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Other Outdoorsy Stuff

Los Angeles’ 5 Most Popular Hiking Trails

January 8, 2018

Photo: John Gibbons

The idea that Los Angeles is filled with freeways, movie stars and smog might be partially true, but it also has the Pacific Ocean and plenty of mountains, both which can be explored by hiking trails. If you happen to be in LA take a day or two to walk some of these eclectic trails before you go back to searching for movie stars.

Mt. Hollywood Trail
The Hollywood sign is a Los Angeles icon and if you can’t get close to a movie star, you can at least get close to the sign on this trail. The hike of about three miles starts at Griffith Observatory and is nice and easy, and a reasonable hike for children. It’s a top trail for natives of Los Angeles so you will be passing and be passed by hikers and runners, many on their cell phones. It’s a popular trail because of the view once you get to the top with the city of Los Angeles to the south and Hollywood sign to the west and if you look behind the sunglasses and hat, you might see a movie star walk past you.

 Sara Wan Trail Head at Corral Canyon
This 2.5 mile trail winds through the last undeveloped canyon filled with willow and sycamore trees that flows down to the ocean in Malibu. The trail is in the 1,000-acre Corral Canyon Park in the Santa Monica Mountains. Your hike begins on Pacific Coast Highway next to a deli—which is so LA. There is no parking allowed on the PCH near this trail but there is a parking lot at the trailhead which charges $5.00. This is an easy hike with a view of the ocean and mountains, but make sure you bring plenty of water, wear long pants for bushwhacking, and be on the lookout for snakes that hide in the tall grass. Other than that, this hike is a lot of fun.

Echo Mountain, Altadena
The Sam Merrill trail on Echo Mountain is the path to take for the best experience. The trail head begins at the intersection of East Loma Alta Drive and Lake Avenue in Altadena, at the entrance to the Cobb Estate and you begin your walk on an old driveway. The climb is steep, but it won’t take long for you to catch views of Altadena, Pasadena, and Los Angeles. The trail ends at the ruins of the Echo Mountain House, a resort built in the late 1800s and which eventually was destroyed by wildfires. This is a strenuous 5.8-mile hike with 1,400 feet of elevation gain, so bring plenty of water and make sure your camera is charged because there are all kinds of old artifacts to be found along the trail.

Portuguese Bend Reserve, Rancho Palos Verdes
This nature preserve of almost 400 acres is filled with sagebrush and wildflowers that cling to the craggy cliffs. You might think you are in Northern California, walking through Big Sur, but then you remember where you parked your car and realize you are in Los Angeles. The best trail, according to locals, is a six-mile round-trip walk to Sacred Cove, which will reward you with oversized waves crashing onto the rocks and of view of the Catalina Islands.

Trail Canyon Falls, Angels National Forest
Trail Canyon Falls is a 4.5 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Tujunga, neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. The trail is steep—700 feet of elevation—but when you arrive at the 30-foot waterfall that spills over a smooth wall into a shallow pool, you will be glad you kept going. Dogs are welcome on Trail Canyon Trail (they like to use the word ‘trail.’) and even better, it’s free to park at the trailhead.

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10 Guided Public Caves to Get You Exploring Underground

December 29, 2017

Caves are extremely fragile environments, often only resulting in thousands of years of little disturbance. For that reason, caves that are discovered and unprotected can often receive significant and permanent damage from unregulated use. Across the nation, to connect people with the underground world beneath their feet, there are several “show-caves” that not only provide safe access and guided tours of these subterranean environments, but help protect all the stunning speleothems and features they encompass. Whether you are looking for an introduction to caving, or you want to crawl and squeeze your way through a wild cave tour, from beneath the roots of Sequoia National Park to the Cumberland Gap of the Appalachian Mountains, and so many in between, there are enough show caves to explore to stay underground throughout the year. For more information on other show-caves around you, a great resource to start with is the National Caves Association website.

Know Before You Go:
White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) has been documented in caves across the nation and is detrimentally effecting cave-dwelling bat populations. While WNS isn’t noted to harm the human population, it can easily be spread by humans, making it another consideration before visiting a cave. Wearing appropriate clothing that hasn’t been contaminated by previous cave visits and taking the time to Learn More About White-Nose Syndrome can help make your next visit to a cave a fun one for everyone and everything involved.

Mammoth Caves National Park, Kentucky
There are more than a handful of show caves to discover in Kentucky, but none compare to the extensiveness found in Mammoth Caves National Park. With over 400 miles of this subterranean atmosphere already explored, and many passageways still waiting to be discovered, visitors to Mammoth Caves State Park can receive a wide range of tours of this underground space, including lantern-led expeditions and a kids-only “Trog Tour”. Reservations aren’t required but are extremely recommended, especially on holidays and weekend events. The many different tours offered by Mammoth Caves National Park all range in difficulty, price and time spent underground, but each provide outlets to explore this incredible natural wonder in a way that is both safe for you and the environment. Upon your visit, if you decide the underground life is not for you, Mammoth Caves also offers over 70 miles of hiking trails above ground, including four self-guided tours to help you learn more about the world underneath your feet.

Crystal Cave, Sequoia National Park, California
While there is a lot to see at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park aboveground, a fascinating world awaits below for those who want to see it. Not far from the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park, Crystal Cave is a marble cavern full of fragile resources of which can only be seen on a guided tour. Partnering with the National Park Service, the Sequoia Parks Conservancy provides tours of this spectacular underground space through the spring and fall. Tours range from Family Tours on flat surfaces to Wild Cave expeditions where you’ll get a little dirty. Accessing the entrance to Crystal Cave is an adventure itself, and because of its wilderness location, the cave can close unexpectedly at any time, making for reservations and back-up plans a recommended plan of action.

Gap Cave, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Located at the border of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, the Cumberland Gap has been a significant location for pioneers, travelers and explorers for centuries, and still today this culturally iconic swath of land holds a lot to discover. There are many caves in this now nationally designated historical park, and a handful that are open to the public including the backcountry Skylight or Sand Caves. To get the most out of an underground experience at the Cumberland Gap, guided tours are available for perhaps the area’s most dazzling cave system, the Gap Cave, formerly known as Cudjo’s Cave. There is only one guided tour option available for the Gap Cave, which involves a 1.5-mile route that is accommodating for most members of the family, and includes insight on the different environmental factors that created the grand underground cathedral that is the Gap Cave.

Wind Cave, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
Sitting below the intact prairie landscape of the Black Hills National Forest in western South Dakota, Wind Cave provides a stark contrast from the world above it. Constituting as one of the most complex caving systems in the world, Wind Cave is still being actively explored by experts today, and to get a taste of this wild environment, guided tours are offered 362 days of the year. With a wide range of tour options available to meet the need of all kinds of adventurers, every guided outing into the cave sheds some light on the unique arrangement of features that make Wind Cave so unique. Specifically, the formation of the honeycomb-like Boxwork formations in Wind Cave is perhaps the most intricate display of this fragile speleothem found anywhere else in the nation.

Carlsbad Cave, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Consisting of more than 119 caves, Carlsbad Caverns is a world-renowned caving destination that plummets visitors deep below ground underneath the Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico. While it might be a little warm above ground throughout the summer months at this southwestern hotspot for adventure, the caves below ground always remain around 56 degrees, making them a year-round destination. Self-guided tours are available to the public to gain access to the “Big Room”, but the recommendation course of action is to reserve your spot on one the many guided tours that can take you into the caves further. The most popular guided experience is the King’s Palace tour, which explores four different chambers all decorated with a wide variety of cave features in an hour and a half. Longer tours are available sporadically throughout the week, and reservation are always recommended.

Luray Caverns, Luray, Virginia
Located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, the Luray Caverns were first discovered by modern civilization nearly a century and a half ago, and since then, this cathedral of caverns has become one of the most popular spots to explore underground in the Eastern United States. With 10-story high ceilings and a 47-foot column, the sheer enormity of Luray Caverns is almost hard to believe with your own eyes, even with the many lights installed to help you find your way. Guided tours come provided with every admission into Luray Caverns, and visitors can expect to see more calcite formations than they’ll ever see again in their life. With the admission into the cave, patrons can also spend time on the self-guided tour above ground of the Luray Valley Museum and Car & Carriage Caravan.

“The Cave State”, Missouri
With well over 6,000 caves in the state of Missouri, the people at the Missouri Caves Association have coined the term “Cave Factory” for the many continuing geological processes happening beneath their feet. It’s the karst areas of the Ozarks that lend to so many caves, and over thousands of years these once spring-fed areas have morphed into the colossal caves they are today, many of which you can explore with some helpful guidance. Fantastic Caverns offers America’s only ride-thru caving experience via jeep-drawn trams, and Talking Rock Cavern near Silver Dollar City has been touted as Missouri’s most beautiful cave. Whichever Missouri cave system you choose to explore, you’ll be treated to a unique underground experience with each visit.  

Kartchner Caverns State Park, Benson, Arizona
Located in southern Arizona, Kartchner Caverns have been developing for thousands upon thousands of years, but was only discovered by modern civilization in 1974. With conservation efforts in mind, Kartchner Caverns wasn’t introduced to the public for over a decade after its discovery, once the landowners reached an agreement with the state to make this geologically significant area a protected state park. The two main rooms that are currently available for public tours include the Rotunda-Throne Room and Big Room, which both offer unique formations like 20-foot soda straw stalactites, birds nest needle formations and “Kubla-Khan”, Arizona’s largest known underground column. Much of the Kartchner Caverns are wheelchair and limited-mobility accessible, making these southwestern caverns fun for everyone to enjoy.

Natural Bridge Caverns, San Antonio, Texas
Like many things in Texas, the Natural Bridge Caverns located just outside of San Antonio are big. In fact, this popular tourist destination is the largest show cave in the state, and with open availability year-round to explore this geological wonder as part of a guided tour, there’s little limit to the amount of exploration to be done at the Natural Bridge Caverns. With four different types of tours available, ranging from lantern-lit to hidden passageway exploring, whatever type of cave experience you’re looking for, Natural Bridge Caverns can provide the guidance needed to have a great time. Natural Bridge Caverns also offers plenty of attractions above ground as well, including a zip-line canopy tour and an open-air maze that is perfect for exploring after a caving experience.

Mystery Cave, Preston, Minnesota
Spanning for 13 miles underground, Mystery Cave is Minnesota’s largest known cave, and with some guidance from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, you can discover the mystery of the underground world. In conjunction with Forestville State Park, this southern Minnesota cave system is only available for viewing through guided tours that are offered everyday throughout the summer and every weekend for the rest of the year. Patrons have their choice of cave tours when visiting, ranging from the popular scenic cave tour which takes an hour to a photography tour catering towards those with tripods. Throughout Mystery Cave, visitors can expect to see stalactites, stalagmites, fossils and underground pools, many of which are exposed through dramatic lighting installed by the park.

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San Diego’s 5 Most Popular Hiking Trails

December 22, 2017

Credit: AlexBrylov

San Diego is often referred to as “America’s finest city,” and it’s easy to see why with miles of shoreline, mountains thick with pine trees, and nearby deserts. Part of the appeal of San Diego are its hiking spots and the short amount of time it takes to get to your destination. These five popular hiking spots are but a few that San Diego has to offer, so lace up your hiking boots, pack plenty of water and your trekking poles, and set off on one of these very fine trails.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
It’s doubtful that you will find better views in San Diego than on the trails along the cliffs above Torrey Pines State Beach. With more than 1500 acres of coastal wilderness set high above the Pacific Ocean, there are eight trails for hikers of every level of experience. This is a day use park only, and parking can be a problem. If you want to avoid the fee in the state park go early midweek and park along Highway 101. This will give you a mini workout as you walk up the hill to the trails, which is what the locals recommend.

Mount Woodson
This hiking trail is rated moderate to difficult, so it’s not the place for small children unless you want to carry them almost 8 miles, much of it uphill. Most hikers head out on the trail that ends up at Potato Chip Rock, a rather precarious looking ledge of rock that hangs out over the hillside. Go during the week if you can, because it seems that every hiker wants to have their picture balancing on the rock. Unless its winter, the weather can be quite warm in this part of San Diego so be sure to take plenty of water and your camera for the money shot on Potato Chip Rock.

Cowles Mountain
If you want to get a good workout in a short amount of time, Cowles Mountain is probably the best hiking area in San Diego for you. The hike is only three miles round-trip, but it’s straight uphill, but the workout and the view at the top are worth it. Plenty of people in San Diego take this hike each day, so you’ll find plenty of other people, and even dogs on a leash. If you do this hike early in the morning, you have plenty of time to lie on the beach in the afternoon.

Palomar Mountain State Park
Palomar Mountain State Park is best to be explored during warm weather, because most winters it snows on this mountain. You can camp in the state park or just make a day of it since it’s only about a one hour drive from downtown San Diego. There are 11 miles of trails for beginners to experienced hikers, but all paths will take you through dense forests filled with wildflowers in the spring and summer and colorful leaves in the fall.

Balboa Park Trails
Balboa Park is located only a few miles from downtown San Diego, but the trails in this 1200 acre park, can fool you into thinking you are miles away. The hiking trails in the park—which is also filled with museums and history—vary in their degree of difficulty from an easy two mile hike to a difficult six mile trek. Most of the trails are kid and dog (leashed) friendly, making this spot the perfect place to explore on foot.

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6 Common Myths About Wild Animals

December 15, 2017

Photo: Gary Bendig

You can run into just about any kind of wild creature while out camping. That’s why it’s important to understand what potential dangers they impose. It’s just as important, though, to know what common perceptions on wild animals aren’t at all true.

Baby Birds Need Help
There’s a common misconception that a baby bird left on the ground has been abandoned by its parents. This is rarely true. Baby birds on the ground are usually ones that have just left the nest for the first time and are in the process of learning how to forage and fly. You might not see them, but rest assured the parents are nearby watching closely. Leave them alone and be sure to steer clear of their nesting site.

Bambi Needs Rescuing
The same goes for baby deer you find alone out in the wild. The idea that a fawn left alone has been neglected by it’s mother is false; the female dear leave their offspring alone all the time in order to forage for food. It’s not uncommon at all for one to be left along for long periods of time. Don’t approach and don’t attempt to feed it.

A Foaming Mouth Means Rabies
Every camper knows to be wary of a foaming mouth. That’s because it’s one of the biggest warning signs of rabies. What a lot of people don’t realize is that a foaming mouth can actually mean a lot of things, many of which aren’t nearly as dangerous as rabies. Foaming can be a symptom of diseases like coccidian, distemper, and roundworm, or just a sign of liver failure, poisoning or dehydration. Still, it’s always important to be cautious and not approach any animal you see foaming at the mouth in the wild.

Toads Will Give You Warts
While often thought of as a popular old wives tale that’s used to help keep children in line, there are far too many adults around who still believe this silly myth. Toads cannot give a person warts, no matter how much you rub your hand over one. Warts are spread through the human papillomavirus and can only be spread through human-to-human contact.

Bears Are Vicious
Popular lore claims that if you see a bear in the wild you either play dead or you die. The truth is that most bears will never attack a human unless they feel threatened. Playing dead is also never a sure bet. In fact, playing dead with a black bear will certainly not end well for you. Instead, it’s better to stand your ground and ward it off with a weapon or can of pepper spray. Grizzlies, however, are more likely to leave you alone if you assume the fetal position. Whatever you do, never run from a bear–they’re bigger and faster.

Zigzag Away From Gators
Where this myth originated we’ll never know, but anyone who grew up around gators can tell you how silly it is. Still, some people believe it. The myth goes that in order to outrun an alligator or crocodile one simply has to run in a zigzag pattern. Due to the long body and stubby legs the creatures aren’t able to give chase in such a pattern. That’s a load of crock. Crocodiles and alligators are surprisingly agile creatures and the fastest way to outrun one is to run in a straight line like your life depends on it.

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How Creatures Survive Winter

December 7, 2017

Photo: Ray Hennessy

When it comes to winter, we humans are wusses. We huddle in heated homes, drink hot cocoa, and buy cars with heated seats. If you want to talk winter, talk to the pros—the critters that run around outside without any of that stuff—and without clothes, for that matter outside. When the weather gets tough, the tough get going…in a variety of ways. Here’s how they make it.

Sleep It Off
When you feel the urge to stuff yourself with high-calorie meals, and snuggle into a blanket as the days get shorter, you’re feeling the mammalian urge to hibernate. For creatures that can lower their body temperature, hibernation and torpor are a reasonable way to deal with the demands of staying warm when there’s less food around to fuel their metabolic engine. Torpor is a short-term form of hibernation that’s driven more by food availability than shortening day length. Marmots and ground squirrels will hibernate, snoozing away the whole winter. Bears go through torpor, waking up periodically to hunt for a snack.

Get Fat
But to survive hibernation and torpor, critters have to fatten up. Even with a reduced body temperature, and often the shared heat of big groups, critters need to stock up on food to make it through the winter sleep. That’s why fall is such a feeding frenzy of bears feeding on salmon, squirrels stuffing their faces with nuts.

Photo: Bryan Minear

Be Large and Squat
A quick mental inventory of critters that live in the mountains or high latitudes shows that most of them are large and squat—bears, marmots, ground squirrels, muskox. They have large bodies to reduce surface area to size ratio, which means that they retain heat better. Long and gangly works in warmer climes, but when it’s cold, they lose too much heat. There are exceptions, like elk and moose, that are constantly on the move in search of food.

Be a Hyperactive Workaholic
And that’s the other solution: to be hyperkinetic, often beneath the snow. Pika, voles, and many small mammals stay active all winter. They’ll run around tunneling beneath the snow, where’s it’s surprisingly warmer than it is above and predators can’t see them. Pikas plan ahead, drying grass on the rocks in the summer and hiding the stash for winter. The metabolic demands of all this running around are huge, and these critters have to eat constantly.

Go Low
The easiest solution is to just drop down in elevation. There are many vertical migrants, from elk that migrate out of the Rockies into the lower elevations around Jackson Hole, to small birds like Varied Thrushes that spend the summers in the high country of the Pacific Northwest and winters on the coast. The strategy makes sense if you’re willing to make the trip, which has it’s own metabolic costs. And competition for food in the lowlands can be intense.

Go South
And if you’ve got wings, you can just head for the tropics. Many of our birds migrate for Central or South America, where they can skip the winter entirely. This is also a huge risk, with the metabolic costs of flying thousands of miles and the risks of getting lost, hit by a storm, or eaten along the way. But for birds, which don’t have the options of hibernation or torpor, it’s often the only option.

Photo: Josh Felise

Be Smart
When you look at the creatures that hang out all winter in the mountains or far north: polar bears, ravens, gray jays, coyotes, wolves: they all have one thing in common: cleverness. The pickings are lean, so the creatures that stick around have to be smart enough to find a variety of foods in a variety of ways. Winter tends to reward generalists: ravens can solve problems and are omnivores, fox, coyotes and wolves will take a variety of prey from voles to moose, and polar bears are famously clever in how they stalk seals on the arctic ice.

Go Solo or Teamwork?
Predators and omnivores who stick around all winter have a tough choice to make: go with a team or go it alone? Each strategy has its advantages. The solo hunters—coyotes, and wolverines—don’t have to share when they find food, which they make small snacks go farther to meeting their food needs. The team hunters—packs of wolves, flocks of gray jays and crows—have more eyes to spot potential food sources. They can team up to bring down larger prey that can feed the group, like a pack of wolves pulling down a deer or moose. Either way, winter predators are constantly on the move, looking food wherever they can find it.

Next time you’re huddled in your down parka in the snow for a few minutes before you duck back inside the warming hut, show some respect for the critters that are outside all winter.

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Where to Watch Whales (and When)

December 4, 2017

Photo: Steve Halama

Seeing a whale in the wild is quite the unique sight. With the average adult humpback whale ranging between 40 and 52 feet long and weighing up to 45 tons, this type of enormity is rarely seen in our natural world. Despite their size, whales also exhibit a seemingly peaceful demeanor and acrobatic prowess as they glide through the water. Whatever it is about whale-watching that peaks your interest, there is opportunity to enjoy it year-round in the United States. Ranging from up and down the western coasts to the Atlantic waters of Florida and Maine, Humpback Whales in migration and Right Whales coming back from extinction can be spotted from land, boat or even the air. Don’t forget though, to improve your chances of seeing one of these mammoth mammals, it’s not just about the location, it’s your timing that will ensure some successful whale-watching endeavors.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska (June to August)
While there are more than a handful of great spots to go whale watching in Alaska (including Kodiak Island & the city of Juneau), thanks to its designation as a Humpback Whale Sanctuary, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve ranks as one of the best places to spot these cetacean creatures. The cold, nutrient-rich waters of the Icy Straight and Point Adolphus of Glacier Bay are a perfect place for humpback and minke whales to refuel on their journey through the ocean, and because the waters are heavily regulated, more and more of these massive mammals have been spotted each year. The optimal time to see migrating whales from Glacier Bay is between June and August, and with many private companies happy to charter you a ride, if you visit within this season, the chances are very high you’ll see some of the high-flying, water-shooting fun provided by passing by whales.

Monterey Submarine Canyon, California (All Year)
Stretching from Mexico to Alaska, the great migration of Grey Whales that happens twice a year is one of the biggest natural migrations in the animal kingdom. Along this route it should come as no surprise that the State of California is one of the best places to see whales passing by. Stretching from down south near the Baja peninsula and warm waters of San Diego, up to the northern shores near San Francisco, California provides whale-watching opportunities throughout the year. Of special note, the underwater equivalent of the Grand Canyon known as the Submarine Canyon (or Monterey Canyon), just off of Monterey Bay, provides the deep waters needed to see all sorts of different whales all year long. Other popular whale-watching spots in California include Big Sur, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Mendocino and up and down the entire shore.

Lime Kiln State Park, San Juan Islands, Washington (May – September)
Like many of the locations mentioned on this list, visiting the San Juan Islands can be a great time even if you don’t happen to spot a whale breaching the water. Featuring a rugged shore and exotic environment, Orca whales are year-round residents of the San Juan Islands, and while there are many locations and charter boats to choose from to see these wild animals in the water, Lime Kiln State Park is a popular place to see them from the shore. Also known as Whale Watch Park, Lime Kiln is found on the western shore of the actual San Juan Island within the archipelago, and is considered one of the best places to watch whales from land in the United States. Educational opportunities are found throughout Lime Kiln State Park as well, providing a little insight on the magnificent sights you can see from shore.

Virginia Beach, Virginia (January – March)
For a winter whale-watching excursion, you can catch a good glimpse of humpback whales on the Atlantic Coast of Virginia Beach between the months of January and March. While there are plenty of excellent private charter options to see these whales on the move, the programs offered by the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center provide the most insight behind the sight-seeing aspect of whale watching. While whale tours are only available within the months of winter, you can go on other marine tours including a Dolphin Discoveries Sea Tour throughout the rest of the year as well.

Long Island, New York (July to September)
The Atlantic waters off Long Island are New York’s capital whale-watching spot, and the nutrient-rich waters are noted to be a stopping point for over 25 different species of Whales. Most whale watching excursions of Long Island launch off from the historic town of Montauk located on the eastern end of the south shore. If you want to take part in the scientific action alongside the whale watching, the Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island (CRESLI) welcomes you aboard their research vessels throughout the season. A great way to learn about and help the scientific community that supports the endangered whale species, CRESLI has a 90% success rate when it comes to spotting whales, ensuring that not only will you see what you came for when you whale watch with CRESLI, but you’ll be helping the community you’re visiting while you’re at it.

Photo: Steve Halama

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (December to May)
In response to diminishing numbers in whale populations, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary was created by Congress in 1992. This marine safe-haven, which surrounds the shallow and warm waters (less than 600 feet) of the Hawaiian main islands, are a favorite honeymoon destination for humpback whales when they return each winter to breed and raise their young. It should be no surprise then that this popular whale destination is also a popular place to see these sea creatures which can range from 40 to 52 feet in length. The Marine Sanctuary provides their Top 10 Sites for Shoreline Whale Watching, but also note whale-watching opportunities exist along all shorelines of Hawaii, and boat tours are becoming an ever increasing popular way to see these mammals from a closer dista

Bar Harbor, Maine (May to October)
Located just outside of the Acadia National Park boundary on the Gulf of Maine, Bar Harbor provides countless opportunities to see Humpback whales breaching, hopping and tail lobbing. Whether you opt for a chartered boat and/or catamaran ride that can take you along the coast of Acadia, or you take your binoculars to a pier, throughout the summer and early Autumn, your chances are high to see the mammoth acrobats popping out of the water. A popular outfit to travel with in Bar Harbor is the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company, which also offers other guided tours outside of the season to witness the variety of marine life and rugged ecosystems offered by the coast of Maine.

Whale Watching Center, Depoe Bay, Oregon (Year-Round)
While whales are spotted off the Oregon Coast in Depoe Bay throughout the year, the best concentrations of grey whales occur in the winter and spring as thousands of these migrating mammals make their way back to the warm waters of Baja. The brick and mortar Whale Watching Center, operated by Oregon State Parks, is one of the reasons the city of Depoe Bay proclaims itself to be the whale-watching capital of the Oregon Coast. The other reason lies within the vast number of whales that can be spotted from the shore, or from one of the many commercial outfits that can take you out on the water. To find out when the two Whale Weeks take place, which features the peak viewing times of the massive migrations, plus professional shore-side assistance to spot the whales, stayed tuned to the Whale Watching Center’s Whale Watching Spoken Here program.

Jacksonville, Florida (December to March)
Once reduced to extremely low populations by hunters, the Right Whale is slowly making a comeback into existence, and can be seen off the Atlantic Coast of Florida near Jacksonville every winter. Right Whale sightings in Florida are not as frequent as Humpbacks on the West Coast, and so there are few chartered boat options available to see this unique species of whale. With some local knowledge and a little patience however, Right Whales can be spotted from the shore throughout the winter. The volunteer teams and scientist associated with the Marineland Right Whale Project can help you look in the right direction to spot the Right Whales, and can provide an outlet for you to be part of the conservation conversation regarding this endangered species.

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What Kind Of Tent Do You Need?

December 1, 2017

When it comes to a long hike, a tent is an essential part of the experience. If you get the perfect tent for your needs you will be comfortable, dry and warm all night, but the wrong tent could spell disaster for your trip.

This is because tents come in a wide range of sizes and types, so some tents are completely different to other tents, even if they look similar. For this reason it is important to look at the different types of tents before buying one, as this way you will buy a tent that is perfectly suited to your needs.

Here are some questions that you should ask yourself so that you buy the right tent.

Are You Camping With Other People, Or Are You Camping Alone?

One of the main things that you should think about when you buy a tent is the tent sleeping capacity. If you plan on regularly hiking with your family or friends you will need a bigger tent, such as a three-person or a six-person tent. It is also important to think about your gear and possible pets; if you are hiking alone but bringing your dog with you, you will need a tent that can fit at least two people.

It is also worth getting a slightly bigger tent if you are fairly large or if you toss and turn during the night, as you want to be comfortable when you are sleeping!

Will You Be Camping In Summer?

There are a few different types of tents to suit different weather conditions. Many people are only interested in arranging longer hikes when the weather is warmer as it is more pleasant. If you only camp during summer and winter you may want to invest in a three season tent, as this is a light-weight tent that is easier to transport than a heavier tent. The tent will be equipped with mesh panels to help circulate air when the weather is warmer, but they also come with a taut rainfly that can handle some heavy rain. The tents are even able to handle wind and light snow, but they are not ideal for thunderstorms or heavy show.

Three season tents are specially engineers so that they can be used during the majority of seasons, so they are ideal for most hikers. You can also by an extended season tent, which is slightly more sturdy and comes with more poles and fewer mesh panels than a standard three season tent.

If you are buying a three season tent for two or more people, it is best to invest in a cabin style tent with nearly vertical walls to make the space more liveable. You can even find tents with room dividers for privacy, such as this excellent 3 room dome tent.
If you prefer to camp alone during the warmer seasons, you may be interested in the Adventure Dome tent as it is ideal for one person camping during summer and spring.

 

Will You Be Camping In Winter?

If you plan on camping in winter you will need to invest in a four season tent to ensure that you stay warm and comfortable even in fairly harsh conditions. A four season tent is designed to withstand heavy snow and strong winds, and they can even be used for mountaineering. There are a few different designs that you can choose from, but one of the most popular is dome style tents as they tend to be stronger and more wind resistant than other options. This is will be appreciated by any hikers who are trying to get to sleep in the middle of a storm!

Four season tents are sturdier as they have heavier fabrics and more poles. This means they can be more difficult to transport around, but the pros far outweigh the cons when it comes to camping in harsh weather conditions.

As the tents are thicker and feature less mesh panels they can get quite warm in summer, but you can solve this problem by keeping the main entrance unzipped for a few minutes before you go to sleep.

Extra Things To Consider

Tents can be particularly limiting for tall people, so if you are tall and you camp a lot you may want to buy a tent with a taller peak height. It can also be useful to buy a tent that has a floor length of at least 90 inches so you can sleep comfortably.

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The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace

November 17, 2017
leave no trace

leave no traceOutdoorsmen have long touted the benefits of leaving the wild as you found it, often called Leave No Trace. No everyone is familiar with the seven principles of this outdoor eco-friendly philosophy and, admittedly, it can be a little confusing. If you’re new to the outdoors or would just like to leave a smaller carbon footprint, here’s what you need to know.

Plan Ahead and Prepare
You can avoid a lot of simple mistakes by simply planning ahead. Research the area you plan on visiting or camping in to learn the regulations and trails. If an emergency happens you’ll already know what to do to stay safe while also not harming your surroundings. The official Leave No Trace bullet points are as follows:

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
  • Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Where you camp can have an impact on the environment. It’s important to stay on designated trails and campsites so as not to disturb the local wildlife and habitats. Durable surfaces like packed dirt at pre-formed camping areas, gravel or road are all acceptable.

  • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
  • Camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when it’s wet or muddy.
  • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
  • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

Dispose of Waste Properly
Just because you’re out in the wild doesn’t mean you should act like an animal. Human waste, including stool, urine, food and water, can wreak havoc on the local habitat and displace animals from their homes. Whatever you bring in, take it back out when you leave whenever possible.

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
  • Deposit solid human waste in cat holes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cat hole when finished.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

Leave What You Find
Along the same lines of taking your own belongings out with you, you should also leave what you find in the wild there where it belongs. Rocks, leaves and other objects can serve as homes and valuable protection for all means of wildlife. The area might also be historically significant or preserved. Avoid moving or removing anything you come across on your hikes.

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

Minimize Campfire Impacts
Campfires pose one of the biggest threats to the natural environment—a small gust of wind can ignite and entire forest in the right conditions. That’s why it’s important stick with established areas for setting a fire when possible and switching to an electric option when not. Avoid starting a fire whenever possible to have the smallest impact on the environment.

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife 
One of the best parts of experiencing nature is getting up close and personal to all the beautiful creatures that live out there you wouldn’t normally see back home. However, getting too close can mean back with one less arm, or worse. Steer clear of any animals you come across outdoors. They’re just as awesome from a safe distance as they are up close and much less likely to attack.

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Finally, you can get the most out of the outdoors by respecting those around you. Treating others with respect can help you avoid uncomfortable situations out on the trail like arguments or acts of retribution. Keep the noise levels down and share campsites whenever possible.

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
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7 Reasons to Get Away From it All

November 10, 2017
solitude

solitudeSometimes you just have to get away from it all: be it the woods, the beach or the mountains. Getting away may mean different things to different people but the main idea is to flee your everyday life.

We’re too Connected
With the advent of wireless technology, it seems we are connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There once was a time, believe it or not, when we were on our own once we left the job. In today’s connected world the job follows us everywhere we go. There was also a time when everyone rejoiced that we may someday work from home. Little did we realize then that we would learn to regret that possibility.

We Don’t Have Much Time
Americans get less vacation than a lot of other workers. While many European companies offer up to 6 weeks of vacation a year, most Americans not only get less, they take less than entitled. In a recent study by Oxford Economics they found that U.S workers are using only 77 percent of their paid time off; what is wrong with these people? Estimates range from 8 to 10 days of paid leave for the average American which doesn’t leave a lot of time for getting away. Amazingly, a whopping 23 percent of Americans have no paid leave at all. That helps explain why all our favorite camping spots are full on weekends

We Work too Much
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” is a proverb that first popped up in James Howell’s Proverbs in English, Italian, French and Spanish in the year 1659. Now I have no idea who Jack was, or why he was working so much but I imagine he stands for all of us.  I don’t know how tough things were in 1659 but in this day and age, according to a recent Gallup poll, American adults work an average of 47 hours per week. I think most of us would agree, after 47 hours of work, we’re ready for a camp-fire, some solitude, or at least a little peace and quiet.

It’s Noisy Out There
Urban life is loud enough what with: sirens, car horns and other traffic related nuisances. Now we have car stereos that rival stadium sound systems driving right past you, while you probably have earbuds on with your playlist cranking away. TVs have sound bars and surround sound stereos so we can crank the news full blast while, if you’re like me, you have a neighbor whose leaf blower has the same decibel level and frequency of a jet engine. We are surrounded by noise now more than ever, making that quick getaway more necessary than ever.

It’s Getting a Bit Crowded Around Here
I live in Colorado and they say approximately 8-10 thousand people a month move to our state. I’m not sure who “They” are, and by that I mean the ones moving in and the ones counting them, but it explains my need to get away. Unfortunately, these new residents are not moving into the parts of the state I would like them to move into. We have plenty of open space in the western deserts and eastern plains but no, they want to live right next to me. That means that now, though I have to go farther away to get away, it is imperative that I do.

It’s Crazy Out There
This is not a news flash but people are nuts out there. You can blame it on politics, TV, movies, video games or as I do, Rap music but the fact is, things are getting worse. People are on edge more than ever which makes me want to run away. There is the problem of some of these crazy people following us out of town but if you get far enough away, they can’t find you.

For Your Own Good
Getting away from it all is good for the soul and body. Not only do our bodies require rest but our minds do too as well. The quiet of the woods, the gentle crashing of the waves or the cool breezes of the mountains are therapeutic.  In the hustle and bustle of today’s world  where every facet of our lives needs charging, we sometimes tend to forget to recharge ourselves.

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5 Hiking Trails That Are Stunning During Fall

November 8, 2017
fall hiking

fall hiking

The majority of hiking trails are beautiful all year around, but some trails are truly breath-taking during fall. As the seasons change and the leaves start to turn yellow, orange, red and brown, some hiking trails explode with colour and wonderful views.

If you love fall, here are 5 hiking trails that are stunning during fall. Grab your sweater, make a thermos of coffee, and head out to check out one of these scenic trails!

The Appalachian Trail, Tennessee
The Appalachian Trail can be found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is one of the most popular national parks in America. The trail is truly stunning from start to finish during fall (although it’s 94 miles long, so you may want to break the trail down into shorter trips!) as it winds through the lush mountains. Hikers will see brightly colored foliage as they walk, as well as beautiful waterfalls and amazing valley viewpoints that offer 360 degree views of the park.

If you want to hike this trail but you can’t spare a week to do the whole thing in one, check out the smaller section between the Iron Mountain Gap and the Cross Mountain. This section is only 17 miles long, so it can easily be completed during a weekend, and you will see some of the best views that the trail has to offer. You will also have time to camp in the Cherokee National Forest, which is one of the most relaxing and beautiful spots in Tennessee to set up camp.

Noanet Woodlands, Massachusetts
The Noanet Woodlands are beautiful during every season, but the woodland really comes alive during fall. The woodland is very dense, with much of the trail being shaded due to the sheer amount of trees—and the trees explode with colour during fall, so you will be walking under a canopy of red, gold and orange! The park also offers beautiful views of the Massachusetts skyline.

The trail is 17 miles long and it isn’t too strenuous, so it’s ideal for beginner hikers as well as seasoned hikers. There’s also a shorter trail that’s just half a mile long that you may want to consider if you’re bringing along children.

Old Rag Mountain, Virginia
Old Rag Mountain can be found in the Shenandoah National Park, and the trail is very beautiful—but it’s also very tough, so you should pass on this one if you’re new to hiking. The breath-taking trail is 9 miles long, and the trail is mostly made up of rugged, steep paths and rocky areas.

The trail may be very tough, but if you make it to the end you will be rewarded with 360 degree views of the national park, including 200,000 protected acres of trees that are glowing with fall colors.

If you’re an experienced hiker and you want to try this trail, we recommend that you go during the week to avoid the big crowds that appear every weekend.

Beaver Lake Loop, Michigan
The Beaver Lake Loop can be found in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and it’s undoubtedly one of the most beautiful trails in Michigan. The park covers around 73,000 acres of land, including scenic sandstone cliffs and lush forests that change color during fall.

The trek is 1.5 miles long so it can easily be completed in a day, and the trail ends at the coast of Lake Superior. This view is definitely worth the walk, as the icy blue of the lake contrasts perfectly with the orange and red forest!

The North Ridge Trail, Maine
The North Ridge Trail goes up the Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, and it offers some of the best views of the New England coastline. As you walk you will see birch, poplar and maple trees shedding their brightly colored leaves, as well as lots of beautiful rock formations.

The hike is slightly strenuous as it’s uphill, but it’s well worth the climb as you will be treated to some amazing views at the top! You can also ascend the Beehive Trail for more great views, but it’s important to note that this ascent shouldn’t be tried if you’re new to hiking as it’s very strenuous.

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How to Make Your Fall Outdoor Photography Pop

September 10, 2017
fall photography

Fall is great time for photography…but it’s hard to make images that haven’t been made a million times before.

The tricks fall into two categories: artistic and technical. As photographers, we operate gizmos with lots of buttons that connect to our computers, so it’s really easy to focus on the technical aspects: exposure, white balance, and depth of field. But at the end of the day, we’re telling stories—and that’s about creativity, meaning, and art. We’ll handle the artistic ideas first, and then the technical tricks.

Fall is More than Colorful Leaves
Everyone takes photos of colorful leaves. And that’s the signature image of the season, especially if you live in an area full of maples or Aspen. But those images have been done a million times, so if you’re going to shoot colorful leaves, do it in a creative way and make sure your images stand out. Even more importantly, don’t forget the other stories of fall. In the Pacific Northwest, fall is when salmon spawn and die in the rivers on the west side of the Cascades, when the mornings are suddenly crisp and cool, when gangs of geese form giant Vs and stage for heading south. Every region has its fall traditions, and colorful leaves are just one of them.

Tell Transition Stories
Photography is about telling stories, not just about recording what’s in front of the camera. Think in terms of transition themes: the end of summer can be about the kids going back to school, the last gasp of summer activities, a break from the humidity, or when the mountains empty out and you have them to yourselves. It could be about the mad dash to finish summer projects, or looking forward to ski season just around the corner, or brown hills turning back to green when the rain finally provides some drought relief.

fall photography

Now we go from the artistic topics to the technical ones.

Polarize
Fall images call for a polarizing filter. What’s a polarizing filter? It’s a circular gray filter composed of two rings. The effect is to darken the sky, cut glare, and increase saturation slightly. The inner ring screws into the lens; the outer one adjusts the effect, which is strongest at 90 degrees to the sun. It’s great for darkening skies, making fall colors pop, and cutting the glare of light reflected off water. They’re designed to screw onto DLSR lenses, but can also be held carefully in front of the lenses of point and shoots and phone cameras.

Use Colors Wisely
Fall color is spectacular, but to be truly spectacular it has to be paired with something else. Think red leaves against the green needles of evergreens, or the yellow-blue contrast between leaves and water or sky. If you remember your art classes from middle school, these are complimentary colors that make each other look more saturated when they’re next to each other.

Move the Camera
When you’re wandering around on your two feet, it’s easy to always put the camera at eye level. This works sometimes when you’re shooting grand vistas, but it definitely doesn’t work in fall, when you’re likely either shooting up or down. Get close to the edge of leaves, the color of water at sunset, and kneel down or climb high to get a perspective other than the usual.

Get Stable
In the days of film, serious photographers always used tripods because the only way to get a decent image was to use slow-speed film. In the digital world, we have more flexibility because of adjustable ISO. But tripods—even small tabletop ones or Gorillapods help make sure your images are sharp. They let you shoot at low ISO, which means less pixelization. They also help you control focus when shooting close-up: less camera movement ensures that things close to the camera are sharp.

Control Depth of Field
Learn how to adjust the f-stop on your camera. Many point and shoots allow this, or have picture modes that have different pre-set depths of field. F-stop controls depth of field: the smaller the opening, the more of the field of view is in focus—but the harder it’s to hold the camera still, since the shutter has to be open to let more light in. Shallow depths of field are great when you want a soft background free of distracting elements. Deep depth of field is great when you want to establish a relationship between elements in a frame. Since fall photography involves lots of leaf edges, you want depth of field under your control, not the camera’s automatic settings.

Say goodbye to summer, but say hello to one of the richest photographic seasons we’ve got.

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How Camping Became Cool

August 8, 2017

©istockphoto/pixdeluxe

When you think about it, camping is a pretty weird pursuit. We voluntarily give up creature comforts that we’ve worked hard to earn and expose ourselves to hardships like cold, heat, rain and bugs. How did this become a pastime?

Camping’s journey from an uncomfortable necessity to a hobby for millions of Americans goes back a long way. A few centuries ago, the only reason to go into the woods or hang out in the countryside was hard work—forestry, farming and herding. “Outdoor sports” like hunting, riding, and fishing were the province of the wealthy landed gentry on their estates. The outdoors wasn’t cool. Being tan meant you worked the fields. Pale and plump was in. But somehow camping became a $646 billion dollar industry and one of the most popular things to do on vacation.

A Virginia Politician Looks West
From his comfortable tidewater plantation, a young politician looked toward the Ohio Valley opening up to settlement after the British victory in the French & Indian War. He believed that the openness of land in the west would be an opportunity for independent-minded, self-governing farmers to migrate west and break the power of an aristocratic elite of bankers and merchants in cities. The politician was Thomas Jefferson. His philosophy linked open land, independence, and the American national character for centuries to come. Ironically enough, Jefferson himself never traveled west of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains: his imaginings of the west occurred entirely in his head. But by connecting independence, wilderness, and national virtue, he shaped an American identity with the outdoors at it’s core.

Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge and Shelly
The era of English romantic poets was a response to the industrialism and urbanism of the English Industrial Revolution, with its’ coal mines, steam power and “dark satanic mills.” The romantic poets promoted returning to nature for awe, inspiration, and the divine. They took long rambles in the Lake and Peak districts, and later in the Alps. Jefferson saw the west as the pressure valve for American politics: the British saw rugged nature doing the same for the human soul.

The Golden Spike and the Aftermath
On May 10, 1869, in Northern Utah, the last railroad spike was driven into the transcontinental railroad linking New York and San Francisco. In the decades that followed, the American West would be transformed from isolated frontier to urbanized society where most people lived in cities, conducted commerce with people far away, and lived lives removed from the natural world. In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner would declare the frontier “closed.” As soon as westerners moved into cities, they started to wax nostalgic for the frontier world, and that included appreciating the natural world more. Excursions to the mountains and rivers for fun, rather than to trap furs, grew in popularity.

“The Vigorous Life”
A few decades after the Golden Spike, an asthmatic New York state assemblyman was grieving from the death of his wife and mother sought rebirth in the hard work of ranching in the Dakota Territory. His name was Teddy Roosevelt. The hard work of sleeping outside and herding cattle in the Badlands cleansed him, and Roosevelt went on to popularize the “vigorous life”: hiking, horseback riding, camping, hunting and just about everything that cold be done outside, even as president. Today’s backpackers and climbers, who voluntarily sweat up mountains with a 50-pound pack, are direct descendants of Roosevelt’s idea of becoming a better person through hard work outside.

The Counterculture and the Car
Camping grew into a major pastime between the 1950s and 1970s. Climbers began gathering in Yosemite’s now-legendary Camp 4. National Parks became major destinations like never before. People started running commercial trips rafting western rivers like the Colorado, or backpacking deep into the wilderness….and, like Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner, writing about it. Two things made this possible. The first was the automobile, which, combined with the Interstate highways, made getting to the mountains and exploring off the beaten path much easier. The second was the back-to-nature ethos of the 1960s and ’70s. This massive interest in nature also led to a wide range of protecting wild places, such as the Wilderness Act and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The Nature Health Connection
By 2005, America had urbanized even further. We started spending huge chunks of online, and smartphones were creating ever-present internet addiction. In 2005, Richard Louv published his groundbreaking book, The Last Child In the Woods, which depicted how nature is essential to the development of healthy kids, both mentally and physically. The book launched a wave of concern that kits weren’t getting enough “Vitamin N”: enough nature to stay healthy, active and smart.

Our interest in camping can seem odd: a nostalgic yearning for how it was “back then” in a simpler time. For some, it does seem odd to plan your vacation to carry your own weight on your back, sleep on the ground, and eat freeze dried food while being bitten by bugs. But if we think about it a different way—as Louv and Edward Wilson contend—nature is deep in our genes. When we’re backpacking, we’re going back to our evolutionary origins. We’re once again a small band of nomads traveling through the landscape with deep connections to nature’s rhythms. Seen in that light, it’s no wonder camping feels cool.