Archive for September, 2009

National Parks Sans Crowds

September 24, 2009

Alaskan brown bear/Katmai National Park

Alaskan brown bear looking for lunch/Katmai National Park

Don’t know about anybody else, but I’m looking forward to this weekend’s premiere of Ken Burns’ latest documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

The six-part series, which starts this Sunday night on PBS stations everywhere, was filmed over the course of six years in wildly diverse locations ranging from the seemingly endless river of grass that is the Florida Everglades to the frozen fjords of Alaska.  Along the way Burns and writer/producer Dayton Duncan chronicle the birth and development of the uniquely American notion that these extraordinary places—now totaling 58 national parks and 333 national monuments and historic sites—should be preserved and protected for future generations to enjoy.

The downside, of course, is that many of this country’s most impressive national parks have become victims of their own popularity.  But we’ve found a few unique ways to leave the crowds of tourists behind at four of these national treasures:

Katmai National Park

Sorry, but watching an Alaskan brown bear on television—even if it’s in a Ken Burns documentary—just can’t do these magnificent creatures justice.  To see what I mean, sign yourself up for one of these amazing bear-viewing expeditions.

Canyonlands National Park

While I haven’t been to every national park, I have been to quite a few.  And this rugged landscape in southern Utah remains my favorite.  See it up-close-and-personal on these backcountry four-wheel drive tours.

Everglades National Park

If you’ve spent any time in south Florida, you may be find it hard to believe that there’s any wilderness left here.  Which is precisely what makes these airboat tours so remarkable.  The fact that they use a smaller airboat that can get into places those huge propeller-driven barges other operators use just sweetens the deal.

Grand Canyon National Park

Anyone who’s ever stood on the rim of the Grand canyon has wondered what the view would be like from the bottom looking up.  Find out on these helicopter flights that land you on the banks of the Colorado River.

Shark Season

September 17, 2009

"I think we're going to need a bigger boat."

"We're going to need a bigger boat."

Remember the scene in the movie Jaws where beachgoers ran screaming from the water’s edge when someone spotted the movie’s toothy star (no, not Roy Scheider) in the waters off the fictional Amity Island?  Well, call me crazy, but I had exactly the opposite reaction last week when I heard several great white sharks had been seen cruising the waters around Cape Cod.

You see, I’m one of those people who’d go way out of my way to see a great white in the wild.  If you’re similarly inclined, you might want to check out the one-day shark diving trips to California’s Farallon Islands or five-day expeditions to Baja’s Isla Guadalupe offered by Great White Adventures.  Fall is prime-time for seeing great whites in these two areas, as the 15-foot eating machines come to feed on the seals that congregate on these remote rocky outcroppings.

If these up-close-and-personal shark encounters seem a little too, ummm, up-close for you, you might want to head to the Monterey Bay Aquarium where they’ve just introduced the fifth in a series of juvenile great whites into their million-gallon Outer Bay exhibit.  But don’t delay if you’re hoping to get a look at one of only a handful of these rare creatures ever put on public display, as this sleek five-foot female will likely be released back into the open ocean before the turn of the year.

Top 9 Tales Never Told

September 9, 2009
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Champagne Toast at the Bottom of the Grand Canyon

Given the fact that today’s date—9/9/09—is kind of unique, I thought I ought to mark the occasion by doing something equally unusual here.

Which got me to thinking that, while I’ve written about more than 30 of my most extraordinary experiences on the pages of XTRORD.com, I’ve had a number of equally cool once-in-a-lifetime adventures over the years that I’ve yet to share here.

With that in mind, I thought I’d give you a quick look at nine of my favorite extraordinary experience tales never told:

Airship Venture’s Zeppelin Flights

Cruising serenely 1,000 feet above San Francisco Bay landmarks like the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz aboard one of only three zeppelins on the planet makes these hour-long sightseeing flights über cool.

Utah Olympic Park Bobsled Rides

They bill this Park City, UT experience as “the most intense minute of your life” and, let me tell you, they’re not exaggerating.  An amazing experience, but best suited for adrenaline junkies.

Ride The Wind Airboat Adventures

Airboat rides are a dime a dozen in the Everglades, but Captain Randy’s operation is different. From using a smaller custom-designed airboat that can take you places those other barges can’t go to the chance to actually take the controls yourself, this is the only way to fly through the fabled River of Grass.

4-Wheeling America Backcountry Tours

Want to get way off the beaten path and explore all those breathtakingly beautiful wild places the average tourist will never see?  My friend Bill Burke—one of the world’s foremost 4WD trainers and backcountry guides—is the guy to see.

Riding In A Mardi Gras Parade

Everyone knows being in the crowd at a Mardi Gras parade can be great fun.  But joining the star-studded Krewe of Orpheus to be in the parade, well, that takes the experience to a whole ‘nother level.

Sundance Helicopters Grand Canyon Picnic

Long to stand on the floor of the Grand Canyon but not up for making the grueling hike?  I felt the same way until I discovered these way-fun flights that land you 3,500 feet below the rim for a champagne picnic .

Sea Quest Kayaking Orca Watching Tours

Paddling a sea kayak and whale-watching tours are both fun outings, even if they are a little generic.  But put the two together with a pod of killer whales off the coast of Washington’s scenic San Juan Islands and you’ll have something to tell the grandkids about.

Astronomers Inn

On most trips, your day is pretty well done by the time you head back to your room for the night.  Not here, as the owners of this southern Arizona B&B open up their in-house observatory where your personal astronomer will take you on a guided tour of the galaxy.

Jim Hall Kart Racing School

While other racing schools may look sexier, I can tell you from personal experience that you’ll learn more true racing technique—and have way more fun—tearing up the track with Jim Hall and his instructors

Rock Band, Only For Real

September 2, 2009

Some songs are timeless. Like, oh, say the entire Beatles catalog, for example.  Which makes next Wednesday a big day, for reasons that go beyond the numerology implications of its unique 09/09/09 date.

beatles_wideweb__470x420,2First, it’s the day the folks at Capitol/EMI release the first digitally-remastered versions of all 12 of the Beatles studio albums in 22 years.  A team of engineers at London’s Abbey Road Studios spent four years reworking the albums using a combination of the latest technology and vintage equipment to create what promises to be unparalleled sound quality that faithfully reproduces the original analog recordings.

Not coincidentally, next Wednesday also marks the long anticipated release of The Beatles: Rock Band for Xbox 360, PlayStation3, and Nintendo Wii video game consoles.  The game offers more than three dozen vintage Beatles tunes and a number of interesting new features, along with optional add-ons like copies of the Fab Four’s classic instruments.

While all this sounds like great fun, allow me to restate one of our guiding principles here at XTRORD.com:  Reality kicks virtual reality’s butt any dayWhich is why I’d recommend that those of you looking to have an authentic rock band experience check out the programs put on by Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp which pair rocker-wannabes with a wide range of genuine rock star “counselors.”FOTO 11-A

Of all my extraordinary experiences, playing with Kip Winger’s band in front of a sold-out crowd at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium remains one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done.  It also proves that—like the Rock Band video game—limited musical ability is no excuse not to get up there and perform!