Friday, August 31, 2018

U.S. waterfalls that offer extra thrills

Niagara Falls, New York
Powerful Niagara Falls
NiagaraFalls is actually a combination of three waterfalls that lie on the border between United States and Canada. The largest, Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, is the most powerful waterfall in North America. It is separated from the American Falls by Goat Island. Also on the American side is smaller Bridal Veil Falls. Watching torrents of water pour over the wide ledge leaves no doubt in your mind that the combined falls, 165 feet high, form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world—750,000 gallons each second.

Maid of the Mist goes close to Niagara Falls
Located in Niagara Falls State Park on the Niagara River 17 miles northwest of Buffalo, New York, this is the oldest state park in the nation. In addition to Niagara Falls, the park includes 400 acres of lush landscape and famous attractions like Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds.
Maidof the Mist offers a boat ride that ventures close enough to feel the forceful spray of Niagara’s tumbling waters—so a waterproof jacket helps keep clothing and cameras dry. Cave of the Winds provides a close up view of American and Bridal Veil Falls—amid forceful winds as you descent 175 feet into the Niagara Gorge while walking along wooden decks through the foaming water. Even though you’ll be given booties and ponchos, expect to get wet. Both adventures provide thrilling ways to experience this American icon, which has lured visitors to its thundering roar and powerful elegance for generations.

Visitors walk below Niagara Falls on wooden decks.
Fun Fact: Decks at Cave of the Winds are torn down and re-built every year. Because the water is still frigid in spring, park employees work for only 20 minutes at a time re-building the famous decks.

Cumberland Falls, Kentucky
Cumberland Falls has the same basic formation as Niagara.
CumberlandFalls lies in the state park of the same name. This 68 foot tall waterfall is often called Niagara of the South because, like the famous falls, it spreads over an extensive ledge rather than gushing in a single stream. Its 125-foot wide curtain of water flows into a wide gorge, splashing dramatically over boulders in the Cumberland River.

During the day, sunshine glistens through the spray as it bounces off the rocks. But when night falls, visitors are enthralled by colorful moon bows, which happen when the moon’s light is reflected and refracted off water droplets in the air. Because this atmospheric phenomenon is rare in the Western Hemisphere, each month it attracts legions of people hoping to glimpse this unusual sight.
After soaking in the serenity of this lovely waterfall, visitors can participate in other Cumberland State Park activities such as hiking on 20 miles of trails, mountain biking, fishing, horseback riding, and white water rafting. Although cabins and camping are available, consider staying at the historic DuPontLodge.

Fun fact: The best opportunities to see a moon bow occur two days before and two days after a full moon on clear nights. Plan your visit according to full moon appearances.
Photos from free sources and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Spectacular side trips along Utah's Scenic Byway 12

Grosvenor's Arch
The guidebook said Grosvenor’s Arch was only 11 miles off Utah’sHighway 12.  It didn’t mention that Cottonwood Canyon Road, the way to get there, was just a primitive gravel road with sharp turns, steep edges, and deep drop-offs. It didn’t mention that the white-knuckle drive (for me, at least) would take more than half an hour.
But just as I wondered why in the world we thought taking this detour was a good idea, magnificent Grosvenor Arch came into view. This back road destination actually features two sandstone arches jutting out of a soaring cliff in an Instagram perfect setting.  After exploring and photographing the stunning rock formations, we had the perfect backdrop for enjoying our picnic lunch.
A short trail leads to the arches.

Even better, at Grosvenor’s Arch we encountered a couple who convinced us to stop at Kodachrome Basin State Park as we returned to Hwy 12.  If not for their suggestion, we probably would have passed it by as just another local park. But it was definitely worth another detour.
While there, we hiked Panorama Point Trail, a three-and-a half-mile loop that concluded at an elevated observation point overlooking multicolored rock formations throughout the area. Along the trail we enjoyed a wonderful spectacle of 67 red-tinged monolithic pillars jutting up from the canyon floor against a clear blue sky.
One of the many spires in Kodachrome Basin State Park
While on a road trip to visit different national parks in southern Utah, my husband and I discovered beauty in unexpected spots.

Follow Scenic Byway 12—but take a few detours.

Wildflowers decorate rock formations
in Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Recently designated an All America Highway, Scenic Byway 12 (between Capital Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks) features several lesser known, but equally worthy, attractions like Grosvenor’s Arch, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Red Canyon.
If you’re planning a road trip to see national parks in Utah such as Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, and Arches, add in extra time to visit other attractions along scenic Byway 12.
Hoodoos in Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah.
Cedar Breaks is a fairyland of painted cliffs and colorful rock spires.  Arriving on a blustery day, we felt the cool September temperatures typical of its10,000-foot elevation. 
We hiked Spectra Point Trail along the canyon rim and got our first glimpses of hoodoos, breathtaking formations that are the hallmark of Bryce Canyon National Park. As we looked down into a half-mile deep geologic amphitheater, we were surrounded by the richness of the subalpine forest of bristlecone pines.
Pines and the deep amphitheater in Cedar Breaks National Monument
The turn-off for Bryce Canyon passes through Red Canyon, a destination popular with mountain bikers because it’s open to biking and ATV riding.  If you are a bike rider then this is a place you do not want to miss. Unique vermilion-colored rock formation and stands of Ponderosa pines make the canyon exceptionally scenic.
Paths to walk or bike in Red Canyon

There are also several short hiking paths that are maintained by the U.S. Forest Service.  We walked the one-mile Pink Ledges Trail that loops past intriguing and brilliantly colored geological formations. It’s a great trail for getting close enough to explore and examine the rocks. Rather than viewing giant spires from a distance, you can walk up and touch them—and feel dwarfed against their bulk. The 3-mile Losee Canyon Trail provides a more rugged look at some of the Red Canyon area "crown jewels.”
Stunning formations just off Utah's Scenic Byway 12.
Southern Utah is a wonderland of stratified rock formations, sandstone cliffs, and towering spires.  If you’re willing to stray a bit off the main path there are plenty of naturally beautiful landscapes waiting to be discovered. The region is especially striking during the fall when maples, oaks, and aspens are ablaze in vibrant reds and golds. 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Friday, August 17, 2018

Tranquility and views at Fish Tail Lodge in Pokhara, Nepal

After spending several days in Kathmandu, Nepal, touring temples in the UNESCO district (many of which were damaged in an earthquake in 2015) and learning about Stupas, Kumaris, and other Buddhists symbols, Larry and I flew with our guide to Pokhara on a small 10-row Jetstream plane.
FishTail Mountain as seen from Fish Tail Lodge
Soon after take-off glistening snow-covered mountains capture my attention as I gaze outside the plane’s window. The Himalayas and Annapurna Range are among the largest mountains in the world, and the sight is simply spectacular. Peaks pointing straight to heaven sparkle in the sun. Dividing India from its northern neighbor Nepal, these elegant crowning glories provide an almost impenetrable landscape with passes that are scarce and difficult. Perpetually covered with snow, these mountains crown the world as we know it.

Flying over Himalaya Mountains
When it comes into view, I snap photos of Fish Tail Mountain (Machhapuchre), namesake for the lodge where we will stay. Located on a peninsula across from Fewa Lake in a beautiful tourist area, it is only a five-minute drive from the airport. We are shuttled to the resort across the lake on a rope-drawn raft. Views are breathtaking, and it’s easy to see why the Lodge has been included in Patricia Schultz’s book 1000 Places to See Before You Die.
Raft that shuttles guests to Fish Tail Lodge
Built in the late 1960s with unique round cottages that are set amidst a lush garden, rooms are perfect for a romantic getaway or just a tranquil sojourn. The tropical environment is filled with plants and flowers, a spa is available, and our cottage is just a few steps away from the lake and mountain views. Fish Tail Lodge is endowed to the Jayanti Memorial Trust, and all profits generated by the property help promote prevention of cardiac disease and help heart patients.

A resort with a purpose
It was almost noon when we arrived, so we sat on the deck by the lake enjoying a drink and light lunch—a welcome change from the crowded, noisy cities we had visited in India and Nepal.
As testimony to the exclusive service and comfort offered, the Fish Tail Lodge has hosted many world leaders (including President Jimmy Carter), royalty (Prince of Wales), heads of governments (Prince Narihito of Japan) and celebrities. Indeed, a dignitary from Africa arrived with her entourage shortly after we did. Seven military guys with guns took tables on either side of us, so we decided it was time to move on from the outside deck.
Larry and Beverly on the deck overlooking Fewa Lake
Later we returned to enjoy crystal clear reflections of the Annapurna range and Fish Tail Mountain on the lake. Canoes are provided for gentle escapades, either self-rowing or with a guide. Although many people come to Pokhara for relaxation, adventurous travelers find plenty of hiking, hang gliding, and other challenging activities to get their adrenalin flowing.
Beautiful reflections on mountains and city on Fewa Lake
I enjoyed relaxing on the window seat in our room, exploring the property before dinner, and then chilling out for the rest of the day.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Travel insurance--don't leave home without it

To buy or not to buy. That is the question.
But for us, this is never a dilemma. We always purchase travel insurance.

You wouldn’t drive a car or live in your home without insurance, even though chances are you’ll never get back in claims anywhere near what you’ve paid in premiums over the years. Yet you have it in case that one catastrophic incident might happen.
So think about travel insurance the same way. Because travel can be expensive, and the unthinkable can happen.

Our trip to India and Nepal last winter ended with my husband Larry in the hospital in Kathmandu for eight days. Even though medical expenses are less in Nepal than in the United States, we still racked up considerable claims, not to mention canceling flights and rebooking last minute later on.
One thing to remember is that if there’s a medical situation in a foreign country that requires prompt attention, you won’t be able to get preapproval from your insurance company. So you may be required to pay upfront (charge cards are generally accepted) and then receive reimbursement from the insurance company after filing a claim when you get home. Just be sure you have high enough limits to cover expenses.

What does travel insurance cover?
The main reason to have it is to protect you from financial losses if you must cancel or interrupt your trip for covered reasons or you have legitimate medical expenses. It can also cover lost or stolen items and provide financial assistance if flights are delayed or canceled or your baggage is lost or delayed.

Cost is based on the age of the traveler, type of coverage you choose, and cost of the trip. Generally the cost is around seven percent of the amount of insurance you decide to purchase. It’s not always necessary to purchase for the full amount since you only want to include non-refundable expenses when calculating the trip cost (hotel or car rentals may be cancellable, for example).
Policies are available that allow you to cancel for any reason or that cover pre-existing conditions. These typically must be purchased soon after your initial payment and will cost more than a standard policy which can be purchased any time up until travel begins.

For more information, check out these recommendations from Consumers Advocate (courtesy of Sam Klau).

What is not covered?
Some policies will warrant against default by the tour operator, but not all do. Also, there are restrictions on covered reasons for canceling or interrupting the trip unless you purchased an all-inclusive policy. When choosing a policy keep in mind the dollar limits for covered expenses.

One amount to look for is at least $150,000 for emergency medical evacuation. With sufficient coverage on a regular travel insurance policy, you don’t need to purchase a separate policy for this type of emergency event.
Do you have insurance from other sources?

Some home owner’s policies will cover lost items, including luggage, although payment may not happen while you are traveling and need to replace items missing. And your health insurance might pay for illness or accident expenses although Medicare usually won’t cover expenses when traveling out of the country. 
Some credit cards offer travel insurance as a perk if you use the card to book certain expenses, or you might have purchased insurance from the airline when booking your flights. Be sure to check all possibilities, so you can then purchase only what is needed in excess of what you already have. To help you analyze credit cards that are good for travelers, Money magazine offers its picks for best travel credit cards in 2020. 
Bottom line is that—like any insurance—a travel policy can provide valuable peace of mind. And reimbursement if unfortunate circumstances happen.

Images from free sites.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Majestic condors bring visitors to Peru's Colca Canyon

Condors with a wing span up to 10 feet glide through the mountain pass from both sides of Colca Canyon in the Highlands of Peru. We watch these gigantic birds put on a spectacular show from our perch on a rock wall rising up from the canyon.
Only later do we learn some interesting facts: Condors can live up to 150 years and, most surprisingly, they eat only dead animals, scavenging wherever they can.

We’re at a spot called Cruz del Condor or Condor’s Cross, a natural lookout on the edge of the canyon. At an elevation of 10,784 feet, it is an excellent place to watch condors soar gracefully on rising thermals formed when warm currents rise from the canyon floor. 
Looking down into the canyon
No one can predict exactly when or how many condors may perform their aerial show on any given day, but the largest crowds come to view the spectacle early in the morning when the majestic birds are hunting for food.
The valley offers stunning views of the Andean landscape. It’s a popular location for hikers, backpackers, and mountain bikers, but what entices most people to this region is the opportunity to see the powerful Andean condors in flight.

We also marvel because it’s where the mighty Amazon River begins. Colca River starts high in the Andes Mountains of Peru and flows to the Pacific Ocean in stages, forming a scenic canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.  Snow-melt from the 16,800-foot high volcano Mismi is a distant source of the Amazon.
Terrace farming originated by the Incas is still practiced today.
Terraces built by Inca and pre-Inca cultures are still cultivated along the canyon walls, and the name Colca refers to small granaries built into the cliffs that were used as storage for potatoes, quinoa, and other crops grown on the terraces.
Walking along the canyon rim.
We take a short hike along the canyon’s rim. Looking at down into the valley and across the canyon we spot several backpackers trekking on the rugged, often barren trails.
This lupine resembles
our Texas bluebonnet.
But we walk easily among wildflowers on our overlook trail before returning to Colca Lodge, our hotel oasis where natural hot springs welcome us back to civility.

Peru is an increasingly popular destination for U.S. travelers.

The road to Cruz del Condor in Peru.
With bustling cities like Lima and  Arequipa, historic attractions such as Cusco and Machu Picchu, a varied geology that includes volcanoes and the Andes Mountain, native cultures of the Highlands region, an expanding culinary scene, and the enormous Amazon River, Peru is one of our favorite destinations in South America.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier