Friday, April 21, 2017

The mountains of Olympic National Park


After a day in the rain forest, it was time to head to the mountains. We drove the 18-mile curvy road to Hurricane Ridge, the most popular scenic route in Olympic National Park and the easiest access to the mountains.
Hiking to Sunrise Point at Olympic National Park
Near the Hurricane Hill Visitor Center, a short uphill trail takes visitors to Sunrise Point. At an elevation of more than 5200 feet, spectacular views of wildflowers and mountains whetted our tastes for more.
Amazing views at Sunrise Point, even with a haze on the mountains.

Beverly and Deb start the hike.
Then it was time to tackle the Hurricane Hill hike. Although the path is paved at the start (first half mile is wheelchair accessible), the gain of 700 feet in elevation meant there was a lot of uphill trekking. This hike (3.2 miles round-trip) leads to the highest point in the park at 5757 feet.
As the path took us to the tree line, windblown fir and pine trees were the norm. Tall, straight trees stood out in this tangle of vegetation. Massive roots were splayed in all directions, and branches overlapped each other on the side away from the wind. Vegetation along the way included flowers like bunch berry, Scottish bells, lily of the valley, and violets.

Past the tree line, switchbacks were common on the steep incline toward the summit. Stopping to take photos allowed us to catch our breath, too.
So much to see and photograph
on the Hurricane Hill trail
Although the day was mostly sunny with temps in the 60s and we could see the ocean and nearby city of Port Angeles, a light haze restricted our views at the top. On a really clear day it’s possible to see 360 degree views that include Olympus Mountains, Vancouver Island, Cascade Range, Seattle, and Mt. Rainier.

For a late lunch we happened upon Granny’s, a small local eatery on Hwy.101, where the salads were delicious. We then drove along Crescent Lake, watching it ripple in the breeze on the way to the Sol Duc area.
Salmon Cascades where salmon run in the summer
Just past the town of Fairholme, we turned onto Sol Duc River Hot Springs Road, part of Olympic Discovery Route. The road parallels Sol Duc River, one of the longest in Olympic National Park, and the only river with salmon runs in the summer. Although our September visit was a little late, we stopped at Salmon Cascades and imagined what this phenomenon might have looked like.

Three distinct sections of Sol Duc Falls
A well-marked trail winds through a forest filled with lush ferns and mosses to Sol Duc Falls, one of the best in the park. We could hear torrents of water pounding through a chasm below long before we could see the waterfall.
A bridge over the river provided a great view of the stunning triple fall. Three powerful streams of water cascade over the rock face, searching for paths of least resistance and cutting deeper as the water washes away any debris in its path.

The views are simply amazing in Olympic National Park.
Our day in the mountains had lasted 12 hours and included almost 10 miles of hiking, but we looked forward to the next day of exploring the last of the three ecosystems, the coast.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

New South Terminal opens at Austin airport


Very soon I hope to get my first look at the new South Terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, which opened its gates on April 13 with a flight by Allegiant. One of the notable feature of this terminal is the outdoor patio that passengers can visit after check-in. Along with shaded couches and chairs, food trucks will provide refreshments on a rotating basis. “It’s all about the Austin experience,” said Jeff Pearse, CEO of LoneStar Airport Holdings.
Music and food are two distinct "Austin" factors that
ABIA has incorporated into its design.
This terminal has a separate entrance from the Barbara Jordan Terminal, and shuttles will take travelers from one to the other as needed. The 30,000 square foot terminal was an Air Force base building before being renovated in this $12million project.

Allegiant was the first airline
to use the new South Terminal.
“We’re very excited for our move to the brand new South Terminal in Austin,” said Lukas Johnson, Allegiant senior vice president of commercial. “This move to the South Terminal will allow Allegiant travelers in Austin to have a more accessible and convenient travel experience.” The company will also begin two new nonstop routes just in time for summer travel plans.

In addition to Allegiant moving to the new terminal, other carriers will have the opportunity to use the South Terminal to better service Austin travelers. Via Air plans to offer service from Austin to Missouri starting in June, and Sun Country will begin service later in the summer.
The new terminal will have eight check-in counters, two self-service machines, baggage claim area, security checkpoint and three gate areas. It will feature ground-level boarding and an accessible pet area outside.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
Although my next trip is on one of America’s “legacy” airlines, I hope to get a look at the expansion and perhaps even see a difference in traffic in the established terminal.

Photos from Allegiant and free sources


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Rainforest in Olympic National Park


Mountains, seashore, and rainforest.
Olympic National Park consists of three different ecosystems.
 It’s hard to imagine that one park can encompass such geographical diversity, but that’s what attracts visitors to Olympic National Park in Washington. This diversity has led to Olympic also being designated as both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations.

Hiking through diverse landscapes is a prime activity in Olympic.
Because the park is spread over nearly one million acres and no roads cross the park, traveling to different parts takes time and planning. Within a couple of days, however, Larry and I and our friend Deb attempted to discover Olympic’s rugged, glacier-capped mountains, lush old-growth rain forests, and wild, offbeat beaches.
Madison Falls was an easy hike.
Our first full day in the park in September dawned cloudy and overcast. So we decided to wait for a sunny day to visit iconic Hurricane Ridge and opted instead to explore rain forests in the Crescent Lake area.

First, we hiked the Madison Falls trail on Olympic Hot Springs Road that runs along the Elwha River. It’s a short trek on an accessible path to a tall, slender fall, the first of many we would see in the park. Trail guides identify trees and ferns, so we looked for different varieties of flora—and stopped to take photos of many.
Hiking to Marymere Falls took us
through lush vegetation.
Then we hiked the nature trail to Marymere Falls, a popular two-mile round-trip trek through a pristine lowland forest. Marymere is the result of Falls Creek plummeting through a narrow cut before hitting the cliff face and fanning out in an impressive flow. Along the way, plants in every imaginable shade of green lined the path.

Green is the color of the day along
 hiking trails in the rain forest.
The rain caught up with us (it is a rain forest, after all) as we hiked downhill to a small beach at the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Salt Creek County Park. Rocks and roots were slippery because of the persistent light rain, but we continued walking carefully through thick forests filled with ferns, mushrooms, and lichens. The smell of dampness pervaded the air in this dark understory of plant life.
Later that evening we went back to Lake CrescentLodge, a fine accommodation overlooking the lake. For dinner we ordered salmon and elk dishes typical of this part of the country. Lights from the restaurant gleamed brightly through clear skies as darkness settled on the lake and shore—a fine ending to a busy day.

Overlooking Crescent Lake, a scenic spot in Olympic National Park.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
 

 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Camping for Earth Day? Keep it green.


Earth Day is just around the corner—April 22--reminding us to be good to our planet and take time to reconnect with Mother Nature. Many people are dusting off their tents and getting ready to head into the great outdoors.  This year during Earth Day, campers are encouraged to live green and follow the tips below to make sure their outdoor camping getaway is also eco-friendly.

Plan ahead to achieve no trace camping: The principle behind no trace camping is to leave nothing behind – what some people refer to as “pack it in, pack it out.” This requires planning ahead for things like extra bags to pack garbage away to be thrown out later.

Bring real dishes: Don’t fall into the trap of buying paper plates and silverware.  Take time to pack real dishes or reusable dining gear that you can bring home with you after your trip. 

Buy used camping gear: Recycle in a new way this trip. If you find you’re missing a piece of gear, consider buying it used (extra bonus: you’ll probably save some money)

Pick a site nearby: Cut car emissions by choosing a nearby destination. Thousand Trails and Encore have more than 180 campgrounds to choose from across the country. They are guaranteed to have one to fit your needs.
Lake Conroe is ideal for boaters.

Some of the most popular destinations for nature lovers include:

Lake Conroe Camping Resort: Located just outside of Houston, this campground is a paradise for water lovers with an onsite marina. Bring your boat or rent one there for plenty of family fun.

Indoor swimming is available at
Mt. Hood Village Resort
Mt. Hood Village Resort: If mountains and forests call to you then take a trip just outside Portland to Mt. Hood Village Resort. Opened in 1984, this location is perfect for large family gatherings, retreats of all kinds, or a quiet romantic weekend getaway in the mountains.

Outstanding scenery is a draw
for Yosemite Lakes Resort.
Yosemite Lakes Resort: Located adjacent to one of the nation’s most popular national parks, this resort has a little something for everyone, from a roaring stream and majestic mountains to a hauntingly beautiful forest. The South Fork of the Tuolumne River runs through the preserve making it ideal for swimming, fishing and panning for gold.

Information and photos courtesy of RJ Bruce, representing Thousand Trailsand Encore,

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Swap Disney for a dude ranch family vacation


Are your kids begging for a Disney vacation?  But all you can think about are long lines, overcrowded parks, and high expenses?  

While amusement and theme parks are an easy solution for family vacations, there are other magical travel options that can offer exposure to new activities, interaction with nature, and discovery of culture and history outside of most families’ normal comfort zones.

As the original all-inclusive destination for families, a dude or guest ranch guarantees plenty of family bonding time creating memories that will last a lifetime. Dude ranches give families the opportunity to challenge their bodies, minds and spirits in some of the most breathtaking areas in the U.S., with a myriad of outdoor adventures such as rock climbing, cattle roping, horseback riding, zip lines, ATV riding and whitewater rafting.

Night time excitement at A Bar A Guest Ranch in Wyoming
Check out these five dude ranches and see why they are great alternatives to Disney:

Explore and play.
Located along the banks of the North Platte River in the heart of southern Wyoming’s Medicine Bow Mountains, A Bar A Guest Ranch is one of the oldest and largest dude ranches in the country, with nearly 100,000 acres for guests to explore. The ranch is a paradise for children, with activities including horseback riding, fishing, soccer, arts and crafts, music and drama, swimming, tennis, and educational games, such as cork boat and sack races. Teenagers enjoy tubing down the river and golf before enjoying a family dinner cooked outside over an open fire.  

Reconnect with nature on horseback 
Rustic yet replete with modern amenities, Rainbow Trout Ranch caters to children of all ages. Located near several historic Spanish land grants in Antonito, Colorado, Rainbow Trout is surrounded by the spectacular San Juan Mountains. Ride horses, catch trout, hike to an overlook, and relax. Kids ages six and older – known on the ranch as “Cowpokes” – are given their own horse for the week, and “Buckaroos” – children ages three to five – are led on short rides by ranch counselors.

Having fun together is important at Drowsy Water Ranch in Colorado
Learn to work as a team 
Drowsy Water Ranch, situated 90 miles west of Denver, Colo., has programs for children from infants to teenagers, along with plenty of activities for parents and grandparents. Ditch technology for outside activities like obstacle courses, zip lining, swimming, hiking, archery and rafting. Then head to the main lodge for games, browsing the library or visiting with new friends.

Relax, rejuvenate and reconnect in style 


Spectacular scenery, outdoor
adventures, and upscale
accommodations await families
in Mountain Sky Guest Ranch.
Mountain Sky Guest Ranch sits on over 10,000 operational acres of unspoiled wilderness in the heart of Yellowstone Country in Emigrant, Montana. The ranch combines outdoor adventures for the entire family and the comforts of an upscale resort in the region’s most spectacular location. Families enjoy breathtaking views and fine dining in a luxury environment. From a crisp morning hike to rafting down the Yellowstone River to horseback rides through acres of meadows, there’s something for everyone. End the day with a mealtime horseback ride, where you’ll be treated to tasty barbecue, learn to dance with the wranglers, and sing western songs around the campfire. 

One-of-a-kind fishing adventures

4UR Ranch provides an all-inclusive family vacation adventure in Mineral County, Colorado. Try your hand at fly fishing with access to some of the finest waters around, including a private tailwater trout stream, trophy ponds, and both sides of the legendary Rio Grande River. The ranch’s staff sees to the kids’ needs and adventures while the parents are hiking, horseback riding, or fishing. From nature explorations, to soaking in the hot springs, to a round of golf at nearby Rio Grande Club – there’s plenty of adventure to suit everyone.

Information and photos courtesy of Sara Beth Doherty, Dude Ranchers’ Association

 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Art (and Fun) of Stacking Rocks

I watched Michael Grab, an artist from Boulder, Colorado, demonstrate his rock stacking technique at the Llano Earth Art Fest. If you missed this unique Texas event earlier in March, plan to attend next year.

Don't know much about rock stacking?

Find out about this ancient activity--including the World Rock Stacking Championship--that is becoming one of man's newest diversions in my article for Texas Highways magazine.
http://www.texashighways.com/outdoors/item/8413-the-art-and-fun-of-stacking-rocks

Requiring a combination of discipline, creativity, and acute awareness of variations in natural objects, the activity is fun and challenging for amateurs and has developed into a profession for the country's most talented practitioners. The festival includes opportunities for all ages to try building their own rock structures--and to learn more about the natural resources of the area.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Two must-see neighborhoods in Miami


Miami, Florida is known for white sand beaches and high-profile celebrities with fabulously elegant homes. But there’s much more to see and do in this waterfront city. On a recent trip we discovered two intriguing neighborhoods that provide glimpses into very different cultures.
WynwoodArts District is a unique, funky area in midtown Miami. More than 70 art galleries, antique shops, bars and restaurants attract both locals and visitors. But what makes it one of the most creative communities in the U.S. is dozens of graffiti murals spray-painted on the walls of buildings. The result is one of the largest open-air street art installations in the world.

Neglected, old warehouses in the former manufacturing district of Miami were taken over by developers when factories closed. These were transformed into numerous art complexes—a true museum of cutting-edge painted walls.
These creations are not the result of teen-age mischief; they are truly artistic paintings done by hand with ordinary spray paint cans. Most have positive messages or bold geometric designs. All are fun to look at and enjoy.

With the introduction of Second Saturday Art Walk and the arrival of the Art Basel fair in 2002, Wynwood has seen unexpected growth in a relatively short time. Locals and visitors looking for a hip place to go for nightlife have discovered this reinvented section of the city.
Miami’sLittle Havana is a vibrant Spanish neighborhood that is home to Cuban immigrants (more than 300,000 people migrated to Miami in the 1980s) and others from Central and South America. It’s a community where everyone speaks Spanish, and most of the inhabitants never learn English.

Little Havana is considered the epicenter of Cuban culture and heritage in the U.S. That distinct character brings in tourists, especially during annual festivals like Calle Ocho Festival or Cultural Fridays, The Three Kings Parade, and Viernes Culturales.
Since the district is famous for old-world cigar shops, we visited the Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company, one of the oldest cigar factories in the city, where we watched cigars being hand-rolled. Shops along the main street are filled with the aroma of strong Cuban coffee, which many offer free of charge to visitors. Other quaint shops include botanicas—folk medicine stores.

A famous landmark is Domino Park (Maximo Gomez Park), the heart of Cubans’ social gathering. People come daily to play dominoes and discuss anything on their minds.
Little Havana is a popular place to go for Cuban food, cultural activities, and live shows. Monuments and murals bring to life the history of Cuba, including the Bay of Pigs. Visitors can take guided walking tours or tours that focus on food for a delicious taste of Miami.

Don’t miss either of these neighborhoods when visiting Miami.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Preferred seating now in economy class


Airlines have a longstanding tradition of charging extra for better seats and more service.  Want to be pampered? Pay up, and sit in business or first class. Now that practice is common even in coach.

Preferred seating

These seats can improve your flying experience—if you’re willing to pay the extra cost.

Alaska Airlines has launched its preferred seating category, which gives you access to the bulkhead and exit row. That also comes with a free drink and priority boarding. It starts at $15, but higher-tier loyalty members get the first chance to reserve those seats.

Singapore Airlines, which tends to focus on long haul flights and high-paying premium passengers, has launched its premium economy class. The seat pitch—or the space in between seat backs—is a more comfortable 38 inches compared to a standard 32, and it comes with a leg-rest, champagne, and in-flight meals that you can pre-order.

Other airlines are expanding existing premium products. Lufthansa has installed premium economy on half of its long-haul fleet. Delta and United also sell upgraded economy seats, some of which aren’t really better than the others—they just might be closer to the front allowing for quicker exit on landing.

Is the seat worth the extra cost?

Airlines make billions of dollars each year in ancillary fees, and the preferred seat option is one of the most profitable programs. But preferred seating can mean different things on different airlines, and it’s sometimes hard to tell if it’s worth the extra dollars.

A preferred seat isn’t necessarily a window or an aisle seat. Middle seats can be preferred if they’re near the front of the plane. 

It’s all about supply and demand. On some flights, the better seats will be gobbled up by business travelers, but the airlines then block off seats that aren’t necessarily better, call them “preferred,” and charge an additional fee.

They know that most fliers will feel pressured into paying extra to choose their seats rather than being assigned to the last row in the airplane. Also, families who can’t find adjacent seats when they book their tickets end up paying more to guarantee seats together. Travelers who don’t want to pay to check their bags (another ancillary fee), might choose to pay the fee for early boarding, just to get space in the overhead bins.

Unfortunately, these fees aren’t going away. It’s too profitable for the airlines. So remember to account for any upgrades when comparing costs for a flight. It’s all about the bottom line—for the airline and for the traveler.

Photos from free sources

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Parasailing above the sea in Maui


Dangling 800 feet above the ocean in a sling chair didn’t appeal to my husband, but after learning we could go tandem, he agreed to try parasailing.  We arrived at Mala wharf at Lahaina Harbor on Maui wearing bathing suits (although you probably won’t get wet) and climbed aboard a high tech speed boat to motor into open water of the Pacific Ocean.

Once sufficiently out in the water, we donned life vests, positioned ourselves on the slight seats, and strapped in. Unlike the time I parasailed by lifting off directly from the beach in Mexico, we launched effortlessly from the boat by a hydraulic winch system on deck.   


Slowly, as the attached cable was released and the colorful parachute inflated, we rose higher and higher, conscious of wind and sun on our bodies.  Soon, views of white, fluffy clouds above and the blue sea below rippling from our boat’s foaming wake filled our senses. It was pure pleasure!

It’s eerily quiet and peaceful when you’re drifting in the air over the ocean, feeling far away from overcrowded resorts.  That’s the lure of parasailing: an opportunity to become part of the natural environment while viewing ocean scenes from a lofty perspective. 


Riders can go alone (must weigh at least 130 pounds), in pairs, or triple (combined weight cannot exceed 400 pounds). Rides soar either 800 feet (38 stories) or 1200 feet (50 stories) high, depending on choice and weather conditions.  Children 6 to 12 years of age must ride with a parent or guardian. Time in the air is about eight to ten minutes, and if you’re game the crew will thrill you with a “touch ‘n’ go,” where they slow the boat down and allow your toes to skim the water’s surface before rising again.

Even though we took our own pictures while floating above the sea, the crew was also busy recording our adventure. Their included photos perfectly captured the broad smiles that covered both our faces and the feeling of pure exhilaration during this fun and exciting adventure in paradise.

Parasail Ka-anapali
http://www.westmauiparasail.com
Mala Harbor
Lahaina, Hawaii (Maui)

 

 

 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Ocean simulator attracts cruisers to Royal Caribbean ships


When booking a cruise, many people never consider an inside cabin even though those are far less expensive than cabins with windows or balconies. Too confining, they say, and you never know what’s happening when you can’t see outside.
RoyalCaribbean has created a way to keep guests in the know even when they are bunking in an inside cabin. Navigator of the Seas was their first ship for which certain interior cabins have a simulator wall called a virtual balcony. This impressive innovation was rolled out in 2014 and has been added to other ships in the Royal Caribbean line since then.

The virtual balcony is really an 80-inch projection LED screen recessed into the wall that shows real-time images of the sky and ocean taken elsewhere on the ship. To make it more realistic, you’ll also hear sounds of the ocean or sounds from the dock when the ship is in port.
Passengers say it feels like you’re looking out a large window and allows you to enjoy the view just like passengers who actually have outside access. In fact, the wall has curtains, just as an actual window would. The best part is you can turn the picture and sound on or off, as you please, which is handy because the camera operates 24/7.

Navigator ofthe Seas features virtual balconies for 98 inside cabins. The view you see is determined by the position of the screen in each room. For example, if your cabin is on the port side of the ship, your view will be from the port side.


Even if you can’t book one of these innovative cabins, there are still times when an interior cabin may work out okay. If you’re sailing in the Caribbean—Western, Eastern, or Southern—and expect to spend balmy port days on shore engaging in different activities, you may not use a balcony so much.

When the weather is warm and sunny, you’ll probably spend more time enjoying amenities in public areas such as the FlowRider Surf Simulator, rock climbing wall, or ice skating rink. Your cabin then becomes just a place to sleep, and you may not miss a balcony at all.

I’d love to try out the virtual balcony and see how close it comes to the real thing.
Photos from free sources.
 






Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Discovering the mountains and forests of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park


Olympic National Park in Washington is filled with myriad wonders. It’s a huge park at almost a million acres—really three parks in one with diverse geography encompassing mountains, seashore, and rain forest.  That was enough to entice us to visit last September, and our discoveries of nature in this splendid place remain as cherished memories.
My husband Larry and I and friend Deb flew from Texas to Seattle, rented a car, and started our road trip that would also include Mt. Rainier National Park. Our destination the first night was Port Angeles, which would be our kick-off point for the first part of the journey—in the massive Olympic Mountains.

Hurricane Ridge is the iconic feature that everyone wants to visit, so naturally Hurricane Ridge Road is the most popular scenic road in the park. That was our destination on arrival—and the must-see spot if you only have one day to spend there.
A visit to Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center at the edge of Port Angeles, the nearest city to the national park, gave us an overview of the topography. Then we drove for 20 miles where the road curved and climbed into a mountain zone and then into a sub-alpine region at 5,000 feet.

The first 10 miles or so featured tall Douglas fir trees before adding silver fir, western hemlock, and western red cedar. As we gained elevation, the trees became sorter and clumped together more in a thick forest.  Although some wildflowers were still blooming, we were past prime time (mid-summer) to see paintbrush, lilies, and heather in open meadows.
That was a quick trip, but two days later, when the persistent fog had cleared, we returned to Hurricane Ridge to take a couple of hikes. Near the visitor center, we first tackled the short but uphill trek to Sunrise Point. At the top of the hill views of mountains and landscapes were enveloped in a residual haze from forest fire smoke.

After a snack at a picnic area (gotta fuel up for the next trek!), we rounded out the morning with the Hurricane Hill hike—3.2 miles round trip on an uphill path with elevation gain of 700 feet.  The path was well-maintained and paved at the beginning, but it became quite steep as it traveled to (and past) the tree line, ending at 5757 feet, the highest accessible point in Olympic National Park.
During the last mile switchbacks lead to the summit, slowing down our pace a bit. Of course, taking time to enjoy spectacular views of Port Angeles and the ocean beyond also gave us time to catch our breath. Although the day was sunny and pleasant with temperature in the 60s, the gauzy haze affected our ability to see more of the Olympic Mountains. Had we known exactly where to look on a clear day, we might have recognized Vancouver Island, the Cascade Mountain Range, Seattle, and Mt. Rainier.

Although we  watched for grazing deer, the only wildlife we saw was one marmot. Still, it was a fun hike that took a little over two hours to complete—not bad considering how often we stop to take pictures. During the following week we experienced more of Olympic's dynamic landscapes and understood completely why it was named a national park in 1938 and attracts so many repeat visitors.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, February 11, 2017

National park passes are a great bargain


Much attention was paid to America’s national parks during 2016, the centennial year of the National Park Service. These destinations are truly America’s greatest idea, and I encourage all my readers to visit at least one national park, forest, seashore, or monument each year.

Lifetime passes to America’s national parks for senior citizens and Americans with disabilities are available at any of the country’s more than 400 federal recreation sites that come under protection of the National Park Service. You can also get these passes through the mail, which may be more convenient for some people.

"National parks are places to share with children, grandchildren, and other family members” says National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “They facilitate recreation and healthy living. Many parks, including Yellowstone, Shenandoah, and Denali, have trails that are accessible to people with limited mobility and to wheelchair users. We also have many accessible camping and picnic areas," Jarvis adds.

Senior passes are available for $10.00 to citizens age 62 or older. Access passes are free for people who have permanent disabilities regardless of age. U. S. Military and their dependents also qualify for free annual passes that provide admission to, and use of, federal recreation sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees. Pass users also receive a small discount in gift shops and a 50% discount on some fees for activities like camping and launching a boat.

You can print out an application for a senior or access pass at http://store.usgs.gov/pass/index.html. Once the application package is received and the documentation verified, the pass will be mailed to you. There is a $10 processing fee to receive a pass by mail but no additional fee if you purchase the pass at a park.

Anyone can purchase an annual pass for $80 that covers the owner and three accompanying adults over age 16 (there’s no charge for children 15 and younger) This pass is good for one year at all parks that charge an entrance fee—still a good bargain, especially if you live near one of the popular parks or plan a vacation to several at a time.

The next fee-free day for the 120 national parks that normally charge an entrance fee is February 20, 2017, Presidents Day. Fee-free days provide a great opportunity to discover a new park or visit an old favorite. Keep in mind that some sites are always free.

For more information, visit http://www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm or http://store.usgs.gov/pass/index.html. Learn more at www.nps.gov.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier and free sites