Monday, February 28, 2022

Travel for better health

Despite variants of the corona virus still hanging around, 2022 is shaping up to be the year families again schedule vacations. Call it “virus fatigue” or just a greater feeling of safety because of vaccines and/or exposure, Americans are becoming travelers in increasing numbers.

Alaska is a favorite destination for next summer.

If you are planning a getaway, consider destinations that offer outdoor activities and fewer crowds. Not only will that help you travel in a safe manner, but being active is beneficial for mind and spirit as well as body.

Here are some health benefits of an active vacation:

Make memories with friends or family.

Social—If you travel with your family or a small group of vetted friends, you’ll likely have closer personal interactions when in a new setting. It’s a great way to make memories that your close group will talk about and share long after you return home.

Stretch yourself by learning
about new cultures.

—Having new experiences, learning about new places and cultures, and seeing new sights will benefit mental well-being. That’s because active travel challenges and rejuvenates your mind as well as your body.

Staying active is great for your
physical well-being.
Body—Active travel can lower health risks if you have medical challenges such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and more. Choose your own pace for hiking, biking, or sightseeing with flexibility to stop and enjoy the scenery or a great meal along the way. Achieving serenity and relaxation are major ways to improve overall health.

Spirit—Beyond the excitement of new discoveries, travel offers enrichment and can transform your perspective of life. This is especially important as many of us have struggled with fallout from corona virus during the past couple of years. Let travel replace fear and uncertainty with exhilaration and refreshed sensibilities. Leave the stresses or normal life as you enjoy fulfilling experiences during an active vacation.

Many beautiful places can be inspirational.

For many people, time away is a necessity, not a luxury. Consider traveling in spring or fall, if possible, as fewer people will be accessing popular outdoor places like national parks. Even if your destination is close to home, plan specific adventures that provide health benefits for mind, body, and spirit.

Photos from free sources and by Beverly Burmeier

Monday, February 21, 2022

A walk on Alaska's wild side

 On our drive from Anchorage to Homer we discovered the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Located 49 miles south from Anchorage and 11 miles southeast of Girdwood, the center is located at milepost 79 of the Seward Highway. If you are in the vicinity, it is worth a visit.

Here, on 200 acres at the head of Turnagain Arm and the entrance to Portage Valley, you will see close-up a variety of native animals in their natural environments. As per the mission of this non-profit center, it is dedicated to conservation, research, education, and animal care.

There are scheduled feeding and interactive talks. Guides offer tours (additional charge) through the facility, offering history and stories of the resident wildlife including foxes, bears, wolves, porcupines, wood bison, musk oxen, antelopes, elk, caribou, foxes and coyotes. You’ll also get an opportunity to feed an animal.

Visitors who would rather not walk on graded trails can drive the 1.5 mile loop. All animals are outside in their fenced enclosures. Larry and I spent a couple of hours strolling on the self-guided trails, stopping often to watch the antics of these rescued wildlife.

A prime feature of AWCC is the raised walkway through the brown bear habitat. This allows visitors to have an unencumbered view of the bears as they walk around, eat, and go about their daily activities. It’s a unique way to showcase these interesting animals.

Bison Hall at the Center is a stunning dining and event space surrounded by breathtaking views and Alaska’s wildlife that is available for rent. Since we left the Center shortly before noon to continue our drive to Homer, we purchased reindeer sausages from an on-site vendor. A little farther down the road we enjoyed a picnic lunch at Summit Lake.

Since we were in Alaska in July, another bonus was gorgeous displays of fireweed, a bright pink wildflower that was in full bloom along roadsides and in view of the beautiful Chugach Mountains. It is absolutely stunning!

AWCC is open rain or shine, year-round. Admission to Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is $18 adult (18+), $14 youth (5 - 17), children 4 & under are free, $15 Active Military (with ID), $16 Seniors ages 65 and older. 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, February 14, 2022

International travel is surging

Massive 88% jump in travel abroad; longer, more remote trips expected 

Norway has lifted travel restrictions.
Nearly half of travelers (49%) have already taken an international trip, reflecting an 88% jump in travel abroad since the summer of 2021. Domestically, 85% of respondents have already traveled, signaling an 18% increase since the summer of 2021, according to the Winter 2022
Global RescueTravel Safety and Sentiment survey of the world’s most experienced travelers. 

More people are returning to travel domestically and abroad, according to the survey. Nine out of 10 travelers are “much less or less” concerned about travel since the pandemic, revealing a 22% increase in travel confidence since the summer of 2021. 

Costa Rica is a favorite international destination.

“All signals are pointing to the beginning of the end of international travel restrictions due to the pandemic. Countries like New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and others are opening their borders as severe COVID-19 illnesses and hospitalizations decline, vaccinations increase and testing is more convenient. 

Domestic travel continues to increase but the big news is that travel abroad is surging,” said Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue, the leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services.  

Destination preferences continue to lean toward out-of-the-way places in the open air with fewer people. More than three-quarters of respondents (76%) are planning more outdoor, remote travel – a 40% increase compared to traveler responses nearly a year ago. For the first time since the pandemic started, an overwhelming majority of travelers (82%) indicated they are planning more trips lasting five or more days.  

Cycling in Ireland is a way to avoid crowds.

“When people feel safe, they travel and we are seeing tremendous, positive change in the traveler confidence about their well-being,” Richards said. According to the survey, nearly half of respondents (47%) confirm they feel safest when vaccinated or recovered from COVID followed by having medical evacuation protection (20%) and visiting uncrowded destinations or outdoor activity (17%.) 

Despite the upturn in travel attitudes and behavior, more than half of travelers (52%) admit that COVID-19 infection, its variants or quarantine is still their number one travel fear, followed by trip cancellation (17%) and having an accident or sustaining an injury (16%).  

Some think air travel 
restrictions are too strict.

Travelers are divided when it comes to their opinion of how government officials are handling travel choices during the pandemic. More than a third of respondents (38%) believe current COVID-19 restrictions are “impossibly strict” or “unnecessarily strict,” while slightly more (44%) say the restrictions are “just right.” Less than a fifth (17%) say the restrictions are “too lenient.” 

This article is slightly edited from a press release by Global Rescue, courtesy of Bill McIntyre,   

Monday, February 7, 2022

Outdoor fun in Aspen (snow not needed)

The Maroon Bells are one of Aspen's most famous sights. 

Even if you’re not an avid skier or thrill-seeking mountain biker, there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in this classic Colorado town. Family-friendly trails and parks offer a variety of fun in open spaces that are preserved by the city of Aspen and accessible to visitors.

The Sanctuary is a tribute
to John Denver.
Here are a few of the places Larry and I have found that suit our senior abilities and love of the outdoors.

John Denver Sanctuary

Built in memory of the famous singer, the sanctuary is a calm, inspirational place featuring stone slabs inscribed with words and songs from John Denver. It is a fitting memorial to the artist who immortalized the town’s beauty and character in his songs. Situated next to Rio Grande Park, the Sanctuary is an ideal spot for a picnic, meditation, or a stroll through the maintained wetlands and blooming gardens.

Walk or bike along the
Roaring Fork River.

Rio Grande Trail

This city path follows the Roaring Fork River and is ideal for walking or easy biking. We usually include a portion of the paved path in our outings to the John Denver Sanctuary, making a pleasant addition to a morning escapade. Fall foliage and spring color add beauty to the natural scene.

Hunter Creek Trail

Golden aspens overlook the
Hunter Creek Trail.
If you’re looking for or a little more muscle activity, try the Hunter Creek Trail, Its forest setting will make it hard to believe that you are still in town. You can hike more than six miles to Reno Waterfall, or take the shorter 1.7 mile north Hunter Creek trail—which is what we did. There are cross trails along the way like Lani White Trail, or you can eventually hike to pavement and walk back into town. Don’t be surprised if you’ve covered four or five miles by then.

Castle Creek Road

Bike, hike or drive along Castle Creek Road for stunning views.

This is a favorite of serious bike riders. For us it is a stunning drive in the car. From the roundabout west of Aspen’s center, take paved Castle Creek Road for 12.5 miles to the Castle Creek trailhead. Allow several hours if you are biking on the road or hiking a trail. If you drive, stop at Ashcroft to see remains of this 1800s mining town. Continue further on Castle Creek Road, and you can have a special meal at Pine Creek Cookhouse—if you have made reservations ahead.

Silver Queen Gondola

Glorious views from the summit of Aspen Mountain.

Visit the 11,000 foot summit of Aspen Mountain via the gondola which takes 15 minutes to travel 2.5 miles. At the top wander along ski trails (when no snow) taking in far-reaching views of the countryside and the town of Aspen. There are a variety of trails, so choose one or two that are best suited to your hiking ability and stamina at the higher altitude. Later relax with a snack and drink in provided red rocking chairs before descending to town on the gondola.

The Grottos

Nature provides a beautiful show at the Grottos.

Seemingly overlooked by visitors to Aspen is the one-mile Grotto Loop Trail, about eight miles north of Aspen in the White River National Forest. We’ve found this to be a delightful place to spend a couple of hours admiring the deep crevices of ice caves and wandering among boulders left by a glacier that melted 18,000 years ago. Continuing on the trail, there’s a series of cascading waterfalls tumbling over several levels of massive rocks and boulders. The Grottos pack a surprising “wow” factor.

Weller Lake Trail

The trail to Weller Lake is easy but worthwhile.

Another family-friendly hike is to Weller Lake, an incredibly scenic body of water in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness of the White River National Forest. Although it is almost 10,000 feet elevation, it’s easy to get to, only has a 200 foot elevation gain, and is slightly less than a mile round trip. I’ve heard you can swim in the lake on a nice summer day, although the outer rim was dammed up with logs and rocks when we were there.

Maroon Bells

Bridge on the Maroon Lake Loop

I’ve written about the famous twin peaks several times before, so I’ll just mention it briefly here. Mountains, lake reflections, golden aspens in fall, and colorful flowers in spring make this a “must-see” every time we are in the area. For a shorter hike take the Maroon Lake Loop, or try the four-mile round trip Crater Lake Trail for more challenge. Go early in the morning, and spend enough time to fully enjoy this beautiful destination.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Searching for bears in Katmai National Park

Brown bears are one of the biggest attractions for visitors to Alaska. There are several places to  see them, some easier to get to than others. One of the most adventurous destinations is Katmai National Park, which we chose to visit during our stay in Homer, Alaska.

Spectacular arial view of mountains in Alaska.

Katmai is the definition of raw nature. It was declared a national monument in 1918 to preserve its cataclysmic 1912 volcanic eruption. Since then most surface geothermal features have cooled, but protecting brown bears has become an equally compelling charge. In 1980 the area was designated a national park and preserve. It is so vast that most of it eludes all but a few persistent visitors.

Chilly weather, waders, and boots
It was into this remote Katmai that we chose to venture. As such we hoped our chances to see bears in the wild would be more authentic than visiting a crowded tourist attraction like Brooks Falls. In summer (our visit was in July) bears gather at streams to feast on salmon and other fish as they fatten up for the coming winter, so we would hike in search of this elusive species.

But first we had to get there. We left from Sasquatch, a small town near Homer, on a light plane after getting outfitted with rubber boots and mid-thigh waders—indicators of the kind of terrain we would be hiking through. The flight to Katmai was simply spectacular as the pilot flew over ice-covered mountains and alpine lakes. The scenery alone was worth the time and effort for this journey.

Landing at Katmai National Park is another challenge.

There’s no landing strip, so the pilot set the plane down on a barren stretch of rocky beach. From there we began a jaunt through muddy waters. The tide had receded, so we mucked along the shoreline for more than three hours in our search for bears. Coastal browns who feed on abundant fish are bigger even than grizzlies that live 100 miles or more inland. It is estimated that 2,200 brown bears live in the national park.

Mother bear beckons to cubs to follow.

Before long we came to a bear trail, and a mother bear appeared through the thick brush. She tried to entice her cubs to follow as she wandered away from their den, but the little ones soon went back into the safety of surrounding trees. Brown bears dig a new den each year, enter it in November, and emerge in April. The cubs were not yet comfortable in the outside world.

We spotted more brown bears.

After walking further, we observed a couple of brown bears across a marshy area. They were searching for food in the water, and we watched their antics for a good while. Unfortunately, our guides insisted that we stay a long distance away so as not to disturb the bears, so we never got as close as I had hoped. It was quite amazing but not what we had expected as far as really getting to observe the bears up-close. Still, some excursions in Katmai do not ever find bears even if they meander up to five miles around the national park, so we were grateful for that.

Alpine lake as seen from the air

On the return hike to the plane, I slipped in the mud, and when a guide grabbed my hand, he inadvertently pulled me down. Yuck. It was an interesting day but exhausting from the challenging conditions we encountered. But we did see bears!

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier