The West is on Fire: Here’s How Travelers Can Avoid the Burn

Colorado has their most destructive wildfire on record this season, while a massive California blaze is currently threatening Yosemite National Park. Several of Montana‘s most scenic highways were closed this week due to fire conditions, rerouting many travelers and affecting local businesses. Other recent blazes have plagued Idaho, including the popular Sun Valley resort, and Utah. Travelers hoping to visit one of the many excellent national and state parks out west this summer can keep track of current wildfire conditions and closures with a Google Map.

Google’s Crisis Response project provides critical information to the public during a disaster. The wildfires map is regularly updated with info from the US Geological Survey and InciWeb, as well as local resources and shelter information. If you are traveling to an affected area, be sure to check the map as well check for park alerts.

Smokey Bear returns, still fighting wildfires

An icon in the advertising world returned to the airwaves recently when the Ad Council and the USDA Forest Service, launched a new campaign featuring Smokey Bear, who continues to remind us that “only you can prevent wildfires.” The new campaign includes a series of PSA’s that are already airing on television, as well as an educational DVD designed for elementary children.

Smokey first made his appearance back in 1944 and over the years he has become one of the most recognizable animated characters of all time. Smokey has educated several generations of children about the dangers of forest fires, and since his introduction, the number of acres that are burned up annually has gone down from 22 million in 1944, to 6.5 million today.

Since his humble beginnings, Smokey has been trying to warn us about wildfires and their causes. For instance, did you know that 9 out of 10 forest fires are caused by people? Most are due to campfires left unattended, trash burning on windy days, arson, careless discarding of smoking materials or BBQ coals. We often operate under the false assumption that they are a natural occurrence caused by lightning, and while that does happen, it is quite rare.

With his return, Smokey brings a snappy new slogan that invites you to “Get Your Smokey On.” He also continues to remind us of our responsibilities when we use fire in the wild, and that even after all these years, he still needs our help to prevent the nearly 70,000 wildfires caused by humans each year.

In another example of his jump to the 21st century, Smokey can be found on all the regular social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Or you can check out the all new Smokey at

(Articled edited to get Smokey’s name right! We can’t have him attacking after all!)

East of Africa: Sounds from the Red Island

Belltowers can be heard from the top of a hillside on a warm Sunday morning in Antananarivo.

After returning from Tuléar, I had a few remaining days in Antananarivo to explore the city and capture some additional photo and video. I’ve started getting in the habit of keeping an ear out for interesting sounds and pulling out my audio recorder to capture the moment. Below are a few of those experiences – and I hope they’re able to transport you to the beautiful and exotic world of Madagascar, even for a split second.

If you have headphones I’d suggest using them so you can pick up the small details in the audio. Enjoy!

A classical guitarist plays a solo in a rural village outside of

Two roosters spar in a local competition. Both roosters wheeze heavily with exhaustion, while the owners splash water on their feet to aggravate them.

A beautiful sunset from the balcony of the Radama hotel, accompanied by the sounds of local broadcast on a wind-up radio.

A small, roadside Malagasy cafe bustles with early morning customers eating rice, fried bread, and oatmeal out of noisy tin bowls.

Two teenagers from Tuléar, Melson & Titina, play guitar on a homemade wooden instrument.

The haunting voices of two street children (kat-mis), begging for money on a late night walk in Antananarivo.

A wildfire burns through brush outside of Ilakaka.

A youth choir performs a song in a local church to commemorate a secondary school graduation.

Catch the previous articles in the East of Africa series here!

The Best Places to View Wildlife

Yesterday we posted an article with the top places to view penguins in the world. Here are five more amazing places to view wildlife from around the globe.

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The wide open grasslands of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania have one of the most impressive displays of wildlife that you could ever hope to see. Each year, one of the greatest natural spectacles on the planet takes place when literally hundreds of thousands of zebra and gazelle, along with over a million wildebeest make the Great Migration across the great savannah in search of grasslands to graze upon. Following in their wake are lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, and dozens of other species. The migration is unmatched for the size and scope of wildlife, and is awe inspiring to see.

The Amazon Rainforest, South America
The Amazon Jungle in South Africa is so vast that it it covers parts of eight countries. It is also the home to the highest concentration of birds and freshwater fish on the planet, and more than one third of the world’s animal species call the Amazon home. Highlights of these species include jaguars, anacondas, giant anteaters and a variety of monkeys. The Amazon River contains plenty of interesting creatures as well, such as electric eels, freshwater dolphins, pirarucu, which grow to more than 2 meters in length, and of course the piranha.Alaska, USA
America’s 50th, and largest state, is home to a wide variety of wildlife as well. The remote backcountry is a perfect habitat for migrating herds of caribou, moose, elk, and reindeer. Alaska also boasts polar, kodiak and black bear, large populations of bald eagles, and packs of wolves. Head out to the coastal regions, and you’ll find seals, sea lions, and walrus. But best of all, the waters that surround Alaksa offer some of the best opportunities for spotting whales that you’ll find anywhere anywhere on Earth, with beluga, blue, humpback, and even killer whales on display.

The Galapagos islands, Ecuador

The Galapagos Islands may have made yesterday’s list for great places to view penguins too, but they have plenty more to offer as well. Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the small volcanic archipelago is home to a host of animals that are found no where else on Earth, such as marine iguanas the only lizard in the world that lives in the ocean. There are plenty of lizards that live on land as well, along with several breeds of turtles and sea tortoises, an array of distinct birds, and a large colony of sea lions and fur seals.

Kruger National Park, South Africa
When it comes to spotting wildlife in its natural habitat, few places on Earth can compare to Kruger National Park in South Africa. Kruger is the home to hundreds of species of animals, including more than 500 species of birds alone. But visitors to this park, the largest in South Africa, don’t really come for the birds. Instead, they come to see the hippos, zebras, giraffes and other exotic beasts. Kruger has a reputation, and deservedly so, for being the best place on the planet to spot the “Big Five”, which include lions, elephants, leopards, cape buffalo, and rhinos.

Any one of these places will give you the opportunity to see ome of the most impressive and amazing animals on the planet, and fortunately they are all accessable to travelers, offering unique and wondrous experiences.

Brief California U.S. Highway 1 report

For those of you planning to take Highway 1 from San Francisco to LA (or visa versa), you probably already know right now is not the best time to do it. Because of the devastating wildfires, the highway is closed to all traffic in some of the most picturesque areas, such as Big Sur.

I just completed the drive and here is what I found.

You can take Highway 1 from San Francisco all the way to Carmel without a problem. In fact, we didn’t see or smell any fires in that area. We actually took extra time to drive the 17-mile Pebble Beach loop that, roughly speaking, connects Monterrey and Carmel “the long way”. You pay $10 to drive the loop, but since such a big portion of Highway 1 is closed, it is money well spent. It is a beautiful piece of the country.

From Carmel, it gets tricky. We had to cut across to Highway 101 and take it all the way to San Louis Obispo. Soon after SLO, the highway starts hugging the coast again. You can get back on Highway 1. Far south around Santa Barbara, we saw the most dramatic wildfires. It looked like the mountains were spewing smoke (which they were). All the roads, however, remain open in that area.

If you can postpone the road trip, I would definitely postpone in order not to miss Big Sur. If you, however, are ready to go, you can still make the most of it.

(Picture taken on Mulholland Drive, somewhere in the Hollywood Hills, yesterday. Firefighters were busy putting out fires around the greater LA area. The air definitely smells of smoke up there.)