Estonia: A Squishy Stroll Through the Bogs

Estonia bogs

The Viru Bog, taken while strolling the boardwalk.

This is the last in a series of Nadine Godwin’s posts from Estonia; you can read the others here and here.

INSIDE LAHEMAA NATIONAL PARK, Estonia — In early September, I walked on a bog here. I hasten to add, given I was not adept at this, the walk was very short. Within minutes, I had gotten my boot buried past my ankle in the waterlogged moss that I was supposed to stay on top of.

I was wearing bogshoes, which look like the aquatic version of snowshoes, but one boot — a knee-high rubber thing — had come unhinged from the shoe.

While I don’t regard bog walking — I want to call this bogging — as my next favorite pastime, I was pleased to learn something about it because it is one of many windows onto life in Estonia, a tiny happenin’ northern European country on the Baltic. About half the size of Indiana, it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Its history is rich and engaging, as evidenced by, for example, the medieval city center of Tallinn, the capital.

It has a place on the tech front, too: It is the birthplace of Skype, and 98% of the country is wired for free Wi-Fi access.

And, it is a natural wonderland, which is where the bogs come in. Fifty-five percent of Estonia is forested; 20% of the country is covered in bogs. It’s not a mountainous land, but there are 1,521 islands and islets along its coast.

Estonia bogs

View of the Viru Bog in Estonia’s Lahemaa National Park. Much of the area is covered with waterlogged moss, but bogs can leave spaces for pools of water, too.

Bogs are wetlands characterized, in the case of colder lands like Estonia, by bog mosses that capture and hold rainwater. The water in such bogs is typically highly acidic and generally has few minerals, which means not much else — except highly adapted plants — lives here with the mosses.

The thing is the mosses absorb lots of water (yielding an unsettling sponge-y sensation for the bog walker), take the minerals from the water and replace the minerals with acid. An unequal trade, one would say.

Estonia bogs

The Viru Bog seen from the lookout tower. The bog’s boardwalk is visible in the lower left-hand corner of the photo.

Some distance below the surface, not even a foot, the oxygen is effectively shut out, meaning decay is slowed or stopped. Peat is the partially decomposed dead moss found below the living plants.

It is because of these conditions that archaeologists who dig in old bogs can find and study preserved bodies of people who died hundreds or thousands of years ago.

But, back to the bog walking.

I was with a press group when in Estonia. For our bog experience, we headed to the Lahemaa National Park, which has a 3.5-km/2.2-mile boardwalk that visitors can use to walk — without touching water — at a level slightly above the Viru Bog. It also offers a lookout tower for viewing the landscape for some distance.

Estonia bogs

ViruBogLookoutTower

Outfitters provide equipment for those wishing to walk directly on the bogs. VisitEstonia.com lists a few.

This article and its photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

Gyeongju: Where History Runs Deep

Gyeongju, South Korea

Artwork functioning as guardians for Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju, South Korea. Artist-created guardians are sometimes paintings, sometimes very colorful statues.

This is the final installment of Nadine Godwin’s series on South Korea. Check out her other articles: Korea: A Temple Sleepover, Seoul: Traditional Architecture, Seoul: With Designs on the Future, and Seoul: Palace Hopping.

GYEONGJU, South Korea — In the eighth century, Gyeongju had a population of one million; today that number hovers around 250,000, or only one quarter as many.

But the city does have a rich collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites because it was Korea’s capital during the thousand-year rein of the Silla Dynasty. Gyeongju’s importance ended with the dynasty in the 10th century.

My recent press trip, sponsored by the Korea Tourism Organization, included a very short visit to this former capital. I had been here previously, in the 1980s, when the name was spelled Kyong-Ju. Our guide said Korea has been standardizing spellings of place names, hence, the new iteration for the old capital.

During our fly-by sojourn, we squeezed in an unplanned visit to the royal tombs, which I had seen in the 1980s. The specific destination is called the Daereungwon Tomb Complex, part of a UNESCO site. It encompasses 23 royal tomb mounds, out of 155 such tumuli in the city’s downtown.

Gyeongju, South Korea

Grass-covered burial mounds seen in the Daereungwon Tomb Complex in Gyeongju, a former capital of Korea. There are 155 such mounds in the city’s downtown.

The enclosed complex is essentially a pleasant park with paths that take visitors past many of the manmade grass-covered bumps. These tombs are estimated to date from the early fourth century through the sixth century, during Silla days.

We found our way to the best known of them, Cheonmachong Tomb, which displays some of the artifacts found there including an outstanding gold royal crown. Also, one display shows how the tomb was constructed, i.e., with stones and dirt surrounding a wooden room in which the royal body was buried with various treasures.

A sign said no photos were allowed, so I did not take a shot of that golden crown. Our guide said later that we could have taken pictures anyway.

I was glad to revisit the tombs but was not so enchanted by our next UNESCO site — the hillside Seokguram Grotto, site of an eighth century Buddha. It is a manmade granite cave on Mount Tohamsan.

This location meant we had a dramatic mountain drive getting to the destination — and quite a few steep steps to climb upon arrival.

Maybe Seokguram would have made me happier if the site had not been tied up in restoration and protective maintenance work. I do understand such work is necessary.

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Seoul: Traditional Architecture

Seoul architecture

Traditional architecture seen in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village.

SEOUL, South Korea — The Korean word hanok refers to a traditional Korean house. I had occasion to see the houses during a recent press trip to Seoul and other Korean sites, sponsored by the Korea Tourism Organization.

The Bukchon Hanok Village is a Seoul neighborhood known for these houses. Tourists are drawn to the area to see the houses and for Bukchon’s galleries and artsy workshops devoted to traditional arts.

We had a guide for our stroll — a stroll that was more like a forced march (that is what learning trips for the press are like) up and down hills on narrow streets to look into shops and view picturesque streets.

This replica of a 1910 home shows how effectively wood was used to create a structure both sturdy and attractive.

This replica of a 1910 home shows how effectively wood was used to create a structure both sturdy and attractive.

This visit started at a large house that is used to show tourists what a typical hanok looks like. According to our Bukchon host, this area was redeveloped in the early 20th century with houses that were built using old construction methods. So, locals consider this area new although it has the look of something that could be older.

Hanoks feature small rooms that face courtyards covered with sand, not grass. Our hostess said grass is associated with the dead, whereas the sand assists with water drainage and reflects light, bringing the light into the homes, which have deep eaves to block direct sun in summer.

A courtyard in the model house that tourists visit in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village. The raised floor leaves room for under-floor heating.

A courtyard in the model house that tourists visit in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village. The raised floor leaves room for under-floor heating.

Floors inside these homes are constructed to accommodate fires underneath for heat.

Our hostess said the style of these houses came from China “long ago,” but the concept of under-floor heating is Korean. Even today, she said, apartment buildings have under-floor heating.

We dropped by one Bukchon gallery/workshop with paintings, plus other artsy objects (braziers of steel but inlaid with silver, for example) and briefly watched a potter at his work. In another shop, we were offered tastes of rice wine that, I gather, was made based on traditional ways.

A potter demonstrating his skills at a workshop in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village.

A potter demonstrating his skills at a workshop in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village.

At the area’s Folk Painting Workshop, we tried our hand at painting small lotuses or peonies on coasters. Fortunately, we were coloring in established lines, but with paint and brushes.

A rice wine tasting site in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village.

A rice wine tasting site in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village.

This was the finale to our too-short visit to this nice-looking area. The Bukchon Hanok Village is worth considerably more time.

We had a free afternoon in Seoul, which I used for a solo visit to another collection of hanoks. This required conquering — after a fashion — the subway system. I only had to travel a couple of stops on one line.

The two stations I saw were huge with numerous exits and with charts identifying the street or attraction that each exit led to — and the information appeared in English as well as Korean.

Thank goodness for that system! It let me exit the underground maze at the right place and, thus, avoid being totally lost once I was on the street.

Instructions for buying tickets are available in English and there is a surcharge (about 50 cents) for buying single paper tickets. One can pay about $2.50 for a refillable plastic card and avoid the surcharge after that. This reminded me of a similar concept in the Washington, D.C., metro.

Anyway, for my two rides, the plastic card did not make economic sense.

I asked for help a couple of times while underground, and the young women I approached were able to divine my needs and respond sufficiently well.

All of this delivered me rather quickly to the Namsangol Hanok Village, a fabrication in the city center created in the 1990s by moving historic (and usually 19th century) buildings from other points in Korea; also, one house is a replica. There is no entry fee to see the village, which is essentially a park, a quiet spot in the heart of a city of 11 million.

Seoul architecture

View of an 1890s-era house in Seoul’s Namsangol Hanok Village. The raised floor leaves room for under-floor heating.

The village installations are walled compounds, which had belonged to reasonably well-to-do people, with courtyards surrounded by small sitting, reading and sleeping rooms, plus there were kitchens, some shrines and secondary buildings.

This display at Namsangol Hanok Village illustrates a traditional way of cooking.

This display at Namsangol Hanok Village illustrates a traditional way of cooking.

I walked through the grounds of Namsangol’s five compounds but visitors are told to stay

out of the rooms and hence off the wooden floors.

However, in the fifth house I viewed, it appeared several visitors had rented traditional costumes in order to be photographed in them, and this was occurring mostly inside the house.

Women in rented traditional Korean dresses enhance the look of traditional homes in the Namsangol Hanok Village.

Women in rented traditional Korean dresses enhance the look of traditional homes in the Namsangol Hanok Village.

Visitors can try their hand at a traditional game, tossing arrows into a narrow-necked jar.

Visitors to Namsangol Hanok Village test their skills at an old Korean game that involves tossing arrows into a narrow-necked jar.

Visitors to Namsangol Hanok Village test their skills at an old Korean game that involves tossing arrows into a narrow-necked jar.

Also, Namsangol promotes its demonstrations of craft making although I didn’t

A pond on the grounds of the Namsangol Hanok Village.

A pond on the grounds of the Namsangol Hanok Village.

see examples of this; handmade traditional goods are sold here, too.

Namsangol was very popular when I visited, but as far as I could tell, it’s not a top spot for foreigners; most visitors seemed to be Korean.

 

This article and its photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

Along Kolob Terrace Road

Smith mesa off Kolob Terrace Road.

Smith Mesa off Kolob Terrace Road.

Here’s another post in our series on Zion National Park. Other articles include: Exploring Zion National Park, Exploring Zion Canyon, Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, and Exploring Kolob Canyons.

For another angle on Zion’s natural splendor, take time to drive the 20 or so miles up Kolob Terrace Road, an unassuming paved trail that snakes north from the tiny town of Virgin off State Route 9, about 13 miles due west of Springdale. You can pause to hike if you wish, but don’t be ashamed to take a break and just enjoy the ride.

There are no services on this route so be sure to stop for a packed lunch before setting off. In Springdale, Café Soleil (205 Zion Park Boulevard, not far from the main entrance to Zion) is a good choice and their chipotle chicken wrap is a winner. If you’re approaching from the west, Kokopelli Deli (390 W. State Street) in Hurricane is your best bet; they do a terrific take on the classic Reuben.

Your drive up Kolob Terrace Road begins unassumingly enough, through a modest residential area and into barren scrubland framed by Zion’s less spectacular backside to your right. But soon the road takes a short rise at the top of which the vista opens out to spectacular effect.

Off Kolob Terrace Road -- Zion National Park

View off Kolob Terrace Road.

Here you are on a narrow ridge between two canyons. On your right, you will see the enticing entrance gate to Sunset Valley Ranch. Alas, it’s private, but do pull off to peer over the edge at the lush green horse farm below.

As the road rises steadily (you will ascend some 3,000 feet during your journey), you will enter Zion National Park, greeted only by a sign. Along the way, various trailheads give access to some of the park’s more strenuous one- and two-day hikes.

Take note of the turn off to Smith Mesa Road on the left, but save it for your return trip when the afternoon sun is bathing the walls of Zion in theatrical lighting.

As the road winds in and out of park boundaries, pause frequently to admire and photograph the towering rock formations and distant vistas to the east.

Lava Point off Kolob Terrace Road.

View from Lava Point off Kolob Terrace Road.

At about the 20-mile mark on your odometer, you will reach, on your right, the turn off to Lava Point Campground and the Lava Point Overlook, a little less than two miles away along a seriously rutted dirt road. If there have been heavy rains recently, this stretch may prove impassable to the standard rental car.

If the weather cooperates, you will reach one of Zion’s loftiest viewpoints (nearly 7,900 feet in elevation) and be rewarded with a picnic table that overlooks a jaw-dropping, 180-degree panorama — one that extends to Arizona on a clear day. An interpretive sign aids you in spotting points you have already explored in Zion Canyon.

Smith Mesa off Kolob Terrace Road.

Another view of Smith Mesa off Kolob Terrace Road.

Retracing your route, you will discover that the return journey offers new and unexpected angles on the scenery you passed just a short time ago. This time, take the sharp right-hand turn onto Smith Mesa Road. Again, exercise caution if there have been recent rains. Even in dry weather, this road has some moments that will give you pause if you are only used to driving on well-paved roads.

While the drive up to Smith Mesa can seem like a mini-adventure, the real reward comes when you turn around after a few miles and descend. If you have timed it right, the sinking sun will be showcasing the canyon walls to the east in their perfect light.

Kolob Terrace Road -- Zion National Park

The moon over Kolob Terrace Road.

It’s an exhilarating end to a smashing scenic drive.

Continue to explore Zion National Park

Intro to Zion National Park

Exploring Zion Canyon

Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

Along Kolob Terrace Road (You Are Here)

Exploring Kolob Canyons

Exploring Kolob Canyons

Hanging valley at Kolob Canyons.

Hanging canyon at Kolob Canyons.

This is part of a series by Kelly Monaghan and Sally Scanlon on Zion National Park. Check out other articles here and here and here.

A 45-mile drive from Springdale, in the northwest part of the park, Kolob Canyons offers different rock formations and a much quieter experience than its cousin to the south, as relatively few Zion visitors appear to make the trip. Unless you elect a backcountry hike, you’ll probably see these canyons mostly from the 5-mile scenic drive on a red roadway that matches the color in some of strata of the canyon walls.

Pause about midway to admire a spectacular series of sandstone formations that feature so-called “hanging canyons.” Carved by centuries of snowmelt, these lush, green, v-shaped niches in the rock wall are canyons in the making.

Timber Creek Overlook Trail, a rather steep mile-long (round trip) hike accessed from the parking lot at the end of the scenic drive, offers spectacular views.

Timber Creek Overlook at Kolob Canyons.

Timber Creek Overlook at Kolob Canyons.

Kolob Canyons has its own Visitors Center near the entrance, just off I-15, complete with restrooms, a shop, and knowledgeable rangers. There’s a picnic area near the beginning of the Timber Creek trail with several tree-shaded tables. Packing in a picnic lunch is highly recommended.

Timber Creek Overlook Trail -- Zion National Park

Vista from the end of Timber Creek Overlook Trail.

Perhaps because it is less visited, you have a better chance of seeing wildlife here, especially if you venture along the trail system. When we visited, signs warned that a mountain lion had recently been spotted in the vicinity. Our own sightings were limited to birds, lizards, and squirrels.

To get to Kolob Canyons, drive west from Springdale on State Route 9, then north on State Route 17 and Interstate 15. The entrance to Kolob Canyons is at Exit 40.

Kolob Terrace Road -- Zion National Park

Along Kolob Terrace Road.

 

 

 

 

Continue to explore Zion National Park

Intro to Zion National Park

Exploring Zion Canyon

Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

Along Kolob Terrace Road

Exploring Kolob Canyons (You Are Here)

Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.

Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.

This is part of a series on Zion National Park by Kelly Monaghan and Sally Scanlon. Check out other articles here and here.

Twelve miles of State Route 9 cut through the southeastern corner of the park, connecting the park’s south and east entrances (and requiring payment of Zion’s entry fee). The stretch is designated a scenic highway, and it more than lives up to that name. The road climbs steeply from the canyon floor, passing through Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel on its way to Checkerboard Mesa and the park’s east entrance.

The 1.1-mile tunnel was the longest in the U.S. when it was completed in 1930. Its two lanes were plenty wide enough for two-way traffic back then, but a single lane can’t accommodate vehicles 11’4” tall or taller or 7’10” wide or wider.  As a result, most RVs, campers, trailers, and the like require “one-lane traffic control,” which means rangers at either end allow only one-way traffic until the large vehicle passes through. Visitors requiring that service in 2014 pay a $15 fee per vehicle in addition to their entry fee. The fee is good for two trips through the tunnel (for the same vehicle) in a 7-day period.

Sliprock along Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.

Sliprock along Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.

Once through the tunnel, the landscape changes dramatically. The drive showcases sliprock and “checkerboard” rock formations you don’t see on the Zion Canyon trails we hiked. Unless you are traveling on to Bryce Canyon National Park, you will turn around just before you reach the park’s east entrance.

Checkerboard mesa.

Checkerboard Mesa.

In addition to enjoying spectacular views from the many observation turnouts along the road, you can take a “moderate” hike on the rocky, mile-long (round trip) Canyon Overlook Trail. Accessed from near the east end of the Tunnel, the trail offers yet more views and lets you get up close and personal with the canyon flora. From its end, visitors can look down on the twisty road that brought them up from Zion Canyon. The Canyon itself lies ahead and far below them. Careful! The trail is sometimes steep and narrow with long drops to the floor below; not advised for those who have a fear of heights.

Canyon Overlook: View at end of trail.

Canyon Overlook: View at end of trail.

This drive can be done as part of a day in Zion Canyon.

Continue to explore Zion National Park

Intro to Zion National Park

Exploring Zion Canyon

Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (You Are Here)

Along Kolob Terrace Road

Exploring Kolob Canyons

Exploring Zion Canyon

Along Pa'rus Trail.

Along Pa’rus Trail.

This is another in a series of articles by Kelly Monaghan and Sally Scanlon about Zion National Park. Other articles include: Exploring Zion National Park, Along Kolob Terrace Road, Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, and Exploring Kolob Canyons.

First stop: The lanes where you pay your entrance fee ($25 per passenger vehicle in summer 2014 and $12 for pedestrians) and pick up your glossy full-color park map and very useful newspaper-style guide. Your entrance pass is good for seven days. Older adults get a great break: $10 for a lifetime national park pass if you can prove you are 60 or older. You need only one pass per private vehicle. Most entry and exit lanes moved surprisingly quickly on the three mid-June days we visited.

Next stop: The parking lot if you’re visiting April through October. Use of canyon shuttle buses is mandatory and included in your admission. The parking lot has special sections for RVs and other oversize vehicles. Onsite campers and guests of Zion Lodge can drive to their respective sites by showing the required permit. As noted above, Zion offers free shuttle service between Springdale and the park. Shuttles run from early morning to around sunset.

Exploring Zion Canyon

Zion Canyon, the 229-square-mile park’s biggest draw, boasts 13 trails, ranging from 0.4 to 9.4 miles in length round trip and in difficulty from “easy” to “moderate” to “strenuous.” We chose to skip the “strenuous” trails, among them the hike to Angel’s Landing, one of the park’s most popular (and thus crowded by mid-morning). Instead we explored several “easy,” “easy-moderate,” and “moderate” trails.

By far the easiest is the Pa’rus Trail, a 1.7-mile walk (one way) on a paved path between the Visitor Center and the second stop on the up-canyon shuttle. Walking south toward the Visitor Center, you can stop at the park’s Human History Museum (the shuttle’s first up-canyon stop). It screens a film about the park and its geology as well as some background on the indigenous populations, early explorers, the Mormon settlers who named the area Zion (because it promised them a peaceful life after persecution elsewhere), and the area’s 1909 designation as a national park by President William Taft. The Pa’rus is the only trail in the park that’s open to bicycles and pets; the latter must be on a leash less than 6 feet long.

Virgin River from Pa'rus Trail.

Virgin River from Pa’rus Trail.

Truth to tell, the trail segment from the Museum past the South Campground to the Visitor Center isn’t particularly interesting in itself, but it provides views of both the Virgin River, the area’s life-giving waterway, and the canyon’s stunning sandstone walls. Park rangers say it also offers an especially lovely view of the walls at sunset.

The waterfall at lower Emerald Pool.

The waterfall at lower Emerald Pool.

The trail to the lower Emerald Pool from Zion Lodge (the fifth of eight up-canyon shuttle stops) is an easy walk of well under two miles round trip on a paved path. It provides views of the river, vegetation, cliff walls, waterfalls that vary from wispy to spectacular depending on the season and rainfall, and the eponymous pool, as well as access to the river from several points for those wanting closer views or a chance to wade. The path was crowded in midafternoon, but appealing nonetheless.

Hanging gardens along Riverside Walk.

Hanging gardens along Riverside Walk.

 

Zion Canyon -- Zion National Park

Rock squirrel at Riverside Walk.

The easy and very popular two-mile round trip Riverside Walk begins at the Temple of Sinawava, last stop for the up-canyon shuttle. An early-morning start put us ahead of the crowds. Bird song filled the forest. The river ran below us. Lizards and a rock squirrel scuttled near the path and interpretive signs offered information about the many varieties of plants growing beside the trail.

Best of all, as we turned a corner, we spotted three young mule deer bucks relaxing in the high vegetation beside the trail, the intensely colored canyon wall providing a spectacular backdrop. The trio seemed unbothered by the humans who stopped to photograph them. They were still there, and grazing, when we passed by an hour later on our return.

Riverside Walk -- Zion National Park

Mule deer graze beside Riverside Walk.

Riverside Walk ends at the river. From there, the more intrepid can hike The Narrows, a 9.4-mile, moderate-strenuous “trail” through the Virgin River into the upper reaches of Zion Canyon, where the walls narrow to just 20 feet apart in some places.

Entrance to the Narrows.

Entrance to the Narrows.

Signs warn Narrows’ hikers to equip themselves with a hiking stick, hard-toed shoes, and a fleece or windbreaker (among other things) and to be prepared to swim in places. Returnees we met later said it was a wonderful experience.

The canyon walls at sunset from the Watchman Trail.

The canyon walls at sunset from the Watchman Trail.

We hit the steep, “moderate,” 2.7-mile round trip Watchman Trail an hour or so before sunset. The trail, which starts near the visitor center and the river, climbs rapidly in a series of switchbacks. The 0.9-mile loop at its end, high above the canyon floor, offers views into the far distance. We watched the last rays of sunlight climb the canyon walls to the top of the Watchman formation before heading back down in the dimming light.

Tip: If you plan to linger much past sunset, bring a flashlight to ensure a safe return hike. It’s a long way down if you should fall from the trail.

Another view of the Watchman at sunset.

Another view of the Watchman at sunset.

Continue to explore Zion National Park

Intro to Zion National Park

Exploring Zion Canyon (You Are Here)

Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

Along Kolob Terrace Road

Exploring Kolob Canyons

An Introduction to Zion National Park

The Watchman from Pa'rus Trail

The Watchman from Pa’rus Trail.

Cactus flowers.

Cactus flowers.

By Kelly Monaghan & Sally Scanlon

Tucked into Utah’s southwestern corner, not far from the Arizona and Nevada borders, Zion National Park draws over two million visitors a year, a testament to the spectacular beauty of the park’s Zion and Kolob Canyons, its many hiking trails, and other opportunities for outdoor adventure.

Don’t let those visitor numbers discourage you. Arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon and you’ll find popular trails fairly quiet, even in summer. You won’t have them to yourself, but there’ll be few enough people on them that you’ll often feel as though you do.

Canyoneering, rock climbing, and multi-day backcountry hiking opportunities also abound—some of them in Zion and Kolob Canyons and others scattered around the park. Visitors looking for less strenuous options can drive three scenic routes through and adjacent to the park—though not up Zion Canyon Scenic Drive itself for seven months of the year. To minimize traffic and carbon emissions, the canyon road is closed to private vehicles and serviced by complimentary shuttle buses April 1 through most of October. The shuttle ride from Zion Canyon Visitor Center at the South Entrance to the end of the drive and back takes about 80 minutes. Buses stop at the park’s museum, Zion Lodge, and trailheads.

View from Kolob Terrace Road.

View from Kolob Canyons Road in the northeast corner of Zion National Park.

Lodging & eating: The park offers accommodations in Zion Canyon (in Zion Lodge and two campgrounds with a total of 309 campsites but no showers or laundry facilities) as well as in six campsites on the upper Kolob Plateau off Kolob Terrace Road. Its only food service is in the lodge. Wilderness camping is allowed but requires a permit and payment of a fee.

Zion Lodge, Zion National Park

Bridge near Zion Lodge connects visitors to trails.

We did not stay in the lodge, but the buzz is that the place is all about location, location, location. Accommodations are somewhat dated and the walls can prove distressingly thin. The restaurant, however, gets high marks.

For those who prefer softer beds, hot showers, and a variety of restaurants, art galleries, and shops within walking distance, Springdale, Utah, located just south of the park’s Zion Canyon entrance, has plenty to offer—plus frequent, free shuttle buses April through October to take you to and from Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

Springdale is also a great place to refuel after a strenuous day of hiking and exploring Zion, and many eateries get rave reviews. We were so taken by Café Oscar (948 Zion Park Blvd, 435-772-3232) on our first visit that we never bothered to sample other fare. Their Southwestern dishes like Chili Verde Tamales and Pork Chili Verde Burritos are addictive and the Murder Burger is, to coin a phrase, to die for. Wash it all down with a hearty pint of Polygamy Porter. Then come back for breakfast and try the Pork Verde Breakfast Burrito. Why mess with success?

Getting there: Las Vegas, 163 miles to the southwest, and Salt Lake City, 307 miles to the north, offer the nearest major airports. We chose Vegas.

Driving east from the Nevada border, we were greeted by mostly gray hills with interesting rock formations. Then, a few miles from the entrance to Zion Canyon, the sandstone hills take on varying shades of red, russet and pink, which blossom into a spectacular array of colors and shapes as you turn north to enter the park.

Zion Canyon wall, Zion National Park

One of Zion Canyon’s colorful walls.

Continue to explore Zion National Park

Intro to Zion National Park (You Are Here)

Exploring Zion Canyon

Traveling Along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

Along Kolob Terrace Road

Exploring Kolob Canyons

Gori: Stalin Reimagined

Some of the abandoned cave dwellings at Uplistsikhe, one of Georgia’s three ancient rock cities.

GORI, Georgia — This is the kind of small city in the back of beyond that North American travelers wouldn’t generally hear about but for the fact that Joseph Jughashvili, aka Joseph Stalin, was born here.

Gori is 42 miles northwest of Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, a former Soviet republic located in the Caucasian Mountains just south of Russia.

The roughly 900-year-old city boasts a number of sites of some touristic interest — a citadel, churches, outdoor works of art, a museum to the Great Patriotic War (World War II), a market — but my group dropped in specifically because of Stalin.

Three relevant points of interest — a museum, the birthplace and a railcar — are clustered together, which made a focused visit easier.

The Stalin Museum, perversely, looked like a Tuscan villa, but it wasn’t that heartwarming inside.

The facility set out to tell Stalin’s life story — with serious omissions, such as the number of people whose deaths he was responsible for — and his face was all over the place, in photos, paintings, sculptures, even a death mask and an image

Joseph Stalin’s likeness appears throughout the Stalin Museum, even woven as for a carpet as seen here.

The exterior of the Stalin Museum, which resembles Tuscan architectural styles, in Gori.

woven in the manner of a carpet.

The museum, first created to honor revolutionaries, was recast as

the Stalin Museum four years after the dictator’s 1953 death. The adulatory treatment of Stalin is offensive to many tourists because of Stalin’s murderous policies.

Things are not so simple for older Georgians, especially those from Gori. One trip host explained that many Georgians admire Stalin for “keeping prices down” and blame others for Stalin’s purges and other repressions.

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but Stalin’s statue wasn’t removed from downtown Gori until 2010, 19 years later.

Office space once used by Joseph Stalin, inside the building that later became the Stalin Museum.

In addition, the museum only recently added two small rooms with displays related to the Stalin-era repressions. This was in response to visitor complaints, our on-site guide said.

However, our group of travel writers and travel agents missed one of the museum’s more fascinating displays, a banner in four languages that says, in part, ““This museum is a typical example of Soviet propaganda and fabrication of history. … The objective of this museum [was] to legitimize the bloodiest regime in history.”

The banner says the museum, still a Soviet-era creation, will be converted into the Museum of Stalinism.

The banner would have been a useful counterpoint to the Soviet-era exhibits except that staffers — reflecting their loyalty to Stalin — generally place it in a dark corner where most visitors won’t see it. I learned of it later.

A meeting space inside the railcar Joseph Stalin used for traveling in style around the Soviet Union.

A few steps from the museum, we walked through the railcar that Stalin used to travel around the country. Four people slept on that car when traveling, and there was a small meeting space on board, as well.

Our last stop here was the simple brick-and-wood house where Stalin was born in 1879. It

The house where Joseph Stalin was born.

has a small porch, from which we entered one room with rustic furnishings.

We were told the house is in its original location, which means the villa-like museum was intentionally constructed next to it, in the center of town. The house is now protected with an open-sided shelter.

Our local guide, a twenty-something woman, seemed to evaporate as soon as we had reached our final point, and I had no idea what she thought about the subject of her tours. She seemed to recite her material by rote, like a robot. I suppose if she despised Stalin, it wouldn’t be a good idea to say as much in Gori.

Gori’s neighborhood

The city is just south of South Ossetia, one of two Georgian breakaway regions that have fought for independence with support from Russia. (The other region is Abkhazia on the Black Sea.)

In a 2008 war, Russian troops entered Gori, burning forests en route, then exploding apartment houses in town, our trip host said. The troops later withdrew to South Ossetia, but remain there.

A Georgian refugee camp, seen outside of Gori.

Damage from the 2008 conflagration was not obvious to us, but as we drove to Gori, we passed a huge refugee camp, comprising row upon row of small white houses with red roofs. The CIA says the country has 265,000 refugees as a result of warring with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the early 1990s and in 2008.

On exiting Gori, we headed to a nearby abandoned cave city, with numerous caves dug at several levels into a rocky hillside.

Although the site is much older, the majority of the caves were cut

A wine label featuring Joseph Stalin’s visage, seen in a wine store near the Stalin Museum in Gori.

out during the Greek and Roman eras, when the city flourished.

Here, we had a considerably more enthusiastic on-site narrator. She said Uplistsikhe, one of the country’s three rock cities, was occupied until the 18th century. It was a site of agriculture and winemaking, as well as a stopping point on the Silk Road. It was “strong” in ninth to 11th centuries, she said.

Mongol raids in the 13th and 14th centuries largely destroyed the city, and east-west trade collapsed with discovery of sea

The hilltop Uplistsikhe Church, overlooking some of the cave dwellings that typify this abandoned rock city in Georgia.

routes between Europe and Asia.

A religious icon, seen inside the Uplistsikhe Church in the rock city of the same name.

A church was first cut out of the rocks, but a newer church, which we also visited, is a brick hilltop affair that dates from the 10th century.

We walked up and down the rough-hewn rock paths to see this place. The sun was bright, which made it quite hot during our late-September visit.

There were great views over a river, green countryside and on to the mountains, which seem ubiquitous in Georgia.

This article and its photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

Krakow: Castles, Churches and Cellars

Outdoor cafes, the Old Town Hall Tower and Cloth Hall are hallmarks of Krakow’s historic Market Square.

 KRAKOW, Poland — Warsaw has been Poland’s capital since 1609, but Krakow to the south was the country’s previous capital for longer — more than 500 years.

As a result, Krakow is a fantastic repository of historically important churches, houses, university halls and castle buildings dating from medieval and late-medieval times. [Read more...]

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