Monday, May 29, 2023

Does Bali live up to its reputation of island paradise?

After returning from a visit to Bali, Indonesia, several people asked me if the island was as pretty and desirable to visit as it seems from pictures. Certainly, we didn’t see every part of the island, but over the course of several days, Larry and I did enjoy different and distinct areas ranging from south to north.

Beach at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Bali

Bali often ranks among the best island destinations in the world, according to numerous travel sites. It’s a province of Indonesia and part of the largest archipelago in the world (although one of the smallest islands). It’s part of the Coral Triangle, an area with the highest biodiversity of marine species. In addition to beaches and an idyllic setting most people expect to see, icons of the culture and a topography that ranges from sea level to mountains make Bali a desirable place to visit.

Beautiful scenery along cliff paths

Nusa Dua district is located at the southern tip of the island. It is home to many high-end hotels built on land that was not suitable for growing rice or other agriculture. Driving around this district one sees beautiful sandy beaches—I decided to wade in to feel the warm, welcoming waves--lush vegetation, Hindu temples, and monkeys. 

Beverly splashing in the ocean

Away from the seaside hotels, the land is very rugged with rocky ledges and emerald cliffs. Uluwatu Temple, which is built on a cliff, captured that scene well.

After a lunch of chicken satay and Bintong beer, the local brew, we drove to Padang Padang beach, a secluded but popular spot that has been featured in movies.

Larry wades into
Padang Padang beach.
Getting down to the water required walking down steep steps through a cave, but plenty of people had found their way.

Late afternoon we visted the GWK (Garuda Wisnu Kencana) Cultural Park, where we watched an outdoor music and dance program honoring Garuda, an eagle-like creature in Hindu mythology with human features. 

Garuda transported the god Wisnu
of Hindu mythology.

Garuda transported the god Wisnu who descended to earth in different manifestations. Garuda symbolizes the virtues of knowledge, power, bravery, loyalty and discipline and is honored with a statue that is 248 feet high.

Our cultural journey from south to north began with a performance of traditional dance and music at Barong Tanah Kilap. Bali is renowned for its strong belief in keeping traditions alive, so children are taught to play ancient instruments and perform dances that tell stories of the culture.

Dancers represent mythical figures in Bali's culture. 
The temple at Tanah Lot on the southwestern coast of Bali is remarkable because it is built on rocks in the sea. Here we saw the first of many “gate” structures, which have become popular picture spots for tourists. Driving northward towards the middle of the island, we came to Jatiluwuh, an area famous for massive rice fields terraced on hillsides. Fortunately, the rice was green and lush, so we marveled at beautiful scenes while enjoying a typical Indonesian lunch there.
Terraced rice fields at Jatiluwuh
Gate structures are common.

We were headed to the mountains for a waterfall hike next, but heavy rain changed those plans. Instead, we stopped at the Floating Temple on Lake Bratan. The temple is only accessible at low tide when boulders leading to it are exposed. This lake is fresh water in what once was a volcanic crater. There is a lovely garden and park surrounding Lake Bratan and plenty of things for families to do. Three worship centers—Hindu and Buddhist temples and a Mosque—are located in the park.

Temple at Tanah Lot is built on ricks in the sea.

On the way back to our hotel in Nusa Dua, we stopped at Tegal Sari, a coffee plantation where we sampled many different teas, all made from natural ingredients grown there. I also drank a cup of Kopi Luwak, the world’s most expensive coffee  that is made from the poop of the cat-like civit.

You can find almost everything at the Badung Market
Badung Market, a traditional open-air market in Bali, is a different concept from supermarkets in the U.S. There is no air conditioning or refrigeration for meat or fish, fruits or vegetables, or even prepared foods that are sold by individuals. But it’s a very busy place since locals shop daily. In Denpasar, the capital of Bali, we visited the Bajra Sandhi Monument, Museum Bali, and Jagatnatha Temple.
Bajra Sandhi Monument in Denpasar, Bali

Lastly, we ended up at Singaraja, a provincial capital that was once under Dutch colonial rule, on the northwest shore of the Bali Sea. In the countryside we visited a farm near Bengkel village. Here the fertile volcanic soil is great for growing organic produce and medicinal herbs, as well as rice, a staple that has been harvested from terraces for 2,000 years. 

Larry samples an herbal tea and
medicinal herbs

From an elevated outlook, we gazed out over Tamblingen and Danau Buyan lakes, had lunch in the Munduk area, and made friends with a couple we’ve since visited with in Texas.

All of these sights helped us understand the allure of Bali for tourists and a new breed of digital nomads, young people who chose to live and work there for months or years because the cost of living is relatively cheap.

Lakes near the northwest shore of the Bali Sea.

Is Bali worth visiting? Yes, just as every place on earth is worth visiting for its own unique characteristics. We’re glad to had had the opportunity to spend several days there.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Monday, May 22, 2023

Largest Texas cavern expands with Hidden Wonders experience

After years of careful development and millions of dollars invested in design, engineering, technology, construction, and guest experience, Natural Bridge Caverns will open its latest and most ambitious tour: Hidden Wonders. Already the largest and most visited commercial cave in Texas, this new multi-million-dollar tour experience features state-of-the-art lighting, a sound and light show, and expansion into never before toured areas of the property's Hidden Cavern. Development of the new tour experience and careful development of new areas of the cavern has been underway since 2017 and will open. It opened to the public on May 12, 2023. As a frequent visitor to Natural Bridge Caverns, I'm really excited to view this new, state-of-the-art expansion.

The large Ballroom in Hidden Cavern

An exceptional experience

Natural Bridge Caverns is one of the world's premier show caverns. Discovered in 1960 by local cavers, this family owned and operated natural wonder is the largest cavern in Texas. In addition to multiple tour experiences through two distinct caverns, the property features above-ground adventures of a different kind including a ropes course, zip rails, a 5,000 square foot outdoor maze, and even an interactive “gem panning” activity.

Ropes course is a fun challenge.

The Hidden Cavern is a second cavern at Natural Bridge Caverns and part of the same geologic system. This distinct and unique environment never had a natural opening to the surface. As a result, incredibly delicate and beautiful formations were able to grow in a completely sealed environment. A Stewardship and technological advances were the main focus when creating this new tour experience.

“In developing this area of the cavern system, we have both pursued and established best case practices for working in this delicate environment. Our goal is to give visitors a stunning view of the cavern like never before, without impacting its beauty,” said Brad Wuest, President of Natural Bridge Caverns.

“Developing this tour has been challenging due to many things, including the depth of the new public tour area. This expansion required the construction of a 710-foot exit tunnel, double the length of anything done before – and to do so with minimal impact on the cavern. We used best in class techniques and developed new ones to make it work. We took the time to do it right. The result speaks for itself.”

Fully programmable state-of-the-art lighting is one of the dramatic changes in the cavern as well as a 1100 foot long expansion of the public passageways beginning with a stainless steel bridge across the cavern's deepest point. Now guests will tour through an area that was only previously accessible by cavers. This addition will showcase an underground canyon, more formations, and a large 5700 square foot dome chamber called the Ballroom which serves as an event space. A new viewing area overlooking a massive passage called the Box Canyon is now a natural theater for a unique sound and light show finale.

Unique light show finale in Hidden Cavern 

Exiting the Hidden Wonders tour will also be a one-of-a-kind experience as guests effortlessly ride from underground to the surface on the 700-foot long BAT (Belt Assisted Transport) through the newly constructed exit tunnel. The Bat is the world's first conveyor system ride out of a cavern. All in all, these innovative features will combine to deliver a completely new experience.

“We plan to showcase the science behind the beauty of this once hidden cavern on our tour,” said Wuest. “With Hidden Wonders' many enhancements we have an opportunity to both educate and entertain.” Guests will be given new interpretation and insights into the natural processes that led to the creation of the passage and its formations that date back millions of years.

More of the cavern system itself is still being discovered; the Wuest family along with their caving team are still actively exploring new areas in the massive cavern. Natural Bridge Caverns is a designated State Historical Site, National Natural Landmark, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.   

For more information about the history of the cave visit About Us For general information about the new tour and future expansion efforts visit   

 Information and photos courtesy of  Trav
Media and Natural Bridge Caverns press release.


Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Be a responsible park visitor

Grand Canyon National Park

Whether you’re a local or enjoy visiting the United States, some of the most recommended places to see are the country’s 62 national parks. These sites have unique features or ecosystems, recreational opportunities, and natural beauty that attract people from all over the world. As summer approaches, national parks will be busier than ever.

Yellowstone became the world’s first national park in 1872. Now there are more than 400 separate areas designated as national parks, forests, seashores, preserves, monuments, recreation areas, lakeshores, parkways, scenic trails, battlefields, and historical sites.

Old Faithful in Yellowstone

Conservation as a guiding principle

The US National Park Service was created in 1916 to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

That mission is still the driving force behind conservation efforts and decisions regarding our national parks. If you’ve ever visited one of these outstanding places, you probably shared your experience with others, maybe even recommending that they also take a trip there. With Instagram, Facebook, and other social media sites so popular for sharing images and experiences, the parks have become increasingly popular destinations, resulting in many more people than some of the parks can reasonably handle.

It’s a paradox that the parks often depend on tourism for their maintenance, which also keeps people intrigued and wanting to visit. Yet preservation of nature and wildlife depends on minimal interruption.

Is there a solution?

Taft Point in Yosemite NP
In parks like Yellowstone and Glacier National Park in Montana where visitors can still drive their vehicles (reservations are needed for Going to the Sun Road), limited parking spaces come at a premium. Other parks like Zion and Grand Canyon have developed a shuttle system to alleviate disappointed, even angry, responses when people get frustrated by the limitations. Rapid modernization including WiFi service, makes visiting Yosemite more convenient but creates other struggles as the park tries to cope with the changes the come with growing numbers.
Check for reservations on Going
to the Sun Road, Glacier NP

Zion National Park, Arches NP, Rocky Mountain NP, and others either have or may start limiting the number of people who can visit each day. Visitors may have to sign up for a certain time slot in which they are allowed to enter the park, obtain a parking space in advance, hike on a specific trail, or book a seat on the park’s shuttle bus.

While these requirements may be viewed as restrictive, it’s imperative to find a balance between visitor numbers and park preservation. If that means your visit requires preplanning for a parking spot or getting on a shuttle, then realize that action is necessary to ensure continued enjoyment of scenery, wildlife, and activities for all. 

Timed reservations are needed to visit Arches NP

As visitors, we should appreciate that responsible behavior (including keeping the park clean and exercising civil behavior) is the only way to keep these places available and as wonderful and magical as they truly are.

Information courtesy of Amanda CroweConsultant | Researcher, Digital Content &

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, May 5, 2023

Texas Living History Week

 As part of the upcoming National Travel and Tourism Week, Texas Historical ommCission (THC) is hosting Texas Living History Week to encourage people to travel back in time at any of the 36 state historic sites operated by the agency. 

At these historic sites across the state, travelers can step back into history. During Texas Living History Week, May 7-13, tours and hands-on activities will demonstrate how earlyTexans spent their daily lives. 

From ornate Victorian mansions to everyday inns, frontier forts to 20th-century leaders’ homes, there’s a state historic site to fit every interest. See the full range of programs on the THC’s Texas Time Travel website: Anyone planning a day trip is encouraged to call in advance.  

Kreische house

On May 6, plan a visit to Kreische Brewery and Monument Hill State Historic Site for “In the Kreische Kitchen,” a tasty event dedicated to cooking traditional German Texas recipes of the 19th century directly from the site’s historic wood-burning stove. Guided house tours will also be available. 

On May 6-7, Barrington Plantation State Historic Site, located at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, will host an event focusing on a woman’s daily duties in the 1800s. Follow our educators and lend a hand watering, planting, or weeding to help prepare the gardens for summer.  

National Museum of the Pacific War
Fredricksburg, Texas

The National Museum of the Pacific War is hosting a free living-history event on May 6 called “Outpost: Tales from the Home Front.” This short program will allow visitors to get up close and personal with details about life during the Pacific War and have the opportunity to interact with (and possibly handle) a few artifacts.  

Goodnight house

Visit Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight Ranch State Historic Site during the entire week where interpreters will provide an in-depth look at the Goodnights’ true personalities and particularities. Take a dive into larger-than-life insights of these legendary figures in Texas history.  

Fulton House

If you’re along the Gulf Coast, you can’t miss the opportunity to explore "Oakhurst,” the Fulton home at Fulton Mansion State Historic Site, May 9-13. The home was considered incredibly advanced during the 1880s due to its innovative features like central heating, gas lighting, and indoor plumbing.  

Fort McKavett

Fort McKavett State Historic Site
 is hosting living history days from May 11 to 13. Visitors can explore the remains of a 150-year-old West Texas fort, which is now considered one of the best preserved and most intact examples of a Texas military post of the era.  

Visit Starr Family Home State Historic Site on May 13 to experience historic food being prepared in a period kitchen. Starr Family Home staff will prepare homemade strawberry ice cream using a recipe from the 1887 White House cookbook. 

THC preserves and operates 36 state historic sites including American Indian sites, frontier forts and the homes of leaders and statesmen who lived in them. Many state historic sites and other heritage travel destinations are near historic downtown districts, where visitors can dine or shop at local businesses that make their communities unique.  

Information courtesy of Justin Minsker

Photos from free sites