Thursday, January 17, 2008

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

There are really only two roads in Badlands National Park. One is the loop road that goes through the park and takes you from I90 on one end, back to I90 on the other end. However, I had read about the Rim Road as being the more scenic and also the better chance to see the resident bison.

We had entered the park from the west and the unpaved Rim Road was just off to the right. The information I had on the Rim Road was accurate. We got our first glimpse of the Badlands, off to the east, and they are truly beautiful.

We continued to drive along the Rim Road and yes, we found the bison herd and also prairie dogs. We continued on the Rim Road as far as we could, until it reached a point where a 4 wheel drive vehicle would have been better suited. At that point, unfortunately, we needed to turn around.

Now back onto the loop road, we continued eastward. Each curve in the road, each dip, each rise, brings a new vista. The sun is moving into the west and bringing out the colors in the rocks.

While the park can be visited in one day, as usual we took our time and found ourselves spending the night in Interior, SD, just outside the park, near the visitor’s center. This turned out well as it gave us the opportunity to head back into the park for sunset, another spectacular experience.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Travel Insurance? In my opinion, yes!

Was it an old Amex commercial? Don’t leave home without it?

And, in my opinion, this most definitely applies to travel insurance, also sometimes called trip cancellation insurance.

If you are traveling internationally, particularly if it is an expensive and/or adventure trip, purchasing travel insurance is a worthwhile investment. Just imagine if you had to be medically transported out of the Andes, or Antartica, or the middle of Siberia.

Or, as in our case, you find yourself trying to check in for your international flight, at JFK, and learn there's a problem with your reservation. And then, upon calling your tour company, find out that the tour company overbooked, bumped you from the cruise and CANCELLED your booking!!!

In most cases, basic cancellation/interruption policy will take care of this, including covering things like baggage loss/delay, trip cancellation for illness or death, trip delay, emergency medical care and evacuation.

More complex (and, therefore, more expensive) plans are also available that will cover trip cancellation for any reason along with 24 hour assistance availability. Some plans, if purchased within a specific time frame of depositing your trip, will also cover you for trip cancellation due to pre-existing conditions.

Travel insurance plans, like all insurance plans, are priced based upon the level of coverage. Some plans also price dependent upon age.

An excellent resource for checking out prices and comparing policies is InsureMyTrip.com. They have plans from 18 different insurers that you can compare on just the one site. It is also an excellent resource tool with lots of travel tips. (And, FYI, no, I do not receive any type of compensation from them. )

Monday, January 7, 2008

Splendor at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Looking for a scenic route through central Oregon, we found ourselves on route 26. As we drove west, we stumbled across John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This national monument area is divided into three sections: Sheep Rock, Clarno and Painted Hills.

We stopped at the visitors’ center where they had a very nice display of the on-going paleontology, including a window opening into a laboratory. Within the protected area of the monument, there are over 700 fossil beds that are visited, during the summer, by the park’s paleontology staff.

Our main destination was the Painted Hills section. This is an absolutely beautiful area, the hills painted with yellows and golds, black and reds, a result of erosion exposing ash falls from
ancient volcanos.

There are trails throughout the park, allowing visitors to either get up close to this spectacular scenery or to go higher, for a bird’s eye view.

The spring is a wonderful time to visit when the wildflowers are blooming. And for the photographers (and other artists) out there, early morning and late afternoon light give you a constantly changing palette of colors.

see also: Travel Oregon

Friday, January 4, 2008

Mt. Rushmore – BIG disappointment

What a significant feat of sculpture! Viewing the carvings of the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln should take your breath away. Instead it was a burden to see and enjoy.

Mt. Rushmore, in South Dakota, is a national memorial and we had expected our National Park Pass to allow us free entry as it had at all the other national sites we visited. We arrive and find that, instead of a fee to the memorial (where our park pass would work), there is a private parking garage. The road, literally, forces you to enter (if you want to visit the site) the parking garage, where they charge you $8.

The site was VERY crowded. The entire entryway is built up, funneling people through a corridor of state flags, towards gift shops and food stands. At the end is an amphitheater (yes, there is a huge amphitheater facing the Memorial) where they do laser shows at night. Trying to get a picture or take video without someone walking into your shot was a challenge. It all seemed SO contrived, which, of course, it was.

For a free, and much more interesting view of the sculpture, view it from the Iron Mountain Road in South Dakota's wonderful Custer State Park.

see also:
Mt. Rushmore area information
Custer State Park