California Coast RV Road Trip

Most known for Hollywood celebrity sightings, California is also home to some of the most famous beaches and coastlines of the world. This is perfectly complemented by the seamless weather and temperature that lures in new residents and tourists every year. So if you are looking forward to enjoying the summer heat, regardless of the More »

Going to Orlando and its Parks

It’s time to make a journey and the destination this time is called Orlando, a space full of fun that attracts millions of people during the whole year due to it’s famous parks, places like Disney World, Universal Studio or the Cabo Discovery will keep you busy all day long. Start by looking for a More »

Helsinki City Guide

Helsinki, recently awarded as ‘City of Design’ by UNESCO, is the capital of Finland. Unlike the Nordic winter, the temperature of this city is quite livable, and life continues throughout the year. It has four seasons, and the temperatures vary from 32 degrees in the summer and about -20 degrees in the winter. With the More »

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What’s ailing America’s national parks?

National Parks Service

Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, said the parks (such as Glacier National Park in Montana, pictured) are “not in the best of health.” The NPCA released a report Tuesday that show the parks face serious threats to natural and cultural resources.

As president of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Tom Kiernan is, not surprisingly, a fan of Ken Burns’ documentary, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” but he’d like to add an addendum.

“The national parks are America’s best idea,” he said, “but they’re not in the best of health.” In fact, according to an NPCA report out Tuesday, many face serious threats to their natural and cultural resources.

Conducted by NPCA’s Center for Park Research, the report encompasses 10 years of research gathered at 80 of the 394 units in the national park system. Among the findings:

  • Of 61 parks assessed for the condition of their natural resources, 95 percent showed the disappearance of at least one wildlife or plant species.
  • Of 77 parks assessed for the condition of their cultural resources, 91 percent were found to be in “fair” or “poor” condition.
  • More than half of the parks studied had overall air quality conditions that were rated “fair,” “poor” or “critical.” At parks such as the Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains, the issue goes beyond diminished visibility of scenic vistas: “On some days, it’s unhealthy for visitors to hike in the parks according to federal air-quality standards,” said Kiernan.

Despite the report’s dire findings, Kiernan also points out that there are success stories in which declines have been reversed due to collaborative conservation efforts. At Channel Islands National Park, for example, park staffers and volunteers have removed exotic plants and reintroduced native species in an effort to restore the park’s natural balance.

“The park is returning to its former health and becoming a wonderful destination,” said Kiernan, who sees the project’s success as a model for future efforts. “When we give the Park Service and its partner organizations funding and leadership, we can restore and enhance our national parks.”

One such effort is the National Parks Project, sponsored by Nature Valley, the granola-bar company, now in its second year. This year, the company has pledged $400,000 to support restoration projects surrounding six parks, plus up to another $100,000 based on retail sales.

The projects are indicative of both the diversity of America’s national parks and the myriad challenges they face. From trail construction in Acadia to restoring pronghorn migration routes in Yellowstone, “they’re a small way to make sure they’re still there for years to come,” said Nature Valley marketing manager Scott Baldwin.

For Keirnan, such collaborative efforts serve a two-fold purpose: to counter the threats facing the national park system and to ensure the parks remain worthwhile destinations for travelers.

“The parks are here for one reason — because Americans stood up and said they wanted them protected,” he said. “It’s like going to the doctor and being told you’ve got a serious illness but that there’s a proven cure.

“Now is the time to apply it.”

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.

Crazy for coasters — or just plain crazy?

Karol Gajda may not be the most extreme roller coaster rider out there, but this summer, he’s likely to be one of the busiest. Having embarked on a self-funded Roller Coaster Tour on May 21, he’s planning to drive 13,000 miles, hit 59 parks and ride several hundred coasters across the country.

For the 30-year-old Gajda, the tour is the latest manifestation of a lifestyle that’s seen him sell most of his possessions, travel constantly (and, we assume, extremely lightly) and espouse a philosophy of “ridiculously extraordinary freedom.”

According to Gajda, roller coasters are merely another expression of that lifestyle. Having grown up outside Detroit, he rode his first coasters at Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio, and decided that this summer he’d hit the road in search of others.

We caught up with him in Texas to find out why. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation:

Q: So where are you now?

A: I’m passing through Austin. I was at SeaWorld in San Antonio this morning and I’m on my way to Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington.

Q: How were the coasters at SeaWorld?

A: Great White was really fun — it’s one of those where your feet are dangling in the air. I wear these shoes called Vibram FiveFingers that are like gloves for your feet. It feels like you’re not wearing shoes at all so it’s like you’re flying through the air barefoot.

Q: What’s your favorite coaster so far?

A: My favorite coaster that I’ve ever been on was X2 at Six Flags Magic Mountain. It’s insane — you don’t know if you’re up, down, going right, going left or whatever. It’s impossible to even explain it; you can watch it go but you don’t get it until you’re actually strapped in and riding it.

Q: Any surprises along the way?

A: Wooden coasters. I grew up in southeast Michigan so we went to Cedar Point a lot, which is known for its big [steel] thrill rides. They also had wooden coasters, but I didn’t enjoy them because they were bumpy. But as this tour has progressed, I’ve started to fall in love with the beauty of wooden coasters.

Q: For instance?

A: The Legend at Arnolds Park in Iowa, which is in the middle of nowhere. It was built in 1927 and it was really cool to go on something that’s so historic.

Q: Why the tour?

A: I just like to do fun things that will inspire people to do fun things. I like people to dream big and go for their goals no matter how wacky they are. I understand [the tour] is a weird and wacky thing to do but, hopefully, it’ll inspire some people to do their own weird projects no matter what other people say.

Q: You also say you’re not a hardcore coaster enthusiast, yet you’re spending three months doing this. Can you explain?

A: I’m not documenting every twist and turn and I don’t go on forums and discuss coasters all night. The tour is almost like an art project for me; the coasters are the medium. It’s not really about the coasters; it’s about inspiring people to do what they want.

Q: Your website shows another 30-plus stops from Arkansas to Ohio to Florida to New England. Where does it all end?

A: The tour is scheduled to end on August 14 at Cedar Point, which is known as a great roller coaster park. Growing up outside Detroit, it’s also sort of my home-base park, so it has nostalgic value as well. [After that, Gajda plans to head to Abu Dhabi to ride the Formula Rossa roller coaster, which at 150 mph, is the world’s fastest.]

Q: Other than roller coasters, have you experienced anything else of interest along the way?

A: The one thing that really hit me was Wall Drug in South Dakota. I saw the first billboard — Wall Drug: 452 miles —  and as I kept driving, I saw more and more billboards — Wall Drug: Only 132 miles away. By the time I was within 20 miles, I thought, you know what, I’m stopping and sending my parents a postcard. So that’s what I did.

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.

High water hurting Montana fly fishing industry



Yellowstone on alert after deadly bear mauling

Rangers blocked tourists from visiting one of Yellowstone National Park’s most popular destinations Thursday after a female grizzly bear mauled a backcountry hiker to death.

It was the first fatal grizzly attack inside the park in 25 years — but the third in the Yellowstone region in just over a year.

The attack occurred in an area that is one of Yellowstone’s top attractions, and busloads of tourists normally gather there to take in the view from Artist’s Point, one of the park’s most iconic. A stunning waterfall drops hundreds of feet in the canyon, and trails along both canyon rims are normally crawling with tourists.

The victim was identified as Brian Matayoshi, 57, of Torrance, Calif. His wife escaped serious injury, park officials said.

Park spokesman Al Nash said the couple saw the bear and her cubs twice on their hike. The first time, they continued hiking. The second time, the grizzly charged them and the man told his wife to run.

“In an apparent attempt to defend a perceived threat to her cubs, the bear attacked and fatally wounded the man,” the National Park Service said in a statement.

Nash said Yellowstone typically does not try to euthanize or remove a bear that attacks if it is seen as trying to protect its cubs.

Rangers believe the bear instinctively charged to protect her young. The bear had never been documented before, never been tagged, and there was no reason to believe it had interacted with humans before, Nash said.

The decision not to track and kill the bear isn’t unprecedented.

In nearby Grand Teton National Park, officials decided not to intervene with a grizzly that wounded a man there in 2007. This summer, the same bear and her cubs have drawn crowds of tourists to roadsides in the park.

Marilyn Matayoshi told park officials she didn’t see the bear attack her husband. When the bear went for her, Nash said, she dropped to the ground. The grizzly lifted her off the ground by the day pack she was wearing, then dropped her.





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After the bear left, she called out and nearby hikers came to her aid. The woman may have had scrapes and bruises but didn’t seek medical attention.

Yellowstone and surrounding areas are home at least 600 grizzlies — and some say more than 1,000. Once rare to behold, grizzlies have become an almost routine cause of curious tourists lining up at Yellowstone’s roadsides at the height of summer season.

Some visitors said they didn’t know about the attack. Tourists staying at a campground in nearby Canyon Village said no rangers or park personnel told them about it.

Pavel and Igor Srom, visitors from the Czech Republic, said they saw groups of people hike around the barricades early Thursday. They stopped when a passing maintenance worker told them a bear had been seen, and park rangers soon arrived to turn away everyone.

Officials closed backcountry campgrounds in the area. The Wapiti Lake trailhead has a bear warning sign.

While lamenting the death, officials said they didn’t want to overemphasize the danger to visitors.

“This is a wild and natural park,” said Diane Shober, director of the state Wyoming Travel and Tourism agency. “At the same time, the likelihood of this happening again is small.”

It was the park’s first fatal grizzly mauling since 1986, but the third in the Yellowstone region in just over a year amid ever-growing numbers of grizzlies and tourists roaming the same wild landscape of scalding-hot geysers and sweeping mountain vistas.

Tourists have been flooding into Yellowstone in record numbers: 3.6 million last year, up 10 percent from 2009’s 3.3 million, also a record.

In June 2010, a grizzly just released after being tranquilized for study killed an Illinois man hiking outside Yellowstone’s east gate.

Last July, a grizzly killed a Michigan man and injured two others in a nighttime campground rampage near Cooke City, Mont., northeast of the park. That bear was trapped and destroyed because the attacks were considered to be unprovoked.

Full-grown Yellowstone bears can stand 6 feet tall and top 600 pounds. They have been known to peel off a man’s face with a single swipe of their massive, clawed paws.

Their growing numbers require constant vigilance by tourists and park workers alike, said Caleb Platt, a service station manager at Canyon Village.

Platt lives most of the year in Yellowstone and said over the last eight years he has had three fairly close run-ins with grizzlies while hiking.

“When it’s close and you realize it does see you, it gets the heart racing,” he said.

Platt said he carries bear spray — pressurized hot-pepper oil in a can — so he’s able to defend himself in case a bear gets too close on the trail.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Vacation like a ‘Loser’

Courtesy Biggest Loser Resort

An ocean view from the Biggest Loser Resort in Malibu, Calif.

Fans of the popular NBC weight-loss reality show “The Biggest Loser” will soon be able to find more places to vacation like a “loser.”

(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Fitness Ridge Worldwide, which currently operates two Biggest Loser-branded resorts in Malibu, Calif., and Ivins, Utah, announced last week that it plans to open several new resorts and bring the concept to existing hotels.

“Our goal is to put Biggest Loser Resorts all over the country,” said CEO Larry Bond. The company plans to expand to 2,500 rooms in the next three years starting with a new location in the Southeast or Mid-Atlantic region in early 2012. The Utah and California resorts have 140 rooms combined.

From destination spas such as Canyon Ranch to Outward Bound-style programs that challenge participants’ physical and emotional stamina, vacations focused on fitness are nothing new.

But the tie-in with the TV show is what lured 49-year-old Froydis Olsen from Oslo, Norway, to the Biggest Loser Resort in scenic Malibu this summer.

“I wanted to see how much I can push myself,” she said. “I wanted to be pushed like the TV show and see how much I could endure.”

Guests who stay at the Malibu resort for one week pay $2,295 for a double occupancy room. A private room for the week costs $2,695; a four-week stay can be as much as $10,000 depending on accommodations.  (Prices at the Utah resort are a bit lower.)

Olsen and other guests spend six to seven hours each weekday in group exercises that include guided hikes, cardio, aerobics and aquatic classes. Saturday morning activities include fitness classes and a guided hike in the Malibu hills or on the beach. When they aren’t moving, guests are learning about nutrition and wellness from a team of trainers, counselors, life coaches, dieticians and chefs.

“I thought it would be a lot more pushing, that they’d get in your face,” said Olsen, who tacked on both a personal training session and a private hike session for an additional fee. “The trainers will push you, but it’s more positive and motivational.”

Olsen, who is spending five weeks at the resort this summer, arrived weighing 196 pounds. She lost 14 pounds during her first week and 22.5 pounds by the end of week four.

Paul Hernandez of Trinidad, who weighed in at 383 pounds and has a target weight of 240 pounds, had to secure a visa in order to spend 84 days at the Malibu resort. He thought the program’s 1,200 calorie a day meal program would be “all rice cakes and lettuce,” but has found the food to be quite acceptable.

Breakfast menus (300 calories) include egg dishes, granola parfaits, smoothies and muffins. Lunches (400 calories) range from sandwiches or burritos to soups and pizza. And dinners (500 calories) include chicken, salads, salmon and enchiladas.

“I’m not saying you’re full, but you leave the table satisfied,” Hernandez said. “And if you feel peckish, there are salads and snacks you can fill up on.”

Dixie Stanforth, a fitness expert from the University of Texas at Austin and a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, said people searching for a weight-loss vacation should consider whether they can spend enough time and money to be there long enough to drive significant behavior changes.

“No program is going to work for everyone,” Stanforth said, “but unlike the show, you’re asking people to spend resources on themselves without any promise of reality-show induced fame or the social pressure of success in front of a national audience … This might be an abrupt enough change that it would provide a serious jump start.”

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Find more by Harriet Baskas on Stuck at The Airport.com and follow her on Twitter.