Friday, July 27, 2018

Think about conservation when traveling

Traveling “green” and clean should be a goal whether you’re near home or far away. If you haven’t given the concept of sustainable travel much thought, here are some tips to help you get started conserving resources.

1. Take your own refillable water bottle. It might be aluminum or hard plastic, but either is better than using disposable plastic bottles which are so flimsy nowadays that they’ve become one-use bottles.
2. If you go snorkeling or diving in the ocean, be aware that some chemical sunscreens might damage coral reefs, so choose your protection with reef safety in mind.
    3. Look for a farmers’ market to buy local food items. The food is fresher, and you’ll get to meet the people who have grown it.
4.  Reuse towels in your bathroom and request that sheets not be changed every day if that’s the hotel’s policy.
5. Stay at “green” certified hotels such as the Element brand of Starwood. Look for hotels that used recycled materials and energy-wise materials during construction.
6. Turn off lights and air conditioner when you leave. Think about the European system in which your room key must be inserted in the appropriate slot for electric power, and electricity stops when it is removed as you leave the room.
7. Take newspapers back to the lobby for another person to read.
8. If you need to rent a car, choose a hybrid. Some hotels have special parking spots for hybrids or electric cars.
9. Walk or ride a bicycle when possible as you tour the area. Or take public transportation.
10. Stash your trash (and pack it out) when hiking. As the saying goes, “Leave only footprints."
11. Don’t feed or tease wild animals or encourage people who might want them as pets.
12. Skip items made from wildlife when buying souvenirs. If the species is endangered, the item might be the result of illegal poaching. And you might have to pay a fine.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Waterfalls in Western U.S. national parks

Waterfalls create magical, awe-inspiring scenes, and our national parks have some of the best.
Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls
Visit Yosemite National Park during May and June when snow melt from the High Sierra Mountains begins to flow into streams and rivers. From nearly any location in Yosemite Valley you can see at least one magnificent waterfall—and possibly smaller transient waterfalls.
Yosemite Falls, best-known and most spectacular in the park, is the highest waterfall in North America and sixth highest in the world. Measuring 2,425 feet from the top of the upper fall to the base of the lower fall, this two-tiered namesake attraction flows in a long, narrow stream of water that is especially forceful in late spring (by August it may be just a trickle).

The final 320 foot drop--after a series of five smaller plunges in the Middle Cascades—makes up the Lower Fall. An easy one-mile Lower Yosemite Fall Loop Trail takes visitors to the base of the waterfall where there is an accessible viewing area with extraordinary views of the powerful waterfall. Trails from the valley floor lead to the top of Upper Yosemite Fall, but hikers should be prepared for a long, challenging climb.
Bridal Veil Falls
Another recognizable waterfall, and the first one most visitors to Yosemite National Park see when entering the valley via tunnels on Wawona Road, is Bridal Veil Falls. This waterfall is popular for two reasons: It flows all year (peaking in May); and a short but steep quarter-mile trek takes visitors to the base of the fall where they can get outstanding photos of this streaming, white cascade.

Vernal and Nevada Falls are two extraordinary water plunges that can be seen close up on the popular (and often crowded) mile-and-a-half Mist Trail. As the name suggests, the rocky path is often wet from spray, which can make the hike slippery. But a trek to Vernal Falls, the first one on the trail, is entirely doable and provides a feast for the senses and breathtaking vistas that will remain etched in your mind forever.                               
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Lower Yellowstone Falls
Mist rising from Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River forms a prism reflecting greens and golds in a surreal scene. A painting by Thomas Moran of this incredibly beautiful vision helped persuade Congress to make Yellowstone the world’s first national park. After the geyser Old Faithful, this is the most photographed spot in the park.
Formed by erosion as the Yellowstone River flows over progressively softer, less resistant rock, the waterfall flows first over the 109-foot Upper Falls and then the more accessible Lower Falls. It is the biggest waterfall in Yellowstone and the most famous. Part of the reason is that it can be viewed from several different vantage points such as serene Artist Point where visitors can watch the water drop 308 feet into the mist below. 

Extended view of Yellowstone Falls
A one-way loop drive from the east goes to the brink of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River providing “wow” opportunities at Inspiration Point, Grandview Point, and Lookout Point. For a breathtaking experience, take a trail to the top of the Falls (the last stop), a short but steep three-quarters mile round trip. Hear the intense roar as water plunges deep into the rainbow mist beneath.
Grand Canyon, Arizona

Waterfalls are abundant when rafting on the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. In fact, drenching myself under a waterfall was an easy way to "shower" and get clean, especially since the river water was 45 degrees and muddy.
Nature's "shower"

Beguiling turquoise water flowing over crimson red rocks seems almost unearthly at HavasuFalls. But it’s not a dream, which you’ll fully realize after hiking 10 miles into Havasu Canyon to reach the falls. If you have an adventurous spirit, it’s definitely worth the effort to see an oasis of waterfalls in the desert southwest.
One of the most photographed waterfalls in the world, Havasu’s 100 foot drop is impressive, but the most amazing feature is its breathtaking blue-green color, which is due to high mineral content of travertine in the water.

Although located within the Grand Canyon, this tropical paradise is not in Grand Canyon National Park but rather on the Havasupai Indian Reservation.  Because it’s private land hikers must obtain a trail permit from the reservation. Havasu is one of four major waterfalls (also Navajo, Mooney, and Beaver Falls) in the indigenous home of the Havasupai Indian tribe, who have lived there for over 800 years. 
Getting ready to jump into Havasu Waterfall
Guided hiking tours are available, or helicopter rides take visitors over the canyon for a birds-eye view of the waterfalls.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier




Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Life in rural India

After a full day touring historical sites in Delhi including Old Town, Shanti Vana (Forest of Peace), Red Fort, Raj Ghat (Mahatma Gandhi’s Memorial), Humayan’s Tomb, and Qutub Minar,  we left our resort, the Taj Palace, and flew two hours south to Jabalpur. Then we rode another five hours as our driver maneuvered through rural areas to Kahna National Park in Madhya Pradesh state of India.
Along the way we passed through many small towns, each exhibiting a level of simplicity (by Western world standards) as indicated by people sitting on the ground by the road selling apples, tomatoes, and shoes. Day laborers waited for work that rarely came. Open air stalls served food, sold medicines, clothing, and purses, or offered a shave. Entire families piled on one motorcycle, including lap babies (I cringed), but it was quicker than walking.

Away from the busyness of the cities, life is slower and more serene. But trash is piled up almost everywhere, and everything seems dirty, crumbling, or in disarray. But no one appears to notice. When something breaks, it stays that way because there are limited resources for repairs. Yet we saw children playing and laughing and getting into the same mischief as children anywhere.
As you might imagine, cattle roam freely often causing traffic jams or slowdowns on the roads. They are never eaten and usually don’t do work but are important for the milk they give—and as status symbols for some people. Killing cattle is not allowed even though cattle must fend for themselves for food.

Bicycles, cars, and pedestrians all share the road in a tenuous dance involving oblivious but complicated right-of-way. Life and death is often a matter of mere inches. There is two-way traffic on one-way roads. I gasp more than you can imagine and at times refuse to look at the road. Yet, our driver knows all this and expertly drives us safely to our destination.
Poverty and living conditions are depressing, especially to our American sensibilities. Dirt is omnipresent. Dust fills the air. Women walk with large bundles of fire wood and baskets of food items balanced on their heads. Technology is a foreign concept in the work life of villagers and farmers, although Internet capability is available in all but the most rural or secluded places.

I’m amazed by this journey. We are right in the heart of India, and these are not tourist destinations. I can’t imagine getting a better view of real life in this dichotic country. Still, I know this trip isn’t for everyone; it does require a sense of adventure and a non-judgmental mindset.
People from several villages are going to a Sunday festival.
Around dark we arrived at Kanha Jungle Lodge, our base for wildlife safaris during the next several days. Set on the outskirts of the national park, this beautiful lodge provides respite from the conditions we have traveled through.

Here we see a totally different aspect of Indian life. Wildlife conservation is an important issue in India with numerous governmental agencies aiding habitat construction and preservation. Researchers study wild animals to ensure their safety and longevity. Park visits are highly regulated and require knowledgeable local guides. With more than 200 national parks in India, tourism—both foreign and local—allows for education while boosting the economy.
I’ll share more about  our wonderful experiences at tiger reserves and game sanctuaries in later posts.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Rivers to kayak in Texas Hill Country

Beat the heat of a central Texas summer with a refreshing day of kayaking in the Hill Country on either the Llano or San Saba Rivers, both less than two hours drive from Austin.
San Saba River

Locals think the San Saba River is as close to paradise as you can get.  After soaking up sun (bring plenty of sunscreen) floating along four of the 50 available river miles in Menard County, I agree. 
Stroking paddles rhythmically from side to side, my husband Larry and I swished our kayaks through wide open spaces surrounded by cedar, oak, and pecan trees rustling on the river’s banks.  Just as we settled into an easy cadence, the river made a tight turn into a narrow path shielded by sharp barrier grasses, so we paddled swiftly to steer away from trouble.  The challenges of maneuvering over rocks and around bends that appeared suddenly following a couple of small rapids simply added fun to our adventure.

We glided beside limestone bluffs, watching reflections disappear as our paddles rippled across the water.  Although you’re never far from a major road, the river retains the calm and serenity of nature because there’s no residential development. 
Water level of the San Saba, a 100-mile tributary of the Colorado River, fluctuates with weather conditions, so check on the status with an outfitter like San Saba River Adventures, (325-496-4364), where you can rent kayaks by the hour or by the day.

Llano River
A few miles out of Junction, we find Peacemaker River Expeditions (325-446-2363), one of several outfitters on the South Llano River.  Larry and I navigated our rented kayaks through mostly smooth waters that spun into a few small rapids, one of which gave me an unexpected dunking when my kayak grazed the bank and flipped.  Sloshing through waist-deep water, I grabbed the kayak, righted it, and hopped back in, none the worse—and even a bit cooler from my dip. 

Our kayaking excursion on the South Llano River was short and sweet (between two spots where the road crosses over the river), but you can beat the heat all day by launching on the Main Llano River (formed when the South and North Forks meet in Junction, with access at the city park).
If you want to spend the day on the water, the first public access downstream from the dam at Grobe Crossing makes for a six-to seven-hour trip, while the Yates Crossing is approximately two more hours. The main Llano River travels across miles of beautiful Hill Country terrain before emptying into the Colorado River.

Both rivers are great for fishing, birding, swimming, and scouting for wildlife.  Your first time out, it’s best to rent kayaks from established outfitters that will transport you to put-in and take-out spots. Some even provide guided overnight excursions. 
For more information:

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier