Sunday, September 29, 2019

Challenge your senses in Kenai Fjords National Park

Ice and glaciers attract visitors to Kenai Fjords National Park.
If you look at a map of Kenai Fjords National Park you see jagged fingers of land jutting from the Harding Icefield into the Gulf of Alaska. You’d be right if you thought ice was the mainstay of this 600,000 acre park. Thousands of feet below what you see on the surface is a concealed mountain range, a relic from the last Ice Ag, a glimpse into a time when ice covered much of North America.
More recently, activity such as a massive 3-day eruption in 1912 caused Mount Kenai to collapse inward on itself creating a caldera (crater). Snow fell and settled in the bowl creating a glacier and more stunning scenery. But there’s much more to this glacier-filled land.

Jagged rocks form coastal Kenai Fjords
As glaciers moved, they slowly carved valleys that filled with sea water and formed the beautiful fjords. This strange and wonderful landscape is evidence of nature’s raw sculpting power. It’s a place where birds swim better than they fly, mammals must adapt to life in frigid salt water, and wildlife including orca, otters, and salmon are the prime inhabitants.
Abundant wildlife
Wedged between crashing waves of the sea and the frozen Icefield, a narrow slice of temperate rain forest teems with wildlife. Moose, bears, and mountain goats inhabit the lush, green spaces at the edge of the Kenai Fjords. Majestic mountain peaks just beyond the trees provide a starting point for the glaciers, some of which now slide into the jagged fjords.

Surprisingly green rain forest landscape
This is the land we chose to visit while in Alaska—staying at a quiet, isolated retreat called Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge. It’s a place that challenges your senses. Waterfalls, bird calls, and a swooshing eagle create a symphony of nature sounds. 
Intricate patterns of ice in Ailik Glacier. Chunks regularly calve
(drop off) into the water.
The thundering boom of a calving glacier, furry otters tummy side up rolling in the waves, hazy fog and pelting rain, and sunshine glistening on forest ferns are all nature’s way to awaken your senses.
Bright firewood was in full bloom. Gorgeous landscapes
But there’s also a tranquility that soothes the soul and refreshes the spirit. Summery fields of pink-flowered fireweed, dewy mosses growing under a canopy of spruce and alder trees—and a quiet that comes from existing without traffic, technology, and ticking clocks.

We gladly left behind the treasures of modern society so we could discover and experience nature’s treasures without distractions. That meant getting outdoors, no matter what the weather—kayaking in the rain, hiking through puddles left by previous downpours, and canoeing through fog that made us focus on what was right in front of us when we paddled in Peterson Lagoon. Yes, it was cold and wet at times, but it was also warm and sunny. The climate that shaped this place continues to keep it wild and wonderful.
Beautiful Ailik Glacier that we kayaked to one day
Our boat ride to the Lodge had lasted 5 hours because we spent a good bit of time looking for wildlife—which we easily found. Humpback whales migrate to these waters from Hawaii every summer. Sea otters abound in the frigid waters. Harbor seals don’t mind if the weather is dreary. Orcas, or killer whales, provided a spectacular show just as the boat approached the front of Aialik Glacier. We were awed by the incredible beauty of this place—and took too many photos.

The Lodge is hidden in a natural setting, so we had a short hike to get there.
Too soon the captain guided the boat to a beach where we got off and walked half a mile to the hidden Lodge.

Our cabin
This was a good day made even better by the incredible beauty of mountains and water surrounding our cabin. After dinner we wandered a bit in the rain forest, walked back to the black sand beach where we had started, and then sat on the deck listening to the quiet. Mother Nature had showed us her best; now it was up to us to let it soak in and to accept serenity into our souls.
View of Peterson Lagoon behind our cabin
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Thursday, September 19, 2019

Wellness destinations appeal to Colorado visitors

In Colorado, wellness is not just a trend. Colorado’s outdoors, active lifestyle, fresh air and sunshine appeal to visitors in search of wellness offerings. 

Historians estimate that as many as one-third of Colorado’s early settlers moved to the state for reasons associated with health. Several historic Colorado destinations and landmarks such as The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and the Colorado Chautauqua in Boulder were originally founded, and are still sought after, as places for wellness retreats and individual healing. 

These one-stop wellness spots give visitors the opportunity to refresh, recharge and reconnect.

Boulder: In the late 1800s, John Harvey Kellogg founded the Boulder-Colorado Sanitarium and Hospital promoting ‘hydro-therapy, exercise and a vegetarian diet’ as the way to good health. From Mount Sanitas came the word sanitarium, and today the area is home to popular hiking trails.

Boulder Farmers' Market, a hub for the local community for 30 years,
 has been named #1 farmers' market in the U.S.
In 1898, the Colorado Chautauqua was built at the foot of the Flatirons as a family retreat focusing on nature, culture and music. Today, Boulder offers 45,000 acres of unspoiled outdoor beauty for visitors to explore via 300 miles of hiking and biking trails. 

Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks offers Shinrin Yoku, the Japanese art of forest bathing, a research-based framework for supporting healing and wellness through immersion in forests and other natural environments. Shinrin-yoku has been scientifically proven to reduce stress hormones in the body, lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and depression, boost mood and more.

Breckenridge: In recent years, Breckenridge’s county was ranked among the highest life expectancies in the country according to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Wellness is the way of everyday life in Breckenridge with more than 60 miles of trails taking off from downtown historic Main Street for year-round adventures.
Mountain biking through Gold Run Gulch and mining ruins near Brechenridge
Other features include a newly-renovated 17-million dollar recreation center, welcoming yoga studios and innovative spas (complete with grottos, reflexology, CBD, TCM, reiki treatments) peppered throughout town, and local makers creating tinctures, salves and elixirs from native Breckenridge plants.

Colorado Springs: As far back as 3,000 years ago, the indigenous Ute people lived near Garden of the Gods Park. The area also served as a Native American crossroads, where numerous nomadic tribes gathered in peace. Beginning in the early 20th century, the city’s dry air, nearly year-round sunshine and high altitude attracted those afflicted with tuberculosis. Following the Gold Rush, Colorado Springs’ first major economic driver was wellness tourism. More recently, Colorado Springs became known as Olympic City USA and is home to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center. The city offers athletes a mild climate, incredible natural training grounds and awe-inspiring beauty. 

For feelings of peace, tranquility, and relaxation in Colorado Springs,
float in a private pod with 10 inches of water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt.
For decades, members and guests have come to Garden of the Gods Resort and Club not just to disconnect from the outside world, but to reconnect with the best that life has to offer. Strata Integrated Wellness Spa is a destination for holistic wellbeing that is multilayered and all encompassing. This wellness spa offers energy practice, psychotherapy, acupuncture, mindfulness work and more.

Crestone: This picturesque mountain town in the Mystic San Luis Valley region of Colorado has emerged in the last few decades as a spiritual mecca for world religions. What began as a small mining town now accommodates a Hindu temple, a Zen center, a co-ed Carmelite monastery and several Tibetan centers. Visitors can experience nearby Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa for a soak in secluded mineral hot springs and a full-service spa treatment. Joyful Journey offers a variety of accommodations ranging from classic hotel rooms to Tipis, all-season yurts and campsites.

Glenwood SpringsTherapeutic healing via hot springs and wellness treatments have a long and storied history in Glenwood Springs—a Rocky Mountain town historically called “Colorado’s Spa in the Mountains.” A wellness paradise, Glenwood Springs’ global reputation as a healthy destination dates to the 1880s, and the healing tradition continues with numerous spas offering an ever-increasing array of exceptional treatments and services. With its ample geothermal amenities and outdoor activities, Glenwood Springs is a Colorado wellness hot spot for relieving stress and restoring balance.

Glenwood Springs is home to the world's largest hot springs pool
which has been offering mental and physical health benefits since 1888.
Glenwood is home to one-of-a-kind wellness attractions that include the Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, considered the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool; Iron Mountain Hot Springs with its 16 soaking pools situated along the banks of the Colorado River; and the Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves, the only known vapor caves in North America that offer therapeutic steam naturally.

Information courtesy of Carly Holbrook, PR for Colorado tourism, which provided photos.


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Fishing for halibut in Alaska

When you go to Homer, Alaska, the first area you’ll want to explore is the Homer Spit. This thin 4.5 mile stretch of land curves southeast from the mainland like a tongue lapping at the sea.
Bridge from the mainland to the Homer Spit
Experts think the Spit is the remains of an ancient glacial moraine that is constantly being reshaped by ocean currents. This natural feature might have disappeared years ago if humans had not decided it was worth preserving. Almost every winter storms from the northwest try to separate the 4.5 mile strip of sand and gravel from the mainland, but locals are committed to this iconic piece of history. They have built rock walls and fortified the Spit to preserve the beginnings of their town.

Archeological finds indicate that the Spit was occupied by humans long before written history. Pacific Eskimo, Athabascan Indians tribes, and Russian explorers all added their cultures, and the Spit improved economically over time. As more settlers arrived, Homer grew to encompass the foothills. After roads connected Homer to the rest of Alaska in 1950, towns on the north side of Kachemak Bay like Homer grew in importance.
Aerial view of the strip of land called Homer Spit
There’s not much to the town center (the Islands andOcean Visitor Center is worth a visit), but Old Town provides glimpses of Homer’s early history. However, it’s the Spit that has garnered most of the attention and become the center of tourist activity. Homer Harbor, Seafarers’ Memorial, Mariner Park, the Salty Dawg watering hole and lighthouse—along with a plethora of gift shops, restaurants, and tour company offices—attract strolling tourists and photographers.

Tourists enjoy walking around to see shops, restaurants, and more
on the Homer Spit.
Our first morning in Homer, we made the 10-mile drive to the end of the Spit, primarily to purchase licenses ($25 each) for our halibut fishing excursion in the afternoon. Not being avid fisher people, we chose to do this mainly for the experience—catching fish would be a bonus.
After a bumpy hour and three-quarters ride in a relatively small boat to the spot populated by many halibut, we were instructed to drop our baited lines (outfitted with a 2-pound weight) 200 feet to the bottom of the ocean. Then the fun began!
I struggled to reel in a large halibut.
It wasn’t enough that the boat lurched with the waves so that keeping balance wasn’t easy, but reeling the line was awkward for my left-handed self. Several times I could feel that a fish was hooked and struggled to reel in about 20 +  pounds of flipping fish, but I got too tired to continue, and the halibut managed to escape. Not the result I hoped for.

“You have to reel it in yourself,” the guide told me. “And don’t stop until it’s in the boat.” Something about regulations that prevented them from catching the fish for us, especially since we were only allowed two halibut per person. I was determined not to be a total failure at this, even though I often wailed, “I can’t do this!”
We caught our limit--2 halibut each.

So, I’ll tell you that fishing for halibut is hard work. Larry managed to get his limit a while before I did. But I finally had my catches tagged and stowed, awaiting what comes next.
Before beginning the filleting process on the return boat ride, the guides offered to take pictures of us with our 60-80 pounds of halibut. With all the fish filleted and bagged, the crew tossed scraps overboard as an easy meal for the circling gulls.
Guides were very adept at filleting the fish.
As I walked my exhausted self off the boat, a guide handed me a package with all the “meat” from our four fish. It was so heavy I almost dropped it to the ground. We estimate there were at least 25-30 pounds of fish filets in that bag.

Since this was the beginning of our three-week trip, we decided not to have the fish shipped back to Texas. Instead, on the recommendation of a local Alaskan, we took the bag of filets to Captain Pattie’s Fish Market on the Spit. This restaurant cooked an amazing meal with our really fresh fish. And then the waitress set a huge platter of halibut filets fried with a light, fluffy crust on our table, enough for four more meals—which greatly satisfied our taste for halibut.
Each piece of fish is a serving size, so we enjoyed several meals
from our catch.
And more lucky restaurant clients got the benefit of fresh fish from our excursion.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier