Sunday, July 13, 2014

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Some of the wild horses you will encounter inside the park.

Bison are everywhere, and sometimes up close.

Those bison are grazers.

A view of the Badlands and the contours created by the tributaries from the Rockies.

Inside Teddy Roosevelt's cabin, remade to show the rooms as they were during his time.

The front door to the Maltese Cabin.  The markings are from tourists and a reminder of a former era when tourists would mark up famous sites.

In front of the Maltese Cabin.  

Careful, this is a wild area.

Prairie dogs are everywhere, are hard to get a good close up photo, and warn each other of impending tourists.  

A view of the wild horses and colors in the southern section of the park. 

The carvings of the earth are a result of time and water.

The Badlands are famous for a reason.

Bison will come right to your car but aren't are interested in you unless you show a threat.

North Dakota ranks last in tourism but has one shining spot: Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Situated in two separate sections in western North Dakota, this park is part of the Badlands that were created from tributaries and streams flowing from the Rockies that carved the soft clay earth to make the amazing landscape today.  Driving along western North Dakota, you’ll notice flat lands that suddenly open up to this beautiful area that has been preserved for the wildlife and greatest president the United States Park System ever knew.

Theodore Roosevelt first came out to North Dakota in 1883 to kill a buffalo before they became extinct.  An avid hunter, Roosevelt was afraid he would never get this large beast before they were gone for good, and it shaped his experience.  The hunting of big game and his first trip to the west would be a defining moment for him and ultimately his relationship with John Muir, who asked him one night at a campground when he was going to quit his hunting ways.  North Dakota, the parks, and the wild would shape him for a second time when Roosevelt’s wife suddenly died during childbirth.  Grieving, he left for the west again and would be transformed from a skinny city slicker that was teased by other local ranchers into the famous western “manly” man we knew.  In fact, once John Muir’s wife died and was mourning, Roosevelt suggested to Muir that he should move back to the parks to recover his soul and re-find himself.  He later did, moving to northern Arizona and spearheading the movement to create Petrified Forest National Park. 


A trip to the park will give visitors an insight into Teddy Roosevelt where his relocated Maltese Cabin, his first ranch in North Dakota, is located.  There are a myriad of great hiking trails and a loop along the South Unit that will get you up close with prairie dogs warning each other, wild horses, bison, and bighorn sheep.  You’ll also get to see landscapes shaped by time and a history instrumental to the National Park System that we have today.  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

New Orleans

The streetcars are still a way of transportation in New Orleans and a city icon.
Bruce Springsteen plays on the main Acura stage at Jazz Fest.
 
One of the many unique bars found all around the city.
The architecture is entirely all its own, and a walk through the Garden District is a great way to see some amazing residential styles. 
Brunch and cocktails at Coquette in the Garden District.
Live music is found everywhere throughout the city, inside and outside.
Before you eat the famous fried oysters, you have to shuck them.
 
Since New Orleans is built on a swamp, the (former) citizens must be buried above ground.  Mausoleums are throughout the town and are a popular tourist attraction. 

One of the most dynamic and unique cities in the United States, if not the world, is New Orleans.  History represents a major reason for this: first as a French Kingdom port, then ceded to the Spanish, followed by the United States (and the Confederacy).  The city was a major port for slavery, a battle for the War of 1812, and a scene of the Civil War.  The dynamic history and culture has provided a city that has an entirely unique culinary culture, architecture, and music scene. 
    
The city has a major African influence from slavery, and as a result has the unique Treme neighborhood.  The distinctive New Orleans jazz has its roots in the city, and is a major influence in music around the world.  Fried oysters, beignets, and creole food make up the New Orleans dining scene. 

While these distinct cultural marks exist here, many come to have fun, drink, and listen to live music.  It’s the Las Vegas of the south; people from all over travel to New Orleans just to party in the French Quarter.  Mardi Gras is the prime time of the year to witness this debauchery, but Jazz Fest is a great event at the fairgrounds to see some of the best music over two weekends. 

It’s best to visit in the fall or spring when temperatures aren’t too hot.  Early May this year was already brutally hot and humid, but it doesn’t stop people from coming out every day to have a great time.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Where to go this winter


So you want to go somewhere this winter, but don’t know?  Weather got you down?  Bakersfield not far away enough?  Well here’s my five ideas for travel this January:

 

  1. Indonesia (Lombok, Bali, Java, Sumatra)


 

 

OK, so the food isn’t the greatest.  Get past that and you’ll see a fascinating place of 250 million people (110 million in Java alone) with gorgeous landscapes where you take a train through Java, amazing volcano hikes in eastern Java, great diving in the Gili Islands, and the Hindu temples and rice paddies of Bali.  Sumatra has Bukittinggi’s market, orangutangs, and is off the beaten track.  You’ll get to see a different side of Muslim culture and friendly people.  It’s pastoral and scenic.  Getting around is easy too with Air Asia and Tiger Airways having flights to and from islands constantly.


  1. Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt





 
It will be a great time of year to go when it isn’t oppressively hot.  Beirut has spectacular food and centers such as Gemmyzeh and Hamra plus a day’s visit one of the best caves in the world: Jeita Grotto.  Byblos is a beautiful ancient area with great seafood and Baalbek has one of the best examples of Roman ruins.  Jordan is home to some of the best ruins in the world such as ancient Rome’s Jerash and the Wonder of the World: Petra.  You can see where Lawrence of Arabia lived in Wadi Rum.  Dahab in Egypt is one of the best diving spots in the world, super cheap, and a great relaxing spot where daily trips to the top of Mt. Sinai where you can be Moses and look for the Ten Commandments yourself.  While the Great Pyramids are great, the Great Hypostyle Hall in Luxor is greater along with the best temples in the world. 
 

  1. Southern India
 


Sculptures of loving couples, illustrating the Kama Sutra, on walls of  Kandariya Mahadeva Temple at  Khajuraho in  India, Asia Stock Photo - 6099641



The sights, the smells, the colors, oh and the people everywhere you turn.  Yes, the food is great, amazing clothes, and you can negotiate for everything.  It’s cheap and anything can happen.  It’s tough and varied.  Think about it: over a billion people, over 20 languages, and a place that is simultaneously modern and exceptionally poor.  There’s tourist spots such as Goa for a bit of beach time, the Bollywood area of Mumbai (where with a bit of luck you can get into a movie shoot for a day or two), ancient sculptures of Kama Sutra, the ruins of Hampi, and the Portugese settlement of Madras.  Just make sure to have a Thumbs Up and King Fisher for me.
 

  1. Guatemala, Belize, Honduras



 

Diving is what it’s all about in Belize.  The Blue Hole is one of the five most famous spots in all of the world.  Guatemala’s Antigua has great colonial architecture but what ultimately is going to get you going are the volcanoes that you can hike up and then slide down (sounds dangerous AND fun)!  Lago de Atitlan is beautiful but the best part about getting off the beaten track in Guatemala is the Mayan culture.  White water raft, hike, and go through caves in Honduras.  Just travel around from town to town and live some of the village life.
 

  1. Southern Africa





 
Go to the Sousselvei and see the most inhospitable deserts in the world via a snowboard and ATV.  See one of the most majestic places on earth in Victoria Falls while you whitewater raft, walk with elephants and lions in the open, and do any adventure activity you can imagine.  Then there’s my favorite country in the world: South Africa.  The most beautiful wine region in the world is Stellenbosch.  Cape Town is full of culture and history.  The coast line is spectacular.  The Drakensberg Mountains will amaze you.  You can see all of the Big Five and every other animal at Kruger National Park, an easy step from Johannesburg and the Apartheid Museum. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Top Ten of the World

           Fifty one countries and four continents later I thought I would share my favorite places in the world.  I’ve been to every type of environment from inhospitable desert to swampy jungle to the biggest cities in the world and all in between.  So what does it take to be on the list?  Well, it doesn’t hurt to have a fascinating history and complex contemporary issues.  However, a place can be my favorite simply based on scenery (as you’ll see below), great food, beautiful people, fun activities, or exotic locale.  These are all easily accessible and I’m sure you’ve heard of some of these recommendations before, but I hope you’ll find a couple new gems along the way too.  Here’s the list:
 
10.  Istanbul, Turkey 
 
            Some of the most recognizable historical buildings in the world are here such as the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.  Some of the best food you’ll ever eat is on every corner of the city.  Some of the most beautiful people will be walking by you all the time.  Some of the most cosmopolitan people and culture you’ll experience sit here.  There are amazing views of this great city, and some can be seen from the top of ancient city walls.  It’s the crux of east meets west.  You can see a sultan’s palace and some of the most ancient artifacts in the world.  Do I need to say more?
 
The Hagia Sophia and Hippodrome area will make you wonder at ancient civilization and current city planning.
The views of the water are beautiful and you'll always find a new spot to admire. 


9.  Luang Prabang, Laos

            While Southeast Asia has plenty of temples and monks, one city easily stands out amongst them all.  There is a calm beauty to this place part in fact because the Laotians have quiet, calm demeanors and also part of the beautiful views of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers.  The outdoor markets are fantastic and you’ll always be walking by monks.  The temples are exotic and the town is very cosmopolitan.  Great cooking classes, waterfalls to walk under, animal experiences, and a chance to watch monks get their daily morning offerings are all great activities here.  Vientiane might be the capital of Laos, but Luang Prabang is the undisputed cultural capital of Laos.
 
Temples and jungle mountain scenery combine for beautiful and unique scenery, even for Southeast Asia. 
As a center of Buddhism, you'll find monks wandering the city and studying. 
 
 
8.  Cairns, Australia
 
             The adventure capital of Australia sits on the coast of the Great Barrier Reef where you can do some of the best diving in the world.  If you’re not into the water, you can do nearly every single adventure activity here amongst some of the best views in the world.  People don’t realize that northeast Australia is a rainforest and has amazing mountains to boot.  So while you are whitewater rafting or skydiving you’ll have amazing views to enjoy.  The town is cute and quaint with a pool in the center of town made to look like a beach.  Although Australia is expensive, everything is first rate and always super friendly. 
 
Rainforest hikes, views of the mountains, and encounters with wildlife are literally a mile away from the town center.
The Great Barrier Reef doesn't disappoint in terms of scenery, wildlife, or clarity. 
 
 
7.  Angkor Wat, Cambodia
 
                There are ancient ruins throughout the whole world, and I’ve been to nearly all of them.  None show off the grandeur and impressive detail in a great forested environment like Angkor Wat.  The best part is that you are still allowed to walk these ruins and get up and close with the detail, making it so much easier to imagine yourself here nearly 1,000 years ago at its peak.  If you want to fulfill your Tomb Raider fantasy, nothing works better than a walk around the ruins of Angkor Wat. 
 
Walking around the sites, you'll get a sense of the grandeur of this massive creation.
One of the most iconic sites in all the world, Angkor Wat truly is as advertised. 
 
 
6.  Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia
 
            Mosi-oa-Tunya, The Smoke That Thunders, or as it’s better known: Victoria Falls.  The scale of this waterfall is only matched two other places on earth, but you can’t do nearly as many adventure activities or go on a safari.  You can ride African elephants, whitewater raft, bungy jump, ride a microlight, or if you are adventurous enough even sit on the edge of the falls in the famed Devil’s Pool.  It also has one of the best backpacker vibes in the world. 
 
It's an adrenaline capital, and the signature piece of that capital is the bridge.  This bungy jumper is finding out firsthand. 
No matter what you do or see, the highlight of Victoria Falls is the view of the falls itself. 
 
 
5.  Kyoto and Nara, Japan
 
              Kyoto evokes everything you want of Japan: geishas, fantastic temples and shrines, history, and gardens in one of the most livable cities in the world.  Rent a bike and go from trail to bamboo grove to temple.  There is one of the best onsens (spas) in the world, and since this is Japan, there is amazing food everywhere.  They even light up a lot of the temples at night so you can revisit your favorite spots in a different atmosphere too.  It’s one of the few places where five days might not be enough even if you are going at it hard each day.
 
You'll walk and wind your way through a maze of Japanese history and culture. 
The Golden Pavilion is one of many permier temples and sites in Kyoto.  Combined, Kyoto and Nara have as many sites as any top tourist destination in the world. 
 
 
4.  Dahab, Egypt
 
                Far from pyramids and ancient temples is the laid back resort area of Dahab.  It’s the lesser known chic hangout of the Sinai Peninsula, but it’s by far the cheaper and better option.  The whole town is easily walk able and is flush with one word: relax.  Plus some of the best diving is literally off the steps of the waterside restaurants.  There are dozens of excellent diving options here that will double as a way to cool yourself off from the intense Middle East heat.  If you’re up for a hike and a bit of history you can go hike Mount Sinai and see St. Catherine’s, but I’d just advise a hookah and a dive. 
 
Hike through the night to Mt. Sinai where you can walk where Moses received the Ten Commandments. 
Dahab is about relaxation and diving, and they have both in spades. 
 
 
 
3.  Cape Town and the South African coast
 
               The number one questions I get: What is your favorite country?  It’s easy to me.  What place else has a fascinating history combined with a reconciliation amidst African animals, amazing coastline, the most beautiful wineries in the world, one of the best cities in the world (Cape Town), and great activities?  There’s only one.  Only in South Africa you can play with baby lions, dive with great white sharks, ride an ostrich, and pet cheetahs. 
 
You can fulfill your animal dreams, such as playing with baby lions, in South Africa's wilderness. 
Not only does Cape Town have Table Mountain, but great food and markets to explore.
The Cape of Good Hope's coastline is spectacular and gives awe to those that tried to go around the bottom of Africa in search of spices and goods. 
 
 
2.  Queenstown, New Zealand
 
            As you are flying into Queenstown you’ll already notice that you’re in an other-worldly place.  The majestic mountains combined with Lake Wakatipu make for fantastic scenery.  Queenstown is one of the most entertaining and nicest cities while maintaining a quaintness to it.  You can do the original bungy jump dive, skydive, ride a luge, whitewater raft, take Lord of the Rings tours, go to Milford Sound, or do a vast other number of activities.  There’s so much to do here that you can spend weeks and thousands of dollars.  I can guarantee you will fly away with a smile on your face. 
 
It's charming, small, and yet extremely nice: Queenstown.  There are fantastic bars, hotels, restaurants, and tourist centers here.
The luge track is super fun and has amazing views of Lake Wakatipu, the long lake that sits on Queenstown.
 
There are so many activities to do here (including seeing some of the sites of Lord of the Rings) that specialize in adventure.
 
 
1.  Hallstatt, Austria
 
             It always has been, and it almost always will be number one.  I visited here ten years ago and was so blown away that I had to come back (which is a rarity for me).  Here’s all you need to know about Hallstatt: I was traveling with a girl in Salzburg who was amazed by the beauty of the city and surrounding countryside.  I kept telling her that it was nothing compared to Hallstatt.  She was getting mad at me that I was building up this place so much in her mind that there was no way she wasn’t going to be disappointed when she finally saw it.  A day later when we were leaving Hallstatt she said, “It still beat my expectations.  I can’t believe it.” 
 
It's quaint and sits right on the lake, and that's the whole point of the Hallstatt.
A gondola takes people to a salt mine and a restaurant containing amazing views.
The old Austrian architecture sits perfect with the Austrian Alps and Lake Hallstatt.