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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 – Best Adventures & Activities

This post is part 1 of 4 in the series Best of 2015

Welcome to Part 1 in our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 series of posts. Part 1 is all about the Best Adventures & Activities of the past year of travel on our little road trip through the Americas including cruising the Amazon River in Peru (in luxury and in a hammock), playing with gunpowder in a bar in Colombia and sky biking through the treetops in Ecuador (don’t miss our Amazon drone footage). Part 2 covers the Best Food & Beverages of 2015, Part 3 covers the Best Hotels of the year and Part 4 tells you all about our Travel Gear of the Year.

In 2015, the Trans-Americas Journey explored Colombia, Ecuador and Peru and we drove 7,210 miles (11,603 km) doing it. Want more geeky road trip numbers like how much money we’ve spent on gas and how many borders we’ve driven over? Check out the Trip Facts & Figures page on our website.

And now, in no particular order, here are the…

10 Best Adventures & Activities of 2015

 

Best walk through the tree tops: It’s more than a third of a mile (500 meters) long and up to 115 feet (35 meters) above the ground. It sways and creaks as it connects more than a dozen different platforms. It’s supported by enormous rain forest trees and there’s nothing else like it in the Peruvian Amazon basin. We’re talking about the Ceiba Tops Canopy Walkway at Explorama Lodge from which you can see toucans, tree frogs, monkeys and more all at eye level. Check out our Amazon drone footage from above the Canopy Walkway, above.

 

Caceria del Zorro horse race - Ibarra, Ecuador

Best insane horse race: Every October the town of Ibarra in northern Ecuador hosts a race that includes hundreds of horses and riders who parade around town, then leap down a series of steep cliffs (see above) before taking part in a track race in pursuit of a rider dressed as Zorro. Yes, that Zorro. It is breathtaking in more ways than one. Learn more about the annual Caceria del Zorro in our story about Ecuador’s craziest horse race for Afar.

 

Cock-of-Rock

Best cock sighting: The national bird of Peru is called the Cock of the Rock. It is a crazy looking thing, but not how you’re thinking (check it out, above). It’s also pretty rare and seeing one is not a guarantee. Seeing five in one day without a guide is pretty extraordinary, but that’s exactly what happened when we hiked the trail to the Gocta Waterfall in northern Peru. Just after reaching the 4km mark on the 5km trail we heard a really weird noise–like alien frogs. We stopped and looked around and soon saw a bright red flash in the rain forest. We hung around and looked and listened some more and then we saw three male Cock of the Rocks in the same tree just off the trail. They hung around for more than five minutes before flying off. On our way back out we saw another Cock of the Rock alone in a tree around the 3km trail marker. Our advice is to keep your eyes and your ears open on this trail. And even if you don’t see any Cock of the Rocks the waterfall is worth is. At 2,530 feet (771 meters) Gocta Waterfall is one of the tallest free-falling waterfalls in the world.

 

Amazon Ferry Iquitos Peru Hammock

Best bare bones Amazon River trip: At an average up river speed of less than 10 miles (15 km) per hour, it takes more than three days to travel up the Amazon River by cargo ferry from Iquitos to Yurimaguas, Peru (you can hack off a day or so going downstream in the other direction). We slept on the deck in hammocks (Karen is demonstrating, above), spent a lot of hours spotting blue and yellow macaws and pink river dolphins with our binoculars and generally slowed down to river time. It was like taking a multi-day trip on the Mississippi but with rarer wildlife.

 

Aria Amazon river boat - Iquitos, Peru

Best super luxe Amazon River trip: On the extreme other end of the Peruvian Amazon River Trip experience scale you will find the Aria Amazon river boat. This floating luxury hotel and fine dining restaurant lived up to the substantial hype with some of the best food we’ve had in Peru so far (the menu was created by Executive Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino who runs the award-winning Malabar restaurant in Lima), exceptional service, chic rooms with floor to ceiling windows, great guides and, of course, all that Amazon. Did we mention the air conditioning and the hot tub?

 

Playin Tejo - Salento, Colombia

Best explosive bar game: It’s called tejo and it involves a heavy metal disc (called a tejo) which you toss underhand toward an angled board covered in wet clay. Your goal is to hit pieces of paper stuffed with gun powder which are arranged around a metal ring pressed into the clay. You know you’re doing it right when the reaction between your tossed tejo, the gun powder and the metal ring causes an explosion. We played it in the otherwise tranquil mountain town of Salento, Colombia at the Los Amigos bar where they have a massive open air tejo area set up in the back. Pay 1,000 COP (about US$0.40) per person, grab a cold beer for 3,000 COP (about US$1.00), choose one of the half dozen or so tejo set ups and start tossing. You earn one point for the tejo which lands closest to ring. You get three points for an explosion. You get six points for landing in the center of the metal ring and causing an explosion. You get nine points for landing in center of metal ring without causing an explosion. The first person who racks up 25 points first wins. Though Karen hates loud noises, she somehow won anyway. Check out her winning form, above.

 

Masphi Eco Lodge sky baike jungle canopy

Best place to bicycle through the air: Masphi Eco Lodge in Ecuador is remarkable for a number of reasons, including top luxury deep in the rain forest and breathtaking architecture. Mashpi is also home to the only sky bike in the country. What is a sky bike? It’s an ingenious contraption that allows you to pedal your way across a taught line high above the ground (above). Think of it as horizontal zip lining on a bike. At Mashpi they’ve installed their sky bike through a particularly lovely patch of cloud forest and a leisurely round trip between two platforms gives sky bikers eye level views of the tree tops and the flowers and critters that live there.

 

 

Best death road: There are two ways to travel between Macoa to Pasto in Colombia: via a normal highway or via something called the Trampoline of Death. Guess which one we chose…To assuage her nerves, Karen crushed the pre-drive to do list. Water bottles were filled. Tire pressure was checked. The oil level was monitored. We were ready for the steep grades, blind corners, narrow stretches where two vehicles can’t possibly pass, potholes, rock slides and whatever else something called the Trampoline of Death might have in store. What we weren’t ready for was a recently graded surface, helpful safety signs and guardrails. Guardrails? We still had fun on the road and it is still challenging and requires even more concentration then usual, but the moral of this adventure is: don’t judge a road by its nickname. Check out the time lapse video from our death road drive, above.

 

Animals of Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Ecuador

Best Amazon adventure destination in Ecuador: Ecuador is blessed with a number of different areas from which travelers can access the Amazon Basin. We spent weeks exploring the Amazon along the Napo River out of a town called Coca which is the most popular gateway. Then we visited the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in the Amazon Basin and it blew our minds. The waterways in the Cuyabeno area of Ecuador are much smaller and they flood and recede throughout the year. There are also far fewer lodging options in the Cuyabeno area then there are along the Napo which means fewer humans. This means the animals are more common and much easier to see. In three days we saw pink river dolphins, the smallest monkey in the world (the pygmy marmoset), huge tracts of primary rainforest, toucans, a pygmy potoo (look it up) and more. We saw so many animals we had to make a wildlife montage for you, above. Lodges in the Cuyabeno area of the Amazon Basin are fairly basic with varying degrees of electricity, hot water, etc. We recommend Tapir Lodge where the food is great, the solar and generator electricity is reliable and the private rooms are clean and comfortable. The biggest asset at Tapir Lodge is Kurt the owner. He is passionate about his slice of paradise and works hard to make sure his guests fall in love with it too.

 

Kuelap Fortress archaeological site - Chachapoyas, Peru

Best first Incan archaeological site: During the course of our Trans-Americas Journey we’ve explored more than 100 archaeological sites through the US, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. None of them have been Incan sites, however, until we crossed into Peru and headed straight for the Kuelap Fortress, which is actually a pre-Incan site that was built by the Chachapoyas people in 1500s. The massive stone wall that encloses this site is nearly 2,000 feet (600 meters) long by nearly 400 feet (119 meters) wide. In places the wall is 62 feet (19 meters) high (check it out, above). Kuelap held thousands of people at it’s peak in distinctive round stone houses with thatch roofs. Despite its name, some archaeologists believe that Kuelap probably wasn’t a fortress at all but more of a sacred area used for ceremonies and rituals. Visiting Keulap is about to get even more adventurous. In late 2015 work began on a massive cable car system, the first in Peru, which will transport visitors from the village of Tingo Nuevo to the Kuelap site covering 2.5 miles (4 km) and rising more than 2,400 feet (730 meters) in 20 minutes. The new Kuelap cable car is expected to be finished in 2017.

Read more about travel in Colombia

Read more about travel in Ecuador

Read more about travel in Peru

 

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Photo Essay: Colombia’s Caño Cristales “Liquid Rainbow” River

Located in the vast and rarely visited Los Llanos area in Colombia, Caño Cristales has been called the river of five colors and the liquid rainbow. It’s also been called the most beautiful river in the world. We’ve seen a lot of rivers on our Trans-Americas Journey and we’re inclined to agree. It’s not easy to reach and, until the mid 2000s, wasn’t even open to tourism because of FARC activity. Those who do make it to the small town of La Macarena, the gateway for Caño Cristales, between June and November are rewarded with a natural spectacle not seen anywhere else in the world as rare and delicate water plants explode with color, flooding the already lovely river with red, blue, green, orange and yellow hues. Shades of red and green are most common, as you will see in our photo essay.

Cano-Cristales_Colombia IMG_2961 Liquid-rainbow-cano-Cristales-Colombia River-of-Five-Colors_-Macarena-Colombia Cano-Cristales_Macarena-Meta-Colombia Cano-Cristales-color-river IMG_3279 Cano-Cristales-Waterfall Cano-Cristales-rainbow-river IMG_3135 cano-Cristales-multicolored-river Cano-Cristales-plants Macarenia-clavigera Colombia-colored-River_Cano-Cristales

 

Check out this feature we did for BBC Travel for more about travel to Caño Cristales including how to get there, local legends, awesome community tourism and just a touch of science.

 

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Get Our Favorite Sunscreen for FREE

We’ve used KINeSYS sunscreen since day one of our little road trip (that’s nearly eight years and counting) and except for a handful of times when we’ve neglected to apply it, this sunscreen has kept us sunburn free as we’ve traveled through and explored the (very sunny) Americas. Now you can get our favorite sunscreen for free in our latest tried and true travel product giveaway, just in time for winter escapes and daydreaming about summer.

We’re a tough crowd when it comes to sunscreen

The thing about sunscreen is that it only works if you use it and you’ll only use it if you want to use it. For us, that rules out goopy, oily, globby creams that sting our eyes or cake up on our skin or stay sticky all day long. Ick. It also rules out anything that’s got harmful stuff in it or dumps harmful stuff into the environment.

Kinesys sunscreens

 

When we discovered KINeSYS, the company with the funny name and the serious sunscreen, we were sold.

  • PABA free (PABA can cause allergic reactions and may increase cellular UV damage)
  • paraben free (some studies have shown that paraben can irritate skin, raise the risk of breast cancer, wreak havoc on estrogen levels and maybe even increase skin aging due to sun exposure)
  • oil free and totally non-greasy
  • preservative free
  • alcohol free
  • super water-and-sweat-resistant
  • fast-absorbing
  • super even coverage, even on hairy skin, thanks to the micro-mist pump spray
  • some are fragrance free so Eric doesn’t end up smelling like a Hawaiian Tropic girl
  • the non-aerosol pump spray doesn’t harm the environment with fluorocarbons or waste a lot of product in an aerosol mega mist or explode in your checked luggage
  • ergonomically designed bottles are easy to hold and allow you to use the bottle upside down in order to cover hard-to-reach areas like the backs of your knees
  • the gentle formula doesn’t sting Karen’s sensitive eyes
  • the company’s Earth Kind policies include bottles that are totally recyclable, no ingredients that accumulate in the body or the environment, vegetable-based ink used for printed materials and they get 100% of their electricity from wind power
  • their products are not tested on animals

We’ve relied on our KINeSYS sunscreen to keep us safe in the sun every single day but especially when we’re doing stuff like snorkeling with whale sharks in Mexico, hiking through the jungle to El Mirador archaeological site in Guatemala, diving in Belize or exploring the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador where we’re returning in December, armed to the teeth with KINeSYS.

Asing Kinesys sunscreen ion the Galapagos Islands

During our first Galapagos trip we were the only people on the boat who actually liked their sunscreen (that’s Karen, above, re-applying in the Galapagos next to some new friends who were cooling off in a tidal pool). Not surprisingly, we were also among the few people on the boat who didn’t get sunburned during island hikes and snorkeling trips.

Enter to win our favorite sunscreen for FREE

We’re giving away 12 four-ounce bottles of KINeSYS fragrance-free SPF 30 sunscreen spray (a US$18.99 value each). To get yours, input your email in the entry form below so we can notify you if you win.

Start by liking the Trans-Americas Journey Facebook page and the KINeSYS Facebook page, then earn a separate entry for each of the following actions done through the entry form below:

  • Send out a pre-written Tweet about the giveaway
  • Follow the Trans-Americas Journey on Twitter
  • Follow KINeSYS on Twitter
  • Share and like this travel blog post

Some entries can be repeated once every day, so come back for more chances to win.

The contest ends on December 26, 2014 at 5:00 pm eastern time and winners will be chosen at random. Winners will be notified via email shortly after that. Entries of each winner will be confirmed before prizes are awarded.
NOTE: Anyone can enter, but bottles can ONLY be shipped to winners with addresses within the continental USA (sorry Alaska and Hawaii).

 

If the entry form is not loading properly you can also ENTER HERE.

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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2013 – Best Adventures & Activities

This post is part 2 of 4 in the series Best of 2013

Welcome to Part 1 in our Best Of the Trans-Americas Journey 2013 series. Part 1 is all about the Best Adventures & Activities we enjoyed during the past year of travels on our little road trip through the Americas including SCUBA diving in Panama with a man named Herbie Sunk (true story), some truly adventurous jungle horseback riding in Costa Rica and paragliding over one of Colombia’s largest canyons. Part 2 covers the Best Food & Beverages of 2013 and Part 3 covers the Best Hotels of the year.

First, a few relevant road trip stats: In 2013 the Trans-Americas Journey spent time exploring Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador through which we drove 8,546 miles (13,753 kms) spending US$2,400 on fuel and crossing four overland borders.

Now, in no particular order, here are the…

Best adventures & activities of 2013

Best thing we tried for the very first time: Paragliding really is the best way to appreciate Colombia’s Chicamocha Canyon which is one of the largest in the world. When Parapente Chicamocha (parapente is the Spanish word for paragliding) offered to take us up, up and away we said yes. Quickly. Before “I hate heights” Karen could change her mind. We arrived at the launch site with owner Sergio and a team of wing wranglers and pilots then stood around and watched  the birds waiting for them to catch thermals so we could too. Then we ran of the top of the hill (well, Karen dragged her feet a bit) and the thermals took us up a few thousand feet above the canyon floor. We spent about half an hour rising, circling, dropping and rising again over the canyon. Eric says the view was great. Karen never had her eyes open long enough to really appreciate it and her forearms are still sore from the death grip she had on her harness.

Eric took our GoPro up with him and our video, below, shows the gorgeous scenery and the thrill of flying during our paragliding adventure above Chicamocha Canyon in Colombia. Don’t miss the acrobatics Eric goes through just before landing…

Best controversial tour: Like many Colombians we struggle to find a middle ground between Pablo Escobar fascination and Pablo Escobar revulsion. When we got an assignment to write an SATW award-winning piece about Pablo Escobar tourism in Colombia for the awesome travel/food/sports/world journalism site RoadsandKingdoms.com we booked one of the half-dozen or so Pablo Escobar Tours offered in Medellin, Colombia. We’re still struggling to find a healthy middle ground when it comes to this narco terrorist (pictured below during a rare and short-lived stint in jail), but taking the controversial Pablo Escobar tour helped a little bit thanks to a guide willing to share personal stories and his own struggles with Escobar’s legacy.

Selling Pablo Escobar - Roads 7 Kingdoms & Slate magazine

Best SCUBA diving: The water around Panama’s Coiba National Park (which used  to be a penal colony and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is full of rocky formations and sea mounts which attract the big stuff like sharks and rays. We spent two days SCUBA diving in the area with Herbie Sunk (real name) who is the owner of Scuba Coiba based out of Santa Catalina. There was lots of current and not much viz when we were there (March) but we still had a ball and even in the less-than-perfect conditions we could appreciate these unique dive sites. On the surface we saw dolphins, leaping mobula rays, bobbing turtles and even a whale shark.

SCUBA diving with Manta Rays - Coiba National Park, Panama

Best horseback riding: If you’re gonna call it “Adventure Horseback Riding” and charge US$60 for 2.5 hours you’d better deliver. Selva Bananito Eco Lodge & Preserve on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica did just that with super sure footed horses, varied and challenging terrain and even a boa constrictor sighting (there she is, below). This is not a ride for beginners, as we found out one heart-pounding, thrill-packed, fabulous afternoon.

Boa Constrictor - Selva Bananito Eco Lodge, Costa Rica

Best nearly deserted wind sport beach: Cabo de la Vela in the Guajira peninsula of northern Colombia is hard to reach and hot as hell but it’s also one of the best places in the region for wind sports as our traveling companion at the time, an avid kiteboarder who travels with not one but two kites, verified. As we sought the shade on shore he spent hours in the water (that’s him kiting, below) and raved about the consistently kiteable winds and the often deserted water.

Guajira Kite Surfing -  Cabo de la Vela, Colombia

Best white knuckle landing: Any time you get into a small plane you know that take off and landing are going to be extra exciting. Still, we weren’t quite prepared for the fly-straight-at-the-mountain-bank-hard-then-drop-straight-down-onto-the-“runway” landing that the pilot of our Air Panama flight artfully made into the dinky, waterside Playon Chico airstrip in Panama. The extra gray hairs were worth it, however, since this is the only way you can get to Yandup Island Lodge where we learned a lot about the area’s Kuna people, the largest indigenous group in the country.

Fasten your seat belts, stow your tray tables and check out this epic landing in our video, below.

Best festival: We attended/survived our first Carnaval (aka Carnival) in 2013 and while annual celebrations in Rio and New Orleans hog all the limelight we’re here to tell you that the festivities in Las Tablas, Panama hold their own with gorgeous, dueling, foul-mouthed Carnaval Queens, relentless water cannons during the day and fireworks that approach the noise, mayhem, and danger levels of a combat zone at night.  Go inside the madness of this five-day non-stop mega-party in our series of posts about Carnaval 2013 in Las Tablas, Panama.

Calle Abajo queen pollera carnival Tuesday night

Best border crossing adventure: Going from Panama to Colombia (or vice versa) may be the most difficult overland border crossing in Latin America. Shipping our truck from Panama to Colombia was an adventure in and of itself. This border crossing also lead to an enjoyable adventure when we got on board a sailboat and spent five days sailing through the postcard-perfect San Blas Islands (below) from Panama to Cartagena, Colombia where we reunited with our truck. Blue, blue water. White, white sand. Dolphin escorts. Even our open-water passage into Cartagena went pretty smoothly.

Sail San Blas Islands, Panama aboard MS Independence

Best difference of opinion: You can choose to explore the Panama Canal on a small tourist boat during a partial transit trip, which takes five hours and travels through three of the six locks, or during a full transit trip, which takes more than eight hours and gets you through all six locks traveling from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean (or vice versa). ONE of us had his heart set on the full transit from ocean to ocean. The other one of us spent the day wondering when the boat ride and subsequent interminable bus ride back to Panama City would end. Adventure really is in the eye of the adventurer. One man’s awesome day is another woman’s hostage crisis.

Our adventure/hostage crisis on the Pacific Queen booked through Adventure Life resulted in one awesome time lapse travel video, below, that will take you from ocean to ocean through the Panama Canal in just 10 minutes.

Best milestone: 2013 was also the year that finally entered the Southern Hemisphere when we crossed the equator in Ecuador as the photo of our Garmin GPS, below, proves.

0 latitude - Crossing the Equator - Equador

 

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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.

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The Birds! – Belize

With huge tracts of protected forest and jungle and more than 400 species of birds that either live in or pass through these areas it’s almost impossible not to turn into a bird watcher while you’re traveling in Belize.

Karen Birdwatching at La Milpa Field Station where we saw 50 different species of birds we’d never seen before in just two days.

During our nearly three months in Belize we saw hundreds of species we’d never seen before in stunning natural places like Chan Chich Lodge and La Milpa Field Station in the vast Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area. That’s where we met guide and naturalist Vladimir and dubbed him the bird ninja. Then there’s Lamanai Outpost Lodge and the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Some birds simply appeared by the side of the road.

We saw the flashy colors of trogans and aracaris and the shimmery, orange-dotted get-up of the ocellated turkey. We learned to recognize the frog-like call of the toucan, marveled at the near-perfect camouflage of the great potoo (which still looks just like a tree limb even after you know it’s there) and tried and tried and tried to see a harpy eagle in the wild.

 A few of our favorite birds of Belize

 

Orange-breasted Falcon, birds of Belize

A rare orange-breasted falcon.

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Birds of Belize

A ferruginous pygmy owl.

Collared Aracari, birds of Belize

A pair of collared aracaris.

Toucan, birds of Belize

A toucan spotted at La Milpa Field Station in Belize.

Lineated Woodpecker, birds of Belize

A lineated woodpecker.

Great Egret, birds of Belize

A great egret.

Ocellated Turkey, birds of Belize

An ocellated turkey on the grounds of Chan Chich Lodge in Belize.

Pygmy Kingfisher, birds of Belize

A pygmy kingfisher tucks in for the night near the Lamanai archaeological site in Belize.

Black-headed Trogan, birds of Belize

A black-headed trogan seen in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize.

Laughing Falcon, birds of Belize

A laughing falcon along a rural road in southern Belize.

Black-collared Hawk, Birds of Belize

A black-collared hawk heads out to hunt near the Lamanai archaeological site in Belize.

Violaceous Trogan, birds of Belize

A violaceous trogan spotted in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize.

Slaty tailed Trogon, birds of Belize

A slaty-tailed trogon in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize.

Red-footed Booby, birds of Belize

A red-footed booby and fledgling on Half Moon Caye Natural Monument in Belize.

White-necked Jacobin (hummingbird), birds of Belize

A white-necked jacobin (hummingbird) in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize.

Tiger Heron, birds of Belize

A tiger heron in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize.

Great Potoo adult + juvenile, birds of Belize

Look close. There are two great potoos (an adult and a juvenile) sitting on that branch.

Yucatan Nightjar, birds of Belize

Yucatan nightjars nest on the ground where they practically disappear into the foliage.

Roadside Hawk, birds of Belize

An aptly-named roadside hawk on the grounds of Hidden Valley Inn in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in Belize.

Osprey Eagle, birds of Belize

An osprey eagle spotted in Belize.

Magnificent Frigatebird, birds of Belize

Magnificent frigatebirds (these are courting on Half Moon Caye Natural Monument) have a seven foot wingspan and can stay in the air for weeks.

An orange oriole, birds of Belize

An orange oriole seen from the epic bird watching platform built 100 feet up a ceiba tree at Jungle Camp, part of Belize Lodge & Excursions.

Boat-billed Heron, birds of Belize

A boat-billed heron along the river that runs through the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize.

Northern Jacana, birds of Belize

A northern jacana seen near the Lamanai archaeological site in Belize.

Great Blue Heron, birds of Belize

A great blue heron seen near the Lamanai archaeological site in Belize.

Harpy Eagle, Birds of Belize

We’d hoped to see an endangered harpy eagle in the wild while in Belize but we had to settle for this one in the Belize Zoo.

Crested Guan, birds of Belize

A crested guan in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize.

 Wood Stork - Birds at Crooked Tree wildlife sanctuary, Belize

Wetlands in the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary attract enormous wood storks (with the black heads), herons, egrets, cormorants and other water birds.

Chestnut-headed Oropendola, birds of Belize

A chestnut-headed oropendola.

King Vulture, birds of Belize

A group of rare king vultures way off in the distance on land owned and preserved by the Hidden Valley Inn in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in Belize.

Ornate Hawk-Eagle, birds of Belize

An ornate hawk-eagle in deep jungle.

 

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