I have mentioned more than once in this blog that September is one of the best months for hiking. My Mount Kilimanjaro hike, in 2010, is just one example of successful multi-day, late summer/early fall hiking. I can hardly fathom the thought that it has been exactly 11 years ago this month when I hiked the Inca Trail through the Peruvian Andes to the pre-Colombian citadel of Machu Picchu.
As you recall from Part One, I hiked the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2010 – the South Kaibab Trail down and the Bright Angel Trail up. Not easily sated, I returned two years later and tackled the much, much longer North Kaibab Trail.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a long way from anywhere. It is over 1,000 feet higher in elevation than the South Rim, and its northern exposure makes it a dumping ground for snow for seven months of the year (the North Rim is closed to visitors from mid-October to mid-April). The flora and fauna are different, too. The access road from the one-trick hamlet of Jacob Lake passes through terrain that looks like Yellowstone. “Beefalo” – cow and bison hybrids – graze peacefully along the roadside, and sub-alpine meadows are home to wildflowers during the warmer months. The scent of pine is all around.
Earlier this summer, TripAdvisor ranked the Grand Canyon as the #1 National Park. I couldn’t agree more with their top pick. I have meaning to write about the Grand Canyon ever since I first saw TripAdvisor’s list (the complete ranking is here, BTW), but it has taken me until the hottest week of summer to get my thoughts on paper. It was similarly hot when I hiked from the rim (top) of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and back…twice! No wonder my ex-girlfriend called me crazy! 😉
My first visit to the Grand Canyon was in October, 2000. It was little more than a two-hour stopover on my way from Chicago to Los Angeles, my first cross-country move. My friend Chuck came along for the ride. We took photos from various South Rim vantage points, hiked perhaps one-quarter mile down the Bright Angel Trail, ate at one of the Grand Canyon Village restaurants, and continued on our way. Still…the few pictures I took, including the photo above, taken from Hopi Point with my $60 manual camera, lent quite the inspiration, and I promised myself that I would one day return and hike all the way down to the canyon floor.
It is late May and it finally feels like summer in East Tennessee. The weather has been unseasonably cool and rainy, until just a few days ago, when – almost overnight – temperatures shot up into the mid-80’s. Now that’s more like it!
Out West, May is an ideal month for exploring the National Parks of Utah and Arizona. I took several road trips while residing in Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Lake Powell, and elsewhere. It was four years ago when my car seemingly drove itself during one of the hottest weeks of the year to one of the hottest places in the country: beautiful Monument Valley.
News footage this past week has been rife with images of destruction following the 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck the Taiwanese port city of Tainan. At time of writing, 59 people have perished. Over 500 people have been injured, and another 76 are still reported missing.
Such natural disasters, tragic though they may be, are all too commonplace in “Ring of Fire” countries such as Taiwan. I visited the small island nation with a friend in 2010, and was floored by the spectacular topography. We spent several days in earthquake-carved Taroko National Park, and I am sharing of my park pictures with you today.
Speechless. Astonished. Flabbergasted. Those are just three superlatives that I can use to describe my elation at having spent an hour with mountain gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Uganda, neighboring Rwanda, and the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) are the only places in the world where these great apes still roam free. And I saw them.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was just 50 yards from our lodge, Lake Kitandara Bwindi Camp. Our driver, Matthieu, escorted us to the park gate, where we signed in and met the park staff and other trekkers. We showed our permits – a whopping $500 apiece – and were led through orientation. The head guide was a female, something of a surprise in this male-dominated part of the world.
I can hardly believe that five years have passed since my three-country safari and hiking trip to East Africa in August, 2010. I wrote about the trip’s climax – a successful summit of Mount Kilimanjaro – last fall, and thought you might like to hear about the Uganda portion of trip, in which my friends and I had one thing on our minds: gorillas!
Last month’s entry took us to a green space in the middle of a large U.S. city. For this month’s feature, we remain in the U.S. but get closer to nature.
Yellowstone National Park is the country’s oldest national park. It is also one of the biggest, occupying the northwest corner of Wyoming as well as several thousand acres in both Idaho and Montana.
Last fall, I vowed to write more hiking-related entries. My travels have given me the opportunity to check several multi-day hikes off the ever-lengthening “bucket list.” The third long hike in this series (you can also read about Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and the Backbone Trail of Southern California) was completed in February of 2009 – six years ago!
One Month in Middle Earth
My first trip “Down Under” – to use common geographical slang marketed to the U.S. by the likes of Paul Hogan, Qantas, and Fosters – was to Australia in 2003. I loved Australia and had long yearned to return to that region of the world. “Across the ditch” from Australia lies New Zealand, a bastion for backpackers and nature lovers. The success of the Lord of the Rings films, shot there, effectively priced me (and many other backpackers) out of the market, and it wasn’t until the end of that decade that things went down in cost…and only marginally.
The Fiordland region of New Zealand’s South Island is blessed with pristine natural beauty, verdant greenery, Norwegian-style fiords, and more than the island’s fare share of waterfalls. The country’s hiking trails are renowned as being some of the greatest in the world, and many of them are appropriately marketed as such, under the name “Great Walks.” On the North Island you can hike around – and to the top of – what moviegoers know simply as “Mount Doom,” via the Tongariro Crossing. (Mount Doom’s real name: Mount Ngauruhoe.) Three multi-day Great Walks are in Fiordland. Arguably the best of these – and certainly the hardest for which to obtain permits – is the Milford Track.