You've got a lot to learn. There's cooking in France or running with Yellowstone's wolves. Go west to Baja California and the Sea of Cortez to follow the whales in the company of knowledgeable naturalists. Show the kids an unknown Florida, light years away from the theme parks. Or dig into history, for a Thanksgiving dinner in the American colonies.
Yellowstone in winter
In the silence of the park's snowy landscape, it's easy to believe you're alone. But don't fool yourself. This has been called the "Serengeti of North America," a place where elk and bison roam, and bald eagles ride the updrafts. Most famously, it's also wolf country.
Several years ago, the animals were brought back into an environment they were hunted out of generations back. Environmentalists applauded the move; ranchers deplored it. The controversy rages still.
This year, the Four Corners School of Outdoor Education offers a trip to the park that focuses on tracking the animals - by van and on skis. In the morning - best time to spot them - carnivore ecologist Jim Halfpenny of the University of Colorado leads wolf watches. Evenings, there are talks covering behavior and management. Afternoons are devoted to ski safaris that track the creatures. There's plenty of time to enjoy the spectacular high-country scenery or just relax with a soak in a hot tub.
(Feb. 7-13; Four Corners School of Outdoor Education and the Denver Museum of Natural History. $1,520 per person, double occupancy. Includes meals, six nights' accommodations in lodges; guides, lectures and fees. Airfare not included. P.O. Box 1029, Monticello, UT 84535; 1-800-525-4456; 435-587-2156; Fax: 435-587-2193.)
Paris is the City of Light, but plenty of people think of it as the City of Food. So, if you want to learn to cook, where else would you go?
The grande dame of cooking classes are given at Le Cordon Bleu, which has been instructing students in the fine arts of braising, basting and baking since the turn of the century. If it's classic French cuisine you're trying for, check the afternoon demonstration classes (given in French, with English translations); evening courses start at 7:30 and focus on basic skills. Prices vary, so call for information. (1-800-457-CHEF; 8 rue Leon Delhomme, Paris 15 011-331-48-56-0377).
Off Cabo San Lucas, massive rocks frame an arch to the sea, where humpback whales lumber by and dolphins play. There is swimming and snorkeling, and excursions by zodiac to the magical islands of San Jose and Santa Catalina, alive with cacti. Experienced naturalists guide you on nature hikes; afternoons, there are beach barbecues and sea kayaking.
Up the peninsula is the lovely town of La Paz, a peaceful refuge from the gaudy excess of Cabo, where you can walk along the water and admire the sun setting over the sea.
(Jan. 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30; Feb. 13, 19, 20, 27. Nine days, meals included. From $2,790 per person, double occupancy. Lind-blad Special Expeditions; 1-800-397-3348.)
The real Florida
Forget Disney. Camping along the Myakka River you'll explore a world of water and marshland, palm hammocks and dry prairie.
This is a family-oriented getaway, led by the Sierra Club, with a side trip to the marine lab in nearby Sarasota, to learn about coastal waters and the marine mammals that live in them. There's also a trip to Venice Beach, to search for shark teeth that have been there since before history began. Kids can go biking on wooden boardwalks over the water or canoe alongside alligators - a new way to spend a spring break.
(March 28-April 2; $450 per adult, $325, kids. Suitable for children age 6 and up. Includes meals, trip leader and campground fees. Bring your own tent and sleeping bags. Adults pitch in to prepare and clean up after meals. Sierra Club Outings, 415-977-5588.)
Thanksgiving in the colonies
You start off in Washington, with visits to the Smithsonian, the Capitol and the famous monuments. Then, there are stops at Mount Vernon, George Washington's plantation, and Thomas Jefferson's house at Monticello.
Thanksgiving itself is in Colonial Williamsburg, suitably served among the trappings of the Virginia colony. Side trips take you to Jamestown settlement, where the English built their first permanent colony in the New World, and to Stratford Hall Plantation in Yorktown, where Robert E. Lee was born.
(Maupintour, 1-800-255-4266; Nov. 22-29; $1,645 per person. Includes accommodations, most meals, tour guides, entrance fees.)
The senior circuit
For close to 25 years now, thousands of senior citizens have been roaming the globe, taking courses courtesy of Elderhostel. Founded on the same principle as European youth hostels, the organization is open to anyone over 60; there are no dues or membership fees.
What there is is a large-print catalogue issued twice a year that lists offerings in all 50 states, Canada's 10 provinces and 40 foreign countries. Most are offered at college campuses and conference centers; some are held in national parks, game reserves - even a chateau in France. Usually, hostelers stay on campus (although few courses are offered for credit) or in simple hotels (often with shared rooms).
Courses range from Zen meditation in California to the history of Scotland in Glasgow. You can learn how to speak Chinese at a university in China, or study the history of the silk road in Turkey. Learn basketry at a folk school in Appalachia, study fairy tales in Tennessee or Shakespeare in Canada. The possibilities are almost endless. (For more information, call Elderhostel, 617-426-7788.)