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Summer-Vacations-With-An-Edge / Active Travel / Desert Travel / Peru Travel / Green Travel / → All Tags
It turns out that the highest sand dune in the world is Peru's Cerro Blanco, which rises more than 2,000m above the ground and more or less resembles a mountain. It also turns out that if you want to sandboard down the side of it, Peru Adventure Tours is more than willing to put together a package for you, drive you out there in a sand buggy, and watch as you indulge in one of the world's most extreme sports.
Sandboarding is an all-season sport, one of the upshots of basing an activity out of a desert. Sandboarders either stand on snowboard-like boards or lie down on mats for "trayboarding," and try to pull off the same tricks that snowboarders do. That means catching air, doing tricks, and carving up the ground. Instead of kicking up snow, though, these athletes shred grainy sand. And instead of getting to ride sky lifts up picturesque mountains, they have to access some of the most unforgiving environments in the world.
If it were in any other city in the Western Hemisphere, Las Vegas’ Springs Preserve, which debuted in 2006, would be no secret.
In the midst of an apparent global emergency around the subject of climate change, a well-designed, nearly new recreational and educational facility dedicated to raising awareness of sustainable living should be hitting it out of the park.
But this is Las Vegas. To date, it’s not uncommon to run into locals who still haven’t heard of the Preserve and, certainly to its developers, a disappointingly tiny number of tourists have seemed willing to drag themselves away from Vegas’ more sinful offerings.
The South Australian government has stepped in to save dumb tourists from themselves by simply closing a whole desert. The 56,000 square miles of the Simpson Desert will be "closed" from December 1 to March 15 next year because the heat makes it just too dangerous.
With summer temps heading over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit and often up to 120, it's risky for anyone to head out into the wilderness, but unprepared tourists who need expensive (and dangerous) rescue missions are all too common. So for the first time, they've simply shut up shop on the desert with a A$1,000 ($650) fine for those caught there.
As far as deserts go, Australia has four of the top twenty largest ones, so they probably know what they're talking about. Dying of thirst in a desert is not high on our list of ways we'd like to go, so we won't be going desert-bashing this Aussie summer.
The weird desert they call The Pinnacles doesn't technically get described as being in southwest Australia, but if you look on a map it sure seems like it should. Part of the Nambung National Park, The Pinnacles are a huge collection of limestone pillars sticking out of a desert of yellow sand--and visiting, you wouldn't be crazy to feel like you'd landed on the moon.
Although experts still disagree on how these limestone columns--some of which tower over the average person--were formed, you can make up your own mind with the newly-opened Visitors' Centre on site. It also houses a few stuffed animals so you know what kind of critters you should be looking out for while you’re prancing around the desert.
Aim to stay for sunset to get the best pictures. You have to pay A$10 ($7) per car to get into the national park but after than you can walk as far through the desert as you want, or you can cheat and drive around a bumpy limestone path. We definitely recommend walking.
National Parks / Desert Travel / Cacti / RFID / → All Tags
We've heard of endangered Joshua trees, but now apparently Arizona's tradmark saguaros are at risk. The cacti, which can grow to 50 feet, are rare enough that poachers can fetch four figures for them--so the National Park Service plans to embed trackable microchips in the prickly plants:
Under the program, a microchip like those implanted to identify dogs and other pets--smaller than a dime--would be inserted an inch deep into the plant with a large syringe.
The microchips don't emit a signal. Instead, each is uniquely encoded, and waving a special wand within about a foot powers the chip to send back its code.
Park officials are now studying the potential environmental impact of tagging at least some of the millions of saguaros in Arizona. If the plan goes forward, it won't be the first of its kind: Lake Mead National Recreation Area started tracking its cacti in 1999.
Arizona, it seems, wants to be more than just cacti and where John McCain is from, and a group of local investors are eager to bring some new commercialization to the state: They're looking to build a new theme park in Pinal County, the third planned for the area.
The park, Coyote Canyon, will feature five different themed lands including the Old West, Indian High Country, Rocks and River County and Canyon Country. The Central Corridor area would bring hotels and shopping to the park experience. However, there's no word yet if huge steel coasters are in the works for any of the lands.
Developers have already indicated that other investors are eager to get in on the ground floor of the $600 million project and have announced that hotels, restaurants and even bowling alleys are ready to break ground. Even if all goes smoothly, it'll still be a couple years until we get to check it out: No land has been purchased yet.
[Photo: Karen Sheets]
Visiting the Middle East can be disappointing for anyone hoping for "A Whole New World" type of adventure, once they see all the skyscrapers, beach resorts and, of course, gigantic Eurotrash discos.
Fortunately for those in search of a vacation with more desert sand dunes and travel by camel, Israel has plenty of back-in-time experiences like the Mamshit Camel Ranch.
Set in the middle of Israel's Negev Desert, Mamshit offers day-long camel tours, Bedouin-style group meals and overnight stays in "the Million Star Hotel," an assortment of sheep wool and goat hair tents. The whole thing is a little more Disney-Middle East than genuine experience, but what are you gonna do? Even the Bedouins live in houses now.
Israel packs deserts, mountains, volcanoes, canyons and seas into an area the size of New Jersey, which makes for some pretty spectacular hiking. And the country's most popular route is the trip up Masada, the isolated rock plateau on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert.
One of the most important sites in ancient Jewish history, the barren desert mesa is the site where a band of Jewish rebels made their last stand against Roman warriors in the first century AD. The 2,000-year-old ruins at the top of the plateau are the main draw for history and religion buffs, while the 1,800-foot climb and view overlooking the Dead Sea attract a wide array of tourists.
The problem with visiting this mountain in the middle of the desert, of course, is the intensity of the sun, which is why many summertime visitors choose to hike up before dawn, catching the sunrise and beating the heat. If that still sounds like too much, there's always the cable car to the top.
First there were organic foods and cosmetics, then energy-efficient cars, and now, even our spa treatments are going green. Willow Stream Spa at The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess has just introduced Desert Purification, a bodywork treatment inspired by Native American traditions and culture.
It may sound a little out there, but they certainly don’t oversell the “all natural” thing. The 90-minute treatment begins with an optional “smudging,” or burning of a sage stick to purify the space for healing, then a therapist applies a mask all over your body. Not only are the indigenous ingredients—cornmeal, oats, bentonite and kaolin clays, among others—free from preservatives, artificial colorings and synthetic fragrances, but even the fabric used to exfoliate your skin is made from the biodegradable fibers of a local Ayate cactus plant. (Cacuts?! Sounds prickly, but we promise, it's not so bad.)
Once you’ve been sufficiently smoothed and subsequently showered, you can get what you’ve really come for—a nourishing body massage featuring an aromatic blend of organic juniper, sage and rosemary essential oils. While we’re not sure just how much a getting green treatment reduces our impact on the environment, we love the idea that getting pampered might not be entirely self-indulgent after all.
Of all the services that you could return from a destination spa raving about, mani-pedis usually aren't among them. It's not that getting your hands and feet sandblasted, buffed and shellacked by a stranger isn't incredibly relaxing, but the perfectly polished nails you pay hand over fist for have usually chipped by the time you're back in your own area code.
That's why we were pretty jazzed by the just-introduced Double Happiness Manicure and Pedicure combo we received at the Spa at Camelback Inn. Created by skincare diva June Jacobs exclusively for the resort, the treatment is designed as a facial for the hands and feet. As our chatty, Russian-born therapist Marta got to work on our woefully neglected gams, she informed us that peppermint, the featured ingredient the scrub she was using, has both aromatic and antiseptic properties--and, as we'd soon discover, can also make your toes tingle!
Two hours of intense pampering later, we had to admit that our fingers and toes looked pretty damn good. But we didn't fully grasp how effective the treatment had been until a week or so later, when our skin still felt spa-day smooth and our Espresso Your Style OPI polish still looked freshly painted.
Sure, a full body massage might have been nice--but it was pretty cool reaping the benefits of our spa experience long after returning home.
[Photo: Spa at Camelback Inn]
On our recent trip to Scottsdale to get massages, pedicures and bodywork treatments in the name of, um, travel research, we learned that this desert oasis plays host to more than 40 spas, many of which are located in swank destination resorts. When you're in such close proximity to your five-star competition, you've got to offer something wacky, niche or ultra-luxe to win over guests--your basic Swedish rubdown or hydrating facial just won't cut the epicurean mustard.
Making our appointment at The Revive Spa at the JW Marriot Desert Ridge, we were urged to try The Turquoise Blue Sage Body Ritual, a 3-in-1 combination therapy designed to cleanse and purify our senses. As the name implies, the products used throughout the 80-minute experience feature the area's most recognizable rock, plus fragrant ingredients like sage and organic essential oils.
Guiding us into the treatment room, our spa therapist explained that turquoise possesses a kind of healing energy. We pondered this, more than a bit skeptical, as she began working a mineral-rich salt scrub into our skin. But as she coated us in a desert clay body mask, wrapped us inside a hydrating cocoon and worked us from head to toe in a full-body massage, we started to come around to her way of thinking. By the time the treatment rounded out with an energy ritual designed to cleanse our aura and balance our spirit, we were totally down with the whole desert healing vibe.
The Southwestern zen lingered for hours--at least, until we came inches from stepping on a live rattlesnake during hike in the nearby Sonoran desert. After such a traumatic, near-death event, we felt totally justified in booking another extra-long treatment at Revive.
Sure, Hawaii wins the prize for the Western Hemisphere's best stargazing. But it's much easier to to glimpse those sparkly darts without all that pesky tropical foliage obstructing the view. Hunter S. Thompson was on to something when he sent his protagonists on a drug-fueled trip into the Nevada desert in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
For those looking for the euphoria of desert tourism without any medicinal enhancement, look no further than the family-friendly Kitt Peak National Observatory on the Tohono O'odham Reservation an hour-and-a-half outside Tucson, Arizona. The admission price ($39; $34 for students) includes a box dinner, orientation in which participants learn to use star charts and use of observatory binoculars to locate constellations. At the end of the three-hour program, visitors can glimpse some of the farthest planets through Kitt Peak's dome-mounted telescopes. Groovy.
[Photo: Time Inc.]