With a few exceptions, much of the U.S. has been experiencing an unseasonably warm and dry winter. While that may make some people happy, those of us who welcome snow, sweaters, skating and skiing are missing winter’s frosty grip.
If you’re feeling as blah as the brown landscape outside, consider a mid-winter adventure to colder climes. There’s nothing like nature beauteously transformed by an icy white veneer to lift even the most listless spirit. From dog sledding to tracking wolves, sleeping in an ice hotel and watching the Northern Lights, cold-weather travel is all kinds of cool!
Two kayakers paddling off Redondo Beach, south of Los Angeles, got the thrill of a lifetime recently — the kind that most of us will never experience. They met a blue whale, the largest creature on Earth.
The 50-foot cetacean came within arm’s reach of the small kayak. But, not content with this closest of encounters, Rick Coleman, one of the kayakers, plunged into the water for a face-to-face session with the whale — all the while keeping his video camera running. Of course, that video soon appeared on YouTube and the inevitable interviews on TV news shows followed.
In many of those interviews, the Colemans (Susan Coleman was the second kayaker) made the comment that it is important to remember to always approach wild animals with the “utmost respect.”
But is pulling your kayak up to a blue whale and then jumping into the water next to it showing respect for wildlife — or is it more indicative of a desire for renown?
When one of America’s best-known and finest actors, Marlon Brando, bought his own private island in 1966, people generally wrote the news off as just another eccentric act by the rich. Until his death in July 2004 at the age of 80, Brando “owned” Tetiaroa, a 2.5-square-mile atoll in the South Pacific, 37 miles north of Tahiti. (He obtained a 99-year lease to it from the French Polynesian government.)
Brando was a nature purist and hoped Tetiaroa would be part environmental laboratory — mostly for sea turtles — and part modest eco-resort. In a will he signed in 1982, he put Tetiaroa in a trust so it could be preserved for posterity. “If I have my way,” he once wrote in a memoir, “Tetiaroa will remain forever a place that reminds Tahitians of who they are and what they were centuries ago.” His wish was to keep the island from becoming overly developed and in as natural a state as possible.
This summer — like almost every summer for the past decade or so — was rife with headlines about people being assaulted by wild animals. “Seven teens attacked by grizzly in Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains,” read a headline in the Anchorage Daily News on July 25, 2011. And, “Two teenagers have life-threatening injuries after being mauled by a grizzly bear while on a survival skills course in the Alaskan wilderness,” the first line of a Guardian feature informed us.
The italics on the words “mountains” and “wilderness” above, however, are mine. I think it noteworthy where these events took place. Against our ever-increasing penchant for developing remote areas and fragmenting wildlife corridors, the world’s largest predators have been squeezed onto smaller and smaller pockets, with nowhere to go but the mountains and the wilderness. Today, grizzlies, wolves, tigers and lions are having trouble finding room to be grizzlies, wolves, tigers and lions. And, without them, our planet is in big trouble.
Ecotourism often focuses on vanishing natural resources, such as rainforests and glaciers. It’s not often, though, that we think of looking up when we ponder the fate of the natural world under threat. Yet the starry night sky is disappearing as rapidly from human experience as vast tracts of the Amazon or the Arctic ice cap.
Light pollution is growing at the rate of four percent per year, according to the International Dark Sky Association. It is so pervasive that if you were to stand on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, you would see less than one percent of the stars that Galileo Galilei saw through his telescope in 1610.
Part One of this series explored the movement to protect the earth’s natural nightscapes. Here in Part Two, you’ll find suggestions for stargazing destinations that will open up the universe to whole new realms of perception. Escape the orange glow of interstates, car dealerships and mall parking lots, and discover the wonders of our twinkling galaxy!
“These darn trees are in the way of my view of nature,” joked one of my guides on a trip to British Columbia a few years back. We had stopped during a hike on a forested esker and were trying to look through the woods to a lake far below. We couldn’t see it through the dense foliage. Of course, his comment made us all laugh. Little did we know then that such an absurd idea would years later — this fall, in fact — become a reality in Yosemite National Park.
Starting later this year, thousands of trees will be cut down in Yosemite to provide better views of the famous granite faces, such as El Capitán and Half Dome, and the breathtaking waterfalls, such as Bridalveil or Yosemite Falls, that ring the valley. But the sounds of lumberjacks and the sights of downed trees — felled only for the purpose of providing better photo ops — are somehow discomfiting in a national park, prompting some to ask, “Why must so many succumb to the saw?”
I knew I had a problem with my Facebook addiction when I kept thinking of last weekend’s camping trip as a series of status reports:
Wendy Worrall Redal
… swore she would not camp in a tent in the rain again, and here she is.
… can’t believe she spent the last two hours trying to get flames out of a smoking fire made with wet wood.
… thinks the finest aroma in the world is the scent of alpine firs.
… is amazed at the lush profusion of wildflowers in the meadow next to Long Lake.
Actually, by the time I went hiking to Long Lake, I had been away from digital technology altogether for 24 hours, and I wasn’t thinking in terms of my Facebook status by that point. But all those moments offered a telling realization: My daily life — my very psyche — is tethered to mobile digital technology.
“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”
Slow has become a four-letter word in our accelerated culture. And yet … when it comes to travel, how can we possibly expect to truly experience a place at a breakneck pace? How can we savor a blur?
My husband and I are currently planning a mini-break. With three kids, three dogs, three cats (see a pattern developing here?), we’re lucky to escape at all, but we’re working toward a three-day getaway.
But as we plan, we’re recalling our most memorable trips, hoping to recapture whatever made them great.
And we discovered the common denominator: In every instance that we remember as truly outstanding, we were doing something other than what we had planned … and we were taking our time.
Road Trip Queen: That’s me. Give me a car, a map, a debit card and some new discoveries to satiate my quest for novelty and you’ve got the makings of a happy traveler here. I’ve logged over 150,000 miles on road trips across North America, so I think one could safely say I’ve learned a thing or two about how to do it right.
If these remaining weeks of summer are tempting you to hit the highway in pursuit of some relatively cheap freedom, here are my top “road rules” to make your trip the best it can be.
Anyone who has ever watched a brown bear fish, or an elephant wallow in a water hole, or a curious sea lion come face to face with a snorkeler, knows that one of the highlights of eco-travel is close encounters with wildlife in natural settings.