Wild Animal Encounters

Spotting critters is a big goal and a definite highlight of our Trans-Americas Journey and we’ve had some amazing wild animal encounters as we’ve traveled through The Americas. Back in 2010 we put together a list of our top wild animal encounters to that point which included grizzlies in Alaska, scarlet macaws in Mexico and (almost wild) jaguars in Belize. On the eve of Earth Day we thought it was high time we updated that list to include the whale sharks, resplendent quetzal birds, hammerheads, turtles and so much more that we’ve seen since.

Red eyed Tree frog Costa Rica

One of many red-eyed tree frogs that stared us down in Costa Rica.

See more of this adorable little guy and his other rainforest friends in our post from Rainforest Adventures in Costa Rica.

School of Hammerhead sharks

We were surrounded by hammerheads (and loved it) while scuba diving around Cocos Island in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of the Undersea Hunter Group.

Hammerheads were just the beginning of our underwater wild animal encounters. Get the full sharky story in our Cocos Island post.

Quetzal at Chelemha Cloud Forest Lodge

This male quetzal emerged from its nest inside a hollow tree trunk and posed for us on a nearby branch in the Chelemhá Cloud Forest Reserve in Guatemala.

Learn how you can visit this wonderful protected forest and lodge and bag your own quetzal sighting in our post from Chelemhá Cloud Forest Reserve in Guatemala.

Gentoo Penguins Port Lockroy Antarcica

Gentoo penguins proved they are even more adorable in person when we visited Antarctica.

We also sighted killer whales, chin strap penguins and crabeater seals in Antarctica. See them all in our photo-filled posts from Antarctica.

Swimming with Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Small snorkeler with massive whale shark in the waters between Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox off Cancun in Mexico where we also got in the water with these giants. Photo courtesy of Solo Buceo.

More whale shark details, including how to make sure sea sickness doesn’t ruin your encounter, are in our post about snorkeling with whale sharks near Cancun.

A herd of buffalo literally roamed through our campground in Badlands National Park.

Find out which campground and more in our Badlands National Park post.

Baby sea turtles El Salvador

We held life in the palms of our hands when we helped release baby olive ridley turtles near Barra de Santiago in El Salvador.

Watch these hatchlings scramble to the sea in our post from Barra de Santiago, El Slavador.

Black bear and cub Yellowstone National Park

A black bear and her cub explored downed trees in Yellowstone National Park.

See more bears and learn about the park’s wolf population too in our Yellowstone National Park post.

Hummingbirds - Giatemala

Hungry hummingbirds barely noticed we were there on a porch in Guatemala.

More amazing shots of these tiny stunners are in our photo essay of hummingbirds from Guatemala.

This young wolf seemed as curious about us as we were about it when our paths crossed on the Gunflint Trail in Minnesota.

See more in our Minnesota North Shore photo gallery. Read more in our Minnesota North Shore travel journals part 1 and part 2.

Harris Hawk Chucky - El Salvador Falconry

We had a wild animal encounter of a totally different kind when guide Roy Beers of Cadejo Adventures took us falconing with his Harris hawk, Chucky, in El Salvador.

Find out why hiking with a bird of prey is way cooler than normal hiking in our post about falconing in El Salvador.

A moose and her calf appeared around a bend during a hike in Grand Teton National Park.

See more in our Grand Teton National Park photo gallery.

We spent nearly an hour watching this female grizzly and her cub feast on blueberries in Denali National Park.

See more in our Denali National Park photo galleries – part 1, part 2, and part 3. Read more in our Denali National Park travel journals part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Muskox roamed the tundra on the North Slope in Alaska where we spotted them from a helicopter.

See more in our Deadhorse, Alaska photo gallery. Read more in our Deadhorse, Alaska travel journal.

This arctic fox already had its winter white coat on so it was easy to spot in the tundra of Alaska’s North Slope.

See more in our Dalton Highway photo gallery. Read more in our Dalton Highway travel journals part 1 and part 2.

Gray whales put on an impressive show for us in Baja.

We wandered among millions of migrating monarch butterflies near Valle de Bravo in Mexico.

See more from this epic annual migration in our monarch butterfly migration post.

Crocodiles of all sizes lazed near our boat as we traveled to La Tovara Springs in San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico.

See more in our San Blas, Mexico post.

Thousands of flamingos went about their strange pink business as we floated through the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve in Mexico’s Yucatan State.

There are plenty more flamingo antics in our Rio Lagartos post.

We failed to find the whale sharks we were looking for during some scuba diving trips in Belize but a pod of bottlenose dolphins found us.

Learn more about our search for whale sharks in our post from Hopkins, Belize.

This spider monkey was just hanging out near Chan Chich Lodge in Gallon Jug, Belize.

See more in our post from Northern Belize.

A keel-billed toucan stayed put long enough for us to capture its impossibly long beak at La Milpa Field Station in Belize.

More toucans (and pygmy owls and laughing falcons and many other species) can be seen in our post about the birds of Belize.

Jaguar belize

Full disclosure: Tikatoo is not a wild jaguar but she is the closest we’ve come so far to seeing this elusive big cat in the jungle.

For more beauty shots of Tikatoo at her rescue home at Banana Bank Lodge check out our post from Belmopan, Belize.

A clan of howler monkeys befriended us while we camped at Las Guacamayas in Chiapas, Mexico.

Learn how you can have your own howler encounter in our full Las Guacamayas post.

Wild scarlet macaws gorged themselves in a tree above our tent at Las Guacamayas in Chiapas.

Want your own face time with macaws? Check out our full Las Guacamayas post.

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One Million Eyeballs!

We can hardly believe it but we just reached 500,000 views of the 202 travel videos we’ve shot, edited and uploaded to our Trans-Americas Journey YouTube channel. That’s one million eyeballs!

As you know, Eric is a photographer, not a videographer, but in the summer of 2008 he was sent a Flip Video camera (now defunct) and started shooting an occasional video or two.

These days Eric shoots video using our GoPro camera and the video function on his compact Canon S95. Basically, we wanted to be able to enhance our travel blog posts with video since so much of what we do and see and eat and survive is best explained in moving pictures.

While none of our videos have gone viral (could use your help with that), we’re quite pleased that these videos have been viewed more than half a million times. Though Eric still does not consider himself a videographer even he admits that his videos have gotten better over time (the earliest videos were pretty rough around the edges). At least now he’s figured out the basics of Adobe Premiere to edit his footage into what he hopes are more watchable and entertaining little packages with graphics and everything.

To celebrate the unexpected success of our travel videos, here’s some of our favorite and notable footage.

 

Our most watched travel video is also a personal favorite (you can’t beat pint-sized dancing cowboys):

This video has been watched more than 49,000 times. It was shot in May of 2009 when we were invited to the annual fiestas in a town in Mexico called Union de Tula. Wandering from neighborhood party to neighborhood party we came upon the La Loma neighborhood, got handed an adult beverage and sat down to enjoy this little kid putting us all to shame on the dance floor.

 

The first travel video we ever uploaded to YouTube:

Nearly four years ago, on April 25, 2009, we were on Lake Chapala, near Guadalajara in Mexico with our dearly missed friends Tom, Iliana, Cristina and David. We were all enjoying the Red Bull Air Force, Red Bull’s world famous aerial acrobatics team as they did some awesome aerial ballet over the lake. Eric filmed a bunch of clips and uploaded some of those unedited clips that very night.

 

The first travel video we ever shot:

Shortly after receiving our first Flip Video camera we were traveling through the Southwest of the US and received a coveted permit to hike “The Wave” in the North Coyotte Buttes area of the Paria Canyon Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness area in Arizona. On October 28, 2008 Eric shot this “Walk through the Wave”. Sadly that first Flip Video camera didn’t have any kind of image stabilization and walking with the camera lead to a very shaky video. That said, it still conveys the awesomeness of that spectacular location and it’s been viewed more than 23,000 times.

 

Obligatory funny animal video:

No teasing ‘talking’ dogs with bacon or cat videos videos here. While Eric hasn’t videoed many animals (he’s usually too busy talking photos of them), in Northern Belize we came across this male ocellated turkey strutting his stuff. Really, still photos can’t do justice to this over-the-top display.

 

Another personal favorite:

This one is called Beetle Ballet and it has nothing to do with insects. Mexico’s famous silver mining town of Taxco is a Colonial classic built in the hills. In  addition to silver, it’s famous for wonderful architecture and some of the narrowest, steepest streets in the world. When we were there in September of 2010 it was also one of the few remaining towns in Mexico that still used old VW Beetles as taxis. This video shows how crazy these streets are, even for little cars like the VW Beetle. As you watch, imagine the shenanigans we went through to navigate our full-size truck through this town.

 

Our most recent travel video:

The most recent video we’ve uploaded comes from our great experience at this years Carnival in  Las Tablas, Panama. On Tuesday, the final evening of Carnival, the ladies dress up in the beautiful and very expensive national dress of Panama. It’s called a pollera and this video shows Polleras on Parade in the towns of La Villa de Los Santos, Santo Domingo and Las Tablas.

 

Our deepest travel video:

This video was shot during one of the coolest things we’ve ever done: riding a submersible down to 1,000 feet below the surface of the ocean while we were exploring Cocos Island in Costa Rica.

 

Famous folks caught on film:

We had press credentials which got us into Mexico City’s Zocalo (main square) for the gigantic bicentennial celebrations in 2010. Not only were we directly beneath President Calderone as he shouted the traditional “Grito, we were also beneath several other Mexican icons who were sharing the balconies of the Presidential Palace during the speech including one of Mexico’s most legendary singers, Vincente Fernandez, lucha libre wrestling star Santo Jr. and the (then) newly crowned Miss Universe, Mexico’s Ximena Navarrete.

 

Why time-lapse is our friend:

We’ve used time-lapse a bit–for example, to produce videos shot with our GoPro camera mounted in the windshield of our truck to show you our driving route each month by compressing all of our  driving into a 10 minute video that shows you Where We’ve Been. This video from the Panama Canal uses time-lapse to take you from the Atlantic to the Pacific through all six of the amazingly simple yet sublime locks of this engineering marvel.

 

Subscribe to our YouTube channel  and never miss another one of our travel videos from the road as our Trans-Americas Journey continues south to Tierra del Fuego.

 

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One Lucky Wolf – Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

We’ve been to Yellowstone National Park more than once but it’s an exciting arrival every time.  The park is enormous (Yellowstone is located primarily in Wyoming, but the park’s boundaries extend into parts of Montana and Idaho too) so there’s always a new nook or cranny to explore. Yellowstone is most famous for its thermal geysers and hot pools (think Old Faithful) but during a visit early in our Trans-Americas Journey we chose to focus on the west side of the park and the animal-rich Lamar Valley. As this iconic national park celebrates its 141st year (it was founded on March 1, 1872), here’s a look back at the Lamar Valley and the fortunes of one lucky wolf.

Bison in Lamar Valley - Yellowstone National Park

Bison roam the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Wolves on the rebound

As we entered the park (proudly flashing our annual National Parks Pass), a ranger told us that a pack of 11 wolves was being seen most mornings and evenings in the Lamar Valley. This was remarkable news given the fact that there were no wolves in Yellowstone in 1994. Wolves were reintroduced in 1995 and 1996 and park officials estimate there are now more than 300 wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

Flowers - Blacktail Plateau, Yellowstone National Park

Early summer wildflowers in Yellowstone National Park.

Wolves rebounded enough to be taken off the endangered species list a couple of years ago prompting the passage of a law legalizing hunting near park boundaries. Ranchers believe it’s necessary to keep wolf numbers low to prevent them from killing their livestock. However, in December of 2012, an alfa female known as 832F or Rock Star, which had been collared by Yellowstone researchers, was shot and killed when she wandered outside the park’s boundaries. Eight collared wolves from Yellowstone were among dozens of wolves shot near Yellowstone in 2012 and Montana has temporarily revoked the right to hunt them.

Bison Buffalo - Yellowstone National Park

While we didn’t see the packs of wolves that we were hoping for we did see plenty of these guys in the Lamar Valley area of Yellowstone National Park.

Meet the wolf geeks of Yellowstone

Even though we were visiting Yellowstone during peak tourist season we found a camp site at the Pebble Creek Campground less than half a mile from where the wolves had been rendezvousing regularly.

Black Bear Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

A black bear on the move through the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park.

Black Bear - Yellowstone National Park

A black bear in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

With camp set up and evening approaching we drove down the road to see what we could see. Almost immediately we spotted three bison and a black bear all happily eating away in their own separate areas of the Lamar Valley. Then we joined a group of vehicles parked along the road that runs along the valley and watched as drivers began setting up obviously expensive spotting scopes. Yellowstone’s wolf geeks had arrived.

One of them told us he’d been camped in the park for a month doing precious little besides watching wolves. Over the years, these wolf geeks have even become an important part of the park’s own wolf monitoring efforts by sharing sightings and other information with rangers and naturalists.

Joining the pack

They were just as willing to share their knowledge and their scopes with us. It turned out that the ranger at the entrance had the facts slightly wrong. There had been a pack of wolves in the valley but the group had moved off a day or two earlier leaving behind a pup. What the obviously concerned wolf geeks were hoping for was a sighting or a yelp to prove that the abandoned pup was still alive. We waited with them, straining our eyes and ears but none of us saw or heard anything. With hope fading and spirits dropping faster than the sun, we returned to camp. The next day we heard that the pup showed himself, briefly, about 20 minutes after we left, but he was still alone and still in a tremendous amount of danger.

 A lone abandoned pup

Worried about the wolf pup left behind by its pack, we got up at 5:15 and parked on the Lamar Valley road hoping for a sighting. The wolf geeks were there too and they told us that we’d just missed an amazing rescue. As the wolf geeks looked on through high powered scopes and slightly dewy eyes, a pair of female wolves returned to the Lamar Valley and collected the abandoned pup, which was now out of danger, but probably grounded for wandering away and scaring his mother like that.

Black bear and cub Yellowstone National Park

Seeing a wild bear is always exciting but the addition of a cub made this duo special.

With wolf worries off our minds, we had another stunning day in Yellowstone, sighting a black bear with a cub, our very first grizzly in the wild–way off across the valley on a hillside–and many, many elk.

Lower Yellowstone Falls and Canyon

Lower Yellowstone Falls tumbles through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park.

Lower Yellowstone Falls

Lower Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone  National Park in Wyoming.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone National Park

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park cuts an impressive course through the landscape.

As we meandered out of the park we stopped at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and watched a bald eagle shade and fan her chicks with her enormous, elegant wings. It looked like she was doing ballet while perched high above the raging river.

Turquise pool hot springs Yellowstone National Park

The color and clarity of the geothermally-heated water in this natural pool in Yellowstone National Park is tempting but this is no Jacuzzi.

And, of course, we couldn’t resist a return visit to a few of the park’s amazing thermal formations which deposit minerals that make some of the land yellow, giving the park its name.

Colorful Hot Springs - Yellowstone National Park

Minerals in geothermally-heated water from deep inside the earth cause intense discoloration including the yellow tint for which Yellowstone National Park is named.

Mammoth Hot Springs formations - Yellowstone National Park

Mammoth Hot Springs formations and discoloration caused by centuries of mineral deposits left behind by tumbling water.

Mammoth Hot Springs - Yellowstone National Park

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.

Boling mud pit hot springs Yellowstone National Park

Boiling mud pots are part of the geothermal features for which Yellowstone National Park is famous.

Read more about travel to US National Parks & Monuments

 

 

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Putting 450 Horses Under the Hood – Corvette Assembly Plant, Bowling Green, Kentucky

One of the most enduring and iconic cars ever produced in the United States was debuted in 1953 at the awesomely-named General Motors Motorama. It soon became the car of choice for the likes of James Dean and Karen’s dad. This year, the Chevrolet Corvette celebrates it’s 60th anniversary. To mark the occasion Chevrolet just debuted the new 2014 C7 Corvette at the Detroit Auto Show. Our tribute takes you inside the Corvette Assembly Plant and National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky which we visited early in our Trans-Americas Journey to see how they get all those horses under the hood (and much more).

National Corvette Museum - Original 1953 Corvette

General Motors premiered the original Corvette (pictured above) in 1953. Only 300 of them were ever made and they were all white and sold for a base price of $3,498. One of these originals just sold at auction for $445,500.

 

Inside the Corvette Club: don’t forget your “mutilation prevention kit”

We expected the tour to be mired in all kinds of dull safety-first rules and regulations, but apart from the “mutilation prevention kit” that we are handed prior to take off (this turns out to be pieces of fabric that cover your watch, rings, etc and they’re meant to prevent mutilation of the cars, not of you), the tour (US$7) took us shockingly close to the action. Nothing was behind glass, the workers weren’t swathed in hazmat suits, various work stations had radios playing classic rock. It felt like a club full of friends who occasionally get together to build cars when they feel like it.

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - body/drive-train assembly

Putting the body on the drive train inside the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Okay, there are a few rules at the 1 million square foot (10,763,910 square meter) plant where every Corvette has been made since 1981. You have to wear closed toe shoes (NO sandals) and you can’t bring in cameras, backpacks, purses, fanny packs or electronic devices including cell phones, camera phones, or walkie-talkies.

Luckily, Eric was allowed to bring his camera into the plant where we saw (and photographed) everything from neatly stacked rows of exhaust systems to workers checking every inch of paint under special, super-bright lights to the monsoon room where every car is bombarded with water to make sure all the seals are properly sealed to the lady who gets to carefully put the Corvette logo on the hoods.

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - engines

A few thousand horses stacked up in engines waiting to be put into brand new Corvettes.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - assembly line doors

Doors on the assembly line inside the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - corvette body assembly

Body assembly workers doing their thing at the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - corvette assembly line

They may not be strictly hand made anymore but a lot of human touch goes into crafting every Corvette.

Every Corvette is made to order and a surprising amount of the work appears to be done by hand (no robots in sight), which is part of the reason why, we were told, it takes 32 hours to make just one car. For the truly obsessed, Chevrolet has a program that gives new Corvette buyers a VIP tour of the factory during which they get to watch their car in the final stages of being built.

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - corvette assembly line

It’s a Corvette Merry-go-Round as finished cars move through the assembly facility.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - applying corvette emblem

We wanted her job! This lady puts the Corvette insignia onto finished vehicles.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - dynamo testing

A new Corvette being put through its paces during dynamo testing.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - quality testing

Bright lights and plenty of mirrors aid in the final inspection of the paint and finish of a Corvette.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - new corvettes off the assembly line

New Corvettes waiting for their new owners at the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

 

Don’t touch the Corvettes

If you’re a true Corvette lover (or happen to be the daughter of one), your next stop needs to be the National Corvette Museum ($10 adults, $8 seniors, $5 under 16) just down the road from the factory. This is where you can see around 70 vintage Corvettes—most of them owned by General Motors. The rest are loaned from private owners or owned by the museum.

Corvettes lined up and showing off in front of the National Corvette Museum

Vintage ‘vettes lined up in front of the National Corvette Museum next to the assembly plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

 

Corvettes Only parking in front of the National Corvette Museum

Checkered flag paint marks the Corvettes-Only parking area at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

If you’re really, REALLY lucky you can even pick up your Corvette here as dozens of do each month We settled on a visit to the gift shop where you can pick up less pricey pieces of Corvette-ness like coffee mugs covered in Corvette logos, race car red nail polish, even cookies (and cookie cutters) in the shape of a Corvette.

1959 Corvette - National Corvette Museum, Bowling Green

A 1959 Corvette pulls up to a 1959 gas station in one of the displays inside the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

 

TIP

At the time of writing (January 2013) the Corvette Assembly Plant was temporarily closed as they began production of the 2014 model. Check the plant’s website to see when it will re-open to the public. 

Little Red Corvette in front of the National Corvette Museum

A little red Corvette in front of the National Corvette Museum.

 

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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2012 – Best Adventures & Activities

This post is part 2 of 4 in the series Best of 2012

Welcome to Part 1 in our Best Of the Trans-Americas Journey 2012 series of posts. Part 1 is all about the Best Adventures & Activities from the past year on the road including SCUBA diving with hammerhead sharks in Costa Rica and perfecting the art of doing nothing on a (nearly) deserted beach in Panama. Part 2 covers the Best Food & Beverages of 2012 and Part 3 covers the Best Hotels of the year.

Yes, end of year round-ups can be lame. On the other hand, they can also be a valuable chance for us to look back on the year that was and remember just how damn lucky we are. Done right, an end of year round-up can also be a quick and easy way for you to get the best tips, tricks and truths that made our Trans-Americas Journey travels so special in 2012. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll hit the road yourself in 2013 (or 2014, no pressure).

First, a few relevant stats:

In 2012 the Trans-Americas Journey…

…thoroughly explored Nicaragua, Costa Rica and northern Panama

…drove 8,349 miles

…spent $2,608 on fuel

…made seven overland border crossings

We did manage to spend some time outside of our truck doing and seeing exciting things. In no particular order, here are the…

Best adventures & activities of 2012

Best adventure of the year: SCUBA diving with dozens of sharks including scalloped hammerheads, tiger sharks, reef sharks and all kinds of rays with Undersea Hunter off Cocos Island in Costa  Rica. Find out more about this adventure and what it feels like to be 100 feet (33 meters) underwater surrounded by sharks in the Cocos Island feature we did for the Sunday travel section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

SCUBA diving with Hammerhead sharks - Cocos Island

A hammerhead making a quick underwater u-turn as it spots Eric clinging to a rock while diving in the waters around Cocos Island, Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Rodrigo Roesch de Bedout.

Best extreme tubing: There’s a reason they give you a life vest, helmet and elbow guards when you go tubing with Blue River Resort & Hot Springs at the base of Rincon de la Vieja Volcano in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. This trip down the Rio Azul (which really is an incredible shade of blue) is no lazy float. Best to think of it as white water rafting without the raft.

Best (nearly) deserted beach bumming: Playa Bluff on Isla Colon in the Bocas del Toro region of Panama (below) will take your breath away with truly golden sand (and not the icky sticky kind), Caribbean blue water, shockingly powerful waves, chairs and hammocks and just a handful of visitors. Add in the recently opened Playa Bluff Lodge directly opposite the beach with US$1.50 icy cold Panama beers, a restaurant and even stylish rooms (US$95 including breakfast) and it’s really, really hard to leave. Totally worth the 5.5 mile (9 km) bike or taxi ride from Bocas town.

Playa Bluff on Isla Colon in the Bocas del Toro

Best all-around rafting trip: The Pacuare River in Costa Rica is a glorious combination of peaceful floats (ample time to appreciate the densely-jungled riverbanks and steep hillsides) punctuated with plenty of white-knuckle moments over exciting stretches of white water. Book your Pacuare River rafting trip with RiosTropicales and your time off the river is just as spectacular thanks to an amazingly rustic yet comfy river lodge they’ve built for their guests.

Best adventure we never thought we’d have: While SCUBA diving with sharks around Cocos Island we got an unexpected bonus with the chance to dive to 300 feet below the surface of the ocean in Undersea Hunter’s DeepSee submersible. You know how they say it’s another world down there? They’re right.

DeepSee submarine under the surface - Cocos Island

Best perseverance-pays-off animal encounter: We’ve been trying to see whale sharks for years and either our timing is all wrong for spotting these seasonal giants or our timing is right but our luck sucks, as was the case when we spent three days diving at the right time in the right place in Belize but we still didn’t see a single whale shark. This is why we returned to Mexico for three days in 2012 just to try to see whale sharks. And it worked. Not only did we finally get in the water with whales sharks we snorkeled around with more than 100 of the giants as they cruised by feeding on plankton with their VW-Beetle-swallowing mouths agape.

Swimming with Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Best swimming hole: Ojo de Agua on Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua where two bucks gets you access to chairs, tables, benches, hammocks and sun or shade (you choose) around roomy, crystal clear, refreshingly cold, spring-fed pools. The bottoms have been left natural but the sides have been built up in stone and concrete to create depth. There’s even a rope swing and a few enterprising vendors selling snacks and cold beer.

Best adventure activity we’d never heard of: Topless Sport Fishing in Costa Rica. And, no, we didn’t do it.

Find out which one of these adventures made the 25 Epic Adventures by Travel Bloggers in 2012 list as compiled by TravelingCanuck.com.

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Rock Show – Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef National Park in Utah was founded on December 18, 1971. On the 41st anniversary of the park’s founding, here are some Parkiversary travel memories from our most recent road trip visit to Capitol Reef where we were reminded just how gloriously varied the rock show is in this part of the United States.

Capitol reef National Park sign

Fittingly, the sign for Capitol Reef National Park is made from some of the area’s stunning rock.

 

Capitol reef National Park, Utah

Rocks in a pleasing palette of shapes and colors are the hallmark of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

 

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah red rock Country

Different types of rocks mix and mingle in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah creating a unique natural beauty.

Capitol Reef National Park really does have a reef

The main attraction (and namesake) of Capitol Reef National Park is an enormous spine of sandstone that acts like a barrier, or reef which is what olde timey travelers called any geographical barrier that got in their way.

Capitol Reef, Utah

This section of undulating rock forms part of the “reef” from which Capitol Reef National Park gets its name.

 

Capitol reef National Park scenic highway 12

Our truck dwarfed by yet another breathtaking rock formation in Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park.

 

Capitol reef National Park scenic highway 12

Part of Scenic Highway 12–one of the most beautiful stretches of road in this part of the United States and a great way to access Capitol Reef National Park.

As we drove through the park we were amazed at how the rocky terrain changed like neighborhoods in a city—now red Navajo sandstone walls, now beige flat stretches, now pure white pitted pillars, now grey sandy humps.

Sometimes the changes snuck up on us in gradual stages as we drove. Sometimes the change was sudden, like someone flipped a geological switch and the backdrop around us flipped to something totally different.

Capitol reef National Park

Different types of rocks mix and mingle in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah creating a unique natural beauty.

 

Capitol reef National Park

Different types of rocks mix and mingle in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah creating a unique natural beauty.

Go ahead and pick the fruit

The park is home to the remnants of cabins, schools and farms left behind by the area’s first white settlers who managed to find a way into the region. Weirdly, park visitors are allowed to pick the fruit that the settler’s old orchards still produce each season.

There was no fruit around when we visited so we focused on the park’s scenic drive along a mostly paved road past pockmarked sandstone formations, side canyons and run offs. The road saves the really dramatic scenery for the last unpaved miles and then dead-ends at Capitol Gorge, a pass through the imposing sandstone walls which Native American tribes and early settlers used like a road.

Beware of the chukars

The walls of Capitol Gorge still hold onto Indian petroglyphs and inscriptions from settlers who passed through in 1911. The gorge is also home to some more recent arrivals: strange birds called chukars that look like enormous quail but without the floppy head piece and with a hooked magenta beak and magenta colored legs.

Inscriptions from settlers passing through Capitol reef National Park in 1911

Inscriptions from settlers passing through the area of Utah now known as Capital Reef National Park in 1911 can still be seen.

We know all of that because the things are nearly tame. As we walked through the gorge a flock of a half dozen chukars walked right up to us, like dogs, and when we sat down on the ground they happily pecked and scratched all around us. We were charmed until a ranger told us that the chukars are an invasive species that’s slowly but surely pushing the native quail out.

Invasive Chukar Partridge in Capitol reef National Park, Utah

Do not be fooled by the charming friendliness of the chukars in Capitol Reef National Park. They are an invasive species that’s slowly wiping out the indigenous quail.

 TIP

Scenic Highway 12 is one of the most, well, scenic stretches of road in this part of the United States and a fantastic way to access Capitol Reef National Park. Just drive it.

 

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