Trip Tips Index

Bryce NP, UT
Climbing in Yosemite, CA
Copper Canyon, Mexico
Death Valley NP, CA
Las Vegas, NV
Maui, Hawaii
Mt Rainier NP, WA
New Mexico
San Miguel De Allende, Mexico
Seward, Alaska
Tanzania, Africa
Zion NP, UT
Yosemite NP, CA
Port Reyes, NS
Travels In Africa
Travels In Austraila and New Zealand
Travels in Cuba
Travels in Mexico
Travels in Morocco
Travels in Peru
Travels in Utah
Travels in Thailand
Travels in Wisconsin
Travels in India

Point Reyes National Seashore

By David Gjestson

Point Reyes National Seashore is comprised of 71,028 acres of chaparral and 300-year old Douglas fir on rolling uplands adjoining 30 miles of beach fronting on Sir Francis Drake Bay. Camping here in 1579, Sir Drake was most impressed with the more than 1,500 plant and animal species found here in such a beautiful, pristine environment. Its 405 bird species is the most found on any in the national park system!!

Four hundred and thirty eight years later, despite winds gusting to 30 miles per hour, Laura and I struck out across the sandy beach for a three-mile trek to Coast Camp lying on the very shore that dashing Englishman discovered. (Later, Laura decided motels were better lodging options for any future trips.)

Dave and Laura

Laura trekking on the beach

The wind did not abate when we arrived at the small campground even though a large bluff screened us from the ocean just a few hundred yards west. We quickly set up our tents (singles because pack weight, not marital problems!), and struck out to explore the beach, passing few other campers on the way.

Our camp was just a picnic table in a meadow with the ocean over that hill to the left. Toilet close by! Hows that for a primitive site? The mountains are part of the coastal range extending down Californias coast.

Our solo tents werent because we didnt want to sleep together (after 50 years!).
It was because our big tent weighed too much (15 pounds!).

No crowds here! Just the soothing sound of crashing surf and seabirds passing by!

The beach was splendid and deserted as far as the eye could see. It didnt take us long to get settled and enjoy the crashing surf and a solitude broken only by the occasional Cree! Cree of passing seabirds.

Ah yes! Isnt this scene in most of our dreams?

Beach getting kind of crowded after all!

Heading back from the beach, we sat on a large log for a while to soak up more of the Point Reyes ambiance. Within a few minutes, a large covey of mountain quail fed their way to within 20 feet of where we sat.

Lauras hood is still up because the wind remain gusty, but sitting in the sun was very pleasant.

Wildlife was very abundant with black-tailed deer and raccoon very common, and an occasional
Tule elk trumpeting in the hills. This covey of mountain quail walked right up to us!

Isnt this guy a beauty? Mountain quail are quite abundant in California and rarely hunted.

By suppertime, the wind had not let up so we had to use the bear-proof container to cook because the stove flame kept going out! Actually, keeping food inside the container was mandatory primarily because of a high raccoon population. The little beggars were all over the place (except when I brought out my camera!). Deer often wandered though camp during crepuscular times.

The wind forced us to use our stove in the bear container. Black bears are in the area
but raccoons are more apt to show up at anytime!

Black-tailed deer wandered through camp at all hours but at crepuscular times,
we often had six or eight within 30 yards of our tent.

m-m-m-m-m-m. Doesnt get much better than this! (And, the wind died down!)

The next morning, the wind had finally died down so a nice hike was in order. Flowers were in full bloom, wildlife abundant, and the always-soothing surf filled our trek with pure pleasure. Our route took us two miles south on the uplands, a jog west to the beach, and then two miles north along Drakes Bay back to camp.

On the trail

Laura heads down to beach

Returning to camp by way of the beach was an added bonus to the morning. The aesthetics were outstanding enough to take our mind off the difficulties of walking in loose sand for about two miles! If you can hear the crashing waves and add that lonely Cree! Cree! of passing sea gulls, your vicarious trip with us will be more enjoyable.

These sandstone bluffs have been eroding for a while!

Sea anemones among the barnacles and clams.

Just the sea and thee . . .

We packed up late morning and headed out on the trail with thoughts of a hamburger and a cold beer waiting for us at lunchtime! Theres no question in either of our minds that we will return to this pleasant place again and again. Now, if I can only find a motel near here!

Packed up and heading back at noon. The deer crossed over into cover when we were within 15 yards.

One last glance over our shoulders before heading to the car.
m-m-m-m-m . . . I can taste that cold beer already!

Heart of India

By David Gjestson

India is probably one of the most exotic and culturally diverse countries you could visit. It is home to 32 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the crossroads of six major religions, exposure to 22 spoken languages, and a mass of people, animals, sights, smells and tastes bound to enthrall.

Comprised of 1.25 billion people, India is the most populous democracy in the world. They received their independence from England in 1947 and formed a federal constitutional republic governed by a parliamentary system representing 29 states and seven union territories. It is a nuclear weapons state and contains the third largest standing military in the world. Poverty is prevalent but has dropped dramatically from 60% of the population in 1981 to less than 25% today.

I have a 16-day camping trip coming up this fall, so it's only fair that my wife Laura (who is in the hotel stage of her life) gets to choose her own travel target, right? She chose 16-days in northern India, so a deal was made!

Once again Laura chose our favorite travel group, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) because of their first class guide service featuring small group travel (16 or less) and its educational focus. Her traveling companion was Jayma Newland from San Luis Obispo, a friend we met on a 2004 trip to Morocco who has been on several adventures with us since that time.

Travel from the United States to India is what most would call 'arduous.' From the west coast, Jayma and Laura first endured a 16-hour jaunt to Dubai, hoping that they'd enjoy seeing that incredible place and rest overnight before another four-hour flight to Delhi located in northwest India.

The quick cab tour they took through a spotless but empty city was impressive but jet lagged brains only afforded them a restless nights sleep.

This late January tour would start in Delhi and include the 'Golden Triangle' of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Meeting their guide while still travel-foggy along with 14 other travelers, the group spent three full days exploring Delhi. Highlights included visiting Raj Ghat, a beautifully serene monument on the site containing the cremated remains of Mahatma Gandhi, Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, and enjoying a rickshaw ride through the crowded lanes of a local bazaar.

Reasonably recovered by their fifth day on the road, the group boarded a small plane that would take them a few hours south to Jaipur, called the 'Pink City' because of the reflective color of its sandstone buildings. By now, adjusting to India food and its spicy flavors was a bit more palatable to most! Tour highlights included a unique Palace of the Winds that was really a facade of 956 honey-combed windows used by palace ladies to look at the outside world without being seen, and a 16th century fort-palace.

On the road again, this time absorbing a six-hour bus ride to Nagaur on bumpy roads puts old bones and weak bladders to the supreme test. Some in the group had already gotten ill, very normal happening when touring when travelers are subject to many people, unsanitary conditions, and strange food.

OAT busses are always modern and comfortable

Speaking of food, Indian food does take some adjustment of the palate, often curry laced and spicy. Rice, pearl millet, whole-wheat flour, lentils, and beans are a staple along with a variety of vegetables prepared in a hundred different ways. Meat is mostly chicken with mutton (goat) sometimes used. Beef and pork are never used as cows are religiously protected, and pigs survive wandering the streets consuming feces and garbage.

The six-hour bus ride ended at a camp in Nagaur, the site of a huge camel and cattle trade fair. Lodging was in rather luxurious tents complete with beds, furniture and bathrooms. The next two days were filled with camels rides, marketplace meanderings, folk dancing, animal watching, eating, and relaxing.

Tents at Nagaur conveniently adjoined the fair grounds

Jayma thought the camel ride was a hoot

Back on the bus, the group returned to their hotel in Jaipur for some rest time followed by sightseeing, museum touring, and a visit to a fabric-printing center to learn about the textiles made in this area. After a restful night, the bus took them overland to the Ranthambore National Park, one of eleven sites chosen for Project Tiger, India's national tiger conservation program.

Ranthambore National Park

The park consisted of more than one hundred square miles of deciduous forest and several large lakes, formerly a hunting preserve of the maharajas. Touring in open 4 x 4s the next two days, the group enjoyed seeing sambar, nilgai, chinkara, chital, and the always entertaining Langur monkey. Crested eagles, painted storks and more than 450 bird species provided many treats along the way with crocodiles and several species of deer added to the observatory mix.

The group toured Ranthambore National Park for two days seeking the elusive Indian tiger

One of several species of deer on the preserve

Langur monkeys

A highlight was a tense, crepuscular time in a cruising truck bed hoping to see one of the 26 tigers on the preserve. Every rustle of vegetation jolted nerves and increased pulses over two sessions of three hours each, but no luck! No tiger sightings. However, seeing a wide variety of wildlife helped overcome the group's no-tiger disappointment Moving on, the group was bussed to a local village to visit students at a primary school, a common feature of OAT tours. The village itself was sponsored by OAT, meaning the organization spends a portion of touring revenues in the foreign countries where OAT is active. In this village, buildings, the school, teaching materials, and toilets were funded.

The toilets, rare in rural India, were called 'squat toilets' because they only consisted of an outhouse-looking building containing flooring with a hole in it requiring one to squat to do your business. There were no such toilets in rural India. People just defecated anywhere. In the cities and at airports, modern western toilets were available for tourists but separate 'Indian toilets' were provided because most of the populous didn't know how to use sitting toilets!

Bargaining in the market is always fun

After visiting the school, a cooperative of women who produced handicrafts, and visiting a family for tea and to hear about their way of life, the group returned to their hotel for the night. After a good night's rest, they were bussed to a train station for three-hour train ride to Agra in time for lunch and an afternoon of leisure on their own.

It was now day 14 of the tour, and it would be a highlight, visiting the Taj Mahal. This edifice is a UNESCO World Heritage site and became a New 7 Wonders of the World (see Google for explanation) in 2000-2007.

The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna River located on 42 acres adjoining the village of Agra. It was constructed between 1631 and 1653 to enshrine Queen Mumtaz Mahal, and took 20,000 workers to complete. The semi-translucent white marble is inlaid with thousands of semi-precious stones in beautiful patterns in a building comprised of four identical facades.

While still somewhat numb from absorbing the history and beauty of the Taj Mahal, the group were bussed to a nearby Agra Fort. It was a huge, sprawling fortress that was the seat of power for four generations of Mughl emperors who ruled all of northern India from early in the 16th century until the consolidation of the British colonial rule in the early 1800s.

Tourists are warned to protect hats, purses and flowers at Agra Fort as monkeys were very fast thieves!

Another two-hour train ride followed by a six-hour bus ride grinder got the group to Khajurado to view ninth and tenth century group of temples (another UNESCO World Heritage Site). Erotic stone carvings viewed the following day woke up any spirits that might have been lagging due to the strenuous travel challenges.

The erotic stone carvings proved to be a very popular tourist stop

The group then boarded a small plane that would take them on a 40-minute flight to Varanasi, one of the oldest cities in the world (written history dating back more than 4,000 years). Here, you could feel the spiritual vibrations of thousands of pilgrims emanating from hundreds of temples alongside the sacred River Ganges.

Pilgrims gather to pray by the river

River view of a busy shore as worshippers and merchants mix along the River Ganges

After exposure to marvelous scenes of devotees performing daily religious rites, museum tours, Buddha sculptures, the group ended the tour with a morning of yoga and meditation class before boarding their plane for a four-hour flight to Dehli.

A restful overnight was needed to face the grueling trip home! Another plane for the four-hour flight to Dubai followed by a 16-hour flight to San Francisco (sleepless thanks to the four screaming babies on their flight!).

Australia/New Zealand Adventure


Australia is big.
How big? Almost the size of the USA but with a population about equal to Texas. With so many miles between intriguing and interesting things to see do in this wonderful country and its neighbor, New Zealand, careful pretrip planning can avoid much frustration.

My partner, Linda Jacobs, and I spent the better part of a year researching, planning and charting a path through the myriad of things we wanted to experience in these two fascinating countries. Yeah, there are dozens of package tours you can sign up for but we haven't run across one yet that is a good fit with the things we like to do. Our preferred style of travel planning is to map out everything we want to do, dump it all into a spreadsheet, and then have a travel pro do the actual booking of flights, transfers, hotels, and some excursions.

Specialty excursions we book ourselves. These are mainly activities that are not in the usual repertoire of a Wisconsin travel agent, such as a live-aboard dive boat or ocean kayaking. This method has worked well for us.

We had to make some tough decisions based on time and expense and left some things undone - another trip in the future? - but all-in-all I think we fit about as much into 33 days as we possibly could and not drop with exhaustion.

In total, we flew 27, 496 miles, on 17 separate flights from 13 airports logging a total of 59 hours in the air. We traveled by plane, bus, automobile, ferry, kayak, powerboat and sailboat. We stayed overnight in 10 different hotels and one dive boat. We visited 5 world heritage sites did 6 hikes, 11 dives, tasted at four wineries (lost track of number of wines tasted by around 2p.m.) read four books, visited 12 cities and drove 212 miles on the left side of the road.

Australians are some of the friendliest folks we've met traveling anywhere. Filled with a zest for life they work hard but always make time for leisure and time outdoors. In fact, it seems like they practically live outdoors. They have a much better "work-life" balance than just about any American. They easily rival our Midwestern reputation for warmth and hospitality.

They have a delightful culture. You never see a vanity plate on a vehicle and you never see rolling junkers or hear loud mufflers. Men wear their pants on their waist and you are not hurried and must ask for your check in restaurants. There are no tips, they pay waitstaff fairly, bus drivers still make change and we didn't hear any rap, only 70s-80s American rock. People stand in orderly lines at bus stops and yield their seats to the elderly and small children.

As both countries are English speaking communication is easy. It's not the English we are used to but it is understandable - most of the time. Hikes are "tramps" and trails are "tracks." Mountains in New Zealand have "glassiers" and "petrol" is about $5.20 US for a gallon. Everything is metric so be ready for kilometers, liters, meters and Celsius. Football means rugby which is on the "tele" 24/7 and a person with initiative or high energy is said to be "off his own bat," in reference to that other national pastime, cricket. You can get barbequed "crock" and "roo" but don't ask for shrimp on the barbi, they don't have it, never did. And, contrary to popular thought, they don't drink Foster's.

What we did.

Dive on the Great Barrier Reef - world heritage site #1. This had been our bucket list for a long time. It is one of the most incredible ecosystems I've ever experienced. The abundance and diversity of life is simply mind-numbing. Daytrips are available but the best way to experience the reef is to book onto a live-aboard dive boat. Our excursion lasted three days and two nights.

The 80 foot boat slept two to a cabin. There was lounge space inside (air conditioned) and outside on an upper deck. We did 11dives in three locations (two night dives) and got to see the southern sky at night on the open ocean, the same way the early explorers saw it. The water was warm, 84° F, so we didn't need wetsuits for comfort but wore stinger suits for protection from stinging jellies.

Daintree Tropical Rainforest - world heritage site #2. A true tropical rainforest, Daintree extends from sea level to 425 meters (1,400') above sea level. It is home to the tree kangaroo.

Tree-kangaroos are marsupials of the genus Dendrolagus, and are adapted for arboreal locomotion. They inhabit the tropical rainforests of New Guinea, far northeastern Queensland (where Daintree is located) and some of the islands in the region.

We were incredibly fortunate to see one of them in the wild as their population is classified as threatened by the World Wildlife Fund. Daintree is also very near where in 1770 Lt. James Cook's ship, HMS Endeavor, grounded on the Great Barrier Reef. Stuck 23 miles offshore, Cook ordered the crew to throw an estimated 90,000 to 110,000 pounds of equipment and stores overboard to lighten the ship enough to float her off the reef.

Uluru (Ayers Rock) - world heritage site #3 & 4. A two hour flight took us from a tropical rainforest to the outback.
There is nothing I've ever seen to compare it to. This place says "Australia" in the boldest way. Both a cultural and an ecologic heritage site, there is a small village consisting of two hotels, a campground, a grocery and a cultural museum. All consumables - I mean everything - are trucked in from Adelaide over 700 kilometers away. The truck visits once per week and hauls rubbish on the return trip. The village is otherwise self-sufficient. All electricity is generated by solar panels, deep wells supply drinking water. Gray water is used for everything else. It is 280 miles to the nearest hospital. It hit 40C (104° F) every day we were there. The soil is coarse and a deep red color. Trees, we were told, grow no higher than a couple of feet for the first 20 years of life, concentrating instead on sending roots deep, deep into the earth. Only then can they grow up. A tall tree is maybe 10 meters, many are under five. There are clouds of blow flies that rival the mosquitoes I've experienced in Alaska and not a drop of water anywhere. What's the attraction you ask?

It's the massive sandstone monolith Uluru, aka Ayers Rock, and a chance to experience Aboriginal culture. Uluru is sacred to indigenous Australians and is thought to have started forming around 550 million years ago. It's within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular with all the red dust in the air. We witnessed one sunset and one sunrise over Uluru while serenaded by wild dingos whose song is as soulful as any wolf pack you've ever heard here in North America.

Barossa Valley. The Barossa Valley is not a world heritage site but is the Napa-Sonoma of Australian wine production. The big boys are all here; Yellowtail, Penfolds, Yalumba, Jacobs Creek etc., but the real deal is the dozens of small family vineyards that are scattered all across this region.

Heck, they even teach viticulture and winemaking in the local high school (the school has its own vineyard). If you go tasting - and I highly recommend it - be sure to hire a driver. The Aussies have little tolerance for drunk driving. A local driver knows the best places to taste and to dine afterward. Besides, it's hard enough to drive on the left when you're sober! We had the wonderful services of Trevor Wehr. Trevor has a B&B where we stayed and has been driving people around wine country for decades. Trevor was a registered tour guide (he retired in June of 2016) and up until 2015 chauffeured folks in a beautifully restored Auburn convertible that had been in his family since 1936.

The body on the back half of the vehicle had been cut off and replaced with a flatbed during WW II to haul war supplies - Trevor's family were both farmers and manufacturers with war contracts at that time. Even though lovingly restored to original condition, the department of tourism determined that a vehicle with wooden floorboards, non- antilock drum brakes, no seat belts, air bags or roll-over protection could no longer be used for public transportation so he had to park that magnificent automobile in 2014. Instead, we traveled in a Toyota Land Cruiser.

Adelaide. Leaving the Barossa Valley we traveled to the southern Australian city of Adelaide. Founded in 1836 and named after a consort of King William IV, Adelaide is one of the few Australian cities to not have a convict history. It has beautiful churches and many city squares. It is a port city and a highlight of our visit there was a tour of an exact sailing replica of Cook's ship, HMS Endeavor. Hard to believe 90 humans could live in those cramped quarters eating wormy salt pork and hardtack for three years. The ordinary seaman slept in hammocks and ate in an area no more than five feet floor to ceiling. Cook and his officers had cabins measuring 22 square feet. Following her historic journeys throughout the Pacific the Endeavor returned to work as a cargo ship sailing to and from the Falkland Islands. Sold into private ownership in 1775, she was hired as a British troop transport during the American War of Independence and was scuttled in a blockade of Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, in 1778.

Adelaide also had a very lively shopping district with street performers and curious statuary.

Kangaroo Island. Adelaide also was the jumping off point for our longest day of the trip. A 19-hour round trip by bus and ferry to Kangaroo Island. KI is a wildlife lovers nirvana.

We stood within yards of lounging sea lions, stoned koala bears lounging in eucalyptus trees, soaring frigate birds, echidnas, and lots of kangaroos.

We also saw some spectacular geologic features such as Admiral's Arch and Remarkable Rocks.

Sydney - world heritage site #5. No trip to Australia would be complete without spending at least a few days in Sydney. Sydney has a large and extensive botanical park (officially the Royal Botanic Garden) with extensive collections of southern hemisphere flora. It's an easy place to spend a day or a half day wandering through the gardens.

Next to the gardens is Potts Point which offers great views of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. We also toured the National Aquarium. But, in the end, Sydney is a big city, not unlike other big cities and we only stayed there for two days. On our second day we took a ferry across Manly Bay and tramped in Sidney Harbor National Park.

We climbed to the park's high point where we could see almost the entire entrance to Sydney Harbor.

On to New Zealand. Although they seem close on the map, 1,300 miles of water separate Sydney from Auckland, New Zealand. We flew into Queenstown on NZ's southern island which is even farther. We rented a car there and drove another 170 Km. to Te Anau.

Te Anau and Milford Sound - world heritage site #5. Te Anau is a comfortable little town at the foot of the southern New Zealand
Alps and the gateway to Fiordland National Park. Beautiful in its own right it is one of numerous locations throughout this part of NZ where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. It is also a hub for world class trout fishing and big game hunting (red deer). We were there for another bucket list item; kayaking on Milford Sound. We rented boats from an outfit called Roscoe's kayaks. They provided us with suitable clothing and gear and a local guide for a day on the water. It was about an hour and 45 minute drive from Te Anau to the put-in point on a narrow winding road through the mountains. Valley after valley passed behind us as we dropped to the sea. Although called a sound, Milford is really a fiord and is as spectacular a place to paddle as any in the world.

Two miles wide, 12 miles long and 1,680 feet deep, it is ringed with sheer granite cliffs rising to almost 7,000 feet. Waterfalls tumble over the precipices and fall hundreds of feet to the sea below. Dolphins gamboled around our boats fishing in the sound's cold waters, sea lions hauled themselves out on rocky points to lie in the sun warming themselves and perhaps to digest a recent meal. The sound receives on average 250 inches of rain a year and is the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand which made our day there all the more remarkable as we enjoyed a picture perfect day with blue sky and warm sun. Te Anau also has a wildlife park with several Kiwi's (the avian kind) that if you are persistent, you can spot inside their pen. These captive Kiwis are rescue birds that cannot be released to the wild. As a whole, the Kiwi population is considered either vulnerable or endangered and it is a treat to see one as they are very curious creatures. Their greatest threats today are introduced mammalian predators.

Queenstown. Kiwi's love the outdoors and Queenstown is a hub for outdoor activity. The nearest comparison would be if you combined Telluride, Seattle, Madison and Boulder into a single community about the size of Telluride. Sailing, backpacking, skiing, four-wheeling, parasailing, bungee jumping, motocrossing and mountainbiking, you name it, they have it. While there are a number of nice hotels, there are many more beds available in dozens of hostels.

With so many adrenaline- dripping gravity sports available the town is very popular with young nomads from pretty much everywhere in the world. They have a couple of good brewpubs and a hamburger joint that had a line around the block every evening from five to nine.

Rotorua. Rotorua is a place of hot springs complete with boiling mud, geysers and sulfur in the air.
This is a major cultural center of the Maori people. The Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. They currently represent roughly 15% of the NZ population and have seven designated seats in the NZ Parliament. Their children attend Maori pre-school and learn the Maori language before moving to public schools and learning English.

We attended a Maori cultural performance that was fascinating. Afterward we attended a traditional Maori dinner that had been cooked in a geothermally - heated hole in the ground. I was privileged to sit next to a Maori

native at the dinner and had opportunity to comment that the dances performed for us at the dinner were all very warlike.

He replied that Maori were very warlike in their history. I asked who they were fighting.

He replied that there were dozens of distinct clans among the Maori and they fought each other over things like territory, access to game, or other resources and women.

Then the English arrived and they united as a people to fight the English. Fascinating.

Auckland. A modern city and a sailing hub, the most impressive things about Auckland were its cleanliness, the politeness of the people, and a wharf area with a couple of America's Cup boats either berthed or on display.

We spent one afternoon sailing on Auckland Harbor and another on a cold and very wet whale watching cruise - only we didn't see any whales.

It was a fun and adventurous five weeks but it was time to head home. While flying 9,200 miles east to west (i.e. Madison to Sydney) wasn't too hard to adjust to the time change flying the same distance west to east was a killer.

It took several days for us to adjust to the time change. Lucky for us, we're retired.

And yes, the Aussies do say, "G-day mate".



Maui below as ominous clouds move in!

Kind of cruel of me to be submitting this article about wonderful Hawaii when my Wisconsin friends are experiencing bitter cold weather, but maybe the vicarious enjoyment will warm them up.

I had been to Oahu four times during my Navy days, and Laura had been there with her family 50 years ago, so Maui seemed like a great pick to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. An easy five-hour flight for us out of Oakland, but double that at least from Wisconsin.

You know Hawaii is pricey, so when I tell you first class plane tickets and four-star hotel for five nights is $3,000, you are not surprised. A car rental for six days adds another $300, and of course you have to eat when you are there! You have to attend at least one luau when you are there and that starts at $250 a couple. I probably should mention that most hotel charge an additional $25 per day 'service charge' and $20 per day parking fee. Well, you get the idea!

Maui consists of a west lobe of land and a much larger east lobe connected by an isthmus. The west lobe contains a single volcano covering a good portion of its center and blanketed in clouds much of the time. The east lobe also has a single volcano but it is much larger and its 10,000-foot peak and wetter, jungle environment offers great hiking and birding opportunities.

We chose the west side because it is on the lee side of the island and its quieter surf and drier climate favored our snorkeling and hiking objectives. Additionally, getting around was much easier, and the attractions in the popular town of Lahaina were appealing to us.

The primary airport is located at Kahului at the top (north) of the isthmus. After a quick shuttle to Avis, we managed to pass through a mix of highways onto 380 and eventually to 30 that took us south then west to north around the entire perimeter of West Maui along the coast through Lahaina and arriving at our resort in Kaanapali in just 40 minutes!

Did I mention it was raining? Laura had been tracking this front for a week before our arrival and the grim forecast was rain our entire stay! While the sun peeked out enough the first and last day, and the rain occurred only periodically each day, we did manage to get in some beach walks, open air shopping, and some laying around time.

The Sheraton was isolated from most of the other hotels, so we enjoyed rather quiet beaches, and vicinity walks without feeling overwhelmed by flower-shirted tourists at every turn. The surf was pleasantly mild but the overcast skies kept us from snorkeling because fish viewing was so limited in dim water.

View from our room at the Sheraton was delightful! Now if only the sun stays with us!

A stroll around the grounds revealed a well cared for facility, plenty of water-related recreational opportunities, numerous lounges everywhere, an outdoor bar, and a unique wrap-around pool that allowed a complete circuit around a good share of grounds.

Shopping at an adjoining hotel and taking the shuttle downtown Lahaina kept us entertained on days when the periodic rain made beach use unpleasant. The retailers were all friendly, and we didn't experience the high sales pressure so common in similar tourist areas.

One day of heavy rain we decided to tour the coast of West Maui to enjoy more of the island's aesthetics, and to visit a national wildlife refuge we had seen in the literature.

This rare shorebird is called an Aoa bird (Cliff Germain will have to check this spelling!)
and is only found in the Hawaiian Islands

Always the trooper, Laura wouldn't let a little rain keep her from enjoying Hawaiian wildlife!

The wildlife area had a splendid boardwalk extending more than a quarter-mile out into an estuary adjoining the open ocean allowing up-close look at wetland wildlife.

Aw yes! Lauras happiest on a beach but would be happier in the water !

The luau was the highlight of our stay and well worth the expense not only because of great Hawaiian food but because the entertainment was so delightful.

Watching swaying hula dancers and Hawaiian warriors is quite a treat!

The male dancers are also very entertaining, especially when fire is involved!

No matter what the weather, Hawaii is guaranteed to enthrall and entertain. If it's romance you are after or, like us, your objective was to celebrate an anniversary . . . well, it's perfect!

Climbing the Mountain,


Half Dome at Yosemite National Park is not only dominant on the landscape in this famous valley, but one of the most popular mountain climbs in the United States. About 10,000 climbers, mostly hikers in their teens and twenties, take on the 14.5-mile round trip each year. Most hike the entire length in one day. Others who don't have that kind of strength or stamina choose to hike part way to camp in Little Yosemite Valley, a wilderness camp adjoining the Merced River. The camp allows the climber to rest before facing another four-mile trek up the mountain.

Those strong enough to survive ascending the mountain up about 4,000 feet in elevation over seven miles, face two very challenging obstacles on weakened legs: First is the mountain's sub-dome, a sheer granite surface varying in slope from 30 to 50%, and conquered by climbing granite steps and slick rock that zigzags to the top. There are no handrails and the 1,000-foot drop to the valley floor often sends the feint at heart into a fast retreat. With the stair tread often up to 18 inches in height, and the thinning air straining lungs as you climb steadily for more than 500 feet, those that make the ascent to the top know they have accomplished quite a feat! The second challenge is now about the length of a football field distant and the climbers ascending and descending appear miniaturized on a sheer granite wall rising sharply above its base. This is the backside of Half Dome, and decision time for self-doubters, acrophobics, and those with weakened legs! The slope is severe varying from 30 to more than 60%, and at times seems vertical. Steel poles have been drilled into the granite on two parallel paths, four feet apart, and placed every 10 feet up the mountain 400 feet to assist climbers. A wood 2" x 4" is held at the base of paired posts every 10 feet to create a rest platform.
The sub-dome behind these hikers is a very intimidating introduction to climbing Half Dome

Why me? O.K. Let's get this out of the way at the start. Why would a 76-year old try climbing a mountain that has killed 60 people along the way? Fair question. Well, my daughter-in-law Annemarie made the climb a couple of times and encouraged me to try it. My first attempt failed in 2014 when a 42-pound pack did me in! My son's encouragement yielded a second attempt in 2015 but got rained out! The third try will be a charm, right?
Mike Deasy (76) on the left, and Brad Jenkins (65) next, joined us for this challenge

I'll spare you the two months of daily permit applications, bus arrangements, and day before the hike lodging experience, and simply tell you we chose the Glacier Point Trailhead, a mere 6.8 miles from the Little Yosemite Valley campgrounds. After an overnight, we'd only have 3.5 miles to hike to the top of Half Dome (shown above Laura's head). After a second night in camp, we'd hike just four miles to the valley floor.

Spirits were good, humor was keen, and the banter took us down slope toward our first turn at Illilouette Falls, shown to be two miles distant. We thought we could be at the falls for our first rest period in maybe 30-40 minutes. An hour and 30 minutes later, it was still 30 minutes ahead of us! That was our first clue that our pace was much slower than we thought, and the mileage indicators didn't help us estimate trail time very well! We were all stunned when we arrived at the falls and discovered we were already out of water!

We all filtered our water bladders full again with cold mountain water, and augmented it with a bottle full of electrolytes. The air temperature was in the high 80s in full sun, so hydrating was very crucial to our safety at this point! Three hours into the hike, we were climbing steady to gain about 600 feet in elevation over the next three miles to Nevada Falls.

By now, the pack weight was taking a toll on knees and feet, and we were stopping for a break about every 15 minutes. We knew the trail would intersect with the John Muir Trail at about 5,800 feet in elevation, two miles up slope. Had someone told us it would take us three more hours to get there, and another hour to get to Nevada Falls, we'd call them a liar.

This trek was a grinder! The backside of Half Dome is now about seven miles up slope.

Great Aesthetics along the way!

Six hours into this hike, the rest and feet soak in the river at Nevada Falls was mandatory!

Nevada Falls was about a mile and a half from our campsite destination at Little Yosemite Valley, and only a 200-foot gain in elevation. However, tired legs and oxygen needs at 7,000 feet would add another two hours to this slog! I can't tell you how happy we were to see the camp loom ahead!

Arriving after nearly nine hours on the trail had us exhausted but we were in for a very discouraging revelation: the campgrounds was full! We left Laura at the edge of the woods and the three of us spread out searching for an empty campsite next to a bear-proof locker, a mandatory requirement because bear raids were notorious here. I still had my pack on so this dead-tired search about did me in (oxygen deprived brain not working enough to let me take my pack off!).

Finally, we found a single, female hiker willing to share her site with us! We dumped our gear, and went to the nearby Merced River to filter water for supper, and refill empty water bottles. We set up our tents while dinner was on the stove. It was 8:30 p.m.

The campgrounds is quite open with lots of space but you must set up camp next to a bear-proof container (shown right center). The site I'm standing on was occupied and Brad (blue shirt) is negotiating with a lady to let us camp with her.

I got these clever little tents at Campmor. Weighing only 1.5 pounds each, they were perfect for backpacking.

We were up early enough for breakfast and took it easy while we prepared for the big day. All of us filled our pack water bladders, and I filled an extra 24 ounces of electrolyte mix knowing that another hot day was ahead of us. We left our tents in place, food in the locker, and all gear stashed so all we had to carry was a light jacket, water, gorp and snacks that included plenty of energy beans, protein bars, and some other bonk eats. Off we went at 9 a.m.

To say that this portion of the climb was a "slog" would be an understatement. The next three and a half miles was all up slope without relief. The temperature started off in the cool 70s but was around 85 when we cleared the tree line three hours later. With the elevation gain going from camp at 6,100 feet to the sub-dome of Half Dome at 8,000 feet, breaks were needed every 10-15 minutes to keep from bonking.

Of course the aesthetics remained overwhelming at times.

The scene above is looking over my left shoulder half way to Half Dome.
It was this kind of view that served to mask sore body parts and weary legs!

Trail chatter also helped keep up our spirits. Brad and Mike were babbling most of the time, and frequently threw barbs our way. Laura and I talked mostly about how we were holding up physically. Laura, at 70, has an Italian blood condition called "Thallassimia" that suppresses red blood cell production. Hence, with fewer oxygen carrying cells, her stamina is greatly impacted. Further, her heart had to work harder and was often in the 150 beats range (while mine would be 120!). None-the-less, she held up well and never complained.

Arriving at the sub-dome. Mike ahead of me pointed out a mountain peak he had climbed.

Since no ranger was at this location to check permits, Laura started up this climb as far as where Mike is standing. With severe acrophobia, the 2,000-foot drop to the left had her turning around and stating, "I'll see you when you return!"

Continuing up, the next 500 feet exceeded a 60% grade at times. The elevation was about 8,200 feet.

On top of the sub-dome at about 8,300 feet, I was elated!

Mike had told me if I can climb the sub-dome, I'd have no trouble going up Half Dome! Looking good! If you look over my right shoulder you can see hikers going up on the cables. The base is about 200 yards behind me. I had intended to take selfies all the way to the summit but oxygen deprivation limit my brain to taking only this one picture! Upper body strength was key to getting up the cables and weight work at my health club paid off!

Mike got impatient with my too long pauses at each post and scrambles by on the outside of the cables!
People have died doing this maneuver!


As I stood at the summit (8,830 feet) and looked at Yosemite Valley 4,000 feet below, the amazing aesthetics were masked by the tremendous feeling of the physical accomplishment just completed. I had been looking at narratives and videos of this climb for the past two years, and suddenly I am there myself! An awesome revelation!
. . . of course we had to go down again! Brad led the way

Four hours later, Laura and I cooled weary feet in the cold Merced River! Can you believe it? Another NINE HOUR day on the trail!

We broke camp the next morning and put in another four hours going down to Yosemite Valley. Cold beer and pizza never tasted so good!