Saturday, April 30, 2016

'Journey into Big Bend' at Bullock Museum in Austin

I really love that during 2016, the centennial year of the National Park Service, there’s so much publicity about the more than 400 properties that come under the protection of NPS.
Early morning haze drapes the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park.
We try to visit different national parks in the U.S. every year, including returning to some of our favorites. So I’m thrilled to share that Big Bend National Park in Texas is the focus of an exhibit currently at The Bullock Texas State History Museum in downtown Austin. “Journey into Big Bend” is an educational program sponsored by Big Bend Chamber of Commerce, Forever Resorts, LLC, Gage Hotel, and Visit Big Bend.

Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin
Even better, you can celebrate Big Bend National Park during the Free First Sunday program on May 1. Admission is free from 12 noon to 5 p.m., and there will be lots of free family activities until 3 p.m. For example, explore Texas’s ancient past by getting hands-on with fossils, make sun print works of art with plants native to the Big Bend region, and listen to a camping story.
Rugged hills and mountains provide hiking opportunities in Big Bend.
Smudge Studios will teach participants to take great nature photographs, and those skills can be applied to a challenge in the Museum’s exhibits. Staff from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center will also be on hand to share how they have worked to help improve Big Bend landscapes.

If the exhibit inspires you to plan a trip to Big Bend National Park in the southwest corner of Texas, you’ll discover a variety of scenic, ecologic, and historic resources.  Mountains, desert, and water combine to make a unique topography that was considered worthy of national park status by Congress in 1935. Nine years later the park was established to preserve and protect the unique U-shaped space where the Rio Grande River loops along the Texas-Mexico border.

Rafting on the Rio Grande River is a special treat in Big Bend National Park.
Encompassing more than 800,000 acres, the park is the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the U.S and the only national park that contains an entire mountain range, the Chisos, within its boundaries. It’s a land of dramatic contrasts—extremes in temperature, elevation, and moisture are found in the three distinct regions—so it almost seems like three parks in one.

Tall cliffs border the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park.

The serene beauty of Big Bend inspires repeat visits from many travelers. Dark night skies glowing with millions of twinkling stars (no city lights to dim the view), steep river-carved limestone canyons, diverse wildlife and bird species (Big Bend boasts more types of birds, bats, and cacti than any other national park in the United States), rugged mountains, and uncommonly beautiful desert cacti and wildflowers provide enough enticement for 300,000 visitors annually.

Big Bend is one of those places you can go back to again and again, and it’s like you’re seeing it for the first time. Don't miss this opportunity to learn more about the largest national park in Texas--for free.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, April 29, 2016

Allow plenty of time to explore Grand Canyon National Park

Four hours. That’s the average time visitors spend at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.

Magnificent Grand Canyon landscape from south rim
Having visited there several times as well as rafting on the Colorado River through the canyon, I was flabbergasted to learn that most of the 5 million annual visitors do not spend one night in this magnificent park.

The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s most powerful and inspiring landscapes. It’s especially dazzling when you stand on the rim and observe how geologic processes that occurred over billions of years — powerful upheavals, moving water and erosion — created this massive landscape.
Brilliant colors of ageless rock walls in Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking into the canyon is always an option, but if that is too adventurous, visitors can find plenty of ways to spend several days admiring scenery and exploring the park.
My article from the Dallas Morning News shares activities we enjoyed during a fall visit--activities that visitors can participate in year-round.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Monday, April 25, 2016

Kids need a national park guide, too

During this centennial year of the National Park Service, what could be a better family vacation that visiting one of America’s beautiful national parks? Plenty of special events and activities will take place, so check online for dates when planning a trip to one of these protected parcels of land. And don’t forget your National Geographic guidebook.
To make the trip even more exciting for the younger members of your family, National Geographic Kids has published a special edition of National Parks Guide U.S. A. for children ages 8-12. The book is chock full of brilliantly colored maps and photos, including double page spreads, that will appeal to all ages.  It’s the perfect book for kids—and parents—who love roaming and exploring outdoors.

Generally four pages of the guide are devoted to each park, with information about the best things to see and do, ways to discover more, and which animals visitors are likely to see. Tips from park ranger tips come in handy for your visit, too.
Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah
Parks are covered by geographical location—East, Midwest, West, and Southwest. After detailing the history and highlights of each park in lively text, the book offers suggestions for enjoying the park, whether families prefer taking it easy picnicking and riding a gondola or getting a little extreme with hiking, kayaking, or mountain biking. 

Redwoods National Park in California
It’s a fun, adventure-filled guide that will help make a visit to any of the 400 plus properties (59 national parks) under the care of the National Park Service an unforgettable experience. After reading the book, kids will have a better understanding of why the National Park Service has worked hard for 100 years to preserve and protect our country’s stunning scenery and wildlife. When children develop a love and appreciation of nature and conservation, we’ll all be better assured that these parks will remain unspoiled and amazing for many generations.
Other new children’s books timed to the 100thanniversary of the National Park System in 2016 include Junior Ranger Activity Book, packed with enriching experiences and engaging facts and photos of each park, and Buddy Bison’s Yellowstone Adventure, a fantasy story with gorgeous photos, weird facts about the park, and history of Yellowstone.

Arches National Park in Utah
If your family is planning a national park excursion—or if you’d like to pique your children’s interest in America’s amazing national parks—the kids’ version of National Parks Guide U.S. A. is one guide they will read, dog ear, and want to take along.  $14.95
Big Bend National Park in Texas
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Summer getaways in northern Utah

What could be better in the summer than warm days and cool nights? That's what you get when you escape to the mountain regions of northern Utah.
Beautiful, cooling cascades at Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah
Salt Lake City, Park City, and Sundance offer stunning scenery, plentiful shopping and dinging options, and a variety of outdoor activities for all skill levels.

Find out more reasons why northern Utah is a great destination for summer getaways in my article published in Arizona Highways, a AAA magazine.
Photo by Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Embracing the unexpected in Antarctica

Penguins, icebergs, and our ship--on a gorgeous sunny day in Antarctica.
On day 10 of our week-long Antarctic expedition, a blizzard blew in. Winds gusting up to 115 miles per hour slung snow sideways across the deck of our ship. Ice crusted windowsills and kayaks stacked on the port side of the deck as temperatures fell below freezing.
The ship rolled with the roaring waves prompting the captain to reposition the ship so that the mountains onshore would provide additional shelter from the storm.

Our expedition begins
Throughout the seven scheduled days aboard Sea Adventurer, we had enjoyed exceptional weather—epic days, the guides said. Nearing the end of summer in the Southern Hemisphere, temps hovered in the mid-30s and seas were mostly calm—perfect for our Antarctic experience.
Disembarking the plane that brought us to King George Island.
We booked the trip almost 18 months in advance with two objectives in mind: to fly both directions from Chile to Antarctica and to cross the Antarctic Circle. Quark, a leading company in polar expeditions, only schedules one trip  annually that accomplishes both.  At the time of booking I didn’t realize what a feat crossing the Circle is, especially because the ship must maintain its schedule during the trip. Most companies taking tourists (yes, we were) to Antarctica only reach the tip of the peninsula, which is certainly a wonderful destination, but we wanted to do more.
Brilliant sunset after crossing the Antarctic Circle
The night before leaving Punta Arenas, Chile we were issued heavy-duty, waterproof, double-lined, yellow parkas (ours to keep) and thick mid-calf “muck” boots. These were necessary for keeping feet warm and dry as we tromped through snow, ice, mud, and slush. Also, most Zodiac landings on shore required walking through water a short distance before reaching land.

Boarding Zodiacs to get to the Sea Adventurer, which was
anchored off shore.
In the morning everyone met in the hotel lobby at 3:30 a.m. for an early morning flight—necessary to utilize the shrinking window of opportunity for landing on the primitive airstrip at the Chilean military base on King George Island. Still, we applauded our good decision to fly from Punta Arenas to King George Island. Not only did we skip the two-day, potentially horrendous passage through the Drake Channel, but we saved four days’ travel time on our voyage.
After two hours in the air, the plane landed uneventfully, passengers disembarked, and we walked a mile and a half on a muddy path to the beach where we boarded Zodiacs that took us to the Sea Adventurer. Excitement was thick in the air as each traveler first set foot on the ship that would be our home for a week’s expedition.

Weather determines everything in Antarctica
Ice on a window of the ship
We just didn’t anticipate that we would spend three more days of anxious waiting after our week's excursion was done before getting back to Punta Arenas.  The day of our scheduled return flight, fog rolled in making a sight landing on King George Island impossible. For two days, a dull haze covered the landscape. Two times the chartered plane took off from Punta Arenas—and two times weather conditions forced it to turn back. On the third unplanned day aboard the Sea Adventurer—after the blizzard had subsided—the air cleared, and the plane finally was able to take off and subsequently land at King George Island.

Quickly, our luggage was loaded onto the Zodiacs, and we also boarded the water crafts for our last ride to shore. When everyone had reached land, our group got the necessary permission to walk across the Chilean military base. We were there watching as the plane zoomed in for a landing. Ditching our muck boots (too dirty for the plane), we boarded and took off without delay—to a hefty round of applause.
Finally (and gratefully) leaving King George Island--walking to the airstrip.
Antarctica was fabulous, but most people had schedules to keep—and flights to change--so we were anxious to get back to South America to figure out our next moves.  Still, we were warm, dry, and well-fed during the unexpected delay—another reason our journey was truly unforgettable.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, April 18, 2016

New guide book details the best of U.S. national parks

You may be aware that the National Park Service is celebrating its centennial in 2016. That means a lot of special activities and events will take place in each of our national parks during the next year.
So, it’s time to get your copy of National Geographic’s Guide to National Parks ofthe United States. This popular book is now in its eighth edition, which features new text, maps, and photos. It’s a best-selling, comprehensive guide that contains the latest practical advice for visiting each national park in the United States.

“There’s simply no better getaway in the United States than a visit to one of the 59 national scenic parks,” says John M. Fahey, Jr. Chairman of the Board, National Geographic Society.

Glacier National Park
I agree. No matter what you look for when you travel—serenity, history, culture, landscapes, geology, wildlife, adventure, or family fun—you can find it in one of our national parks. This guide may just provide the inspiration you need to plan a trip and pack your bag.
The parks are divided into geographical regions in the Guide (East, Midwest, South Central, Southwest, Rocky Mountain, Pacific Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska), so you can choose a park near you or in an area you’ve been longing to visit.

Great Smokey Mountain National Park
Each section has a detailed map of parks located in that region. First, you’ll get a brief overview of what each national park offers and its history, so you’ll understand why it has earned that distinction. Then special features of the park—those “do not miss” spots and activities—are described along with specific traveler information regarding trails, scenic points, and best time to go.  

The Guide lists accommodations within the parks and campgrounds nearby. Health and safety concerns, entrance fees, and suggestions for getting the most from your visit are included. Maps provide more detail about roads and trails to help you maneuver through each park.
Rocky Mountain National Park
My favorite feature of the book: All the photos and maps are in full color! These amazing photos will whet your appetite for spending time among our country’s treasured parks. Many of the maps (80) and photos (220) are full page, and all provide stunning views of outstanding landscapes.

This Guide has become my “wish book.” Even though I’ve visited many national parks, when I thumb through the book I find new places to explore--even new parks I wasn’t aware of—and I wish I were there.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier. cover photo courtesy of Karen Wadsworth, Media Masters Publicity


Friday, April 15, 2016

Fee-free days at U.S. national parks

Gorgeous reflections in Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park
I’ve written many times about our country’s Best Idea, the creation of national parks, and the free days that are offered several times a year. There’s no better time than now to choose your favorite, closest, or a never-visited park and discover what makes it unique.
Colorful rock formations in Badlands National Park in South Dakota
The National Park Service (NPS) celebrateed 100 years of protecting and preserving the nation’s parks and monuments during 2016. During 2017 National Park Week, April 15-23, you can  take advantage of fee-free entrance to all parks that usually charge a fee.

Each of the 410 national parks, monuments, seashores, etc. is a thread in the tapestry that tells the story of our country—its beautiful landscapes, diverse culture, and rich heritage. Throughout the year, and especially during National Park Week, the NPS and National Park Foundation invite everyone to discover and share their unique connections to our public lands.
Thermal pools in Yellowstone National Park

On Saturday, April 22, park-goers can join a special volunteer Earth Day project. And on Sunday, April 23, visitors can get out and get active with a ranger-led program on "Park Rx Day." Park Rx is a community health initiative where medical doctors “prescribe” time in parks to promote wellness and help prevent and treat chronic disease.

Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park

“With free admission to parks all week, National Park Week is the perfect opportunity to check out a new location, revisit one of your favorite parks, and perhaps invite a friend who has never visited a park before to join you,” says Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks. “These treasured places are vital and relevant to people from all backgrounds from all over the country,” he adds.
Impossibly blue Crater Lake National Park in Oregon
While you're at one of the national parks consider purchasing a National Park Pass. It's a bargain , especially for families, service personnel, or seniors that can save users a lot of money over the years.

Steam fissure in Volcanoes National Park,
Big Island of Hawaii

National parks are perfect destinations for family getaways. If you live near a national park, plan a day trip—or stay a couple of days if your chosen park is further away. Either way, you’ll enjoy recreational opportunities, learn local history, bask in outstanding natural scenery, and have wonderful memories to share.
St. Elias mountain approaching Wrangell-St. Elias
National Park in Alaska
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Scenery and sights attract visitors to Phoenix/ Scottsdale area

View from above the
Sonoran desert landscape

When Larry and I planned a trip to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area in Arizona, I expected spectacular desert scenery, breathtaking red rock mountains, and sunny Arizona weather. I wasn’t disappointed. All those natural features have spawned a huge community with world-renown golf courses and more resort spas than anywhere else in the country.

But if luxury digs and lazy days aren't your travel style, there are many other options for exploring—and enjoying--the area.

Taliesin West I’ve long been fascinated by the architecture of FrankLloyd Wright, so we took a 90-minute guided tour of Taliesin West, the home he built in the 1930s. Regarded as one of his greatest masterpieces and now a National Historic Landmark, Taliesin West was literally built out of the desert using rocks and sand to balance the design with the surrounding environment.

Taliesin West showcases the genius of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wright oriented his home to face the mountains and away from utility poles, which he disliked. He loved music—even had a wall cut out to fit a piano--and encouraged performances by visitors, a tradition that continues today among architecture students who come to study the master’s style.

Until his death in 1959, Wright constantly expanded and modified the house and enhanced its natural elements. He also designed furniture to fit the house and was particular about its placement. The living quarters and Garden Room are highlights of the tour, and I could almost imagine sharing conversations with famous guests Wright entertained there.
Musical Instrument Museum Whether you know much about music or not, this is a fun place to browse for a couple of hours. Opened in 2010, the museum’s exhibits display instruments from every country in the world, and videos provide musical sights and sounds from a variety of cultures.

Learn about familiar and little-known instruments at MIM in Phoenix.
Among the instruments on display in the museum are a side-blown trumpet from Tanzania, bowed lute from Madagascar, goblet drum from Turkey, kettle drum made from goatskin and wood from Chile, and a plucked zither from Syria. Guitars from the earliest models up to present day instruments were displayed openly, not behind glass. 

One of the tidbits we learned: Congo musicians who use bells and rattles to call up spirits for healing or protection are held in high esteem.

Music styles represented include hip hop, country, Cajun, bluegrass, and blues. In the Experience Gallery, visitors can test out gongs and other instruments, or create their own music on the accessible Steinway grand piano.

Bright red blooms liven a cactus
at Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden A visit to this vibrant garden quickly dispels the myth that deserts are barren and boring. Stunning specimens of pipe organ cacti, 100-year-old saguaros, and blooms emanating from thick stems in rainbow colors are displayed in 50 acres of beautiful outdoor landscaping.

Nestled in the garden among the red buttes of Papago Park are 50,000 plants, 139 of which are rare, threatened, and endangered species.  At every turn along five thematic trails there’s something new to see, whether it’s an unusual variety of succulent, one of more than a hundred bird species, or a half-century-old turtle crossing the path. 
Mountains provide a splendid
backdrop for desert plants.
Not only is the Botanical Garden in a region that gets less than 10 inches of rainfall a year, but it’s also located within the city of Phoenix, another challenge to growing one of the finest collections of arid-land plants in the world.

Hot air balloon ride It’s a bit of a splurge and you have to get up early, but the sunrise flight is totally worth it. After arriving at the launch site, we watched as workers inflated the giant balloon before climbing into the attached basket. Up we drifted, tranquilly soaring above the Sonoran Desert in the 12-story-tall apparatus.

We're getting ready to lift off for hot air balloon ride
over the Sonoran desert near Phoenix, Arizona.
Despite cracking us up with his crazy jokes, our captain masterfully monitored air currents to raise the wicker basket 8,000 feet above earth. Although the balloon travels around five miles per hour, there’s little sensation of motion.  Along the way, we had unobstructed views of scampering jackrabbits, scattered cacti, shrubs, and trees, and even shadows from our own balloon.

Back on land, the crew served a traditional champagne breakfast on white-clothed tables in the field where the balloon landed—the perfect ending to a thrilling flight.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Thursday, April 7, 2016

Texas is prime hiking territory

Lost Maples State Natural Area provides bright color for a fall hike.
From the remote mountains and desert of far west Big Bend National Park to the Gulf Coast’s Padre Island National Seashore (which protects the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world), Texas offers a bounty of hiking opportunities and venues for exploring the glories of nature in the state.
Hike to this waterfall at Colorado Bend State Park.
Thirteen National Park Service sites and more than 90 state parks are filled with countless opportunities for recreation, exercise, solitude, or relaxation—whatever suits your outdoors style. You can get a free copy of the Texas State Park Guide with information including maps, amenities, activities, and programs at any state park or download a copy.

Bastrop State Park has plenty of family fun.
Some favorite family trails and nature walks can be found at Pedernales Falls State Park near Austin, Monahans Sandhills State Park Near Odessa, and Huntsville State Park, which meanders through a pine forest. Inks Lake State Park and Franklin Mountains State Park are two of the best places to witness spectacular sunsets.
There are many trails to hike at Davis Mountains State Park
If you like more challenging hikes, try the Lighthouse Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Panhandle. Backpacking and overnight stays are common at Big Bend Ranch State Park and Lost Maples State Natural Area--two distinctly different regions of the state with vastly different scenery.

Hike amid red rocks at
Caprock Canyons State Park
Several books provide help to determine appropriate routes, whether you travel on foot or by bicycle.  E. Dan Klepper’s 100 Classic Hikes in Texas describes trails and provides maps and photographs for his favorite hikes.  Trail length varies from the quarter-mile Windmill Nature Trail at Seminole Canyon State Park near Comstock to the 7.5-mile Upper Canyon Trail in Caprock Canyons State Park, northeast of Lubbock.
If you want to hike in the rough and tumble western section of Texas, put Laurence Parent’s book, Hiking Big Bend National Park, in your backpack.  Parent explores 44 hiking trails in the remote national park and others in Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Loose yourself at Mother Neff
State Park.

Hikers who are history buffs will enjoy Allan Kimball’s accounting of Texas’s state parks and how each got its name in Who Is Mother Neff and Why Is She a State Park?
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department offers information online. Whether you are looking for a short nature trail or an adventurous, all-day endeavor through remote landscapes, Texas is prime hiking territory.

Big Bend National Park offers starkly beautiful
landscapes in West Texas.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier and
Texas Parks and Wildlife.