Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Birdwatching Bonanza: How To Add 800 Species To Your Life List In One Trip

April 27, 2010

If you’re one of the millions of serious birders in North America, sooner or later you’ll find yourself running out of new indigenous species to add to your life list.  When you reach that point, you’ll want to check out the mind-boggling array of global birdwatching expeditions put on by the nice folks at Birdquest.

birdwatching tour birding life listThis 30-year-old British operation offers tours to just about any exotic birdwatching destination you can imagine, and a few you probably can’t (seriously, how many people do you know who’ve been birding in Djibouti?).  They bill their outings as “The Ultimate In Bird Tours” and, with regularly scheduled expeditions to all seven continents, it’s hard to argue that point.

Birdquest’s worldwide network of tour leaders include leading field ornithologists, professional bird artists, and authors of well-respected field guides for several prime birding destinations. This expertise generates impressive results for their guests, who often go home with hundreds of new additions to their life lists.

If you consider yourself a truly hardcore birder, however, you’ll want to check out Birdquest’s World Record Bird Tours.  On an upcoming “megaquest” to Kenya, for example, they hope to break their own record of spotting an amazing 835 species in one trip.  Wow.

Add encounters with a variety of non-feathered friends from polar bears to Sumatran tigers, and you have wildlife expeditions that definitely qualify for the title of extraordinary experiences.

MORE EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES:

Feathered Friends: Vermont’s British School Of Falconry

Bush Planes & Brown Bears: Get Up-Close-And-Personal With Alaskan Grizzlies

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Extraordinary Ecotourism: How To Make This An Earth Day To Remember

April 21, 2010

earth day ecotourism adventuresSitting here on the eve of Earth Day’s 40th anniversary, I know you’re already being bombarded with endless suggestions on how to mark the occasion, from local Earth Day celebrations designed to raise awareness of the planet’s plight to simple environmentally-friendly lifestyle changes you can make to show Mother Nature some love.  Unfortunately, based on prior experience, I also know that most of our friends and neighbors are likely to have forgotten all about the subject by this time next week.

Which is why I’m suggesting that you spend just a few minutes on this Earth Day considering a handful of once-in-a-lifetime adventures that offer the opportunity to feel like you’re really giving something back to the natural world.  There are any number of organizations that could use your help with ongoing research projects based in some of the most fascinating—and, in many cases, drop-dead gorgeous—spots on the globe.  The fact that these ecotourism expeditions also qualify as truly extraordinary experiences you’ll be talking about for years to come, well, that’s just a bonus.

To point you in the right direction, here’s a look at two reputable operations that offer a wide range of ecotourism adventures you’re bound to find both rewarding and fun:

Earthwatch Institute

Founded in 1971, this international non-profit organization pairs volunteers with scientific field researchers working on wildlife conservation and related projects.  They offer a broad array of intriguing hands-on programs, ranging from helping Peruvian ecologists study pink dolphins in the Amazon jungle to working to reduce the decline of cheetah populations in Namibia.

Responsible Travel

As one of the first companies to promote the idea of environmentally-friendly travel, this decade-old operation offers one-stop shopping for literally thousands of remarkable ecotourism programs.  With this many offerings to choose from, there’s a good chance you’ll find something of interest, from observing whale sharks in the Seychelles to doing population surveys of elephants in South Africa’s Tembe National Park.

MORE EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES:

Bush Planes and Brown Bears

Thailand’s Tiger Temple

Hot Lead & Lipstick: Becoming An Outdoors-Woman Weekends

March 10, 2010

While I’m open to all kinds of once-in-a-lifetime adventures, there are some I’m just not physically cut out for.  Like these Becoming An Outdoors-Woman weekends, for example.  Fortunately we were able to persuade special correspondent Christina Newton to attend a recent two-day B.O.W. program and bring us this report:

Becoming An Outdoors-WomanLooking down the barrel of my 20-gauge shotgun, I track the fluorescent-orange disc streaking across the blue California sky.  Without hesitation I pull the trigger and—BLAMO!—the four-inch clay target is blown to smithereens.  As my classmates erupt in a spontaneous round of applause, all I can think is  “Dang, this is fun!”

You might wonder what an ordinary minivan-driving mother is doing here pumping these harmless skeet-shooting targets full of hot lead.  Actually, it was the promise of  just this kind of extraordinary experience that drew my friend Karen and I to this Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (B.O.W.) weekend.

These two-and-a-half-day sampler programs, which are held at locations throughout the U.S., are designed to introduce women of all ages and backgrounds to a wide variety of traditionally male-dominated outdoor sports.  Our B.O.W. weekend’s menu of available classes included everything from backcountry navigation using GPS and topographical maps to Dutch-oven cooking.

In fact, the most difficult part of the entire program was choosing which outdoor activities we wanted to try.  Ultimately, we ended up signing up for workshops that seemed like they’d be the biggest stretch for a couple of big-city girls.Becoming An Outdoors Woman

Like our archery class, for instance, where we got to enjoy the satisfying “thwap” as our arrows hit the target, even if they weren’t exactly bullseyes.  Or an introduction to fly-fishing session where, suited up in full gear, I waded into the river and landed my first leaf.  Or the twilight kayak paddle where we got to watch the full moon rise over the Sierra Nevada mountains.

By the time we got to the skeet shooting range Sunday morning, I really felt like I was beginning to get the hang of this outdoors-woman thing. At least until I reached into my pocket for a shotgun shell and ended up trying to slip my lipstick into the gun’s open chamber!

MORE COOL EXPERIENCES:

In A Tight Spot: Wild Cave Tours Offer Glimpse Into Hidden Underground World

Welcome To The Jungle: These Survival Classes Include Lots Of Tasty Grub(s)

Amazing Astronomy: Three Extraordinary Stargazing Experiences

February 15, 2010

Galileo Galilei Astronomy

Galileo Galilei

While wandering around aimlessly online last night, I discovered that today is the 446th birthday of Galileo Galilei, the guy widely considered to be the father of modern astronomy.  Which got me to thinking about some of the amazing stargazing experiences I’ve had over the years.

My all-time favorite has to be the weekend we spent at Benson, Arizona’s Astronomers Inn.  This four-room bed-and-breakfast located an hour southeast of Tucson isn’t much to look at.  But its amenities—including an in-house observatory where your own personal astronomer will roll back the roof and take you on an eye-opening tour of the galaxy using one of their eight telescopes—made for one of the most memorable nights I’ve spent in any property anywhere.

Then there’s a program at the nearby Kitt Peak Observatory that sure to be an unforgetable once-in-a-lifetime experience for anyone who’s ever looked up at the night sky with a sense of wonder.  Along with its more modest public stargazing sessions, the observatory—which sports the largest collection of optical research telescopes in the world—offers an Advanced Observing Program that allows a limited number of visitors to view and photograph deep space objects through a telescope that would make a professional astronomer drool.  Note that these sessions fills up fast, so don’t delay if you’re interested.

Kitt Peak Observatory

Photo of M51 galaxy taken by visitor in Kitt Peak's Advanced Observing Program

Finally, there’s a lot to be said for just laying on your back gazing up at a night sky so dark the stars look like the aftermath of a powdered sugar donut binge on the dark blue suit of the universe.  And for such low-tech stargazing it’s hard to beat southeastern Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument, a spot so ideal it was designated as the world’s first International Dark Sky Park.

Spend some time at any of these places and chances are you’ll be thinking “Galileo, eat your heart out!”

If you’ve had an amazing stargazing experience, tell us about it via the Leave A Comment link below.

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Kennedy Space Center: Shuttle Launch Experiences For Astro-Nots

Welcome To The Jungle: These Survival Classes Include Lots Of Tasty Grub(s)

January 30, 2010

Wilderness survival schools

Looking for lunch in all the wrong places!

While searching out and reporting on novel once-in-a-lifetime adventures is both my passion and my profession, there are honestly some experiences I’m all too happy to leave to someone else.

Like my friend and fellow travel writer Bob Howells, for example, who decided it might be fun to spend a week learning traditional survival skills from a native guide in the depths of the Amazon jungle.  The results were equal parts amazing and amusing as the hero of our story, equipped with little more than a machete and a smile, slowly came to understand what the brochure actually meant when it promised “rustic accommodations and lots of tasty grubs” (see for yourself at SnagFilms.com).

While you and I may never find ourselves eating wriggling larvae in a Peruvian rainforest, I’m convinced anyone who likes to venture very far off the beaten path would be wise to learn a few basic wilderness survival skills.  If you’re up for the challenge of learning to live off the land, the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) can take you into that uncharted territory both literally and figuratively.

The school’s motto is “Know more, carry less,” and that’s just what you’ll do as you and your instructors head off into the southern Utah outback packing nothing more than a blanket, poncho, water bottle and knife.  You can choose from hard-core BOSS Field Courses that last from one to four weeks, somewhat less physically-demanding Explorer Courses, or a wide range of Skills Courses designed to teach you everything from fire-starting sans matches to traditional hunter/gather techniques.

Though your adventure will be anything but cushy—BOSS says participants frequently lose up to 30 pounds during their month-long Field Course—that may be a small price to pay for a truly extraordinary experience that leaves you feeling you’re ready to handle anything Mother Nature throws your way.

Related Experiences:

Mud, Sweat & Gears

In A Tight Spot

Want Your Share Of The New California Gold Rush?

January 23, 2010

Extraordinary Experience: Gold Panning Adventure

Panning for gold in Woods Creek

There are certain moments in history I would love to have been present at.  Not the least of which is the frosty morning of January 24, 1848 when carpenter James Marshall found those first few gold nuggets just downstream from the sawmill he was building on American River.

That’s because it was this chance discovery that started the California Gold Rush.  An event that quite literally made the Golden State what it is today.

But you probably knew that already, didn’t you? Well here’s something you might not know:  There’s still plenty of gold in the cold, clear creeks of those Sierra Nevada foothills, just sitting there waiting for someone to take it home.  And with gold prices at record highs, there’s no better time to go out and get your share.

Whether you decide to make your search for the shiny flakes a leisurely family outing or a serious full-time pursuit, the folks at Gold Prospecting Adventures in the tiny village of Jamestown, California can set you up with all the tools and instruction you need.  But one word of caution based on personal experience: Once you see those first flakes show up in the bottom of your pan, you’re liable to get a little excited.  And it’s this sense of exhilaration that I’ve found gives new meaning to the term gold rush!

More Extraordinary Experiences:

Gem Hunting In San Diego

Sasquatch Sightings

January 15, 2010

Is it just me, or have there been a lot more Bigfoot sightings lately? From starring roles in television commercials to this guy who thought it’d be funny to don his Sasquatch suit and startle a few unsuspecting hikers, it seems like the legendary ape-man is getting more media exposure than he’s seen in decades.

While this famous footage definitely set the hook in me back in 1967, I’m not ready to declare that bigfoot exists.  That said, I’ve also spent enough time in remote corners of this country to believe there are still plenty of places where the big hairy lout could be hiding.

And it’s that sense of possibility that makes the expeditions put on by the Bigfoot Field Researchers Association sound like such fun.  The organization runs dozens of outings each year and, despite the fact that the group has limited the slots available to outsiders for 2010, it’s still possible to earn a place on the team if you can bring some useful skills to the effort.

If you do get to tag along, there’s obviously no guarantee you’ll spot one of these elusive creatures in the wild.  Even so, I’m told enough participants have reported seeing, hearing, and smelling things that can’t be rationally explained to make me want to add one of these trips to my list of extraordinary experiences.

Related Experiences:

Less mysterious wildlife encounters

North America Bigfoot Search

These Volcano Tours Will Have You Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

January 11, 2010

Volcano ToursWhile I don’t necessarily consider myself a thrill-seeker, I can’t deny that I occasionally find myself irresistably drawn to certain experiences that have at least some element of danger to them.

This character flaw may help explain why reading a short blurb on Volcano Awareness Month in Hawaii immediately sent me scurrying off to find out how I could live out my dream of getting up-close-and-personal with an active volcano.  Which is how I found the folks at Volcano Discovery, a group of trained volcanologists who organize tours to some of the world’s most active eruption zones.

If this sounds like fun to you too, you’ll find a complete list of their upcoming tours here.  Me, I’ll be trying to figure out how I can clear my schedule to go on their 26-day Round The World Volcano Tour this spring!

Related Experiences:

While You’re In Hawaii: Goofy Foot Surf School

Ten For ’10: New Year, New Experiences

January 1, 2010

While other media outlets have been busy looking back at 2009, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks planning some of the great new feature stories I’ll be bringing you in the year ahead.

Now before we go any further, understand that the list below is by no means complete.  In fact, if my math is correct, you can look forward to reading about more than 100 truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventures both here and on the pages of XTRORD.com in the next 12 months.

That said, here’s a quick preview of what I expect to be our 10 coolest extraordinary experience stories for 2010 (click on the links to see previous posts):

Throw Me Something!

I’ll show you how to go from being a spectator to a participant at one of New Orleans’ glitziest and most star-studded Mardi Gras parades.

Olympic Bobsled

If watching the Winter Olympics on TV this February isn’t exciting enough, I’ll tell you about a place where you can experience one of the event’s wildest rides for yourself.

Stand Up Comedy School

Like making people laugh?  Me too.  Whether the five-minutes of stand-up schtick that caps off my comedy school experience will bring down the house or whether I’ll die on stage, well, that remains to be seen.

Machine Gun Shootout

First off, let me say I’m no gun nut.  But attending an event where I can spend the day safely shooting off all manner of machine guns definitely sounds like an extraordinary experience.

Storm-Chasing Tours

Growing up in Ohio, I saw first-hand the devastation tornadoes can leave in their wake.  Even so, I still plan on getting as close as possible to the planet’s most violent weather phenomenon next spring.

CompetiTours

I like to think of myself as a creative guy and a pretty savvy traveler with good problem-solving skills.  Which is why I’m dying to try my hand at this recreational version of the hit TV show The Amazing Race.

Burning Man

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a big believer in the idea that different is good and very different is even better.  Which makes this week-long freak show (and I mean that in a good way) in the Nevada desert something I’ve just got to experience.

Ghost Hunting

Not sure I believe in ghosts, but I’m definitely open to the possibility.  If that sounds like you, I’ll fill you in on how you can join a group of serious paranormal investigators on one of their outings.

Shark Diving

Shark diving

Even though my wife rolls her eyes every time it comes on cable TV, Jaws is still one of my all-time favorite movies.  So I figure this is the year I need to follow in RoyScheider’s footsteps and finally meet a great white shark face-to-face.

Polar Bear Safari

On a recent behind-the-scenes tour of SeaWorld/San Diego’s WildArctic display, I got an up-close look at a gigantic polar bear—11 feet tall on his hind legs— behind a thick pane of glass.  Now I want to see these magnificent creatures in the wild before they’re gone.

The One Creature Every Animal Lover Must Meet

December 10, 2009

Everyone thinks of Florida as all warm and sunny, all the time.  And while that’s largely true, the nights around the sleepy coastal town of Crystal River can get downright nippy this time of year.  Which is exactly why the next few months are such a great time of year to visit, especially if you’re an animal lover.

You see, those chilly evenings make the many warm springs around King’s Bay a magnet for manatees.  Because sea cows can’t take the cold any better than I can, they return from their daily foraging to spend the night here in waters as clear as any swimming pool.

Which is where my friends at Bird’s Underwater come in.  Owner Bill Oestrich and his crew run three-hour manatee snorkeling tours that let you get some quality face-time—and I’m speaking literally here—with one of the sweetest wild animals you could ever want to meet.

Now, I’m not normally prone to gushing about cute and cuddly animals, but I’ve done this several times now and have found swimming among these remarkable creatures to be one of my all-time favorite extraordinary experiencesRead the story of my first manatee encounter on XTRORD.com and you’ll see what I mean.