Having never experienced an African safari before, traveling throughout Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa for an entire month via Land Rover was everything I imagined yet nothing like what I expected. Does that even make sense?! Just think of it this way – conjure up memories of every African movie you’ve seen, news you’ve heard about the great southern continent, and your own opinions on what traveling in an African country may be like, and roll it all into one. Now you probably have some idea of what Africa may be like, but it is so much more than that, and to find out what I’m talking about, you have to take the big leap and just go there! To give you an idea of what I’ve experienced, I thought I would provide you with an example of a typical day on safari…
First, I must mention that sleeping in on African safari just isn’t an option…if you don’t want to miss out on the best game sightings of the day! Your camp staff will come around to each canvas tent at 5:00 AM with a big happy, “WAKE UP!!!” And get this, they even bring you coffee! Once you roll out of bed, brush your teeth, and grab your daypack (complete with camera, binoculars, raincoat, sunscreen, etc.), head over to the main lodge for a light breakfast with your safari companions and guides. Around 6:00, it’s time to head out on safari, so get your game face on!
Now you have two options – A) make a plan for the route you’ll travel in the Land Rover based on what animals/birds/plants/geology you’re looking for, or B) head out in any random direction to see what you come across! If you’re anything like me on your first African safari, you’ll want to see all of the wildlife, and your expert guides know all of the tips and tricks in the book for tracking animals and birds alike to give you the ultimate safari experience! Sometimes, you’ll just pop in on an animal that you weren’t expecting. Other times you’ll follow a lion’s tracks through the sand, trying to find out where he’s going to stop for shade mid-morning. Every now and then, you’ll stop the vehicle, listening to the calling of the animals and birds around you as these noises can give clues as to the whereabouts of a larger predator. The guides also communicate back and forth with radios and clue other vehicles in on what wildlife they’ve found in the area. One way or another, your safari guides work with you to provide you the ultimate wildlife sightings you’ve always dreamed of, and a little luck never hurts either!
After your morning game drive, you’ll arrive back to the lodge around 10:00, and a big, delicious brunch is served around 11:00. Once your stomach is full and you’ve relived your favorite moments of the morning with the other members of your camp, a nap is looking pretty darn good, or maybe you just want to head back to your tent to relax in the shade of your deck. If you’re in southern Africa in the summer time, taking the afternoon to rest is your best option, and often the wildlife are not active either because of the heat. Choose to take a dip in your lodge’s plunge pool, read a book on one of the comfy couches, or sleep away the heat of the day. Whatever you choose, meet back at the main lodge at 4:00 for tea time before another safari activity!
In the afternoon, you can of course choose to head out on another game drive, perhaps in a different area of the concession or Park you reside in. But often, the lodges provide other activities dependent on what features are in the area. Some guides provide “game walks” where you can track game on foot. A few lodges, especially the ones near a water source, provide boat rides or mokoro excursions (a type of canoe-like boat propelled forward by a “poleman”). Some lodges are near villages where you can meet the locals and buy African trinkets to bring home to your friends. Still others are near operators that can take you on a hot air balloon ride, zip lining, or even bungee jumping. Whatever you decide to do, don’t miss the opportunity to get out and experience Africa!
Typically, just as the sun goes down (assuming you aren’t in the middle of a wildlife viewing) your guide will stop the vehicle at a beautiful sunset viewing spot for what Africans call a “sundowner”. As the sun disappears over the horizon, illuminating everything in a golden light, clink glasses with your guide as you sip your favorite drink under a beautiful African sunset.
After you get back from your afternoon excursion, take a few minutes to head back to your tent for a quick shower before pre-dinner drinks back at the lodge. Often, you’ll need to have a guide come pick you up at a certain time because you can’t walk by yourself after dark with all of the wild animals wandering around at night in camp. Maybe choose a gin and tonic or an Amarula on ice before a delicious dinner with your camp mates around 8:00 PM. Dinner will be accompanied by your choice of wine and often features a vegetarian dish, a red meat choice, and something like chicken or lamb with a side of fresh veggies, rice, and potatoes. Regional options are often included and I highly encourage you to try the kudu or Oryx, yum!
-After dinner, a member of the staff will accompany you back to your tent for a restful night’s sleep. As you lay in bed at night, listen to the sounds of the African bush come alive. Frogs, hippos, baboons, and hyenas will all “sing” you to sleep as you drift off after a thrilling day spent exploring Africa’s wilderness. Tomorrow, look forward to waking up and doing it all over again!
Experience everything the bush has to offer on safari with Austin Adventures. If you want a mix of adrenaline-inducing game watching mixed with much-needed relaxation time for you, your significant other, and/or family, you know who to call!
See you in the bush!
Swakopmund, Namibia – have you heard of it? I hadn’t either until I learned that the Adventure Travel World Summit would be taking place there earlier this year. I was fortunate enough to attend the Summit just this past week for my second time (it’s been running for ten years now), and I met some wonderful and interesting people (imagine 700 high-energy adventure travel enthusiasts networking in one common area) and overall learned that I have a lot to learn when it comes to the world of travel and adventure. Luckily, I had numerous chances to test my travel expertise on like-minded professionals and I absorbed an unbelievable amount in the process! I wanted to share with you one of the interesting conversations that popped up on our Peer to Peer Exchange day, when we were able to join together in small groups of eight to ten professionals to discuss issues and problem solving in the adventure travel world.
As a facilitator of the Peer to Peer Exchange Day, I ended up receiving a note card with the question: “Will advances in technology ever render tour operators obsolete?” Hmm, yes – this could definitely be a problem. With TripAdvisor, blogging consortiums, endless informative websites, and social media pages providing a plethora of access to legitimate travel information, networking amongst peers and professionals, and reasonably priced flights, activities, and hotels, it almost seems too easy to plan the perfect vacation on your own without the help of a tour operator in this day and age. After our group listed out each of the positives and negatives of today’s technology and how it has changed the world of travel, we came to a whole new set of questions: Why do tour operators exist? What is our purpose and why do people choose to work with us in planning their vacations? The following are a few reasons that our group came up with from a guest’s perspective as to why they’d choose to travel with a tour operator instead of planning their own trip:
1. Lack of time to plan
Worldwide, people are so busy in their day to day lives that planning a vacation seems like just another task to add to the endless to-do list. Tour operators take out the steps of planning the perfect adventure by providing just what you’re looking for in a pre-set package or an easily customizable adventure. We do all the work for you, and you have time to enjoy what matters: vacation time!
2. Don’t know where to start
There are so many beautiful, interesting, need-to-go-there-right-now destinations on this planet that sometimes we find guests have a difficult time knowing where to start. (Technology hasn’t made this any easier as access to pictures, travel sites, and social media seem to only make the bucket-list longer!) A trained professional in the travel industry can help you figure out where to start by determining your budget (how much do you have to spend?), your interests (would you like to travel near or far, in desert or mountains, hiking or biking?), your time frame (do you have a week or a month and what time of year works best?), and your ability (do you prefer a soft adventure walking tour or a hard core mountain climbing excursion?) Having helped so many of the “don’t-know-where-to-start types” before, a tour operator knows which questions to ask to get you moving in the right direction.
3. Not sure where to go within a country / destination
It’s your Christmas break and you only have 10 days to take in the country of Namibia. Should you travel to Etosha National Park, the Skeleton Coast, the Namib Desert, Fish River Canyon, or the Caprivi Region…or maybe all of those in one trip?! A tour operator who has “been there, done that” can help you determine just how much of a country or destination you can fit in comfortably in your time frame without the feeling of not getting enough time at a certain place. They just might help you discover that less is actually more in travel and being overly ambitious in checking off items on the bucket list in a certain country may actually stress you out more and make your hard-earned vacation time feel more like a military march. Focusing on more time spent at a few destinations will truly maximize your vacation time and give you some much needed relaxation spells.
4. Eliminates the uncertainty of travel
Sometimes traveling by yourself or perhaps with your family can be a bit unnerving and stressful at times if something doesn’t go as planned. By traveling with a tour operator, your uncertainty of whether or not that hotel reservation you attempted to make online actually went through or where you’re going to eat lunch en route to your afternoon hike dissipates as a professional tour guide takes care of each and every need. Ladies and gentlemen, your guides have done this before and they're here to make your vacation carefree, exciting, and educational. Does it get much better than that?
5. Safety, Safety, Safety
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns our sales team gets is the question, “is that country/city/destination safe?” Trust me, if we are sending you there, we are deeming it as safe. As a tour operator, our reputation is on the line, and we aren’t going to send you and your family to a city rife with political unrest or a country that’s been recently devastated by a typhoon. Plus, our travel professionals (sales team & guides alike) give you tips on how to stay as safe as you can be in an area (e.g. lock your valuables in a safe when you leave your hotel room or don’t run when you encounter a grizzly bear). All of this and more contribute to your safety when traveling with a tour operator.
Our Peer-to-Peer Exchange group actually came up with many more reasons than just these five I listed as to why a person would choose to travel with a tour operator (I just don’t want to bore you with any more details!)After coming up with all of these motives, we discovered that we had the answer to our original question, “Will advances in technology ever render tour operators obsolete?” The answer we came up with is, NO – tour operators will always remain leaders in the tourism industry due to ease of planning, eliminating uncertainty in travel and planning, and keeping you and yours safe and healthy while traveling. Yes, surviving in the competitive tour operator world requires constant education on technological advances, continuous training of your staff, and persistence in planning for the future; but when it comes down to it, the meaningful travel experiences and memories created for our guests, both while planning and executing a trip, make all the hard work we do as tour operators worth it in the end.
Off for more African adventures,
It is right around high noon with a merciless sun beating down out of a cloudless sky when our trackers stop their safari vehicles and jump out with their binoculars. Everyone in our vehicle is frantically scanning the surrounding hills, trying to figure out just what it is we are looking at. About a mile away, a Black Rhino lies sleeping under a shady tree about halfway up a red rocky hill, and we are going to try and get a closer look!
As our group follows our trackers across the barren landscape, I contemplate how lucky I am to be tracking a Black Rhino about an hour away from our base, Desert Rhino Camp in Namibia. So far, I’ve learned that Black Rhinos are a highly endangered species that were once on the brink of extinction due to poaching and the selling of their prized horns on the black market. Here on the Palmwag Concession, Black Rhinos are making a major comeback with the help of a few key players like the Save the Rhino Trust and Desert Rhino Camp. Unlike their cousins, the White Rhinos who are grazers and would never survive in this area due to a lack of grass; Black Rhinos thrive here because they are browsers who flourish with the numerous plants and bushes in the region. At this moment, we are walking across a hot, rocky wilderness to discover just what it is that makes a Black Rhino sighting so special.
As we huff and puff our way up the hill, it doesn’t take long before we realize we are directly in line with the Black Rhino we had seen from our vehicles about a mile back, only we can’t see him, as we are blind to his exact location over a small rise in the hill separating his shady tree from our scanning eyes. Our trackers huddle in a quiet meeting as the rest of our crew looks on in silence – we can’t make any noise now as Rhinos have a keen sense of hearing and smell (they do not see very well) and we are within about 200 feet of his location at this point. Our trackers kick dust into the air, trying to determine the direction of the wind. Currently, we have an advantage as we are downwind of the Rhino and he cannot smell us. Now the trick is figuring out how to get our eyes on this Rhino without compromising the group’s safety.
The trackers decide to leave our group in the capable hands of our guides and another tracker as they scout out how best to proceed for a viewing. As their footsteps grow quieter, our guides instruct us to move down into a slight depression in the hillside and sit low on the rocks. I assume this is because they do not want us to make any noise and sitting here will minimalize our moving around and talking.
We wait in silence with a burning hot sun beaming down on our backs. It’s so quiet and the perfect time to sit and reflect upon the situation we are currently in and what is going to happen next. All of a sudden, there is a pounding of heavy footsteps and the sound of our group’s collective intake of breath as we watch a Black Rhino emerge upon the horizon, running full speed in our direction. No one moves a muscle as we thrillingly watch the Rhino approach closer and closer to our exposed location, a bulldozer with no means of stopping, his head down, striking the rocky terrain with each heavy stride. I cannot breathe as I keep one keen eye on the approaching Black Rhino and one watchful eye on our guides as I wait to see if any safety instructions are given. For now, we are lying low as the Rhino pounds his way first toward us and then right past us within 15 feet. Without turning his head at all, he did not see our group sitting low on the rocks with his bad eyesight. His one goal was to find his way down the hill and off to a different part of his expansive territory. Whether or not we were there to observe, that Black Rhino wasn’t stopping for anything!
As soon as the Rhino passes over the hill just behind us, the entire group finally lets out that collective breath we’d been holding for 30 seconds and nervous laughter and storytelling from each person’s perspective fills the once silent air. Our trackers arrive moments later to tell us their version of the story. Both men had been quietly picking their way over to the Rhino’s napping spot and had found a position to crouch down in to observe the Rhino. Suddenly the wind changed direction, carrying their smell straight to the Rhino! Upon getting a whiff of human scent, the Black Rhino chose to immediately vacate the area, running towards our group. Having taken precautions, our guides had told us to lie low in the rocks just in case this happened and due to this smart thinking ahead of time, the Rhino had no idea we were even there. Wow, what a thrill!
As we made our way back to the safari vehicles, I couldn’t help but think how lucky we were to see a Black Rhino so close in the wild. I began to picture Austin Adventure’s future guests of Desert Rhino Camp and what kind of experiences they might have. Every experience is different, but if it’s anything like mine, you’ll have a love and appreciation of the Black Rhino and all that Namibia has done to try to save such a fascinating species.
Off to more African adventures,
Up to this point, I’ve written several posts to build up to my dad’s and my Australian Adventure that you can read here and here. Now, to jump into Australia itself! Our flights to get to the “Land of Oz” went off without a hitch. We even managed to sleep most of the 16 hour leg of the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, landing us into this stunning town bright and early in the morning! Without losing any time, we dove right into walking the streets of downtown, eventually popping out into sunny Sydney Harbor with its iconic Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge – what a sight! Walking around this city and later taking a guided hike to Manly, a suburb on the outskirts of Sydney, were treats in and of themselves. I couldn’t believe it – my plans were falling right into place!
The following day centered on the Australian Tourism Exchange conference, a huge event in the Australia Tourism Community featuring what we have deemed “speed dating” in the travel world. Fifteen minute meetings with Australian tour operators, hotels, rental agencies, tourism boards, and city attraction representatives throughout the day set our expectations high for building the perfect Austin-Lehman Australia Adventure in 2014. This conference runs for five days straight; however, we only attended one day of the ATE since Tourism Australia decided that visiting Australia’s unique destinations would serve us better with our two week time constraint. I can’t believe how much I learned about Australia’s tourism industry in that long day of meetings; my head is still spinning a month later from those who met with us and promised to help build the ultimate itinerary. Overall, I thought the conference was an impressive affair, well organized and well run – I hope I get to go back again next year!
As promised in the itinerary we received before the trip, we ran a tight schedule with our small group whose members ranged from the United Kingdom to Japan. We were to see pieces of four of the seven “Great Walks of Australia” and everything in between. Mostly our schedule took us down to Tasmania or “Tassie” as the locals call it, an island state south of Australia. Flying into Hobart Tasmania, we began our adventure at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary where we met many of Australia’s nocturnal creatures, like kangaroos, wallabies, sugar gliders, wombats, and the famous Tasmanian Devil, and were introduced to other “creatures” like Stu, our fire wielding, blow torching, BBQ’ing grill master who put on a show for us in cooking a memorable dinner. After a night like this, what else could be in store?
The following days were a blur as we visited places like the secluded Maria Island with its beautifully taken care of Bernacchi House, an accommodation for hikers of the four day Maria Island Walk. Wineglass Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula, one of Trip Advisors’ “Top 10 Rated Beaches of 2012” greeted us with virtually no other tourists to share in its soft, white sandy beaches, still blue waters, and dolphins jumping in the distance. The Bay of Fires met our group with a surprise thunder storm, tossing the waves onto the beach, lightning cracking in the distance, as we made our wonderfully isolated way to the beautiful Bay of Fires Lodge, a sustainably built and run accommodation literally in the middle of nowhere whose deck outcompetes all others in the category of “best location to watch a sunrise.” We ended our tour of Tassie in Launceston in the north to fly back to Melbourne, a city renowned for its food, wine and city lights. A couple hours’ drive from Melbourne brought us to Bothfeet Lodge, set sustainably in the Australian Bush, about midway along the Great Ocean Walk with its high coastal cliffs, sandy beaches, and crashing waves.
After spending a few “rest days” in Melbourne, we flew home and headed into the office, excited to share our trip with all and ready to start narrowing down the possibilities for suggested and separate Australian, Tasmanian, and New Zealand itineraries for 2014. With the help of Tourism Australia, we learned a great deal about Australia, its people, its culture, its beauty, and just how much there is left to learn. Now it’s time to dive into the research and process of building Australian trips and opening up a new continent for Austin-Lehman in the coming year. With the connections we made, knowledge we carried back with us, and excitement we can barely contain for opening up a new region, I know we’ll create an amazing Australian product that ALA travelers can look forward to in the coming year.
If you read my previous post, Tagging Along to “Tag, You’re It,” you’ve come to learn that I have somehow picked up the responsibility of planning a big trip to Australia for my dad and I. This is coming from someone who’s followed her dad around the world, never holding such accountability for the planning, the details, and the headaches that go into creating the perfect trip. At first, such a trip seems so far away and such a huge task that you don’t know where or how to dive in. After letting my dad plan the details for countless trips in my childhood and later on, early adult years, I quickly learned just how much planning takes place and how many emails and phone calls go back and forth to get everything just right. With the help of my friends who work for Tourism Australia and Tourism Tasmania, we dove into creating the perfect itinerary in which we could attend the Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE) conference and also familiarize ourselves with what the Tourism Boards had in mind for a well-rounded Australian experience.
When it comes down to it, this was an easy trip to plan. If anything, I sat back and let the Tourism Boards do their thing and chimed in my two cents along the way. I came to realize the relief of letting someone else do the heavy planning of the itinerary, since life gets busier and busier up until day of departure! (This is the same goal that we have in serving our guests at Austin-Lehman, a model I am quite used to!) Samantha from Tourism Australia helped me set up flights, first with Delta from Billings to Los Angeles, and then with Qantas from LAX to Sydney, and also worked with me one on one in planning a hitch-free adventure and business combo trip. Over the course of four months, I conversed with people I hadn’t yet met face to face via email and phone conversations. I saved every email that had anything to do with Australia in a folder designated to our trip, and I built a file of anything I could possibly need (and more) concerning, itineraries, business meetings and maps. I applied for visas online, arranged (and rearranged) flights to Sydney and from Melbourne, and studied the key attractions of areas we were to visit (especially the cities). Anything that had to do with our Australia trip was in my hands and my hands only, and it was actually FUN seeing it all come together first hand!
A week before our scheduled flight, I received our final trip details from Tourism Australia for our time to be spent in the states of New South Wales, Tasmania, and Victoria. By the time we reached our day of departure, my dad was asking me the who, what, when, and where of our itinerary, something that was always my job to ask of him before planning this trip! Talk about role reversal! Upon boarding the plane with our tightly packed carry-on suitcases and my trip file full to the brim of itineraries, emails, and meeting plans, I felt an immense feeling of satisfaction and relief that we’d finally made it to this point of no return. We were off to Australia to experience whatever adventures were to come!
My next post will fill you in on the details of our Australian Adventure!
Until next time,
Growing up in the adventure travel business has its perks. My father, Dan Austin, director of Austin-Lehman Adventures bought into Backcountry Bicycle Tours after taking a biking adventure in the Tetons himself, when I was six years old. From there, I led a life in Montana that was a bit different from that of my peers, although the realization of that fact didn’t hit me until I grew older. At seven, I tagged along on our company’s Yellowstone Family Tours, meeting other children and families lucky enough to immerse themselves in the world of luxury travel, learning of lives and cultures much different than my own in my beautiful backyard. By ten, I tagged along with my dad and brother southwards to the friendly lands of Costa Rica, a Mecca for families with its smiling Ticos and its “wow-inducing” wildlife. From there, I traveled along openly and willing with my dad, my partner in travel, my adventure planner, to destinations far and wide: Peru, Alaska, Germany, Ecuador, Holland, Galapagos Islands, and all over the western United States. We traveled for business, we traveled to see what lie beyond the mountains of Montana, we traveled to learn about cultures different than our own, but most of all, we traveled for the love of adventure.
All these trips share at least one thing in common, and that is my dad’s willingness to plan these adventures and his excitement in sharing the world with my brother and me. What better way to learn about people, places, relationships, connections, and cultures! This just isn’t something that can be experienced in a classroom (and this is coming from someone with a degree in Education!) As it gets easier in our schools to bring the globe to a classroom with modern technology, you just can’t replace an authentic, hands-on cultural experience somewhere outside your comfort zone. My brother and I are some of the few Montanans I’ve found who have had the fortune of learning on the road…and we’re lucky enough to keep up with this lifestyle today.
After graduating from the University of Montana in 2011, I immediately accepted an offer to work full time for the family business, despite obtaining a degree that didn’t exactly fit into the world of tourism (a backup plan is always a good thing right?) In my position in Operations I not only have the pleasure of working one on one with ALA’s top notch guide team, but I also work closely with our partners across the globe, creating and maintaining contracts and serving as the “point person” for inquiries, problems, help, and advice when it comes to creating the perfect adventure for our guests. Throughout my few years of working for ALA, I’ve still had the fortune of continuing my travels, more so now than ever – scouting new destinations, attending conferences, leading guide trainings outside of the United States, and even leading a trip or two overseas, sometimes with, sometimes without my dad.
Recently we received a visit to our Montana office from a representative of Tourism Tasmania, Karen Stotz. (If you’re not sure of where Tasmania is (like I didn’t when I first met Karen) take a peek at a map of Australia, and then look south…) While sharing with us a presentation of the beautiful state of Tasmania, Karen mentioned a conference that takes place in Australia annually, the Australian Tourism Exchange, and informed us that a familiarization trip of the area could take place before or after the conference. Before I could get two words in edge wise, my dad shot in, claiming that we would be there and all correspondence for details of the trip would come through me, the trip planner. Me? Me?! The daughter who follows her dad on his travels worldwide, letting him do all of the planning?! Alright, this could be interesting. Challenge accepted!
Stay tuned for my next post to find out about planning and executing our Australia trip!
Exiting out of Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam early Wednesday morning, I was met by the blowing wind and light snow of a not-so-spring-like day in the blustery Netherlands. At the end of March, the weather seems just not able to make up its mind, just as its doing back home in Montana right about now. I search the rows of taxis and busses for my friend and Austin-Lehman’s European Operations Manager, Ron van Dijk. All of a sudden, a familiar voice calls out from across the way. Sure enough, Ron is here, right on time, and we’re ready to drive the 1.5 hours southeast to Nijmegen, his home town.
We had previously decided that it would be a great idea to bring an American over to Europe to attend the annual European spring guide training held at Ron’s office in the middle of town. Our director had popped in a few years before, but otherwise Ron (who’s been managing operations in Europe for decades) had been handling guide training, quite well I might add, with few influences from any “outside forces” for years and years.
Now, I must tell you, I had my qualms about attending our European training. Our operations are run a bit differently in Europe since we feature mostly biking trips in Europe versus more multisport trips in the US. Plus, what other learning’s would I be able to pass on to our most seasoned guides in the business, like Desiree Jansen and Anneke Peelen who’ve been guiding ALA’s (and previously Eurobike’s) trips for more than 20 years each? Wow! I was quite relieved to know that I had guided one of our Austria Family Tours the previous summer, so I at least had an idea about the “behind-the-scenes” magic of a European trip, and the differences between running an Austrian tour versus a Montana trip. Plus, my experience as both a guide in the field and as a member of the esteemed ALA office staff couldn’t hurt me either, right?
I realized as soon as our European guides started filtering into the room one by one, big hello’s and hugs to be had by all, that I had nothing to fear. These were my fellow guides, even if not on the same continent, and they had nothing but smiles, encouragement, and inspiration to provide. What a team to be a part of! What friends to have across the ocean in a foreign land! I have nothing but good things to say about each and every one of our European guides – what amazing leaders and human beings in general!
Over the next two days, Ron and I would proceed to educate the tourism industry’s finest guides, covering every little detail of customer service, problem solving, and logistical management. Everything from the well-known ALA “WOW” factor to marketing efforts were covered. We jumped on the Austin-Lehman Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr accounts for an online tour, and stressed the importance of communication among fellow guides, hotel and restaurant staff, and our offices in both Nijmegen and Billings. Van and bicycle safety, food preparation, “sweet dreams”, paperwork, and photography became the focal points of conversation (among many other important items). Most of all, we shared our stories and advice with other guides, new and seasoned alike, providing all with inspiration for the upcoming 2013 season.
Overall, I took the following away: tour guides work HARD, just as hard as anyone I know, to provide Austin-Lehman’s guests with the perfect vacation. Our slogan, “the toughest part is going home” could not be truer in any sense of the phrase. As I sit here typing this blog on my flight home, I can’t help but be excited and motivated for the upcoming season, AND I’m not even done yet! Our domestic (U.S. and Canada) guide training is coming up in May and I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with all of those closer to home. Better yet, Ron van Dijk himself will be flying to Billings to take part in our guide training for the first time. I can’t wait to begin the whole process over again, only this time, at home!
Hope you’re as stoked as I am for the upcoming vacation season. I can personally tell you that because of your guides, it’s going to be a good one…
As I sit here staring out my window at a melting, muddy landscape, my mind wanders to brighter summer days past filled with sunshine. Specifically, I keep dreaming of days spent on Austin-Lehman’s Yellowstone-Tetons Adventure, kayaking the cool, clear waters of Jackson Lake, the Teton Range seemingly shooting up out of its west side.
You just can’t beat kayaking or canoeing on Jackson Lake. Getting away from the crowds and onto the deserted waters will put you into a state of solitude. Nothing but the noise of nature reaches your ears, and from your kayak you may see such wildlife as majestic bald eagles, tip-toeing mule deer, or playful river otters. As your paddle silently slices the glassy surface, you won’t believe your eyes again and again as you glance at the view in front of you: Mount Moran shooting out of the lake’s edge and rising skyward 12,605 feet! That’s a wow in and of itself!
But wait, there’s more! Sure, the kayaking part of exploring Jackson Lake is pretty amazing, but did I mention that you get to go “chill out” on your own private island for an hour or two? About three-quarters of the way through our escapade on Jackson Lake, we stop for a break on the rocky shores of a small unnamed island. The views from here are spectacular, providing unmatched photo ops for those wanting an amazing picture of the granite monolith that is Mount Moran.
I love when kids experience kayaking Jackson Lake on our Family Adventure because there’s never a shortage of activities to do once we reach the island. Writing messages on the beach out of sticks, skipping rocks from the shore, creating log shelters out of drift wood, and searching for frogs are just a few things that completely capture a child’s imagination on this round rock paradise. Parents roll out a towel and bask in the sunshine as the guides flip over a boat, playing king of the kayak with the kids. All that can be heard are splashing and laughter as we enjoy ourselves (maybe a little too much) on our isolated island.
Once the stomachs start rumbling a bit, we jump into our kayaks again for the short paddle back to the mainland. It’s always hard to bid goodbye to the island, but you just can’t keep lunch waiting! Again and again, I hear from guests that kayaking/canoeing is their favorite activity on this adventure that visits two national parks: Grand Teton and Yellowstone. I must say, that I am among them when it comes to the beauty, seclusion, and specialness of this little piece of paradise.
Where will you create your next memory?
What is my funniest memory I can think of from an Austin-Lehman adventure? Well, from growing up in the guiding business, a list of my funniest recollections literally has no end. But for some reason when thinking back in time, a certain adventure that took place in the beautiful Black Hills a few years ago comes to mind.
If you think that Mount Rushmore is all that the wide open state of South Dakota has to offer, then think again! ALA’s South Dakota cycling tour features the not-so-famous Mickelson Trail, a 110 mile Rails to Trails project that begins in Deadwood ( a mini western Las Vegas) and ends in Edgemont, a sleepy town with 750 residents. Between these two towns lies a Ponderosa pine paradise, Custer State Park.
Custer State Park is home to wildlife big and small from the burly, brawny bison to the peeking, passive prairie dog. Somewhere in between these two mammals is the infamous begging burro, a donkey that is not native to the Black Hills. These animals are descendants from the herd of burros that once hauled visitors to the top of Harney Peak. Once the rides discontinued, the burros were released into Custer State Park where they have become a popular visitor attraction.
Driving up in our Austin-Lehman van, I saw these begging burros from a mile away. As our group happened to reside in the only vehicle on the road at that time, we slowly crept up to the herd of burros “waiting” for our van. As if guarding the road, our van was immediately surrounded by burros demanding food from our snack basket. Turning around to joke with the guests behind me, I felt a nudge on my arm. One of the burros had stuck its head through the open window! Not able to stop laughing, we patiently waited as the burros decided that today was not their day for scoring snacks. About 15 minutes later, once a few other cars had pulled up and the burros grew bored with our van, they stampeeded away on to the vehicles behind us and we were free to drive up the road.
Austin-Lehman vacations are all about creating memories with friends new and old, family, and loved ones. A memory as simple as “the attack of the begging burros” brings me back to a time of laughter and friendship that I will hold onto for years to come.
Where will you create your next memory?
Slowly I place one foot carefully in front of the other and moderate my breathing as I chug up the ancient steps walked by thousands of Incans far before my time. “I think we’re almost there,” my brother calls out, pausing to take a sip of water as we both stop to snap a photo of two stones perched at a narrow passage in the crevice of a mountain above us. “Don’t stop now!” our guide calls out, “you’re about to see something very special!” Keeping my head down and stepping upwards, I picture in my mind what I have been imagining for months now – a view of the “Lost City,” Machu Picchu from Intipunku, the Sun Gate.
Capturing your first glimpse of this UNESCO World Heritage site from the Sun Gate is perhaps the most memorable way of seeing Machu Picchu for the first time. Most people take a train into the “town of Machu Picchu,” Aguas Calientes and ride a bus 30 minutes up to the site, their first impression of this special place consisting of crowds, long lines, and bus exhaust (I would know – this is what I did on my second visit!) On our Peru: Machu Picchu Multisport Adventure, you ride a train to Kilometer 104. Upon disembarkation, you’re left with your guide to hike the last 8 miles of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu stopping along the way to visit sites like Chachabamba and Wiñay Wayna.
Machu Picchu is one of those sites where #1, you could spend days looking at all the ancient architecture, and #2, you need an educated guide to fill you in on the awe-inducing history of the place and the Incans who lived there. Machu Picchu is made of up of more than 150 buildings ranging from simply constructed houses to intricately constructed temples, the stones fitting so snugly together (without mortar) that not even a playing card can be inserted between the stones – and this was done without modern day tools! To discover the mystery of the site, you need to physically walk up a few of the hundred sets of carved stone stair cases, touch the smooth, precisely carved stone work, or stare wide-eyed at a 300 ton piece of granite that not even scientists can fathom how it ended up at the top of a mountain.
Even though nothing compares to walking in and among the ruins of this awesome Incan empire, I think one of the best (and truly thrilling) ways to take in the site as a whole is to “climb” up Huaynapicchu Mountain. I say “climb” here because you ascend stairs for a whole hour all the way to the summit, grabbing onto “side-of-the-mountain” cables and sometimes scrambling up ancient Incan stone stairs using only your hands on the steep step above you for balance. (Might I mention that you are also over 7,000 feet above sea level?!) The allowance of only 400 hikers a day on Huaynapicchu gives you a special experience that not many who explore Machu Picchu can say they’ve had the opportunity to do. The view from the top is spectacular and truly rewarding (as long as it’s not a foggy day)! Hiking up this mountain was truly a highlight for me, although I wouldn’t recommend it for those who fear heights!
To summarize, I’ve retained nothing but remarkable memories of my first visit to Machu Picchu – the incredible history of the place as a whole, the mysterious disappearance of the Incas from this well-planned site, and the idea that a past civilization built this masterpiece from the ground up without the use of tools, wheels, or the Internet is completely and utterly extraordinary! The best part about telling you about my trip is that this was only a fragment of our Peru Adventure – between rafting the Urubamba River, walking the colorful streets of Cusco, and mountain biking to ancient salt pools and mines, I wouldn’t know where to begin my story next!
Get out and explore!
After an amazing ten days spent guiding and exploring the expansive regions between Billings, MT and Jackson, WY with fourteen wonderful new friends from Namibia, I felt the need to write about a few learnings I took away from this remarkable opportunity of a trip. As a short background, my father, Dan Austin, took a trip to Namibia (his favorite place in the whole world) back in May. After lively and meaningful conversations amongst the group he was traveling with, he ended up extending an invitation to his friendly Namibian acquaintances to come and explore the Yellowstone and Grand Teton regions of the United States. Little did he know, that this welcoming invite would open up doors to these people who wanted to see the world. Read on to discover my three “take-aways” from this trip that has been deemed in our office as “The Nam Fam”.
1. These Namibians are one of a kind….
From the moment we picked our crew up from the airport, I could tell it was going to be a special week. The kindness these people show is like none other that I’ve seen in my travels around the world. We had quite the variety of Namibians in our group – village leaders, government officials, lodge contractors, WWF members, and conservancy workers were just some of the titles represented amongst these people. Their willingness and desire to learn about the geology, history, flora/fauna, and culture of the area made me see the lands I grew up in with a fresh perspective. Along our way, we met with numerous representatives of Montana and Wyoming – Cooke City’s historian, Yellowstone and Grand Teton’s sustainability directors, local World Wildlife Fund reps, wildlife biologists, ranchers, Native Americans and more. I couldn’t believe the amount of interaction and learning that took place within our “on-the-road classrooms.” All in all, the educational factor in this adventure was beneficial for each member (including myself) that was involved, and I believe that the Namibians’ excitement to learn made the whole experience that much more fun!
2. We experienced a whole lot of “firsts”!
Going into this adventure and not knowing the background of each of the Namibian members, left us planning this trip for fourteen people without knowing just how exciting a lot of our activities would be. Little did we know that many of our friends had never been on a plane before, and this was just the first of all of the “Wow’s” we would hear along the way. Visiting the Crow Reservation near Billings allowed our Namibians to make comparisons between the Crow tribe and the Namibian people such as the San and the Himba, a first time for them since they had never seen an American Indian reservation before. At the top of the Beartooth Pass (near 11,000 feet), many of our guests saw snow for the first time and of course we had our first snowball fight! Since none of our Namibians had been to North America before, each wildlife sighting was a first for them too – coyotes, wolves, black bears, moose, elk, and bison were just a few of the animals we saw (although we did hear a lot about the animals we needed to come and see back in Namibia!) Kayaking Jackson Lake was also a first in that many of our friends had never ridden in a boat of any kind, let alone a small two person kayak floating so close to the water. (There were many nervous questions about what could possibly eat you in a lake so large – I made sure everyone knew that alligators and hippos did not exist in the Tetons!) The last first I will mention is the American college football game that we attended on our last day together in Bozeman, Montana – the Bobcats versus the Lumberjacks. What an experience this was – from tailgating before the game to cheering the Cats on to victory, the excitement at this event was incomparable to any football game I’d ever been to before. Each and every first time activity left me grinning ear to ear – how neat to be able to share with these eager people America’s finest gems – it truly was a pleasure!
3. Sustainable tourism – walking the walk
When it comes to sustainable tourism, there are a lot of people and companies that talk the talk, but how many are really out there that walk the walk? Sustainable tourism is defined as tourism that can efficiently and effectively occur over the long term that benefits the environments, cultures, and economies of where it takes place. As a company dedicated to sustainable tourism (as Austin-Lehman’s efforts in our nonprofit organization Wheels of Change shows), we felt that this fam trip definitely took a step in the direction of sustainable tourism in providing our fellow Namibians with connections, practices, ideas, and learnings to bring home to their people and businesses. Not only did we share America’s practices, but we compared our uses of sustainable tourism with the Namibians’ conservancy model. In a nutshell, Namibians use a conservancy to set aside land to protect natural resources (such as the local wildlife, a watershed, or a historic area) while employing almost all local people, therefore improving the economic livelihoods of those benefitting from the conservancies (the locals!). We discussed many times how the idea of a conservancy could be used in America, especially on our Native American reservations. All in all, the discussions regarding sustainable tourism in our lands near and far brought about interesting conversations and ideas that could lead to better sustainable practices both in Namibia and America.
Overall, this trip opened my eyes to the Namibian culture and way of life. These special people really are gems in this world we live in, and to get to know one (let alone fourteen of them) is like inviting a brother or sister into your life. The fascination with our national parks and Native American reservations was evident in the questions asked throughout the trip. I couldn’t believe the number of “first times” we had for each activity we completed as a group, and just one of these experiences was extraordinary for these people let alone a whole list of them – I feel so lucky to have “relived” these firsts through fresh sets of eyes. Last of all, the ideas shared and connections made regarding sustainable tourism are sure to bring up some interesting questions and conversations that will last far beyond our time spent together in Montana and Wyoming. I can’t wait to see where this trip has led to when I visit Namibia for my very first time in 2013!!
If you’re anything like me, you’re getting a little bit tired of the constant heated, dry days of summer and are looking forward to some cooler weather to come. That’s right – autumn is almost here (don’t panic, there’s at least a whole month of summer left!) But now is the perfect time to plan that fall vacation; the kids are back in school, the crowds have dissipated in our natural areas, and the cooler temperatures of September and October are moving in. What better place to plan a vacation than Havasupai, an offshoot of the Grand Canyon!
Havasupai is the perfect destination for a vacation…after the summer months pass by. The peak months of the sunny season bring with it temperatures reaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Once autumn sneaks its way into the canyon, temperatures range from low 70’s to high 80’s throughout September and October. Since your first day in the canyon involves a 10 mile hike to your base camp (there’s also a horseback ride and helicopter option), this dry heat makes for the perfect hike in to your destination, just beyond the magnificent Havasu Falls. Since so many water activities abound on your Havasupai Adventure, it’s still warm enough at this time of year for water crossings, swimming, rope swinging, and waterfall jumping into the blue green waters of Havasu Creek, which maintains a temperature of about 70 degrees year round!
It’s not too late to plan autumn Arizona adventure vacations! Visiting Arizona during the months of September and October is a prime time to explore this region of red rock beauty. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and see Havasupai for yourself!
See you on the trails,
As a guide in Yellowstone National Park, it’s very important for myself as well as my guests to be able to tell the differences between a black bear and a grizzly bear. Why? In a bear encounter on a trail, you handle a grizzly bear differently than a black bear, and this handling can be the difference between a peaceful encounter and a more unpleasant experience. Read on to see if you came up with the same major differences between blacks and grizzlies that I did…
First of all, did you think that you could tell the difference between a black and a grizzly by the color and size? Well, maybe – but this doesn’t always work. Despite the “black” bear’s given name, it can actually range in color from blonde to black and everything in between. The same goes for a grizzly, which most people think of as being a brown bear. The size is also a good indicator of the species…sometimes. Grizzlies are usually bigger than black bears in their full grown state, but this isn’t always the case. I’ve seen some pretty huge black bears in my time in the Park! Let’s move on to discover the physical differences between a black and a grizzly.
The number one thing I look for first and foremost is the telltale hump between a grizzly bear’s shoulders. A black bear will not have that hump, but in comparison to a grizzly bear, it will appear to slump. And a black bear’s back end, or rump, will appear to be higher than its front end. When it comes down to it, I think to myself “Grizzly Bear = Hump, Black Bear = Rump”. You can imagine how the kids on our Yellowstone Family Adventure have fun with this word play!
Secondly, I look at the face/head of the bear. When looking at the bear from the side, you will notice that a black bear has a straight face profile while a grizzly has a dished face profile. Also, a grizzly has short, round ears while a black bear has taller, longer ears.
Last but not least, you can tell by a bear’s claws as to whether it’s a grizzly or a black. A grizzly’s long, light-colored claws are good for digging while a black bear’s short, dark claws are perfect for climbing trees. However, if you can tell which kind of bear you’re looking at by its claws, you are FAR too close to that bear for comfort! Always stay at least 100 yards (the length of a football field) away from any bear if you can help it. I always use “The Thumb Rule” with the kids on my trips. With a bear (or any wildlife) if you stick your arm straight out in front of you with your thumb up, your thumb should cover the entire bear which means you’re far enough away for safety. If the bear appears around the edges of your thumb, it’s time to slowly back up to get to a safer distance.
There you have it, a full list of physical characteristics for when you head out on your next Austin-Lehman Montana or Wyoming Adventure. Remember, you can’t always tell a grizzly and a black bear apart from their size and color, but you should be able to see the differences in the “hump” and “rump,” face profile, ears, and claws.
Your friendly bear-lover,
If you’re looking for a thrilling hike with amazing views of the surrounding landscape, look no further than Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. Formerly known as the Temple of Aeolous, this famous hike draws beginning and expert hikers for its challenging terrain, spectacular views, and ability to push hikers just a little bit above their normal comfort zone. Does this sound like fun to you? Read on!
Angel’s Landing is a rock formation standing at 1,208 feet tall, and it resides in Zion National Park in Utah. A trail was cut into the solid rock in 1926, and leads to the top of Angel’s Landing where jaw-dropping views await the hikers who take on its challenges. You will encounter “Walter’s Wiggles,” a set of 21 steep switchbacks as well as narrow paths with sharp drop-offs on the last half of the trail. For sections along the narrow parts of the trail, support chains anchored to the rock will help with your balance. The view at the top is worth the work it takes to get up there! This exciting and demanding hike will leave you reeling with want of more, and it won’t be a hike you will soon forget!
If this hike sounds like it’s right up your alley, then you’ll want to check out Austin-Lehman’s Zion tours. The combination of remarkable views, impressive trail work, and the feeling that you’re at the top of the world will make this hike an unforgettable journey. For hikes elsewhere in Bryce and Zion National Parks, you’ll want to check out our page on Utah Adventure Travel!
See you on the trails,
So you've never been to Zell am See, Austria? If you're anything like I was before my Austria Adventure, you wouldn't know what you were missing out on!
Zell am See is the host city of ALA's Austria Family Adventure. Getting into this town a day or two early will not disappoint (and will allow you to adjust to the significant time zone difference!) A very safe, somewhat touristy town, Zell am See provides a wide array of shops, restaurants and activities that the whole family can enjoy. After losing my luggage on my airline, there were plenty of shops to accommodate my needs in getting temporary replacement items such as clothing, shower items, and a phone charger. I also had the best (and biggest) burger ever at one of the local joints in town - yum! Everywhere is easy to walk to and many of the locals speak English, so you can feel confident exploring a foreign city on your own!
My favorite feature in Zell am See is the Zeller See, the lake smack in the middle of town. Sail boats, swimmers, paddle boats, and swans grace the waters, and with a backdrop of carpets of colorful flowers, the local ski resort, miniature chateaus complete with hanging flower baskets, and the towering Alps with snow capped peaks, the scenery is jaw-dropping gorgeous! Trails surrounding the lake allow you to walk from one section of town to another, although you won't want to walk the full 8 miles around the lake since that's your first day's bike ride!
This host city of our Austrian Family Adventure is a place to relax, acclimate, and have fun. Check out our other cycling tours for other exciting host city options. Getting into the host city of any ALA trip a few days early is a great idea not only to adjust to the time zone difference but also to explore a new city on your own without a guide (which can be an adventure in and of itself!) Get out on any ALA Adventure today to see what's out there!
Looking for the perfect vacation for you and your sweetie? Why not head over to the land of the red rocks on our Utah: Arches to Moab Adventure? From hiking and biking through looming, crimson rock formations to relaxing in a beautiful lodge overlooking the best rapids of the Colorado River, you can’t go wrong with this couples retreat!
Picture you and your significant other descending through the depths of the oldest rock formations in the Grand Canyon via raft! Though the Colorado River is quite chilly, a little splash from your paddle won’t hurt as the hot sun shines down on your back over the canyon rim. Prepare to get soaked as your raft careens through whitewater rapids again and again! What better way to put your adventure skills to the test than an excursion down the ole Colorado!
Take your honey’s hand as you weave in and out of the shadows created by the photographic Fisher Towers. Hiking to these unique sandstone formations will provide you with unmatched views of the Towers with a backdrop of the snow-capped La Sal range. The jaw-dropping views will leave you reeling with want for more of the same!
After long, fun days of biking along the Island to the Sky route or exploring the slick rocks of Moab via Hummer, you’re going to love the luxuries that Red Cliffs Lodge has to offer. Treating yourself to a hot stone massage or a short walk to the banks of the Colorado River will be welcome comforts after your big days of adventure! Make sure to grab a glass of wine and catch a sunset from the deck of the lodge – the colors are indescribable!
After all is said and done, you can’t go wrong with Utah as your future destination for your next couple’s retreat! You’ll experience the adventurous side of the red rocks and the romantic side of the Red Cliffs Lodge all bundled into one package for you and your other half. Take a look at all our Adventure Vacations for Couples and pick the one that fits the both of you best!
See you on the trails,
After guiding ALA’s Yellowstone-Tetons Adventure for ten weeks straight last summer, I feel that I have some insider knowledge as to why this trip is one of Austin-Lehman’s best products. Read on for some reasons why YOU should look into Yellowstone National Park Vacations with Austin-Lehman!
Many people all over the world want to see Yellowstone National Park, after all it is the world’s first national park and famous for its geothermal features, historic significance, and wildlife. BUT, why not take the trip down to Yellowstone’s neighboring Park which is just as amazing in its awe-inspiring scenery? As a guide, I can’t believe the number of people who visit Yellowstone each year only to skip the gem next door. If you’re going to come out west, take advantage of seeing two national parks in less than 100 miles of each other. You won’t regret it!
You will be amazed that neighboring national parks can look completely different from one another! Both have been sculpted in their own individual ways and possess their own reasons as to why they look completely opposite. Yellowstone was created by molten magma and an explosive past while the Tetons have uplifted (and the valley has “sunk”) due to major earthquakes over its history. Glaciers have bulldozed and sculpted the land in both parks for thousands of years creating an unforgettably beautiful landscape. Today we are lucky enough to continue witnessing history in the making in regards to geography (and you will see what I mean by this if you visit both Parks!)
You burned a ton of calories today! You just got done kayaking the clear, blue waters of Jackson Lake or biked the back trails behind the third largest hot spring in the world, Grand Prismatic. On this one trip, you will hike, bike, kayak, and raft your way to places like Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, Lake Yellowstone, Colter Bay, the Snake River, and Wilson to name a few. By the end of the day, you’re going to be hungry for a finger lickin’ good meal at a restaurant like Trio Bistro or Teton Pines. Make sure when you sit down for dessert in the dining room of the Old Faithful Inn, you order a Yellowstone Caldera for me! Yum!
If you haven’t been out West before, chances are you haven’t witnessed a true western rodeo. In Jackson, Wyoming you will see the best of the best – the cowboys who have been riding since they were old enough to walk and the cowgirls who can race around a set of barrels faster than you can say, “Yippie-Yi-Yay-Ki-Oh, Cowgirl!” All in all, the rodeo is a great time, a little cheesy yes, but a knee-slappin’ great time all the same! Bring your cowboy hat if you want to fit in with the crowd!
Alright, so maybe Yellowstone and the Tetons don’t have lions or tigers (except maybe the occasional mountain lion), but chances are high that you will see a bear sometime on your week long journey! Also keep an eye out for bison in Hayden Valley, elk near the Madison River, otters in Jackson Lake, and moose in the small town of Moose, WY. The diversity of wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is unmatched by any place in the continental U.S. and you can consider yourself privileged if you see one or more of the wildlife I mentioned above! A good pair of binoculars is something you will definitely use!
There you have it, my top reasons to look into Yellowstone tours with Austin-Lehman Adventures. Between the jaw-dropping scenery and the abundant wildlife, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons. The trips are selling out quickly, but we still have some availability in August – give me a call if you want to know more!
See you on the trails,
To help you get inspired to bike it up this summer, I thought I’d share with you some of my past biking adventures that you can experience yourself by jumping on one of our cycling tours in the Yellowstone-Tetons area! Here we go!
As the name implies, this bike ride is pretty darn flat which allows you to take in the scenery AND the wildlife as you coast around this back road in Grand Teton National Park. I’ve seen everything on this ride: moose, bison, pronghorn, fox, coyote – I can almost guarantee that you will see something if you keep your eyes on your surroundings (and the road of course!!) You might even run into a bison jam on the road itself! Your ride ends at the famous and historic T.A. Moulton Barn, so if you’re a photographer, bring your camera!!
Grand Prismatic Trail
This flat gravel trail takes you the “back way” around the third largest hot spring in the world! Your guides will take you to the absolute best spot to view this colorful hot spring that will leave you awed and amazed. Plus, you get to ride through an area that was burned in the Yellowstone fires of 1988. Now this section of burned area is a beautiful bright green, filled with lodgepole pines as far as the eye can see, with the occasional ghost tree still standing and charred from those fires of nearly 25 years ago!
Wilson-Teton Village Bike Path
Beginning in the sleepy town of Wilson at the base of the Teton Pass, you’ll cycle from the local park, past the little red school house to a bike trail that passes horse pastures filled with daisies and lupine. From this path, you get a pretty neat view of the ski hill as you bike to the base of the world-renowned Jackson Hole ski resort. Keep an eye out as you cross over the creeks – you just might glimpse a moose’s antlers peeking out from the willows.
Teton Bike Path
The town of Jackson and the nearby valley (Jackson Hole) are an absolute outdoor Mecca. To keep up with the region’s image of being the ultimate outdoor playground, construction crews are working every summer on improving the valley’s bike paths and extending them from the town and beyond. Cycling on one of these paths directly beneath the towering Tetons is something you will never forget. The mountain range will seem to shift as you move along, sending illusions through your mind. That mountain you thought was the Grand Teton might actually be Teewinot or Mt. Owen! Your ride takes you to Jenny Lake, where the water is so clear you can see the trout swimming in the sparkling depths.
If these bike rides sound tantalizing to you, then you will want to check out our Yellowstone Vacation Packages to plan your next trip! If anything, I hope I can inspire you to grab that old bike in the garage, pump up the air in the tires, and get out for a summer ride on the bike path nearest to you!
See you on the trails,
Continuing along with the theme of my past two blogs about Austin-Lehman’s Salkantay: Lodge to Lodge trek, I wanted to launch into how exactly we came to arrive at Machu Picchu and what we did to “see the site”.
I might mention that the most popular way to get into Machu Picchu (and I must admit, the most epic way) is to hike through the Sun Gate, giving you the best perspective overall of the city and views of the surrounding mountains. If you want to hike through the Sun Gate, you’ll want to check out our Peru: Machu Picchu program. But if you want a different view of Machu Picchu from the “back side,” then read on! I told you earlier that the last lodge we stayed in was the Lucma Lodge – from here, we hiked up 2,000 feet and back down 3,000 feet to the valley of the Urubamba River. On the way “down” we glimpsed our first view of the terraces of Machu Picchu from a southwest angle, and after hiking over 40 miles to get this view, it was one I will always remember. Once down at the base of the valley, we took the train to the small town of Aguas Calientes where we stayed at a beautiful property full of orchids and greenery called Inkaterra. The next morning was when we hopped on the bus to head up to Machu Picchu.
I will admit that this was my second time visiting Machu Picchu, and it was just as amazing and majestic as the first time. We arrived at the site around 8:00 in the morning (this is after the early morning crowds and before the midday crowds arrive) and got to explore the Inca stonework close up with relatively small crowds. Our guides told us that we are lucky to possibly be one of the last generations of people to actually walk in and around the ruins of Machu Picchu. Someday in the near future, there will be too much wear and tear on the ruins, and additional regulations will need to be put in place (limiting even further the number of people from 2,500 per day to much fewer or banning people altogether from the site only allowing people to look from a distance). Walking amongst the ruins of a lost civilization is nothing short of amazing, and learning about the mysteries of how Machu Picchu came to be and how the people lived will keep historians guessing forever. Machu Picchu was about 50% standing when first “rediscovered” by Hiram Bingam in 1911, but a lot of work has gone into reconstructing the site to its original glory. The reconstruction of the site is fairly well done and interesting to compare to the original Inca stonework!
I would recommend adding the climb/hike up Huayna Picchu to your visit to the Lost City to get an amazing view of Machu Picchu from a higher angle as well as pushing your limits of endurance. I write “climb” here because you are literally using all four limbs to make your way up the steps towards the top of the mountain. Only 400 people a day are allowed to hike Huayna Picchu, so make your reservations early, but I will tell you, it’s worth it! (I will also tell you, if you have a fear of heights, you might want to skip this activity). It takes about an hour to hike the steps up to the top and about an hour to get back down. The view from the top is one that many don’t see, but every step up is worth the climb. If you don’t want to push yourself as hard, I would recommend hiking from Machu Picchu to the Sun Gate to get a good overall view of the city. Either way, I think it’s important to see the layout of Machu Picchu from a higher angle to get an overall view of the Incans’ layout of the city – it’s nothing short of amazing!
To end my ramblings over Machu Picchu, I will say – go see this place for yourself. It’s definitely one of those places on everyone’s “bucket list” and who knows when the regulations will change next? The overall city, the stonework, and the story of the Incas is something everyone should see and experience. What better time than now!?
Viva El Peru,
In a follow up to my blog about Cusco, I have to tell you more about the actual reason why we went to Peru: we wanted to check out Austin-Lehman’s Lodge to Lodge trek – and let me tell you, this trek is an experience of a lifetime! The trek itself and the fabulous lodges you spend the night in along the way are operated by a Peruvian company called Mountain Lodges of Peru, and wow, they know good service like the back of their hand. I was constantly amazed at not only the scenery and the epic lodges, but the special touches our guides and the lodge staff threw our way around every bend! I’ll share with you a few key features of the journey, as you really need to experience this trek yourself to take in all the majesty of the Salkantay Trail.
First of all, the trek itself follows the Salkantay Trail forty one miles over the course of seven days from the small village of Marcocasa to the train station that takes you over to Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machu Picchu). A disclaimer here: in no way is this trek “easy.” In fact, it’s the most difficult trip that Austin-Lehman offers because of the altitude of the trek (anywhere from 6,500 to 15,000 feet) as well as the elevation gain and loss (usually around 1,500 – 3,000 feet up and/or down in one day). The mileage itself isn’t horribly difficult, it’s just those long downhills and uphills. But I’ll also mention that you won’t notice any of these hardships because your surroundings are so beautiful you can’t help but ooo and ahhh around every corner! On this trek, in just over 40 miles, you pass through more than 15 different ecosystems!! From barren mountainous valleys surrounded by snow-capped peaks to green, lush flower-covered cloud forests, the scenery seems to change in the blink of an eye. Really, you need to see it to believe it!
The lodges themselves (especially since they were in the middle of nowhere) were absolutely stunning. Blended in immaculately with their surroundings, each one was different and had its own unique personality. Salkantay Lodge on our first and second night of the trek, was our introduction to these amazing dwellings. The Jacuzzi (or YA-cuzzi as our guide called it) overlooking Salkantay Mountain was the epitome of relaxation, and the stargazing after dinner was incomparable to anything I’d ever seen before. Our second lodge, Wayra, sat in the midst of two completely different ecosystems and overlooked the wind-swept Humantay Peak. Our third lodge, Colpa, stood in the middle of a flourishing rainforest, overlooking the meeting point of four different valleys. And our last lodge, Lucma, sat amongst coffee and banana plantations, and avocado trees. Each lodge has only six rooms (except for Salkantay which has 12) so you feel completely isolated from civilization (although I might mention that we had Wifi access at every lodge!)
There were so many little things that made this trek the trip of a lifetime, but I don’t want to spoil any surprises for when you complete the Salkantay Trail on ALA’s Peru: Salkantay Lodge to Lodge trek. The whole point of this blog is to get you excited about the area and questioning if this sounds like the trip you’ve been searching for. If you want beautiful, long yet rewarding days of hiking mixed in with a bit of pampering at fabulous lodges, I highly recommend this trip. If you have any questions or want to know more about the Salkantay trek, don’t hesitate to contact me at 800-575-1540 – I have nothing but great things to say!
See you on the trails,