Thursday, March 31, 2016

Loving the land at Reville Peak Ranch near Austin

Many folks who made a bundle on early dotcom businesses in the Austin area built mansions on the lake or dabbled in new tech start-ups. Vol Montgomery headed for the woods. An outdoor enthusiast, he bought 1300 acres of rugged Hill Country land in 1999 and opened Reveille Peak Ranch in 2010, a facility that attracts families as well as elite mountain bikers and marathoners who train there.
Quarry Lake is an inviting spot for water activities.
While Reville Peak Ranch has become an exceptional facility for mountain bikers, trail runners, and fitness trainers, it also appeals to people of all ages who appreciate nature and love the outdoors.  It showcases the Hill Country spirit of adventure by combining education and a love for the land into a variety of activities.

Just an hour’s drive from Austin, the ranch overlooks Lake Buchanan and Ink’s Lake in the chain of Highland Lakes. Located on the Llano Uplift, the ranch’s geography includes trails on the granite dome, through fields with plentiful wildflowers, and across dry creek beds.
Trails are available for all experience levels.
Numerous educational and recreational facilities make it a great place for a family day trip. Interesting geological formations, outstanding panoramas, and abundant plant and animal life provide an ideal setting for scheduled nature classes for all ages--or just exploring on your own.

Here’s what the average visitor will find: Fishing is easy in stocked waters 200 feet deep. Canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards are available for rent. Other amenities include a two-story, 10,000 square foot covered pavilion overlooking the lake, full-service commercial kitchen, koi ponds and twin waterfalls, sand volleyball court, and observation deck suitable for live entertainment. The spring-fed Quarry Lake is available for SCUBA diving and swimming. There’s even a wedding-perfect mountain overlook graced by a rustic wooden cross that Montgomery himself experienced.
Experience the serenity of a mountain top retreat.
The heart of the property is the trail system—more than 62 miles of combined single track and boulevard trails, plus 9 mile, 6.2 mile, and 3.2 mile loops of low-moderate trails (one is stroller friendly), 15 miles of newly developed single track trails, and plenty of natural obstacles from rugged limestone outcrops.  Reville Peak Ranch has hosted several major events for mountain biking and running, but Montgomery encourages all outdoor enthusiasts to experience the variety of trails on the property.

Wildflowers bloom profusely in spring.
All facilities, which guests have called “elegantly rustic” and “environmentally savvy,” are constructed with natural and recycled materials. Environmentally and geologically sensitive areas on site may be accessed on guided tours. View the land as it’s been for centuries—natural, beautiful and unchanged—and look for native wildlife including birds, deer, gray foxes, rabbits and armadillos.
Camping is available at 250 primitive sites or six RV spots, but if you want a bit more comfort after your outdoor adventures, accommodations are available in nearby Burnet or Austin.

Gate fee is $10 per adult and $5 for kids 12 and under. Reveille Peak Ranch is located at 105 CR 114. Be sure to bring your camera.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier




Friday, March 25, 2016

An epic day in Antarctica

It feels like we have traveled to the end of the earth. In fact, we have. Antarctica is so far away from any populated land that traveling on the continent requires a frontier spirit. As explained earlier, we opted to fly across the Drake Passage rather than experience the roughest stretch of water in the world. This journey completed our travels to all seven continents—but I would have gone to the white continent even if it hadn’t been last on our list.
Icebergs are constantly moving and changing size, shape, and color.
Antarctica is the coldest and windiest continent. Coastal areas where we traveled are milder than parts close to the South Pole and the eastern section of Antarctica. The two sections of the continent are divided by a mountain range which boosts the average elevation on the continent to 7,546 feet.

Most people don’t realize that that Antarctica is also the world’s largest desert (a place that receives less than 10 inches of precipitation a year). Very little rain or snow falls, and what does remains since there is little evaporation.  So it piles up year after year and freezes; now 98 percent of Antarctica is covered in ice. With such a harsh environment it’s not surprising that there are no trees or bushes; vegetation is limited to lichens, mosses, and algae.
Graceful swirls of ice cover the landscape onshore.
Despite what seems like a grim description, Antarctica is a land where colors, textures, and shapes create a beautiful tapestry.  The scenes we witnessed are simply indescribable. The ever-changing landscape is incomparable—and more outstanding the further south you go.  Crossing the Antarctic Circle was a special privilege that very few tourists accomplish (I'll write more about this later).

Previously I wrote about our continental landing at Portal Point on our first morning excursion. The warm, sunny weather of this epic day continued as we sailed through Wilhelmina Bay around lunch time and then to Enterprise Island, which was named for enterprising whalers who used its sheltered bays as anchorage for their ships in the early 1900s.
Penguins are plentiful in Antarctica.
For two hours in the afternoon we cruised in the Zodiac around Enterprise and nearby Nansen Island (named for a Norwegian explorer) taking in the sights—both wildlife and scenery. Weddell seals, penguins (gentoos and chinstraps), terns, nesting cormorants, and humpback whales (mother and baby) were among our wildlife sightings.  How exciting to watch these animals in their natural habitat.

Seals have their moments, too.
 Glorious glaciers filled the bay, creating a visual contrast of white snow and ice with dark black-brown patches of rock. There are more mountains in Antarctica than we realized.
We watched a mother whale and baby cavorting in the water.
Interspersed in the ice were streaks of bright blue glacial, ice, which is eight times denser than regular ice, so it reflects more of the sun’s blue rays. We maneuvered around these huge ice masses, dressed in every imaginable shade of white, and marveled at the splendor and serenity of this remote land.
Birds find a home among the rocky shores of Antarctica.
Our guide was astounded that a film crew was climbing on one of the glaciers and dragging a canoe uphill, too.  Glaciers can break apart without warning, so he thought those activities were risky and potentially dangerous. But apparently they filmed their commercial, documentary, or whatever without incident.
Would you walk around on this iceberg
knowing it could calve any moment.
In addition to amazing scenery and wildlife, the area is full of history. Still in the water was the hull of the burned ship Grouvemoren, which was deliberately sunk in 1915 to extinguish a fire onboard. Fortunately, no one died, and the seamen were rescued by other whaling ships in the region. Today it’s a landmark and a reminder of a time when whaling ships sailed in abundance through Antarctic waters.
The only way to put out the fire on this whaling ship
was to sink it into the water--where it remains a century later.
 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Journey to Antarctica

Polar travel is unlike any other kind of travel. The environment can be inhospitable, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous. Yet, we’re excited to explore the unique landscape, to learn about Antarctica’s natural history, and to see wildlife that inhabits this harsh environment.
Colors, shapes, and textures vary greatly at Antarctica.
Antarctica is the most isolated continent in the world. The closest land is Argentina, 560 miles away.  It’s the largest wilderness area on earth, but it’s also incredibly, almost overwhelmingly, beautiful.  Going there is truly a “trip of a lifetime.”

Most Antarctic tours take two days for crossing the Drake Passage, a body of water between Cape Horn, Chile and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It often means two days of potentially excruciatingly rough water that may confine passengers to their cabins, even their beds, to prevent falls and other accidents.
Arriving by plane at King George Island, Antarctica
So we searched for a trip that would skip the Drake and found that Quark Expeditions offered a two-hour flight to King GeorgeIsland in Antarctica where we would then get on the ship Sea Adventurer. Knowing there would be limited availability on this uncommon voyage, we booked our cabin as soon as reservations opened—18 months prior to travel.

Getting there
We flew into Punta Arenas, Chile, our departure point for the adventure. Weather is the crucial determining factor for all activities in Antarctica, as we learned right away when told our flight would leave at 6 a.m. the next morning (necessitating meeting in the hotel lobby at 3:30 a.m.).Because the charter plane lands on a Chilean military base with just a simple airstrip, visibility is necessary. Fortunately the good-weather window stayed open, and we were able to fly on time.

Boarding Zodiacs to make our way to the ship.
Once on King George Island, we were required to walk from the airfield to the beach, about a mile and a half, where we boarded Zodiacs that would take us to the ship.
Getting acquainted with the land
Waterproof clothing is compulsory for every outing, and we were grateful for the “muck” boots Quark issued since we had many wet landings and often tromped on ice, snow, or mud. Terrain is often uneven, sometimes slushy and slippery, and we watched for crevices in the ice that could be dangerous. The calf-high rubber boots are disinfected after every trip onshore to avoid contamination in Antarctica. Regular shoes never set foot on Antarctic land.

Zodiacs took us to land for each excursion. We usually
walked through water, rocks, or snow when exiting the Zodiac.

The landscape isn’t all ice; freshwater lakes and streams are an important part of the ecosystem. But we’re cautioned not to walk on or destroy any part of the landscape. No food is allowed ashore, and we must avoid disturbing any artifacts that might be historically important. The guides marked boundaries designated where it was safe to walk; otherwise, we moved freely on the Antarctic surface. We took only photos and memories, leaving no evidence of our visit.
Icebergs surround the Sea Adventurer, our home
for this incredible adventure.
All species of animals are protected. Since this is their natural environment they are not afraid of humans, so we gave them right of way. Most are social, but we try to stay at least 15 feet from penguins, seals, and other wildlife—but some still wandered very near us.

The first day we departed from Maxwell Bay and went through Palmer Archipelago and Bransfield Strait. Our route took us beside the continent, winding in and around a variety of islands. That evening there was considerable wave movement, but seas calmed after midnight.
On deck, happy to be in Antarctica--and amazed by the landscape.
We awoke the next morning to the sight of beautiful glaciers outside our windows. A light wind was blowing, and with the temperature at 32 degrees F it was an exceptionally warm and sunny day—perfect for our first landing on the continent at Portal Point. It was the best possible introduction we could have to this peerless place.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Are you a good houseguest when you travel?

Not every trip involves traveling to exotic places. Sometimes we want to explore nearby or visit family or friends in other states. Whether it’s for a weekend or longer, staying with people you know can be fun, provide local insights, and help cut expenses. But if you want to be welcomed back, remember to be a good houseguest. Even if you book a home stay online—a rented room or entire villa—you’ll want to do everything you can to ensure a pleasant stay, both for you and for your host.
Bring a gift to your hosts.
First, make sure everyone is on the same page regarding time of arrival and departure, expenses involved, and how much time the host will have to spend with you (if friend or family). If you are staying gratis (essentially freeloading), remember to bring a gift—bottle of wine, book, or food item if you know what they like.

Once you arrive, abide by the conditions that everyone has agreed on. Respect the rules of the house, and follow the timetable set by your hosts regarding meals, bedtimes, and entertainment, even if it’s not your preferred schedule. Remember that you are the guest, and try not to undermine your hosts’ routines.
Help out whenever you can.
Be flexible. If you prefer to explore on your own, be sure your hosts know that beforehand. If they want to include you in an activity, go along, even if it’s not your favorite choice. Show gratitude for the time your hosts spend feeding and entertaining you. Engage in conversation; be personal. Emails on your cell phone can wait until you have some private time.

Keep your space neat and clean. Make your bed, and hang up your towels. Put clothes in drawers or closet, if available; otherwise, keep them in your suitcase. Bringing sheets to the laundry room after your stay is a nice gesture. Throughout your visit look for ways to help out, even if it’s something small like setting and/or clearing the table, watching little children, or making your own breakfast.
Tidy up after yourself.
Be pleasant. If old conflicts start to rise, it may be time to find other accommodations. Still, if you have enjoyed the hospitality of others, be sure to send a written thank you note (not a text!).  Let your hosts know that their efforts were appreciated, and they will be glad to have you as a guest again.

Photos from free image sources.



Saturday, March 12, 2016

Photo essay of first landing on Antarctica

Approaching land at Portal Point on Antarctica

They say pictures are worth a thousand words, so I'm letting these images attempt to convey some of the magic we experienced on our recent expedition to Antarctica. While many ships visit the outlying islands, we actually made a continental landing on our first day.
In the far right side, you can see people taking their first steps
on Antarctica after a Zodiac ride from our anchored ship.

Such serenity on the huge expanse of snow and ice

Larry followed a path as we explored our surroundings.
Colors and layers in the ice add to the spectacular beauty.


We saw lots of wildlife like this Weddell seal.
Our "epic" day turned warm enough to shed the parka.
The Zodiac returns to the ship--note its size compared to the iceberg.