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April 07, 2009

Spring Wildflower Viewing in Death Valley

By Erika Lloyd

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Desert gold wildflowers covering Death Valley's floor (Joel Southall)

An abundance of wildflowers has been creeping up through the earth in Death Valley National Park, peppering the park with bright, beautiful flowers that evoke the image of an artist waving a brush and splashing assorted paints across a 3.3-million-acre canvas.  Spring is the best time to visit Death Valley, before temperatures become too uncomfortable—in late May the numbers regularly start creeping past 100 degrees.  The flowers are peaking now, with everything from desert gold, notch-leaf phacelia, desert fivespot, gravel ghost, and evening primrose blooming in lower elevations, while higher elevations are just starting to show flora such as fremont phacelia and desert dandelion. 

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Related Topics: California Travel · National Parks · Outdoor Adventures · Trip Ideas

April 01, 2009

The Day the Hosteling Music Died

When is a budget accommodation just TOO budget? (Karen Chen)

My hosteling love affair is over. I've run up the white flag, admitted defeat... yes, I am officially too old for hosteling. The end of the affair for me came in the most ignominious way, too, after I persuaded a half-dozen friends to take the hosteling route prior to a wedding in Santa Barbara. Big mistake.

Let the record state that I've communed with my fellow travelers in hostels from San Fran's Haight-Ashbury district to the southernmost town in Western Australia to a windblown hovel in the Nepalese Himalayas. Hell, I even picked up a traveling circus of bedbugs at Mumbai's Salvation Army hostel in order to save myself a few hundred rupees.

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Related Topics: Budget Travel · California Travel · Places to Stay

March 24, 2009

Thru-Hike the Tahoe Rim Trail

By Kate Chandler

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TOUGH TRAILS: Lake Tahoe on the border between Nevada and California (Photodisc/Getty)

Hiking a long-distance trail from end to end in one push, or thru-hiking, is a badge of honor for those who have accomplished such a feat. It takes a lot of planning to coordinate food, water, campsites, and the like. Plus, you have to be extremely fit to carry your lodging and all of your food on your back for days on end.

But there's a great way to get a similar experience without sacrificing all of your weekends to planning from now through May. The Tahoe Rim Trail Association, steward to the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail in Nevada and California, is offering people the chance to participate in a 15-day guided thru-hike with support in the way of food and other supplies. You'll still need to be in good shape and carry a backpack with personal gear and one- or two-days' worth of food and water. But that's pretty cushy, by most thru-hikers' standards.

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Related Topics: California Travel · Outdoor Adventures · Trip Ideas

March 23, 2009

Q&A with Death Valley's Environmental Director Joel Southall

By Erika Lloyd

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Joel Southall, Death Valley's Environmental Director, with his solar panels (courtesy, Xanterra Parks & Resorts)

Death Valley National Park has one of the largest solar energy systems in the United States.  Built in the summer of 2008 by Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the 5,740 solar panels cover five acres of the park's 3.3 million acres, and help power the park's resort, The Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort, as well as its many other facilities, including the lowest elevation golf course on the planet.  The National Park Service awarded the new solar facility the 2008 Environmental Achievement Award.  More recently, Flex Your Power, California’s statewide energy efficiency and conservation campaign, and Southern California Edison, an electric utility company, recognized the facility for its energy conservation efforts during peak electricity demand times.  Joel Southall, Director of Environmental Health and Safety of Xanterra for Death Valley, took some time recently to answer my questions about the park’s environmental initiatives.

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Related Topics: California Travel · Eco-Tourism · National Parks · Outdoor Adventures

March 02, 2009

California Coast: Lost in Beauty

COASTING THROUGH: View of the California coast at MacKerricher State Park (Stockbyte)

There's no denying the spectacular scenery of Big Sur on the central Californian coast, the way the serpentine road hugs the cliffs as you're practically swallowed up by the expanse of the Pacific. But I'm surprised more families don't venture north of San Francisco on Highway 1 to Mendocino and onward to the Avenue of the Giants and the Lost Coast, where the lightly-traveled and rugged shoreline is backed by dozens of peaks. Just outside the town of Weott, Avenue of the Giants is that special place you've seen on postcards where you drive through the trunks of massive redwood trees, some reaching mind-boggling heights of 350 feet. Then it's on to the Victorian houses of Eureka, the gateway to the Lost Coast, the only stretch of California shoreline that doesn't have a major highway near the beach. Stay at the affordable Bayview Motel, which starts at $91 a night and overlooks Humboldt Bay. 

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Related Topics: California Travel · Family Vacation · Road Trips · Trip Ideas

February 09, 2009

Whale Watching in California

MARINE MAMMAL ON THE MOVE: Gray whales migrating along the Pacific Coast (Allison Whelan)

I've lived on the central California coast for 15 years, but it wasn't until my trip to Brazil last fall that I discovered the joy of whale watching. Fortunately, there are fantastic whale watching opportunities here in California at a variety of state parks.

Nothing matches the majesty of an encounter with the mighty gray whale, or Eschrichtius robustus, the official marine mammal of California.  A descendant of the filter-feeding whales that lived 30 millions year ago, they grow up to 50 feet long and weigh 45 tons.  Gray whales are currently on their annual migration, a 5,000- to 6,800-mile trip that heads south along the west coasts of Canada, the United States, and Mexico and lasts two to three months. In Baja California, Mexico, the whales breed and give birth in the warmer waters. Traveling 70 to 80 miles per day, the whales' spouts of vaporized water (at times reaching 12 feet high) can be seen as the whales surface every three to five minutes to breathe. It's a spectacle you don't want to miss!

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · California Travel · Eco-Tourism · Family Vacation

January 14, 2009

Early Mornings in Death Valley

By Erika Lloyd

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PAINTED DESERT: Death Valley National Park (Jeremy Woodhouse/Photodisc/Getty)

The name sounds rather ominous; however, Death Valley’s 3.4 million acres of national park wilderness have a lot to offer travelers looking for a different kind of vacation.  Driving into the park, the flat landscape stretches out to mountains layered with a spectrum of colors—red, orange, purple, green, and brown patterns paint the rock, telling geological stories thousands of years old.  This is a travel destination for those of you with a love for history or geology, or for those who merely appreciate awe-inspiring surroundings. 

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Related Topics: California Travel · Outdoor Adventures

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