic chips to snack on. We're also treated to organic chocolate truffles made by a local vendor.


We dine under a gorgeous sunset with a gurgling creek below and the buzz of cricket frogs as our soundtrack.


As dusk falls, we get another light show this time the bright flickers of fireflies swirling around.


For all the bugs outside, there are few inside our room, thanks to the wraparound screens and latching door. There are a few daddy longlegs spiders there to snack on bugs, rather than overnight guests.


As the moon rises, visitors to Lofthaven are treated to a symphony of sounds by the resident great horned and screech owls and nearby coyotes. It's a wonderful lullaby.


After a sound night's sleep, we wake to the cheerful twittering of birds.


Another basket is waiting for us. This one is filled with tasty breakfast breads, fruit salad, yogurt and granola.


We sip freshly brewed coffee and savor the fresh morning air.


About 10 a.m., we hear the telltale whirring of the zip line. It's a Cypress Valley staffer, coming to do safety checks at nearby platforms.


In another hour, another group of thrill-seekers will be flying through the trees.


For now, we'll savor every last moment of our treehouse getaway.


E-mail smarta@dallasnews.com



Cedar Creek Treehouse, Ashford, Wash., 360-569-2991, http://www.cedarcreektreehouse.com Two-level treehouse is 50 feet off the ground. From $250.


Out 'n' About Treesort & Treehouse Institute, Cave Junction, Ore., 541-592-2208, http://www.treehouses.com Offers several options, including a tree teepee. From $110.


Hana Lani, Hana, Maui, Hawaii, 808-248-7241, http://www.treehousesofhawaii.com Rustic lodging in lush rain-forest setting. From $120 per night, two-night minimum.


Nahiku Treehouse, Maui, Hawaii, 808-248-4070, http://www.nahiku.com Panoramic views of the Pacific and Haleakala volcano. From $125 per night, two-night minimum.


Lothlorien Woods Hide-A-Way, White Salmon, Wash., 503-281-9888, http://www.lothlorienwoods.com Split-level treehouse with a view of Mount Adams. From $125.


Carolina Heritage Outfitters, Canadys, S.C., 843-563-5051, http://www.canoesc.com Canoe to one of three houses on the Edisto River. From $125.




Cypress Valley Canopy Tours' Lofthaven:


Where: 1223 Paleface Ranch Road, Spicewood (about 45 minutes from Austin)


Open: 9 a.m. to dusk Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to dusk Sunday during the summer. Fall and spring operations are limited to Friday through Sunday.


Cost: $60 per person for the canopy tour, $75 for the canopy challenge course. A night in Lofthaven starts at $200 per couple, including meals.


Information: 512-264-8880; http://www.cypressvalleycanopytours.com

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