Monday, July 15, 2019

Rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

When Major John Wesley Powell’s curiosity led to his 1869 expedition down the Colorado River as it flows through the Grand Canyon, he was an experienced explorer. When I decided to follow his path, I was clueless about what the adventure would entail.
A visit to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim many years ago left me fascinated with its natural beauty and magnificence.  I vowed to return and traverse the Colorado River from the depths of the canyon, to see the massive walls from the bottom up instead of top down.

But I didn’t know a thing about camping.
Amazing colors indicate archeological activity millions of years ago.
Still I was determined to try. So Larry and I embarked on a 225-mile raft trip from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek, Arizona.  I couldn’t resist the challenge—and I was willing to travel out of my comfort zone for the experience.

Hiking could be challenging, but it was a great way to explore land in the canyon.

 For 10 days my companions and I camped on the banks of the dam-fed river, hiked on narrow ledges and scrambled over jagged rocks, splashed through 160 rapids, bathed in 45 degree water (or  held-out for frolicking in waterfalls), and brushed away blowing sand.

Beautiful reflections in the morning mist
I learned skills I’d never needed before--pitch a tent, go potty in the river, brush my teeth in the dark--put up with daily hat-hair and wet feet, and listened to unfamiliar sounds while trying to snooze.
More interesting rock formations tell stories about ancient weather.
But I discovered, as did the other 14 people traveling in our group, that stretching one’s boundaries in order to view spectacularly beautiful and ever-changing vistas of canyon walls while learning history and geology of the region were worth any inconveniences.

It's impossible to describe the immense beauty all around.

If you have any inclination to take this life-changing rafting trip, I hope these photos will encourage you to do so. There are a variety of options such as different length in days, miles covered, type of raft, and whether you want to hike as well as paddle the river and the rapids. Only certain outfitters are approved to take visitors on rafting trips in the national park.

There's a new and exciting landscape to view around every bend.
Because we wanted time to explore the fascinating landscapes yet cover the most distance possible, we chose to go on a motorized raft with Arizona Raft Company.

Appropriate dress for the raft included hat, sunglasses, shirt, and life jacket.

Our days were filled with adventures and new discoveries while soaking up the incredible ever-changing views. Enjoy this small sample of photos that Larry and I took. Despite no way to recharge batteries or use cell phones, we tried to capture the grandeur of the Grand Canyon.
More magnificence of nature in the ever-changing canyon.

Our group of 14 loaded and unloaded the two rafts each day.

After making camp, we set up chairs in a circle to visit and enjoy
a sumptuous dinner prepared by the guides. When it got dark
we went to bed--no campfires allowed.
Colors of sunset captured our imaginations.

Best to keep feet (and sand) out of the tent as much as possible.

Several hikes led us to refreshing waterfalls.
Waterfalls provided an easy way to get clean,
since the river water became muddy after a few days.

Our rafts followed the river as it flowed between large rock formations.

Fun activities like jumping into a waterfall!

Everyday we packed our dry bags (our only "luggage,")
and retrieved them when we camped for the evening.

Magnificent and varied scenery kept us in awe during
our many hikes.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Read the fine print before you travel

Today’s guest post is by Christopher Elliott, author of “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). This column originally appeared in the Washington Post.

Before you embark on your summer vacation, take a few minutes to read the fine print on your airline ticket, car rental contract, vacation rental contract — or any other contract the travel industry pushes in front of you.
Cruising to Alaska is a great summer vacation.

It’s no exaggeration to say that many, if not most, travel problems start with a failure to read the terms and conditions. After years of advocating travel cases, I think I know the reason for the fine-print illiteracy. No one even knows where to find the fine print, let alone how to make sense of it. It’s so frustrating that travelers, and at least one travel insurance company, are doing something about it.

“Travelers inevitably encounter fine print,” says Karina Saranovic, a lawyer with the firm Delman Vukmanovic in Los Angeles. “The mile stretch of ink at the bottom of agreements can seem intimidating.” Saranovic remarked on how easy it is to click “accept” and finish a booking without understanding what you’re getting.

Her advice: “Comb through the terms with a magnifying glass, because you can’t always predict what you’ll find.”

For example:
You want to fly on time!

• Airline contracts, also known as “contracts of carriage,” say the airline is not required to keep its flight schedule. But you’re expected to check in on time. Otherwise, the airline will cancel your ticket and keep your money.

• Car rental agreements stipulate that if you damage a vehicle, you owe the company for repairs, plus “loss of use” — or what the car rental company would have earned had the car not been in the shop.
Car rental agreements vary widely, so
know what you are getting.

• Cruise contracts say the staff may search your cabin for any reason at any time. The cruise line can also use your image for any purpose without compensation.

“While it’s a good idea to read the entire contract, you’d be forgiven if you don’t,” says Tanner Callais, the founder of, a cruise site. “After all, if you want to cruise, then you have to agree to their terms.”

It’s that way for virtually all travel purchases. The agreement, known as an “adhesion” contract, is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. If you don’t click “accept,” you’re not traveling.
Check for extra fees with hotel stays.

So how do you read the contract? And what do you do when you find something objectionable?

Knowing that there is a contract is the first step. And even if they are aware of it, they have no idea how to find it.

Sometimes, knowing the terminology is useful. An airline contract, for example, can be called a “contract of carriage” or “conditions of carriage,” depending on the company. Hotels are a little trickier. Technically, your reservation is your contract, although you may find additional terms and conditions on the hotel site. Knowing the lingo can help you quickly find the contract when you’re doing your due diligence.

Once you’ve found the contract, experts say you should take your time reviewing it. Contracts typically outline deadlines for cancellation refunds, rescheduling or promotional qualifications. If you’re buying travel insurance, you should read the contract twice. Travel insurance policies are written in gibberish. Even if you think you understand what you’ve read, you might want to read it again.

Almost every contract you read will be one-sided and nonnegotiable. Which is to say, you can’t ask the airline or hotel for a revision — it doesn’t work that way. If you press the “book” button, you agree to the terms. (Oh, and the terms can change at any time, for any reason, to which you also agree.)

Reading the fine print
takes time and persistence.
But you can say no, and if you don’t like what you read, you should say no. This is particularly true when buying products for which you have many options, such as travel insurance or vacation rentals. If your policy doesn’t look right, walk away.

For some travel companies, the fine print is part of the business model. As they teach you in consumer advocacy school, the large print giveth and the small print taketh away. (Tom Waits sang about it, too.) Simply put, travel companies make more money when they slip a term into the fine print that makes your airfare nonrefundable or add a mandatory tip to your cruise ticket.

But some travel businesses — the ones caught between the consumers and the companies — are tired of the confusion. So earlier this year, the travel insurance website decided to do something about it. The company inserted a notification at the end of its contracts, giving $10,000 to the first person to read to the end.

Squaremouth estimates that fewer than 1 percent of travelers who buy travel insurance read all of their policy information. “We’re working to change that,” Squaremouth CEO Chris Harvey told me.

Harvey expected the contest to last a year. But Donna Andrews, a high school teacher from Thomaston, Ga., discovered the contest in less than 24 hours and won. I asked her why, and she said it was a habit. A self-described “nerd” who keeps a file with all of her contracts, she says she’s done that since studying consumer economics at the University of Georgia.

“I always fully read contracts before signing to ensure I know what is covered and what is not,” she adds.

Maybe there’s a lesson in there for the rest of us. “Gotchas” infest virtually all travel contracts. If you don’t want to get ripped off, you have to follow Andrews’ example. Make a habit of reading the entire contract — unless you like surprises.