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Route 66 Painted Desert & Petrified Forest Driving Tour

The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park (Exit 311 off I-40 in Navajo, 928/524-6228, 8am-5pm daily, hours vary seasonally, $10) has the world’s largest and most colorful collection of petrified wood. It is also the only national park in the United States that protects a portion of Route 66.

[pullquote align=right]The southern section of the park contains the Petrified Forest with historic structures, archaeological sites, and fossils that date back more than 200 million years.[/pullquote]The northern section of the park encompasses the Painted Desert—approximately 146 square miles of colorful badlands and multihued mesas of stratified layers of mudstone, shale, and siltstone pigmented by iron and magnesium deposits. The southern section of the park contains the Petrified Forest with historic structures, archaeological sites, and fossils that date back more than 200 million years.

It takes at least 45 minutes to drive the 28-mile road through the park, but to truly experience it try to allow at least a couple of hours to drive Blue Mesa Road, take a hike, and stop at the spectacular viewpoints along the way. Tiponi, Tawa, and Kachina Points feature overlooks with panoramic views, all located less than 2 miles north of the Painted Desert Visitor Center. There are no camping facilities or overnight parking allowed in the park.

mountains lined with color in the Painted Desert
Take in the unique views in Arizona’s Painted Desert. Photo © fotoguy22/iStock.

Driving Tour

Painted Desert Visitor Center

Less than 0.5 mile from the I-40 exit is the Painted Desert Visitor Center (8am-5pm daily Sept. 20-Apr. 4, 7am-7pm daily Apr. 5-Sept. 19), which houses books, petrified wood exhibits, and park information. A film about the park is shown continuously throughout the day. The visitors center is adjacent to a restaurant, gift shop, and gas station; restrooms are available.

Painted Desert Rim Trail

The Painted Desert Rim Trail has remarkable views of the Painted Desert. Approximately one mile after the northern park entrance is the pull-off for Tawa Point, where the Painted Desert Rim Trail begins. The trail travels along the canyon rim and includes several information panels about the wildlife, geology, and ancient people of the region. In 0.5 mile, you’ll reach the Painted Desert Inn and then Kachina Point with its panoramic views of the red, orange, pink, and purple rocks. From Kachina Point, the trail enters a 5- to 8-million-year-old volcanic area. Once you reach Kachina Point, turn around and head back to the Tawa Point parking lot.

Petrified logs in Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park.
Petrified logs in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. Photo © Andrey Bayda/123rf.

Painted Desert Inn

The restored 1924 Painted Desert Inn (928/524-6228, 9am-5pm daily) is 2 miles north on the park road. The inn was built with wood and stone in the Pueblo Revival style with flagstone terraces and earth-textured walls that are two feet thick. In 1940, the Fred Harvey Company managed the place to serve passengers traveling the Santa Fe Railway, then it closed in 1942.

In 1947, architect Mary Jane Colter renovated the inn with a new color scheme and glass windows to display the surrounding landscape—a pioneering style of architecture that brought inside the essence of the outdoors. The interior lunchroom, where the Harvey Girls served hungry train passengers, features murals painted by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie. The inn closed again in 1963 and was scheduled for demolition in 1976. The National Park Service stepped in to list it on the National Register of Historic Places and saved it. In 1987, the secretary of the interior designated the inn a National Historic Landmark.

The Painted Desert Inn reopened in 2006. Though it no longer operates as a hotel and restaurant, the museum and bookstore feature extraordinary architectural details, such as hammered-tin chandeliers, local pottery, and a vivid mountain lion petroglyph, one of the finest in the region.

Route 66 Studebaker

The park road circles back toward I-40 heading south; however, you cannot access the interstate at this point. Right before you approach I-40, look west on the right side of the road for a rusted 1932 Studebaker (Stop Number 4) that marks an old Route 66 alignment.

Newspaper Rock in Arizona's Petrified Forest.
Newspaper Rock in Arizona’s Petrified Forest. Photo © Liane Harrold/123rf.

Newspaper Rock

Heading south on the park road, you will reach Newspaper Rock (Stop Number 6) on the west (right) side of the road. Newspaper Rock contains more than 650 petroglyphs etched into its boulders and offers a glimpse of the people who lived here in the Puerco River Valley close to 2,000 years ago.

Blue Mesa Trail

The Blue Mesa Trail (Stop Number 7) is a moderately strenuous 1-mile hike among bluish-bentonite clay badlands and petrified wood. The trailhead starts at the Blue Mesa sun shelter just past Newspaper Rock.

Rainbow Forest Museum

At the south end of the park is the Rainbow Forest Museum (off Hwy. 180, 8am-5pm daily Sept. 20-Apr. 4, 7am-7pm daily Apr. 5-Sept. 19). Museum exhibits include prehistoric animals and petrified wood. A film about the park and the creation of petrified wood is screened every half hour. A gift shop and snack bar are nearby; restrooms are available.

Back on 66 towards Holbrook

Drive 28 miles south through the park and exit from the south entrance. Take U.S. 180 for 19 miles north to rejoin I-40/Route 66 at Holbrook.

Stewart’s Rock Shop

Since it’s a big no-no to take any petrified wood from the park, you can get some at Stewart’s Rock Shop (Hwy I-40 Exit 303, Washboard Rd., Holbrook, 800/414-8533, 9am-5pm daily), 13 miles east of Holbrook. It’s part trading post, part garage sale sitting in a strange folk art sculpture garden. They sell meteorites, dinosaur bones, tree stumps, bookends, and jewelry made from petrified wood. The property also has ostriches (with eggs for sale), sun-blasted vintage cars, quirky dinosaur sculptures like a T. rex with a mannequin hanging out of its mouth. This place is so awesomely odd with a tinge of creepiness it makes it worth a stop.

Reserve a few hours to truly experience all the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park have to offer on this Route 66 driving tour.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Route 66 Road Trip.

Where to Go in Rhode Island

In terms of tourism, little Rhode Island is a land of separate communities. You don’t so much vacation in Rhode Island as you do in Providence, Newport, South County, or Block Island. That being said, wherever you go in Rhode Island and whenever you choose to visit, you’ll find it quite simple to venture over to any other town in the state, which are all just a short drive away.

Providence and Vicinity

[pullquote align=right]Newport, known for its posh luxury hotels and elite seaside estates, offers the lodging and dining variety you might expect of much larger East Coast cities.[/pullquote]Providence somehow manages to feel like the cool college town it is while maintaining a very genuine blue-collar vibe at the same time. It also offers a culinary experience you might expect of a city several times its size, some beautifully preserved colonial and 19th-century architecture, and a youthful, unconventional, and thriving music, art, and club scene, largely due to the presence of Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and Johnson and Wales.

Greater Providence encapsulates a diversity of environments that reward day trips, drive-throughs, and even longer stays. The Blackstone River Valley features recreational opportunities, thanks to the historically notable Blackstone River.

Newport is a well-preserved colonial seaport community.
Newport is a well-preserved colonial seaport community. Photo © Artur Staszewski, Flicker/CC-BY-SA.

Newport

Newport, known for its posh luxury hotels and elite seaside estates, offers the lodging and dining variety you might expect of much larger East Coast cities, and yet it’s a fairly small place that’s easy to navigate. It’s a well-preserved colonial seaport community and a living-history museum of the Gilded Age, with stunning mansions situated on rocky cliffs. But you needn’t be rich to enjoy the natural beauty of Newport’s scenic coastline and sandy beaches.

Block Island

Block Island is both beautiful and accessible, thanks to a conservancy that preserves more than a quarter of the island’s open spaces. You’ll find historic bed-and-breakfasts and inns here, including several mammoth Victorian hotels, as well as some of the most breathtaking stretches of coastline in the state.

The Sakonnet Point Lighthouse in Little Compton, RI.
The Sakonnet Point Lighthouse in Little Compton, RI. Photo © Peter Bond, Flicker/CC-BY-SA.

The East Bay and Sakonnet

East Bay is a great weekend destination: Warren is an antiques hub with a few excellent restaurants, while Bristol offers charming inns and museums. Sakonnet makes a great day trip as it’s laced with country roads and contains a handful of fun shops, cafés, roadside farm stands, and a bit of beach access. Alas, there are hardly any accommodations in Sakonnet’s two towns, Little Compton and Tiverton, but it’s a short drive from either Aquidneck Island or Bristol.

South County

This part of Rhode Island offers a mix of colorful beach towns studded with condos, motels, and guesthouses along with quieter interior communities known for lush forests, rippling ponds and rivers, and great hiking. The coastal area tends to be seasonal and is best visited from spring through summer. This is a very family-friendly part of Rhode Island, owing to its busy beaches with kid-oriented diversions, from water sports and whale watches to carousels and miniature golf.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Rhode Island.

Iceland’s 3 Favorite Activities

Iceland truly is a nature buff’s playground. There is much to do, and locals are thrilled to have you explore their treasured land with their favorite activities: hiking, fishing, and swimming.

If you’re heading out on a hike or a climb, remember to report your whereabouts. Also, be sure to closely monitor weather conditions, bring all the water and gear you need with you, and be careful. Iceland’s rescue team is often called upon to save unprepared tourists in completely avoidable situations. Have fun, but be safe.

Hiking Mt. Hekla in Iceland.
Hiking Mt. Hekla in Iceland. Photo © Derwuth/dreamstime.

Hiking

[pullquote align=right]Iceland’s rescue team is often called upon to save unprepared tourists in completely avoidable situations. Have fun, but be safe.[/pullquote]Hiking is by far the most popular outdoor activity on the island. There are stretches of land in the north, south, Reykjanes Peninsula, west, east, and interior that are begging to be explored. Hikers have their choice of terrain whether they’re looking for vast lava fields, steep mountains, or enormous glaciers.

The key is to be well prepared, safe, and smart. Monitor weather conditions, have all the proper equipment with you, and alert authorities about your plans. While hiking is a beautiful way to explore the island, most emergency calls to the rescue service are due to ill-prepared tourists finding themselves in a predicament on a hiking expedition gone wrong. It cannot be overstated that you must respect Iceland’s raw and sometimes treacherous nature.

Detailed maps are available at regional tourist information offices as well as online at the Ferðafélag Íslands (Icelandic Touring Association).

Best Day Hikes

Iceland is undeniably a hiker’s paradise. The mountainous landscape begs to be climbed, lava fields invite you to explore, and the highlands offer the adventurous a place to conquer.

  • Mount Esja is the picture-perfect backdrop to Reykjavík and a favorite among locals and tourists to hike. The hike is relatively easy, but be aware that it gets steeper as you get to the top. Along the way, you’ll see a placid stream and gorgeous scenery. The view from the top is breathtaking, with views of Reykjavík across the bay.
  • In the west, Mount Akrafjall offers moderate hiking, with two paths to choose from. The shorter climb (about two hours) is 555 meters and offers a lovely view of the outskirts of the town Akranes. If you’re up for a longer climb (about five hours), a path leads 643 meters up, and on clear days you can see Snæfellsjökull glacier.
  • For those who make it to the highlands, hiking the rim of Mount Askja is a must. The eight-hour trek is rather difficult, but the trail is well maintained and sees a bit of traffic among hikers. The hike offers special views of looming mountains, lava fields, and the spectacular Víti crater.

Fishing

Fishing is how many Icelanders make their living, so who has fishing rights can be political. Your best bet is to sign up for a tour with a local operator who handles the necessary permit as well as bait and gear. A good place to start is through the tour operator Iceland Fishing Guide, which offers fishing tours in Iceland’s lakes, rivers, and streams. You have a chance at catching salmon, trout, and arctic char, depending on the tour location.

Contact a local operator if you want to fish Iceland's rivers.
Contact a local operator if you want to fish Iceland’s rivers. Photo © Jon Helgason/123rf.

Swimming

Swimming is a big part of Icelandic culture. That may sound strange given the chilly temps compared to say, Spain or Florida, but an Icelander’s local swimming pool is part of their social scene. If you visit a pool, you will notice groups of Icelanders, friends and family, sitting in hot tubs, sun rooms, or in the children’s pool with their little ones. They love the water and they love to socialize. Pools are heated, and many have extensive facilities that include a gym, sauna, and several hot tubs. There are more than 120 swimming pools in Iceland, and they are well used, no matter the weather. Even outdoor pools can be full when there is a light snowfall.

The part about Iceland’s swimming culture that frazzles some tourists is the communal showering that takes place before and after your swim. In the gender-divided locker rooms, you will see Icelanders showering stark naked—that’s right, sans bathing suit—and you’re expected to do the same. You must thoroughly clean yourself before you join the pool. At larger pools, there are often attendants who make sure that visitors shower. Locals are used to shy visitors and find it amusing, but at the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter. After a couple of visits to the pool, you get used to it.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Iceland.

Visiting Pinnacles National Park

View from along the High Peaks trail in Pinnacles National Park.
View from along the High Peaks trail in Pinnacles National Park. Photo © Rick Myers/123rf.

California’s newest national park, Pinnacles National Park is a relatively small park with a lot packed into it. The landscapes are unique, the wildlife different with bats and bees at the forefront, and the hiking usually includes a bit of spelunking.

Lying along the San Andreas Fault, the park itself is a 23-million-year-old geological phenomenon spewed into existence by a volcanic eruption that occurred 195 miles south. Debris and erosion have formed the massive pillars and walls over time, but this majestic mountain’s crowning glory is its two talus caves, composed from the large boulders that have fallen down into random piles.

The park was designated in January 2013, and hosts several healthy populations of smaller animals including bobcats, bats, the endangered California condor, and the highest bee variety in the world. Miles of hiking trails traverse the edges of an abundance of diverse habitat, offering ample wildlife viewing. Hike to Balconies Cave (9.4 miles round-trip) via Chalone Creek on the Bench and Old Pinnacles trails where you can explore the cave (a flashlight is required) and marvel at the views of the largest rock formations in the park. Or, opt for the shorter Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop (a flashlight is required), which, after crossing up to Balconies Cave, heads down to the Old Pinnacles trail and through the cave. You may get wet, as wading may be necessary during winter months.

Other features of the park include Bear Gulch Cave, which is closed mid-May through mid-July to protect the park’s colony of bats as they raise their young. The campground (reservations 877/444-6777, $23 tents, $36 RVs) is located near the east entrance and is open to tents and RVs. It is outfitted with picnic tables, electrical hookups, water, showers, bathrooms, a swimming pool (Apr.-Sept.), and a store (831/389-4538, 3pm-5pm Sun.-Thurs., 2pm-5pm Fri., 10am-4pm Sat.).

There are two entrances to the park, one to the west off US-101 at Soledad and the other to the east on CA-146.

The Pinnacles National Park Visitor Center (5000 CA-146, 831/389-4485, 9am-5pm daily, $10 parking fee) provides information on ranger-led programs, hiking trails, and rock-climbing routes, and it has several displays on the geologic history of the region.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip.

Planning Your Time in Sacramento and Gold Country

Planning your time in Sacramento and Gold Country depends very much on your interests. The capital of California, Sacramento is a cosmopolitan city with a friendly vibe, a newly energized entertainment scene, and a firm grip on its historical legacy. From there you can venture into the Gold Country, gorgeous 130-mile-long belt of award-winning wineries and rugged outdoor scenery deep in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

[pullquote align=right]The fun continues in the Gold Country, a gorgeous 130-mile-long belt of award-winning wineries and rugged outdoor scenery deep in the Sierra Nevada foothills.[/pullquote]Sacramento the city grew along the Sacramento and American Rivers during the Gold Rush era. It provided a vital transit link between the mining country and the port of San Francisco. Today Sacramento has become one of the most diverse cities in the country, known for its multicultural population, politics, outdoor recreation, and a thriving foodie movement sprouting amidst a new generation of gourmet restaurants and the region’s 8,000 acres of boutique farms. It’s no wonder that Sacramento is the Farm-to-Fork Capital of America.

Sacramento skyline at sunset.
Sunset at Sacramento’s Cathedral Square. Photo © Jeff Turner/CC-BY.

In the city’s historical Midtown, Downtown, and East Sacramento neighborhoods, an urban renaissance has remade this storied city into a vibrant, multicultural metropolis with cutting-edge art museums and packed bistros. More than ever, Sacramento is a place of brilliant contrasts, a town always caught in the crucible of compelling styles and personalities. On any day, you might see politicians in tailored suits pedaling their beach cruisers alongside shaggy-haired hipsters in pegged jeans. Where else could flamboyant movie stars like Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger begin a second life as governors of the country’s most populous state?

The fun continues in the Gold Country. After prospectors first discovered precious metal here in 1848, California was forever changed by the Gold Rush and the pioneers who poured into the new state searching for riches. These days, modern-day Gold Country prospectors search for antiques, explore caves, find hole-in-the-wall eateries, try river rafting, and discover luxurious inns in renovated farmhouses. From the foothills to Sacramento’s farmland, this diverse region of California has something for every traveler.

Sacramento and Gold Country. Photo © Christopher Arns.
Knights Ferry covered bridge over the Stanislaus River in California’s Gold Country. Photo © Christopher Arns.

Planning Your Time

Sacramento makes a nice day trip or weekend getaway from the Bay Area, or a fun one- to two-day start to a longer Gold Country and Sierra adventure. Winters are mild here, but summers get blisteringly hot.

The Gold Country is physically too large to experience in one day, or even in a weekend. Highway 49 runs more than 100 miles through the rugged Sierra foothills, and it’s impossible to resist side trips to smaller towns and specific caverns, mines, and museums along the way. If you’ve got one day, pick a specific Gold Country town as your destination, and one or two of the major parks and attractions nearby. In a weekend, you can get an overview of either the northern or southern Gold Country, driving from town to town and making short stops along the way. Visiting season in Gold Country runs from late spring to late fall, when the weather is best. Winter brings snow to many of the Sierra foothill towns, which draws skiers and other winter-sports enthusiasts.

Maps - Northern California 7e - Sacramento and Gold County
Sacramento and Gold County

Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Northern California.

Where to Go in Phuket & Ko Samui

Phuket and Ko Samui are Thailand’s most popular resort islands, and for good reason. The azure water and soft sand are the stuff of legends. Palm trees, lush green rainforests, paddy fields, and mountain ranges are never far away.

You’ll also find reasonably priced accommodations, a good variety of places to eat, drink, and shop, and plenty of outdoor activities that take advantage of the stunning natural landscape. Here you can sleep in a thatched roof bungalow, hike through the lush forests of a national park, or snorkel in the clear blue waters of the Andaman Sea, all in the same day.

Snorkeling at Ko Phi Phi along the Andaman Coast.
Snorkeling at Ko Phi Phi along the Andaman Coast. Photo © olos/123rf.

Though Thai is a tough language to master on vacation, and the script looks completely undecipherable to most Westerners, you will find at least a little English spoken in almost every corner of Phuket and Ko Samui (as well as Russian and Chinese). With so many tourists visiting, you’ll never be far from someone who can help you find what you need or where you’re going.

More than anything else, you’ll find paradise. With a little bit of effort, you can discover that tranquil patch of sand under a coconut tree that you’ve been dreaming about.

Where to Go

Phuket

Phuket is Thailand’s number one beach destination, and for good reason. The country’s largest island has almost a dozen beautiful beaches covered with soft sand and backed by swaying palm trees. The Andaman Sea, with its warm, turquoise waters, is beautiful and inviting. But if you look past the beaches for a moment it becomes clear why Phuket is so popular. There are hundreds of restaurants to eat at, over a thousand hotels, resorts, and guesthouses to choose from, and plenty of shops to peruse.

The Andaman Coast

The peninsula’s west coast is undoubtedly the most beautiful region in the country, with postcard-perfect islands and lush rainforests and mountain ranges. The warm, clear waters offer excellent opportunities to snorkel and scuba dive, with stunning limestone rock formations, waterfalls, and caves to explore. Travel north or south from Phuket and you’ll find some of the best beaches in the world. The rest of the region is still supported by agriculture and a thriving fishing industry, and it remains relatively undeveloped.

Ko Samui and the Samui Archipelago

Ko Samui, Ko Pha-Ngan, and Ko Tao, once a group of barely inhabited islands known better for coconut trees than anything else, now provide visitors with everything from luxury resorts to thatched beach bungalows. But despite their conveniences, even Samui still feels like a laid-back beach destination. If you want a relaxing beach vacation where you can enjoy good food and great accommodations, head to Samui. Party animals will enjoy Ko Pha-Ngan’s famous full-moon raves. And if you’re a diver, or aspire to be one, head to Ko Tao for some of the best diving in the region.

Southern Gulf of Thailand

Coconut groves, rubber plantations, and forested mountains characterize Thailand’s lower southern gulf. Once a bustling entrepôt, this region is still a significant commercial center for southern Thailand. The largest province, Nakhon Si Thammarat, offers a tutorial of the region’s cultural history. The remains of the ancient walled city of Ligor, Buddhist temples, Hindu shrines, and Muslim mosques are all easily accessible here.

Travel map of the Phuket and Ko Samui region of Thailand
Travel map of the Phuket and Ko Samui region of Thailand

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Phuket & Ko Samui.

What You Need to Know About Renting a Car in Iceland

Renting a car in Iceland gives travelers the ultimate freedom to explore the island without being tethered to a tour company’s schedule, or having to share the experience with a busload of fellow travelers. However, renting a car in Iceland comes with a unique set of challenges. The weather is unpredictable; the roads can be icy; and cars can encounter sand, ash, and loose gravel, which can damage cars. It’s important to research the many companies that offer cars, learn about the various insurance options, and select the right car that is appropriate for your trip.

[pullquote align=”right”]Going for a small, economy-size option might work for staying within Reykjavik, but if you plan to venture to the countryside, there are many different things to consider. [/pullquote]The first mistake many travelers make is to simply go for the smallest car at the cheapest rate, forgoing extra insurance. It’s tempting, since car rental prices remind you that you are very much on an island with very little price competition. Some tourists think it’s wildly expensive to rent a car and pay for insurance, while gas prices are sky high compared to their home country. Going for a small, economy-size option might work for staying within Reykjavik, but if you plan to venture to the countryside, there are many different things to consider.

Easy driving on a summer evening in Iceland.
Easy driving on a summer evening in Iceland. Photo © topdeq/123rf.

If you plan on traveling on well-paved roads, such as the Ring Road, a compact car is often the best and cheapest option. However, if your trip includes a visit to the Highlands (only possible in the summer), don’t try to get away with renting the cheapest option. If you try to bring a compact car into a region that requires a 4×4, expect damage to the car at best, and being stranded and needing to be rescued at worst. Be smart and always be prepared. Interior roads are called F-Roads, and they require a 4×4 due to river crossings and incredibly rocky terrain. F-Roads are only open during June—the exact date depends on how much snow fell in the interior during the year. Check www.road.is for road openings.

So, which insurance options should you go for? Car rental companies in Iceland provide full insurance for each rental, which is the basic third-party insurance option. For an additional cost, drivers have access to extra insurance that includes a collision damage waiver. Lastly, there is Sand and Ash Protection (SAAP) insurance, which is pretty unique to Iceland. Remember the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010? Because of the eruption, large parts of south Iceland were covered in ash and sand, which can cause significant damage to cars. The damage to cars can range from ISK 500.000 to ISK 1.500.000, but with SAAP insurance, your self-risk liability is typically set at a maximum of ISK 90.000. The details vary by car rental agency. If your travel plans include south Iceland, which includes the Golden Circle and other popular attractions, it’s a good idea to consider SAAP insurance. Be sure to choose the right insurance for the region you plan to travel to.

After you select your car and insurance package, make sure you are informed of the current weather and road conditions. Two websites to always consult are www.vedur.is for weather forecasts and www.road.is for road closures and weather warnings.

A 4x4 crossing a river in Iceland.
If you try to bring a compact car into a region that requires a 4×4, expect damage to the car at best, and being stranded and needing to be rescued at worst. Photo © Nadezda Murmakova/123rf.

Driving in Iceland can range from peaceful to harrowing, depending on the weather and time of year. The weather in Iceland can change quite quickly, so be sure to always check road conditions before you head out on a trip. If you are not an experienced winter driver, it would be the safest option to consider joining tours instead of renting a car. The winter, which begins in September and stretches to April, can bring snow, rain, sleet, ice, black ice, and wind gusts that blow cars off the road. Iceland is not the place to learn how to drive in winter.

Campervans and motorhomes are popular for those that enjoy camping, but keep in mind that campsites are only open during the summer and wild camping is not allowed. Therefore, campervans should only be rented during the summer months.

You can rent a car in advance or at the rental office at Keflavík International Airport when you land, at BSÍ bus station, or within Reykjavík once you’re settled. It’s recommended to arrange your rental in advance as some dealers sell out early and you can get the best deals in advance.

Travel map of Iceland
Iceland

Battling Bad Behavior in National Parks

Yellowstone National Park welcomed the 2016 National Park Service centennial season with May’s visitation numbers surpassing previous years. Unfortunately, the park also made headlines with tourists behaving badly. Crimes ranged from mistreatment of wildlife to abuse at hot springs. The worst cases resulted in deaths of a bison calf and an Oregon man.

When traveling in Yellowstone, you might be confronted with other visitors ignoring the rules. In most cases, they don’t intend to be malicious. They simply misunderstand the natural ecosystem, its realities and its dangers.

Yellowstone is not a manicured experience like Disneyland or a petting zoo. Every visitor entering the park has a responsibility to protect the wildlife and natural features. So, what can you do to encourage better behavior from others?

Battling Bad Behavior in National Parks: Tips for keeping travelers and wildlife safe.

1. Model Good Judgment Around Wildlife

[pullquote align=”right”]On roads, when stopped to see wildlife, take a couple pictures and drive on rather than creating a bear or bison jam. [/pullquote]Yellowstone’s wild bison, elk, deer, and bears are unpredictable. These animals have a comfort zone regarding humans that visitors need to respect. Creeping too close stresses them, and their reaction can be swift and dangerous. Despite the bison’s docile appearance, the large creatures can pivot fast and bolt at 35 miles per hour. During 2015, bison gored five people who violated their space. Three of the incidents involved taking photos or selfies. During the past decade, bison have outranked grizzly bears in injuring people.

Help demonstrate the correct behavior around wildlife. If others around you crowd an animal, resist the urge to converge with them. Maintain the recommended distance: 25 yards from bison, elk, and most wildlife, but 100 yards from bears and wolves. Buy a telephoto lens to get that close up photo without crowding the animal. On roads, when stopped to see wildlife, take a couple pictures and drive on rather than creating a bear or bison jam.

Bison on a road in Yellowstone
People and wildlife intersect frequently in Yellowstone. Photo © Zhiyu Li/123rf.

2. Be Responsible with Social Media

To promote a better tourist ethic, be responsible in your choices of photos for sharing on social media. Selfies have their place, but do not take them in close proximity to wildlife. Likewise, do not take photos of people posed next to wildlife.

Photos mixing people and wildlife should only show the appropriate distance for viewing animals, not serve as bragging rights. Instead of joining the trend of abusive wildlife pictures, promote ethical photography.

Bison in Yellowstone
Bison in Yellowstone have surpassed grizzly bears in causing injury to humans. Use a telephoto lens to cut zoom in close. Photo © Becky Lomax.

3. Model Safety on Boardwalks and Trails

Yellowstone’s thermal features fume, sputter, spout, and bubble, and many mix with glorious color. But many have thin crusts and scalding water, making them as dangerous as they are beautiful. In June 2016, an Oregon man was killed when he walked off the path in Norris Geyser Basin and fell into a boiling spring. The acidic nature of the springs left no human remains to recover. A few days earlier, a young boy and his father both suffered burns in another location.

Before taking your family to sightsee thermal features, discuss what “hot” means at Yellowstone. If you wouldn’t hold your hand down on a hot burner, you shouldn’t touch hot water in Yellowstone. Around hot springs, hold young children firmly. If you see other visitors stepping off the boardwalks or trails at thermal features, notify a ranger. More people are injured in Yellowstone’s hot springs than any other thermal features.

Tour Grand Prismatic Spring on a boardwalk that helps protect the bacterial mats that create the vivid colors. Photo © Becky Lomax.
Tour Grand Prismatic Spring on a boardwalk that helps protect the bacterial mats that create the vivid colors. Photo © Becky Lomax.

4. Notify Rangers and Collect Evidence

Not only can Yellowstone’s thermals be deadly, but they can also be easily damaged by human intervention. The color of Morning Glory Pool has changed from visitors throwing things into the pipes. When you see people abusing the natural features or wildlife, report them to rangers.

Photographing misbehavior can help prevent it. The insensitive and dangerous trampling at Grand Prismatic Springs in May 2016 by four Canadians damaged the bacterial mats, but rangers were able to identify the culprits through photos on social media. In June 2016, a man walked off the boardwalk to collect water at Mammoth Hot Springs, breaking through the travertine crust. After a witness reported him, rangers were able to catch him and fine him $1,000. Rangers have credited witnesses with their ability to track down misbehaving tourists.

Notify a park ranger if you see anything that causes you concern.
Notify a park ranger if you see anything that causes you concern. Public domain photo, Yellowstone National Park.

Disrespecting wildlife and thermal features has no place in a national park. All visitors need to promote more responsible behavior.

Rhode Island Travel Planning: When to Go

Contrary to what Rhode Island locals might tell you, nothing within the state’s boundaries is actually “far away” from anything else. Rhode Island comprises only about 1,500 square miles (over 500 of which are in territorial waters), and one can easily drive from one end of the state to the other in about an hour. But despite the relative ease with which one might cross a state line, there is something about Rhode Island that makes it difficult to leave. In fact, this tendency of Rhode Islanders to stay put has become something of a joke over the years; local gift shops have taken to selling bumper stickers and T-shirts depicting an anchor chained to the phrase “I never leave Rhode Island.”

[pullquote align=right]The ocean permeates everything in Rhode Island, from the sandy beaches and inland farms to city streets.[/pullquote]The anchor, of course, is part of the state’s official insignia, a symbol representing steadfastness and hope. And like so much of Rhode Island’s history, culture, people, and landscape, it also represents an inextricable link to the sea.

The ocean permeates everything in Rhode Island, from the sandy beaches and inland farms to city streets where seagulls can still be heard crying overhead and salty breezes blow in from the bay. In Rhode Island, the ocean creates jobs, supplies food, and provides recreation and respite from the daily grind. It’s where the state gets its official name (after all, an island can’t exist without the sea), and it’s where it gets its nickname as well—the Ocean State.

A sailboat in the water near Newport Bridge at twilight.
Newport Bridge at twilight. Photo © Marianne Campolongo/dreamstime.

Perhaps this is why Rhode Islanders live for summer, when rising temperatures and sunny skies make the coast that much more appealing. But as with all New England states, Rhode Island has appeal in every season. Autumn means brilliant bright-orange and red foliage, and apple picking and hayrides at family-run orchards. Spring is an excuse to seek out the diaphanous pink blooms of the cherry blossom trees at one of over two dozen state parks. Even in the coldest winter months, visitors can enjoy the ineffable beauty of the Atlantic from behind the windowpanes of cozy seaside B&Bs or simply find warmth in the diversity and vibrancy of Providence or Newport, two of the nation’s most historic cities.

And the best thing about Rhode Island? Everything is a day trip—which sort of makes it difficult to leave.

When to Go to Rhode Island

Rhode Island is a year-round destination, but if you’re planning to take advantage of the Ocean State’s vast access to the water, focus your visit around the warmest months, generally from mid-May through mid-October and especially from mid-June through Labor Day. Keep in mind, however, that in Newport, Block Island, and South County, you’ll be competing with throngs of other sea lovers for space and parking at the beach, in restaurants, and at hotels.

Daffodils on Block Island, RI.
Daffodils on Block Island, RI. Photo © Liz Lee.

Newport and parts of South County have made an effort to attract off-season visitors; museums have begun keeping longer winter hours, and many hotels offer special rates in the off-season. Block Island, however, has few hotel options and even fewer dining options in winter.

The best compromise might be visiting in the shoulder season—in May, before Memorial Day, when the days are often warm and sunny, or in September, after Labor Day, when the ocean is at its warmest.

Because the colleges in Providence infuse downtown and College Hill with energy when the schools are in session, some visitors prefer fall, spring, and even winter in the state capital, which can seem empty in summer when there aren’t as many students. While Providence can sometimes be uncomfortably hot and muggy in July and August, it’s only a 45-minute drive to most of the state’s beaches, making it a completely reasonable place to make your home base for a summer visit. Winters are not brutal, but the state does get socked by the occasional snow or ice storms, and the wind and frigidity can be uncomfortable from December through March.

The most bewitching and scenic seasons in Rhode Island are spring, when the entire state is abloom with greenery and flowers, and fall, when the foliage changes color, the woods lighting up with brilliant swamp maples.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Rhode Island.

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