The Most Visited Mountain In All Of North America
Driving into Colorado Springs and the surrounding area it is impossible to miss Pike's Peak, which staggers up into the clouds and makes dwarfs of most of the other summits in nearby range. It is also home to the highest railroad in the United States, the Pike's Peak Cog Railway, which offers tours up to the summit. As such, Pike's Peak (aka America's Mountain) is the most visited mountain in North America. On a clear day the view from a distance can be absolutely breathtaking!
If you have seen the Garden Of The Gods then you will undoubtedly have noticed Pike's Peak in the background. (As a matter of fact, as they are located so close together I encourage you to visit both at the same time -- makes for the perfect way to kill an afternoon in Colorado Springs. And then when you come back down from the mountain, might as well go enjoy some tasty food and fresh home-brewed local beer at the Phantom Canyon Brewing Co in downtown Colorado Springs.)
Pike's Peak gets its name from Zebulon Pike, an explorer who led a failed expedition up to the summit in 1806, but was not made a national historic landmark and park until 1961. It was home to a gold rush in the mid-1800s and was also the site that inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write the song "America The Beautiful."
At the park entrance, which is actually just a tollgate entrance, you have to pay the fee before you can proceed up the 19-mile road that winds all the way up to the summit. It costs $10/person with a limit of $35 per vehicle, although fees may vary slightly between seasons. But happily enough the road was just recently completely paved from start to summit, eliminating the old stretch of gravel towards the top.
Passed Crystle Creek Reservoir on way to the summit
There are a few notices and heads-up that you are given at the gate, mostly pertaining to your vehicle and personal safety. Keep in mind you are going to want to have a fairly decent amount of gas in the tank, as you have to ascend and descent the steep and windy 19-mile road. Bring extra cash too, as the park offers three gift shops / snack parlors: two located at 1/3 and 2/3 of the way up and a third at the summit.
Additionally there are also many scenic view points and paved shoulders at various points, allowing you to pull over and take pictures, stretch the legs, or even give the car a break. (Yeah, that's another thing, definitely don't be showing up with any old and busted vehicles hoping to make the trek all the way to the top.) The most notable mile markers include: MM#3 Features you first view of Pike's Peak; MM#14 Scenic views of Garden Of The Gods, Colorado Springs, the Pike's Peak summit, and the Continental Divide; MM#16-16.5 Scenic views of the Switchbacks, Pike's Peak Reservoirs, the Continental Divide, Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range, and the Ghost Town Hollow Mine.
If you don't stop to take a bunch of pictures, and don't get stuck behind that one obnoxiously slow vehicle, then it takes between 45-50 minutes to reach the summit. Up there you can be prepared for the temperatures to be up to 40° F colder than at the base 6,000 feet below. I went during September and despite the fact that is was about 75° in Colorado Springs, it was 30° and snowing at the summit of Pike's Peak! Additionally, due to the extreme elevation oxygen levels are only at 60% of what they are at sea level.
The summit is absolutely breathtaking. I have been up at extreme elevations before, seen volcanoes and mountains up close in Costa Rica and Hawaii and other places, but each one is unique in their own way. Pike's Peak not only has the history but also the Cog Railway that rolls all the way up to the station up top, a mere few feet from the gift shop and prime picture zone. While I have not experienced the railway myself first-hand -- you have to buy tickets at least a day, if not several, in advance -- I have heard that trip to the top is even more spectacular than by taking the tollway.
Before beginning the less-exciting trek down the mountain, make sure to grab a few souvenirs from the gift shop. The offer all of the usual postcards, shot glasses, t-shirts and clothing, information books, magnets, random trinkets, and everything else you have come to expect from gift shops around the world, as well as food! Something about the high altitude always make me hungry ;)
Featured below is a selection of pictures taken with my smartphone during the trek up the mountain and at the summit, and below that is a map of Pike's Peak, so that you can visit it as well.
Have you been to Pike's Peak or traveled up the Cog Railway? Maybe you've even been up an even taller mountain? Feel free to share your comments below the photos!
View Pike's Peak, Colorado in a larger map
For more information including seasonal hours/rates, please visit Pike's Peak official web site.
Now this is truly a unique sight like no other! Everyone has seen algae, that icky often green stuff that grows in water all over the world — but have you ever seen rainbow-colored algae? That is what happens for a brief period every year at a remote river in Colombia, South America.
The Caño Cristales River located high in the Serrania de la Macarena Mountains is one that most travelers have never even heard of. It’s location is so remote that the river does not even have any fish and you can only get there after a long trek via foot or donkey! But that is not all, it gets trickier...
This multicolored algae occurs only during the brief period in between the wet and dry seasons, usually in September or October. At that time, for only a week or two at the absolute tops, all the algae on the rocks of the rivers turns a rainbow of colors — and thanks to the clear river water visitors can get a perfect view!
Show up at the wrong time though and all you see is boring old green...
I tentatively plan on joining friends in Peru in September, but I told him I would only come visit him on one condition: if we can travel to neighboring Colombia and spend a few days camping and relaxing at the Caño Cristales River. This is something I absolutely have to see with my own eyes, even if it means staying up in the mountains for two or three weeks, and that is why Caño Cristales River is #40 on the HoliDaze Ultimate Travel Blogger's Bucket List (TBBL for short).
What do you think, pretty wild huh? Would you trek up the mountain to check it out? Let's hear your comments!
This "Cool" Bar Puts A Shiver Of Satisfaction In Your Spine
Have you heard of the Ice Hotel in Sweden, or any of the subsequent ones that have opened in nearly two dozen other countries?
Well this is the same idea, only located in Roppongi, the infamous tourist district in the Minato ward of Tokyo. It is a warehouse kept at -5° C because the entire interior is made of ice sculptures. The bar, the chairs and tables, the artwork, even the cups, all of which are handcarved and actually imported from the Ice Hotel in Sweden. You are even bundled up in an authentic Ice Hotel jacket; upon paying your cover charge the staff graciously helps you suit-up. From there you proceed through a intermediary room — kind of like when entering a shooting range — kept at or below 10° C.
This was definitely a cool ass place, no pun intended. The drinks were small and a little expensive though, but obviously you are paying for the scenery. It was ¥3500 cover just to get in (roughly $45 USD, but that is a normal Tokyo cover charge), and drinks were ¥1200 each ($15 USD). And yes, they were ridiculously small! Even though the ice cups are physically big chunks of ice, there is only a narrow hole drilled at the top of it, about an inch in diameter and maybe four inches down — basically nothing more than a Texas-sized shot. And you are forced to re-use your cups, as they are all imported from Sweden at great cost. The first one comes free with the first drink but after that, if you need a new glass due to melting or breakage you are charged ¥800 for the glass plus ¥1200 cost of the drink. If you keep your gloves on, you should be able to get about a half dozen drinks out of your ice cup before heat from your lips have melted it to the point of needing a new glass.
The chairs were surprisingly comfortable
Additionally, it is worth mentioning that the Ice Bar Tokyo is owned by Absolut Vodka and as such you only have a choice between about a dozen-and-a-half to two dozen varying drinks, all containing a multitude of flavored Absolut vodkas mixed with assorted juices. Regardless of the fact I hate vodka now (too much of it when I was a younger), it was intriguing enough to spend an hour and a couple hundred dollars there in the freezing temperatures. It was also interesting to see how frequently the bartenders would swap out with the front stay, so that they could warm up briefly.
Yes, Tokyo's IceBar is one of those places that you only go for show. Now that I went once, I have no urge to go back. Its going to be exactly the same, the initial thrill is gone now that I have seen it. But it has visitor appeal, you know, its a fantastic place to take someone who is new to the city or never seen anything like that. Just be prepared to shell out a few thousand yen at the absolute minimum.
[ UPDATE ] Regretfully as of September 30th, 2011, IceBar Tokyo has closed their doors as part of the effort to control energy consumption in the wake of the earthquake is eastern Japan. With so many other businesses and families working hard to control their power usage, it is unjustifiable for IBT to waste such vast amounts of energy freezing a warehouse and maintaining such cold temperatures. Please visit the IceBar Tokyo official web site for more information on when they will open their doors again.
Other notable cities around the world with ice bars: Monterrey, Mexico City, Panama City, Orlando, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Barcelona, Athens, Seoul, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Saint-Petersburg, New Delhi, and Dubai.
Have you experienced this ice bar or any of the others? Post your comments below the photos.
Few people are lucky enough in life to get to see this for themselves. It is not on the beaten path, not somewhere that you can bop down to for the weekend. It is a journey to get to, that is for sure. And actually, I think that is one of the things that makes it so incredibly amazing. It is not cheapened by convenience. Nestled deep in the mountains of a country steeped in ancient culture an tradition, the journey to the top of this sacred mountain is as incredible as the space itself.
I visited Machu Picchu in 2009, while on an archaeological dig during college (I did not excavate there, I was working in a small town called Pucara). I was with my family for a few weeks before the dig, my mom, dad, and little sister. It was actually by the grace and stubbornness of my mother's gypsy spirit that we made it there in the first place: it was on her bucket list. I should mention that this same wanderlust has already taken her around the world and back numerous times.
My sister and I were crassly awoken by our alarm at around 4 am on the morning of our ascension. You have to get to the bus station EARLY if you want to get your butt on a bus and make it up to the top by sunrise. Rubbing our eyes, we stumbled out onto the tiny cobbled streets of Aguas Calientes, a city with plenty of alpacas but not a single car (unless you count the busses that shuttle masses back and forth to the top of the mountain).
The stories were true. Even this early, the lines were crazy long. But we were on a mission. And if you know my father, you know that he has a (not so) mysterious way of moving through crowds. It is not unusual to get left behind if you get distracted for even a moment. A few elbows thrown here and there and voila! We were on our way. The bus driver (like ALL other drivers in Peru) threw caution to the wind as a rule. The bus careened wildly up a series of impossibly tight switchbacks, and, if we weren't awake before the drive, we certainly were now. Nothing like fear for your life to perk you right up. After we surprisingly reached the upper parking lot in one piece, we were herded off of the bus, and hustled up to scout a viewing area. We didn't have long to wait. The light was getting brighter, and the sun was only minutes away. I was practically pushing people out of the way of my camera's viewfinder...I knew this was something that I did NOT want to miss, and I certainly didn't want my visual memories of the experience to include large German tourists.
In the end, the sunrise was so awe inspiring that I forgot the supposed importance of digital memories and just took the moment for myself. It was the feeling of knowing that you are witnessing something truly special, that few others get to see, and that you will only experience this one time in your life. There is nothing like that feeling. It was the most beautiful morning, the sun came up quickly as wisps of fog crowded through the high mountain jungle and across the dramatic green peaks. Pictures of Machu Picchu are incredible, but unless you are there in person there is no way to describe the scale of these mountains, and the drop offs that await you on all sides of this ancient getaway. I live for moments like these, I relish them, and I hold on to them to examine later when things get boring.
Later that day my mom witnessed tourists being stampeded by llamas. This post is already way too long so I will leave that image to your imaginations.
Personally, Cuba has been on my travel list for a few years now. When Jared and I were backpacking through Central America I tried to convince him we could fly into Cuba for a week, but he was too scared of getting in trouble. If you are American (yes, I'm guilty as charged), then the trick is to fly into Cuba from Central America. Do not try and fly directly into Cuba from the United States, Mexico, or Canada, as TSA officials are prevalent and customs officials will recognize that you should not be there. But if you fly into Havana from somewhere like Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Panama, then you are golden. Plenty of Americans have done it already. It is not the Cuban authorities you need to worry about, but rather the American ones. Cuba is happy just to receive our tourist money, they don't ask many questions.
Now be honest, doesn't Cuba interest you, at least a little? Think of those iconic Havana nights back in the 1920s and again during '50s, when Havana was the Paris of the Americas and one of Frank Sinatra's favorite hotspots... Think about the Havana Conference, one of the biggest ever mob family meetings in history, one that dictated mob policies for the ensuing decades... Think of all the 1950s cars used as taxis still to this day thanks to the US trade embargo...
Now can you honestly still say that you
don't have at least a little interest in Cuba?
As I already regret not seeing North Korea before Kim Jong-Il died, I vowed back then not to make that mistake twice; Without a doubt I had planned to visit Cuba during 2012, before Castro gets any older. Of course here is in 2013 now and I still haven't made it...but I will! The reason I wanted to visit both countries before their leaders died is not due to any form of support or approval towards the respective leaders of those two natiions, but because I worry that as those two countries both exist in such a delicate balance of communism and tourism, there is no telling what could happen once power shifts. Fidel Castro has been the figurehead of the island nation for almost 50 years, although he retired in 2008, I'm sure his continued existence is part of the glue that holds Cuba together.
Havana, capital of Cuba
In the early 1960s, following America's ban on Cuba tourism and the systematic government shutdown of many popular nightclubs and gambling halls associated with illegal activities, Cuba's tourism industry came to a screeching halt. In was not until the early 1990s that the numbers began to improve. Even so, with 80% of pre-embargo tourists coming from the United States, it is hard to imagine Havana ever seeing such glory days ago without a change in American policy.
Nowadays over two million visitors a year grace the Cuban ground, most notably vacationers from Canada, Mexico, and all over Europe. As a matter-of-fact, tourism policies and general attitudes towards tourists have improved leaps and bounds, even more so in the last decade! Yes, truly Cuba is once again -- for the third time, actually -- officially become an up-and-coming tourist destination, with statistics improving every year.
The country even offers a variety of both budget and luxury accommodations. Plus, thanks to its countless museums Havana is home to many random and interesting pieces of history from all over the world. One of the more surprising is the Museo Napoliónico, which includes one of Napoleon’s teeth and the general’s death mask. And it should be no surprise that Ernest Hemingway's former house (and yes, even boat) are now a museum as well.
Yes, Havana has a lot to offer, but there is more to Cuba than just that bustling metropolis. Just east of Havana is Varadero, an upper-class tourist town full of beaches that is home to many resorts, as well as the country's only golf course. The western side of Cuba is the center of the cigar industry, particularly the city of Pinar del Rio. There is Trinidad, a famous World Heritage Site, and Santa Clara, both located in central Cuba. And in the far east of Cuba you can find Baracoa and Santiago de Cuba, two other cities with huge historical importance.
If you find yourself in a small town as the day is drawing to a close, it should be no trouble at all to find a "casa particular" or private house for the night. Cuban people are known for being very friendly and what better way to get a firsthand experience in the culture and local life. Electricity can be spotty however, but as with everything else, there have been great improvements since 2008.
Cuba as it currently stands is a flower about to bloom, an ideal travel blogger's mecca that features just enough tourists to bring the country to life without spoiling or tarnishing it. And 2013 is the perfect year to visit there before the word gets out and the masses start flooding in. Besides, now is also a fantastic time to see the Cuba of the 21st century before it looses its 20th century appeal. After all, those taxis won't run forever! (The new wave has already started and trust me, they are not so iconic-looking ugghh.)
So, to all you Americans reading this: would you attempt a trip to Cuba w/o telling the US gov't?
|RISHIKESH Laxman Bridge (swinging bridge)|
Rishikesh is located near Haridwar and is approx 240 kms from Delhi airport, though the nearest airport is Dehradun, I opted Delhi for the sake of convenience. You can further take a cab/ taxi (not self driven) to reach the small town. It is the gateway to the Himalayan range.
|View of River Ganga banks and camps|
|Ashrams and Temples at the river side|
|Garden view from our room|
|Getting ready for adventure|
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