Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Why I love Big Bend National Park

The dessert landscape has many surprises.

As you approach Big Bend National Park in far west Texas, your first view might be of the desert. It is brown and dry with prickly plants everywhere. Heat and seasonal winds can bring scorching temperatures at midday. Or visit in winter when northern storms cause temperatures to plummet below freezing.
Big Bend is a unique park.

Even cacti have lovely 
blooms after rain.

If that’s your introduction to Big Bend National Park, you might stop short of actually going in the park. After all, the entrance is 80 miles from the nearest town, so you might think getting there from Marathon means you’ll likely be stuck all day in this unfriendly environment. If first impressions like this are lasting, people either lover Big Bend or hate it.

But, if you don’t venture further into the park you won’t discover the wonders of the three ecologies that define Big Bend.

There's wildlife, too!

Beyond the Chihuahuan Desert (one of North America’s four major deserts) are the Chisos Mountains. A green island in this desert sea, the mountains are responsible in part for the desert since they block rain from reaching the prairie. 

But within this green oasis are a variety of plants and animals that you might not expect to see there. White-tailed deer, bears, and coyotes range here, and leathery succulent plants of the arid landscape give way to green leafy shrubs and trees and spring wildflowers. 

Rainfall in the Chisos Basin nourishes oak and juniper trees, even becoming home to bird species that only nest in these mountains.

And then there’s the Rio Grande River, whose distinctive curve gives the park its name. The life-giving waters of this green ribbon cut across the desert and carve deep canyons.  For 118 miles the Rio Grande forms the boundary between the United States and Mexico. In fact, one of the park’s best-known features, Santa Elena Canyon, is shared by the two countries—its rugged south wall towers above Mexico while the smoother north wall lies on U. S. soil.

Sunset at The Window. 
Elevation contrasts and multiple ecologies formed by a trio of river, desert, and mountains create microclimates that enhance the diversity of plant and animal life within the park’s boundaries. Birding is a popular endeavor because many species of birds include Big Ben on their migratory routes between South, Central, and North America.

Early morning, the moon shines while the sun glows
on the mountains. 

Big Bend must be explored to be appreciated. You can find interpretive displays and easy walks to scenic or historic points on paved roads. In addition to being a spectator, hike trails (easy or challenging), raft amazing canyons, go off road on a jeep tour, ride bikes on back country roads. or inhale spectacular vistas from horseback.
Go for a hike.

Not to be overlooked is the peace and serenity that this remote area offers. Many visitors return year after year when to revel in solitude in their own happy place.

I’ve visited Big Bend National Park several times and have fallen in love with its distinctive character. Every time I go there, I discover more dimensions of its natural beauty. If you visit the park, give yourself enough time to indulge and savor all it has to offer—river, mountains, and desert. You, too, will come to love this iconic place.

Enjoy the multitude of colors.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, September 13, 2021

Why a travel advisor is more important than ever

With so much information readily available on the internet, is there any reason to work with a travel advisor when planning a trip?

The short answer is Yes.  Especially now.

If you’re anxious to go somewhere, anywhere, after a long dry spell due to the pandemic, you probablyrealize that that the travel landscape has changed significantly. And it changes every week. 

A travel advisor listens and suggests.
Countries like Sweden no longer allow Americans to visit. Others still require 14-day quarantine upon arrival. Quantas, the Australian airline, now requires a vaccination to fly. Italy began requiring a Covid test to enter the country just a week ago. Additional countries are regularly added to the CDC “avoid” list, meaning they are level 4 or higher. Navigating the changes can be tricky at best and devastating for your vacation if a requirement is overlooked.

Beyond Covid-related issues, a travel agent or advisor can help you get the best value for your travel dollar and help ensure your travels go smoothly. Here’s why you need the assistance of a professional.

If you don't know where you want to go,
a travel advisor can help with plans. 
Help with planning.  Travel agents can help you sort through thousands of options. Because they are familiar with the logistics of traveling to different places, they can help you avoid disappointment.

Say you want to go on a cruise. You’re fully vaccinated and the ship you’ve chosen requires a high percentage of vaccinated passengers and staff. But have you checked out the status of each port on the itinerary? If a destination is rated 3 or 4 it’s possible that the ship may not be allowed to dock, or if it docks, passengers may not be allowed to disembark.

I was anxious to cruise again,
but decided to wait. 

We recently cancelled a cruise because 4 of the 7 ports were level 4 and the others were level 3. We didn’t want to take a chance on not being able to visit the places for which we booked the cruise originally. This holds true also on land tours if museums, restaurants, and other attractions happen to be closed or operating at minimal levels. Ever-changing restrictions can result in disappointment if you are not allowed into a special place.

Help with cancellation or delay.  We just returned from a trip to Italy that had been rescheduled three times. The advisor company covered any additional expenses that resulted from the delays, rescheduled all activities and tours, and reworked parts of our itinerary as needed. We didn’t have to deal with the challenges of making everything fit together.

If you’re working with a third party, the agent can facilitate getting a refund or future credit. Also, you have someone to call if anything goes wrong while you’re on the trip.

Help with getting the best value. As travel picks up, many companies are offering low prices and incentives to attract travelers. Travel agents often know about special deals and will know how much your trip should cost. An advisor can sort through the options and find those with the best prices, best service, and most perks.

We wanted to visit northern Italy.

Help with personal requests.
Set tours may go to places you’ve already seen or that you have little interest in. A travel advisor can suggest an itinerary that fits your specific needs and desires. This can be especially helpful if you have dietary needs, accessibility issues, or just want to do something a little weird or off the beaten path. 

An advisor can arrange guides and/or drivers if needed as well as accommodations, so you don’t have to research all the details and then hope your information is good. Many have traveled extensively themselves and can make recommendations based on their insights and experiences.

We wanted to hike in the Dolomites (Alps).

Whether you need help from start to finish for your trip or just need someone to fill in the gaps, a travel professional can help assure that your vacation goes as smoothly as possible.

Photos from free sources.





Sunday, September 5, 2021

Create special moments by the sea

What’s more fun in the summer than a trip to the beach?

Even if school has started, a day or weekend at the beach is a great way for the family to beat the heat while enjoying the magic of surf sand at the ocean.

Even better, take along 50 Things to do at the Beach by Easkey Britton (Princeton Architectural Press, 2021). This handy book is chock full of tips to transform your day into a meaningful and inspiring return to nature. 

Follow along as Britton, an environmental scientist and professional surfer, shares important information about the connection humans have with the sea—its impact on our health and well-being, benefits of seaweed varieties, medicines, calming effects, ability to lower heart rate, and more.

At the same time, the sea is a powerful force that we strive to understand. Learning about tides, rip currents, waves and the creatures that live there can help preserve the ecology of our land. Knowing details like that can also help keep you safe at your chosen beach, Britton says.

Once the author has engaged readers with facts about the ocean, she delves into many fun things to do at the beach. Beachcombing (barefoot if the sand is soft) and finding seashells are popular activities which easily become part of your relaxing day or can be incorporated into a scavenger hunt for treasures like a crab shell, sea glass, something rough or something smooth, or whatever strikes your fancy. Watching sea birds and searching for dolphins or whales will also keep you occupied throughout the day.

Then make some sand art. It can be very simple or very complicated. Using a child’s sand pail and a stick you can create a wondrous selection of castles, moats, and rivers. Beautiful sea sculptures are often showcased at special festivals where artists try to build the most amazing structures; perhaps you’ll arrange your beach visit to coincide with one of these festivals.

Of course, you can head into the water to play in the waves or swim. Just be sure to follow any restrictions for the day and know where dangers might be hiding (rip tides, sharks, jellyfish, steep drop-offs, etc.) Britton recommends that vacation beach goers stay in water shallow enough to touch the bottom, use mineral-based sunscreen, and wear UPF protective clothing.

Finally, Britton encourages readers to give back to the sea: Practice conservation, eat sustainable seafood, do a quick clean up in your area, help restore coastal habitats, and leave no trace from your visit.  

Doing things like this will help ensure that our country’s beaches are safe and enjoyable for generations to come.

 Photos from free sources.