Great Escapes

Ten destinations guaranteed to fight cabin fever.

If you want to blend, head over to the Land Rover dealer, plunk down your Visa Platinum and rent a 4-wheeler. Make sure the dealer throws in two sets of chains, and slap a rainbow flag in the shape of Alaska on the back window.

For nightlife, gay men belly up to the bar at the Raven (907-276-9672), while queer gals wait in line with hets to get into the packed Wave (907-561 9283), a lesbian bar popular with all kinds for its great dance mixes (read: Madonna). Identity (907-258-4777), the local queer switchboard, can provide further information on the local scene.

Feeling rugged? Drive an hour down the Glenn Highway to Hatcher Pass, home to the largest populations of moose, caribou, brown and black bear, wolves, and lynx in the area. There's great skiing too. Stay at the Hatcher Pass Lodge (907-745-5897). There, you can bone up on dog-mushing, telemarking, or avalanche rescue in lodge classes or just hit the slopes.

If you don't go to Hatcher pass, hop a bush plane to scenic Alyeska Resort (800-880-3880) or Riversong Lodge (907-274-2710) for the best eatin' in the state. For less populated recreating, call the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation (907-762 2616), which provides information about cross-country skiing/snowshoeing trailheads. Don't forget survival gear and bear bells! -- Karen Harris

Provincetown

The first thing one notices when turning off Hwy. 6 into downtown Provincetown, besides the Pilgrim Monument standing vigil midtown, is the array of rainbow flags. They're everywhere. Flying atop inns and storefronts, and gracing the front lawns of the traditional "cracker box" New England homes.

You'll fall in love with Provincetown just 30 seconds of stepping onto Commercial Street, P-town's main drag. Even on winter days, Commercial Street draws a mixture of residents and tourists (yes, even straight visitors) wandering past gift shops, art galleries, cafes, and elegantly restored mansions with names like the Captain's House, the Sandpiper, and Lotus. It's a shopper's paradise. At night, when the tourist buses have departed, the clubs throb with nightlife, and Commercial becomes an ideal place for people-watching.

In the mood for a quieter setting? Try dinner at the Moors Restaurant (5 Bradford Ext.), which specializes in Portuguese cooking. Known for its seafood, the Moors offers a romantic, soft candlelight ambiance. Skip dessert and stroll back downtown for ice cream or java at Spiritus (190 Commercial).

Ampersand Guesthouse (6 Cottage St.; 508-487-0959), a large, white Greek Revival home in the west end of Provincetown, is a quiet gay-owned B&B filled with restored antiques, many original to the house. It's a quick walk from the front steps to the center of P-town, and Scutter (Ampersand's resident mascot terrier) greets visitors at the door as they come and go.

There's always something happening in Provincetown. During the winter months you can take advantage of lower "off-season" rates at the numerous B&Bs and sales at the shops. Pay tribute to the Pilgrims, who first landed at the tip of Cape Cod, with a climb to the top of the Pilgrim Monument, complete with stone gargoyles. There are art galleries galore along Commercial Street, and the Provincetown Art Association holds special exhibits near the end of January and February. "Close to Home," an AIDS fundraiser featuring local talent, is usually held during the first weekend of February.

But don't let the quaintness of this New England fishing village fool you -- Provincetown gushes with the friendliness and excitement of Castro Street and the tranquil beauty of the North Shore. It's gotta be the gayest place on earth. -- Todd Moe

New Mexico

Is it too soon to think about a fall vacation? Not if your destination is Albuquerque, N.M., and the annual International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, held during the first couple of weeks of October every year (info: 800-733-9918). The event is so popular that airline reservations into Albuquerque during the 10-day fiesta are hard to come by after late spring or early summer, so plan early, even for car-rental reservations. (Make no mistake: You'll need an automobile. Public transportation in Albuquerque is zilch, and the balloon field is about 20 minutes out of town on I-25.)

During the fest, nearly 1,000 balloons from all over the world descend (and ascend) on the area -- creating a scene that's much like the Minnesota State Fair sans butterheads and cow pies. The fiesta is cheap -- admission is around $5 a day -- and once you're inside the gates you'll find fabulous food booths, people-watching until your eyeballs ache, and balloon rides for about $100 an hour. The mass ascension of the balloons -- when hundreds lift off all at once -- occurs daily at 7 a.m., so when you find yourself wandering bleary-eyed around the field at 6:30, find the Canada food booth and order the crepes with maple syrup and good strong coffee. You'll be soothed and invigorated.

While you're there, you will want to take in Albuquerque proper -- especially the quaint, historic, and oh-so-artsy Old Town area -- as well as Santa Fe and environs. While in Old Town, eat at Julia's Kitchen (328 San Felipe NW), a hole-in-the-wall cafe run by two unflappable women that has magnificent, scandalously cheap Southwestern/Mexican food.

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