Thursday, June 26, 2014

Do You Know What a Plug Dome Volcano Is?

There's a lot of things in this world that I do know, but I did not know anything about plug domes.  Rhyolite and Dacite are two of the most common lavas that form them.  plug domes are steep small and sometimes wart appearing domes that appear because these highly viscous lavas barely melt during the event and they rise up and cool in odd positions.  Anyway, the largest one of these plug domes in the entire world sits on Lassen Peak.

Where is Lassen Peak?  It's one of those places that those of us who don't spend a lot of time in the more desert regions of northern California don't know about.  Lassen National Volcanic Park is in the northeastern part of northern California.  Basically, it's on your way to Reno, Nevada.  It's in the middle of nowhere, as a volcano park would be, so let's say it's 50 miles east of Redding, California.  You'll want to use  CA 44, CA36, and CA89 to navigate the area.

Drakesbad Guest Ranch is the lodge and cabin place to stay within the park.  There are campgrounds available as well, and there are many options in the area outside of the park.  Drakesbad is informal and a great place to just take a load off.  If you want something fancy like the lodges at the Grand Canyon, you're in the wrong place.  This is simple and pleasant.

There are a lot of great things to see at Lassen Volcanic Park, and one of my favorites are the painted dunes.  This is a unique feature at the edge of the lava fields.  The area is basically desert, and the sand mixing with the lava creates a whole pallet of colors that are amazing to see.

Photo wise I always love to take pictures of mountains upon lakes.  The reflections are normally amazing, and Lake Helen is no different.  Lassen Peak just sits up there and begs to be photographed.  It always looks a little like winter here.  This is the snowiest place in California.  That's a pretty hard title to win.  The area gets some 40 feet of snow in a season.  Some of the roads in Lassen Park don't open until some time in July.  Luckily, it's CA89 that runs by this lake, so it's cleared earlier than some.  There are other lovely lakes in the park; Juniper and Minnitaki.

Lassen Park is still active and that brings me to Bumpass Hell.  This is where all the action is.  There are mud pots bubbling, hot springs, that fabulous sulfuric landscape and some potential geyser and steam vent activity.  The boardwalk is designed for your safety however, so stay on it and don't be stupid.  The hills are alive and you should respect that.  Now, Bumpass Hell isn't going to show you an Ol' Faithful, but it is a really interesting place to explore and it does have a steam vent geyser called Terminal Geyser that's pretty darn impressive.

Another cool place to visit, no pun intended, is Boiling Springs Lake.  This is one of the larger fumaroles in the park and is quite a sight to see.  Don't bring your swim trunks though.  Most of the water filled fumaroles in the park average well over 150 degree water, and the green color of this lake is from acid.  It's a great view though and a nice hike that's not even a mile to get to.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a great place to see volcanic action.  It's one of the older parks being designated in1916 and it was originally two separate national monuments; one was Cinder Cone and the other one was Lassen.  There are four kinds of volcanoes in the world and they are all represented in this one park.  There are Cinder Cone, Plug Cone, Shield and Composite.  That's a lot to see and experience and learn about in one park.  President Teddy Roosevelt was very impressed with the place, which is why it was one of the first of his new national parks and monuments.

There's so much to see in the park.  Sulfur Works is a landscape that you will never forget.  Terminal Geyser, the enormous steam vent.  The whole Hot Springs Valley.  The lakes.  Brokeoff Volcano,  Prospect Peak, Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone.  There's Bumpass Hell, Cold Boiling Lake, Boiling Springs Lake and Devils Kitchen.  There's a lot to see and do.

This park has five entrances and great access to all the best spots.  Now, why did I mention this spot?  Well, it's hard to say.  It's full of great stuff.  That's not it though.  I put it in here, because I just stumbled upon it.  I'd never heard of it and that's amazing.  This is one of those great places that isn't overcrowded like Yellowstone always is, but it is a lot like Yellowstone as far as features go.  This is the same great stuff for half the crowd.  Who doesn't like that?

Once in a while I just throw something out there because it belongs in the hidden gem category and this is one of those times.  I can't believe that this place hasn't been all over television and websites.  It's just a great place to spend some time with the most amazing parts of nature.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fun in the Sun in England...Blackpool

When most of us in America think of going to a place just to have fun, we don't think of England.  It's not our fault.  We were raised with Disney, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, the Wisconsin Dells, Branson, Cedar Point, and all the Six Flags that anyone can handle.  The amazing thing for me is that if you take most of that and plunk it on the other side of the pond, you get Blackpool, England.

We've all seen the Steel Pier in Atlantic City.  Here in Blackpool, they have three piers for entertainment.  They have roller coasters, cabarets, and all sorts of amazing things.  Here in Blackpool, they have history, casinos, and so much more.  They have an amazing zoo and an aquarium.


Pleasure Beach has a thrill a minute and is one of the hottest spots for fun in Blackpool.  There are roller coasters and a ton of other thrill rides to keep you busy all day long.  Here there is a Nickelodeon Land for the kids too.  Pleasure beach has a suspended coaster that is entirely over the water here, just in case you haven't had enough thrills.

Sandcastle Waterpark is one of my favorites.  In England, you can't always count on the weather, and Blackpool, for the most part is open year round.  The fact that this great waterpark is indoor-outdoor, makes it the perfect choice for times when the weather isn't perfect.

There is always that one thing that stands out when you go to a resort area.  There's that one landmark that makes the spot unmistakeable and that's the one that everyone takes a picture of.  In Blackpool, it's Blackpool Tower.  This magnificent building has always reminded me just a little bit of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the one in Las Vegas, depending on your travel tastes.  But the tower here in Blackpool is a little different.  This building not only has an elevator that transports you to the top where you can walk around on the Walk of Faith as they call it--the glass bottomed observation deck, but it has so much more.

The tower is home to England's best circus.  This circus has been performing in this building for decades.  The grandeur of the architecture inside the tower just adds to the show.  The interior of the tower still looks as it did when it was built.  It's been preserved in it Victorian glory.

The old architecture is most evident, however, in the Tower Ballroom.  This is an amazing space that still holds balls and extravaganzas.  If you like, you can still come dancing at the ballroom, but make sure you bring a partner, because it's only couples dancing in here.  Also, check for dress codes of the events you attend.  They may just be black tie and cocktail dresses.

There are other things to do at Blackpool Tower, like the Dungeon.  It's full of shows and thrills, and it's just like any other grand place.  The real fun is underground.  The tower is an amazing place and it's kind of the center of it all in Blackpool.  You can't come here without visiting this.

Blackpool has a lot to offer.  There are at least twelve miles of attractions here, and they have a tram that runs up and down so you can get to it all.  The beaches are wonderful and normally quite crowded.  There are casinos, tons of shopping, world class restaurants, museums, and more.  They have a Madame Toussads,  a Ripley's Believe it or Not, and all kinds of hokey attractions.  It's impossible to be bored here.  This summer they are putting on Mama Mia for the masses.  In June they are having Armed Forces Week with all the events that go with that.  There's so much to do, that you can't do it all in one visit.


I have to mention the accommodations in Blackpool.  They have grand old hotels, and pricey resorts in Blackpool, but you don't have to go that way.  There are tons of holiday parks, or as we call them campgrounds where you can bring your caravan, or as we call it camping trailer.  There are some places where you can rent them rather than bringing your own.  There are also cheaper hotels.  You can book a room in a hotel in Blackpool for as cheap as $50 American.  That's great for those of us who travel on a budget.
But all kidding aside, I always pick a place because it has something different, something unique. So, what then is the adventure that I picked this place for?

The lights.  That's right, Illuminations.  At the end of August every year they switch on the Illuminations and they run every night until early November.  The whole of Blackpool becomes bright with neon and glows with lights.  It's something that you won't see anywhere else.  It's started with the Switching on Festival.  It's a whole celebration just to turn on the lights and it's one of the biggest festivals in England.  It's a can't miss in a place that just plain fun anyway.

So, if you're hooked on resort towns, Blackpool, England is a whopper.  There's more to do than you could do in a single vacation.  It's one of the hottest spots for the Brits, and with good reason.  Whether you want to come in the highest season and fight the crowds for the beach, or you want to wait for the amazing Illuminations and fight that crowd is up to you.  For my money, I say go during the Illuminations Festival and have the best of both crowds.  It's a once in a lifetime vacation, and it's quite an Adventure for Anyone.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Magic of the North...In Greenland

 Aren't the Alps beautiful?  It's amazing how pristine they are and that we will travel half way round the  world just to get a look at them.  In the summer time, most folks go to the beach, but I take the opportunity to go north and see the things that I wouldn't go see in the wintertime.  I take that chance to do something that I wouldn't normally do.  I love mountains, I love unique experiences, I love the outdoors, and I love a great view.

Anyway, so Alps Smalps, welcome to Nanortalik, Greenland.  The mountains that look like the Alps up here are called the Skyscrapers.  They're a glorious bunch of spires and peaks to look at, and if you're younger than me, they are a fabulous place to go climbing.  Nanortalik is Greenland's most southerly town, with 650 or so residents spread over five different settlements that make up the town as a whole.  The town is surrounded by the Skyscrapers and fjords that would rival the ones in Norway.  The name Nanortalik means "place of polar bears" so it is immediately clear that you may have something to talk about when you get home.  Truth is that polar bears do occasionally pass through town, especially in the summer, so you may just get some pictures of nature up close and personal.

From Nanortalik you can take a glacier cruise to see the edge of the world famous ice sheet that the global warming people keep talking about.  Large portions of Greenland are continuously covered in ice.  It's just that it's quite taxing to go and look at the northern parts, because it is so cold and barren, leaving your best option for those areas being a flight see.  Here at the end it's more like taking a cruise in Alaska, but you're in the exotic country of Greenland.


Why would someone go to Greenland?  It's cold.  It's snowy.  It's rocky and barren.  You might just be surprised.  In the summer it doesn't get up to 80 or 90 degrees.  It does hover in the mid to upper 40's, but there's sun all night long.  I love that factor about northern countries, and I cannot recommend it enough.  You'll never forget midnight sun and white nights.  It is something that cannot be imitated.  You have to experience it for yourself.

But, I digress.  If you haven't heard in your lifetime that Eric the Red founded a Viking settlement in south Greenland then you haven't been paying attention.  In the area around Nanortalik, there are ruins to visit from the old Viking settlements.  It's true that you can also see these things in Newfoundland, but here you get that midnight sun to go along with them.  There are also some great museums in the towns and cities of Greenland that can answer most of your questions about how and why the Vikings came to this land.

Here's one for you.  You can go and learn how to be a musher.  They have an apprenticeship program in the area that you can sign up for.  You will get to spend some extensive time dog sledding as you actually learn about the mode of travel that has now become a northern sport.

Greenland is the world's largest island nation, still technically a part of Denmark, so it's no surprise that water activities are wildly popular with both the locals and tourists.  Sea kayaking is a popular activity.  It lets you get up close and personal with glaciers and icebergs.  Greenland is nearly as prominent for float by icebergs as the iceberg alley of Newfoundland, and it's great to get up close and personal with them.  It's hard to fathom how large an iceberg really is until you get right up and see one.  Then you realize why the Titanic didn't stand a chance.  Here in Greenland there are some of the oldest glaciers in the world and they house the world's purest water.  There is a company that bottles that water now, but a bottle of water in the states from Greenland will cost you about $50.  It's probably best to try it out in Greenland.  But water sports are not limited to kayaks.  For one thing, several companies operate cruises to and around Greenland.  For many, it's easier to let someone else do the navigating as long as they still get to see all the cool stuff.  Sailing is also something that is gaining popularity in Greenland.  It's for heartier souls than mine, but it's very cool.  Fishing excursions are popular with tourists and locals alike.

Cruises will show you many aspects of the life of northern animals.  There are a ton of places around the world to go on a whale watch, but when you do it in Greenland, you see so much more.  This is the end of the road for whales and other migratory sea mammals in the summer, and you will see some wonderful things like Orcas, seals, and walruses in addition to all those whales.  It's something that you won't normally see if you stay along the coast of New England.

And then there's the bit about how it's called Greenland.  I've heard a million different tales about how Iceland and Greenland got their names, but I've never heard the facts of the matter.  What I can tell you is that the south of Greenland gets green and it's gorgeous.  The hiking is wonderful, especially with the long nights.  Some people go hiking at night, just to say that they did it.  When you get home and show your friends the pictures, they won't believe that it's night time.

So, I've told you about the stunning little town of Nanortalik, with it's adorable Hotel Kap Farvel (hotel cape farewell), and a lot of interesting things that you can do there.  I did mention that several of the things you can do elsewhere.  So, besides the fact that the sun is up all night, why is this an Adventure for Anyone?

Well, I brought it up because of the sheep farms.  I'm not joking.  Around the world there are many places that you can take a vacation whilst living and working on a farm.  There are organizations that only cater to people wanting to go on farm vacations.  It's true.  Greenland offers a fabulous opportunity for tourists to stay and help out on sheep farms.  You get to stay at the farm and earn your keep.  It's something that I highly recommend for some important reasons.  If you would like to stay on a farm, there are really only a couple of places on Earth that I would actually recommend for that, and Greenland is one of them.  The hosts are great.  The experience is wonderful.  You get to see what it's like to live in that northern climate with livestock.  You will learn a lot.  You will get to meet some gracious people and some really interesting breeds of sheep.  It's a ranch experience that you won't soon forget.

There are many wonderful things about Greenland.  There's the culture, the people, the farms, the glaciers, the mountains, the hiking, the icebergs, the Viking history, the fjords, the animals, the adventure and the view.  There are so many reasons to visit this fabulous country that why would you take a pass?  It's one of the most exotic places you'll ever go.  It's got personality that can barely be contained.  It's also a country in flux, because soon it may be independent, which gives you the chance to visit now and say that you visited it when it still belonged to Denmark.  But, for all the reasons to visit this amazing country with surprises that just keep on coming, I think that the one that still strikes me most are the endless nights of summer.  And that's why I think that one of the greatest adventures for anyone is to spend some time on a working sheep ranch in the middle of summer when the view is the best, the nature is at it's finest, and the sheep are happy and free of their winter bonds.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Solstice is Coming!

It's true that there will be a lot of people doing Yoga in Times Square during the Summer Solstice, but that's not what I would call an adventure for anyone.  However, The summer solstice is upon us, and this does make for some very unique traditions in northern latitudes.  So, where should you go and what should you do if you choose to celebrate the summer solstice?  If you live in Sweden and certain other Scandinavian countries, you will probably have the day off.  In some of those northern European countries this one is a national holiday.  It's not treated as a big deal in most of the United States, but that's because most things aren't.  We spend most of our time deciding whether or not we should acknowledge holidays based on just how religious the holidays are.

But really, what should you do to celebrate the solstice?  Well, in Fairbanks, Alaska they do have one of the more well known festivals.  You will note that around the world, most of the festivals for this holiday are music oriented, and that's not completely unfounded for Fairbanks, but in addition to all of the music around town, they also have a midnight baseball game just because they can.  There are no artificial lights involved with this game.  It just happens to start at 10:30 at night on the night of the solstice.  There's 33 years of tradition with the Solstice Festival in Fairbanks.  They also have midnight sessions at pools, midnight golf, and a ton of great music.  This festival lasts more than just the one day, so it is well worth the trip.

In Norway, you guessed it, they ski away the hours during the solstice.  They do have festivals all over, but the big deal here is the ability to still ski in June and do it in the middle of the night.  A provider called White Blue will set the whole thing up for you, and it will be a great time.

Midnight sun is really something.  The Nordkapp, or North Cape of Norway is a great place to get a view of this amazing phenomenon.  But there are a lot of northern places that take full advantage of the fact that they have sunlight that time of year.  Yellowknife, Canada has a short festival that is mostly music.  Seldovia, Alaska has a big music festival.  For heaven's sake, there's a pretty big bash in Denver, Colorado.  But they aren't a northern latitude.  At least not that far north.


In Finland it's more of a traditional thing with bonfires to leave the past behind and venture to the future.  In many ancient cultures it was time to be thankful.  Thankful that there will soon be more children.  Thankful that the cold is gone.  Thankful for the crops that grew.  Ancient Nordic culture was all about the Earth.  Their gods were born of lightening and thunder.   The Summer Solstice represented everything good in the world back then.  They celebrated because it was warm and they had made it through another year.  It was indeed the happy time of the year.

In Siberia, the local solstice festival is Ysyakh, and it is a cultural celebration of the Yakut people that call the region home.  There are many events to celebrate the longest day of the year, and outsiders are welcome to visit during this time and celebrate the holiday.

Anchorage, Alaska has a full day of activities on hand for the solstice as well as parades, sports, and lots of music.  Here it is a day event and does not run into the night.  The whole thing is technically over around 6 pm.

In Iceland they are developing a new tradition this year with their first Secret Solstice Festival.  Nordic countries have some of the best music festivals in the world.  Iceland has one already that rocks and they are now shooting for two.  Laugardalur is the  location for this one which is hot spring valley to you and me and it's just a short drive from center city Reykjavik.  There will be over 100 musical artists performing, some famous, some new.  It will last for three days and have both indoor and outdoor concerts.  This comes on the tails of the National Day celebration that takes place on June 17th, so it's a partying time of year to show up in Iceland.

One of the livelier places to spend the season is in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Here the white nights are legendary.  They celebrate with music and fireworks and all kinds of things.  This is the land where they stay up and play when the nights are white.  Even the drawbridges stay open until 5 am so that the cruises can run all night long.  In this area it's not so much a holiday, but a season, and there are many special events over a six week or so period.

I think, but I'm not sure, that the biggest solstice celebration of them all is at Stonehenge in Britain.  I'm pretty sure it's the oldest with it's druid rituals and white robes.  There are tour companies that will take you out to Stonehenge for a few hours during the celebration, but remember that thousands upon thousands of people come to Stonehenge during the Summer Solstice.  There have been riots in the past, so they have a lot more security these days on the longest day of the year.  If you've ever wondered about the meaning of the summer solstice, or wondered about the Druid belief, this is your place to learn some significant information.  You won't find a carnival at Stonehenge or a giant barbecue, or a music festival, or fireworks.  What you will find is one of the most traditional religious celebrations that you'll ever see.


So, whether it be the white nights, or midnight sun that you're after, the northern latitudes celebrate June 21st, the longest day of the year.  They call it Midsummer, Summer Solstice, and beginning of summer.  There are many names and many terms to describe it.  It is a natural phenomenon which always appeals to me.  The best part is that you can choose where and how to celebrate, which makes the day of June 21st an Adventure for Anyone.