Grand Canyon had a fee free weekend

Every time I think about the Grand Canyon, my mind is flooded with intense photographic memories from my first and only visit to the destination.

I was touring with my now defunct band in the summer of 2006. As you likely know, it’s tough to make it as a musician–particularly if you’re on the road (read Emily Zemler’s newest piece on Alternative Press, No Money, Mo’ Problems: Why even successful bands struggle financially). When I use the phrase ‘make it’, what I’m referring to is making enough money to pay for gas to the next city; making enough money to buy peanut butter and bread. We were a band just breaking even at our best, which is actually kind of a feat in itself. But our budget wasn’t flexible and it certainly didn’t leave much room for excursions to places like the Grand Canyon. Our final decision to skip a few meals and just see the damn thing turned out to be one of our best decisions that summer.

The decision to visit the Grand Canyon took so required so much contemplative deliberation from us because it was $25 per car to enter (and still is). $25 goes a long way when you’re living off of oatmeal packets and boiling water from gas stations. But the Grand Canyon joined other national parks this past weekend, Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, in offering a free weekend.

How cool is that?

This national park is one that gets such overwhelming coverage for a reason: it’s simply amazing. If you missed out on the free weekend, let me assure you… the visit is worth the price, even if you find yourself collecting change from beneath the van seats just to get through.

[photo by Elizabeth Seward]

Photo of the Day (6.13.10)

Well doesn’t this look refreshing? Flickr user AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker caught this moment of bliss during a recent hiking trip along the border of Arizona and Utah. When you’ve been hiking all day under the heat of an unrelenting sun, this is apparently what happens – you find a nearby stream to cool off. I love the pose – the figure in the water seems to be enjoying a serious moment of refreshment. The figure is complemented by the vertical portrait-style framing of the shot. He seems to be looking up to the heavens as if to say “thanks.”

Taken any great photos taken during your travels? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Into the Grand Canyon with MSNBC’s David Horsey

Writer, cartoonist and good-guy-all around David Horsey’s most recent installment from his Escape into America series is up at MSNBC. This week, Horsey visits the Grand Canyon, not as a tourist telling stories about his vapid, two dimensional travels but rather as a visitor profiling the characters and the landscapes around one of the nation’s proudest national parks. The resulting slide show and audio is a warming look into America’s heartland. Take a look at the excellent piece below.

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Top 7 adventure activities near Arenal, Costa Rica

For travelers in search of a little adrenaline, the Arenal region of Costa Rica serves up adventure any way you like it.
The area around the Arenal volcano in Costa Rica, about 80 miles north of San Jose in the center of the narrow country, is known as the adventure capital of Costa Rica. With a diverse landscape that features erupting volcanoes, rainforests full of life, and cascading waterfalls, it’s a land perfect for active explorers. Here are the top adventure activities in the area.

Volcano Hikes

Just over 10 miles west of the small tourist town of La Fortuna, Arenal Volcano National Park is home to the big daddy of Costa Rican volcanoes. Those papier mâché volcanoes you made in 4th grade, with their perfectly formed cones, were probably modeled on Arenal. It’s everything you expect a volcano to be – lush and green on the bottom, gently sloping up its black rock sides to a pointed top with a near constant wisp of smoke wafting from its mouth.

Arenal isn’t the only volcano in the area, but it is the most impressive. It’s the youngest and most active. It’s been erupting daily since 1968.

On clear days (which are never guaranteed in the rainy season from May to November) you can see it from miles around and its fiery lava lights up the night sky like a fireworks show. Guides will lead hikes into the rainforest around the base of the volcano, though you can also drive yourself to the observation deck for a day or night viewing.
Rainforests and Wildlife Park Visits
The National Park surrounding Arenal includes a cloud forest and several thousand acres of rainforest filled with greenery, tropical plants, elusive colorful birds and butterflies, chattering monkeys, and dangerous reptiles and amphibians like crocodiles and poisonous tree frogs. You could hike through through these lush jungles with a guide, but there are other ways to see the forest.

The hanging bridges, a collection of walkways elevated above the canopy, provide a bird’s eye view of the forest. The walk is not strenuous (perhaps except for those afraid of heights) and can be done during the day or evening. An aerial SkyTram also elevates passengers to an observation deck in the rainforest canopy. Once there, you can peer out over the jungle or dine with a view of the volcano at the restaurant. To get back down, return on the SkyTram, take a shuttle, or for a quick return to ground level, zoom down the zipline.

For wildlife sightings closer to earth, visit the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. The wetlands area, about an hour and a half from Arenal near the border with Nicaragua, resembles the Everglades of Florida with a few more dangerous residents. In addition to turtles, three-toed sloths, iguanas, several kinds of monkeys and thousands of species of birds, you may also see crocodiles and freshwater sharks.

You’ll find no shortage of companies that offer ziplining tours through the jungle canopy. Prices range from $30-$60 per person depending on the number of cables and other extras offered with the package. Canopy Los Cañones operates on the property of Hotel Los Lagos and is a mid-priced option for a zipline experience that includes transportation from your hotel, 15 cables, and unlimited time in the hotel’s hot spring pools post-activity.

Each cable line is different and presents a new challenge. On some, you’ll coast slowly along a nearly flat line from platform to platform as you look for glimpses of toucans and howler monkeys. Other lines are much more steep and fast, making for an exhilarating pass over the blurry green landscape.

While the rainforest is dotted with hidden waterfalls, you may have a hard time stumbling upon one on your own. Instead head to La Fortuna waterfall. It may be the area’s most famous falls, but it can still be nearly empty of other people, especially in off season. You can hike there on your own by following the signs and paying a small entrance fee, or book a trip with any one of the tour operators offering trips from La Fortuna town.

The trek down from the road to the falls is strenuous, so save your strength by riding there on horseback instead of hiking. Anywhere Costa Rica matches riders to the appropriate horse, and then leads them on an hour-long ride to the falls, where they dismount and head down to the pools to swim before heading back.

If swimming in the runoff of a waterfall and watching it rain down from above isn’t enough, try Canyoning. Pure Trek Canyoning Adventures leads outings that combine hiking and rappelling with waterfalls – basically you rappel down the side of a cliff through the waterfall – in an activity called canyoning.

The PureTrek adventure will have you rappel down one rock wall and four waterfalls over the course of four hours. You’ll also hike through the rainforest to and from the trails, and enjoy a “Tipico” lunch, usually rice and beans with pork or chicken.

White Water Rafting
The Desafio Adventure Company offers a variety of tours, including white-water rafting. They offer full and half-day trips on class 2-3 and 4-5 rapids near Arenal. All gear is supplied, and the river is dam-controlled so the water levels are perfect all year round.

You can also combine a half-day of rafting with other adventure activities, such as kayaking or sport-fishing on Lake Arenal, cave spelunking, mountain biking, or canyoning, or with more relaxing outings like volunteering, bird watching or wildlife refuge visits.

Hot Springs
Arenal is also known for its hot springs and there are several options to chose from, ranging from the pricey, elaborately-landscaped pools at Tabacón Hot Springs Luxury Resort, to the bare bones ones frequented by locals at Los Laureles. A good middle option is Baldi, which has over 20 hot springs of varying temperatures, a restaurant, three bars, water slides, and a spa.

Okay, relaxing in a hot pool isn’t exactly an adventure sport – unless you count dodging creepy couples at the swim-up barbut after all that activity, you muscles will appreciate the soothing soak.

Canyoneering in Southern Utah

Canyoneering is a common word used to describe an outdoor activity that is rising in popularity. It generally involves exploring remote slot canyons, found in a variety of locations around the world. These narrow, twisting, rock corridors are often mazes, requiring navigational skills to successfully negotiate. Along the way, hikers may be requiried to scramble, rock climb, swim, or even abseil their way over and around any number of obstacles.

One of the premiere places to explore the activity in the U.S. is in the deserts of southern Utah, as writer Tony Perrottet recently discovered while writing this story for the New York Times. He traveled to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument where he discovered three very remote slot canyons where the trails were unmarked, water was scarce, and there wasn’t another person in sight.

Perrottet was following in the footsteps of adventuer Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh, who would eventually found the Explorers Club, but as a teenager, Dellenbaugh and a few friends, mapped the first route through the iconic canyons of southern Utah, making all kinds of discoveries along the way.

Some of the other top spots in the U.S. to go cayoneering include Zion National Park and the San Rafael Swell, both are also in Utah. Arizona, New Mexico, and California aslo have a number of great places as well. On an international level, cayoneering is popular on nearly every continent, with great routes in Australia, New Zealand, eastern Europe, and any number of other places. For more information, checkout the American Cayoneering Assocation.