Journalist for Life

Tag: The Great Outdoors

Cruising through the world’s aquarium

Cruising through the world’s aquarium

Above: Usually, the kayaks and zodiacs from Safari Endeavour reached empty beaches. Baja California Sur, Mexico – About to board an open boat for a whale-watching trip, a well-traveled businesswoman says she is a little disappointed in our weeklong voyage through the Sea of Cortes: She […]

Enthralled by the end of the world

The Antarctic Peninsula — Exactly 22 hours after leaving Ushuaia, Argentina, which calls itself ”the end of the world”, the expedition ship Fram reached the Southern Ocean, which circles Antarctica — the real end of the world. The captain’s P.A. announcement interrupted the lecture on […]

Grand Tetons: Wonders of the Wild

The people who take the time to catalog such things report that there are about 900 species of wildflowers in Grand Teton National Park. That’s good to know, because most of us are never going to look down while we are here: We are going to be looking up.

The Grand Teton range is a relentlessly spectacular, 40-mile-long series of serrated peaks. Jutting dramatically from the broad Jackson Hole (pioneers’ term for a valley), the Tetons may be North America’s most impressive mountain panorama. To stand awhile gazing at them is to ponder mankind’s tentative position in the planet’s scheme.

As with Yellowstone, just a few miles to the north, this park is the result of massive geologic activity: About 9-million years ago, two huge slabs separated, one rising to fashion the mountains, one dropping to form the valley.

While the tallest peak, Grand Teton, soars to 13,770 feet, it has to vie for attention with 11 partners that top 12,000 feet. Their jagged, gray granite faces are laced with patches of snow and with glaciers. Trees seem to quit their climb early on these slopes; even the valley’s green carpet abruptly halts to let the mountains rise.

Awesome yet approachable

But the Tetons can be approached and even scaled: There are more than 200 miles of hiking trails that wend around the sparkling lakes and up into the mountains.

For instance, you can circle pretty Jenny Lake in just six miles or take a turn-off at the south end to find the aptly named Hidden Falls, whose sound reaches the hiker’s ears long before the waterfall appears through the trees.

Two paved roads run north and south through the park, roughly parallel to the mountains on the west, and there are enough scenic overlooks to fill even a big memory card.

But for a languid look at the Tetons, get aboard one of the popular raft-floats on the Snake River, flowing about 6-8 miles from the mountains. The trip is calm, the young people handling the steering oars are full of history, corny jokes and naturalist lore. They are also quick to point out the eagles, ospreys, waterfowl, wading birds and beavers’ lodges on the river and its shores.

When people lived here

While several Indian tribes had migrated regularly through the flat valley, the first white settlers brought cattle herds here in the late 19th century. Just a trace of this pioneering effort remains, so it’s worth a stop at the Cunningham Cabin Historic Site, on the eastern edge of the park.

Pierce Cunningham had led the effort to have the area proclaimed a national park, which came to pass in 1929; more land was added in 1950, making the park 485 square miles.

Another remnant is the Menor’s Ferry Trail, where a half-mile path takes visitors to look at homesteading ways, including a replica of a turn-of-the-century ferry across the Snake.

Close by is the 71-year-old Chapel of the Transfiguration, a tiny church that features a special backdrop to its altar: a picture window showcasing the Tetons.

Horseback rides, lasting from an hour or so to overnight camping trips, are a special way to enjoy the back country, or you can pedal your bicycle along the paved roads – no bikes allowed on the trails.

For a brief foray on the water, check at the Colter Bay Visitor Center for the breakfast and dinner trips to an island in big Jackson Lake. The grilled steaks taste special amid the natural splendor. The wildlife enhances the meals: Rare sandhill cranes shatter the stillness as they call from their nesting area, and white-tail deer prance by the picnic tables.

Back at the Colter Bay Visitor Center, make time to visit the well-done Native American art. Creativity and craftsmanship are the focus. The center also shows films on wildlife and on Native American history.

Best of all, when you step back outside and turn around, those marvelous mountains are there, defining the horizon and encouraging you to dream.

If you go

Grand Teton National Park is on the western edge of Wyoming, just north of the city of Jackson, which has commuter plane service.

The park is open year-round, but visitor centers and concession services in the park close in the late fall through the winter. Snowshoe and snowmobiling trips are available in the winter.

For information about Grand Teton National Park, call (307) 739-3300 or go to www.nps.gov/grte/index.htm.

The park has five campgrounds with 865 sites, and five hotels that offer rooms and rustic cabins. For information on accommodations, contact the Grand Teton Lodge Co., (800) 628-9988 or go to www.gtlc.com.

For lodging in Jackson, a few miles to the south, go to the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce site, www.jacksonholechamber.com/lodging/hotels-motels-lodges.php.

End Bag, the new book from Bob Jenkins, collects his best stories from 19 years as travel editor. Available now on Amazon.com. View a sample at Smashwords.com. Read more about End Bag here.

Mountains of memories

DENALI NATIONAL PARK, Alaska — Time and the forces of nature will decide if Mount McKinley is immortal, but it’s so mighty that it seemingly decides when to display its 20,320-foot-tall majesty. The mountain is also called by its American Indian name, Denali, meaning the […]

In western Ireland, hear the voices, hear the stones

DINGLE, Ireland — All five bar stools are occupied this spring afternoon in Dick Mack’s, a pub of some acclaim in this village at the western edge of Ireland. Yet untouched on the bar are pints of beer just served to new customers. Two of […]

Imagine a Ferris wheel, filled with water and boats

FALKIRK, Scotland — There was a time, a couple of centuries ago, when the best way to move people and freight across the land was on canals.

Scotland, surrounded by water on three sides, became the first nation in the world to dig intersecting cross-country canals. They connected the North Sea, near Edinburgh on the east, with the Atlantic Ocean, a few miles to the west of Glasgow.

That was in 1790, and the trip took most of a day, including the 6-10 hours to move through 11 locks needed to raise or lower the boats 115 feet.

But in the next century, an enhanced steam engine greatly cut the transit time — and also opened other routes, on land and sea. The railroad further reduced the need for canals.

Finally, widespread use of the internal combustion engine meant trucks and cars could take people and cargo much faster than could boats.

What had been a busy canal system was largely abandoned in 1933. In the 1960s, it was closed when two major highways were constructed through the canals.

But everything old is new again, and then some.

The national government spent the equivalent of $124-million to eliminate the need for the original 11 locks by creating the world’s first “rotating boat lift.” Opened in May 2002, it is named the Falkirk Wheel, after the middle-of-the-nation town where it was constructed.

The structure is futuristic in appearance, yet it uses an ancient law of physics to operate. Basically, a huge wheel is fixed to an axis, and on either side of the wheel are two boxes that hold water. Each box, called a gondola, is 70 feet long by 21 feet wide.

This is when Archimedes’ Principle comes into use. This states that an item placed in water displaces its own weight; thus one or more boats push out of the gondola an amount of water equivalent in weight to the boat’s weight.

The opposing gondola has the same weight, whether it is water only or also boats. A number of electric motors turn a cleverly designed series of gears that rotate both the large wheel and lesser gears that keep the gondolas level while the big wheel turns.

The gondola on the bottom is filled with water from a basin, and boats glide in before a water-tight door is closed behind them. The gondola at top opens onto an aqueduct that connects through a tunnel to the original, higher canal.

When both gondolas are closed, the wheel rotates — eerily quiet, considering the size of the structure. What was below goes up and what was up comes down.

When the big wheel’s half-rotation is complete, the water doors are opened and the boats glide out, to continue their canal journey in either direction. The cross country canal is about 68 miles long.

Since it opened, thousands of pleasure craft and more than 1-million visitors have come through the gates to watch it happen, with many of them booking rides on the 40-passenger tour boats kept in the basin.

The half-rotation takes about 15 minutes; the tour boats going up send their boats into the 330-foot-long aqueduct, which leads to a 475-foot-long tunnel beneath an ancient Roman wall. From there the tour boats enter a small lake, turn around and come back.

If you go

GETTING THERE: Several trains a day from Edinburgh and Glasgow stop in Falkirk; the ride takes little more than a half-hour. Phone your departure train station for the schedule.

The Falkirk Wheel is on a bus route from Falkirk’s Grahamston and High train stations. The No. 3 Red Line Bus, operated by First Bus, runs about every 15 minutes from stops near both stations to the Wheel site. Or, cabs can be hired at the stations.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Go to


Yosemite National Park

Built to attract wealthy visitors to Yosemite, The Ahwanee hotel lavishes guests with elegance and eye-popping panoramas. This is what it’s like to be wealthy, the hotel architect wanted you to know. Wealthy, and with a 2,425-foot-tall waterfall in the back yard. End Bag, the […]