With her passion for wildlife adventures, from jungle trekking in Uganda to see mountain gorillas or curling up with lemurs in Madagascar, Jessica Pociask is our type of traveler.
As the owner of WANT Expeditions — Wildlife and Nature Travel, a conservation-oriented, expedition-style adventure travel company — Jessica leads tours to see the most amazing natural phenomena on Earth. Jessica has been to over 70 countries, leading expeditions all over the world, and has visited all 7 continents. She has studied climate change in Antarctica, and she was one of 50 women chosen from the US and Mexico for the Women’s Leadership and International Sustainable Development award by the National Wildlife Federation.
A biologist by trade, Jessica recently spoke on a panel with distinguished conservationists and biologists regarding the impact of tourism on conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival.
And where is Jessica currently? Oh, just leading a tour in Ecuador to see the first new carnivore species found in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years — the olinguito.
Traveling Type: How did you get your start leading wildlife and nature tours?
Jessica Pociask: It’s a long, convoluted story that probably started when I made my first insect collection somewhere around the age of 7. Over the next 20 years, fueled by stories in my grandfather’s collection of National Geographic magazines, I was inspired with the idea of being an explorer and adventurer. I took my first trip abroad when I was 16, and I once traveled with an orchestra through Europe. From there on, I was smitten with traveling, so I began working for various conservation organizations and outdoor outfitters and started traveling abroad independently. READ MORE
Hooray for Alaska Day! All the talk of American exceptionalism may have taken a little hit lately, especially from our friends in Russia, but today there’s something to cheer about: In commemoration of the official transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States in 1867, a special ceremony will take place in the southeastern Alaskan town of Sitka. Down goes the Russian flag and up goes Old Glory at Castle Hill, one of the most historically important sites in Alaska, once occupied by the Tlingit, an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast, and later by the Russians.
A Little Russia … in Alaska
No word on whether Putin will be on-hand for all the Alaska Day festivities. But hundreds of locals will be — receptions, auctions, barn dances, kayak races and a whole lot more are all planned, capping off a month-long series of events that have already included a hat tip to our Russian counterparts, like a Russian food festival (check out our own Russian food tour), as well as performances of traditional Russian folk dances and a tea break at the Russian Bishop’s House, one of the few surviving examples of Russian colonial architecture in the US.
But let’s be real: You didn’t come to Alaska to see Russia … not primarily, anyway. A trip to the Last Frontier State is probably on any outdoor lover’s bucket list. But just in case you can’t take advantage of all the Alaska travel discounts that typically accompany October, fear not — this is a good time to start planning a trip to America’s 49th state over the coming months. Here’s a primer of the best times to visit Alaska and special anniversaries ahead:
Winter Travel: November to April
November is a great time to see Alaska’s northern lights and share in the excitement of the Trail Sled Dog Race (the “Last Great Race on Earth,” from Anchorage to Nome). Plus, you can watch the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks (Alaska’s “Golden Heart City”). This season is also a great time to enjoy outdoor Alaskan activities such as heli-skiing in Alaska, as well as snowmobiling, snowshoeing and dog mushing.
Peak Season: Mid-May to Mid-September
You’ll be among the many visitors to Alaska during peak season, but for good reason: The days are at their longest, and the temperatures their warmest, affording plenty of opportunity for hiking, river-rafting, camping, fishing and flightseeing, as well as a chance to take an Alaska road trip.
Alaska Marine Highway System: Turns 50
Explore 31 ports of call in Alaska, courtesy of the Alaska Marine Highway System. Spanning an amazing 3,100 miles, this ferry service, which turns 50 this year, operates along Alaska’s south-central coast. Upon arrival in ports, offers visitors a variety of activities, such as authentic native culture (totem carvings, dances, traditional music and more), as well as day cruises with local tour operators, fishing charters and more.
Under-the-Radar National Parks
Sure, Denali is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. But don’t forget Alaska’s other national parks, especially in 2014, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the 1964 federal law that protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness in states throughout the US and is now considered one of America’s greatest conservation achievements. About 32 million of those acres can be found in Alaska — more than anywhere else in the country. Check out under-the-radar national parks like Gates of the Arctic, Lake Clark and Wrangell-St. Elias.
You May Also Like:
Brown bears, bald eagles — explore Wild Alaska.
Delve into geologic history at Glacier Bay National Park.
Travel in style aboard a luxury cruise in Alaska.
Give me your poor, your tired, your shutdown masses yearning to travel free. On Sunday morning, the Statue of Liberty, the very symbol of American resilience, not to mention beaucoup bucks for New York’s travel industry, reopened her doors to the public for the first time since the partial government shutdown began 12 days before. But don’t thank Congress — New York State will foot the bill of $61,600 a day over the next several days to keep Lady Liberty’s doors open.
The news comes amid some partially hopeful news for travelers and national parks lovers everywhere: On Saturday, Grand Canyon National Park reopened its doors as well, with the state of Arizona forking over $651,000 for the next 7 days to keep the Grand Canyon open. (That amounts to $93,000 a day — less than the $112,000 the feds say is needed to fund park operations each day.)
However, moves by both states – as well as South Dakota, which sees Mount Rushmore reopen beginning Monday, along with national parks in Utah (Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef, and Natural Bridges, Glen Canyon and Cedar Breaks national monuments) and Colorado (Rocky Mountain National Park) – are the exception. Yellowstone, America’s first national park, remains closed. “Wyoming cannot bail out the federal government and we cannot use state money to do the work of the federal government,” says a spokesman for Gov. Matt Mead.
In the case of New York State, a lot is riding on the Statue of Liberty’s reopening: The iconic landmark sees 3.7 million visitors a year, generating nearly $200 million in economic activity and supporting over 2,000 jobs. Already Lady Liberty had seen a tough year and a half, suffering extensive damage, along with nearby Ellis Island, from Superstorm Standy. It took a year of extensive rehabilitation before the Statue of Liberty reopened, in a special ribbon-cutting ceremony just in time for July 4 celebrations. Then came the government shutdown, just what everyone needed.
Since the shutdown, roughly 400 jobs have been lost at the Statue of Liberty and nearby park sites, reports CNN. And while the Statue of Liberty just reopened yesterday morning, with state funds temporarily allowing visitors to take the ferry over to the monument on Liberty Island, the state budget is only a temporary fix. While New York has given the green light to fund Lady Liberty for the next few days, it will then assess its financial commitment every 2 days if the federal shutdown continues, says Cuomo.
No no telling what will happen after next week. So if you’re looking to see these great American landmarks, and you’re within traveling distance, now’s the time to visit.
San Francisco often sits shrouded in a heavy fog bank — a clash of salty Pacific Ocean air and savory aromas wafting from food trucks. Like most cities, there’s a riot of noise: boat horns blasting in the harbor, buses screeching as they whip around corners, racked surfboards knocking atop cars, tourists talking in several languages. But don’t let it fool you. Despite its concrete-jungle appearance, there are plenty of outdoorsy things to do for the active first-time Bay Area visitor. Here are 4 ideas to get you started:
Bike Along the Embarcadero and Marina Boulevard
Bay Area Bike Share launched at the end of August to increase cycling in San Francisco. 700 bikes placed at docking stations around the peninsula and Bay Area are now available for both city dwellers and tourists to use. Grab one of the new mint green bikes (skip the rental stations that charge a fortune) and cruise west from the Ferry Building along The Embarcadero’s piers. From Marina Boulevard, you can jump on the paved path and bike toward the Golden Gate Bridge. When you’re done, simply return your bike to the nearest docking station. A 24-hour pass costs $9. Heads up, trips longer than 30-minutes incur small overtime fees.
Trail Run in Presidio National Park
The Presidio, located on the northwest tip of the peninsula, is actually a historic military post that was converted into a national park. It now offers quiet trails prime for running that weave through treed bluffs home to 130 bird species. You can climb up to several vista overlooks of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge — my favorite is Inspiration Point, situated above the park’s largest watershed, Tennessee Hollow.
For up-close, postcard-like views of the Golden Gate, follow signs to Crissy Field Overlook. Tuck your phone in your shorts pocket. You won’t want to miss this photo op.
Hike Through Redwoods in Mt. Tamalpais State Park
Hikers looking for a workout as they experience California’s legendary Redwoods shouldn’t park at Muir Woods National Monument (what most guidebooks recommend, and what most tourists opt for). Instead, take Mill Valley’s Panoramic Highway a couple miles higher into Mount Tamalpais State Park. Park your car at the wide roadside access point. From here, take Ocean View Trail, which switchbacks down from redwood treetops to the Muir Woods’ forest floor. As you descend, you’ll notice wider trunks, and a pleasant charred, earthy smell. You can still hike around Muir Woods once you get down, but this 5-mile round-trip adds a challenging, less-traveled spin to the Muir boardwalk.
Stand Up Paddleboard in Sausalito
For paddlers not afraid to brave the Bay’s chilly water temps, the best stand-up bet lies in sheltered Sausalito — the oceanfront neighborhood on the north end of Golden Gate Bridge. With Sea Trek, located in Richardson Bay, you can paddle for $20 an hour through yacht harbors next to the seals, or sign up for a SUP fitness class. The group also offers guided tours under the Golden Gate. Time your visit right, and you can snag a spot on the full moon tour to catch the city’s night skyline from the water.
by Patty Hodapp
Patty Hodapp is a freelance writer and solo traveler reporting from the intersection of fitness and adventure. Her slew of expat addresses runs deep — most recently, a tropical Spanish island in the Mediterranean. She covers endurance sports, outdoor gear and adventure travel. Besides Travel Channel, she has written for Outside, Men’s Fitness, Shape and several other publications.
Mike and Donna Holder were living comfortable, easy lives in scenic Kennesaw, GA, when they decided to take a very big chance. After noticing an ad in the newspaper, the couple bought 1,200 forgotten and overgrown acres in rural Banning Mills, GA, at the site of a former textile and paper mill village.
Over the next several years the couple and their kids cleared brush, made repairs, and eventually built a country inn and adventure center with an expansive eco tour zipline course. Then, on Thanksgiving night 2006, much of it burned to the ground. While they were tempted to just leave it all behind them after such a devastating loss, the Holders decided instead to rebuild. Today they oversee Historic Banning Mills, which boasts the world’s tallest climbing wall (140 feet) and, at 41,000 linear feet, the world’s longest continuous zipline course, where visitors can reach speeds of up to 60 mph as they cruise through dense hardwood forest and over the beautiful Snake River Gorge.
In fact, your feet rarely have to touch the ground at Banning Mills, with more than 50 sky bridges — including one that’s 600-feet-long. And you can really tap into your inner Tarzan with the new tree house lodging. Opening this month, these 2-person suites — accessible by rope bridge — are made of heart pine logs, and feature a king bed, jetted tub, bathroom, mini fridge and back deck with panoramic forest views.
When you’re ready to return to earth, there’s a new 7-mile network of mountain biking/hiking trails that wind along old town roads and across bridges. And Georgia Trail Outfitters offers 7-mike kayak trips down the roaring Class IV Chattahoochee River, as well as the more serene Flint and Cartecay Rivers. Banning Mills also offers a swimming pool (in season), putt-putt golf course, and tennis/basketball courts. In-between adventures, indulge in a relaxing massage at the day spa, and refuel at the main lodge, which serves a big country breakfast and a variety of lunch and dinner items, including picnic-style baskets and romantic candlelit dinners on the terrace that overlooks the Snake Creek Gorge.
- Sam Boykin