Hawaii Volcanoes National Park . . . video

In the spring of 2012, we visited the Big Island of Hawaii and spent several days at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This is a short video of our visit, showing the park in the day and at night.


You can read about our visit to Volcanoes National Park here.

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Turkey Handicrafts: Making Chini and Making Hand Knotted Rugs . . . videos

Understanding how local handicrafts are made adds to the experience of shopping for travel souvenirs. In these videos, we show you how Turkey’s beautiful Chini is made and how hand-knotted rugs are made, starting with silk work cocoons.

 

 

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A Blue Cruise on Turkey’s Lycian Coast . . . video

We’re finally getting caught up on producing videos from our Fall, 2012 trip to Turkey. This short video is of our four-day cruise on a Turkish gulet along the Lycian Coast, between Fethiye and Marmaris.

 

You can read our blog post about our cruise on the Lycian Coast here.

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Lofoten and Aurora Borealis Cruise

The Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights)

I’ve made several trips to the arctic during the summer months. I’m familiar with the long days in the land of the midnight sun, but I’ve often wondered what it would be like to visit this part of the world during the winter when the sun barely breaks the horizon and most of the hours of the day are spent in darkness. One of my big “bucket list” items is to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in all their glory, which requires a visit to these northern climes during the dark autumn/winter months.

Lofoten Islands

Lofoten Islands

Recently, my wife showed me a website for a sailing trip to the spectacular Lofoten Islands of northern Norway. The trip is on a refurbished vintage sailing schooner and travels around the islands in the months of October and November. I was immediately intrigued and saw this as our first opportunity to experience the Arctic during the colder, darker time of the year. Seemed like kind of crazy idea at first, but the more I thought about it, the more excited I was about this trip. So, we booked a cabin for an eight-day cruise starting November 20, 2014.

noordelicht

The Sailing Ship Noordelicht

The Lofoten is an archipelago in northern Norway. The islands, around 80 in total, are located above the Arctic Circle. The journey among the islands will be on the sailing vessel Noorderlicht, a beautiful 46 meters long, two-masted schooner that was built in 1910. The ship only holds 20 people and passengers are invited to help with hoisting the sails and even working the steering wheel. During the short daylight period, there will be opportunities for guided shore excursions, walks, wildlife spotting and zodiac cruises. During the long night, we’ll have a chance to see the Northern Lights. The Lofoten Islands are situated at the exactly the right latitude to see the Aurora Borealis, so our chances of seeing this magnificent wonder of nature are pretty good.

So….would you like to join us?

The ship still has cabins available for the November 20, 2014 sailing date. There is also another sailing on October 30 that still has space available. The cost is US$2,100/person double-occupancy. Single travelers can request to share a cabin with another single or pay 1.7x the double-occupancy rate to have a private cabin. I can make all the arrangements for you with the shipping company. We’ll provide detailed instructions on how to get there, as well as the kind of clothing/gear you should plan to bring along for the activities.

Join us for this amazing journey in the Norwegian Arctic. To make a booking, or to get additional information, email me at offtrailtravel@comcast.net. To find out more about my adventure travel agency, go to www.offtrailtravel.com.

Don’t wait….space on the trip is filling up fast!

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Return to the San Rafael Swell…VIDEO

Here’s a short video of our recent hiking trip to the San Rafael Swell in central Utah.

 

Read the blog posts about our trip herehere, here, and here

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Return to the San Rafael Swell….Day 4

The last full day of our trip to the San Rafael Swell left us scratching our heads trying to decide where to go to do some exploring. Most of the possibilities involved lots of drive time to the trail head. After the long trip to Devil’s Canyon the day before, we were looking for something much closer that allowed us to spend more time hiking rather than driving.

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock Viewed from the Devil’s Racetrack Trail

We decided to check out an area called the Devil’s Racetrack. The racetrack is actually a long cattle trail that follows the mesa top for about 10 miles before dropping into Coal Wash. There are several opportunities along the track to drop into the various canyons that it passes; we decided to just stay on top and follow the track for as long as our legs decided to walk. We drove past the Dutchman Arch to the end of the drive-able road to the beginning of the Devil’s Racetrack, where we shouldered our packs and started walking.

In his book “Canyoneering”, Steve Allen describes this hike as having “the best views in the Swell”, and boy is he ever right about that. Following the Devil’s Racetrack gives you non-stop, 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside. The track is technically a 4WD road, but I think you’d be nuts to try and drive a vehicle on this thing. We were passed by a view ATV’s and dirt bikes, but no regular vehicles. The road is so bad, even the ATV’s were having issues. I came across a group that had one of their ATV’s lifted up as they examined the undercarriage. I heard one guy comment that he was going to have to drive back without any suspension; guess he broke a shock or something. If you’re driving a motor vehicle on the Devil’s Racetrack, be prepared; the road definitely lives up to its name!

Looking into Cane Wash from the Devil's Racetrack

Looking into Cane Wash from the Devil’s Racetrack

For us walkin’ folks, the Devil’s Racetrack was quite pleasurable. The views were tremendous as you can see for miles. The road follows the top of the mesa, so not a whole lot of elevation gain/loss. We passed a couple of mountain bikers who seemed to be negotiating the rough road pretty well.

The trail goes past the heads of several canyons: Bullock Draw, Cane Wash, and Coal Wash.

Lunch Spot with a View

Lunch Spot with a View

There are magnificent views looking into each of these canyons. From the trail you can see formations like The Blocks and Chimney Rock nearby, as well as San Rafael Knob (highest point in the Swell) in the distance to the south. At one point, the road crosses a thin strip of rock where two canyons drop off steeply on either side. We hiked for 3-4 miles before we stopped for a lunch break, and then headed back to the trail head.

On the drive back to camp, we stopped at the picturesque Dutchman’s Arch. Great place to hang out, take pictures, and stroll across the top of the arch for some interesting views.

Dutchman Arch

Dutchman Arch

We were thankful for the short drive to camp as this had been a long, but exceptionally rewarding day in the San Rafael Swell.

Watch a short video of our hike in San Rafael Swell here.

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Return to the San Rafael Swell….Day 3

Today we’re exploring the isolated and seldom visited Devils Canyon. Getting there required a long, roundabout drive from our camp heading east to the nearest I-70 on-ramp, and then back west on the highway for 15 miles to the next off-ramp, and the road into Devil’s Canyon. The 4WD road into the canyon was a bit rough; we got within ¼ mile of the trail head when we decided to park and walk the remaining distance to the entry point into  the canyon.

Devil’s Canyon is part of a Wilderness Study Area, which means it is blessedly devoid of the ATV’s and dirt bikes that run around the main roads of the San Rafael Swell.

Larry Looking up the Steep Walls of Devil's Canyon

Larry Looking up the Steep Walls of Devil’s Canyon

The approach hike was very pleasant in a wide canyon with spectacular walls. We read in the guide-book that there were some interesting narrows about an hour’s walk from the trail head. We arrived at the head of the narrows only to find the drop impassable, despite the guide-book’s assertion that it was an easy Class 3 scramble.

Looking into the Devil's Canyon Narrows

Looking into the Devil’s Canyon Narrows

We followed a trail that went along the rim of the deep narrows to see if there was any access point that we could negotiate. We finally found a potential spot from where could descend into the narrows, but we weren’t confident of our abilities to get back up. The route in the guide book describes a three-day loop hike that begins in these narrows, so the author may not have intended a climb back up to the access point. Since being able to climb back out of the canyon was of prime importance to our plans, we decided not to attempt to climb into the dark, narrow bottom of Devil’s Canyon.

We decided to have lunch, take some pictures of the unreachable canyon bottom, and head back to the car.

Vince Taking a Picture of the Narrows

Vince Taking a Picture of the Narrows

When we got back to the road, we had the misfortune of having to listen to a convoy of 20 ATV’s and dirt bikes roaring by. A bit jarring to hear this after the quiet of the deep canyon. Oh well, I’m glad there are places like Devil’s Canyon where one can avoid the annoying sounds of civilization once in a while.

On the way back to camp, we decided to drive a slightly different route back that would be several miles shorter than the way went earlier in the day. We probably shaved off several miles on the drive, but it required us to negotiate a rather challenging 4WD road back to camp. Overall, we saved about five minutes over the previous route. Probably not worth the beating we were taking on the alternative route.

 

Watch a short video of our hike in San Rafael Swell here.

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Return to the San Rafael Swell….Day 2

Another day, another exploring decision to make.

Our camp is close to the Swasey Cabin trail head that leads into Eagle Canyon, so we decided to take our time getting out of bed and hitting the road. The weather was chilly, but with clear, bluebird skies; a perfect day for a walk. We arrived at the trail head and took some pictures of the historic Swasey Cabin

Sawsey Cabin with the Broken Cross in the Background

Sawsey Cabin with the Broken Cross in the Background

while pondering as to where they could have gotten the large-diameter timber to build this structure. After having a good look around the cabin, we started walking down the 4WD road into Eagle Canyon. Almost immediately, we decided we could easily drive instead of walk for at least part of the way. We went back to the trail head and piled into Vince’s SUV.  After driving about two miles on this rough 4WD trail, we decided we were tired of bouncing around in the car; so we parked and started walking. After about an hour, we came to the spectacular Eagle Canyon Arch.

Eagle Canyon Arch

Eagle Canyon Arch

After taking many pictures, we continued down the canyon. We came to an interesting side canyon heading south, so we thought we’d walk down it a little ways and see what we could see. The unnamed canyon contained beautiful rock formations with a surprising amount of old growth timber growing in the canyon bottom, as well as along the steep walls. Now I can see how they found the timber for the Swasey Cabin.

When the bottom started getting wet and muddy, we decided to head back to Eagle Canyon. Along the way, we started noticing the strong scent of sulfur. At the mouth of the side canyon, we discovered a sulfur spring.

Vince Having a Taste of Sulfur Spring Water (ugh!)

Vince Having a Taste of Sulfur Spring Water (ugh!)

There was an old rusted-out trough that was once used for watering livestock. I wouldn’t have thought you could make cattle drink sulfur water, but who knows. Guess the livestock will drink it if that’s all that’s around.

The day ended with the drive back out of the canyon. The road seemed a lot rougher going back up than it did going down, but that’s what seems to happen when you drive on 4WD roads.

 

Watch a short video of our hike in San Rafael Swell here.

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Return to the San Rafael Swell…Day 1

My brother Vince, our friend Larry, and I like to get together every couple of years or so to do a “boys” trip to the Utah desert country for a camping/hiking trip. Having just moved to Carbondale, Colorado from the Denver area, I was excited by the prospect of heading out to the desert country with a drive that’s three hours shorter than from my previous residence.

I met Larry in Carbondale the night before, and we headed out the next day to begin our journey to the San Rafael Swell. As we were getting ready to hit the road, I noticed a large wood screw sticking out of my front left tire; this was not good. Although it did not appear that I was losing air, the screw could come loose or pop out while driving on 4WD roads in the Swell and I could find myself with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere.  So, I stopped at the Big O tire store in Glenwood Springs to see if they could yank out the screw and repair the hole. Unfortunately, the guy said my tires were too worn and they wouldn’t do a repair. So, I took a chance and left the screw in the tire. I checked the air in Grand Junction, and again in Green River, and both times it appeared the tire wasn’t losing any air (yet). Just to be safe, I picked up a can of Flat Fix spray at a truck stop in Green River. We met Vince , had a nice lunch at the counter of the Westwind Restaurant, and hit the road for the Swell.

Along the way to our intended camping area, we wanted to make a stop at Black Dragon Canyon to take a look at some well-preserved pictograms. The turn-off is on an indistinct dirt road that starts right along the westbound lanes of Interstate 70. Unfortunately, I went speeding right past the turn-off. We were using the directions in Steve Allen’s “Canyoneering” book, which states the road starts 0.2 miles west of Mile marker 145; it actually starts about 50 feet west of Mile marker 147! This is one of several directional mistakes that we discovered in Allen’s book. The book may be understandably out-of-date on some things, but the mileage on roads that have not changed in decades should not be one of them. Anyway, we quickly realized our error, but in order to get back to the Black Canyon Road again, we would have had to go about 10 miles west to the next off ramp, go back about 13 miles east to another off-ramp, then head west again to catch the road; We decided this was not worth the hassle, so we just continued on down the highway.

Vince Looking at the Lone Warrior Pictogram

Vince Looking at the Lone Warrior Pictogram

We exited the highway on to Temple Mountain Road and headed south. Along the way, we discovered a pictogram panel marked on the map called the Lone Warrior. We followed the map as closely as possible, and finally found the ancient rock art panel. Very unusual design,  like a little devil. The BLM had placed a buck and pole fence around the area in front of the panel to prevent people from driving right to it. I guess this somehow reduces the risk of vandalism.

By this time, it was around 4:00 and we needed to start looking for a place to camp. We headed south past the turn off to the Swasey Cabin to a 4WD road heading east. We followed the road to the top of a mesa where we discovered a site with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. At 7,200 feet elevation in late October, it’s going to be a chilly night. But with a roaring fire, it should still be an enjoyable evening of camping.

Keeping Warm by the Campfire

Keeping Warm by the Campfire

Watch a short video of our hike in San Rafael Swell here.

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Preserving the Night Sky

I’m always looking up…at least at night.

Ever since I was a young lad, I’ve always had a fascination with the night sky.  I remember crawling out of bed in the middle of the night, grabbing my trusty Tasco telescope (the cheap kind you find in toy stores), and heading out to the back yard just to see a constellation or a particular star that I hadn’t seen before.

As an adult, I have a much larger (and more expensive) telescope and still enjoy staying up late, or waking up very early, to see something in the night sky I haven’t seen before, or just look at something I’ve seen a million times and still find beautiful and fascinating. This has been quite a challenge over the last 28 years living in the Denver metropolitan area. If you live in a city like Denver, you know that the night sky is pretty washed-out by the mass of lights emitting from the city. Only the brightest stars and planets can cut through the light pollution. Using a telescope can be an additional challenge as the scope can magnify the pollution so much that faint objects get washed-out in the eyepiece. In my particular case, it didn’t help that I had a next-door neighbor who felt he had to light up his backyard to almost daylight levels. My only option for getting a decent view of the night sky was to travel a long distance away from the city.

Just last month, my wife and I moved from our long-time home in the Denver area to the mountain hamlet of Carbondale, Colorado. In keeping with its reputation as a progressive, if somewhat quirky community, the town of Carbondale enacted a rather strict lighting ordinance that requires exterior lighting to be directed downward and not to the side and up, which is the primary cause of light pollution. I learned first-hand how strict this ordinance is: during the process of building our new home,  we submitted requests to use several different light fixtures and all were turned down by the city building department. It was becoming quite a challenge to find a fixture that would meet Carbondale’s strict lighting code, but would still look good on our house.

Dark Sky Light Bulb

Dark Sky Light Bulb

I finally came across a “Dark Sky” light bulb that is nothing more than a standard CFL bulb sheathed in a conical housing that directs the light downward. So, we installed these bulbs in what would otherwise be a non-compliant fixture and bingo: approved light fixture. The Carbondale city inspector was actually excited about my discovery of these bulbs as other homeowners and businesses were also having trouble finding compliant exterior light fixtures.

The light bulb I found is made by a company called Bulbrite. I bought a package of six bulbs for $50. Kind of pricey, but being CFL’s, they should last several years and it meant saving money on an expensive light fixture that met Carbondale’s strong dark sky requirements.

The fixtures in our Denver home were not even close to being dark sky compliant as you can see in the photo below:

Denver home with normal light bulbs installed

Here is our new home in Carbondale with the Dark Sky bulbs installed in the exterior light fixtures. As you can see, the Dark Sky light bulbs pretty much illuminate the same surface area without blasting light out to the sides and upward:

IMG_0930

The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) gives the best reasoning for dealing with the scourge of light pollution:

Once a source of wonder–and one half of the entire planet’s natural environment—the star-filled nights of just a few years ago are vanishing in a yellow haze. Human-produced light pollution not only mars our view of the stars; poor lighting threatens astronomy, disrupts ecosystems, affects human circadian rhythms, and wastes energy to the tune of $2.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone.”

The economic advantages alone should convince most people of the importance of keeping the night skies dark. If you’re limiting your lighting downward, your wattage requirements can be significantly reduced over a light that shines all over the place. I can definitely attest to the economic reality of directed lighting:  We had 100 watt bulbs in the Denver home fixtures; the Dark Sky bulb has a power use of only 15 watts and covers the same surface area.

Carbondale’s lighting ordinance can be a pain, but I was happy to comply. It’s been so many years since I’ve been able to look at a truly dark night sky from my own backyard, and I support the town’s efforts keep their skies dark for future generations. I’m delighted to live in a community that shares my desire to see a night sky full of stars instead of a yellow muck.

To find out more about the harmful effects of light pollution and community efforts to darken the night skies, check out the IDA website at www.darksky.org.

Keep looking up!

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