Standing in the presence of the unbelievably immense, monolithic slabs of stone in Zion National Park is an experience that is not soon forgotten and, I’d argue, even spiritual. Gaze up at those massive sandstone cliffs as you hike The Narrows and you’d swear you’ve entered an alien world where 2,000-foot-high gods of rock rule. If you’re brave enough, you can even trek on the shoulders of those gods, by walking on the aptly named Angels Landing Trail. And since 84 percent of the park is designated as wilderness, there are scores of other spots where you can commune with nature and find solitude.
But now imagine that you’re in Zion walking that precipitous pathway — with sheer drop-offs on both sides — and a drone buzzes close by your head. Not only does that distract you and make you feel unsafe, it suddenly changes your great outdoor and unplugged experience.
Similar scenarios in our national parks have caused some of them — including Zion National Park — to ban drone use. While some applaud the move, others feel that their preferred way to photograph the parks is being unfairly singled out and prohibited. But is attaching a camera to a drone truly similar to other forms of photography?
On a wild, remote island in Lake Superior called Isle Royale, gray wolves have lived and thrived for more than 60 years. In the forests on this island — which encompasses the majority of Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park — a wolf population that grew to almost 50 individuals once contributed to a biodiverse, healthy ecosystem.
In recent years, however, the number of wolves on Isle Royale has plummeted. In 2009, scientists from the Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale project — begun in 1958 and now the longest continuous study of a predator-prey system in the world — documented only 24 wolves living on the island. As of February 2014, that number had dwindled to nine — the second lowest total for the island ever recorded.
Some blame climate change for the decrease. Others say it is just the natural order of things for species to come and go in a particular area. But whatever the cause, the question for the future health of the island and the park is: should we intervene to save Isle Royale’s wolves?
Last October, when CNN broadcast the documentary Blackfish, a film that tells the story of the 2010 killing of a SeaWorld trainer by an orca named Tilikum, there was a public outcry against marine parks — such as SeaWorld — that keep cetaceans in captivity. After the movie aired, several veterinarians and the director of the Dolphin Project at the Earth Island Institute in Berkeley, California, Ric O’Barry, stepped forward to state their professional opinions that confining orcas can make them psychotic.
SeaWorld, however, countered that marine parks such as theirs have done great works in conservation and that hundreds of millions of people have come to love and learn about orcas and other marine animals because of their popular shows and exhibits.
But given what we now know about how confinement can influence an animal’s behavior, should cetaceans ever be kept in a captive environment?
Recently, while reading the November/December 2013 issue of Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club, I came across a graphic that startled me. It depicted two columns, labeled “House” and “Senate.” Under each of those titles were two more columns, showing the number of Democrats and Republicans in each branch of the legislature that are climate change deniers. Under the House section were 200 Democrats; none were listed as climate change deniers. Of the 233 Republicans, 128 deny climate change.
In the Senate, there were 52 Democrats (with two Independents), again with 0 climate change deniers. Of the 46 Republicans, 30 deny that the world is warming.
My goal here is not to cast aspersions on any one party but to look at the big picture. It is possible that we can make strides to protect the planet against the devastating effects caused by rapid climate change if our leadership fails to believe it is real?
Ecotourism. It’s a term travel marketers love, but what does it really mean?
Ecotourism involves more than just exploring nature or viewing wildlife, which on its own does not always contribute to the welfare of a place and its inhabitants. Indeed, some destinations, such as the Galapagos Islands, are at risk of being ‘loved too much.’
At its heart, ecotourism involves “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people,” according to the International Ecotourism Society.
With this in mind, consider whether your travel plans include the following principles and practices that are central to ecotourism that makes a positive difference:
I just returned from an overseas trip, spending 17 hours in the air and several more hours in airports. Since I’m always a coach-class traveler, I was reminded of how difficult it can be to find healthy food at a reasonable price when you’re flying.
Ditto for road trips: our family drove from Denver to Seattle last summer, and the wasteland of fast-food chains and truck-stop convenience stores clustered around interstate exits is downright depressing if you want a quick bite that’s not burgers, fries or rotisserie hot dogs.
The key, I’ve learned, is to prepare your own portable meals ahead of time. Travel, especially flying, can be draining, not to mention dehydrating. It’s important to choose foods that are high in protein and complex carbs, to maintain blood sugar levels – and to drink lots and lots of water. Those tiny plastic cups the airlines provide won’t suffice — bring your own water bottle and fill it from a concourse drinking fountain once you clear security.
With just a bit of preparation time, you can enjoy easy, energy-sustaining snacks that taste better and cost a lot less than most ‘food on the fly.’ If you’re traveling this holiday season, mix and match a selection of these easy snacks — no need to bother with a cooler or utensils; most items will last outside the fridge for a while, and most can be eaten right from your hand.
“Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays…”
I can hear Perry Como crooning those familiar words now, evoking images of that Norman Rockwell family gathered round the holiday table, turkey steaming, silver gleaming, family smiling … The idea of home for many of us evokes thoughts of comfort, welcome, love and belonging. Or it should, in an ideal world. But the reality of going home, especially during the holiday season, may be very different.
Expectations often don’t match the inevitable reality: while you may be yearning for ‘peace on earth, good will toward men,’ the fact is, those relatives you don’t get along with the rest of the year are unlikely to make a miraculous change for a day or two. Maybe your children have fledged the nest and won’t be home this year. If they’ve married, they may be spending the holidays at someone else’s home. Perhaps this is the first holiday you’re facing after the death of a loved one. The thought of going through the motions in the midst of grief holds little appeal.
Whatever the circumstance, there are occasions when you may not feel like singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” with Bing Crosby. Spending part of the season far from stressful settings may be just the gift to give yourself … Or, you may wish to pack up the family just this once and go some place more restful, without all the hassle and hoopla — at least not any that you have to host and clean up after!
If you’re feeling impulsive, last-minute deals at the holiday season are often available to fill cancellations or leftover space — it’s worth a few Google inquiries, if you’re in the mood to mosey. So, whether it’s this year or another, here are five holiday travel ideas to restore body, soul or both.
I have to admit it: last year, my traveling to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, to see polar bears in the wild was motivated not only by a 10-year anniversary but by a fear that soon the animals could be gone. I go to see glaciers because I’m afraid we’re losing them. And this coming January, I’m returning to Yellowstone National Park to try to photograph our nation’s wolves before they almost completely disappear in the Lower 48 — again.
You could call me an “extinction tourist.”
I’m far from unique. In fact, today people are traveling in ever-greater numbers to see what they think could quickly vanish from the Earth. While just a few years ago travelers might have endeavored to tick off all seven continents or Africa’s Big Five wildlife species, today there’s a certain “cred” given to those who see the landscapes, animals and plants that are just managing to hang on. And tour providers are tapping into that desire with their marketing messages. “See [fill in your favorite endangered animals] before they’re gone!”
But should tourism companies use threatened species as marketing tools? Given our ability to tune out ads, does that minimize the dire circumstances that these animals and environments are now in and dilute the attention that conservation messages might have been able to muster?
Throughout human history, the sharing and exchange of local food between people of different cultures has cemented social bonds and sealed agreements. Feasts often brought people from far-off places and varying ways of life together.
Today, whether you’re in a friend’s home or visiting a foreign land, partaking of your host’s served meal is considered polite — or, at least, that’s what I have been taught. So, when I recently traveled to Greenland and visited an Inuit community, I happily agreed to taste the traditional foods offered, including raw whale blubber, dried cod and simmered seal stew.
Wanting to share my adventure with friends, I posted a photo of myself eating the uncooked blubber on a social media site. To my surprise, I was met with strong disapproval by an acquaintance who works at an environmental organization.
When traveling, should you indulge in the traditional foods offered, even though eating them may not be “politically correct” in your own country?
If you’ve avoided yoga retreats as a vacation option because you’re worried you’ll spend all your time contorted in meditative silence, it’s time to take another look. Not only do many yoga retreats blend spa treatments and body work with asanas, but a whole new trend combines contemplative practice with activities such as horseback riding, mountain biking, stand-up paddle boarding and other outdoor pursuits.