Angel Falls Venezuela – World’s Tallest Waterfall

Angel Falls - World's Tallest Waterfall

One of the biggest adventures in my life included a recent trip to Angel Falls.  Angel Falls is very deep in Venezuela.  First there was getting to Venezuela.  The cheapest way we found was to go through Curacao.  With a friend we arranged an overnight van transport from Caracas to Ciudad Bolivar airport, and from there we flew on a small plane to Canaima, the absolute edge of any sort of civilization.  The area we flew into is a crossways of a number of Amerindian tribes where the river is the road.  From that point we met up with our native guides.  At the local market, call it arrivals and departures where I saw a native wearing a loin cloth.  We were really out there.  After jumping on an army transport vehicle we went up stream past a big waterfall to get in our hollowed out canoe.

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I had heard we were up for a four hour canoe ride, what I didn’t know was that it was going to be four hours of white water on a hollowed out canoe with a motor!  This wasn’t a motor boat.  This was a native boat turned into a motor boat.  We stuffed all of our stuff for 2 days plus our group of 10 and our two native guides.  The first wave, I thought we were going over.  I think the canoe was even more rocky than you’re average canoe.  We were literally in a log that as hollowed out.  It didn’t feel very steady.  Our guides knew it.  If we put our hands on the side of the canoe it was enough to throw off the equilibrium.  Ask anyone who rode in our canoe, during the first couple of hours they had to yell at us every few minutes to make sure we kept a low center of gravity.  Getting bashed by cold waves over and over did much to make us listen to every warning from our guides.

Land of the Lost

Land of the lost… A view of Angel Falls from the other side of the river where we were camping… we woke up to this.

There wasn’t anything on our cold soaked bodies that was dry.  I had prune hands and feet by the time we reached our destination 4 hours up the river.  I later learned the conditions were right for us to make such good time.  The river was high due to lots of rain.  What I missed out on mentioning was the fact that as we sped up the river getting drenched with whitewater, we saw some of the most incredible views of waterfalls coming down from high plateaus rising up from the plains.  The terrain changed from sparse forest to thick dense jungle.

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Our guides informed us that the peninsula we saw was over 700 Sq Km at the top and rises over 3000 meters from the ground to the top.  The terrain itself is a thing of stories.  From the stories of a land where dinosaurs still live to a place where an old man flies his house on balloons.  It was also part of the stories of El Dorado in search of the cities of gold.  This place is so inaccessible, it is the place of stories.

Angel Falls Venezuela

Angel Falls Venezuela Mirador Salto Angel

The reveal of the world’s tallest waterfall was scintillating.  When I realized what it was and had it confirmed by our guides, our boat was a flutter with video, cameras and phones clicking snapping as we all hoped the waves would stay at bay while we got shots of a lifetime.  Within minutes the boat stopped, and we started a hike across streams and small rivers up the mountain toward a vantage point to see the best of Angel Falls.  A five mile hike with wet feet and wet clothes.  My friend Michael did the hike barefoot as his flip flops broke early on.  I was wearing knock off crocks that I bought for about the equivalent of $5 back in the camp.  It worked out for me.  The hike was pretty wild.  I was looking for jaguars and monkeys, but ultimately I missed seeing any significant wild life.  On the way down, the trail got darker and darker.  Most of the group had head lamps.  Despite the new batteries I put in it, they were dead when I found it at the bottom of my bag and the light was switched to on.  I wouldn’t find out until our guide brought down the last group that he saw a 3 meter (10 feet) long boa constrictor!

That night we slept on a dozen hammocks slung up next to each other displayed in what looked like a wedding chapel.  Swinging just a little, you’d bump into you’re neighbor and we were a cozy bunch… That is until the next morning when I found out that I slept like a log when I laid down.  Apparently I was snoring (I hadn’t really slept in two days) and made it a bit of a challenge for a few of my new friends… which made it a bit uncomfortable over the next couple of days.  I guess the snoring was a bit of a joke in camp.  It kind of felt like a summer camp after 3 days with these folks.

I’d like to share more of our experience on this trip, but I don’t want to detract from the falls… What an amazing falls.  After we got back down closer to canaima we had the opportunity to do some smaller hikes including one behind a HUGE waterfall. That as well was truly incredible.  Another night on hammocks with the option of a room or bed… I think I got bit by something even though I was sleeping in a mosquito net.  Strange.

The final day we had the option of taking a little flight up around the falls.  Doing the fuzzy math with the cheaper exchange rate, it came to around $50 to go fly in a 6 seat plane around Angel Falls.  I convinced my friends we should do it.  Another amazing add-on and this was the best $50 spent in a really long time.  It was incredible.

After we got up we had some amazing views of the falls.  With four passes, twice each window and a rainbow, and a different view each time… we got some amazing shots!

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Flying over Auyantepui and the great Cataract – Angel Falls, named for a pilot from Missouri who crash landed his plane on top of Auyantepui

Overall I really loved the little plane flight.  It gave me a real appreciation for how high up we were and provided the chance to really gain another vantage point otherwise impossible.  It made me think about the history and discovery of this area of the world from the European perspective.  There is some fascinating stories about the history and discovery with Jimmy Angel and his search for Gold and Diamonds… Can you believe that they didn’t believe him when he told the stories of a fall that fell 1KM

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More stories to tell… but I really want to get these amazing pictures shared… We walked behind this falls!

More later…

Bermuda So much more! 5 Amazing things to do in Bermuda

Bermuda Coast

When you think of Bermuda do you think of shorts, surfing, sun, and island living?  Having recently got back from Bermuda I now have a great appreciation for this amazing island.  One of the amazing things about the islands of the Caribbean and really the islands everywhere is that for the most part, each island is different.  A few years ago before I started really exploring the islands I thought once you’d been to one you’d seen them all.  This is far from the case.  Each island nation has a different story.  Many have different geographic features, and the histories and imperial powers languages and resources of each island make up a vast variety of experiences.  Even the foreign money that may be invested in the nation play into the development of an island and how long it’s been independent or not!

Bermuda Business Shorts

Business wear in Bermuda really stands out as unique.  It’s quite normal to see a business man in a suit coat, shorts, dress shoes, and long black socks.

In my trip there, I found it to be a bit of paradise.  Amazing beaches, relaxing surf, some of the best ship wreck diving in the world, and if you love exploring by scooter, there isn’t a better island.  Only the locals can have cars, and even they are limited to how many cars they can have per household. As a visitor or tourist you can rent a 150cc scooter.  Even my friends who were from overseas working there drove a scooter to work.  This keeps the traffic, noise and pollution and congestion down on the three main roads through the island.  Top speed limits on the roads are easily achievable by scooter as well, so that’s not a problem.  During my visit I ended up driving on each of the main roads and went from tip to tip in a day tour across the island with my scooting friends.

If you love island food you’ll love the Jerk, Cajun and Creole and amazing seafood with fresh fish sandwiches everywhere.  Little island, great night life!  I had an amazing time mixing it up with locals in one of a few clubs, and then headed out for a midnight dip.

Many people get Bermuda mixed up with the Bahamas or think that it’s in the Caribbean, in reality it’s closer to North Carolina than it is to the Virgin Islands or the Bahamas.

While tourism is one of the top two forms of income for the island, insurance comes in second.

Saint George Bermuda from the air

Bermuda

Discovery: 1505 by Bermudez although he never even landed there!

Geographic features: Bermuda is the shape of a fish hook.  At it’s widest point is 1.5 miles wide, and and just over 15 miles from eastern most point to western most point.

Indigenous population: Said to have had no natives, but someone apparently dropped off some pigs which later helped to establish a permanent settlement community there.

Unique Features: St. Georges was established in 1612 and is the oldest continuously inhabited British town in the New World.  It is now also the oldest British overseas territory.

 

My Favorite 5 things to do in Bermuda

1. Dive the Bermuda Triangle – Right off the coast of Bermuda are tons of sunken ships and great reefs.  There appear to be higher density of sunken ships around Bermuda than anywhere!  If you don’t dive there are great snorkeling spots as well, or go for a glass bottomed boat, but you really should consider getting wet in the amazing water.  There are advanced diving places with tunnels, caves, and canyons, and easy diving spots with tons of colorful fish.  I saw a massive grouper.

reef wreck diving the bermuda triangle

2. Soak up some sun on the amazing beaches like Horseshoe Bay in the most amazing azure colored water you’ll ever see– The sand doesn’t get hot and it barely sticks to you. 

Horse shoe bay beach

3. Walk around St George 1612, the oldest continuously inhabited town in the new world. Old ships, old churches, old graveyards, great colorful little shops, and tons of museums. You can feel the history.

Old Historical St George

4. Life is an adventure – Rent a scooter, the best way to get around the island!  Want to take it slower? Take a segway tour, or really step it up and put on a water propelled jet pack.  I rented a scooter in the middle of the island and rode from tip to tip and then back.  Amazing how much ground I could cover in an afternoon.

Scootin Bermuda

5. Go golfing?!! Highest golfing density in the world.  18 courses on some of the most pristine views and unique environments.

Vista Views

5 Incredible Alaska Adventures


Alaska is amazing.  Everything you’re heard and then some.  My visit to Alaska was my last state in the US (50/50).  For that reason alone I was excited to visit.  I was debating doing a cruise from Seattle or from Vancouver, Canada but ultimately decided on a flight to Anchorage.  It took me by surprise when I was trying to figure out what I should do with my Alaska Miles. I had 45,000 miles and after my move to Salt Lake City, I found my miles were going to expire.  What I discovered in my searches, I could fly from SLC to anywhere in Alaska even as far as Borrow, AK for 25,000 round trip.  That’s not the same case with Hawaii.  It was 40,000 round trip, but flying from Salt Lake City to Boise Idaho was the same number of miles.  At first I was thinking I should go with a friend to Alaska, but my wife expressed interest, and getting a multi day baby sitter to watch my 3 boys has never been easy, and they are all great travelers.  Then I was talking to my parents, and they expressed interest.  At first I thought I could go with my dad, but then my mom wanted to go as well.  Why not make this a super family trip?  With the partnership with Alaska I found a direct Delta flight from SLC to ANC (Anchorage.) I had to check to see how much the Delta points were for this same flight.  25,000 miles!  With this discovery I decided to book 5 award tickets on Delta in addition to the 2 on Alaska.  I even ended up buying 5,000 miles to make up the difference.

Lessons Learned:

  • Alaska/Delta miles let you book a flight to Alaska for the same price as a domestic (48 states) ticket – (Best Deal was 25,000 Award Miles)
  • Same number of miles for adjoining cities as it is for Miami to Alaska

One other thing that came in looking at the best way to book Alaska was in discovering that an Alaska Cruise would ultimately mean getting on a smaller boat to see the glaciers and getting closer to the wild life ultimately.  I did find that both food and hotels are pricey in Alaska.  So that was definitely points toward cruise, but I used some tricks to find a hotel in Anchorage for less than $100 using Priceline.com.  Food was a different challenge.  Most meals were about $5 more than in the states.  The 2 for 20 deal at Chilis was 2 for $25.  A large bowl of Pho soup was $12 in contrast to 6 or $7 in UT or WA.  The IHOP average meal was around $12 vs. 7 as well.  At fast food places, the $1 menu was $2.  Anchorage did have a lot of choices for food, and out in the smaller cities the deli’s and sandwich shoppes could get you a meal.

Rustic Cabin with fire

Some of my best advice for the adventure traveler is to think outside the box.  There are hostels that have much better rates, but also consider camping and cabins, some of the best deals and most flexible options are in this area.

5 MUST DO ACTIVITIES IN ALASKA

1. Glaciers and Fjords – The Glaciers and Fjords in Alaska are simply amazing.  The size and scale of these things dwarf most things on earth.  They sure seem like they are alive.  Calving, Moving, Groaning, Shrinking, Growing, Cracking, Carving…  There are multiple ways of reaching these amazing beauties.

Fjords with Calving Glacier

The best way is to get right up to the Fjords of Kenai by cruise.  Right out of Seward there are multiple cruise companies with multiple cruise options.  I took the 10am Kenai Fjords Cruise with Salmon Bake Dinner on the island.  I have no regrets.  It was a great cruise, we saw a couple of Fjords up close, but also amazing wild life.  I’ll talk about that later.

Kenai Fjords Cruise

As well, you can hike up to the Glaciers.  Exit Glacier has a great hike that starts with a flat handicap accessible viewpoint within a mile, or add another mile and hike up the mountain to view them up closer, and add another mile to touch the glacier, or add another few miles and you can hike up the largest snow field in the US.

exit glacier sea ice kayaking

or even Sea Kayak to the Fjords, not too close because these things are very active and can create amazing tides.  I’m sure you could even dog sled in the winter.  There are options to take a sled with wheels to help the dogs practice for the Iditarod.

2. Whale Watching – Some of the best viewing of whales in the world is right here in Alaska.  On this short 8 hour Fjords and Nature cruise of the Kenai peninsula, Kenai National Park from the water, we saw a half dozen hump backs, a couple of pods of Orcas with many individuals covering a large distance, half dozen porpoises, hundreds of seals and sea lion and dozens of sea otters. Such a great feeling when you see these gigantic creatures of the sea.  It’s not the same as watching National Geographic, because you’re seeing it and experiencing it first hand.  I can imagine whale watching in a kayak or small boat would also be quite “wild.”

orca pod wild

Orcas, Hump Backs, and Belugas are all within reach, I saw a couple of pods of Belugas driving along the Arm headed to Seward.  I’m sure the population increases and changes based on the seasons, but the Orcas and Hump Backs and the Belugas all call it home.  I’m sure they have additional whale friends who come and visit.  I’m also sure it’s a different experience every time, but reading the reviews from the Kenai Fjords Cruise, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t think it was incredible.

hump back whale tail

As a photographer, catching the tale of the whale, or the even more rare breach of a hump back whale is beyond exhilarating.  These are wildlife memories that will ruin any future visits to sea world, or at least remind me when I saw it IN THE WILD.

seal rock

While seeing large groups of seals and sea lions and the like, I am reminded of a number of encounters the docks in San Francisco or Seal Beach California, the docks in Ensenada or the elephant seals on the beach in Antarctica, but seeing them in their native habitat on rocks away from people is pretty darn cool.  I can’t tire of seeing these amazing animals.

3. Encounter the Animals of the Forrest – With more than 3 types of Bears, and some of the densest and largest populations of large land mammals, Alaska is the best place to find bears, moose, elk, caribou and more in their natural habitat.  You can go flight seeing and bear viewing they’ll take you right to where they are dinning on salmon.  We saw a little brown bear chewing on a carcass on the side of the road.

little black bear eating

While I can’t guarantee you will see a moose or bear while simply driving.  There are plenty of signs to watch for moose.  That’s a big concern.  They are big animals and cause serious damage to your vehicle if you hit one.

big rack carribou

If you are looking for guaranteed great sightings, I won’t send you to the Anchorage zoo which does have them, I would suggest going to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center which has decent rates (carpool for even better rates).  You can definitely get up and close.  With a simple fence separating you.  While you don’t feed them, you can visit the Musk Ox or Reindeer center in Palmer (close to Anchorage) for even closer encounters.  The good news is the money goes to rehabilitating animals and reintroducing and strengthening the population of endangered animals.

big black bear in meadow

We saw…

  • Baby Musk Ox
  • Huge Herd of Wood Bison
  • Elk Herd
  • Black Bears
  • Moose
  • Caribou/Reindeer
  • Porcupine

baby musk ox cute

4. It’s a Birders Paradise – Eagles, Swans, Cormerans, Puffins, and way more.  If you love birds, you’re in paradise.  Even if you aren’t you’re going to see some amazing examples of some of the most beautiful birds.  Below this is one example.  We’re watching this elk herd and noticed a bald eagle in the tree nearby.  Incredible.

Eagle watching over the elk herd

This pair of swans was swimming with their three ugly duckling swan babies in a pond just outside of Seward.

Swan Family

Seems like every where you turn, there’s some amazing majestic bird watching.

bald eagle alaska

On our cruise we saw the funniest little puffins.  The rare crested puffins, and the more common puffin were so funny to watch trying to take flight.  Seeing them on their terms in these huge rock fortresses which seem designed for birds.

puffin bird rocks

5. It’s a Fisherman’s Paradise – Every where we went people asked if we were doing a charter.  No, we were there to observe, and observe we did.  We started stopping at the streams to see the salmon.  Amazing salmon jumping up their fish ladders and making their way to spawn.  Huge fish, many with their humps out of the water, finding their way upstream.  The rivers were teaming with life.

teaming with life spawning

Red Salmon

In addition as a sportsman’s paradise it wasn’t hard to find huge halibut and a variety of fish on the walls, and in boxes being shipped home.  Lots of great finishing and amazing catches.

After such an amazing trip, I can’t answer why it took Alaska so long to get on my list.  Amazing place… Highly Recommended.  Yes, it does rain and it get’s cold in the winter and dark 22 hours of darkness, but in the summer you get 16 hours of light, and 2 months without much rain in June and July.  Rain starts back up in August.  While I didn’t see the Aurora Borealis, I can see reasons why the time of year has it’s benefits.  It’s a different place with different experiences.  Do you’re research and consider Alaska a great destination to make the most of your miles.

 calving glacier with baby seals

Is Tourist Becoming a Dirty Word in the Travel Industry?


I took the quiz on Huffington Post “Are you a traveler or a tourist?”  I discovered a few things.  I am very much into the journey and not the destination.  I just rode with my 15 year old son, yes he drove and I rode, on a journey of 2500 miles across Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and back through Montana, Idaho and Utah.  Why?  Because I wanted to spend time with my son, before he gets too old to want to hang out with his old man…  But why drive across the Dakotas?  I wanted to visit North Dakota.  I wanted to check it off of my list of states I’ve visited to complete my continental US map.  Every place deserves at least one visit.  I hope I’m not all about lists, but those of you who have been following my travel blog will have noticed I have been blogging about the 7 Wonders of the World, and will follow that list by the top Falls in the world, and then Natural Wonders and so on.  I LOVE Traveling, and while I want to see every country in this world, I also make a point of capturing the amazing places with plans to go back.  In fact I do.  After my first visit to Egypt, one of my favorite destinations, I returned with my family an epic experience that I wanted them to have.  Same with Morocco, except I went first with my family to Marrakech and returned with a friend who hadn’t been there to, but tried to visit new areas… Rabat and Meknes.  When I’ve decided to go somewhere I want to immerse myself in the culture even if in the beginning it means doing a few “touristy” things to first see what their is and then dig deeper and see it through the eyes of those who live there.

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So am I a tourist or a traveler?  I do think the word tourist is being seen more and more as a negative thing.  They sound loud, impatient and uninterested in the culture and more about seeing the attraction.  They also may be staying in resorts, and all-inclusives.  They are the cruisers that take the boat options and don’t take time to get to know the locals.  Tourists are focused on the organized tours.  They spend their money with where they know it’s “safe” and less risky.

American Tourist has a lot of baggage… literally.  There are other tourists like the German Tourist, the Russian Tourist, the Japanese Tourist and Korean Tourist.  You get the idea.  I don’t need to go into the stereo types, but there’s some sad but true experiences I’ve had with tourists that make me not want to be seen as one.

I’d much rather be known as the Traveler.  This is the term to celebrate.  If you’re a traveler you’re smart about what you carry because of experience.  The experienced traveler knows what lines to get in at the airport.  They don’t have to plan big tours or spend a lot of time on research because they are more willing to go with the flow, and connect with locals.  They have only the carry on and don’t get hassled at the airport, because ultimately they are likely frequent fliers.  The traveler when he arrives in Cambodia is going to find out how to get local food, and try the grilled snake near the lake.  They will make friends with their tuk tuk driver and see how they live and understand life through their eyes and maybe hop a bus with this new friend to explore the killing fields and hear the stories from the eyes of a local rather than a guide.  Visit the land mine museum, and discover a band each missing limbs and find a way to contribute.  Be thinking about the young girl selling T-shirts and wonder why she isn’t in school and connect at another level that helps you appreciate those that are providing for their families and find a way to connect.  Keep in touch on facebook with the kids in Ethiopia and check up on their school work and needs.  You’re not worried it takes 4+ hours to get through a tough disputed border crossing, and lack of concrete plans on the other side other than to make friends and connect with locals to find a ride to the next adventure…

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

When I was planning out this trip to North Dakota. I knew it was less about the destination, and more about the journey.  We’d want to stop at amazing places along the way, even if it was impromptu, like stopping at the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails near Fort Bridger and walking along the trail looking for grooves, or checking Yelp for authentic food to get the full experience in South Dakota and eating at a chuck wagon buffet in Wall Drug.  Stopping at the Minute Man Missile silos and imagining how crazy the cold war was, and how crazy the world is we live in.  I remember visiting a bunker in St. Petersburg Russia in the basement of a software company with big orange doors, and thinking… Wow this is for the US.  Then as I sat there, hearing the stories about the guys who put in the double keys to press buttons that takes two people to press, and that 2 of those nuclear missiles carry enough power that it totals more than everything that was used in World War 2 including the nukes.  You wouldn’t even know those silos are out there.  150 were shut down in 1995-2005, leaving only the 2 for the tourists Delta 01 and Delta 09 as a reminder or something.  While those are the last in South Dakota, we won’t talk about the ones in Texas with the newer Minute Man Missile 3.

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I have been thinking about the Devils Tower in Wyoming ever since I saw that movie, and living in Salt Lake City, I have been scoping out day trips.  It’s not a day trip.  It’s a good 8-10 hour drive from SLC in Eastern Wyoming, but wow.  Loved every minute of that.  Amazing Natural Wonder.

Devils Tower Wyoming

Another drive I did that I need to write about is my drive from Tallinn, Estonia to Vilnius, Lithuania.  Beautiful drive, amazing architectures in each of the capitals, and interesting cultures and history.  Funny, it was a hitch hiker that made that trip for me.  We picked up a young 20s something hippie chick.  She was awesome.  When we did an impromptu bathroom break in between cities that meant trying to find tall enough grass, she took advantage of the stop as well.  Hillarious.  Once we arrived in her town, rather than just part ways, she gave us a tour of Vilnius.  Had to be one of the best city tours I’ve ever been on seeing the city through the eyes of a local that saw the unique charm and sparks of life.  I want to tell these stories because while I won’t encourage you to pick up hitch hikers, I want you to know that life is an adventure and there is a way to live life to the fullest as a traveler 24×7.

One question in the quiz was on travel planning.  I do always need a trip to look forward to.  It’s not about the destination as much as it is a new outlook on life, new perspective, new friends to connect with, and each and every one of these makes the world smaller.  I recently added the Dalai Lama quote because I have found it inspiring to always be looking forward to the next adventure, but also treasuring all of the memories.

Taj Mahal of Agra India – New 7 Wonders of the World

Taj Mahal Mausoleum in India

My trek through India was truly EPIC.  One of the most interesting and amazing trips.  The assault on the senses was so intense fascinating world of spice.  Some of the oldest cities on the earth are in India.  India is the second most populated country in the world, but driving across the country you wouldn’t know it. The Indus of 3000 BC had a written language, a complex society.  In a country with 1.2 Billion people with one of the richest cultural destinations in the world, I highly recommend India for the adventure seeker, the world traveler, and for those looking to find themselves.  The eat pray love movie suggested that Bali and India are great destinations for getting at your soul.  Trying to find your inner being.  I agree.  India is fantastic, and the wonder the Taj Mahal is the most impressive display of love in the world.  You haven’t seen India, until you’ve seen it the way I have.

Incredible India

This post is in an Adventure Travel Series on the “New 7 Wonders of the World”

Bikaner Holy Rats

I wrote about my experiences with the holy rats of Bikiner.  That one incident was culture shock like no other.  I definitely dove head first and loved it.  I throw out everything I have ever known about rats, and listen to the kids and humble followers that told me to remove my shoes and walk among the rats barefoot.  They say no one has ever even gotten sick from these special rats.  Hundreds, thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of rats in the temple.  That was my real introduction to India and while an extreme it prepared me for what I would experience through the nearly 5000KM trip across India and ultimately to Kathmandu, Nepal and up into the Himalayas and up around Mt Everest.

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The Gates of Jodhpur, the Pink City

Three dips in the Ganges the dirtiest but holiest river in the world as well, was a fascinating experience that made me really consider the healing effects of water and help me appreciate and respect the faith of all people.

Amazing old city of Varansi

The Gattes… steps to the Holy Ganges river

The Gattes of the Ganges

As these men hosed down the steps into the water, not far pilgrims were drinking the holy water

Floating in the Ganges

Dipping in the Silty powerful Holy Ganges River

We drove nearly straight for 3 days across the Rajasthan province of north western India through the the most amazing cities of Jaipur (The Pink City) and Jodhpur (The Blue City) [map].

mehrangarh fort in jodhpur

Mehrangarh Fort high on the high on the hill in Jodhpur

Jodhpur Blue City

Above Jodhpur the Blue City!

Jaipur Floating Palace

Floating Palace near Jaipur

It was after seeing these awesome examples of great kingdom with palaces and forts, that I arrived in Agra the home of the Taj Mahal.  I had already been in India for about a week by the time I arrived.  We parked outside of the site, and walked.  It was a pretty good hike.  In our visits across Agra and even in the south in Pune and Chennai we hadn’t seen many tourists, but here we weren’t alone.  Here we across our trip we saw more tourists than we had seen in total.  I try to avoid tourist spots, but I also have to see the wonders of the world.  They draw me in.

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal Mosleum – Designed for the Favorite Wife of the Emperor Shah Jahan built in 1632–1648 as a tomb

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India has such a rich culture.  Amazing people filled with joy, sadness, and a rich history.

From Taj Mahal, side buildings at Sundown

Watching sundown from the Taj Mahal

World UNESCO Heritage, Wonder of the World, as a true legend of eternal love of an Emperor for his favorite Queen!  It is an amazing story.

Though he spent much of his time subduing Hindu kingdoms to the south, Shah Jahan left behind the colossal monuments of the Mughal empire, including the Taj Mahal (his favorite wife’s tomb), the Pearl Mosque, the Royal Mosque, and the Red Fort. The Taj is an immense mausoleum of white marble, built in Agra between 1631 and 1648 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife.  It is the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.

Christ the Redeemer Statue – 7 New Wonders of the World (2 of 7)

Christ the Redeemer Brazil New Wonder

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

View from Corcovado

Rio is one of the coolest cities in the world.  The environment that the city is build in, has the best of the water world with amazing beaches. Some of the best in the world, but also some of the best viewpoints in the world with the huge rocks that soar into the sky that have gondolas on them.  Corcovado topped by Christ the Redeemer is amazing.  First with such strong devotion in the culture of the people and then the iconic and larger than life Jesus with his outstretched arms becomes a very strong symbol of the people and their need to feel guided and comforted.

 

View of Sugarloaf in Rio

Corcovado, meaning “hunchback” in Portuguese, is a mountain in central Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The 710-metre (2,329 ft) granite peak is located in the Tijuca Forest, a national park. It is sometimes confused with nearby Sugarloaf Mountain.  Sugar loaf is a tourist attraction in its own right and deserves to be visited.  This rock mountain is quite central and shaped in such a way as to escape the city while being in the city.  In an effort to help people gain better access you’ll see there’s quality care.  This escalator can really reduce to the last bit of stairs.

Christ the Redeemer's back with escalators

Corcovado hill lies west of the city center and is within the city limits and visible across great distance. It is known worldwide for the 38-metre (125 ft) statue of Jesus atop its peak, entitled Cristo Redentor or “Christ the Redeemer”.

Christ the Redeemer Statue... as a tourst.

10 Tips for a Successful Road Trip


My 15 soon to be 16 year old son recently got his drivers permit.  Now that he’s behind the wheel, there’s a lot of interest on his part to get behind the wheel.

Here are a few tips to planning a road trip:

1. Getting from Point A to Point B: GPS Device, Maps, Smart Phone with GPS, USB on Mappoint, iPAD with GPS, Road Signs, etc… – I have used any number of ways to get across state lines.  I like having the turn by turn directions, and if you do, you will either want a GPS like Magellan.  The times have sure changed but many still prefer the maps for planning and executing their routes.

2. Plan a Route with some Fun destinations, It’s not about speed between A and B – Today I planned our road trip using RoadTrippers.com it worked great.  I put in Salt Lake City, UT as the source and the destination.  Then I added the places where I wanted to go.  I really want to see Devils Tower from the Close Encounters of the Third Kind movie, then Crazy horse and Mount Rushmore, and then Teddy Roosevelt Park.  The plan was to get me into North Dakota, the last state in the lower 48.  I’ll be visiting my last state in the Union, Alaska next month.  You can use Bing Maps, Google Maps, or various tools to see what the roads are between you and your destination, but how do you plan your route?  I like to have things I want to see.  Seeing something cool every day with a little hike or some fresh air is nice to plan out when doing 10 or 12 hour drives.  You really shouldn’t plan to drive more than 12 hours in a day.  Longest I ever did was somewhere around 15 hours back when I was in college, but usually it’s not about getting as fast as possible to the destination, but rather enjoying the road trip and seeing sites along the way.  The RoadTrippers app allows you to display attractions, historical, and photo areas.  As a result I added a couple of additional stops, Independence rock, Sturgis (home to the biker gathering), a Mesa falls, and 1800’s Smith mansion.  Normally I’d go through Yellowstone National Park, but I have visited the park nearly every year for the past few years.  So while I am a fan, I need a break.

If you’re traveling during the winter, watch the roads as is be sure to keep track of the pass weather, just in case it’s closed!

Mount Rushmore Road Trip

3. Be willing to stop along the route, Mix it up! – You do need to think about stops along the way that will break up the day and make it enjoyable.  Maybe it’s the world’s largest ball of twine, or Wall Drug, or even just getting slurpees for the kids, but when doing big family trips, the kids memories aren’t just about the destination.  They will remember the 6 legged cow, and the albino skunk more than they may remember the St. Louis Arch.  Same with Disneyland. If they drove 14 hours the day before they get to Disney, they will be exhausted.

4. Use the Pool – You may feel like you need to get on the road as early as possible, but an early dip in the pool will serve to wake you up, and will give you energy you didn’t know you had.  The kids will thank you for it.

5. Break it up – Rush day, chill day, Busy Day, Relax day.  When I plan a family trip, I am use to doing it my way, which is cram the days full… Packed days.  I thrive off of the destinations and adventures.  I’ve found the family prefers to spend more time on the beach and less time at the pyramids.  Less time in the caves, and more time in the pools.  Less time on the Hike and more time chilling at the cabin.  To keep everyone happy I try to mix it up so we can both be happy.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

6. Get fresh air – Seems there are less and less rest stops.  I push myself when I do long road trips, and often stop only when I need more gas.  That’s not a great practice.  You need to get the blood flowing.  There are conditions that can happen.  You’ll notice a lot of the attractions on this trip will involve some decent hikes.  I’m looking forward to doing some father and son bonding.  Hikes are a great way to get to know the others on the trip.  Often up in the hills there’s no 3G, no Wifi, and the power on the devices in the car are likely drained or having been used for the last 6 hours are now a bore.  Walking, hiking, or simply exploring around national parks, or around the downtown… there are ways of keeping the blood flowing and supporting your goals.  Think about all the junk you’re eating along the way minus your normal exercise routine.  Feels good to find balance between the long drives with a good walk or hike.

7. Plan for snacks – Gas stations ultimately are limited on the quality of food you can get.  Granola, nuts, fruit, aren’t popular in gas stations.  Pop, candy bars, and circus peanuts, and peach rings… now you know what we end up with.  Much better to plan for snacks so you can mix in some healthy stuff.  It shouldn’t be hard to find a grocery store.  They really are all over the world.  The convenience of the gas station is just too easy.  Learn to enjoy water.  May make sense to bring a water bottle and just fill up with ice.  Takes serious discipline.  I’m not all there yet, but I know I should be doing that.  Think about how you want to carry water and keep it cool.  You do need to drink plenty of water.

8. Plan your hotel, B&B or camping strategy, get a good night’s rest, if you’re feeling pain get an adjustment or massage – You may be pushing through to arrive at your destination.  Just because you arrived late doesn’t mean you need to be up at the crack of dawn.  If you do need to be up at sunrise keep your drapes open.  Natural light will help restore you and help you make up more naturally.  Careful on doing anything dangerous.  8 hours of downtime is good.  Remember it’s about regeneration.  After I’ve done some horrible thing to my body… those other side of the world 40 hour flights, I reward myself with a massage.  Easy to get in Asia, it’s becoming more and more common in many countries around the world to get a massage.  I love space tanks as well for their restorative qualities.  I bet that’s another post.

Plan your Hotels and know what you’re getting into.  Consider Bringing Your Own Pillow and a Spare Blanket.  If you’ve got the room in the car, you may want to toss in a pillow and blanket.  Great for naps, and your neck is use to your pillow.  Consistency.  There’s a lot of stress on your neck during the drive, so taking off that stress at night may really help.

Hotels – Quality *

  • Motel 6 – 1-2 stars
  • Super 8 – 2-2.5 stars
  • Holiday Inn Express, Marriott Fairfield, Hilton Garden 3+ stars
  • Holiday Inn, Residence Inn, Hilton 3-4 stars
  • Hyatt, Ritz, Intercontinental 5 stars

International folks may enjoy the http://VRBO.com and couch surfers the http://airbnb.com which both have a huge variety.  The B&B’s can be a way to combine the destination as part of the tour.  A lot of them are online these days, and it takes some research.  Top travel sites for planning include http://kayak.com http://expedia.com http://orbitz.com http://hotels.com http://priceline.com http://Travelocity.com http://tripadvisor.com they all have their pros and cons and expose most of the major chains.  Trip Advisor has attractions in it’s database.  If you can figure out which hotel you want and then call them directly, you may be able to simply make the reservation without having to pay.  They may be able to hold it with a card.  As well, lot of opportunities to collection hotel points for free nights or double dip on frequent flier miles like at Hilton depending on your loyalty.

9. Packing & Keep the Car Clean – I always pack light as a world traveler, but when I’m in my own car it’s easy to get sloppy.  I count out the days and pack minimalist, but since I’m in the car I will pack the snacks and water separate.  Putting the snacks in a small box will keep things from rolling around.  If you can think modularly of those things that are for the car can stay in the car and then only what you need for the night has to go into the hotel.  You may be driving an RV or Staying at Camp grounds.  This use to be so much easier back in the 70’s and 80’s.  Now the camp grounds are really spread out and they definitely don’t have the marketing budget of the hotels.  For cheap hotels there are those little magazines that mention the walk in rate discounts.  There are a lot of strategies to employ here.  I’ve used a dozen different strategies and I do a lot of hotels.  A lot of it is tolerance around cost, and tolerance around conditions.  In the US there really is a hierarchy on national and world wide brands.

10. Tune up the car or consider a Rental – You may end up being focused on the agenda and packing, but ultimately what can make or break a trip is the condition of the car.  Remember the vehicle you may be driving has often not been driven long distances, and may need fluids antifreeze an oil change and more.  Get that tune up that you’ve been putting off, not on the day you’re trying to get out of town, but instead a few days prior.  In road trips in the past I’ve encountered flat tire, overheating car (ended up dying), and transmission issues that cost me thousands.  Even cleaning it out and having it vacuumed can help to start off on the right foot.  Some may want to consider renting a vehicle.  In some cities the daily and weekly rate may be worth the wear and tear on your own car.  Big road trips can add a lot of miles all at once.  These road trips can be fun with the top down, and in a sports car.  For some, that is the dream.  For others, it’s about a camper or RV to get on the road… Make sure you’ve got plenty of accessing to funds.

Enjoy!!

Great Wall of China – New 7 Wonders of the World (1 of 7)

Greatest Wall in the World

If you ever feel like getting to China is just too impossible.  Have Faith.  It’s definitely possible.  I had seen most of Asia before I made it to China.  For some reason I just kept finding other things, and I felt like if I was going to visit China, I wanted to see it all, I wanted to have enough time.  I changed my attitude.  The forbidden city wasn’t going to remain forbidden any more.  I visited the Chinese embassy on a visit to San Francisco and within a couple of hours I had my visa.  I was on my way to the Forbidden city with explicit plans to see the Great Wall of China one of the most exclusive travel lists in the world… the New 7 Wonders of the World!

Forbidden City China at Night

The Forbidden City, in Beijing at night near Tiananmen Square

I decided, I wasn’t going to have time to spend a month or more in China anyway so I should break up my trip to China and plan it like I would Australia and simply break it into regions.  Same as seeing Canada, you just can’t see it all at once.  I’m sure many people say the same thing about the USA, or they should.  Those who go to NYC and Las Vegas and think they’ve seen the US are kidding themselves.  Those who rent an RV and Drive along route 66 are still only seeing one piece, but I understand the draw.

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

 

Forbidden City at Dusk

Gate to the Forbidden City

China is an amazing country.  Looking for a culture shock!?? China is awesome at that.  I’ll save another post for digging into my travels into China, and share my Wonder Experiences in a series.

172680_10150163215808783_4779820_o climbing to the great wall

We woke up early to head out to the Great Wall of China.  It was surreal.  Dux one of my techie friend’s from the Philippines who speaks great Chinese was our real connection to the locals.  He helped us arrange a van to take us out to the Great Wall.  We drove for a good hour from our hotel.  The homes were getting more and more spread out.  As we drove along it felt like we were entering the country side.  I can’t remember if it was 2 hours, but it seemed like when we thought we were there, it was another 20 minutes.  Then once we got into the parking lot, we realized it was going to be another 20-30 minutes of hiking up steps.  The wall wasn’t designed for accessibility.

More steps to the great wall of China

Seeing the wall was promising, but we could really see it from the car.  We could see it weaving across the mountains for as far as we could see.

Towers of the Great Wall of China

At first it just seems a lot like a wall made of bricks, but then as you take it in… in its magnitude, and splendor to realize its age, its role in history and in its preservation of culture and history… and then really start to understand the sacrifice of this man made feat.  It brings humility and awe.  Lots of sacrifice.

While we all decided we didn’t want to go down the way we came up, Michael and I decided we wanted to go for a walk, and the other guys decided to take the roller coaster.  There were some interesting options once on top.  You could walk 2 miles to a gondola one way, or another way was the gravity based roller coaster with a metal track, it was next to an impromptu zoo.  We all decided we’d meet back at the bottom of the hill near where they were.

(A few of these photos are from Michael at Sharing The Globe a Traveling companion and Great photographer.)

Snaking across the hills - great wall of China

Walking from tower to tower it seems close, but it really isn’t.  It might be 1KM or more between towers.  The area where we were while there were a number of tourists, we found space to be alone and found it not too challenging to take people-less photos.  Yes, that’s me trying to run between the towers.  It isn’t the easiest running, but I imagined those working the walls trying to share a message.

Running on the great wall

I picked up the Chinese Police hat.  While it didn’t go with my jacket, I did like the fun reactions from the locals.

Deep Thoughts on the wall of China

After walking along the wall for a few miles at a pretty fast pace (Can you believe there is a Great Wall Marathon?), I took a couple of early moments to reflect on this incredible structure.  While I know it wasn’t all maintained as well as where we saw it, it was amazing about it.  It started as far back as the 7th century BC against intrusions and nomadic groups and incursions and in protecting the spice route.  Amazing how these towers were used in defense and in notifying the troops of what was coming.

How long is it actually?  Depends on if you count the structures that also help support the defense of the wall.  I’m going to say more than 5000 miles!  Wikipedia proposes a couple of different estimates:

The Great Wall stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the Ming walls measure 8,850 km (5,500 mi). This is made up of 6,259 km (3,889 mi) sections of actual wall, 359 km (223 mi) of trenches and 2,232 km (1,387 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. Another archaeological survey found that the entire wall with all of its branches measure out to be 21,196 km (13,171 mi)

This post is designed to be post 1 in a series of 7 of the Wonders of the World. Follow this blog to be notified of the rest of the series.

Cappadocia Turkey Underground Cave Cities


It was while watching a SCI FI Ancient Aliens show I first heard about the underground cities of Derinkuyu, Kaymakli and Ozkonak.  These and the other 200+ Underground Cities are a huge mystery that may never come to full light.  Everything we know is just from what has been found in excavating what remained.  This could be remnants from those who were last there, as these caves could be much much older. There really are so many cave systems and underground tunnels and essentially full cities underground that it may never be fully excavated.  These cities contained wineries, stables, churches, school, cellars, storage rooms.  The largest of the underground city of the in the Derinkuyu district in Nevşehir Province, Turkey.  It’s only been open to visitors since 1969 and less than half of what has been excavated is accessible to tourists.  At peak this city could have supported 20,000 residents and was up to 85 Meters deep!!!  According to the Turkish department of culture the cave is 8th to 7th century possibly built by the Phrygians either for religious purposes or refuge. 

Derinkuyu Yeralti Sehri

 

Now if you’re looking to visit this region, Goreme, Turkey is a great central location and really setup well for tourists where you can sleep in your own cave, but not part of any major tunnel system.  Goreme has shuttles to and from the airport.  Warning: If you are planning on not renting a car (which you shouldn’t need to do), you need to make sure you arrange ahead of time with one of the shuttle companies, the small airport in Kayceri has no ticket desk for shuttles and the taxi ride is pretty steep comparatively.  I was denied entry into a shuttle bus even after offering to pay him his price.  The driver won’t take money, it has to be pre-arranged.  I ended up catching a ride with an older couple that was headed into the city.  Really I got lucky, I didn’t want to pay the high price of the taxi, and there were no bus options that were convenient.  It was going to be a long walk and an inconvenient trek to the bus station, and who knows how long I may have had to wait.  WIth as many tourist shops and vehicles as there are in Goreme it was amazing to me how there was really NOTHING at the airport.

 

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On the surface you really wouldn’t even know it was down there, save the entrance sign and a few air vents that look like wells.

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Based on the size of the 500KG door that’s only able to be opened from the inside, I can definitely imagine it being used for refuge and for hiding from someone or something.

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There are some spaces that are very wide open such is just outside the church which makes the shape of a cross, underground, or the very tight spaces that is speculated as being a doorway that forces the person to be penitent.  They must go onto their knees to enter.  The self inflicted punishment is they would go around and around through the small tunnel to learn humility, kind of like the hail Mary or doing rosary beads.

When inside unless you’re claustrophobic, you feel very safe.  The walls seem very solid and there isn’t any crumbling rock.  There are some areas where you need to bend over to avoid hitting your head, but the hall near the church has a lot of room, and supports really large gathering of people.

You can take a virtual tour of the caves at http://www.muze.gov.tr/derinkuyu

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Look closely at these boards and you have one of the primary tools used to carve the stone with much sharper stones.  The would drag the board across the softer stone and it would essentially carve away the stone.  In this way they could remove the stone in large swaths.  For smaller areas, they would use smaller tools.

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Those who speculate that it was designed to be very temporary need to explain the graves in the area called the Morgue.  Here the rooms in this section of the cave are designed to handle the dead… Is it possible these graves were temporary holding places for the dead until they could find peace long enough to bury their dead.

 

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Yes, it was very dark 7-8 stories down.  The little lights are wired up and brought in through wires attached to the wall.

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Nevşehir Province has several other underground cities and Derinkuyu itself connects to Kaymakli via an 8 km tunnel. The deepest cave city is Derinkuyu and the widest is Kaymakli.  You can’t travel the tunnel between them.  Derinkuyu is about 30 minute drive from Goreme, which is the city where most of the hotel and tourist support is.  Access to these cities is no longer open to local residents without going through the main entrance. They remain generally unoccupied. In excess of 200 underground cities containing a minimum of two levels have been discovered in the area between Kayseri and Nevsehir.  Some 40 of those contain a minimum of three levels or more. The troglodyte (underground) cities at Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu are two of the best examples of habitable underground structures.  Reaching Derinkuyu or Goreme and the underground cities and cave churches, one can purchase a domestic ticket on Turish Airlines to Keyseri or Nevsehir. There are overland bus routes as well from across the country with flying being the shortest and not a bad way to reach the city.  Turkey is a big country so plan accordingly.

 

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Why you need to visit Cappadocia the Underground Cities and Cave Churches

There are so many incredible things to see in Cappadocia that you could spend a weeks here and still discover new places. The main ‘must-see’ attractions are the open-air museums which are essentially groupings of caves, cathedrals and homes and the two best underground cities. At the same time it wouldn’t make sense to go this whole way and not see the incredible Rose Valley, the Ihlara valley which has many of its own small cave churches, but even just outside the Goreme Open Air museum is one of my favorite cave churches.  What you’ll find when you arrive is there are many tourist companies that have organized the tours into the blue route, and red route, and so on, to group the various activities for those with limited time.  As well, don’t forget to get up as high as you can to check out the valley, this may be in a hot air balloon or on a hike to the top of the canyons.  One thing you must do is explore.  There’s so much to see and not everything is behind closed doors.  Even just hiking the valleys, you’ll be amazed to find abandoned caves.

  • Goreme Open Air Museum: cave churches with frescoes
  • Zelve Open Air Museum: an empty cave town with churches
  • Kaymakli Underground City: the largest underground city
  • Derinkuyu Underground City: the deepest underground city
  • Ihlara Valley: the deepest gorge of Anatolia
  • Uchisar: Roman rock-cut castle. You’ll see it driving back and forth.  Very cool looking. 
  • Ortahisar: Roman rock-cut castle.
  • Pasabag: mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys, monks valley
  • Devrent: animal-shaped fairy chimneys, imagination valley
  • Hacibektas: center of Bektasi sect of Islam
  • Gulsehir: first settlements in Cappadocia

I shared some of my stories on the Open Air Musuem, the Ihlara Valley and Monestary in “Early Cave Churches of Cappadocia Turkey” and more on the “Underground Cities

Yosemite Valley Natural Wonder

Yosemite Valley

I’ve been to California many many times, but it wasn’t until I explicitly planned to go to Yosemite that it happened.  I’ve seen pictures, and heard stories about it’s beauty, but it never popped until this summer.

Our family had a family reunion in Lake Tahoe, and with an open weekend, it took a little convincing, but we were all in.

I knew I wanted to have a full day in Yosemite and not just plan to drive through.  This was smart.  You really do need to plan to spend a full day to take advantage of what is there.  Imagine Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon… it’s one of those type of places.  You’re essentially 3-4 hours from civilization in any direction.  The good news is, there are options, but planning is important.  I found that common travel sites would easily put you 2 hours away from the park when booking a hotel, so you have to be careful.  The hotels, motels and lodges in the park go quickly and are quite expensive.

We stayed at the West Entrance to the park at Yosemite Riverside Inn.  It met our needs, and even included breakfast.  We were most happy with the distance to the park and being able to wake up and begin our journey into the park.  The first sight of Yosemite valley was incredible.

Yosemite valley

Half Dome in the Distance… My first view of it. Inspiring!

Personally it only took this one view, to know that I had found what I was looking for.  Yosemite was a natural wonder.  This was an ancient canyon with God’s fingerprints on it.  This place has serious earth history and a magical valley that would attract earths inhabitants all over it.  This special valley would awe and inspire and enchant anyone who sets their eyes on it.  In many ways simply traveling through this valley can bring one closer to God, because it makes man feel small.  In so many ways the pride of man can be stilled by standing on one of these rocks.

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El Capitan – What a Serious Megalith

While I didn’t really take the opportunity to climb these mega stones carved out of the valley, I did spend hours driving around them and went on a couple of easy hikes up to the falls, and one to a lake.  I spent most of the day in the valley with a bunch of other people I was trying to ignore.  You can see a few of these insignificant creatures in my picture.  Ignore the crowds, it’s still worth it. There are times of the day when you can get there ahead of the crowds, but still you have to do it anyway… It’s amazing and it does bring one closer to ones creator.

yosemite bridal veil

Yosemite Falls is 2,425 ft.  The highest waterfall in North America and in the top 10 in the world.  I’m going to be visiting the highest in the world, Angel Falls, in Venezuela and planning to spend 3 days to see it.  Had I known how amazing this was and how many of the top waterfalls in the world are in this park I would have given it more priority.  When I think of falls in the US, I think of Niagra, but that’s a volume thing.  Here you can plan to go when the run off is at it’s highest in the spring and get a real show.  Remember this park reminds man, that he is insignificant.  Some people get hurt or worse, trying to prove they can conquer these things.  With over a dozen falls, and hikes to nearly all of them, there are tons of things that people will do.  I would have liked to have tubed the river, or rode horses… lots of great activities in the park.

Things to do:

  • Horseback riding
  • Rafting
  • Hiking (Falls, Trails, Loops)
  • Rock Climbing
  • Biking
  • Tours
  • Loops Drive
  • Walking

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If anything Yosemite reminds us that there are things bigger than us in life.  Anytime you want to feel small. Visit the Yosemite Valley and it’s 1000 square miles of National park.  While you may feel like you weren’t alone while you were there.  You won’t regret it.