Gozalandia Waterfall…If You Can Find It, You’ll Love it!

Road trips are often an adventure. You can discover great places, and have interesting experiences along the way to your intended destination. This is our road trip to Gozalandia waterfall in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico.

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Gozalandia Waterfall

We leave San Juan bright and early, the whole family packed into the car like sardines. Happy ones, though. We have food and music and a sense of adventure. Our nephew and his girlfriend are in the car in front of us, leading the way. Somehow things go awry west of Arecibo. We should be heading inland towards San Sebastian, but we seem to be going somewhere else. We follow along until we realize that we are definitely lost. But where we are lost is amazing. We have somehow ended up in Bosque Estatal De Guajataca, a beautiful forest with a tiny winding road leading through the trees. We even find a tower to climb to further enjoy the view. Our poor young tour guides are getting stressed, but they shouldn’t be. This was worth getting lost for!IMG_0442

We eventually find ourselves on a familiar road and make it to San Sebastian and Gozalandia Waterfall. There is a parking lot where we pay $5 to park. We grab our towels and cooler full of beer and snacks and make our way down the decidedly treacherous trail to the bottom of the falls. It is muddy, steep and slippery, but manageable. It’s worth all the effort. The waterfall is beautiful, maybe 50 to 60 feet high, and cascades down over the rocks, creating hidden caves. It doesn’t take us long to drop our gear and jump into the cool water. We scramble up the rocks on the left of the waterfall and creep behind the pounding water. It’s very thrilling. From there, we watch as the bravest people jump from high up on the wall into the pool. Exploring the area, we find a small cave to the right of the falls that we can swim into. It’s small, only big enough for a few people at a time. I can’t convince some of our group to try; it just looks too scary. It isn’t a long swim to the air pocket inside, though. I’m able to grab my daughter’s hand and pull her into me. It’s a day of fun swimming, jumping and exploring.

We find out later that there is actually another waterfall farther upstream, but by then everyone is too tired to explore. Apparently there is a rope you can use to swing out into the deep pool. Next time!

Helpful info:

Obviously, I cannot give great directions here! I have researched online and found these GPS coordinates, which everyone seems to use. Try them and see –  18.358268,-66.986489

There are a lot of hiking trails and caves to explore in Bosque Estatal de Guajataca. That is next on my list when we visit again. If you are going out to Gozalandia, though, you may want to do a little research and make a day of it.

Bring snacks and drinks, as there is nothing at the falls. I don’t go anywhere without my Olympus Stylus Tough Camera, as it is water proof and shock proof. That makes it perfect for these kinds of adventures.

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Jumping off the cliff

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Behind the Falls

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The view from behind the falls

 

 

 

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Beneath the Volcano

After a summer off, I am finally back to writing. I dedicate this story to our friend Virginia Maxwell, who was taken from us far too soon. We love her and miss her.virginia

 

We walk along the jungle path, the greenery closing in around us. Birds call and insects buzz. Reaching a large, dark hole in the ground, we begin our descent into the longest and deepest lava tube in the world. The air is immediately cooler, dropping about 20 degrees to the low 60’s (Fahrenheit,) which makes me glad I have on a sweatshirt. As we slowly move away from the cave opening, the sunlight disappears. Only flashlights and headlamps penetrate the inky blackness. This is the Kazamura lava tube on the Big Island of Hawaii, and it is unlike any cave we have ever seen.

misc 112Over the years, we have toured a lot of different kinds of caves.  From Iceland to Tennessee, Puerto Rico to Texas, we have explored caves. We even went deep into a coal mine in Nova Scotia, which is basically a man-made cave. The Kazamura cave is different from them all. The stalactites and stalagmites were made from flowing lava, not water. That changes everything!misc 116

The cave rests beneath Kilauea Iki, which is still a very active volcano. An eruption 700 years ago started the slow process of creating the cave system. We see amazing sights as we walk through with our guide. There are “lava roses,” which are rare. They are formed when lava from a tube below fills up and then oozes through a small opening in the floor. As it bubbles up it creates a rose-like shape. There are also lava straws that hang from the ceiling; lava ripples along the floor, where a rock fell into a pool of lava; and lavafalls along the walls. Many of the formations are chocolate brown in color and look almost shiny, which is caused by minerals and the way the lava cools. It’s all really beautiful and different.misc 117

Our guide tells us that two creatures live here in the deep: an albino spider and an albino cricket. They feed on the minerals in the water. Of course, just after hearing about the bugs that could be surrounding us, our guide has us turn out our lights so that we can experience true darkness. That is always an amazing experience, leaving  you a little breathless and profoundly glad that there are always back-up flashlights! Rachel, age 8, is beyond happy to have the lights back on.misc 063

We end our tour back where we started; in the jungle. The air is warm and the sun is shining. It’s time to explore the volcano from the outside. We are heading off to hike the Kilauea Iki trail into the big crater. Can’t wait!

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.

Courage Level: 2 The only issue is if you are seriously afraid of the dark or claustrophobic. If you are, caving may not be for you!

Fitness Level: 1 This is an easy, one-hour tour. The guide will go at your speed.misc 055

More info?

There were only the three of us on our tour, which was great. Tours are run by Kilauea Caverns of Fire http://www.kilaueacavernsoffire.com/  You have to call and make an appointment. We did the one hour tour, which is perfect for anyone with kids.

We stayed at the Kahi Malu Guest Cottage in Volcano Village while we were exploring Volcano National Park. With two bedrooms, it’s great for a family. There is also a kitchen so you can save on dining if you want.  https://www.volcanogallery.com/lodging/KahiMalu.htm

 

 

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How Much Can You Cram into a Day?

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The river water is clear, cold, and moving fast. The rocks slide by as my rubber kayak bounces off boulders and careens down the rapids. Ahead is a seven foot drop, which seems really big from where I’m sitting. I lift my paddle above my head so it doesn’t smash my face, and laugh as the boat tips down and hits with a splash. What a rush! I am with my sister, Suzanne, and we are having a day of adventure in Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica is all about eco-travel and organized adventures for tourists. The adventure is pretty tame compared to others I have experienced, but it is still a lot of fun. Our tour starts with some tired-looking, slightly ornery horses, who obviously do not enjoy their job. We amble slowly in a line on a dirt path to the edge of the river. Left to their own devices, the horses just turn around and walk back to the barn. Not an exciting day for them!

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For us, the river is a real highlight of our day. We each have our own kayak and guide to get us down the rapids. At times, the jungle closes in with abundant trees and other vegetation.  At others, the river flows through canyons, with sandstone walls on either side. My guide is a joker, splashing water on my sister and pretending to throw a spider in her boat. The spiders are cool, but we definitely don’t want one on us! They hug the canyon walls, right near the water’s edge. They’re big, too! We also see these amazing bats that sleep on a tree trunk. They join together to make the shape of a snake. When they feel threatened, they undulate to mimic a snake climbing the tree. Fascinating, and effective, too.

We dock our boats and climb up to a rope swing hanging over the river. My sister and I are the only ones in our group of ten who are brave enough to go off the swing. It’s a lot of fun and not hard at all. Our clothes are now soaked, but it’s worth it.  Why should kids get all the fun?

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Next on the agenda is the river spa. We stand in a row and get painted by warm mud, which we leave on to dry. One of the guides, who is also our driver, remembers our conversation in the car about wine, and goes out on his own to get some for Suzanne and I. So nice of him! The others drink the local beer, which we aren’t that fond of.  We all head into the sauna to bake until we are completely overheated. There is a nice cliff by the river, so Suzanne and I jump off into the cooling water. It feels great. We are all able to soak in the hot tub by the river, sipping our drinks. It’s beautiful and relaxing. We are not done adventuring yet, though!

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We move on to ziplining and rock climbing. I have done enough ziplining that I don’t feel much of a thrill any more. The scenery is nice, though, and everything is safe and well done. The rock climbing is much harder than I anticipated, especially after downing half a bottle of wine. Two others and I make it to the top of the climb, while the others watch from a swinging bridge. We’ve worked up an appetite, which is good because they have a feast waiting for us. All the traditional foods; rice, beans, chicken, plantains, salad and dessert are on offer. We try it all, get cleaned up and walk to the vans for the return trip.

If you are looking for hardcore adventure, this is not it. If you are looking to have a fun day and squeeze in as much into as possible, this is the tour for you. I plan to use every moment of my five days here. Tomorrow morning, I am up bright and early to go scuba diving. Wonder what I will see?

Helpful info:

We use Go Adventures for our day trip. The guides are great and it is a very fun day. They  come and pick you up at your hotel and deliver you back at the end of the day. I  recommend them. http://www.goadventurescostarica.com

Bring your waterproof camera or you won’t get many pictures. I use the Olympus Stylus Tough and love it.

I could write a dissertation about renting a car in Costa Rica. Suffice to say, it was not a good experience. At home, we were given a quote for the 5-day rental. When we arrived, we were told that we had to add on all kinds of insurance, which doubled the cost of the rental. In addition, they want to put a hold on your credit card for thousands of dollars. Everyone trying to pick up their rental car was in the same situation. We ended up walking around to check out different companies, but the situation was basically the same everywhere. I don’t have an answer to how to solve this, but since I’m going to be in Mexico next month, and I have heard similar complaints about their rentals, I will be coming up with a solution fast! In Costa Rica, if you can manage without a car, do it.

Good luck!

A Day in El Yunque National Rainforest

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La Coca Falls

The jungle closes in quickly. Huge green leaves, bamboo trees and vines surround us. The sun is blocked by the green canopy overhead. Underfoot is a slightly muddy trail that zig-zags down the hill. I see a few snails clinging to the tree when I stop to wait for the others. My family is in El Yunque National Rainforest on La Coca Trail, hiking to our ultimate destination, a waterfall hidden in the jungle.

Well, it’s not really hidden, but this trail is seldom used and doesn’t even appear on some of the maps of the Park. That is what makes it so great! It is a short hike down to a river crossing – maybe a bit more than a half mile. Once there, we turn left and walk on the rocks up the river to the waterfall. We are, as usual, the only people here. It is a two-tiered waterfall, and you can climb to the middle of it using the rocks on the right. There are hand and foot holds in the black rock that make it possible to get up and down. Not without some danger, however. I stand in the middle of the river, with part of the waterfall behind me and the rest flowing in front of me. Suddenly I lose my footing on the slippery rock and crash to the ground. Ouch. Rock doesn’t have much give to it!

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Big Tree Trail

After playing in the water for a while, we climb up the trail that was so easy coming down. We make good time, so we get back in the car and drive to our next hike. The Big Tree Trail leads to La Mina waterfall. It is a nice trail, very well marked, with lots of big trees, snails, vines and Jurassic-looking leaves to keep us entertained. At the bottom is the very popular waterfall, La Mina. We take pictures and the brave ones go swimming up under the falls. The water is pushing hard so you can’t handle being under it for long. There are two trails to reach the waterfall, Big Tree and La Mina. Both are nice, but Big Tree is more interesting, in my opinion. La Mina trail is paved in some places and has stairs in others.

If you are still feeling energetic, there is another hike we like. This one takes us up into the clouds (and rain, of course – this is a rainforest!) The Mount Britton trail has a stone walkway that leads us through more great jungle scenery, gives access to a river to cool off and affords us nice scenic vistas along the way. At the top, we climb the Mount Britton tower, but we can’t see anything but clouds. The way they are moving so fast around us is beautiful and, surprisingly for the tropics, cold!

After a full day of hiking, we are ready to hit the beach and have a piña colada. We drive back down out of the hills and head to the balneario (public beach) at Luquillo. This is a perfect place to have a drink, soak in the sun and eat some tasty empanadas.  Another great day in paradise!

Helpful info:

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La Mina

http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque

El Yunque is about 30 – 40 minutes from San Juan. Take Route 66 until it ends at Route 3. Continue on Route 3 East until you see the large sign on your right advertising El Yunque. Take a right on Route 191 and follow it as it winds up the mountain. Once in the Park, you will see a sign for El Portal Visitor’s Center. http://www.elyunque.com/elportal.htm  They have a lot of information, a gift shop and bathrooms, if you want to visit it. There is a $3 per person fee to enter the Center. You can print trail maps online if you do not want to go into El Portal. You can also find bathrooms at some of the larger trailheads, like La Mina.

La Coca Trail is just after La Coca Falls, which you can’t miss because they are right by the road. Look for the sign at around km 8 on the left. There is a small parking area and a trail map. The actual trail is much longer that what we did. If you are really looking to go adventuring, keep going past the first river crossing. The whole trail takes between 3 and 4 hours.

Big Tree Trail is at km 10.2 on Route 191. There is parking at the trailhead. First you pass the Yokahú Tower, which is nice to climb if you have time.

To get to the Mount Britton Trail, you need to go to km 12 and take a right onto Route 930. There is a sign for the trailhead and parking. At one point in the trail, you will reach a service road. If you continue up it and then to the right, you will get to the tower. Come back down the way you came up.

The rain forest is a great place to have a waterproof camera. We use the Stylus Olympus Tough and love it.

Good luck and happy hiking!

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The Portable Child

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Iguazu, Argentina

I have wanderlust, constantly craving new adventures, new places to explore.  I look at a world map and I see possibilities. When my daughter Rachel was born, my husband Rafael and I vowed to turn her into an adventurer. We wanted to show her the world.

Rachel went on her first plane trip when she was five months old. That is such an easy age to travel with a child. They’re so portable, even if all the stuff you normally lug around with a baby is not. The first step is to jettison half the stuff and just travel with the basics. You can wash clothes in a sink, buy diapers anywhere, and if you breastfeed, you don’t ever have to worry about running out of food!

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Costa Brava, Spain

When she was 2, we took her to Ireland. Rafael ran a marathon in Dublin and Rachel and I cheered him on at a couple spots. The rest of the time, we hung out in a pub (it was raining, of course) and chatted with the other families. At this age, children are also very easy. We had a backpack filled with activities for her. If we were in a restaurant, the car, a pub, or anywhere else that we wanted her content and engaged, we would pull something out of it. There were small toys, picture books, Play-doh, crayons and paper, a stuffed animal and simple games we could play; all there to keep her happy while we enjoyed a meal or a drink.

We always stay at Bed and Breakfasts or small Inns. They are great for children. Many of them have animals to pet, a yard to play in and cookies available to snack on. Often there is a living room with movies and games. Large hotels and resorts will not give you that homey feeling. As Rachel got older, she would take the camera and go off to explore the property wherever we were staying, while her father and I relaxed over a glass of wine. Perfect ending to a day.

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Hiking the lava fields of the Big Island, Hawaii

At 4 years old, we went to Scotland. Her bag of toys started to include card games, watercolors (they dry before you even leave the restaurant) and movies to watch. If you have a camera like the Olympus Stylus Tough, which can handle being dropped and submerged in water, give it to your child. They’ll love it. It’s not like it used to be. I remember coming back from a trip to Spain and realizing that we had put the same roll of film in the camera twice. Not the best way to immortalize those moments. Digital is so much easier!

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hiking in Alaska

When Rachel was 6, we went to Argentina to see the penguins and Iguazu Falls. She was a seasoned traveler by then. She knew how to behave in a restaurant, how to occupy herself on long car rides and she loved seeing all the new sights. Who wouldn’t want to see penguins?

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Skogafoss Waterfall, Iceland. That’s Rachel!

By the time she was 7, we were taking a big trip every year, with a couple smaller ones in between. She watched bears feed on salmon in Alaska, swam with dolphins in Hawaii, soaked in thermal pools in Iceland and went tidal bore rafting in Nova Scotia. She camped in the Amazon, scampered around Machu Picchu and snorkeled in Galapagos. She is a true explorer. At age 15, her bag of toys has been whittled down to a cell phone, a lap top and maybe a deck of cards. She loves being in charge of one of the cameras, and takes amazing pictures. She is worldly, inquisitive, accepting of others and up for a challenge. I believe that much of that is because she has seen some of the world, knows people are basically the same everywhere, and has explored and embraced their differences. She has survived the rigors of sometimes harrowing adventures and has learned to adapt. What a great gift to give to your child.

To afford to do all this takes planning. We are not rich. We just made it our priority to travel. There are always places to go that don’t cost as much. Peru, Argentina and Ecuador are amazingly affordable, while Alaska, Hawaii and (for Americans) almost anywhere in Europe and Asia will require more saving. I have needed a new kitchen since we moved into our house 18 years ago. The problem is that as soon as I have money saved, I think of a great trip we could take instead. Who needs a new kitchen, anyway? Let’s explore!

 

 

Coal Mines of Sidney, Nova Scotia

Coal Mine in Sidney, Nova Scotia

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Machu Picchu

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Hot air balloon ride, Arizona

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dog sledding on a glacier, Alaska

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Blue Lagoon, Iceland

 

A (Slightly Terrifying) Bike Ride Down a Volcano

I cling to the handle bars as I race down the mountain on a bike. It’s so rough that, with small rocks and gravel making up the road, my seat vibrates too much for me to sit. Instead, I stand on the pedals and resist the urge to hit the brakes. I’ve already figured out that if I break too hard, I slide sideways. Inside my head I keep repeating, “It’s okay. I’m good. I can do this.” Really, I’m not so sure riding bikes down the Cotopaxi Volcano was such a great idea.DSC_0036
My husband Rafael, our 13-year-old daughter Rachel and I are at the Cotopaxi National Park in Ecuador, just south of Quito. I’m the one who signed us up for the tour, which includes a ride to the park, the chance to climb a part of the volcano, and then a 25 mile bike ride, starting on the side of one of the world’s highest continuously active volcanoes. Sounds great! Our guide even throws in some winter jackets for us to wear since we don’t have anything warm enough.DSC_0030
The drive to the Park is beautiful. The scenery is gorgeous, all jagged gray mountains, crystal clear lakes and verdant green valleys. Once we reach Cotopaxi, we are driven up to a parking lot where we will start our bike descent. First, though, we have the chance to climb up to the Jose Rivas Refuge at 15,953 feet. The wind and cold at this height are fierce. The air is very thin for anyone not used to it. Rafael is the only one of us to make it to the top. Rachel and I are content to sit on the side of the trail and enjoy the scenery.P1010093
After the climb, we get on our bikes and start downhill. Rachel and I are not mountain bikers and that was immediately obvious! It is tough going. The views, though! We make it to the bottom fairly quickly since we are afraid to use our brakes too much. Then it is a ride through fields, dirt roads and small wooded areas. We stop for a picnic lunch in a field of grazing horses. It feels nice to get off the bike and walk around. A couple hours later we are done. Yippee! This is one of those adventures that you are glad you did, but are happy it is over!P1010076

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.

Courage Level:  3 This is not a walk in the park, but it is not as scary as some other things we have done. The worst part is controlling the descent of the bike on the mountain. If you are good with mountain biking, you should be fine here. Once off the mountain, it is much easier.

Fitness Level: 3 Luckily, there is not a lot of uphill pedaling. A couple times, my daughter and I have to walk our bikes up a hill because we just cannot get enough breath to do it while riding. If you are in reasonably good shape, you can do this.

Do I need special gear?

If your tour company does not provide warm jackets, then you need to bring them, as well as ear warmers or scarves. Gloves were provided for us. Sneakers or hiking shoes work well.  Wear sunglasses. Make sure you have something with a pocket for your camera. I used our Olympus Tough and just held it and let it bang against the bike handles.P1010099

More info?

We used Aries Bike Company. The guide, who rode in a chase car in case we had problems, was very nice and accommodating. He served a huge and yummy picnic lunch. The cost was very reasonable for the Great Cotopaxi Mountain Bike Tour.

http://www.ariesbikecompany.com/pages/one_day_tours.htmP1010102

In Quito, which is where they pick you up for the tour, we stayed at La Casona de la Ronda. This was a great place in the Old Town, with a top-floor living room complete with a view of El Panecillo (the statue of the Winged Virgin that you can see above Quito.) The rooms and breakfast were wonderful and the staff was incredibly nice. When we asked one of them for directions, he came with us for three streets to make sure we didn’t get lost!

http://www.lacasonadelaronda.com/

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Over the Edge in Zion

The cool air blows my hair into my face as I push off the canyon wall with my feet. The rope sliding through my hand, I land back on the rock with a small jolt. Relaxing back into the harness, gravity takes control and I “sit” to look around. The slot canyon is surrounded on all sides by red rock walls.  These canyons are narrow, and made by the wear of water running through them. IMG_1826The canyon floor is dirt, about 40 yards long and 2 to 5 yards wide. I see a small path that must lead to our next rappel. Gripping the rope behind me to control my descent, I take off again for the bottom of the wall, 100 feet below me. A few more big jumps and I’m down. That is so much fun! Rafael, Rachel and I are canyoneering and repelling in Zion National Park, Utah and we love it!

IMG_1804 - CopyOur adventure starts with a scramble up the rocks, searching for hand and foot holds. The red rock is fairly smooth, making the climbs a little bit challenging. At the top, our guide teaches us everything we need to know to enjoy our day rappelling. We practice the techniques on a small, 50 foot wall until we are confident. Then the fun really starts. Squeezing through a narrow crevice in the slot canyon, we look out at the amazing view of rocks, canyon and bright blue sky. Rachel, attached to the anchor on the wall, leans way out to see the bottom of the cliff we are on. I love her courage. You have to trust the equipment! She scurries over the side and disappears from sight, rappelling the wall. Our guide takes us to higher and higher rappels because we are enjoying them so much.IMG_1806

Our last climb takes us to a slot canyon where we have choices on how to descend. If we go down low, we could walk and climb over the rocks on the canyon floor. Rafael and Rachel choose this route. The guide shows me another way, which is to use my back and feet to slowly inch my way across. Using the strength in my legs, I push them against the rock and lean my back against the wall. I’m high enough off the ground that it is a little harrowing when I get tired about three quarters of the way through. Pushing on, I make it to the other side and feel a great sense of accomplishment!IMG_1838

After this adventure is done, we walk out with our guide to our car. After such an amazing morning, we are ready to conquer some difficult trails for the afternoon. Angels Landing, here we come!

 

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult

Courage Level: 4 This is not for someone afraid of heights. The key is to trust that the equipment will hold you. If you do not think that you can manage that, this may not be a great way to spend your day!

Fitness Level: 3 Canyoneering is not that physically taxing (unless you decide to go through the last slot canyon the way I did!) My Mother, who is in her seventies, managed to do this adventure with some minor assistance from the guide.

Do I need special gear?IMG_1829

As always, a shock proof camera is great for a trip like this. We use our Olympus Tough, which I often carry around my wrist, letting it bang into the rocks.

Our trip was in November, which is a great time because there are fewer people in the Park, and it is not too warm to do hiking and other strenuous activities. Just wear layers, because you will heat up as you are climbing and cool off when you are rappelling.

We have collapsible water bottles that we refill. They’re great for travel and you are not hurting the environment with single use water bottles. Make sure you have enough water with you, as well as a snack.

Any more info?

IMG_1796We used Zion Adventure Company. They are located right in town, not far from the Park entrance. They were very professional, knowledgeable and friendly. I would recommend them. We did the half day canyoneering package. If we had known how much Rachel would love it, we would have gone for the whole day. Next time! http://www.zionadventures.com/courses-trips/zion-park-tours/trips/

We stayed at the Red Rock Inn B&B Cottages. This is a great place to stay, in walking distance to everything in town and close to the Park entrance. Breakfast is delivered to your door in a picnic basket. It was delicious and different every day.  http://www.redrockinn.com/default.htm

Angels Landing is an amazing hike. If you are looking for a challenge, this is it!  http://www.utah.com/nationalparks/zion/angels_landing.htm