Thursday, October 20, 2016

Alesund, Norway created new image after tragic event

Some Norwegians say Alesund is Norway’s most beautiful city. Cobblestone streets, buildings adorned with turrets, spires, and medieval ornamentation, and a breathtaking landscape of mountains looming in every direction give Alesund a storybook quality.
View of Alesund, Norway, a city build in the shadow of mountains.
A city reinvents itself

A catastrophic fire swept through Alesund in 1904 destroying 800 wooden houses. The tragedy provided an opportunity for the city to rebuild in a new way. It emerged a mere three years later as the only Norwegian city built in the popular Art Nouveau style. Because it is so different from other Norwegian towns, visitors enjoy seeing and walking among these charming structures.
Visitors love wandering among the Art nouveau style buildings
in Alesund, Norway.
We took a bus to the viewpoint at the top of Mt. Aksla on the city’s outskirts. Or you can walk up 418 paved steps to the top. Because the road up the mountain is so steep electric cables under the asphalt surface keep it dry in all seasons.

Walk or take a bus to the top of Mt. Aksla?
The weather was pleasant—even sunny--and the views of the architecturally-quaint city center were impressive.We strolled on a few trails in this fine outdoor area that gets plenty of use from locals. Some trails have lights so they can be used during the long, dark winter months when there’s very little daylight.
Kirkegata, the town’s most famous street and commercial center boasts a long line of Art Nouveau houses featuring distinctive gables, turrets, and towers. One of the finest buildings is the century-old Alesund Church, and our guide was sure to point out the city’s narrowest house, just a little wider than the door.

Islands connected by tunnels
Built on three islands, water surrounds every part of Alesund, Norway.
Built on three small islands, this large fishing port has a population of 45,000.  The islands are connected by sub-sea tunnels, a major engineering feat. The first tunnel we went in crosses the fjord to the north 30 meters below the sea bed. When we emerged from the second tunnel on the island of Valderhaug, we traveled on to Giske, which means “flat island” in Norse, where we visited the noted Marble Church. With so many islands, you’re never far away from water, but the water on the coast never freezes because the Gulf Stream keeps temperatures relatively mild.

Almost everyone in Alesund has a boat. Sailing is very popular, and fishing is a mainstay. Cod and salmon brought settlers to Alesund’s shores 9,000 years ago, It was a center for Viking trading by the 8th century. It started exporting dried and salted codfish (called Klippfisk) in 1824 which led to full seaport rights 24 years later. Fishing is still the most important industry.
Nature’s magnificence unfolds

Yes, that's a surfer riding a wave to the beach--in Norway.
Beyond the city is a striking terrain of lush valleys, sparkling fjords, and blustery islands. Nine-mile-long Geirangerfjord, which is surrounded by imposing, snow-covered mountain peaks, rushing waterfalls, and abundant green vegetation is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The southern coast of Godoy Island offers long stretches of white sand beaches and world-renowned surfing (best in winter). Who knew you could surf in Norway?
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Traveling to Europe? Stretch your dollars

If you plan to travel to Europe in the next year or so, you’re in luck because the dollar has been strong against the euro for months. The exchange rate on 10-15-16 is 1.097, meaning the dollar and euro are almost identical in buying power.
Also, since Brexit, the dollar is much closer to the pound used by the United Kingdom. In fact, on 10-15-16 it’s at a very low rate of 1.219. If you’ve always heard that visiting England is really expensive, now is the time to consider a trip.

Of course, no one can predict what future rates might be, but here are tips for taking advantage of current rates (which seem to get better for Americans every time I check exchange rates).
Purchase euros before you leave the States. Buy as much as you are comfortable with while rates are favorable for the dollar. If rates go up, you’ll be sitting pretty. Another advantage is you won’t have to worry about exchanging money right before or during your trip. Many U.S. banks can get almost any currency worldwide if you give them sufficient notice. It’s easy, worry-free, and convenient as long as you don’t mind having a large sum of cash. Just don’t put it all in one place when you travel.

Prepay tours, transportation, theater tickets, or hotels when you can get a good rate. You might consider prepaying even if it’s not a requirement to lock in the exchange rate as long as there’s a cancellation policy you can live with, or you have travel insurance.
Book tours or cruises now. Even if you don’t plan to travel for a year or more, lock in today’s low exchange rates.  Also, check on whether your tour company will pass along any exchange rate savings that might occur between the time you make a deposit or final payment and when you travel. A time-frame of six to nine months can make a significant difference, and some companies set their rates way in advance.

Pay with euros or pounds once you’ve arrived in Europe or the UK. Although vendors may accept dollars, many charge a premium for you to use dollars. An unfavorable exchange rate is not worth paying, so plan ahead and have sufficient euros or pounds on hand prior to leaving on your trip.
Use a credit card that does not charge a foreign transaction fee. If you’re not sure whether your card does, call customer service before you go—and get a different card for international travel if necessary. An extra three percent on every purchase adds up fast.

Shop for bargains, whether it’s airfare, hotels, or tours. Do your research before leaving so you’re not winging it day by day—and paying higher prices from lack of foresight. Consider alternative routes to your destination city, and use consolidators to compare rates for airfare, hotels, and tours.
Now is an excellent time to head across the pond, so choose your dream destination (keep in mind not all European countries use the euro), and start planning a fabulous trip.

Photos from free sites.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Water makes the best family vacations

It’s hard to beat water for family getaways. Fortunately, there are many ways to plan a trip around water.
Houseboat on Cumberland Lake in Kentucky
Rent a houseboat. Two-thirds of U. S. states have at least one lake that is suitable for house boating.  Rentals are available from Alaska to Florida, from California to New York, and dozens of blue water spots in between.  Spacious floor plans and modern conveniences for entertaining, dining, and sleeping bring the best of lake living to your floating hotel. Now is the time to book your rental for next spring or summer.

White sandy beach at Gulf Shores, Alabama
Go beachcombing: Gulf Shores in Alabama and Rosemary Beach in Florida are ideal places to dig your toes into soft sand.  Both are located on the protected waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Anytime after hurricane season ends on November 1 will be lovely on the Gulf coast.
Gull Lake in northern Minnesota
Lounge on a lake: Door County on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, Grand View Lodge on Gull Lake in Minnesota, Lake Ouachita in Arkansas, and Lake Havasu in Arizona are all ideal places with plenty of fishing, boating, and sporting activities for all ages—plus golf, spas, and biking opportunities. There’s something for everyone at a lake setting.

Wave pool at Schlitterbahn Water Park in New Braunfels, Texas

Play at water parks: Schlitterbahn, the world’s biggest and best water park, is headquartered at New Braunfels, Texas but has expanded to other locations including Kansas City. Great Wolf Lodges in Texas, Washington, Ohio, and eight other states give guests a splashing good time—out of the hot sun--at their large indoor water parks. Check websites for operating times during off-season for outdoor parks, although indoor  water parks are popular year round.
Water slides on Carnival Magic cruise ship
Take a cruise: Newer cruise ships have their own water slides, ropes courses, climbing walls, ice skating rinks, and surf simulators—as well as plenty of pools and hot tubs. Special kids clubs keep youngsters entertained while mom and dad check out adults-only areas.

Shore excursions, especially at Caribbean ports, incorporate water into activities like snorkeling, kayaking, zip lining, or horseback riding. Rates are better if you can go during the shoulder season in fall and spring rather than holidays, spring break, or summer.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Haunt season is underway in southern cities

The temperatures are dropping, the leaves are changing and the screams are starting – all signs that “Haunt Season” is happening once again. The Haunted Attraction Association (HAA) has announced that hundreds of fright specialists from coast to coast have opened their doors of doom to offer thrills and chills to visitors now through the end of October.

 “This is the best time of year in my opinion,” said HAA President John Eslich.  “Our members have worked hard to elevate the guest experience; and with the introduction of new elements like virtual reality and blackout experiences at a number of attractions, I think people will feel emotions they’ve never felt before.”  

In advance of National Haunted House Day on October 14, here is a sampling of haunted attractions in southern states of the U.S.

Plano, Texas

Dark Hour Haunted House provides over 30,000 feet of terror to be explored by willing guests. The attraction includes three themed areas: Dominion of the Dead, Coven Manor, and Voodoo Vengeance, all of which have sets worthy of a Broadway production. Professional actors and strategic use of technology all combine to create a genuine theatrical experience in terror.

Nashville, Tennessee

Entering its sixth year of fear, Nashville Nightmare has brought together the top talent in the area to enter a new level of terror. New for 2016, the attraction is introducing Night Terrors Haunted House, an industrial horror complex, where Necro-Toxins are pumped into visitors’ systems as they travel through dark tunnels and sewers while encountering nightmarish creates.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The 13th Gate offers 13 distinct nightmarish realms where a visitor’s worst fears will come true. The attraction features a real snake-infested Louisiana Swamp, nightly voodoo shows, claustrophobic cellars, hidden subterranean passages and a prehistoric ice cave and much more, all seamlessly woven together to create one haunting experience. From crawling through a crematory oven and an old hearse to being lost in dark underground tunnels, this 40,000 square foot haunted house is not recommended for the faint of heart.

More Haunts in the South:

Creepy Hollow Haunted House, Rosharon, Texas

Derailed Haunted House, Ramer, Tennessee

Mountain Mayhem, Whitesburg, Kentucky

Sinister Tombs Haunted House, Eastview, Kentucky

Tormented Nightmares, Black Mountain, North Carolina

Granville Haunt Farm, Oxford, North Carolina

Dark Woods Haunted House, Natchitoches, Louisiana

Lake Hickory Haunts, Hickory, North Carolina

Information courtesy of Daylyn Weppner, Lou Hammond Group. Photos from Haunted Attraction Association

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tromso, Norway--city of contrasts

Can you imagine a city located 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle being called “Mediterranean of Scandinavia”? Or “Paris of the Arctic”?
Tromso, Norway is surprisingly beautiful and vibrant--with a
somewhat temperate climate.
Tromso, Norway has been tagged with those monikers in addition to the understandable title of “Gateway to the Arctic.”

When you visit Tromso you’ll discover why all of those names fit the city. It has a vibrant cultural scene with an international population thanks to universities and research facilities. Tromso is a cultural center for the region and hosts numerous film and music festivals each year. It’s also one of the best places to see Aurora Borealis, attracting people who come to witness a Northern Lights spectacle between mid-August and late April.
The Tromso Bridge is a notable landmark connecting the continental
and island sections of the city.
Despite being located in a rugged polar landscape, Gulf currents keep the climate more moderate than you’d expect. Water temperatures rarely reach 60 degrees F, but people still go to the beaches. Brrr.

Partly located on the small island of Tromsoya, the city is actually larger than the country of Luxemburg. There is also a continental part of Tromso that is only two hours from Finland, a country with a considerably colder climate.
Architecture of Tromso

Tromso is known for its large concentration of historic wooden houses, including Tromso Cathedral, built in 1861, Norway’s only wooden cathedral and the most northerly Protestant church in the world. The oldest house in Tromso dates to 1789. After 1904 wood houses were banned, probably in reaction to a large fire the same year in Alesund that destroyed more than 800 wooden buildings.
The Arctic Cathedral is a glorious
contemporary structure showcasing
an architecturally interesting design.
These wood buildings contrast with the stunning ultra-modern Arctic Cathedral, built in 1965. This famous landmark features 11 graceful descending triangles of glass, steel, and concrete with a design inspired by mountains, fish racks, icebergs, and tents of the Sami people (indigenous tribes). A beautiful stained glass window depicting the second coming of Christ was added in 1972. It’s a fitting religious symbol with a purpose because the original window let in so much light people had to wear sunglasses inside! 

More to see
We rode the cable car to a
mountain ledge for stunning
views of the city and landscape.
The Fjelheise Cable Car offers an exhilarating four-minute ride to the top of Mt. Storsteinen (means "big rock") to a mountain ledge. When you disembark, you’ll see dramatic 360-degree views of Tromso, Tomseya Island, and the surrounding mountains, which reach 6,000 feet altitude and are covered with snow even in summer. That may be why the city is regarded as the birthplace of modern skiing.

Other interesting facts: Tromso is home to the world’s northernmost mosque and the seat of the world’s northernmost Catholic bishop. Norway’s oldest cinema, Verdensteatret, is still in use in Tromso and hosts an international film festival each fall. The Polar Museum, located in a restored 1837 customs house, pays tribute to Tromso’s historical role as a launching point for numerous Arctic expeditions. It was the only city in northern Norway that totally avoided war damage during World War II.
Flowers galore

Even in the Arctic, flowers bloom in a lovely botanic setting.
One of the biggest surprises was the Arctic Botanic Garden, within walking distance of the ship’s dock. There Larry and I found hundreds of varieties of Arctic plants, many of them in full bloom. Flowers like tulips, irises, poppies, and a rare variety of ranunculus found only in Skagland beautifully displayed all colors of the rainbow. Native rock was used for foot paths and to create different levels with plenty of places to stop and enjoy this lovely touch of summer.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Saturday, October 1, 2016

Everything is made of ice in these Norwegian bars

Dressed for cold in the
Arctic Ice Bar

One of the delights we discovered in Norway was visiting an ice bar. We had so much fun that we went two times, once in Honningsvag and again on the Lofoten Islands. These extreme northern destinations (above the Arctic Circle) were the perfect setting for our chilling experiences.
Everything in an ice bar is made of ice—yes, everything. Walls, tables, chairs, even drinking glasses are all crystal-clear frozen water.  It’s amazing to think that 123 metric tons of ice from local lakes was used to create this unusually beautiful scene.

Fire and ice
Our first venture into the world of ice was in Honningsvag. This city is called Gateway to the North Cape, Europe’s northernmost tip, which we went to visit. Unfortunately the North Cape, or Nordkapp, was fogged in during our visit, and we couldn’t see the splendidly rugged cliffs that it is known for.
Inside the igloo
Back in town, we spied the Arctic Ice Bar. For about $16 each we were welcomed into a dimly lit room filled with sparkling ice formations. Upon entering, we were each given a thick, hooded silver, insulated cape that covered most of the body. Gloves are on your own, and thankfully, I had a pair with me.
 We walked gingerly at first, wary of slipping on the ice. But soon we got used to the surroundings enough and headed to the bar for the first of our two included non-alcoholic drinks.

Ice sculptures at Magic Ice
Bar and Gallery
Inside there were several bar areas where people could sit down on ice benches (some covered in fur for warmth) and lounge beside tables made of ice. A pseudo fireplace (made of ice) glowed with a reddish light. I scrambled into an igloo and reclined on a fur-covered sleigh for photo opportunities. All this surrounded a horseshoe-shaped bar with a perky young lady serving drinks (30-minute shifts, she said).

At the Magic Ice Bar and Gallery, we were treated to a modern look at the history of Lofoten fishing villages via dozens of ice sculptures depicting symbols relevant to life in Norway. Again, guests were dressed i a warm capes, and everything in the ice bar was made of ice including bar, drinking glasses, tables, and sculptures.
Ice sculpture of Vikings
Aptly called a gallery, the bar featured colored lights illuminating figures of birds, Vikings, ships, fishermen, and more. This place was a marvelous maze of ice halls and displays dramatically presenting the story of traditional fishing life. Enhanced with constantly changing lights, sounds, and music, the striking ice creations were a joy to behold. 
Having a drink in the ice bar

Then there was the berry wine—in an ice glass, of course--topping off the fun experience of noshing in a Norwegian ice bar. A novelty, for sure, but definitely good times.
Photos by Larry Burmeier and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Texas pride starts young

There’s a popular bumper sticker on cars in Texas: I wasn’t born here, but I got here as soon as I could.
Don’t laugh! That’s how most Texans feel about their state. The pride is home-grown and starts early for those who were lucky enough arrive in the Lone Star State as children. A Texas Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Texan Kids was created to share this (justified!) pride and reinforce the diversity encompassed within this large state.

Author Tania McCartney and illustrator Tina Snerling introduce elementary-aged readers to Texas children representing a blend of cultures and races. Through the activities of Luis, Alexis, Christopher, Ethan, and Mia, readers learn about celebrations, traditions, and events that have become part of everyday life—not only for the featured children but also for themselves.
Serling’s delightful drawings of this hodge-podge of childhood experiences showcase children at home, school, and play while enjoying memorable snippets of life.

Presented in a month-by-month format, the book includes hundreds of dates, places, and activities that have become traditions for Texas children, including many ethnic celebrations that are now embraced on a Texan calendar such as the Korean Festival of Lanterns, Cinco de Mayo, and Kwanzaa.
Young readers will learn about outstanding destinations including Johnson Space Center, San Antonio River Walk and the Alamo, Texas Hill Country, Big Bend National Park, and the Gulf coast. They’ll find out more about Texas rodeos, Austin’s Pecan Street Festival, cowboy boots, bluebonnets, Tex-Mex food, and the State Fair in Dallas. Texas is such a large state that it might be hard to comprehend the variety of its landscapes without—beaches, woods, canyons, plains, and even mountains—so the illustrations provide cute visuals.

If your child is a Texan, he or she will recognize many of the things covered in the book. If your child doesn’t know much about the state, this book (available on Amazon) is a good introduction to the diversity found there.

Images from free sources and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Flying to Mexico is easier now

Deep sea fishing at Los Cabos
Thinking about a vacation in Mexico? Lounging on the beaches of Cancun or Cozumel? Deep sea fishing off the coast of Puerto Vallarta or Los Cabos? If you wait until November, you’ll have an easier time booking a flight.
Since August 2016, most restrictions on flights between the United States and Mexico have been lifted. That means airlines from both countries are able to fly whatever routes they want whenever they want. Airlines can set their own prices, too, according to Thomas Engle, State Department deputy assistant secretary for transportation.

Increased competition should result in lower airfares—and especially in lower taxes that often inflate the price of a ticket up to 30 percent.
New routes and more frequent flights to Mexico
American, Delta, and Southwest will offer new flights across the border later this year. United will follow if demand proves sufficient. This follows a December agreement between U.S. and Mexico in which both countries agreed to open their aviation markets to each others’ carriers instead of limiting specific routes to two or three airlines from each country.

Mexico is a preferred destination
for U.S. travelers.
Regulations are still in place for the number of takeoffs and landings at the busy international airport in Mexico City. But that won’t impact the new routes from U. S. airlines which are mostly heading to resort towns in Mexico.
Southwest has already announced daily flights starting on December 4 from Los Angeles to Cancun, Los Cabos, and Puerto Vallarta. American Airlines will start service on November 4 From Los Angeles to Cancun and to Puerto Vallarta on November 15.

Hotel strip coastline of Cancun, on the famed
Yucatan peninsula of Mexico
The intention of the relaxed agreement is to ease travel for Americans and increase Mexican tourism to the U.S. “We think it will help drive economic growth in sectors well beyond aviation, including tourism and manufacturing,” Engle says.
Images from free photo sites.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Butchart Gardens--a blooming creation

Every path leads to another spectacular view.  It’s Fantasyland for the horticulturist and Wonderworld for the masses. Famed Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, is a blue-ribbon showplace in one of the loveliest corners of the world.
Overview of one section of Butchart Gardens
Visitors marvel at the variety and harmony achieved by co-mingling easily recognizable flowers like dainty purple daisies and ruffled pink geraniums with unusual specimens such as teardrop fuchsia and delicate drooping trout lily.  Since passing the century mark in 2004, privately owned Butchart Gardens has featured more spectacular scenes than ever within its 55 acres. 

Never-ending beauty

With different plants in bloom 46 weeks of the year, each season (The Gardens counts five seasons—spring, summer, autumn, Christmas, and winter) brings new items of beauty and interest for the public’s pleasure.  Fifty full time gardeners and additional part time staff work in 26 greenhouses year round to supply The Gardens with the best possible plant specimens.

Twelve thousand tulip bulbs are imported annually from Holland to provide a dramatic prelude to spring. One and a half million annuals grown on-site plus flowering trees and shrubs fill beds and lawns with a brilliant display of shapes, textures, and colors. 

Just one of the outstanding garden features in Butchart Gardens
Summer is nirvana for plant lovers.  Not only are flowers blooming in myriad hues, but also thousands of colored lights transform each night into a glowing floral delight, casting shadows and a magical luster on trees and shrubs. On Saturday evenings fireworks light up the sky, and guest artists perform on the Concert Lawn. 

Colors peak in mid-October with flaming red and russet maples and 53 varieties of chrysanthemums leading the autumn parade.  As the blooming season winds down, guests enjoy greenhouse tours in November.

The Twelve Days of Christmas displays are crowd pleasers every year, and visitors enjoy ice skating on the outdoor rink during the winter.  Background shrubs take center stage while flowering plants are dormant. The family home on the estate was christened “Benvenuto,” Italian for “Welcome,” and during the winter it is open for tours showcasing memorabilia that chronicle development of The Gardens. 

In the beginning

In 1904 Jennie Butchart, wife of successful cement manufacturer Robert Butchart, began to beautify an abandoned limestone quarry near the family home. Originally, the quarry was expected to support the cement factory Butchart built in 1898 on Tod Inlet.  However, the quarry was soon exhausted, leaving an ugly, empty gravel pit.
We captured our reflection in this amazing ball.
As a diversion, Jennie set about transforming this bleak sight.  Under her personal supervision, top soil was brought in by horse and cart, and other improvements were made.  Trees, shrubs, and flowers planted under her watchful eye eventually took shape as the Sunken Garden.

Friends and neighbors flocked to see Jennie’s beautiful gardens, and visitors traveling to Vancouver Island spread the word about the floral displays.  During the 1920’s more than fifty thousand people admired Jennie’s creation, and it began to take on a life of its own.  As the concrete business declined, Jennie established a viable business by offering guided tours with a cup of tea, an idea that proved popular with both locals and visitors.

Since Jennie’s husband Robert collected ornamental birds from all over the world and kept live ducks and peacocks, many elaborate birdhouses were stationed throughout the gardens.  The Butcharts incorporated landscaping visions from their world travels in the form of a Japanese Garden on the sea-side of their home and later an Italian Garden and a Rose Garden. 

Traditional hospitality is still evident during High Tea in The Dining Room Restaurant when fruit and yogurt as well as a generous selection of tea sandwiches and homemade sweets are served.

When you stroll on well-maintained paths meandering through several distinct garden sections and expansive lawns or rest beside one of the many cooling water features, you’re experiencing the result of more than a century of pride and caring from Butchart family members.

Getting there: Butchart Gardens is located on Vancouver Island, 14 miles north of Victoria and 12.5 miles south of the Vancouver-Victoria ferry terminal at Swartz Bay. Ferries are also available from several points in Washington, or you can arrive by plane or boat. Allow at least three hours to absorb the elegance of Butchart Gardens.

Photos by Larry Burmeier


Friday, August 26, 2016

National park book: Lassoing the Sun by Mark Woods

Sometimes one’s best plans go awry. For journalist MarkWoods, his plan to visit at least one national park a month for a year turned into something very different from the winning grant proposal he had submitted for the Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship.
In this year of celebrating the National ParkService centennial, during which a plethora of articles and books have been written about the soul and sanctity of America’s national parks, Woods’ book Lassoing the Sun follows a different path. It is a beautifully written tribute to memories, family, and the enduring power of natural surroundings to heal hurts of the heart.

After receiving the $75,000 award, Woods planned to spend his year reliving childhood summers during which his parents piled the three children of their family into a station wagon and created vivid memories of mountains, woods, and fireflies while camping in Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and other national parks. He planned to describe the present state of his chosen parks and how these special places are being cared for and adapted to the 21st century. But, as the year progressed, the book morphed into much more than reminiscing and re-exploring sights he remembered from those early years.

Shortly after starting this journey, Wood’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and given a few months to live. So, while writing about the future of national parks, Woods interwove the documentary parts with his personal saga of dealing with death and change. Feeling sad and lost often during that year, each of the 15 parks he visited helped him remember the awe he first felt in the wilderness. It’s a beautifully written story of what we miss and what remains as life and death connect in the most empowering way in nature.

Yellowstone National Park
Published by St. Martin’s Press in New York (available on Amazon for under $18), Woods’ account of his year in America’s national parks is a heartfelt memoir set against the backdrop of “America’s best idea.”  Lassoing the Sun presents unique insights into each park visited, not all of them the most spectacular or best known.

Yosemite National Park
Woods started with Acadia National Park in January and sat atop Cadillac Mountain to welcome the new year. In February he visited his mother’s favorite, Saguaro National Park. These are followed by Grand Canyon, Dry Tortugas, Yellowstone, Gateway National Recreation Area (in the throes of a big city), Yosemite, Flight 93 National Memorial, Olympic National Park, and finally Haleakala National Park in Hawaii.

Woods describes the unique challenges of each park and the stirring memories that he leaves behind for the next generation as his iPad toting daughter also learns to appreciate the emotional power of the parks.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Southwest Wyoming is home to wild horses, rare desert elk, and a national wildlife refuge

Fall is simply fabulous in Southwest Wyoming’s Sweetwater County. Grab  your camera—anything from your smartphone to a camera with interchangeable lenses-- and take off on a photo safari.
Sand dune adventure in Sweetwater County, Wyoming
Sweetwater County, located halfway between Yellowstone and Canyonlands National Parks in southwest Wyoming, is home to 10,500 square miles of pure, high desert adventure. Known as “Flaming Gorge Country” the area is characterized by the 91-square-mile Flaming Gorge Lake, the famed Green River, expansive deserts and rugged mountains.

Here are just a few of the adventures that will keep your camera clicking.
Herds of wild horses still roam in Southwest Wyoming.
Wild Horses
The wild horse herds that make their home in Sweetwater County prove that the spirit of the American West is still alive and well in this part of Wyoming. These majestic creatures wander through the high desert landscapes of Sweetwater County in search of food, water, shelter and a place to roam free. The Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop is the best way to see the horses in their natural habitat, and early morning or dusk are prime viewing times.

Plan on at least 1.5 hours for the tour, and since there are some gravel roads to traverse, a high-clearance vehicle is recommended, along with a full tank of gas, a spare tire and plenty of drinking water. There are scenic overlooks along the way to help capture the perfect Kodak moment with these mustangs. Download the Wild Horse Brochure to learn more.

Rare Desert Elk
The Red Desert of Sweetwater County supports an abundance of wildlife, despite its scarcity of water and vegetation. The largest migratory herd of pronghorn antelope in the lower 48 states and a rare desert elk herd, said to be the world's largest, live in the desert of Sweetwater County. The best place to catch a glimpse of these elusive elk is in the area surrounding Killpecker Sand Dunes. Those who have their own ATVs can also spend extra time frolicking in the sugary sands of the second-largest active sand dune field in the world.
Fishing is a favorite sport in Sweetwater County, Wyoming.
Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge
Seedskadee encompasses more than 27,000 acres that protects a host of different varieties of wildlife. This corridor of the Green River is an important migration route and nesting area for a wide variety of migratory waterfowl and passerine bird species. The refuge is also home to big game, small mammals and tiny insects.

Formerly, this area was used by nomadic Indian tribes, fur trappers and early pioneers. In fact, the Oregon and Mormon Trails both cross the refuge, and ruts of these trails are still carved into the land today. It’s just one of the areas in Sweetwater County where visitors can view more miles of still-visible pioneer trails than anyplace else in the country.

Friends enjoy kayaking when not spotting wildlife.
More to do
The opportunity to view wildlife in their natural habitat entices many visitors to Sweetwater County, but beyond that you can choose to go camping, hiking, biking, fishing, golfing, sightseeing, hunting dinosaurs, shopping,  or just getting away.

A perfect place to explore American history, Sweetwater County is also home to petroglyphs, pioneer trails, and historical museums. The Rock Springs-Sweetwater County airport was recently ranked 37th on a list of 322 airports from around the country by

For more on planning a fall trip to Sweetwater County, visit

Information and photos courtesy of Gaylene Ore, Ore Communications.