Friday Sound-Off: Is Slum Tourism a Good or Bad Thing?

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Slum tourism draws over 1 million tourists ever year.

It is a major tourism draw that brings in over a million tourists a year.  Mumbai, New Delhi, LA, Detroit, Copenhagen, and Berlin are all seeing tourists flock to their city to participate.  They aren’t visiting to see world class museums, or theme parks, or historical sites.  These tourists are flocking to these cities to visit the slums.

Ever since the movie Slumdog Millionaire became a major box office success, people have been flocking to Mumbai’s Dharavi slum to see for themselves.  The movie didn’t spur the creation of the Dharavi slum tours, but it did amplify the demand for the tours.  And that amplification has been massive.

Slum tourism, as it is often called, isn’t anything new.  All the way back in the 19th Century, wealthy aristocrats in London and New York would visit the disadvantaged areas of the city to view the slums.  It just so happens that this increased curiosity in the slums of the cities coincided with the invention of photography.

As images of these impoverished areas began to circulate, people started to become curious and wanted to see for themselves.  This curiosity has never abated, as this curiosity has only grown exponentially as photography, video, and the media has grown.

Today, these slum tours consist of visits to schools, education centers, and other sites where non-profit organizations are working with these communities.  The goal is to show tourists what is being done to better these communities, and show tourists what they can do to assist.

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Slum tour companies often show tourists what is being done to assist these poorer communities and tell them how they can assist.

 

So this leads us to the question of whether this slum tourism is a good or bad thing?  I am sure some slum tour operators would argue that these tours bring attention to neighborhoods that are desperately in need to assistance.  However, others would argue that none of the money from these tours usually makes it back into these neighborhoods.

Personally, we don’t like these tours.  To us it feels as though these people are being used.  Sure, it does bring some much needed attention to these impoverished neighborhoods, but we aren’t sure it is actually affecting any real change in these communities.  A vast majority of the money being generated by slum tour operators never actually makes it back to the people who live there.

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Some people question how much of the money made from slum tourism actually makes it back into these poorer communities.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think slum tourism is a good or bad thing?  Do you think it is helping or exploiting these communities?  What better ways can we assist those in these communities who are less fortunate?  We want to hear from you.

Posted in Friday Sound-Offs, Opinions | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Cape Buffalo and the Ox Pecker

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A Cape Buffalo with an Oxpecker on its back in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

Those of you who have followed our blog closely know how much we love animals.  We plan a lot of our travel around seeing animals and we enjoy learning about animals.  It is fascinating to see wild animals in their natural habitat.

One of the more fascinating things we learned while we were in Africa is the relationship between the cape buffalo and the ox pecker.  These two animals couldn’t be more different, but yet they have a close relationship in the wild. Cape Buffalo are very protective and most animals choose to avoid approaching these massive creatures and their horns.  For good reason, as there are many predators roaming around the African bush, and buffalo get very aggressive when made uncomfortable.

The oxpecker, on the other hand, has no problem with landing on the backs of these huge buffalo.  The ox peckers are drawn to the buffalo because of the parasites and flies that infest these giants.  The buffalo allow the presence of the oxpecker because it benefits them as well.  The ox pecker gets a meal and the buffalo get some grooming service and relief from the pesky flies.

Now, there is some debate as to whether the relationship between the cape buffalo and the oxpecker is symbiotic (or mutually beneficial), or whether the oxpecker itself is semi-parasitic.  Either way, the cape buffalos don’t seem to mind their presence.

The relationship that ox peckers, both the red-billed and yellow-billed species found in sub-Saharan Africa, have with other animals in Africa isn’t limited to just cape buffalo.  On the contrary, ox peckers can often be found near and on other animals such as giraffes, antelope, zebra, and rhinoceroses.  However, their relationship with cape buffalo is more well known because of the frequency in which you see ox peckers on the backs of these giant buffalos.

 

Posted in Africa, Safari, Serengeti, Tanzania, Wildlife | Tagged | 2 Comments

Friday Sound-Off: Are Walking Safaris Safe?

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With poaching becoming an increasing problem and animals being forced into smaller-and-smaller areas, the animals in Africa are becoming more stressed.

He did everything right.  When Quinn Swales, a professional guide at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, lead a group of tourists on a walking safari within the park, he knew exactly what he was doing.  Yet, even doing everything right did not save him.

When Quinn Swales and his group ran into a pride of lions within Hwange National Park, Quinn relied on his experience to protect his clients.  When a large male lion got up and started to approach his group, he told them not to run, but to stand behind him.  Running would only trigger the lion’s predatory instincts, and you can’t out run a lion.

He then set off a “bear banger”, which is a noise maker that makes a sound as loud as a gun shot.  It appeared to work at first, as the lion seemed to back off.  However, fate would not be that kind to Quinn, as the lion quickly doubled back and attacked him.  Sadly, Quinn Swales later died from his injuries.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just an isolated incident.  There have been a number of fatalities in recent years.  We have included a list below of some other stories of tragedy on walking safari in Africa.

There has been a lot of talk in the past decade about how safe walking safaris really are.  In most countries in Africa, guides are not allowed to carry guns on walking safaris.  Poaching is still a big issue in Africa, and keeping guns outside of the parks should be a top priority.  This means that clients are reliant upon the skill and experience of their guides to keep them safe while walking in the African bush.

However, for some tourists, they are looking for the ultimate adventure.  Seeing the magnificent animals of Africa from a vehicle is great, but being able to get out and venture into the wilderness on foot, to put yourself into the environment with the animals as an observer, is the ultimate wildlife viewing experience.

But are these walking tours really what is best for the viewers and the animals?  With poaching becoming an increasing problem and animals being forced into smaller-and-smaller areas, the animals in Africa are becoming more stressed.  Should we really be adding to that stress?

We would like to hear your thoughts.  Should walking safaris be allowed?  Is it worth the risk to take a walking safari?

 

Posted in Africa, Friday Sound-Offs, Hiking, Opinions, Safari, Wildlife | Tagged | 5 Comments

Travelor’s Guide to Edinburgh

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A view of Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh is one of our favorite cities in the United Kingdom.  There is so much history to see and things to do.  If you are planning a trip to Edinburgh in the near future, we hope this guide will make your trip planning process a little bit easier.

But before we get into all of the amazing places and activities for you to enjoy on your trip, here are some fun facts you might not know about Edinburgh.

  • The Royal Mile is actually just over one mile long (1 mile and 107 yards to be exact).
  • Edinburgh Castle was built on an extinct volcano.
  • Edinburgh was the first city in the world to have an official fire department.
  • J.K. Rowling wrote some parts of Harry Potter in an Edinburgh cafe named, The Elephant.  In fact, Edinburgh inspired some of her characters and locations in the books.
  • Edinburgh has more street addresses than any other city in the world.

A Day in Edinburgh

Want to know what it is like to tour the Edinburgh area?  Well, you are in luck.  Come along with us as we tour three of the Edinburgh area’s biggest attractions. We take a look at the Rosslyn Chapel, the Royal Mile, and of course Edinburgh Castle.

Top 10 Must See Sites

There is so much to see and do in Edinburgh that it was tough to narrow it down to just a list of ten.  These ten things are some of the must see attractions in Edinburgh that we definitely recommend working into your itinerary.

10.  Holyrood Palace

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Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.

The Palace of Holyrood, which is more commonly known as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.  Edinburgh’s oldest street, which is commonly referred to as “The Royal Mile”, connects Edinburgh Castle with Holyrood Palace.

If you are interested in visiting the Holyrood Palace, there are tours available.  We would suggest planning for at least an hour to take the tour.  When planning your time in Edinburgh, it makes sense to plan to see Holyrood Palace on the same day that you plan to see the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle.  You can start at one end, either the castle or the palace, and work your way to the other end.

Recommended Length of Visit:  1-2 Hours

9.  Nelson Monument

Nelson Monument by Eje Gustafsson

The Nelson Monument is a tower that was built between 1807 and 1816 to commemorate the life of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was killed in the battle of Trafalgar.

The Nelson Monument is a tower that was built between 1807 and 1816 to commemorate the life of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was killed in the battle of Trafalgar.  Situated on top of Calton Hill, it really is a sight to behold.

If you plan to visit the monument, we recommend climbing to the top of the monument as it offers some extraordinary panorama views of Edinburgh below.   Entry to the bottom floor of the tower is free, but there is a £5 entry fee to climb the tower.  Information hours on of service and directions can be found on the Edinburgh Museums website.

Recommended Length of Visit:  1 Hour

8.  Royal Botanic Garden

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The Royal Botanic Garden has roughly 70 acres of beautiful gardens and landscapes.

Located just a mile from the city center, the Royal Botanic Garden has roughly 70 acres of beautiful gardens and landscapes. It is a popular attraction for both tourists and locals, and an excellent place to go for a long, scenic walk.

With a collection that includes over 13,000 plant species, the garden’s collection of plants is world class. The gardens also offer some picturesque views of the Edinburgh skyline and Edinburgh castle. During the course of the year the gardens also host a variety of live performances, guided tours, and exhibitions, so make sure you check their schedule before planning your visit.

Recommended Length of Visit:  1-2 Hours

7.  Scotch Whiskey Experience

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You can go on a tour, taste test a variety of whiskies, enjoy lunch at the restaurant, and even take a one day class about whiskey.

If you are a whiskey connoisseur, then you will love the Scotch Whiskey Experience in Edinburgh.  You can go on a tour, taste test a variety of whiskies, enjoy lunch at the restaurant, and even take a one day class about whiskey.  It is located on Castle hill in the Old Town, near the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle.

Recommended Length of Visit:  For a Tour, 2-4 Hours.

6.  National Museum of Scotland

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In addition to its fabulous collections of Scottish antiquities, culture and history, the National Museum of Scotland also holds countless collections covering science and technology, natural history, and world cultures.

In addition to its fabulous collections of Scottish antiquities, culture and history, the National Museum of Scotland also holds countless collections covering science and technology, natural history, and world cultures.  If you like museums, then you will love the National Museum of Scotland.

If you are looking for a good break-down of some of the top exhibits to see in the National Museum of Scotland, The Culture Trip has a very good write-up.  Our favorite was undoubtedly the Mammal Collection, pictured above.

Recommended Length of Visit:  Half Day

5.  Calton Hill

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Located in central Edinburgh, Calton Hill is a large hill that is home to several of Edinburgh’s most prestigious monuments and buildings.

If you want to get a bird’s eye view of the city of Edinburgh, you should make sure you check out Calton Hill.  Located in central Edinburgh, Calton Hill is a large hill that is home to several of Edinburgh’s most prestigious monuments and buildings.  These include the National Monument, the Nelson Monument, and the Dugald Stewart Monument.  It’s definitely a must visit if you are into photography or history.

Pro Tip:  If you want to get some really great shots of Edinburgh, make sure you get up early and head to Calton Hill.  You can get some pretty amazing sunrise shots over Edinburgh from the hill.

Recommended Length of Visit:  1-2 Hours

4.  Arthur’s Seat

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If you are into hiking, you are able to hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat to get some great panoramic views of Edinburgh.

Situated just east of the Edinburgh city center, Arthur’s Seat is the main peak in the group of peaks that forms what is known as Holyrood Park.  It is speculated that its name, Arthur’s Seat, derives from the legends of King Arthur.

If you are into hiking, you are able to hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat to get some great panoramic views of Edinburgh.  If you aren’t up for climbing to the top of the hill, there are plenty of other things to do in Holyrood Park as well.  St. Anthony’s Chapel, which is a medieval chapel that dates back to the 15th century is definitely worth exploring.  As are the 150 foot high cliff faces, known as the Salisbury Crags, that dominate Edinburgh’s skyline from within the park.

Recommended Length of Visit:  1-2 Hours

3.  The Royal Mile

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We loved touring the Royal Mile when we were in Edinburgh.  It is such a bustling, happening place with so much to do and see.  The Royal Mile is a collection of streets that form the primary thoroughfare thru old town in Edinburgh.  The streets are lined with a fun mix of shops, restaurants, pubs and visitor attractions.

Being that it is one of the oldest thoroughfares in Edinburgh, the history surrounding the Royal Mile is astounding.  At one end you have the Holyrood Palace, which is the home to the British Monarch in Scotland, and at the other end you have the imposing Edinburgh Castle.

Pro Tip:  If you plan your visit around the Edinburgh Festival, the Royal Mile is an absolute blast, but it does get very crowded.  So depending on what type of experience you want, booking your trip to Edinburgh during the Edinburgh Festival should be an important consideration.

Recommended Length of Visit:  2-4 Hours

2.  Rosslyn Chapel

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Rossyln Chapel is an absolutely stunning 15th century church that was made famous in the movie “The Divinci Code”.   It is located about a half-hour south of the city of Edinburgh in the village of Roslin, Scotland.   So while it is not technically inside the city of Edinburgh, it is close enough and pretty enough that we had to include it on this list.

In fact, Tom Hanks was so impressed with the beauty of the church after filming that he later said, “Few locations in film are so delightful and few destinations live up to their billing, but Rosslyn Chapel was all one could imagine or hope for“.  

Pro Tip:  Make sure you take the time to properly tour the church as the detail of the stone work is amazing.  There is also significance to much of the detailed stone work that has led to many of the theories surrounding the church’s role in the search for the Holy Grail.  It’s a fascinating place to tour.

The church should be high on the list of anyone who is visiting the Edinburgh area.  Enjoy some of the shots we took of the church in our gallery below.

Recommended Length of Visit:  1-2 Hours

1.  Edinburgh Castle

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Edinburgh Castle almost needs no introduction, as it is arguably one of the most famous castles in the world.  For those unfamiliar with Edinburgh Castle, it is a 12th century fortress that dominates Edinburgh’s skyline from its perch upon Castle Rock.  It’s also Scotland’s biggest paid tourist attraction.

If you would like to tour Edinburgh Castle, make sure you leave yourself enough time.  If you are really into history, you could probably spend a full day touring the castle.  Even if you aren’t a history buff, viewing the crown jewels and just doing some general sight-seeing at Edinburgh Castle can take you a few hours.  Edinburgh Castle is undoubtedly our top recommended sight to see if you are in the Edinburgh area.  Just some of the many pictures we took on our tour are included in the gallery below.

Recommended Length of Visit:  4-8 Hours

Top Restaurant Recommendation

What could be better than great food served in a 17th century watchtower with views of the harbor?  Not much.  If you are going to make plans to eat at one place in Edinburgh, we would definitely recommend making that place Fishers in Leith.

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Trip Adviser Reviews

Top Excursion Recommendations

One excursion outside of Edinburgh that we would strongly recommend is a trip to Sterling.  For those of you who have seen the movie “Braveheart”, Sterling is the site of William Wallace’s underdog defeat of the British at Sterling Bridge.

Sterling is about a 1 hour drive or train ride from Edinburgh, so it is easy to schedule as a day trip.  And there is more than enough to see in Sterling to justify the visit.

Though the Sterling Bridge has obviously been rebuilt, it is still fun to check out and visualize what happened there so long ago.  We would also recommend checking out Sterling Castle, which like Edinburgh Castle is beautifully perched on top of a hill, and the William Wallace Monument.  The William Wallace Monument was very cool and worth the trip to Sterling by itself.

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Royal Mile Guided Walking Tour

Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands Small Group Day Trip

Stirling Castle and Loch Lomond Small Group Day Trip

Recommended Length of Visit in Edinburgh:  2-3 Days

Posted in Europe, Scotland, Travel Advice, Trip Planning, United Kingdom | Tagged | 5 Comments

National Monuments – Devil’s Tower National Monument

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Devil’s Tower National Monument is an amazing geological feature in Northeast Wyoming.

Devil’s Tower National Monument is an amazing geological feature in Northeast Wyoming that was made famous in the move “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.  Think mountain made of mashed potatoes.  The grooves in the side of the rock is what is known as a spearfish formation, created when sea levels and the climate repeatedly changed.

Devil’s Tower, with its beauty and astounding composition, has long been a sacred spot for Native Americans.  Native American tribes, many of whom refer to the monument as “Bear’s Lodge”, have oral traditions that tell of how the monument came about.

To this day, Devil’s Tower continues to attract visitors, with over 440,000 people a year visiting the monument from all over the world.  On top of being one of America’s biggest geological wonders, it is also one of the best crack rock climbing locations in North America.

How to Get There

 

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Devil’s Tower National Monument is located in Northeast Wyoming, near both the South Dakota and Montana borders.  The closest large city to Devil’s Tower is Rapid City, South Dakota, which itself is a large tourist draw being that it is in close proximity to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills.

It’s just a short 1 hour and 45 minute drive from Rapid City should you want to combine those destinations into one trip.  Other large cities with airports that are in close proximity to Devil’s Tower National Monument are listed in the table below as well.

Rapid City, South Dakota 1.75 hours
Casper, Wyoming 3 hours
Billings, Montana 4 hours
Bismark, North Dakota 5.5 hours
Denver, Colorado 6 hours

Best Time to Visit

It can get very cold in Northeast Wyoming during the winter, but if you are looking to combine some sight-seeing with outdoor activities, the months of November thru March might suit you well.  In the summer (June thru August), the temperatures are warm and rain is common, so it is really hit-and-miss on what type of weather you are going to get.

Arguably the best time to visit is during the Spring and Autumn shoulder months of April thru May and September thru October.  Though it can still be quite wet during the Spring, so our favorite time to visit Devil’s Tower National Monument is undoubtedly during the fall.  Besides, Devil’s Tower is especially beautiful with the fall leaves changing color.

Months High Low Notes
APR-MAY 62°F 33°F Moderate temperatures, but wet.
JUN-AUG 83°F 51°F Hot with occasional thunderstorms.
SEP-OCT 67°F 35°F Moderate temperatures and relatively dry.
NOV-MAR 39°F 12°F Cold temperatures with snow.

Top Things to See and Do

Whether you are just passing thru on your way out west, or staying for a number of days to enjoy this beautiful area, Devil’s Tower has an abundance of activities for you to enjoy.  It is a premiere rock climbing location and offers some extraordinary hiking opportunities.  Blow are some resources to assist you in researching and planning your trip to see Devil’s Tower National Monument.

Marvel at the Wonder of Devil’s Tower

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Because of its strange geological formation and its picturesque setting, Devil’s Tower offers some amazing photography opportunities.

Because of its strange geological formation and its picturesque setting, Devil’s Tower offers some amazing photography opportunities.  It is especially pretty when viewed at night, with a clear, starlit sky as a backdrop.

Take a Hike

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None of the hiking trails at Devi’s Tower are especially long or difficult, so it is a great way for everyone to experience the wonders of this beautiful monument.

If you would like to get a little more up-close and personal, there are hiking trails that weave you thru the forest and up close to Devil’s Tower.  None of the trails are especially long or difficult, so it is a great way for everyone to experience the wonders of this beautiful monument.

View the Wildlife

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Many species of mammal, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish call the park their home.

A part from just being a pretty area with a strange rock formation, Devil’s Tower National Monument is also a great place to view wildlife.  Many species of mammal, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish call the park their home.  These include such animals as deer, pronghorn, bison (otherwise known as American buffalo), big horn sheep, prairie dogs, beaver, porcupine, coyote, fox, mountain lion, and bobcat.

Photo Gallery

Here are just some of the stunning pictures we were able to capture in Devil’s Tower National Monument.  It’s an amazing place to explore.

 

Posted in Hiking, National Parks, North America, Road Trips, United States, Wildlife, Wyoming | Tagged | Leave a comment

Rhinos Chasing Hyenas in Ngorongoro

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Two black rhinos grazing in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.

You never know what you are going to see when you go on safari.  That is one of the things we love the most about it.  We got pretty lucky when we were on safari in Africa.  We got to see all of the animals we wanted to see, as well as some pretty amazing behavior from the animals.

Without a doubt, one of my favorite things we got to see was a black rhino chasing a number of spotted hyenas in the Ngorongoro Crater.  You can see how formidable black rhinos can be, and why most other animals give them their due respect.

We aren’t really sure what set the rhino off.  If you watch the video, it almost looks as though it is protecting something.  Or it could be that the hyenas were after something and the rhino wanted no part of the hyenas in it’s neighborhood.

Whatever it was, this rhino was having none of it.  Let us know what you think.

Posted in Africa, Ngorongoro Crater, Safari, Tanzania, Video, Wildlife | Tagged | 3 Comments

Friday Sound-off: Is ‘overtourism’ a problem?

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Venice, Italy is one of the cities most effected by over-crowding.

‘Overtourism’ isn’t a term you hear very often, but it appears as though it was a hot topic at the 25th World Travel Monitor Forum held in Pisa, Italy November 9-10, 2017. At the invitation of IPK International and supported by ITB Berlin, roughly 50 tourism experts met to discuss the latest trends and hot topics in the tourism industry.  And it appears over-crowding and ‘overtourism’ was one of the hot topics.

It is a concept that, as travel enthusiasts, we may not actively think about a whole lot, but I am sure it is something that is often in the back of our minds.  I know it is often in our minds as we travel.

Increasingly crowded destinations not only have an impact on travelers in terms of longer wait lines, lack of accommodations, and more expensive trips, but it has an impact on the destinations and local infrastructure as well.  In fact, in the past year overtourism has led to an increasing number of protests by residents.  We have outlined just a few of the articles written about the topic in the past year below.

According to a World Travel Monitor representative survey, in which 29,000 international travelers from 24 countries in Europe, Asia, and the Americas were surveyed, roughly 25 percent of all international tourists feel as though their travel destinations have been “over-crowded”.  We have summarized some of the other key findings from this survey below.

  • 9 percent, or roughly 100 million tourists, said this over-crowding has directly effected the quality of their trip.
  • The group that reported the most issues with over-crowding, at 13 percent, was families with young children and young people under 34 years-old.
  • In terms of origin, Asians reported experiencing issues with over-crowding most frequently, with 15 percent of those surveyed saying they have been directly effected by over-crowding on their trips.  This was followed by 9 percent of North American travelers and 8 percent of European travelers saying they have been effected by over-crowding.
  • In regards to activities, skiers and snowboarders reported the most issues with over-crowding, with 19 percent of those traveling to engage in winter activities reporting issues with over-crowding.
  • According to the survey, the cities most effected are Guangzhou (24%), Shanghai (23%), Beijing (21%), Amsterdam and Istanbul (both at 19%), and Barcelona, Florence, and Venice (all at 18%).

At the World Traveler Forum there was plenty of discussion on how to address some of the issues with over-crowding, such as managing seasonal visitor flows, spreading out tourism benefits, and investing more in infrastructure.

And it was mentioned that Venice, Italy has already taken great strides to try and tackle the issues it is facing with over-crowding by banning cruise ships from docking directly at the waterfront, increasing tourism taxes, and fining tourists who break the local laws.  It will be interesting to see how these efforts and others pay off in the coming years.

We have certainly seen first-hand the effect that over-crowding can have in our travels throughout Europe.  Longer lines and a scarcity of accommodations is something that every traveler needs to factor into their travel planning these days.

We would like to know your thoughts.  Have you had any bad experiences with over-crowding?  What have those experiences been and where did you have issues?  What would you like to see these destinations do to counteract the problems with overcrowding?

Posted in Africa, Asia, Europe, Friday Sound-Offs, North America, South America, Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda

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Two juvenile Mountain Gorillas wrestling

A cute video we took in Rwanda of two juvenile Mountain Gorillas wrestling.  We were trekking through Volcanoes National Park in northwestern Rwanda.  There are only around 7 groups of mountain gorillas left in Rwanda, so they are still extremely endangered.

If you decide to visit, we would highly recommend people stay at Mountain Gorilla View Lodge.  There are also treks to see Golden Monkeys if you are interested.

 

Posted in Africa, Hiking, Mountains, National Parks, Rwanda, Video, Wildlife | Tagged | 2 Comments

National Parks – Yellowstone and Grand Teton

For those of you who know me, you know how much I love scenic landscapes.  I guess that is what has drawn me to our national parks.  They have some of the most beautiful landscapes this world has to offer.  There is nothing more serene than being in nature with nothing to occupy your mind except for Mother Nature’s beauty.  That is what got me into photography in the first place.  I wanted a way in which to capture those moments to share with others.

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I have been to exactly half of the 46 National Parks in the continental United States, with plans to visit the remainder of the parks here and outside the 48 continental states.  And I have plans to write about each and every one of those parks so that I can share with you my experiences and any tips I might have collected along the way.


No better place to start than with this country’s first national park and two of my favorite national parks – Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  As you can see in the map below, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are located in very close proximity of each other, in Northwest Wyoming.  In fact, Yellowstone National Park is so large that it covers small parts of Montana and Idaho as well.

 

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How to Get There

When we visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton, we drove so that we could take in some of the views along the way.  To give you an idea of how long it will take you to get there, I put together a little drive time table below to give you an idea.

From City Drive Time
Denver 10.5 hrs
Minneapolis 14.5 hrs
Chicago 20.5 hrs
Milwaukee 19.5 hrs
Kansas City 18 hrs
Seattle 11 hrs
Portland 12 hrs
Salt Lake City 5 hrs

If you aren’t interested in driving, you can always fly into Billings, Montana and then drive to Yellowstone National Park.  From the airport in Billings, it is about a 3 hour drive to Yellowstone.  From Yellowstone, it is about an hour drive South to get to Grand Teton National Park.

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Best Time to Visit

Yellowstone and Grand Teton are fun to visit any time of the year, and the best time to visit will ultimately depend on what you want to see when you’re there.  Summer (June thru August) is the peak season for the parks, so the parks will be the most crowded during these months.  However, if you get off the beaten (or paved) paths and explore the back-country of the parks, you can escape the crowds any time of year.

If you are into snow shoeing and cross country skiing, then the winter months (December thru March) will be of the most interest to you.  The park is so quiet and peaceful during the winter, and the thermal features are extra beautiful under a fresh blanket of snow.

Top Things to See

There are so many things to see in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.  To give you a place to start in your planning, I have outlined some of my top spots in both parks for you below.  I have also included some great resources below where you can find more information about the parks.

Yellowstone National Park

The following are my top attractions in Yellowstone National Park:

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

The largest hot spring in the United States, the Grand Prismatic hot spring is my favorite site in Yellowstone National Park.  Different color algae grows in the different temperature bands of the hot spring, giving it beautiful rings of color.  There is a board walk that takes you right up to the hot spring, but if you have the time and are adventurous, I would suggest taking the hike up behind the hot spring on to the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring Overlook.  The views are amazing!

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Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls

The Yellowstone Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone consist of the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls.  There are several hikes that give you a great view of the falls, as well as the Lookout Point, Artist Point, and Falls Overlook, which allows you to get to the precipice of the falls.

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Old Faithful Geyser

Arguably the most famous attraction in Yellowstone National Park, I probably don’t need to give you an introduction into Old Faithful geyser.  Popular because of its predictability, Old Faithful erupts every 45-125 minutes and can usually be predicted by park staff almost to the minute.  There is plenty of seating up close to the geyser, but if you want to get a really great perspective of the eruption, take the Observation Point Trail.  There are some great views of Old Faithful from this trail.

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Mammoth Hot Springs

Located in the far North of Yellowstone National park, Mammoth Hot Springs is a very large group of hot springs on a travertine hill. It includes over 60 thermal features, including the Angel Springs, Devil’s Kitchen and Devil’s Thumb, Marbel Terrace, Painted Pool, and the Sulpher Pits.  There is a boardwalk that takes you thru the hot springs, and if you have the time I would absolutely recommend exploring the thermal features here.  A great way to get more information about the Mammoth Hot Springs region of Yellowstone is to check out this online Virtual Tour.

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Hayden and Lamar Valleys

I absolutely love the valleys of Yellowstone National Park, and Hayden and Lamar Valley are arguably the park’s most famous.  They are, without a doubt, the best place to view wildlife in the parks.  You are almost guaranteed to see bison, elk, and antelope grazing in the valleys.  And if you are lucky, you will get to see grizzley bear wandering thru or the wolf packs that patrol the valleys for prey.  Bringing binoculars (spotting scopes are even better) is an absolute must as the valleys are very big and sometimes the wildlife you want to see is quite a ways away.

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Yellowstone Lake

Not as often mentioned as the park’s thermal features, hot springs, and waterfalls, Yellowstone Lake should not be overlooked when planning a trip to the park.  It is the largest body of water within the park, covering 136 square miles, and has an average depth of 136 feet.  My favorite park of the lake is seeing the thermal features releasing steam next to the shoreline.  Makes for some fascinating views.

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Roosevelt Arch

Found at the Northern entrance to the park, the arch is one of the most iconic images of Yellowstone National Park.  It welcomes visitors with the message, “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people”, which was taken from the Organic Act (the legislation passed in 1872 that designated Yellowstone as the world’s first national park).  President Roosevelt himself laid the cornerstone of the arch in 1903, and the arch has been welcoming visitors to Yellowstone ever since its completion.

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Norris Geyser Basin

The Norris Geyser Basin is a large geothermal area in Yellowstone National Park that includes a large number of geysers and other thermal features.  These features include Porkchop Geyser, Whale’s Mouth, Pinwheel Geyser, Emerald Spring, and Steamboat Geyser.  This is an area of Yellowstone that is another absolute must-see.  For a neat tour of the Norris Geyser Basin region of Yellowstone, check out this online Virtual Tour.

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Grand Teton National Park

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The following are my top attractions in Grand Teton National Park:

Jenny Lake

Formed by glaciers, Jenny Lake is jaw-dropping beautiful, especially at sunrise and sunset.  If you like camping and kayaking, I would absolutely recommend camping out at one of the campgrounds by the lake and enjoying some time out on the lake in a kayak.  On top of being incredibly peaceful, the views from the lake are gorgeous.  If you are looking for a campground, the Jenny Lake Campground is a great option.

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The Teton Range

They are pretty hard to miss.  Often likened to the Matterhorn of Switzerland because of their jagged peaks, the Teton Range has the most Swiss Alps feel of any other place in the US Rocky Mountains.  There are plenty of places to take in the view of the peaks, and I would suggest soaking them all in.

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Teton Park Road

A great way of doing an initial investigation of the park is to take the Teton Park road.  I would still recommend getting out of the car and exploring the back country, but some of the views from the park road should not be missed.  One of my favorite viewpoints is the Snake River Overlook.  There is just something about the river winding its way at the foot of the mountains that is just so beautiful.   If you are interested in some other scenic drives, here are some ideas to explore.

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Mormon Row

This is one of my favorite spots in Grand Teton National Park.  The view of these old buildings at the foot of the Teton Range is stunning.  Make sure you bring your camera because you can get some fantastic shots here.

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Here is a map on how to get to Mormon Row:

Mormon Row Map

Kayaking

In my opinion, if you want to really see the Grand Teton National Park, you have to get out of the car and explore.  There is no better way to take in the beauty of this park than from in a boat on a lake.  Especially when the lake is at the foot of the prettiest mountain range in the continental United States.  I would recommend Jenny Lake.  And if you don’t own kayaks, not to worry, you can rent them there.

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Snake River Overlook

This is one of my favorite scenic overlooks on the Teton Park Road.  The view of the Teton Range resting just beyond the meandering Snake River is a sight to behold.  I would absolutely recommend making a pit stop to take in the scenery.

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Hiking

Getting out in the back country to explore our national parks always pays off, and that is no different with Grand Teton.  There are views you just can’t see from the road.  If you have the time, I would strongly recommend getting out and hiking, even if it is just a short hike.  Here is a great resource for some of the more popular hikes in Grand Teton.

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Camping

If you like camping, Grand Teton National Park is a great place to do it.  The camp sites at the campgrounds aren’t right on top of each other, so you actually feel like you are camping.  Nothing like sleeping out in nature, and this is a gorgeous place to do it.  Just make sure you respect the campgrounds and practice proper bear etiquette.  Hear are some more options for campgrounds in Grand Teton National Park.

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Jackson Hole Gondola

No trip to Grand Teton is complete without a pit stop in Jackson, Wyoming.  Jackson Hole ski resort is gorgeous, as is the city of Jackson.  The shopping and restaurants are fun to take in.  But my favorite part of visiting Jackson is going on the Jackson Hole gondola.  The sites from the top are out-of-this-world.  Here is some more information on the Jackson Hole gondola.

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Posted in Camping, Hiking, Kayaking, National Parks, North America, Road Trips, Travel Advice, Uncategorized, United States, Wyoming | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

The Art of Travel Photography – Tips for Taking Pictures in Low Light

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We have all been in situations when traveling where we want to take a picture of something really beautiful or cool that we see, but the pictures just don’t seem to turn out because there isn’t enough light.  It can be a really frustrating feeling, I know.

Back when I first started getting into photography, I took a road trip to Banff National Park in Alberta.  Along the way, I stopped off at Glacier National Park for a day.  Glacier was a park that I had long wanted to visit because of its absolutely gorgeous vistas.

Unfortunately, it was very overcast with scattered rain on the day I was there.  Not only did this put a big damper on my hiking plans, but it made getting good pictures of the park incredibly difficult.  I was heartbroken to see the quality of my images when I got home and viewed them.  I am still bummed out about those pictures to this day.

In order to prevent something similar from happening to you, I am going to pass on to you a wealth of knowledge I have accumulated over the years on how to make the most of the limited light you might have when taking travel pictures.  So they next time you are in a dimly lit building or venturing out on an overcast day, you will be prepared.

Using a Flash

One of the most tried-and-true ways of compensating for low light when taking pictures is to use a flash.  A flash will create light just before exposure, thus allowing your camera to take pictures in low light conditions that it otherwise would not be able to.

While the use of a flash is a great way to overcome low light conditions in some circumstances, it can be a rather impractical or ineffective method in other scenarios.  For instance, when it comes to portrait photography, a flash can be used in low light conditions with outstanding results.  In fact, I would always recommend using a flash when taking portraits in low lighting conditions.

However, if you are looking to photograph a landscape, the use of flash may not have as great of results.  The exposure of a flash is not great enough to illuminate landscapes and most often won’t even give you enough illumination to get the landscape in focus.

Below are some of the general tips I can give you in regards to using a flash to compensate for low lighting conditions:

  • When shooting portraits in low light, always use a flash to avoid a loss of detail in your subjects.  An external flash is recommended, but a built-in flash will suffice if it is all you have.
  • Just because you are using a flash doesn’t mean you should lower the ISO setting you are using.  Lowing the ISO may not affect the subjects that are illuminated by the flash, but you will see a significant loss in detail and increase in noise in your background.  I typically recommend leaving the ISO setting at what you would use if you weren’t using a flash.  We’ll talk about adjusting the ISO setting a bit more later in this article.
  • If you are using an external flash, I recommend bouncing the flash off of the ceiling or a wall and onto your subjects to diffuse the strong light of the flash.  This will make the light softer and give you higher quality images.

Increase the ISO

Another way to effectively overcome low light situations when taking photographs is to increase the ISO setting that you are using.  As I have discussed in my other articles on the Art of Travel Photography, ISO is the sensitivity your camera’s sensor has to light.

Increasing the ISO setting will make your camera’s sensor more sensitive to the limited amount of light that it has and allow you to effectively shoot in lower lighting conditions.  However, be aware that with an increased ISO comes more noise.

Noise is the visual distortion of your image as translated by your camera’s sensor.  It typically manifests itself as a grainy appearance in your photograph, much like you see in the image below.  The higher you set the ISO, the more noise you will typically see.  As you can see in the example below, raising the ISO from 400 to 3200 significantly lightens up the image, but it also makes the image significantly grainier.

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Each camera model will vary in how well it is able to perform at higher ISO settings.  Full frame cameras are typically able to perform much better than crop sensor cameras because they allow more light into the sensor.

In order to effectively use the ISO to adjust your camera to lower lighting situations, it is important to first understand how ISO stops work.  Your camera will have ISO settings that start at 50 or 100 and then double with each stop.  For instance, you will see 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, etc… as your ISO setting options.

The maximum ISO setting will vary by camera, depending on how good your camera’s sensor is at dealing with the noise associated with a high ISO.  Again, full frame cameras will typically have a higher maximum ISO setting than crop sensor cameras because they allow more light into the sensor.

If you change the ISO setting on your camera from 100 to 200, you are essentially doubling your camera sensor’s sensitivity to the light it can see.  I typically don’t like to raise my ISO above 1600 because the noise in the image becomes too noticeable, but you will want to experiment with the ISO settings on your camera to see how high you are willing to go with your camera before the noise becomes too much.  I think the sweet spot for ISO is anywhere between 50 and 400.

Use a Larger Aperture

Another way to adjust your photography to low lighting is to use a larger aperture when taking your shots.  The larger your aperture, the more light that is let into your lens’s sensor.  Remember, a lens’s aperture is measured in f-stops.  What can be confusing is that the lower f-stops indicate larger apertures.  For instance, a lens with an maximum f-stop of f/1.4 has a larger maximum aperture than a lens with a maximum f-stop of f/3.5.

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As illustrated in the diagram above, the larger the aperture size, the further the lens opens, the more light gets exposed to the camera’s sensor.  The result is a lighter image for pictures taken with a larger aperture.  In fact, setting your lens stop at f/1.8 will actually let in 4 times as much light as f/3.5, which is a monumental difference in light.

I suggest that you invest in a lens that has a very large maximum aperture (somewhere in the range of f/1.2 – f/1.8).  There are some inexpensive options out there that will do the job.  These lenses with large maximum apertures are often referred to as “fast lenses” because they allow you to take quality photos at faster shutter speeds.

You will also want to remember the larger the aperture you use, the shallower the depth of field will be in your images.  In other words, pictures taken with with a large aperture will have a blurrier background then images taken with a small aperture.  This effect, where part of the image is in focus (usually the foreground) and part of the image (usually the background) is out of focus is called a bokeh effect.

The illustration below demonstrates the effect of a larger and smaller aperture on depth of field.  In the image on the left, which was taken with a larger aperture, you can see that the background isn’t as clear as it is in the image on the right, which was taken with a smaller aperture.

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Keep in mind, the aperture you use is going to be closely tied to the shutter speed you use when you take your photograph.  I explain what the shutter speed is and how it effects the pictures you take in the next section, as well as how the shutter speed and aperture are related.

Adjust the Shutter Speed

One of the most effective ways to enhance your photography in low light is to adjust the shutter speed of your camera.  Compared to aperture, the concept of shutter speed is much easier to understand.  Put simply, while aperture is how far the shutter opens, the shutter speed is how long the shutter of the camera takes to open to expose light to the camera sensor, and close.

The longer the shutter stays open, the more light gets exposed to the camera’s sensor, and the lighter the photo will be.  As you can see in the images below, if you pick too fast of a shutter speed, then the result will be an image that is too dark.  On the flip side, choosing a shutter speed that is too slow will result in an image that is too light and blown out.  Choosing the correct shutter speed results in a properly exposed image.

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If you want to adjust for lower light conditions, lengthening the shutter speed is one way you can make sure your photographs are properly exposed.  A longer shutter speed will prevent your images from being ruined because they are too dark.

You need to be careful though, because a longer shutter speed can also result in motion blur.  You will probably recognize motion blur as a blurry object in your image that was in motion when you took your shot.  Motion blur is the result of shooting moving objects with a shutter speed that is too slow.  While a fast shutter speed will freeze motion in your images, a slow shutter speed will result in these blurry images if the lighting is poor.

In the images below, the image on the top has some prime examples of motion blur.  If you look closely, many of the walking people are blurry because I had adjusted the shutter speed to compensate for the low light, but failed to account for the moving people.  On the other hand, in the image on the bottom you can see how a quick shutter speed froze the flight of these birds in Africa in mid flight.

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Even the slightest motion of your camera with a long shutter speed can cause your images to become blurry.  That is why I strongly recommend that you invest in a sturdy, yet light, tripod to take with you when you travel.  A tripod will significantly reduce any camera shake that can result in blurry images when shooting in low light conditions.

As a good rule of thumb, a good way to take blur-free images is to set your shutter speed to a fraction of the focal length you are shooting at.  Focal length is defined as the distance between the center of a lens and its focus.  For instance, if you are zoomed out at 40mm, then 40mm is your focal length.  Using the rule of thumb, you would want to set your shutter speed to 1/40 of a second to prevent blurry images.

The shutter speed you use is also going to be closely tied to the aperture that you are using to take your photograph.  The larger the aperture, the quicker the shutter speed can be to take a properly exposed image.  And a quicker shutter speed means less motion blur.  Again, as I explained previously, this is why lenses with large maximum apertures (such as f/1.2, f/1.4, or f/1.8) are called “fast lenses”.

A good way to understand the relationship between aperture and shutter speed is to consider two glasses of water with a hole in the bottom of the glasses.  One glass has a large hole in the bottom, and one glass has a small hole in the bottom.  As you would probably guess, the glass with the large hole in the bottom will drain its water much faster than the glass with the small hole in the bottom.  This is illustrated in the diagram below.

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Relating the glasses of water to your photography, the glass with the large hole in the bottom is an image taken with a large aperture, and the glass with the small hole in the bottom is an image that you take with a small aperture.  The time it takes to drain the water from the glass is the shutter speed.  You can see how taking an image with a larger aperture will take a shorter shutter speed to obtain the same light, just like it would take less time to drain water from a glass with a larger hole in the bottom.

Utilize Your Camera’s Exposure Compensation

Another way in which you can adjust your photography for low-light settings is to use your camera’s built-in exposure compensation to tell your camera to override the camera’s light meter reading.

When you take a photograph with your camera, the camera’s light meter will take a look at the tones in the composition you are photographing, average them out, and then determine if there is enough light for an exposure.  Camera manufacturers have determined that most scenes average out to a middle grey tone, which is often referred to as 18% Grey.  If the tones in your picture are darker than this grey, your camera will think that it doesn’t have enough light to take the picture at a proper exposure.  In other words, your camera will think that the picture will be underexposed if taken.

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A way that you can adjust for this is to modify the exposure compensation.  If you take a look your camera, you will most likely see a button with a +/- on it.  This is the button you will use to adjust your camera’s exposure compensation.  By pressing this button and then turning your camera’s dial, you can adjust the exposure compensation up and down by 1/3 stops.

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Depending on which mode you have your camera set to, changing the exposure compensation will either adjust the shutter speed or aperture to allow more light to reach the camera’s sensor than the camera’s light meter thinks is needed by default.

Shooting in Aperture Priority Mode (AV)

In Aperture Priority Mode, you set the aperture that you want to use (such as f/10) and then the camera automatically selects the correct shutter speed for the shot based on how much light the camera’s light meter determines is needed for a proper exposure.  If you are taking a shot in low light and the camera’s light meter isn’t adjusting the shutter speed properly to allow enough light to the camera’s sensor, you can adjust the exposure compensation.

When shooting in Aperture Priority Mode, adjusting the exposure compensation will adjust the shutter speed.  By increasing the exposure compensation, you will be decreasing the shutter speed to specify a longer exposure.

Shooting in Shutter Priority Mode (TV)

In Shutter Priority Mode, you set the shutter speed that you want to use (such as 1/125) and then the camera automatically selects the aperture to use for the shot based on how much light the camera’s light meter determines is needed for a proper exposure.  When taking shots in low light, you camera’s light meter may not correctly read the amount of light needed and use the wrong aperture.

Adjusting the exposure compensation when shooting in Shutter Priority Mode will adjust the aperture used.  By increasing the exposure compensation, you will be increasing the aperture used to allow more light to reach the camera’s sensor.

Shoot in Raw Format

The last tip for shooting in low light situations that I have for you may be the most important tip that I can give you.  When possible, you should always shoot your pictures in RAW format.  RAW format is the camera-specific format that involves the least amount of formatting, compressing, or alteration by the camera.  Shooting in RAW format is advantageous because it allows you to do the most with the pictures you take in post-processing on your computer.

When you shoot pictures with your DSLR, you have the choice of either saving those images in RAW format or as JPEG images of various sizes.  If you choose to shoot your images in JPEG format, the images will be processed, altered, and compressed by the camera before saving the image.  This has some advantages, such as faster shooting speeds, less storage requirements, and easier to share images.  The advantages to shooting in JPEG format are listed below:

  • Your camera processes the images faster (faster shooting)
  • The images are smaller when saved on your memory card because they are compressed
  • It does not require much post-processing on your computer
  • You are still able to make small adjustments to your images in post-processing
  • Images can be shared directly from your camera without post-processing

While there may be some advantages to shooting JPEGs, there are certainly some big sacrifices that you make by not shooting in RAW format.  When you shoot in JPEG format, you are essentially sacrificing up to 80% of the data that is collected by your camera when you take the shot.

When you shoot in JPEG format, your camera takes all of the information that it collects when it takes the shot and processes that information into an image file.  When your camera is done, the information is discarded and all you are left with is the produced JPEG file.

On the other hand, when you shoot in RAW format, all of that information that your camera collected when you take a picture is stored in the RAW file.  This means that you have far more leeway for making adjustments to your images in post-production using software such as Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop.  The advantages to shooting in RAW format are listed below:

  • All original file information is preserved
  • Post processing on white balance, noise reduction, sharpness, and tone are not done by the camera, so you have more flexibility to adjust these settings in post-processing
  • You have far more latitude to adjust the exposure settings
  • Pictures can be processed and shared as JPEGs from software in post-production
  • You can apply camera and color profiles in post-production to adjust colors more adequately

So what exactly does all this mean?  If you are really interested in getting the most out of your vacation photos and don’t mind doing a little post-processing of your images when you get home, then you should definitely shoot in RAW format.  RAW format will allow you to make far more adjustments to your images for such things as incorrect exposure because of poor lighting or improper white balance than you will be able to when shooting in JPEG format.

Here’s a great example.  Below you can see two pictures I took of the same beach in Southern California.  The image on the top was taken in JPEG format and the image on the bottom was taken in RAW format.  I have loaded both images into Adobe Lightroom to do some post processing.  As you can see, I have far more flexibility to adjust certain aspects of the image in post-processing when I shoot in RAW format.

White Balance Adjustment

As you can see below, when I shoot my pictures in RAW format, I have a lot more flexibility in adjusting the white balance of my image.

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Camera Calibration

Another advantage of shooting in RAW format is that it gives you much more flexibility in adjusting the camera calibration in post-processing, as you can see below.

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In addition to these examples, there are many other areas where you have far more control over the post-processing of pictures shot in RAW format than you do with images shot as JPEGs.  You can bring out far more detail that may have been lost in shadows or areas that are blown by too much light (highlights), and you have far more control over reducing any noise (grainy parts) in your images.  So when possible, it is almost always preferable to shoot in RAW format rather than as JPEGs.

Posted in Photography, Recommendations | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

7-Day American Southwest Adventure Itinerary

The American Southwest has some of the most beautiful landscapes in North America.  From mountains, to desert, to canyons and breathtaking lakes, it really has it all.  There is so much to do and see in the American Southwest that it can sometimes get a little overwhelming trying to plan a trip to see it all.  Well, fear not, because we are here to help.

You could spend thousands of dollars to take a pre-arranged tour, but why spend lots of money to get pigeon-holed into a set itinerary and forced to explore on someone else’s timeline?  Instead, we have put together a series of rough itineraries and planning guides that you can use to plan your own trip to explore these beautiful landscapes.

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A view from Scout’s Lookout on the hike to Angel’s Landing in Zion National park.

In these guides, you will find a rough itinerary that we have designed to maximize what you can see in the allotted time for the trip.  In this guide, we set out a 7-day itinerary that brings you to some of the American Southwest’s most amazing places.  In this guide, you will find such things as the following:

  • How to prepare for your trip
  • Safety tips
  • How to get there
  • A rough itinerary on where to go and when
  • Recommendations for accomodations
  • Optional stops along the way
  • Plenty of travel guides for each location to help you maximize your time there

The beautiful thing about these guides is that what you ultimately do is up to you.  We give you a rough outline, along with plenty of options for you to use to make this trip the perfect trip for you, not for a large tour group.  So let’s get started!

Overview

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A view of sun rays shining into Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona.

We call this trip the express tour of the American Southwest.  If you only have a week to explore, this itinerary will help you touch on some of the most amazing places the Southwest has to offer.  Trust me when I say that you will never be wanting for adventure on this trip.

Itinerary

This trip will take you to four of the top national parks and monuments in the area of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.  The best part is, most of these places are very close to Las Vegas, Nevada, which makes it the perfect launching spot.

You will fly into Las Vegas, rent a car, and then start your adventure North to Zion National Park.  After spending a few days exploring this amazing piece of wilderness, you will move West to explore the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument.  While there, you will get to see such beautiful spots as the Zebra Slot Canyon and Devil’s Garden.

If that isn’t enough, when you wake up the next morning you will get to adventure within Bryce Canyon National Park, which happens to be my favorite park in the US National Parks System.  You will be amazed at the beauty of the canyon and the surrounding area.

After a day of exploration you will turn your car South and head to Page, Arizona.  Page will be your base camp as you explore the gorgeous Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, which are two of the most popular features of the American Southwest.

Wrapping things up, you will drive back to Las Vegas for your return flight home.  Along the trip there are countless other treasures that you can choose to explore.  What you do on your trip is ultimately up to you!

  • Day 1 – Fly into Las Vegas and drive to Zion National Park.
  • Day 2 – Hike the Narrows (Zion)
  • Day 3 – Hike the West Rim Trail, Angel’s Landing, and Emerald Pools Trail (Zion)
  • Day 4 – Hike to Zebra Slot and hike Devil’s Garden (Grand Staircase)
  • Day 5 – Explore Bryce Canyon National Park and the surrounding area (Bryce)
  • Day 6 – Tour Antelope Canyon and view Horseshoe Bend (Glen Canyon)
  • Day 7 – Fly Home from Las Vegas

When to Take This Trip

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A view of Bryce Canyon after a fresh snow fall.

There are many factors that you must consider when taking any trip, and this trip is no different.  The factors you are going to want to most consider when planning any trip to the American Southwest are the weather and the crowds (as the American Southwest is a very popular tourist area).  I have outlined what you can expect as far as weather and crowds during each season of the year below.

Spring Months (March – May)

The Spring months are one of the best times to visit the American Southwest. During these months (especially during late April), the temperatures are pretty mild and the crowds are very low because it is still the off-season.  April is one of my favorite months to visit this area of the United States.

Summer Months (June – August)

If you like really hot weather and very big crowds, then the summer months are the perfect time to visit the American Southwest.  There really is never a bad time to visit this area of the United States because it is so beautiful, but if you have a choice, I would avoid the summer months.  The temperatures can be scolding hot and the crowds can make some of the more popular trails less enjoyable or even dangerous in some parks and public lands.

Fall Months (September – November)

Like the spring months, the fall months are another ideal time to visit the American Southwest.  The temperatures are usually pretty mild (especially in late September and early October) and the crowds have usually started to lighten.  Along with the month of April in the spring, the month of September is another of my favorite months to visit this area of the United States.

Winter Months (December – February)

The winter can be beautiful in the American Southwest, as some of these areas do get snow and it looks absolutely beautiful on the red rock of the area.  However, the winter can also mean more dangerous trail conditions in some of the area’s national parks and public lands.

Sandstone tends to get very slick, especially when covered with ice and snow.  The temperatures can also be very cool during this time of year, especially at night.  If you do decide to visit in the winter, you will benefit from not having many other people around, but you will have to deal with more dangerous trail conditions and cool temperatures.

Route Overview

The route you will be taking has been designed to minimize the amount of driving that you will be doing each day, while maximizing the amount of fun thing things you will be doing and beautiful things you will be seeing.

You will fly into Las Vegas, Nevada, then make your way North to Zion National Park.  You will stay near Zion for a few days as you explore this amazing national Park before heading further East to Bryce Canyon National Park.

You will set up your base camp near Bryce Canyon National Park so that you can explore the park and the slot canyons of the nearby Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument over the next few days.  Finally, you will head South to the Page, Arizona area and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

While staying in Page, you will get to see some of the area’s treasures, such as Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon.  There is so much to see and do in this area that you have an almost endless number of side excursions you can take.  When you are all done, you will drive back to Las Vegas and make your way home.

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Pre-Trip Preparation

Long before you board the plane to Las Vegas, there are some things that you will want to make sure you take care of to prepare for your trip.  To help you coordinate and plan, we have compiled a list of things to do and things to bring below.

  • You will need to book accommodations near Zion National Park for nights 1 and 2 (you will find recommendations in this guide).
  • Book accommodations near Bryce Canyon National Park for night 3 and 4 (you will find recommendations in this guide).
  • Accommodations near Page, Arizona will be needed for nights 5 and 6 (you will find recommendations in this guide).
  • You will want to book your tour for Antelope Canyon at least a month in advance.
  • If you want to include a stop at The Wave in your trip, you will need a permit to do that hike.  You will want to obtain your permit at least 4 months in advance.
  • If you want to add a stop at Rainbow Bridge to your trip, you will want to book that boat tour at least a month in advance.
  • You are going to want to reserve gear for your Narrows Hike at Zion National Park at least a month in advance (preferably 3 months in advance).
  • You will want to bring layers of clothing to wear.  It can get really hot in the day time, and quite chilly at night.
  • You will want to bring sun screen and sunglasses, especially if you are visiting in the summer months.
  • You are going to definitely need to bring proper hiking boots.  Some of the hikes outlined in this itinerary can be dangerous without the proper footwear.
  • You are going to want to bring water bottles, a camel pack (with water bladder), or some other way of carrying plenty of water as you hike.
  • Make sure you save offline maps of the areas you will be exploring on your phone as several of these areas are remote and don’t have reliable cell service.  This is especially true for the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument.

Day 1 – Fly into Las Vegas

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A view of the Hoover Dam at sunset.

Itinerary

Day one is pretty low key.  You will fly into Las Vegas, do some sight-seeing around the city, and then hit the road and head North towards Zion National Park.  The drive is just shy of 3 hours and is a very scenic drive.

  • Drive to Zion National Park (159 miles – 2 hrs 45 min)
  • Pick up your gear for the Narrows hike the following day.  Most of the time you can pick up your gear the night before, which will allow you to get to the park early the next morning and beat the crowds (as well as find a parking spot).

Maps

Day 1 Map.png

Optional Stops

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The beautiful Valley of the Fire State Park.

If you have some extra time, you can go a bit out of your way to see the Hoover Dam.  It will add another hour onto your drive, but it really is worth it.  So is the stunningly beautiful Valley of the Fire State Park, which is on your way to Zion National Park.

  • Hoover Dam (adds 67 miles – 1 hr 15 minutes of driving).
  • Valley of the Fire State Park (adds 31 miles – 40 minutes of driving).

Visitor Guides

To help make sure your trip is a success, you can find more detailed information on the destinations you will see on Day 1 in the visitor guides listed below.

Travel-1733 Hoover Dam Visitor’s Guide
Travel-1733 Valley of the Fire State Park

Lodging Options

You will want to make some arrangements for accommodations near Zion National Park for two nights, as you will be checking out on Day 3.  I have included some hotel options for you below, but there is always the option of staying in the park (if you plan far enough ahead) as well.  The Zion Lodge and The Watchman Campground are both fun options that are located within the park boundaries.

Photo Gallery

Below are some pictures of what you can expect to see on day one.  Between Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam, there are some amazing things that you are going to see.


Day 2 – Zion:  The Narrows

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The Narrows hike in Zion National Park is one of the most beautiful and unique hikes in the entire US National Park System.

Itinerary

On Day 2 you will get to start exploring one of the most popular national parks in the United States (it is actually the 5th most visited park).  I strongly recommend that you you do the Narrows hike on the first day, because you are not going to want to have to worry about returning your gear on the way out of town on Day 3.

Hopefully you were able to pick up your gear the night before, as I also strongly recommend that you get to Zion National Park early in the morning.  The available parking spots at the visitor center fill up fast and if you don’t get a spot you will have to park in Springdale and take a bus to the park.

After the Narrows hike, you can use the remainder of your day to explore some other hikes or some of the amazing state parks in area, but make sure you get some rest as you will be doing the infamous Angel’s Landing hike on Day 3.

  • Hike the Narrows Trail in Zion National Park – (expect this hike to take between 4-6 hours, depending on how far you want to go).

Maps

Day 2 Map.png

Optional Stops

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A view of Snow Canyon State Park.

In addition to all of the amazing things to see and do inside Zion National Park, there are also some pretty amazing places in the surrounding area that are worth exploring.  I have included two stunning state parks that are worth exploring that can be used as optional stops if you have some extra time.

  • Sand Hollow State Park (32 miles – 45 minute drive from Zion National Park).
  • Snow Canyon State Park (50 miles – 1 hour and 15 minute drive from Zion National Park).

Visitor Guides

Before you head off and start exploring, I strongly recommend you take a look at the visitor guides for the parks I suggested.  You will find all of the information you need on what to expect and how to get the most out of your visit to these beautiful places in these guides.

Travel-1733 Zion National Park Visitor’s Guide
Travel-1733 Sand Hollow State Park
Travel-1733 Snow Canyon State Park

Photo Gallery

Zion National Park and the surrounding area has some of the most beautiful and extreme landscapes in the United States.  Below is a gallery of some of the things you can expect to see on Day 2 of your trip.


Day 3 – Zion:  Angel’s Landing

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The beginning of the infamous Angel’s Landing hike in Zion National Park.

Itinerary

You will need to get a lot of good rest the night before because today you will hike one of the most famous trails in the entire United States National Park System.  You are going to want to make sure that you are at the park bright and early as you do not want to hike this trail when it gets overly crowded.  The earlier you arrive at the park the better.

Please be aware, this hike absolutely fantastic, but it is not for everyone.  It is extremely challenging and can be dangerous.  I would strongly suggest you read my Visitor’s Guide to Zion National Park (linked in the Visitor Guide’s section below) before setting out to hike this trail.  You are going to want to make sure you understand what you are getting yourself into and be sure you are prepared.

Depending on when you get finished with the Angel’s Landing hike, you may have some time to explore other areas of Zion National Park or you might want to head straight for Bryce Canyon National Park, where you will spend the night.  There are some other attractions near Bryce Canyon National Park that I have listed as optional stops below.  If you get done at Zion early enough, you might want to check those out before checking into your hotel for the night.

  • Hike the infamous Angel’s Landing trail at Zion National Park – (expect this hike to take between 4-6 hours, depending on the crowds.  This is a hike that you do not want to rush for your safety and for the safety of others on the trail).
  • Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park (roughly a 1 hr and 24 minute drive).

Maps

Day 3 Map.png

Optional Stops

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The beautiful Red Canyon, which is just outside Bryce Canyon National Park.

Depending on when you get finished at Zion National Park, you might want to head straight for the Bryce Canyon area as there is plenty to do and see in that area.  Below I have listed just a few of my favorite places to see around Bryce Canyon that can be used as optional stops on your trip.

  • Kodachrome Basin State Park (will add 41 miles – 56 minutes to your drive).
  • Red Canyon (this stop will add no distance to your drive).
  • Escalante Petrified Forest State Park (will add 91 miles – 1 hour and 41 minutes to your drive).

Visitor Guides

In order to give you all of the information that you need to make sure you plan your trip successfully, I have linked to my Visitor’s Guide to Zion National Park (as well as visitor guides to the optional stops I have provided) below for your review.  You will find everything you need to make your visit to these beautiful places a success in these resources.

Travel-1733 Zion National Park Visitor’s Guide
Travel-1733 Kodachrome Basin State Park
Travel-1733 Red Canyon
Travel-1733 Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

Lodging Options

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The lobby of the famous Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn near Bryce Canyon.

There are a lot of really great places to stay in the Bryce Canyon area, but the Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn has to be my all-time favorite.  For one, the inn has a ton of historical significance to Bryce Canyon National Park.  It also is located in a prime location, being just a 5-minute drive from the heart of Bryce Canyon National Park.

If you are looking to stay in the park, there are a few options available to you.  The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is very nice, but is also on the spendier side and requires planning well in advance to get a reservation.  There are also a few campgrounds inside Bryce Canyon if you would prefer to spend your nights in the beautiful wilderness.

To give you an idea of what lodging options are available in the area and how much they might cost, I have compiled the list of accommodations below.  In addition to the options I listed above, there is no shortage of lodging near Bryce Canyon to choose from.

Photo Gallery

The Angel’s Landing hike is one of the most breathtaking hikes available in the US National Park System.  I have included some photos of what you might expect to see on this hike, as well as some of what you can expect to see on the beautiful drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon in the photo gallery below.


Day 4 – Grand Staircase – Escalante NM

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The entrance to Zebra Slot Canyon in the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument.

Itinerary

On Day 4 you are going to explore one of the most remote and untamed regions in the continental United States.  A region that still has large stretches of untouched land to this day.  I am speaking of the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument.  You will spend much of today exploring some of the most popular hikes and features of this beautiful landscape.

The Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument is just a short drive from Bryce Canyon National Park, so you will be using your hotel near Bryce Canyon as your launching spot to explore the Grand Staircase.  You will want to make sure you are up early to start exploring as there is much to see and the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument covers a very large area.

  • Drive to the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument (You will be driving to the Hole-in-the-Rock road, which begins just outside of Escalante, Utah.  Escalante is roughly 46 miles – 55 minutes from Bryce Canyon National Park.  I would suggest getting up early to make sure you have a full day to explore.).
  • Hike the Zebra and Tunnel Slot Trail (this hike will take you between 4-6 hours to complete, depending on how fast you hike and if you hike both slots).
  • Visit Devil’s Garden (Devil’s Garden is very close to the Zebra Slot trail head and won’t take you too much time to view.  I would plan on spending around an hour exploring Devil’s Garden).
  • Return to your hotel near Bryce Canyon.  At the end of the day you will return to your hotel near Bryce Canyon National Park.

Maps

Day 5 Map

Optional Stops

Lower Calf Creek Falls

A view of Lower Calf Creek Falls.

If you are looking for some additional things to see in the Grand Staircase – Escalante area that are near the Zebra\Tunnel slots and Devil’s Garden, I have compiled some optional stops for you to consider below.

  • Lower Calf Creek Falls (an additional 19 miles – 30 minutes of driving)
  • Escalante Natural Bridge (an additional 16 miles – 24 minutes of driving)
  • Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Gulch Slot Canyons (an additional 20 miles – 40 minutes of driving)

Visitor Guides

The Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument is a big area with a lot of things to see and do.  To ensure that you are able to make your visit as successful as possible, I have included a number of resources for the spots I have highlighted in my itinerary for you below.  Everything you need to explore these beautiful landscapes is included in these resources.

Travel-1733 Guide to Zebra Slot Canyon in Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument
Travel-1733 Guide to Devil’s Garden in Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument
Travel-1733 Escalante Natural Bridge
Travel-1733 Lower Calf Creek Falls
Travel-1733 Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Gulch Slots

Photo Gallery

The Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument encompasses some of the most remote and wild areas of the continental United States.  It is a beautiful landscape that everyone should see in their lifetime.  Below is a gallery of some of the things you can expect to see on this day as you explore this beautiful area.


Day 5 – Bryce Canyon National Park

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The stunning Bryce Canyon National Park.

Itinerary

Day 5 of your trip is all about Bryce Canyon National Park.  Bryce Canyon is one of my favorite national parks because of its beauty and the bounty of fun things to do inside and around the park.  You can spend the day exploring some of the park’s many breathtaking hiking paths, rent some mountain bikes and explore the Bryce Canyon area by bike, or take a horseback riding excursion within the park.  For those who are adventurous, there are also helicopter tours over Bryce Canyon and the surrounding area.

I would reserve a good portion of your day to exploring within the park, as there are many beautiful viewpoints and  hiking paths that are worth exploring.  The hiking generally isn’t as strenuous as the hikes in Zion National Park, so if you didn’t feel comfortable hiking as much in Zion, this is a good chance to get some good hiking in.

At the end of the day today, you will be heading South to Page, Arizona for the night.  It is roughly a 2 hour and 30 minute drive to Page, so make sure you don’t get too late of a start.  You will be driving thru some absolutely beautiful landscapes, so the drive should go by fairly quickly.

  • Visit Bryce Canyon National Park.  I would plan on spending the entire day in the park, with some optional side excursions available.  There are a number of really great hikes in the park and opportunities to do some mountain biking and horseback riding within the park and the surrounding area.
  • Drive to Page, Arizona at the end of the day.  You will be staying in Page, Arizona on this night and then waking up early the next day to explore Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and some of the other treasures of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Maps

If you are going to venture outside of Bryce Canyon National Park for some side excursion, please be aware that navigating around the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument can be challenging because the area is so remote.  I would strongly suggest that you keep offline maps on your phone as you will frequently be without cell service.

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After spending the day exploring Bryce Canyon, you will head South to Page, Arizona for the night.  This is a very scenic 2 hr and 30 minute drive thru some absolutely beautiful country.

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Optional Stops

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A view of the Long Canyon Slot in the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument

If you are looking for some additional things to do outside of Bryce Canyon National Park, there are plenty of options in the surrounding area.  I have listed a few options that are relatively near by for you to consider below.

  • Anasazi Indian State Park (76 miles – 1 hr 35 minute drive from Bryce Canyon)
  • Long Canyon Slot (86 miles – 2 hr drive from Bryce Canyon)

Visitor Guides

In order to make sure your visit to the Bryce Canyon area is as fun and as memorable as possible, I have provided visitor guides to Bryce Canyon and some attractions in the surrounding area for you to view below.  You will find all of the information you need to explore these beautiful landscapes in these guides.

Travel-1733 Bryce Canyon National Park Visitor’s Guide
Travel-1733 Guide to Long Canyon Slot in Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument
Travel-1733 Anasazi State Park Museum

Lodging Options

After you have explored the Bryce Canyon and Grand Staircase – Escalante area, you will head South to Page, Arizona for the night.  In order to assist you in finding accommodations, I have compiled a list of hotels in the Page, Arizona area for you to review below.

Photo Gallery

The Bryce Canyon area is unlike any other area in the United States.  This high plateau with beautiful canyons and incredible rock formations is something to behold.  Below is a gallery of some of the things you can expect to see while in Bryce Canyon National Park and the surrounding area.


Day 6 – Glen Canyon Recreation Area

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The beautiful Horseshoe Bend.

Itinerary

Day 6 will be your last full day exploring, and it may just be the best day of the whole trip.  Today you will explore the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and some of the amazing landscapes in-and-around that area.  You will see the beautiful Antelope Canyon, which is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the American Southwest.  You will also get to see the famed Horseshoe Bend, which is so picturesque that even pictures cannot do it justice.

There are so many things to see and do in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, that you can spend an entire vacation exploring the area and not see everything.  In addition to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, I have also included some other popular attractions in the area that you might want to work into your trip.

  • Take a tour of Antelope Canyon (Try and schedule your tour for mid-day, as the light is best entering the canyon around this time.  I would expect the whole tour to take between 2-3 hours.).
  • View Horseshoe Bend  (Horseshoe Bend is only a short drive South from Page, Arizona, and the hike to see it is less than a mile, so this should be easy to fit in either before or after you take your tour of Antelope Canyon).
  • Drive back to Las Vegas.  If you want to book a later flight on Day 7, you can always choose to stay an extra night in Page.  Otherwise, you will want to drive back to Las Vegas on Night 6 so that you can catch an earlier flight home on Day 7.

Maps

There is so much to see and do in the Glen Canyon area that you can spend weeks here and not see everything.  Below is a map of the locations of some of the spots I recommend in the area in relation to Page, Arizona.

Please note, the Rainbow Bridge National Monument is primarily accessible by boat tour on Lake Powell.  You can access it by hiking, but it is a very long hike.  For more information, please consult my Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Visitor’s Guide linked below.

Day 6 Map A.png

The drive back to Las Vegas from Page Arizona isn’t a short one, so you will want to be conscious of your time and not leave too late.  There is an alternate route to the South (via Highway 40) that takes you by the Grand Canyon, but that route is longer and there isn’t enough time in this itinerary for the Grand Canyon.  I will be including the Grand Canyon in a longer itinerary that I will be developing in the coming weeks.

Day 6 Map B.png

Optional Stops

Rainbow Bridge

The Rainbow Bridge National Monument in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

You are probably tired of hearing me say this by now, but there really is so much to see and do in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and surrounding areas.  Below are just some of my favorite spots that you can choose to work into your itinerary.

  • Rainbow Bridge National Monument (The Rainbow Bridge National Monument is primarily accessible via a boat tour.  These boat tours are incredible, but do take a while.  I would plan for the tour taking between 4-6 hours.  You will want to make sure you reserve your spot on a tour well in advance of your trip).
  • Lone Rock Beach (The Lone Rock Beach is one of my favorite spots in Glen Canyon.  It is such a beautiful beach.  There is a cost for entry, but it is well worth it if you want to sit by the lake, do some kayaking, or even spend a night under the stars).
  • The Wave (The Wave is an absolutely incredible hike, but it is also one of the toughest hikes in the US National Park System to get a permit to.  If you want to complete this hike, make sure you apply for your permit at least 4 months in advance.  Otherwise, your only hope is to show up the day of and enter the permit lottery.  I would expect to spend between 4-6 hours to complete this hike).
  • Alstrom Point (If you are looking for an epic view of Lake Powell, then Alstrom Point is your spot.  The viewpoint is absolutely sublime, but it is also very difficult to get to.  You will need to traverse roughly 20 miles of pretty rough gravel road to get to Alstrom Point.  If you don’t feel up to that, then Lone Rock Beach has some pretty great views as well).
  • Glen Canyon Dam (The Glen Canyon Dam is a really cool sight to behold.  You can get really close and even take a trail across the top of the dam.  If you do decide to stop by and see the dam, make sure you also check out the Carl Hayden Visitor Center.  They have some really cool displays.)

Visitor Guides

In order to make sure your visit to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a success, I have included a number of visitor guides and resources for you to use below.  Everything you need to know to make your visit a success should be found within these guides.

Travel-1733 Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Travel-1733 Lone Rock Beach
Travel-1733 Alstrom Point
Travel-1733 Glen Canyon Dam
Travel-1733 The Wave Hike

Lodging Options

After you drive back to Las Vegas, you are going to want to have a hotel room for the night as you will be flying home in the morning.  You can always choose to stay on the strip, and if you have time I would highly recommend that.  However, I have included a list of hotels by the airport for you to view below in case you want to just get some rest before your flight home.

Photo Gallery

The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is an amazing area to explore.  There are a ton of beautiful things to see and fun things to do in the area.  Below is a gallery of some of the amazing things you can expect to see as you start exploring this amazing landscape.


Day 7 – Fly Home

Itinerary

On Day 7, your fantastic trip comes to an end and it is time to head home.  If you chose to stay in Page, Arizona for an extra night, then you will be driving back to Las Vegas to catch an afternoon or evening flight.  If you chose to drive back to Vegas on the evening of Day 6, then you can check out Las Vegas until your flight leaves today.

Maps

If you chose to stay in Page, Arizona for an extra night, then you will be driving back to Las Vegas this morning to catch a flight.   The drive back to Las Vegas from Page Arizona isn’t a short one, so you will want to be conscious of your time and not leave too late.  There is an alternate route to the South (via Highway 40) that takes you by the Grand Canyon, but that route is longer and there isn’t enough time in this itinerary for the Grand Canyon.  I will be including the Grand Canyon in a longer itinerary that I will be developing in the coming weeks.

Day 6 Map B.png

Posted in Arizona, National Parks, Nevada, North America, Road Trips, State Parks, Travel Advice, Trip Planning, United States, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

10 Packing Tips That Every Traveler Should Follow

Luggage Sillouette

 

Nothing can ruin a trip quicker than making a major mistake with baggage.  Whether you forget something you need, don’t comply with airline baggage regulations, or run into a situation of lost or damaged luggage, these issues can put a major damper on any trip.

I travel an average of 10 times a year, so I have quite a bit of experience packing a suitcase and carry-on bag.  Despite this experience, I still make the occasional mistake in packing every once in a while.  Reading about other people’s experiences over the years has helped me avoid some of the bigger mistakes, which I am thankful for.

I am writing this article in hopes that some of my experience and advice might help you down the line as you pack for some important trips.  If you have any tips that you care to share so that it may benefit other travelers, I would love for you to leave them in the comment section!

Understand the weather where you are traveling

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One of the first things you need to consider when packing is what the weather will be like where you are traveling to. Are you traveling to the arctic or are you traveling to a tropical destination? The answer to that question will significantly alter the way you pack for your trip.

Before I travel anywhere, I spend a bit of time researching that location to see what the weather is like. I take a look at the average high and low temperatures for the location in the time of the year when I will be traveling. In many destinations the weather will differ at different times of the year. The same can be said for the average precipitation levels. In some parts of the year the weather may be much wetter than during other parts of the year.

Know what type of weather you should expect at the location you will be traveling will allow you to focus your packing on which articles of clothing you will need and which you will not. In fact, you may find that you need to go out an purchase a few new pieces of clothing as you don’t have the necessary gear for the weather you will be facing. That is why it is good to be prepared.

Pack Layers of Clothing

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Another really great tip that I can give you for packing is to always pack layers. This is especially important for destinations where the weather can be unpredictable. For instance, if you are traveling to a mountainous location at high elevation, the weather can differ significantly from hour-to-hour, let alone from day-to-day. Even in the American Midwest, where I am from, it can be 90 degrees Fahrenheit on one day and then 40 degrees the next day at certain times of year.

Whether you are traveling somewhere that has large variances in weather, or if you are traveling somewhere where weather is mainly either consistently hot or cold, it is always smart to pack layers of clothing. By packing layers, you can be assured that you will always be prepared for variances in the weather.

For instance, when I travel I like to pack t-shirts, some long-sleeve shirts, and a fleece or two. That way, when I am out-and-about at my destination I can wear a t-shirt under a long-sleeve shirt when it is chilly in the morning. And when it gets warmer at mid-day, I just take the long-sleeve t-shirt off. Should it be especially cold on a given day, I can wear the fleece on top of the t-shirt and be prepared for that. No matter what, I am covered. Again, it is always important to be prepared.

Take Advantage of Multi-Use Clothing

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The single best way to both maximize your packing space and make sure you are prepared for whatever weather you encounter at your destination is to take advantage of multi-use clothing as much as possible. Multi-use clothing, often referred to as convertible clothing, is clothing that can be modified to adapt to different weather conditions. For instance, pants that zip off into shorts or a jacket that zips off into a vest are both great examples of multi-use clothing.

I rarely, if ever, travel without at least one pair of convertible pants. Typically, I will bring two or three pairs of these pants as they are so economical from a packing standpoint and they are so convenient to have when traveling. Instead of having to pack multiple pairs of pants and multiple pairs of shorts, I can just pack multiple convertible pants. This saves me a lot of space when packing and it gives me the ability to adjust what I am wearing when I am out-and-about when traveling.

Know the Airline’s Baggage Policies

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This is an extremely important tip to consider. When traveling, it is essential to understand what the baggage policies are for all of the airlines you will be using on your trip. This includes any weight limits on checked baggage that they have, the number of carry-on items you are allowed to bring on the plane, and how many bags you can check and\or carry-on. This will give you an idea of how big of a bag or bags you are going to want to bring and how much you can pack in those bags.

When researching airline baggage policies for your trip, it is important to do this research for all of the airlines you will be using. A common mistake people make is to do this research just for the flight from home to their destination. They fail to do any research on the baggage policies of the airlines they are going to be using in-country or in-trip.

For instance, when I travelled to Tanzania a few years back, I had to understand KLM’s baggage policies because I flew KLM from home to Tanzania and back. However, I also had to understand Precision Air’s baggage policies as I flew with Precision Air from Arusha to Zanzibar during my trip.

In this case, Precision Air’s baggage policies for checked and carry-on luggage were much more restrictive (in terms of weight and total items allowed) than KLM’s baggage policies. If I had only done the research on KLM’s baggage policies before my trip, and not considered Precision Air’s policies, it would have been a costly mistake.

Don’t Over Pack

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If you haven’t noticed a common theme with these tips, this tip should make that theme fairly obvious. One of the most important things to remember when you are packing for any trip is to just bring what you are going to need. It is pretty pointless to bring items that you never use. In other words, it is important to never over-pack for your trips. Over-packing can mean more baggage fees, more effort and trouble to lug your bags around while you travel, and more likelihood you will run into luggage-related delays.

This is why multi-use clothing is so valuable. It significantly reduces the amount of clothing that you will need to pack and helps you avoid over-packing. If you don’t have any multi-use clothing, plan out what you are going to wear before you pack. There are apps and other tools that you can use to assist you in planning your packing needs. This way, you will minimize the amount of items you pack, but never use.

Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Pack

One of the worst mistakes you can make when packing for a trip is to start packing at the last minute. Nothing good has ever resulted in waiting to pack until the last minute. On the contrary, waiting until the last minute will typically lead to making mistakes in your packing. You might forget to pack something that you really need, or end up over-packing significantly.

When I am packing for a trip, I will typically start my packing a week before I leave. I will set out my suitcase and pack things throughout the week. This gives me plenty of opportunities to maximize the use of space in my suitcase, check the weight of my baggage, and ensure that I am not forgetting anything that I really need. If you are going to follow just one of the tips in this article, it should be this tip. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to pack.

Put Change of Clothes and Toiletries in Carry-On Bag

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There are few things worse when traveling than having your bag get lost and being left without a toothbrush and toothpaste. Yes, most of the time you can find a replacement, but it is a hassle that can add some unneeded stress to your travels. This can be easily avoided by packing your key toiletry items and a change of clothes in your carry-on bag.

That way, even if your bag gets temporarily lost by the airline, you will have a change of clothes and your necessary toiletry items to get you by until your baggage is returned to you. This can be a huge morale boost knowing that you can get by for a few days if you do get stuck without your bags for that time.

Don’t Use a Cheap Suitcase

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A few years back, I made the mistake of purchasing a suitcase that wasn’t very high quality when I needed to replace a bag. The suitcase got me by for several trips, but then I had some significant issues with this bag when traveling internationally. The zipper on the bag began to fail and I couldn’t keep the bag closed properly. It ended up getting so bad that I had to have them wrap my bag at the airports before each of my flights. It was added stress that I could have easily avoided by purchasing a quality suitcase.

Before purchasing any luggage, make sure you research the luggage options. I would strongly suggest you read luggage reviews and read about the experiences of other travelers with the luggage. You can end up avoiding a lot of unnecessary stress just by doing some research up-front.

Roll Clothes Instead of Folding Them

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One of the most tried-and-true methods for maximizing the space in your luggage is to roll your clothing instead of folding them. Rolling your clothing reduces wasted space in your bag and helps you take advantage of every inch of space. Less wasted space means that you can use a smaller bag, which can mean the difference between carrying your bag on a plane and having to check your luggage. In other words, rolling your clothes instead of folding them can actually save you money in some instances. In all instances, it is just smart packing that can help you fit everything you need into your luggage.

Wear Heaviest Clothes on Plane

A tried-and-true method that I have repeatedly used to get around the baggage weight limits that airlines impose is to wear my heaviest clothing on the plane.  For instance, if I am going on a long national parks expedition, I will often wear my heavy hiking boats and my heaviest fleece on the plane with me.  That has consistently allowed me to pack more weight with me when I fly.

Now, of course you want to balance this with the concept of not over-packing.  Just because you can adjust what you wear on the plane in order to pack more weight, than doesn’t mean that you should do that.  It is all a balance.  Determine what you are really going to need on your trip and then pack accordingly.  And if you are bumping up against that weight limit, this can be a good trick to get around that.

Posted in Air Travel, Airports, Packing, Travel Advice | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Hoover Dam Visitor’s Guide

It is a marvel of the achievement of modern man.  It is the taming of one of America’s mightiest rivers.  A river that has sculpted such beautiful landscapes as the Grand Canyon.  Constructed starting in 1931, the Hoover Dam sits on the border between the states of Arizona and Nevada and harnesses the massive power of the Colorado River to provide electricity to much of the West Coast of the United states.

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In addition to being an absolute marvel of an achievement, it is also quite a beautiful dam.  I guess much of that is due to the stunningly beautiful landscape it sits in, but the dam itself is an amazing sight to behold.  It is definitely something worth seeing if you are ever in the Las Vegas area.

How to Get There

The Hoover Dam is quite close to Las Vegas, which makes it a very easy and interesting side excursion for any Las Vegas trip.  It is a quick 45 minute drive Southeast from downtown Las Vegas.  Just take highway 515 South to US-95 South for roughly 25 miles, and then take highway 93 South for an additional 8 miles.  You will want to get off at the Hoover Dam Access Rd exit.

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There is some parking off the access road, but you can also drive your car over the dam by following the access road to the other side.  If you would like to get out and hike, the Historic Railroad Hiking Trail is a neat side adventure.  You can get some absolutely amazing pictures in a short time just by pulling over to park and walking up the access road to the dam.

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Best Way to See the Dam

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It probably goes without saying that the best way to view the dam is to take one of the guided tours.  You get to see much more of the dam than you ever would be able to on your own.  If you are interested, here are some excellent tour options available from Viator.com.

If you are planning a trip to see the Hoover Dam and the Lake Meade National Recreation Area, below are some valuable resources to assist you in your planning.

Nearby Attractions

In case you are interested in some additional adventure after checking out the Hoover Dam, here are some other amazing places in the general area.  There is so much to do and see in this area of the United States.

Travel-1733 Zion National Park
Travel-1733 Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Travel-1733 Antelope Canyon
Travel-1733 Bryce Canyon National Park

Photo Gallery

The Hoover Dam is really fun to photograph because it is such an impressive structure that was built in such a beautiful area.  Below are some of the pictures I have take of the Hoover Dam in my many visits over the years.

Posted in Arizona, Hiking, National Parks, Nevada, North America, Travel Advice, United States | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

National Parks – Zion National Park

Zion National Park might be the biggest adventure park of all of the national parks in the continental United States.  The park is absolutely filled with big adventures of all kinds.  The park has some of the most extreme hikes, and extreme views, of any park in the lower 48 states.  This is what attracts millions of visitors a year to Zion Canyon and its what keeps them coming back again-and-again.

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Zion Canyon in Zion National Park taken from the West Rim Trail.

Zion National Park hosts two of the American Southwest’s, if not the continental United State’s, most epic hikes.  The Angel’s Landing hike is considered to be one of the most difficult hikes in the US national park system and has some of the park system’s prettiest vistas as well.  People from all over the world come to Zion to conquer the Angel’s Landing hike and explore the slot canyons of Zion on the Narrows hike.

The Narrows hike is one of the most unique and gorgeous hikes in the entire park system.  Hiking up the North Fork of the Virgin River, the Narrows hike takes you in between the narrow slots carved by the river and thru some of the most beautiful scenery in the American Southwest. It is truly a one-of-a-kind hike.

In addition to these infamous hikes, Zion National Park offers a lot for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds.  It has some of the best rock-climbing spots in the world, plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities, some absolutely breathtaking vistas, and miles-and-miles of amazing hiking paths.

How to Get There

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Zion National Park is located in the far Southwest corner of the state of Utah, near the cities St. George and Cedar City.  If you are in the Las Vegas area, Zion National Park is only a 2 hour and 45 minute drive North from Las Vegas, which makes it a very attractive side excursion for any Las Vegas vacation.

Southern Utah Parks Map

Utah national parks and public lands map.

Zion National Park rests within Zion Canyon, which was carved out by the Virgin River over millions of years.  There are two ways into the canyon, via the South Entrance near Springdale, Utah or via the Zion-Mount Carmel highway and tunnel.

Because of the limited roadways inside Zion National Park, and the large numbers of annual visitors, cars are not generally allowed within the park during the busy months of April thru October.  Instead, shuttles take you from the visitor center at the South Entrance all the way to the end of the park and back.  I cover these shuttles in more detail later in this guide.

One way that you can arrange to bring your car into the park is to either stay at the Zion Lodge, which lies within the park, or make a reservation at the lodge’s restaurant, the Red Rock Grill.  In either case you will be given a pass at the entrance gate to bring your car into the park.

That said, the shuttle service is extremely efficient and significantly reduces the congestion within the park, so I would strongly recommend that you make use of it.  The shuttles run very frequently and take you to all of the important launching spots for the park’s many hikes and other activities.

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Zion National Park map.

When to Visit

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Near the Virgin River in Zion National Park.

Zion National Park is open year-round, but depending on what you are planning to do when you visit, some months of the year may be better than others.  For instance, the summer months are much warmer, yet much more crowded, then the spring, fall, or winter months are.  If you don’t like hot days, then you might want to avoid visiting during the summer.

If you are planning on doing some hiking, I would recommend the months of April and October.  These months aren’t as hot or as crowded as the summer months, but are also much drier than the winter and early spring months.

You are going to want to make sure you avoid the big crowds if you are going to do the Angel’s Landing hike as it is much safer when it is less crowded.  If you are planning on doing the Narrows hike, then you are absolutely going to want to avoid the cold months and the rainy months as the water can be pretty cold and flash floods can be dangerous.

Average Temperature (°F)

As you can see in the chart below, the summer months can be quite hot in Zion National Park, while the low temperatures in the winter months can get below freezing.  Make sure you prepare and dress appropriately when you visit.

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Average Precipitation (Inches)

Zion National Park can be quite dangerous when it rains (even rain up to 25 miles away can lead to flash flooding within the park), so planning your trip for the drier months is always a good strategy.  The chart below lists the average amount of precipitation per month that the park gets throughout the year.

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Average Visitors (1000 visitors Per Day)

Zion National Park is the 5th most visited National Park in the United States, with over 3 million visitors a year going thru its gates.  You are going to want to make sure you strategically plan to miss the largest crowds as the most popular trails can get quite congested during peak season.  The chart below can assist you by giving you a look at the average number of visitors per day that visit the park throughout the year.

Zion Average Visitors.png

Resources

The key to any great trip is great preparation.  In order to assist you in preparing for your trip to Zion National Park, I have included some key resources for you to review below.  Everything from maps, to food and lodging, to gear rental is covered in these resources.

Zion Shuttle Service

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Zion National Park shuttle Service.

Between the months of April and October, Zion Canyon is only accessible via shuttle.  The shuttle service was implemented in the year 2000 to try and alleviate some of the over-crowding within Zion Canyon.  So far, the shuttle service has been a huge success.

If you plan on visiting Zion National Park, I would strongly suggest you plan on arriving early in the morning.  Parking at the visitor center tends to fill up by mid morning, so you will want to make sure you are there to grab a parking space.  I suggest monitoring the Twitter account for Zion National Park to keep tabs on the parking situation.  They do a great job of letting the public know when parking is full.

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If parking at the visitor center does fill up on the day you visit, all is not lost.  There is additional parking in the town of Springdale, with regular buses that bring you to the park.  From there, you can catch a shuttle that will take you into the park.  Please review the 2018 Shuttle and Bus Service schedule for more information.

The shuttle service starts at the visitor center and makes eight stops within the park.  The last stop on the route is the Temple of Sinawava, which is where you get off to do the Narrows hike.  The whole route takes roughly 40 minutes from visitor center to the Temple of Sinawava, so make sure you plan your time accordingly.

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Zion National Park shuttle map.

Shuttle Schedule for March 10 – May 12

7:00am First shuttle into canyon
7:00am – 8:00am Shuttle every 15 minutes
8:00am – 7:30pm Shuttle every 5-6 minutes
7:30pm Last shuttle into canyon

Shuttle Schedule for May 13 – September 30

6:00am First shuttle into canyon
6:00am – 8:00am Shuttle every 15 minutes
8:00am – 8:30am Shuttle every 10 minutes
8:30am – 7:00pm Shuttle every 4-5 minutes
7:00pm – 8:30pm Shuttle every 6-7 minutes
8:30pm Last shuttle into canyon

Shuttle Schedule for October

7:00am First shuttle into canyon
7:00am – 8:00am Shuttle every 15 minutes
8:00am – 6:30pm Shuttle every 5-6 minutes
6:30pm Last shuttle into canyon

Top Things to See and Do

There is a wealth of things to do in Zion National Park, which is why it is one of the most popular parks in the United States.  It is home to some of the most challenging, and beautiful, hikes in North America, as well as some of the best rock climbing spots in the entire world.

Whether you are interested in challenging yourself on the park’s hiking trails, or just looking to gaze at the stunningly beautiful landscape, Zion National Park has something for everyone.  Below is a list of some of my favorite things to do within the park.

Angel’s Landing Hike

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A view of the Angel’s Landing trail from Scouts Lookout.

Difficulty: Very Difficult
Distance: 5 miles round-trip (4-5 hours)
Elevation Change: 1,488 feet
Shuttle Stop:  The Grotto

If you have read our list of the Top Hikes in the National Parks System, then you are probably already familiar with Angel’s Landing, as it was the number one ranked hike on our list.  This is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging hikes in the entire park system.  It is classified as strenuous, and can be extremely dangerous if you aren’t prepared and know what you are doing.  In other words, this hike is not for everyone.

The Angel’s Landing hike is only a half-mile out and back (you do need to hike the West Rim Trail for 2 miles to get to the Angel’s Landing trail head), but it is mostly a rock scramble over a knife ridge that is over 1,500 feet above the canyon floor.  There are certain spots on this trail where there is no room for error.  One slip, and you are dead.  The park service has installed some chains along the trail to make it safer, but the chains are mainly intended to guide you along the trail.  The Angel’s Landing hike still averages around one death per year, which makes it one of the most dangerous hikes in the National Parks System.

I completed this hike back in 2009, and have not attempted it again in the two times I have visited the park since.  It is definitely a hike that you need to be 100% comfortable with before undertaking, and the few times I have been back to Zion since 2009 have been very crowded and I did not feel like the trail was safe with so many people on it.

Be Safe and Considerate

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Angel’s Landing trail can be extremely dangerous.

As I mentioned above, the Angel’s Landing hike is not for everyone.  It is a very difficult hike that is almost more of a climb than it is a hike.  Even though the National Park Service has installed safety chains along the trail, the trail is still incredibly difficult.  If you are interested in hiking Angel’s Landing, please be aware of the following when accessing how safe it is to complete the hike.

  • Trail Conditions – This hike is difficult enough in the best of conditions.  Do not attempt to complete this hike if the trail has ice on it or the trail is still wet from recent rain.  The rock can be incredibly slippery when wet or icy.
  • Wind Conditions – Do not attempt to complete this hike if it is especially windy out.  There is no room for error on this trail and windy conditions can make this hike even more difficult.
  • Crowds – Do not attempt to hike Angel’s Landing if there is a long line queued up at the beginning of the hike.  The start of the Angel’s Landing trail isn’t that difficult, but these crowds will make the hike more treacherous during the more difficult scrambles that come later on down the trail.  The trail has traffic going both ways and it is really easy to get bumped accidentally.  If you do decide to hike, make sure you ALWAYS practice proper trail etiquette.  Do NOT be in a hurry or you will endanger yourself or others.
  • Gear – Do not attempt this hike if you do not have proper hiking boots (tennis shoes do not count as proper hiking boots).  The rock along the trail can be extremely slippery and one slip could mean death.
  • Fear of Heights – Do not attempt to complete the Angel’s Landing hike if you have a fear of heights.  There are 1,500 foot drops along this trail, and sometimes they are on both sides at once.  In some spots the trail you are scrambling on is only 5 feet wide with thousand foot drops on both sides.  This hike is not for those who have a fear of heights.

Accessing the Trail

To access the Angel’s Landing trail, you will want to take the Zion Shuttle to the Grotto stop.  From the Grotto stop, you are going to want to take the West Rim trail head, which is located on the opposite side of the street as the shuttle stop.  The West Rim Trail will take you up to Scouts Lookout, which is where the Angel’s Landing trail head is located.

Angel's Landing Trail Map

Map of the Angel’s Landing hike.  You get off the shuttle at the Grotto stop and take the West Rim Trail on the other side of the road up to Scouts Lookout.  From Scouts Lookout the Angel’s Landing hike is a half mile out-and-back.

The Narrows Hike

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A view of the Narrows hike in Zion National Park.

Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous (depending on river conditions)
Distance: Up to 4.5 miles for bottom-up and 16 miles for top-down
Elevation Change: 0 feet
Shuttle Stop:  Temple of Sinawava

The Narrows hike is one of the most famous hikes in the national parks system because of how unique of a hike it is.  The Narrows hike features walking up (or down) the Virgin River in between the most spectacular slot canyon.  As you can see from the photograph above, it really is an absolutely beautiful hike.

Bottom-up or Top-down

There are two different ways that you can approach the Narrows hike at Zion National Park.  The bottom-up approach is the most popular way to do the hike, and requires no permit from the Park Service to complete.

With the bottom-up hike, you can hike up the Virgin River as far as as Big Springs before you have to turn around.  This is the mandatory turn-around point for all bottom-up hikers.  Most hikers will hike until they get to the “Wallstreet” section of the trail, which features some of the most spectacular segments of the narrow slot canyon.  On average, it will take roughly 3-4 hours to hike up to Wallstreet, and then roughly 2-3 hours to get back to the trail head.

The Top-down approach to the Narrows hike involves starting at Chamberlain’s Ranch and hiking the full 16 miles down river to the trail head.  The hike typically takes between 10 and 14 hours to complete and is usually done over multiple days.  There are a number of spots to camp out along the river on your way down.  This hike requires a permit from the National Park Service to complete, so plan ahead if you would like to do this hike.

The Narrows Map

Map of the Narrows hike.

Be Safe (especially with children)

The Narrows hike might sound fun (and it really is), but it can also be extremely dangerous.  Please be aware that on this hike you are hiking in the Virgin River and in most spots there is no way out.  You are hiking in between the slot canyon, so there is no respite should you get tired, hurt, or if there is a flash flood.  Please be mindful if you decide to bring small children on this hike.  The hike can get quite tiring as you are walking against the current on slippery rocks below the water surface.  I have seen people with young children on their shoulders, which is quite dangerous.  Please, use good judgement.

If you plan on doing the Narrows hike, please make sure you monitor the current river conditions for the North Fork of the Virgin River.  To help you interpret the data, 50 cfs is fairly easy hiking and is acceptable conditions for children, whereas 100 cfs is extremely difficult conditions for even adults.  If the current exceeds 120 cfs, the National Park Service will not issue any permits for top-down hikes.  If the current exceeds 150 cfs, the Narrows trail will be closed in both directions.

Keep in mind, when the Narrows hike opens each year is largely dependent upon the river current.  In some of the years with the highest winter snowfall, the Narrows hike hasn’t opened until mid July.  So make sure you monitor the river conditions and snow fall before planning your trip if the Narrows hike is high on your list.

The Narrows Limits

River flow of over 50 cfs will be extremely difficult for children, and river flows of over 90 cfs will be very difficult for adults.  The Park Service will stop handing out permits for the top-down hike when the river flow exceeds 120 cfs and will close the Narrows hike completely when the river flow exceeds 150 cfs.

Accessing the Trail

To access the Narrows hike, take the Zion Park Shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava stop, which is the last stop on the shuttle route.  From the shuttle stop, take the Riverside Walk trail for 1 mile alongside the Virgin River until you reach the stairs that take you down into the river.  This is the trail head (or starting spot) for the bottom-up hike and the termination spot for top-down hikers.

Gear Rental

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Zion Adventure Company is a great place to rent gear to use in your explorations of Zion National Park.

If you are planning on doing the Narrows hike, I would strongly recommend that you rent the proper gear to do the hike.  There are a number of different outfitters in Springdale that can set you up with the proper gear.  This gear will keep you warm, keep you safe, and make the hike much more enjoyable.  The proper gear you will want to look into renting includes the following:

  • Canyon Shoes (extra grip for the slippery rocks and allows water to flow in and out of the shoes).
  • Neoprene Socks
  • Dry pants or dry suit
  • Hiking Pole

My favorite place to rent from is the Zion Adventure Company in Springdale.  They are really good people who really take care of you.  They have some great packages of gear for the Narrows hike that you can rent.

Emerald Pools Hike

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A view of a waterfall from one of the Emerald Pools on the Emerald Pools trail hike.

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate (depending on how far you go)
Distance (round trip): Lower: 1.5 miles, Middle: 2 miles, Upper: 3 miles
Elevation Change: Middle: 200 feet, Upper: 400 feet
Shuttle Stop:  The Zion Lodge

If you are up for taking a beautiful hike, but don’t want to take on something as difficult as Angel’s Landing or as time consuming as the Narrows hike, then the Emerald Pools hiking trails are just what you are looking for.  The Emerald Pools hiking trails are a series of trails that connect three pools of water inside Zion National Park.

The Lower Emerald Pool is a short three-quarter mile hike and is classified as an “Easy” trail.  This is one of the most frequented hikes in Zion National Park because of how easy it is to access and how pretty the trail is.  From the lower pool, the hike gets a bit more difficult as there is a 200 foot elevation change on the way to the Middle Emerald Pool.  This pool is on top of the waterfall that you can see at the lower pool.  The waterfall is actually the run-off from the middle pool.

For those who want a bit of a challenge, there is another 200 feet of elevation change on the way to the Upper Emerald Pool.  The views from the Upper Pool are pretty spectacular and are worth the effort to get up there.

Accessing the Trail

To access the Emerald Pools trails, take the Zion shuttle service to the Zion Lodge stop.  From the shuttle stop, cross over the the other side of the road to access the Lower Emerald Pool trail.  The hike is a loop hike, so the starting and end spots are at the same trail head.

Emerald Pools Map
Map of the Emerald Pools trails.

Court of the Patriarchs

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A view of the Court of the Patriarchs.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance (round trip): Less than a quarter mile
Elevation Change: 40 feet
Shuttle Stop:  Court of the Patriarchs

The Court of the Patriarchs is pretty difficult to miss.  These three prominent sandstone peaks are some of the largest within Zion Canyon.  They are named after the biblical figures of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The Court of the Patriarchs trail is a trail that can be accessed from the Court of the Patriarchs shuttle stop, but it isn’t really much of a trail.  In fact, you will likely walk further to get to the trail head then you will on the actual trail.  It is worth checking out though as the viewpoint at the end of the trail has some spectacular views.

Weeping Rock Trail

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A view of Weeping Rock on the Weeping Rock trail.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance (round trip): Half mile
Elevation Change: 100 feet
Shuttle Stop:  Weeping Rock

Another very easy hike that is worth exploring when you visit Zion National Park is the Weeping Rock trail.  This very short hike does have some decent elevation change, but the trail isn’t very steep.  It is classified as an easy hike for this reason.  The trail takes you to a sandstone wall that is weeping water from it.  Its a neat feature that is popular with kids.

Human History Museum

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The Human History Museum in Zion National Park.

If you like museums, then you will love the Human History museum in Zion National Park.  This museum has some absolutely fabulous displays on American Indian history, prehistoric artifacts, and the evolution of Zion National Park.   The museum is definitely worth checking out.

Photo Gallery

There are so many fantastic photo opportunities in Zion National Park.  Below is a gallery of some of the photographs I have been able to take in my many visits to the park over the years.

 

Posted in Canyoneering, Hiking, National Parks, North America, Rock Climbing, Travel Advice, United States, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Glen Canyon National Recreational Area Visitor’s Guide

There is nowhere else on Earth that is quite like the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  Imagine a large, beautiful blue lake in the middle of a gorgeous red sandstone landscape.  The rock formations along the lake, and even sticking out of the lake in some places, are absolutely breathtaking.  The contrast between those orange and red rock formations and the crystal blue water of Lake Powell is mesmerizing.

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Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream land.  In the summer months it is a mecca for boaters from all over the country and the world.  Some people spend months camped out along-side the shores of the lake.  There is no shortage of things to do in the area, so there is never a dull moment.

In this guide, I am going to give you some tips on how to get to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the best time to visit the area, some valuable resources to help plan your trip, and review some of my favorite places within Glen Canyon.

How to Get There

The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a very large area.  The conservation area stretches from the border of Canyonlands National Park in the Eastern half of Southern Utah all the way down to Page, Arizona.  In addition to being in close proximity to Canyonlands National Park (which I will be writing about in the coming weeks), it is also close to Capitol Reef National Park, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, and the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument.

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Best Time to Visit

Because the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is such a large area, the weather varies some from location-to-location.  Below I have listed the average temperatures and precipitation levels for the Page, Arizona area to give you some guidance on what to expect at different times of the year.  While this may vary somewhat throughout the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, it will be somewhat similar.

During the summer months, Glen Canyon and Lake Powell can get pretty congested with summer vacationers and boaters.  The weather can be quite hot in the area during the summer, so getting out on the lake is a great way to beat the heat.  It is an absolutely stunning lake and a great place to spend the day boating.

In the winter months the crowds really thin out as the temperatures can get quite cool at times.  If you aren’t looking to get out on the lake and would like to avoid the summer crowds, then this can be a great time to visit.

Average Temperature (°F)

Horseshoe Average Temp

Average Precipitation (Inches)

Horseshoe Bend Average Precipitation

Resources

There is so much to see and do in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  To assist you with your planning, I have provided a number of different planning resources for you to refer to below.

Top Things to See and Do

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area sits in some of the most beautiful land in the United States, and there is no shortage of beautiful sights to see and fun things to do.  Below is a list of some of the top things I would recommend to do in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Horseshoe Bend

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If you haven’t read my visitor’s guide for Horseshoe Bend, I would strongly suggest you check it out.  Horseshoe Bend is an amazing and beautiful place that is worth checking out.  Just make sure you be careful when you visit please!

Travel-1733 Horseshoe Bend Visitor’s Guide

Antelope Canyon

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Antelope Canyon is another beautiful place in the area that I have written about in the past.  If you haven’t checked out my visitor’s guide for Antelope Canyon, this is a must read.  Antelope Canyon is quickly becoming one of the biggest tourism draws in the Southwest United States.  It is an incredibly beautiful place.

Travel-1733 Antelope Canyon Visitor’s Guide

Alstrom Point

Alstrom Point

One of the best places to view Lake Powell and get some really fantastic pictures is from Alstrom Point.  This viewpoint offers some of the most breathtaking views of Lake Powell.  I have included a map below on how to get to Alstrom Point.  Please be aware that a majority of the roadway is gravel road and get can pretty rough at certain points.

To get to Alstrom Point, you are going to take highway 89 North from Page, Arizona for 17 miles until you get to Big Water, Utah.  Then, you are going to want to turn right onto Ethan Allen.  This turn will take you into an industrial complex of sorts.  You will want to keep straight until you are able to turn right onto NP 230.  Stay on NP 230 for roughly 15 miles until you get to NP 264, which will come at a fork in the road.  Stay right to turn onto NP 264, which will take you the rest of the way to the viewpoint.

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Hole-in-the-Rock Area

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If you have read some of my visitor guides for attractions within the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, you are probably familiar with the Hole-in-the-Rock.  The Hole-in-the-Rock road stretches from Escalante, Utah in the north down to the shore of Lake Powell inside the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

The name Hole-in-the-Rock was given to the large rock formation that guards access to the Lake Powell area, but is accessible via a hole (more like a gap) in the rock (shown in the picture above).  The Hole-in-the-Rock trail used to be used by settlers of the Western United States and the Hole-in-the-Rock provided safe passage through an otherwise difficult terrain.

Today, the Hole-in-the-Rock road is one of the most popular tourist roads\trails in the American Southwest.  Along this road you can see a ton of really cool geological rock formations, slot canyons, and partake in a number of really fun hikes.  Be aware that this road is a gravel, not paved, road and can be really tough in some locations (especially if it rains).

Hole in the Rock Area Map

Lone Rock Beach

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Lone Rock Beach is one of my favorite spots in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  if you are looking for a great beach to chill out, do some paddle boarding or kayaking, or to do some beach camping, then this beach is for you.  The price for entrance is $25 per car and it will cost you $14\night to camp out there, but it is a gorgeous location.

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To get to Lone Rock Beach, take highway 89 North from Page, Arizona until you get to Lone Rock Road.  Take a right onto Lone Rock Road and the beach will be at the end of the roadway.  There aren’t any marked campsites, but you are able to camp out right down on the beach.  There are toilets (both vault and microflush) by the beach.

When driving down on the beach, make sure you steer clear of areas with really soft sand.  It is very easy to get your vehicle stuck on the beach if you aren’t careful.  I typically try and stay where I have seen that others have driven so that I know the ground isn’t too soft.

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Glen Canyon Dam Overlook

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Gorgeous Lake Powell was created by the Glen Canyon Dam that sits in Page, Arizona.  It is a really cool dam that is worth checking out if you are in the area.  You can drive over the dam to get a better view, and a walking path that you can use to really get up-close-and-personal with the dam.

If you decide to stop at the dam, the Carl Hayden Visitor Center is really neat.  There are a lot of educational displays that explain how the dam was made and how it works.  If you are looking for some hiking in the area, the Hanging Garden trail is a really popular one.  If you are looking for some more extreme adventure, the Ropes Trail is a steep (emphasis on steep) trail down the canyon walls into Glen Canyon.

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Rainbow Bridge National Monument

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The Rainbow Bridge National Monument is an absolutely fantastic natural rock bridge that sits within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  Like Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, if you are in the area, this is an absolute must see.  It is the world’s largest natural rock bridge and is truly a beautiful sight to behold.

Rainbow Bridge is fairly difficult to get to, as there are no roads that will take you anywhere near the national monument.  The best way to get to Rainbow Bridge is by boat on Lake Powell.  If you don’t have your own boat, you can purchase a boat tour of the Rainbow Bridge National Monument.

If you aren’t interested in taking a boat ride, you can access the Rainbow Bridge National Monument on foot.  Keep in mind, it is a long 14-mile hike thru the desert, so make sure you are up for the hike before you undertake it.  The hike is rated as moderately strenuous to strenuous, so it isn’t a hike designed for beginners. If you decide you would like to take this hike, please not that you will have to get a permit to cross the Navajo land before undertaking it.

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Lake Powell Kayaking and Paddle Boarding

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One of the best things to do in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is get out on the waters of Lake Powell.  This beautiful lake has some of the best boating in the American Southwest.

While it can get a bit crowded in the summer months, it is a lot of fun.  If you don’t have your own motor boat to use, and you would like to get out on the water and get a bit of exercise, then kayaks or paddle boats might be right up your alley.  I have listed a number of resources below for renting kayaks and paddle boats in Glen Canyon.

Photo Gallery

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a vacationer’s paradise.  Below is a gallery of some of the beautiful pictures I have taken of this beautiful place over my many visits.

Posted in Arizona, Boating, Camping, Hiking, Kayaking, National Parks, North America, United Kingdom, Utah | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Antelope Canyon Visitor’s Guide

Twenty years ago, very few people had heard about Antelope Canyon.  Flash forward to today and it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the American Southwest.  As more-and-more people post pictures of this stunningly beautiful place on social media, the popularity of Antelope Canyon continues to grow.

No other canyon I have visited, and I have visited a lot, is illuminated as beautifully by sunlight as Antelope Canyon is.  The rays of sunlight that enter the canyon make the canyon walls glow the most beautiful shades of red and orange.  It is breathtaking.

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When I visited Antelope Canyon about 7 years ago, there were a lot of other tourists, but the canyon wasn’t really crowded.  However, a lot has changed in those seven years.  When I went back to Antelope Canyon this Spring, the canyon was so crowded you could not move inside the canyon at times.

There are tourist buses that bring large flocks of tourists to the canyon these days, which is only compounding the crowding issue.  My hope is that this will be more regulated in the future so that we can preserve this amazing canyon for future generations.

How to Get There