ALL POSTS IN [Outdoors and Adventure]

The Trans-Mongolian train makes its way through the Mongolian countryside.

At the top of many people’s bucket list is a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  A trip on the railroad allows riders to experience the never-ending forests of Siberia, the lonely valleys of Mongolia, and the Gobi desert in one trip. However, with a trip that can span a third of the globe and take up to 7 days to complete, special preparations are definitely necessary.

The first step in preparing for your journey is to figure out which of the 3 routes you want to take. The classic line is the Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Vladivostok on Russia’s far eastern coast. On the other hand, the most popular route with travelers is the Trans-Mongolian, which crosses through Siberia before veering off the main rail line, traveling through Mongolia and ending in Beijing, China. Lastly, you can take the Trans-Manchurian line, which runs from Moscow to Beijing, but bypasses Mongolia.

The marker on the train indicating its major stops in Chinese, Russian, and Mongolian.

The second step in preparing for your journey is to get the appropriate visas. Nearly every nationality requires a visa for travel to both Russia and China, and while you can obtain them yourself, both are time consuming. To make the process easier, consider using a visa service to like Invisa Logistics for Russia and CSCA for China, both of which are recommended by the respective embassies.

Americans can enter Mongolia visa-free, but most others will have to secure a visa to travel there as well.

It’s also a good idea to arrange your tickets prior to leaving. While you will pay a surcharge for this service, it beats turning up at a Russian train station and discovering that your train is sold out or that the ticket seller doesn’t speak any English (a problem you’re likely to encounter). For trains leaving from Russia or Mongolia, you can obtain your tickets from Real Russia. For trains departing from Beijing, CITS is a reputable agency with English-speaking agents.

Buying your ticket ahead of time also requires you to plan your stops. All 3 train lines pass through Irkutsk, which is a very popular stop close to the mid-point of the journey. This Siberian city is also the gateway to the must-see Lake Baikal. The largest lake in the world by volume, Lake Baikal is so clean that you can drink directly from its frigid waters. There’s no better place to see Siberian culture or nature than the peaceful shores of the lake.

The sun sets over China’s Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia.

On the Trans-Mongolian Line, many like to stop in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, as well, to experience this amazing country. While the city itself is nothing special, a trip to the countryside gives you the chance to stay with a nomadic family in a traditional ger (felt-lined tents) and view the sweeping vistas of beautiful green grass and impossibly blue skies that go on for as far as the eye can see.

The interior corridor of the Trans-Mongolian.

 

Lastly, you need to prepare for the trip itself. Since you’ll spend a total of 6 or 7 nights on the train, make sure that you have plenty of reading material and batteries. Also make sure to pack some wet wipes for cleaning yourself (there are no showers onboard), a thermos and instant coffee or tea (hot water is provided in each car), and some ear plugs.

While you’ll have a nice bed on your trip, most people will share a compartment with others, so a phrasebook will be very helpful in getting to know your travel companions. Even if you opt for a private compartment, having a Russian and Chinese phrasebook will help you figure out when the train is leaving each station and how to order food in the dining car.

The Trans-Siberian Railroad is the journey of a lifetime, and with a bit of preparation, you can ensure that you’ll have the time of your life as you traverse the Far East.

 —–

All photos by author Jim Cheney.

The author onboard the Trans-Mongolian train.

Jim Cheney is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Harrisburg, PA. Jim spent over two years in Asia traveling and working prior to settling back in America. His writing focuses mainly on travel planning advice and unique travel destinations throughout Asia, Europe, and North America.

To find more of his work, visit his site, Tripologist.com.

 

 

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Photography by Mauricio Abreu / JWL / Aurora Photos

When visiting Pamukkale, it’s hard to resist the urge to wade through this otherworldly landscape of hot springs and travertines. More »

Sharks, sharks and more sharks. No creature of the sea does more to intrigue … or terrify. With sharks top of mind over the coming week, we thought we’d let you in on the top places to see sharks nationwide.

If you’re looking for a close encounter, but not too close, you’ll want to head to some of America’s top aquariums. Some great bets include the Tennessee Aquarium, where you’ll see this fierce-looking shark, and the Newport Aquarium, where you can see sharks circling above your head.

Of course, not all shark encounters are welcome (unless you’re LandLopers blogger Matt Long, check out his blog and amazing whale shots here). So when you next hit the beach, be prepared – for helpful hints on how to stay safe when swimming near shark-infested waters, check out our Travel 911 web series episode, Shark Attacks.

 

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Chincoteague Pony Swim

Photo: Getty Images

Come early and bring your patience. That’s the word on the 88th annual Chincoteague Pony Swim. Every July, on the last Wednesday of the month, the small island of Chincoteague sees its population of 3,500 people swell to more than 40,000, as visitors from all over the country — and as far away as Canada and Europe — flock to the island off Virginia’s coast, to witness an event of epic pony proportions: more than 120 wild ponies swimming across the Assateague Channel, between Chincoteague and Assateague islands.

The actual swim takes all of 5 to 10 minutes. And it’s worth every minute of waiting to see the oldest continuous wild pony roundup east of the Colorado River.

“This is an event of historical proportions,” says Denise Bowden, spokesperson for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which owns the ponies, often called the Chincoteague herd, on the Virginia side of Assateague Island.

Historical … or historic … one thing’s clear: This is the biggest event on Chincoteague Island’s annual calendar.

Chincoteague Island’s fire department has held the event nearly every year since 1924, culminating in the Salt Water Cowboys — about 145 cowboys from Virginia and neighboring states including Maryland and North Carolina — rounding up the feral fellas and females for a parade down Main Street, to the carnival grounds, where an auction of the ponies takes place Thursday morning. (Some ponies are bought under “buy back” terms; the bidder donates the money to the fire department and allows the pony to be released back onto Assateague Island.)

Now the patience part: Chincoteague Island will be packed. And while the pony swim will be held sometime between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., crowds will start gathering well in advance. “Come early,” says Bowden. It’s not uncommon, she adds, for visitors to gather at the heart of the action — the Pony Swim Lane and Memorial Park — as early as 5 or 6 a.m.

The long wait time — plus the actual event’s start time, dependent on inclement weather conditions — spells greater exposure to the elements — lots of sun, maybe rain. “Make yourself as comfortable as possible,” says Bowden. Bring your sunscreen, hat and umbrella. Plus, a pair of old tennis shoes (no flip-flops or high-heels) — you’ll need them while standing in the marshy, muddy field. But the pay-off will be something to behold: Just beyond a fence, a herd of wild ponies — only 20 to 30 feet away.

For parking, Bowden advises heading to Chincoteague High School’s parking lot: A shuttle on the grounds takes visitors to the Pony Swim Lane. Find shuttle information here.

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US Open of Surfing (Photo: Getty Images)

The countdown begins to the largest surfing event on the planet. On Saturday, July 20, the US Open of Surfing kicks off in the morning, with rounds 1 and 2 of the Junior Men’s championship. If you’re one of the thousands of surfing fans en route to the event or are already stretching out on the sands of Huntington Beach, check out highlights of the 9-day surfing competition, which runs through July 28.

In all, this year’s event is slated to see more than 20 ASP World Championship Tour (WCT) surfers compete against the best new surfing talent from around the globe at Huntington Beach Pier. Beyond surf, skateboarding is also in store. This year’s event sees the debut of the Van Doren Invitational, an invite-only skateboarding event set to attract pro and amateur riders.

Another big draw will be music. Billed as one of America’s largest free concert stages of the summer, this year’s musical lineup includes indie rocker Modest Mouse, the dance-punk band The Faint and alternative pop artist Twin Shadow.

Can’t make it to the Vans US Open of Surfing? Check out the live webcast.

And if you’re looking for more places to ride out the heat wave, check out the world’s best surf destinations. Plus, explore the world’s best stand-up paddleboarding spots, extreme beach adventures and some pretty cool extreme adventure sports – all sure to provide great summer memories.

Photography by Valerie Conners


Summer
temperatures have sizzled into triple digits across large swaths of America’s West this season. Travelers would be wise to cool down at one of the region’s more spectacular attractions, Lake Powell, a shimmering, 186-mile-long behemoth that straddles the Arizona and Utah border. Technically a reservoir of the Colorado River,

Lake Powell is located within easy driving distance from some of the nation’s grandest and most popular parks, including the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon, and is a perfect respite for families that have just sweltered their way through national park trails and tours.

This man-made lake was created when part of the Colorado River was dammed, and a sweeping expanse of canyonland filled with water. The result? An otherworldly landscape of turquoise waters bordered by looming canyons crisscrossed with nooks and crannies begging to be explored by boat or kayak. Rocky buttes jut toward the sky both in the distance and above canyon walls. Watching sunset turn the colors of the canyons and buttes ablaze into fiery reds and oranges is one of the region’s more unforgettable experiences.

Photography by Valerie Conners

To best enjoy the lake’s scenery and activities, travelers should hightail it to the spectacularly situated Antelope Point Marina, a family-friendly destination born out of a unique partnership with the Navajo Nation and the National Park Service. Head to the marina to explore Lake Powell by boat tour, rent watercraft such as jet skis and kayaks, or take advantage of the pinnacle of all lake experiences: a houseboat rental.

Antelope Point Marina is teeming with houseboats — literally hundreds line the floating docks — some of which are privately owned, others which are for rent. For the uninitiated, houseboats here are no ordinary watercraft. These vessels are, without exaggeration, nicer than a good number of actual houses. Houseboats range in size from 59 feet to 75 feet and can sleep up to 12 people in as many as 6 bedrooms — perfect for multiple families vacationing together. These mega-boats are tricked out with flat-screen TV’s, indoor-outdoor living areas, kitchens, staterooms, covered decks, waterslides (!), gas barbecues and wet bars. Think that’s awesome? Some models even feature outdoor hot tubs.

Families can rent houseboats for a few days up to a week or more, which keeps them busy exploring Lake Powell’s beauty. Folks who only have a few hours to spend on the lake, can cool off at the marina’s

Photography by Valerie Conners

kid-friendly swimming area, arrange a boat or fishing tour, rent kayaks and ski boats, or hike down to nearby beaches along the lake’s clear, crisp waters (families take note: No lifeguards are present).

For the ultimate Lake Powell experience, book a helicopter tour over the lake via the Lake Powell Jet Center. Aerial views of Lake Powell offer the most breathtaking perspective of its expanse and stunning vistas. You’ll swoop past iconic Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River, the dam that created the lake, and monstrous Tower Butte, where your chopper will actually land and you’ll be allowed to wander the butte’s top — absolutely the tour highlight.

- Valerie Conners

Valerie Conners is a New York-based freelance writer who has worked in various roles at the Travel Channel for more than 10 years. She has written for digital and print publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Frommer’s Travel Guides and Discovery.com.

Yellowstone’s busiest season is now in full swing, and if you’re among the thousands of travelers who plan to visit America’s first national park this July, first thing’s first: Bring a jacket. Yes, really, a jacket — in July. You’ll be grateful you did when winds up to 15 mph nip at your face and temperatures drop into the 40s at night. You may even see snow. (Keep current on Yellowstone’s weather here.)

Hard to believe, as scorching temperatures cripple other regions of the west, but Yellowstone is one place you do not want to explore without a jacket this month. I found out first-hand on a visit to the national park just a few weeks ago. From a chilly morning rain to a late-evening snowstorm, I experienced Yellowstone’s dramatic temperature drops all within the span of a few hours.

Once you’ve brought a coat (and a good pair of boots and sunscreen, too), you’ll be well on your way to exploring the park — here’s a taste of Yellowstone’s beauty in summer.

Roosevelt Arch: An elk rests by Yellowstone’s famous Roosevelt Arch — Teddy Roosevelt himself laid the cornerstone of the arch, located at the park’s north entrance. “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” reads its inscription. (All Photos: Lisa Singh) 

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone: Geysers … bears … but just why is Yellowstone called “Yellowstone”? The park’s abundant yellow-colored rhyolite lavas provide the answer. You’ll see these rich colors at Yellowstone’s massive gorge, roughly 20 miles long.

Yellowstone Norris Geyser Basin: Remember your jacket? These smart folks certainly did as they make their way down a walkway to view some of Yellowstone’s breathtaking geysers. Did you know Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration geysers in the world?

Rocky Mountain Fauna: It’s not just bears or American bison you may see at Yellowstone. Look up! This mountain goat, with some winter fur still left to shed, may be peering down at you from a mountain cliff. Just beware of Yellowstone’s deadly bears.

Fishing in Yellowstone: Don’t forget to get in some fishing. Pick up a Yellowstone fishing permit, and enjoy angling and fly-fishing in this massive 2 million-plus-acre wonderland, home to 13 native fish species … and plenty of trout.


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Thanks to its many rivers and abundance of livestock equipment, Nebraska has become a hot spot for the unlikely activity of “tanking.” Like a cross between Tilt-O-Whirl and bumper cars, but set on water, tanking involves retrofitting a large, round plastic livestock feeding tank with chairs and tables. Folks then pile in — most tanks can accommodate about 6 people –and enjoy a leisurely float down the river as they meander and turn with the current and take in the sights and sounds.

While Nebraska isn’t the only state that offers tanking trips — there are a handful of outfitters popping up in places like Iowa — it’s by far the most popular. And even though Nebraskans have been doing it for decades, tanking is still relatively unknown outside the Midwest, although that’s slowly starting to change.

Michael Suelter founded Get Tanked in Ericson, NE, in 1987, and claims to be the state’s first tanking outfitter. Today he has nearly 50 tanks, and offers 4-mile trips down the horseshoe-shaped Cedar River, which flows past sandhills and open woodlands thriving with wildlife.

In nearby Burwell, Bruce and Sue Ann Switzer of Calamus Outfitters offer 2- and 5-hour tanking trips down the Calamus River, which gently flows past rolling sandhills where you’re likely spot beavers, muskrats, herons and deer.

In addition to river tanking, Calamus Outfitters has accommodations for up to 65 people at 2 lodges and 4 cabins, along with horseback riding, canoeing and Jeep tours, although tanking remains one of their most popular activities, especially with families. “It’s not really for thrill seekers,” Sue Ann says. “You just relax and go with the flow.”

At the Sandhills Motel in Mullen, NE, Mitch and Patty Glidden offer tanking trips down the spring-fed Middle Loup River, which winds through a valley past lush green meadows and picturesque highlands.

“On a good Saturday we’ll put up to 200 people in the river,” says Mitch Glidden. “It’s really taking off.”

While most tanking outfitters are located in the remote sandhills area of western Nebraska, a few have popped up in the more densely populated eastern side of the state. Steve and Jill Evers enjoyed their tanking excursion so much they opened Tank Down the Elkhorn in Omaha in 2007, which offers a 7-mile trip. Steve says he and his wife both have a blast helping families float down the river, and it supplies supplemental income during the summer when things slow down at his taxidermy business.

And just recently, tanking has finally made its way out of the Midwest. Last year during a business trip, John Johnson came across a Nebraska flyer promoting river tanking. Always looking for new entrepreneurial opportunities, Johnson launched Foothills Outdoor Adventures. Based in Wilkesboro, NC — about 3 hours west of Raleigh — the outfitter offers tanking trips down the Yadkin River, which rises in the Blue Ridge Mountains and flows through the 1,475-acre W. Kerr Scott Reservoir.

“We’re the only one east of the Mississippi doing this,” Johnson says. “We’ve definitely hit on a really good niche market.”

- Sam Boykin

It’s time to get real — really, really real.

Nude Recreation Week kicks off this week, and with it so should your clothes. Just imagine letting it all go, and embracing your true, natural self. You’ll be living out loud Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” like never before … and joining a revered American tradition while you’re at it.

Bear with us …

Turns out, for the past 82 years, nude recreation has been celebrated nationwide by the premier, uh, outfit of its kind — the American Association for Nude Recreation, whose annual membership costs less than the price of a bathing suit. Thank AANR’s advocacy and its 35,000 members: The US is now home to more than 250 campgrounds, beaches and resorts nationwide for nude recreation, says AANR president Susan Weaver.

Goodbye, Tan Lines!

If all of this is a little new to you, relax: We’ve got you, um, covered, with a little advice from AANR prez Weaver herself. Her first tip: Check out AANR’s Nude Resort Locator — it lists all the nude recreation venues nationwide where you, in all your natural best, are welcome. Also be sure to check out TravelChannel’s roundup of best nude beaches. Plus, our scoop on Jamaica’s nude beaches and where to go au naturel in the Caribbean.

And once you show up, don’t be afraid to tell people you’re new.

“If you say it’s your first time, people are overwhelmingly cordial and put you at ease,” says Weaver, speaking to us from her home in Annandale, VA. Weaver, personally, loves all the resorts she’s been to – including her home club, Avalon Resort in West Virginia, as well as recent visits to Star Ranch Nudist Club in McDade, TX; Squaw Mountain Ranch, a family nudist campground in Estacada, OR; and DeAnza Springs Resort in Jacumba, CA.

“There are no end to places to visit and wonderful people to meet,” says Weaver.

Since the mid-1980s, Weaver has embraced the nude recreational lifestyle herself. “It’s such a joyous and freeing experience,” says Weaver. “You feel more one with nature … you don’t have to worry if your tan lines will be even … you can simply enjoy the sun, wind and water … and you won’t get sand in your bathing suit, which is most uncomfortable, we’d all agree.”

Americans Want to Get Naked

Turns out, some 53 million Americans agree. That was the finding of a recent survey conducted by MMGY Global, a travel and hospitality marketing firm: Roughly 15% of the American population would spend their recreational dollars on nude leisurely fun like skinny dipping (an activity Weaver calls the “wave of the future”).

Doing the math here: That means that in an office of 100 people, about 15 of your coworkers would be game for a nude recreational outing. And lucky for you guys, the big one is coming up next Saturday.

World Record Skinny-Dip: Make History Next Saturday!

In 2009, history was made, when more than 13,500 nudists skinny dipped simultaneously at the same time – a feat captured by Guinness World Records. This year, AANR, and North America’s other premier association of its kind, the Naturist Society, will gather members to make history once again.

On Saturday, July 13, at 1 p.m. LNT (Local Nudist Time) nudists throughout North America will take the plunge in lakes, rivers, resorts and waters off beaches from coast to coast. Get all the World Record Skinny Dip details, then plan ahead.

Wherever you take the plunge, keep in mind these tips, says Weaver: Leave cameras at home, bring sunscreen (“we take skin safety very seriously,” she says), and be open to meeting new people.

And once you do: We want to hear from you – tell us your story below!

Photo by Reuters

Can he do it? This coming Sunday, the world will find out as Nik Wallenda attempts his latest daredevil feat: a walk across the Grand Canyon while suspended a stomach-churning 1,500 feet — more than 4 football fields — above the Little Colorado River.

Wallenda is no stranger to mind-boggling stunts. A year ago, this seventh-generation American acrobat made headlines when he successfully walked across Niagara Falls — a total of 1,800 feet — becoming the first person to do so.

Now Wallenda has his eye on the Grand Canyon, without the tether he wore last year (something Wallenda reportedly wasn’t happy about wearing, but which he did in compliance with the Niagara Falls Commission’s stipulations). This go-round, Wallenda’s Grand Canyon walk, on land owned by the Navajo Nation, will occur without a harness, before a live audience (10-second delay notwithstanding). Two wireless point-of-view cameras will also be affixed to Wallenda’s vest.

Don’t think you’d want to duplicate Wallenda’s Grand Canyon walk? You can still score bragging rights with your own dramatic adventure. Take a South Rim mule ride through the Grand Canyon, but plan ahead — trips may be booked 13 months in advance. North Rim mule trips are offered from mid-May to mid-October.

If views of deep chasms and astonishingly old geologic formations spread across 1.2 million acres are all the drama you need, hike the Grand Canyon. Or enjoy the dazzling, dizzying view of the canyon from the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass-bridge walkway that offers a 4,000-foot-high view of the canyon’s floor. Come night, crash at one of the 10 best luxe hotels near the Grand Canyon.

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