Monday, January 30, 2012

Don't miss Devil's Throat at spectacular Iguazu Falls in Argentina

Garganta del Diablo at Iquazu Falls, Argentina
The thunderous roar of water crashing over cliffs into the river below told my husband Larry and me that we were nearing the end of the long metal and concrete bridge at Garganta del Diablo, the most incredible and powerful section of Iguazu Falls in Argentina. 

Powerful water roils over cliffs and sends up heavy spray.
As huge sprays of water shot like geysers into the air, a chorus of “oohs” and “ahhs” from crowds on the walkway reflected their collective amazement. Onlookers jostled for space by the railings to get unobstructed views despite the forceful sprays of water blowing their way. It’s almost impossible to soak in the true magnificence of the sight, but we stayed long enough to etch it in our memories, and we returned the next day for more photos.

Designated a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, Iguazu Falls and Iguazu National Park’s natural splendor and lush vegetation are worth seeing from either Argentina or Brazil. While viewing the Falls from Brazil allows for an amazing panorama, we opted to stay on the Argentina side because of its more personal and intimate opportunities to explore the area around the Falls. Any of the dozens of imposing waterfalls could warrant a national park of its own, and the scope of 260 waterfalls extending over 2700 meters is just unimaginable until you see it first-hand.

Having trekked the Lower Trail at Iguazu Falls and experienced close-up wet thrills on foot and by boat during our first day at the park, the following day we decided to walk around paths of the Upper Trail. We spent an hour taking in the incredible strength and beauty of multiple waterfalls. With so many outstanding views, it was hard to resist taking pictures (I topped 200 for the day).

Viewing Devil's Throat from the bridge
Afterwards, we walked to Estacion Cataratas (Waterfall Station) intending to catch the open-air train to Garganta del Diablo or Devil’s Throat. Faced with a long line and at least a 20-minute wait, we decided to walk the dirt path beside the railroad tracks, hoping to arrive before the train. But we didn’t beat the train. After half an hour, we arrived at the Diablo station and began the long walk on the bridge across the river to the most spectacular sight of all.

Filled with sensory overload, we returned to the main station via train and then walked the paved, ecologically-sensitive Green Trail to the Visitor Center. Exhibits there detail geography, geology, and history of the Falls and park areas.  A bit of shopping (beautiful jewelry made from native stones), hamburger lunch at the Jaguar concession, another afternoon walk on the Lower Trail, and relaxation time on our deck overlooking the Falls rounded out the day’s agenda. Plan to spend at least two days at Iguazu Falls to take in all the majesty of this natural wonder.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Read more about Iguazu Falls at  Striped Pot

Friday, January 27, 2012

Celebrate romance with a Valentine package at Lakeway Resort and Spa

Are you a hopeless romantic? If so, you’ve probably seen the movie Sleepless in Seattle more than once. This year you can recreate the steamy scenes and emotions from the film with your special someone by booking Lakeway Resort and Spa’s “Sleepless in Seattle” package.

Overlooking refreshing Lake Travis on the northwest side of Austin (there’s still some water), Lakeway Resort combines the grandeur of a world-class destination with the charm of the Texas Hill Country. Ample glass walls and decks allow the magic of the lake to drift indoors. And because this winter is mild, you’ll enjoy roaming outdoors before settling in for a sensuous night on Saturday, February 11, 2012.

Start your fabulous evening with a chilled bottle of champagne delivered to your room upon arrival. Then dine on an elegant five-course dinner while watching Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan sort out their star-crossed fates in the award-winning 1993 romantic comedy.

Executive Chef Jeff Axline plans to tempt your taste buds with a sumptuous menu featuring Dungeness crab cake, smoked Pacific salmon, pan-roasted duck breast, grilled filet of beef, lobster, and butternut squash risotto. Finish with an exquisite chocolate mousse cake—and when the mood is right, take the elevator home.

Rates start at $330 per guest room package and reservations must be made by February 11. Book online at or call 512-261-6600. Lakeway Resort and Spa is located at 101 Lakeway Drive, Austin, TX 78734.

Photos courtesy Lakeway Resort and Spa

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dead Horse Point State Park offers scenery and legends

One of the reasons I buy a good guidebook before traveling to a new section of the country is because invariably descriptions of places I wasn’t aware of pique my interest. Such was the case for our road trip to several national parks in southern Utah. As I read about the rivers and trails of Canyonlands National Park, one site kept popping up—the Overlook at Dead Horse Point State Park.
Stunning views of mesas and canyons at Dead Horse Point S. P.
Located in the southeast corner of Utah on the northeastern fringe of Canyonlands this place is definitely worth a visit.  Surrounded by spectacular vistas of the adjacent national park, the panorama from Dead Horse Point is simply stunning. Standing on the canyon’s rim, you’ll see changes in rock formations wrought during 300 million years by the forces of wind and water. From the ridge you’ll overlook sheer cliffs where the Colorado River twists and turns and meets up with the Green River. You’ll marvel at distant mesas and deep canyons that have been carved through sandstone. Massive buttes and sculpted pinnacles offer scenery among the most breathtaking in the U.S.. 

Colorado River winds through the canyons
Dead Horse Point is actually a peninsula connected to a large mesa by a narrow strip of land. According to legend, around the beginning of the 20th century, the point was used as a natural corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. Cowboys rounded up these horses, herded them across the 30-yard wide strip and onto the point where they fenced in the horses. After the cowboys chose the desirable horses, the rest were released. But high cliffs and confusing topography prevented escape for those that remained. Eventually the horses died of thirst as there was no water—except the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.

Amazing views from lookout points

Today visitors enjoy paved paths (walk as much or as little as you want—Larry and I like to explore off-path), self-guided nature trails, and ranger programs during the summer months. Ten miles of hiking trails and a picnic area are available. too. The campground fills quickly in summer (make reservations) but is also open in winter. Interpretive exhibits at the year-round Visitors Center share the culture, geology, and history of the region.

From Moab, head northwest 10 miles on U.S. 191, then go 22 miles on Hwy 313. Four scenic areas along the highway provide excellent photography stops. After admiring the views from Dead Horse Point State Park, continue on to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park to round out your day of sightseeing.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bungee jumping over the Zambezi River--thrill or disaster

The ultimate adrenalin thrill—that’s how bungee jumping is described by those whose business is cajoling the young and arguably foolish to try it. 

A few years ago, after watching a young woman take the plunge—and listening to her blood-curdling scream as she plummeted from the bridge over the Zambezi River in Zambia, Africa--I decided not to risk a heart attack for the sake of a few thrilling moments.

Bridge over the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe where bungee jumping takes place.
Excruciating moments in a bungee jump
While on a white water rafting trip—an exciting adrenalin rush itself—we witnessed a jump at the exact same spot as the one that almost ended in disaster for a 22-year-old Australian tourist on New Year’s Eve. You may recall news reports or have seen the Internet video replay of the terrifying moment when the elastic cord attached to her legs snapped and she plunged into the Zambezi River.  Falling from a height of 365 feet and hitting the water with such force left her body seriously bruised and battered.

“Everything went dark,” she said, calling her survival a miracle. Quick work from rescuers saved her from possible attack by crocodiles in the river.  (Yes, we saw those crocs during our rafting experience—a strong reason we worked hard to keep our raft upright).

Of course, the company has defended its safety record (150,000 jumps without accident). And the Tourism Minister took a plunge himself to prove that the broken-cord incident was a fluke. Yet, you can’t over emphasize the potential hazards that are an inherent part of extreme activities.  There is always the risk of equipment failure or human error which may add to the excitement for some people but have also resulted in fatalities.

A pair of jumpers on the recoil.
Just a month after our white water trip, another young Australian tourist died on the exact same excursion with the same outfitter we used.  The raft she was on turned over, and when rescuers tried to lift her out of the rapidly flowing water into a raft by grabbing onto her life jacket, she slipped out and under the water and was never seen again.

Still, I'll probably raft in white water again.  I try to assess risks and keep my own abilities and tolerances in mind. A bit of adrenaline rush is exciting, but good sense is important when evaluating the amount of risk you’re willing to take. 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, January 13, 2012

Irish coffee is created in Foynes, Ireland

A favorite chill-chaser, especially popular during the winter, is a steaming cup of Irish coffee. During our visit to the Republic of Ireland last summer we learned how this drink came to be—and how to prepare it ourselves.

Learning to make Irish coffee
At the Foynes Flying Boat Museum in County Limerick we learned about the World War II era when this tiny town became the center of the aviation world. The Foynes air terminal is also noted as the home of Irish coffee. A short videoat the museum re-enacts the night Irish coffee was created. Read about the importance of Foynes in the development of trans-Atlantic flight at
A perfect glass of Irish coffee 
In addition to helping the war effort through new air strategies, planes were available for people who could afford the $5000 one-way price tag.  Primarily the rich and famous were the only ones able to make the 16-hour flight across the ocean.  On October 14, 1943 an American couple arrived early morning after a storm and needed a coffee boost to warm them up. Joe Sherridan, the chef serving drinks at the terminal, added Power’s whiskey and brown sugar to freshly brewed cups of coffee. He topped this with lightly whipped cream dribbled over the back side of a warm spoon to look like foam on pint of Guiness beer.

The technique takes a bit of practice, but the drink proved immensely popular, and we still enjoy the kick of Irish coffee.

Photos by Larry Burmeier

Read more about Ireland at StripedPot 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Free admission to all national parks

Colorado River at the bottom of Grand Canyon National Park
Visit a national park this weekend. All 397 national parks across the country will offer free admission from January 14 through 16 to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

You can literally walk in Dr. King's footsteps at Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Georgia, the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama, or the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC – just a few of the many national parks that have direct ties to Dr. King or the Civil Rights movement.

Zion National Park in Utah
Other parks that will hold special events honoring Dr. King this weekend include the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC, Morristown National Historical Park in New Jersey, Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Tennessee, and Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, DC.

“Dr. King led the fight to realize his dream of a nation free of discrimination, where every citizen was able to enjoy the inalienable rights promised to all Americans,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Dr. King’s story and those of so many others whose efforts changed our country are preserved in the national parks, places where history happened. I hope every American can take advantage of the upcoming fee free weekend and visit their parks to experience their history firsthand.”

Your nearest national park can also help you keep that New Year’s resolution, whether it is to get more exercise, spend quality time with family and friends, try a new sport, learn some history, expand your horizons, or enjoy the natural world. There’s something for everyone at a national park, even in the middle of winter.

Big Bend National Park in Texas
Choices include snow shoe hikes, canoe trips, campfire programs, film festivals, battle reenactments, and music jams. It is also a great time of year to view wildlife such as bison in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming or grey whales at Point Reyes National Seashore in California.  A list of activities can be found at

Yellowstone National Park
Mark your calendar for more free park days: The National Park Service will also waive admission fees on 14 other days in 2012 – National Park Week (April 21 to 29), Get Outdoors Day (June 9), National Public Lands Day (September 29), and the weekend of Veterans Day (November 10 to 12). 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Read more travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tips for controlling baggage fees

When you book a flight, the rate quoted at any online site is only part of what you will really pay to get from point A to point B.  Want extra leg room or boarding priority? It’s yours for a price. Taxes and fees add up, even if you’re using frequent flyer miles.

Baggage fees add another chunk of change to the cost of your flight, but there are ways keep those from wrecking your travel budget.  If you know you’ll be checking a bag, be sure to factor the cost for round trip travel, which can be $50 and upwards, when pricing tickets.  Extra or overweight bags will cost considerably more—from $20 to $300 depending on the airline.

If possible, choose airlines that don’t charge for bags: Jet Blue allows one checked bag, and Southwest Airlines allows each passenger two free checked bags. Some airlines offer enticing packages for a fee; United Airlines’ Premier Travel charges $47 for extra leg room, priority security line and check-in, and two standard checked bags. In many cases, the overall cost may be less than paying for checked bags alone, especially if you have more than one.

Sign up for a specific airlines’ credit card if you fly on that carrier often. Baggage fees are waived for card holders (and other people traveling with them) who have Continental OnePass Plus or Delta Air Lines SkyMiles cards. Of course, check annual fees for credit cards, but typically the first year is free, and then you can decide if it’s worth renewing.

The best strategy, if you can swing it, is to avoid checking any bags. It’s possible to travel for a couple of weeks using items that fit into a standard 22-inch carryon (supplement with a backpack or roomy shoulder bag). You might have to gate-check the suitcase on smaller planes, but there’s no charge for that. Bonus: You don’t have to wait with the crowds at baggage claim, so you can exit the airport more quickly.