Over Tourism in Wild Places

adventure of the week, Caribbean, colorado, europe, Florida, United Kingdom, United States, wyoming

While we had started the day as one of maybe three or four boats in the canal system doing tours, numbers quickly increased about an hour and a half into the tour. Not only did the additional boats make the canal more crowded, but larger groups of snorkelers, with what seemed like less instruction, swarmed the area. To add insult to injury, a large group of kayakers also flooded the scene trying to catch a glimpse of the now frightened young manatee.

We were snorkeling with manatees in Crystal River, Florida in what had been established as a nature preserve among the outskirts of the city. We had showed up at 6:30 a.m. so we could truly enjoy the animals at a calm and less-crowded time. We were lucky until 9:00 a.m. when the crowds arrived.

My group was instructed to return to our boat at this time, trying to allow others to see the animal, which we had been lucky enough to encounter, but back on the ship we saw the problems with popularity.

Much like the rest of tourism sites the world over, manatees and other wildlife encounters are having a moment in the limelight, that also means that areas get overused. While our selected tour company has been working for decades to create a more sustainable experience, even pairing with the University of Florida to restore sea grass in the canals due to climate change, they can’t control the populations of tourists that come into the area. While most companies will limit sizes of groups, a lot do not, and that means more money for the company, but not the best situation for the animals or natural areas.

While manatees and their habitats are cared for and many of the springs have been closed in the past, there often isn’t a way to monitor or control the use in an area in times that are open to the public. Even the boat captain informed us that when other canals close to public use more people descend on Crystal River and other areas for things like kayaking, snorkeling, and paddle boarding. This makes already operating tours more crowded, and the animals are more consistently with people.

Florida is not alone in their wild tourism boom. Many National Parks in the United States, State Parks, reserves, and other areas of the world are feeling overwhelmed with tourism. The animals that rely on natural areas are no doubt losing habitat and safe areas to exist. We lose wetlands and hidden areas for animals to escape into. While traveling opens our eyes to so much, are we also killing that which we love?

As humans we have developed around 75-80% of the land in the world, with a large portion of that happening in the last century. Blame overpopulation of humans, and development, and consumerism. All of those things have tipped the scales. In the last 50 years or so travel has began to greatly impact the story as well.

My grandparents would lament trips to Yellowstone in the 1970s and how crowded it was. Today they would be shocked that the 2.5 million visitors they were part of then have swelled to over 4.1 million annually since 2015. On one hand it’s great that more and more people are in love with the wild open and stunning landscapes that lucky people have known and loved since childhood, on the other hand, the droves have a negative impact on the landscape. Sometimes it is misinformed tourists “rescuing” a baby bison, other times it is litter that kills animals who eat it, sometimes the amount of people alone are the problem.

As in so much of what I write, and my actions, I attempt to be mindful of what my actions and words do to those places and people around me. In caring for the natural world I love, I think it’s important to acknowledge my own negative impact in the environment. I love visiting wild places and animals in a way to better appreciate and love the world I live in, but my existence changes the landscape. However, I know there are ways to help.

  • Go in the off or shoulder seasons – I despise heavy crowds at Disney, the beach, and anywhere else. Living next to Rocky Mountain National Park, I avoid the park from May to October because of the swarms of tourists that are in the area. I follow this practice elsewhere, and I make a heavy effort only to visit places when numbers are lower. This decreases the day to day pressure of areas, city or wild, to make it better for every living thing.
  • Research companies and their values – For any animal or wild tour I do a lot of research before selecting a company. This is rooted in concern for animal welfare and concern for the environment. For example, when we went dog sledding, I selected a company that adopts dogs for their tourism work, and then finds home for the dogs when they retire. All the dogs we met were well fed, happy, and totally goofy. However amazing the experience was, their welfare was absolutely vital for our selection. I have also learned bag things about companies and will not visit them again after a visit, such as the Cayman Turtle Farm. Mistakes will happen, learn from them, vow to do better.
  • Talk to experts, read work from experts – Signs in National Parks are there for YOUR safety as much as for the animals. Listen to rangers and experts when they tell you not to leave toothpaste in your tent, or to stay on the trails. There is method to the madness and it keeps things nice for everyone else.
  • Vow to Fight Animal Cruelty – do your research on this, and ask a lot of questions. While it may seem like dolphins are happy with swimming excursions in a pool, the truth is that the industry is soaked in blood (I don’t say that jokingly). Elephants are a prime example, and there is a lot of debate on what are acceptable versus cruel interactions. You won’t be perfect at this, just ask questions, do research, try to understand the complexities.

Happy Travels!

Winter Hiking

adventure of the week, colorado, Colorado Events, Travel

I have lived in Colorado and until last week I had never been hiking in winter. At least not in the traditional hiking meaning of the word. Sure I had trekked through knee high snow to feed animals or to clean off our deck. Sure I had braved snow and ice to walk a dog down gravel roads. Yet, I had never been on a hiking trail in winter.

I had not even meant for it to be a winter hike. I had actually planned on everything to be pretty dry and easy going. Maybe home to a few snow patches. Yet as I journeyed into higher elevations at Rocky Mountain National Park, I saw snow, and more snow, and ice, and wind, and snow pack.

It was soon I realized at around 8,000 feet that I would be hiking in the snow if I chose to go. I hesitated some, worried about my clumsy nature on ice. Yet, being stupid, or stubborn, or both, I pushed forward with my hiking plans.

Luckily I had packed extra layers and I was wearing my thick athletic leggings. I had well- treaded hiking shoes, and thick socks. I put on my layers, made sure my pack was good, and off I went.

The trail proved to be somewhat snowy, but easy to trek. The blowing wind and ice from the trees made the journey cold but manageable, and if anything the floating ice crystals added a majestic charm I did not expect.

The wonders of nature hit me, even in the cold, birds hoped between trees, chipmunks scavenged in bushes, and the pine, mud, and earth released their elegant perfumes.

I crunched along uphill for a mile before the Bierstadt Lake trail plateaued by the lake. It was here that the muddy trail turned into a wondrous winter land, where the sun played gleefully through pines and aspens. The wind made the fallen trees, the victims of strong winds, had leaned into each other creaking and echoing a haunting tune.

The lake walk loop offered a two mile winter walk that offered solitude and relaxation, a chance to think, dream, and feel grateful to my home by the mountains.

While I enjoyed just walking, I found that winter hiking was a much needed discovery compared to my summer and fall excursions. It was nice to have the stillness and solitude away from the summer crowds. It was glorious to feel a freedom only deep-seated trails offer. It was refreshing to breath in the scents of an ancient land, untamed and wild.

So, if you are thinking of a winter hike. Do it. Just be smart. Take warm clothes, gloves, hat, jacket, boots. Take water and matches. Take a solar lamp if you can. And bring an emergency device to try to reach help (cell phone). Tell people where you are going. And try to visit a trail that others are likely to be on. If you can, take a buddy, if you can’t, make sure several people know where you are going and when you should be back.

Happy Travels!

A Few of My Favorite Things (Colorado Edition)

colorado, Colorado Events, food, outdoors, Travel

Everyone has favorites from their hometown, home state, or neighborhood. Maybe it’s the pizza place you buy lunch at, or the bakery a few towns over. For me, as someone that hasn’t had a traditional upbringing, I am establishing my roots in a town for the first time as an adult.

Thus, I have a handful of varied things from 27 years on this planet that I crave when I am away, or that I suggest to others. Here is my short list.

  • Amazing Mexican Food
  • A REAL Margarita (Colorado version)
  • City O’City Pizza
  • Tea from Happy Lucky’s
  • The smell of aspens and pines
  • The smell of cold days and wood stoves
  • Aspens in Fall
  • Flowers in spring
  • Concerts at the Ogden Theater in Denver
  • Concerts at Red Rocks
  • Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Halloween costumes made around coats
  • The sunrise and sunsets
  • Rainy days
  • Snow storms
  • Christmas lights on dark nights
  • Green Chile
  • Huevos Rancheros

What are your hometown favorites?

USA edition 🇺🇸

True Colors of the Colorado Rockies

colorado, Colorado Events, outdoors, Photography, Travel

It’s no doubt that the Rockies offer a lot of gold in their autumnal splendor. “Gold in them there hills” is a common refrain as aspens gild the mountain sides in mid to late September. I love the aspens, and their splendid colors are some of my earliest memories. Yet, when you go a little further afield you see a new landscape of colors, flora, and stunning colors that are often missed to “leafers” in Colorado.

Colorado offers a wide variety of plant life that glows in reds, oranges, and yellows during the autumn. While we lack the vivid diversity of the east coast for leaves, we make up for it in unique coloration and stunning mountains as a platter. It is hidden in back roads and dirt lanes that fall can be truly found.

Last week we took to the Old Fall River road in Rocky Mountain National Park. The journey winds from around 8,000 to about 12,000ft above sea level offering a feast for the eyes and senses. We drove before sunrise to beat everyone up there and it did not disappoint. Birds and animals ran freely without a care for tourists. The golden dawn provided a guiding light as it played joyfully on the mountain crevices. It was well worth leaving the house it 5:30 a.m.

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Of course RMNP is not the only place to find these wonders. In fact the state is full of hidden gems in the mountains. My advice, to feel truly amazed by the autumn beauties, is to go somewhere new, get up early, and ask locals what is the best view. I also suggest planning to explore things you may not otherwise such as Alpine valleys, and ridges that are home to some of the most delicate but intriguing plant-life on the planet. Many of these gold and red beauties have taken decades if not hundreds of years to make it to today.

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Happy Travels!

More Reading:

RMNP

Fern Lake

Camping RMNP

Emerald Lake – RMNP

adventure of the week, colorado, Environment, Nebraska, Travel

Another Adventure of the Week for your Saturday reading and another one in the endless nature and beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park!

I went with a co-worker and my step-daughter to hike the trail that is a total of around 3 miles in and back again. This is a far more busy trail than others in the park, and even starting at 5:00 a.m. meant there was a fair amount of people upon our arrival at 7:00 a.m.


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How lucky we are to live in #Colorado #rmnp #rockymountainnationalpark #emeraldlaketrail #mountains #adventure #hike #wild

A post shared by Rebecca Lee Robinson (@beccaleephoto) on While I was surprised at the amount of people, it did not take away from the beauty of the hike, and it was exciting to see so many out-of-towners, including a family from Germany. There is real value in getting to live in such a beautiful place and getting to share it with others.

The trail is unique in that it is lined by elegant little lakes creating a pleasant and beautiful view from just about every spot on the trail. In addition to the lakes there are great cliff and rock faces that allow for stunning views of the area. One can easily see for miles and truly take in the majestic wonders of alpine regions.

If you are looking for a good mid-range hike that is easy to accomplish in 2-3 hours, this is a great option for family groups and those note used to the altitude.


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sunshine and the #mountains will always bring me joy. #rockymountainnationalpark #rmnp #emeraldlake #colo #foco #coloradowoman #travel #getoutandplay #explore #womantraveler #travelblogger

A post shared by Rebecca Lee Robinson (@beccaleephoto) on For those seeking animals, I ran into numerous critters along the way, mostly birds, and a very friendly chipmunk. This is a great trail for kids to explore nature and work on animal identification.

Of course the whole point of the trail is the lakes, and boy do they impress!

Nymph:

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Dream:

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Emerald:

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HAPPY TRAVELS!

Emerald-Lake.jpg

Throw Back Thursday – Childhood Travel Lessons

colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, new mexico, outdoors, Throwback Thursday, Travel, United States, wyoming

Many people gain a love of travel as children. Sometimes they’re crammed into the beck of a family station wagon, or a small camper, traversing open highways to neighboring states and countries. Others fly away to an annual beach escape, all-inclusive, beach, and drinks.

My family did things differently. As a product of low-income we did things a little less luxuriously. We crammed into a Dodge Neon, five of us. We slept in rustic cabins on our ranch or in canvas tents at a re-enactment. On occasion a worse than Motel 6 room was in the cards. This meant a shower and how to cram three kids in a twin or double bed, absolutely luxury was a queen. We ate at cheap diners and cheese and crackers as we rolled along plains lands.

We went through Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota to icons like Devil’s Tower, Jewel Cave, Helena, and De Smet. We saw where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived and a Palace made of Corn. And we have many pictures at Mount Rushmore in different outfits, an awkward ages, with relatives that have passed or friends that have moved on.

Reenactment with my cousin Nathan, aunt Mary and baby sibling McClellan.

These journeys taught me how important a hot plate and hot water can be. That boiled eggs are always a good snack. That learning to read in the car without motion sickness is vital to surviving 1,000 miles with two younger sisters. That you can survive 30 playthroughs of the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. That dogs can wedge themselves anywhere if given enough time. And most importantly, short legs make for an easier car ride.

All in all these things taught me to be better at travel in the big wide world. Hot plates turned into hostel kitchens. Small cars meant I can live through a long plane ride. Crappy hotel means I can survive…. crappy hotels and most hostels. I know the importance of hitting grocery stores to cut food costs. I know that picking light makes everything easier. I know that audio and physical books are life savers for endless journeys that have no service, wi-if, or charger.

The frugality of my parents has meant I knew how to save and travel at 19, 22, 23, 24, 26, and 27. It means I know how to pinch pennies and look for deals, to read and study and to plan my journey, to know the importance of flexibility and patience.

My cousin Nathan and I at the family ranch in Wyoming.

While I didn’t see much of the world until an adult, I know these lessons will carry me well into my old age.

Happy Travels!

Fern Lake Trail RMNP

adventure of the week, colorado, outdoors, Travel, United States

I have been trying to enjoy as much of Rocky Mountain National Park this year as possible. I went to visit twice in July hiking the Cub Lake Loop and last week I did the Fern Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The trail is home to a fantastic variety of river views, wildlife, and some stunning falls. The end of the trail ends at one of the best lakes in the National Park! The area also has the benefit of minimal people if you start early and maybe on a rainy day. This should also improve as the summer months wind down.

Check out some of my shots from the day:

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Fern Lake Trail Falls

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Make sure with any of the longer trails in RMNP that you wear good hiking shoes, bring plenty of water, and use the bathroom (or latrine) when you have a chance. Also, bring a phone or some other emergency device, tell people where you are going, and bring matches just in case. Most of all, be safe.

FernLakeTrail

Adventure of the Week – Cub Lake Loop

colorado, Colorado Events, outdoors, Travel

Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my all time favorite things to do in Colorado. A particular favorite place is the hike to Cub Lake.

This month, I decided to challenge myself and do the entire 7-mile loop up to Cub Lake and back down the mountain by the Arkansas River, known as the “Pools”. It was a beautiful journey through the edge of Moraine Park, up a mountain side and down an exciting cliff face.

I got to use a GoPro for the first time to document the trip. I am not sure I am ready to invest in my own device but it has been fun experimenting. See my 3 hour journey condensed into 9 minutes below.

Camping- The Magic Land in the Backyard

Allergen-free eating on the road, colorado, Colorado Events, musings, Travel

First I should say we don’t actually have a backyard. BUT we are only an hour and a half away from one of the most famous and well loved National Parks in the United States, Rocky Mountain National Park.

2015 marked 100 years of Rocky Mtn. being a National Park, and over 100 years of tourists coming to marvel at its glorious mountains, wildlife and plants! It also was the first time I ever explored the park. That is not to say I haven’t spent a fair amount of time outdoors and in National Parks, but I had never actually made it to Rocky. Even though I lived so close!

My first encounter was in August with my parent’s for a quick drive around the park. In summer glory it was just warm enough and everything was very green and vibrant. There was also thousands and thousands of tourists, as the park has grown in popularity over the past few years, with 2015 having over 4 million people! That’s impressive considering just a decade ago they had half as many. If you want to look at more nerdy stats, go here.

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This massive amount of people made it hard to see everything and park and get through the gift shop etc. etc. It was still really neat to see and I’m glad we went. This also meant that we came out on the Western side of the state, something I had never done. This means a drive through more mountains and getting home late, but it was well worth the adventure.

Fast-forward two months and the lovely cool of Autumn is upon us. I decided to pack up the family and go camping in Rocky for the last weekend of the camping season at Moraine Park. It was also Elk rutting season!

What is Elk-Rutting you might ask? When all the male elks and their harems get it on and Males fight over females, as big dumb animals do. They are also really elegant animals, that have captivated people for eons. Their mating call also sounds like that of some alien species…the native americans used to think of them as spirits. Regardless, it actually makes for crap sleep, but beautiful photos.

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The camping part was an absolute blast, it was the first time Lily, my 8-year-old stepdaughter had been tent camping. She camps with her grandparent’s frequently but they have a camper on their truck and us mountain girls call that cheating ;).

Lily loves helping set up the tent, and using new camping gear we bought such as little camp pots and a foam mattress pad, queen size, for us to all snuggle onto. We used a combination of a gas camp stove and a fire for marshmallows, hot dog, vegan dogs for me, oatmeal, sandwiches, and a variety of chips and such to snack on.

Lily got the cool honor of getting to fill out a packet and search for animals through the 24-hours we were there. She saw deer, chipmunks, elk, squirrels, some rabbits and plenty of plant life to keep her busy and occupied. The best part was that we had no service so it was an unplugged weekend to talk, laugh, do some photography, and enjoy the little things.

We also drove to the top of the mountain to see all we could see….at the Alpine Visitor Center. Where we hiked up to 12,005 feet and it almost killed us….

The views on the drive were truly spectacular and Lily loved the chance when we stopped to run around and be blown away at the vastness of the world in front of us! Ryan almost had a heartattack. After almost 5 years together, I learned on that trip he had a hatred of heights.

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The biggest struggle was getting the campfire going, because I had a stupid attack and we didn’t pack enough kindling and paper to get it hot. WHOOPS… luckily someone else was there selling wood and kindling so we got to enjoy our fire pit eventually.2015-10-03 19.13.33

For a simple 24-hour getaway we got a lot out of the adventure. We problem solved, we laughed, we had fun, and we learned new things about each other and the world around us. For $50 I bought an annual pass, and we can’t wait to go back. The campground was $18 for the night. A few souvenirs and coffee was another $25 or so, but the photos and memories were priceless.

Get out and explore!

 

Best,

Rebecca Lee Robinson