Get Dirty in Southern Utah

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Southern Utah is one of those bizzare and intensely beautiful places that moviemakers can’t help but use as the backdrop for their movies. Beautiful places like this are difficult to reach, but luckily America is the land of great road trips.

If you have an extra week on your schedule, and want to see some of the iconic places that make a western movie a western movie, rent a car and check out this itinerary:

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Step #1: Begin in Salt Lake City Utah. I haven’t been to a city anywhere in America that comes close to being as friendly as Salt Lake. The food is great, there are beautiful mountain backdrops in every direction, and did I mention the people are friendly? Remember to BYOB though, as the state has a limit on the alcohol content places can put in their drinks.

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Step #2: Go see the mountains! Park City, Alta, and Snowbird are just a few of the many beautiful ski resorts that are worth a visit at any time of year. They have some of the best skiing in the world during winter, and great mountain biking in the summer. Check out the local ski shops for mountain bike and ski rentals.

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(If you look close in the small hole next to the arch, you will see me relaxing after a pretty sketchy rock climb).

Step #3: Take Highway 15 to highway 6, and keep going until you reach Moab. Here you have reached the Shangri-La of desert rock formations. There is the town of Moab, but the rest of the region is very rural, so plan on camping or cheap hotels (I would recommend camping). In Moab there are several outfitters in town that provide dirt bikes and other offroading vehicles. You can pretty much do anything here, from tandem base jumping (something I have always wanted to do), to mountain biking or rock climbing. There are also some fantastic slot canyons to walk through if you want something at a slower pace.

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(check out the local news in Canyonlands at the Newspaper stop on the access road. Archaeologists don’t know how old these pictures are, what they mean, or who made them.)

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Step #4: Go To Canyonlands, making sure that the emphasis of your trip is in the Needles District. The picture above is from the Lost Canyon hike in the Needles District. From here you can look around you and see the history of the earth. The erosion of rock leaves behind black streaks which show where streams and river run when the area has water, and the mountains in the background are a reminder of where the earth used to be. The rock climbing in this region goes along routes they call ladders, which are step like formations from where the canyon has been slowly eroding. This is my favorite part of Utah.

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Step #5: Keep heading south from here, and make sure you have brought some good music to listen to. It is a long trip to Page Arizona to see Lake Powell, but no desert trip is complete without stopping by an Oasis. Be prepared to rent a boat and go cliff jumping! Lake Powell is actually a massive reservoir, which filled a section of the grand canyon, so the water is deep. It is a great place to get lost, so get ready to explore.

Be sure to stop by Monument National Park on the way to see a Navajo Reservation and some more towering mesas:

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(if you have ever seen the road runner and coyote cartoons from acme, you may recognize this setting)

Be sure and also check out Upper or lower antelope canyon for an afternoon hike. This is one of my favorite pictures of lower antelope:

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Step #6: Head down to Flagstaff, or strait to the north end of the Grand Canyon if you are camping, or have the money to stay at one of the hotels there. Both the north and south sections of the Grand Canyon offer sweeping vistas of unreal beauty. Donkey rides to the bottom of the canyon are popular, and a great opportunity to take family photos. Unfortunately it is very difficult to get on the grand canyon part of the Colorado river. Permits need to be applied for and the waiting list is literally a decade long.

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Step #8: Go to the Sin City capitol of America: Las Vegas! Las Vegas is best seen when you are 21, because the city runs on its night life. If you end up there during the day, check out the hoover dam, or if you are sick of the car, walk the strip and watch the Belagio water fountain show. It is hard to go wrong in this city if you enjoy partying. It is also a great place to fly out of, with cheap flights almost anywhere.

 

These places are an outdoors paradise, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. But don’t stick to the itinerary too much! I could easily spend a whole month in any one of these places, and never get bored. If you are going for the first time though, I recommend seeing the whole thing so that you know what is out there. Happy travels!

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Finding New Signs While Shredding the Inca Trail in Peru

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There are more than 1,800 deaths on the roads that lead into the Andes every year. The combination of unpredictable conditions (such as animals or people in the road), faulty breaks and reckless driving, puts Peru at the top of the list for having the most dangerous roads in the world. We were standing on one of these roads near our van in the perpetual mists on top of the Andes. A few children were playing outside of a small stone church, while a some locals watched us check our equipment and begin the briefing.

When our guide said, “So its really steep and wet here. If your bike starts to slide, then you’re only going to start going faster, so it’s better to jump off right away.” I realized the ride might require a little more skill than I had. We were standing at the edge of a vertical face that I would have had trouble walking up, and couldn’t really believe that he wanted us to ride down. I nodded my head while he spoke, checking my helmet and elbow pads, making sure that if I fell off my bike my protective padding would at least stay with me.

Our guide dropped the hill first, leaving a streak of moisture and dirt in his wake, then Tanner, and finally myself, barely moving as I clutched the breaks. I leaned far back behind my seat to keep from rolling over my handlebars, wondering if I shouldn’t have lit a candle in the church before my ride.

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My friend Tanner and I were riding with KB Tambo Tour Company (http://kbperu.com), based out of Ollantaytambo Peru, which has the best reputation for extreme biking. The company has three different trails for beginning, middle and advanced riders, and we were just lucky enough to catch them for the combined beginner and advanced trails. My friend Tanner is what our guide called a, “shredder” while we all slowly discovered that I didn’t know what I was doing as the bike I was borrowing tumbled down the trail, and I slid on my back after it.

Despite my lack of skill I was still having a wonderful time. The back padding acted nicely as a cushion as I slid on my back looking at the clouds overhead. They had given me enough padding to tumble comfortably down the mountains, and I did this with a relative sense of peace. The ride was particularly hard, but I was slowly getting back into my mountain biking groove.

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As I slowly got better at threading my tires between the boulders and the cliffs on the ancient Incan trail we were riding on, I came to a realization. The reason I kept falling was I had been looking where I didn’t want to go, and focused on the dangerous rather than the best path in front of me. There wasn’t much room on the trail to make these mistakes, and focusing on disastrous moves always ended with me jumping off the bike or falling. This realization, although extremely simple, showed me something I now think about every day of my life.

I was brought back to the moment I bought my ticket, when I realized that I would rather be in Peru than New York over winter break. I didn’t know what would be waiting when I arrived (though my friends were quick to point out a terrorist group known as the “shining path”), only that it was where I wanted to be. Instead of focusing on all of the things that should stop me from traveling, I booked my ticket, taken the steps to sure I would have at least 1,000 dollars before I left, and everything else followed easily from there.

Back on the bike, I was starting to keep up. I was no longer walking my bike down as the steep drops, and falling less on the other parts of the trail. Nothing had changed other than the direction of my eyes. When I didn’t look at the cliffs, I didn’t worry about them. We stopped at a set of ruins near the bottom of the trail, and enjoyed a part of Peru that had been on our trail before the main road was created, a part that had only just been given its own sign. I saw at that moment that my ride was like the ruin, and I had just put a sign next to something that had always been there. It had taken me a while to get used to find it on the dangerous trail, but doing something I wasn’t entirely comfortable with had pushed my limits to the growing point.

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Check out some more videos of the trail through the racing website:http://incaavalanche.com/videos/

Also, check out Blizzard Biking on my Colorado Page:http://moderatextremetravel.com/2013/02/01/blizzard-biking/

Peru: Cheaper than you might think, more fun than you would expect

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(View from the top of Mount Machu Picchu when the clouds finally broke)

One of my favorite vacations ever was in Peru, where I did more in 15 days than I do in half a year back home. And the best part of it is: you can do it all on pretty much any budget!

I had only 1,000 U.S. dollars to spend while I was away, and still managed to go mountain biking, see Machu Picchu, witness a traditional Peruvian ceremony and bull fight, Party a few nights in Cusco, and surf on the longest left breaking wave in the world.

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(View from my inexpensive hostel in northern Peru’s town of Chicama)

Here are some basic facts:

 

Summertime: Peru’s summer comes in December and continues to March. It is also their wet season, but there are some upsides to traveling with a risk of rain,

  • Prices are cheaper because many tourists don’t want a rainy day to ruin their trip to Machu Picchu.
  • There are less tourists, so you have a greater chance to connect with the culture and locals.
  • It doesn’t rain every day! When I was there it only rained one day (my Machu Picchu day) and it didn’t rain all day long.
  • The rain keeps the country pretty cool, so if you are from a colder climate the heat isn’t overwhelming
  • It’s a great time to see the festivals of Carnival in February (happens prior to lent), and Semana Santa, or the Easter festivities that typically occur at the end of march and into early April.

Wintertime: This is their dry season, with the warmest weather. The contradiction of warmer weather in winter is part of the exotic appeal to visit Peru. The benefits are,

  • It is more common to find other tourists who speak English, or other non-native languages (easier to make friends while you travel).
  • These months are much better to visit Peru’s Amazon, as more roads will be passable, which means that more territory will be open to you.
  • Your trip to Machu Picchu is less likely to be rained out.
  • The festival Inti Raymi is happening June 24th in Cusco (perhaps my favorite party town in the world), See Peruvian Independence Day celebrations from july 28th– 29th and lastly the weeklong festival of Arequipa, which happens across the country.dsc00769(City of Trujillo)Whatever your travel schedule may hold, there is always something to do. Cheap flights through Lima make the country accessible for any budget, and it is easy to eat like a king for cheap. Check out more information on the country here: http://www.peruforless.com