Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Great Mountains to Visit

1. Mount Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii (See above)

Treat yourself and book a bike ride at dawn down the side of this volcano. You don't need to be in great shape, as most of it is downhill (with a couple small uphills you can walk once you reach the bottom). We were picked up at 2 a.m., taken to the office, given coffee and a muffin, then bused up to the top of the mountain which, by the way, was FREEZING! They gave us windbreakers which we changed into immediately, as well as layering on some of our own clothing over our shorts and t-shirts. The sunrise was absolutely SPECTACULAR! Then off we went, coasting down the mountain with a guide in front of us and a wagon behind us. We stopped about half way down to get photos of us with the valley behind. Well worth the money and must be done at least once in your lifetime!

2. Pike's Peak, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Actually located in Manitou Springs, you must absolutely ride the cog train up to the top of this very historic peak. It served as a marker for many a western-bound settler. The cog train has absolutely spectacular views. Be prepared for cold, wind, and thin air at the top. Move slowly to the visitor's center, a parking lot's length away. A good bet -- hot chocolate.

3. Mt. Hood, outside Portland, Oregon

Having lived in its shadow about 3 years, this mountain has special memories for me. It is one of the most beautiful peaks I've seen, always covered in snow year round. You can easily traverse to the timberline during most of the year, and even in winter, if the roads have been cleared and the weather is good. Drive up to Timberline Lodge and see the beauty that the CCC created during the Depression. Year round skiing is available, and snowboarding is quite popular. The surrounding wilderness is beautiful. You can see several other peaks from the front porch of the lodge, including Mt. Adams to the south. The restaurant's food is wonderful and worth the price. Caution: If you like more modern lodgings, be sure to book the modern wing of the lodge -- the old Lodge's rooms are small, and in particular, the bathrooms are hard to navigate for those whose girth is a big on the wide side.

4. Mt. Ebert, near Denver, Colorado

I made the mistake of going from sea level to the peak of Mt. Ebert (14,000+ feet) in about 7 hours and saw stars the last few yards of my walk. This lead to a HUMONGOUS headache which lasted several more hours (lack of oxygen). So a word to the wise -- proceed slowly. This is touted as the world's highest paved highway. As you drive up, be on the lookout for big horn sheep -- they are plentiful.

5. Mt. Ranier, near Seattle, Washington

Another beautiful peak and snow-covered year-round. However, Seattle rarely sees it because of the city's inclement weather. This is the only mountain I've actually walked a trail on. It was pretty challenging for me -- a novice. It took about 3 hours to go up and 2 to come down (the coming down is a lot harder than you'd think!) But the final view was absolutely stunning. You really did feel the vastness of the wilderness and the majesty of the mountain. At the bottom of the trail was Paradise --an outpost where you can lodge, eat, shop and use public facilities.

6. Mt. St. Helens, south Washington

I've visited this twice; once shortly after the devastating eruption and once years afterwards. What a difference. The former visit showed a moonlike vista covered with gray ash. Now, the ash has enriched the soil and greenery and flowers were abounding. You can now drive into the wilderness (a route closed for years). Be sure to stop in at the visitor's center to get a sense of what happened.

7. Mt. Constitution, Orcas Island, Washington

The view from this island mountain top is absolutely spectacular, especially if you get there at sunset. You can look back on mainland U.S. or out towards Vancouver, Island B.C. It's a winding, twisty road up and back; take your time. Bicyclists are also on the road. On our trip, we found several cars pulled over to visit with a friendly deer who was obviously used to visitors.

8. Mt. Washington, New Hampshire

The highest winds ever recorded on earth were recorded on Mt. Washington. It too has a cog railway like Pike's Peak. The scenery is not QUITE as spectacular, but it is still breathtaking. People actually drive up this mountain, but the train is the better way to go so the DRIVER can see, too! There's a nice visitor's center at the top. The day we visited was the hottest on record for Mt. Washington's peak: 76 degrees. Usually it's quite cool.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Air Travel Tips Post 9-11

For those of you who may not have traveled since Sept. 11, 2001, or who have done so infrequently, I have accumulated a few travel tips for air travel.

1. Wear slip-on shoes to the plane. They WILL make you take them off and pass them through the x-ray machine.

2. Do not take any liquids or gels in carry on luggage if you can help it. If you must, they must be no more than 3 oz. and the bottles must be in a see-through plastic bag. Likewise, no knives or sharp pointy things. Those things can be put into your checked luggage.

3. When you reach security, empty pockets and take off any big, clunky jewelry and put in small bowl provided. Also you have to take off jackets, sweaters. Digital cameras are okay through X-ray but film must be handled by the security people. Let them know.

4. Even though it’s more expensive, buy a bottle of water once you get airside and take it with you. You will probably get thirsty on the plane and the beverage service isn’t speedy! Also, they don’t serve meals anymore. You will probably get peanuts and/or some sort of crackers (sometimes cookies), so if you need to eat something, bring your own.

5. You can buy anything at the airside stores to take on the plane (meals, drinks, etc.) Once you’re past security, it’s not a problem.

6. You may be offered self-service kiosks. If so, tell them you’re an infrequent flyer and you’d like to have some help. They have people for that. Usually you just need your name and flight number or final destination. You check your bags in there once you’ve gotten your boarding passes. The clerks will take the bags and put the airport tags on them.

7. You will need to show your ID at the ticket counter and at security. Going on board, you only need your boarding pass.

8. Go to your gate first to make sure there’s no change of gate or delay. You don’t need to check in with the gate.

9. When you get to your layover, always check to see where your next gate is first. Sometimes they don’t tell you on board, or have it wrong. Then go to the gate and double check.

10. You won’t need to go through security again at your layover stop unless you leave the gate area (usually no need for that!)

11. Most flights start boarding 20-30 minutes before scheduled take off.

12. Keep an eye on the restroom signs. If you are going to use the one up front, you can’t stand in front of the door and wait (by the cabin).