Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ecology and nature highlight Vanishing Texas River Cruise

Waterfalls add to the scenery on Buchanan Lake in Texas.
When visiting Canyon of the Eagles, a 900-acre park under the auspices of Lower Colorado River Authority in the Texas Hill Country, one of the best excursions you can take is the Vanishing Texas River Cruise. It’s a great way to see a variety of wildlife, especially birds like egrets, blue heron, osprey, comorants, pelicans, and gulls. Many migrating birds use the Lake Buchanan/ Colorado River area as a place to “refuel” before continuing on their journeys.
Named for the bald eagles that nest in the area, Canyon of the Eagles is an especially popular place for bird watchers. In the winter you may be lucky enough to catch glimpse of American bald eagles sitting majestically on tree-top perches.

Rugged rock formations can be seen near the lake's edge.
For those not familiar with eagles, you can recognize them by their white head and tail feathers and blackish-brown body. Eagles, some of which live 20 years, nest in this area, returning every year to the same nest to lay one to three eggs. It’s not uncommon for latter born chicks to be knocked out of the nest in favor of the first-born.
Departing from Lake Buchanan, second largest of the Texas Highland Lakes, Vanishing Texas River Cruise is the premier ecological cruise of the Lone Star state. In addition to wildlife you’ll see spectacular views of Lake Buchanan, the Colorado River, rocky cliffs, and waterfalls.
The Texas Eagle II is a comfortable passenger boat with
inside and outside seating.

First visualized by Ed Low in 1981, Vanishing Texas River Cruise grew in popularity after a local newspaper reporter wrote about his trip on the boat. Lowe teamed up with Daniel Boren in 1982 and also Capt. Shawn Devaney, who became a partner as the ecological river cruise became more well-known and eventually bought the business in 1999. It has continued to grow and attract visitors from all over the world. Guides are very knowledgeable and the scenery offers many photo ops as the boat travels more than 22 miles on the lake.

In spring, beautiful bluebonnets line the shores of Lake Buchanan.
The Texas Eagle II comfortably carries up to 120 passengers in summer and 90 passengers in winter. The boat is fully enclosed and heated, so even rainy days can be good for spotting some of Texas’ 600 species of birds. Cruises last either two or four hours, and the route may be adapted according to water level. Delicious refreshments including chicken gumbo are available for purchase on shorter cruises and included with longer journeys.

Cruises run year-round, and reservations are recommended. There’s not a better way to observe nature in the Hill Country than on the Vanishing Texas River Cruise.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


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