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death valley tour

Reasons to Visit Death Valley

Death Valley offers a unique experience for those who are sturdy enough to hike the national park there that can scarcely be found elsewhere. Some people find this fact intimidating; others find it a reason enough to go and experience this distinctive climate. If you are looking for a new spot to explore, here are 5 reasons why Death Valley should be on your list.
  • The scenery: Death Valley is more than just a barren landscape. It is more than just miles and miles of sand. It has a rich and varied topography from Badwater Basin to Telescope Peak. There you can see mountains, the mysterious sailing stones at Racetrack Playa and even sturdy wildflowers that have survived the heat.
  • The life: Wildflowers are not the only life that survives every day in the park. Desert bighorn sheep, lizards and the tiny pupfish, which lives in pools saltier than seawater all thrive and call the national park home.
  • Meet people from all over the world: The Park - which has been known to reach 134°F (57°C) - is a kind of Mecca for people all around the world who wish to challenge themselves, see a part of history and view the unique terrain of Death Valley. In fact, people from places such as Germany, France, and Italy are strongly represented there.death valley tour
  • Pleasant hiking temperatures: Yes, there are times when one can hike here minus the searing heat. During the end of winter the day time temperatures have been known to reach 65°F (18°C) and at night, lows were in the mid 40’s (5-8°C). These temperatures can make hiking and exploring just right for people who do not wish to brave the heat of summer.
  • Small crowds: Although Death Valley National Park is growing in popularity it has not yet reached the notoriety of places such as Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks. Therefore, it is an ideal location for those who wish to enjoy the quiet solitude of the Park and its surroundings.
We hope these reasons help you get a small sample of what Death Valley National has to offer hikers and cyclists who wish to challenge themselves. You will get to view the amazing sights there or you can take advantage of some of our other trips such as our Big Sur adventures. You can also relax on one of our scenic railroad trips as you view regions of the United States and Canada including the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Rockies, and Glacier National Park.

Essential Items to Pack when Hiking through Alaska

Mankind's thirst for adventure is unquenchable yet he tries everyday to create and overcome challenges for himself. One of those challenges is the Alaskan wilderness which many people consider to be one of the last unspoiled regions on the planet. Hiking there is certainly not for the faint of heart but we can assure those of who do decide to challenge themselves to explore this region that Alaska does not disappoint. We've put together a list of tips for what to wear in Alaska and what to pack in order to make this the best trip possible for you and your party. Bear protection: In a previous post we gave you some tips on avoiding bear encounters while hiking. We still feel that avoidance is the best strategy to use when it comes to dealing with bears. However, it is still wise to pack a non-lethal deterrent with you when you hike in bear country such as bear spray. Bears have extremely sensitive noses even more sensitive than a bloodhound. Bear spray irritants bears without causing them any lasting harm. (In fact, it is illegal to harm bears unless your life is in imminent danger.) Water: Some people feel that the need to stay hydrated applies only to hot, arid regions. These people are wrong. The need to dress warmly when hiking through Alaska can cause one to perspire rapidly causing a loss of fluids. Thus, you may wish to bring with you a backpack with a built-in water reservoir and drinking tube so that you can hydrate as you go. Quality travel binoculars: While not a necessity in the same way that water or bear spray are, a good pair of binocular will keep you from missing some truly awesome sights. Layers: Dress warmly but wear clothes that allow your body to expel some moisture and heat. Dress in base layers and wear a waterproof outer layer to keep yourself cozy and dry. Map: You may have to go old school when hiking through Alaska as cell phone coverage can sometimes be spotty. Therefore, in order to be safe bring with you a paper map and compass just to be on the safe side. In short, Alaska is the last place on earth you want to explore without making the proper preparations both physically and in the items you carry with you. We provide you with the opportunity you will need to mark this off your bucket list. You may also wish to try one of our road bike cycling tours or scenic railroad tour of the many parts of this great country.

Tips to Prepare for your First Long Distance Hike

Preparation and planning are both extremely important when you set your sights on Yellowstone national park hiking or in any other setting for that matter. Without the proper food, equipment, medical supplies, and information you can end up with an unpleasant experience at a minimum or with injuries or worse at most. However, by following the five tips below you can help ensure that your hiking trip is safe and fun as it should be.· Research the area you’ll be hiking: You’ll want to know as much about the area in which you’ll be hiking before you start out on your trip. For example, Yellowstone National Park has 1,100 miles of trails and a 132-foot waterfall. And novice hikers may not know that Yellowstone’s hiking trails range from easy to advanced. Next, you will want to know about the weather, trail closures and rules and regulations before you set out. This information will help you to plan your trip and map out your route.· Come prepared: Regardless how easy or difficult the trail you decide to hike is, you should always bring certain items with you on your trip including: map and compass, first aid kit, multipurpose tool, flashlight, extra food, the appropriate clothing, matches, a space blanket for insulation or shelter, water, etc.· Start challenging your physical limits: Carrying all of the above equipment around with you for several miles can be quite demanding even if you are already in good shape. We suggest you prepare for your hike by walking or jogging up and downhill in order to increase your endurance levels. (Of course, you will want to consult with your doctor before undergoing such a rigorous training program and before hiking for any great distance.). Elliptical trainers, climbing machines and stair steppers can also be useful in preparing you for a long distance hike. · Take care of your feet: Make sure you have a good pair of boots or shoes comfortable and designed for hiking. Your choice of shoes/boots should provide adequate cushioning, be breathable, not retain too much moisture and should be warm without being stifling. · Have a plan and equipment in place for illness or injury: Never undertake any bike ride or hike without bringing a first aid kit with you. Finally, adventures vacations are supposed to be fun but they should also be safe and by following the above tips you can get the most out of our National park hikes or our cycling tours.

The Top 5 Benefits of Biking

In today’s stress filled world many people are looking for an outlet. The problem is that some of these outlets are more effective than others. Well, we may be a bit biased at Black Sheep Adventures since we offer tours in our home state of California, many of the Western States, New England, and across Europe and Latin American, but we say that cycling is that perfect release. It helps relieve the stress that many people feel today and is nearly the perfect form of exercise. With all this said, let’s take a look at the top 5 benefits – mental and physical - of cycling. Cycling promotes weight loss: It’s not that difficult really: If you expend more calories than you consume you will lose weight. Cycling burns anywhere between 400 to 1000 per how depending on how intensely you cycle and your weight. In a country like ours that has such a high obesity rate, cycling is the perfect activity to add to any diet regime. Cycling builds muscle: Biking is the perfect activity because it is an aerobic exercise that also has resistance elements in it. The glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves get an extensive resistance exercise as a result of cycling. Cycling is easy on the joints: Cycling is easier on the joints than are some other activities such as running, basketball, tennis, etc. Thus, cycling is ideal for people who have joint issues which are related to disease or old age. Cycling helps you sleep better: Cycling helps reduce cortisol levels in the body. This stress hormone can actually block our sleep. Moreover, cycling can affect the levels of serotonin in the brain which helps improve our sleep cycles. All this means a better night’s sleep which is essential to good mental and physical well-being. Cycling helps grow your social circle: When it comes right down to it, cycling is a great way to meet like minded people who also enjoy this addictive sport. There are many, many cycling clubs and indeed a whole cycling culture that one can join. Our cycling tours can put you in touch with like minded people or can increase the bound between you and the club of which you may already be a member. In summary, the psychological and mental advantages of cycling are too many to completely list here. In addition to our cycling tours we provide scenic railroad trips across regions of the United States and Canada including the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Rockies, and Glacier National Park. Our Big Sur Adventures are also full of fun and excitement. Finally, all tours and hikes are reasonably priced.

The Wonders of Western Texas & Southern New Mexico

Most people don’t think of West Texas when they are planning their next vacation, but I would recommend putting it on your radar. With a landscape that includes white sand dunes rising hundreds of feet into the air, a system of over 100 caves, the highest point in Texas, a historical site showcasing a frontier military post, and a national park stretching from the shores of the Rio Grande to the top of the Chisos Mountains there is no shortage of adventures to explore. One of the best parts about this region is that you can hit all the highlights mentioned above by making a loop drive starting in El Paso. As you head north you will pass through the San Andreas Mountain range and then the White Sands Missile Range which if testing is going on will result in White Sands National Monument being closed so it is a good idea to call ahead. Suddenly out of nowhere huge dunes of white sand will fill your view to the left. Before exploring the dunes make sure to stop in the visitor center to get advice based on current weather where you should explore in the park. Right next door you can also rent a sled to head down the powdery dunes which feels a lot like going down snow (luckily with a lot warmer temperatures). We decided to head out on the eight-mile scenic drive to get a lay of the land. Throughout the park there are a number of trails but make sure you bring plenty of water and sun protection as the sun reflecting off the dunes can be quite brutal as the wind at times. If you have limited time (as we did) make sure to walk the Interdune Boardwalk to not only see some huge dunes but also learn more on why they formed in this area. The Playa trail is great as well because you can actually get out on the dunes and see the habitats for local plants and animals that live within the dunes. If your timing works out to have a picnic lunch in the park there are many great picnic areas right at the base of the dunes. More exploring After a morning exploring White Sand Dunes head east on highway 82 for a scenic drive through the mountains to Carlsbad where we should have spent the night but we continued on to Whites City (entrance town to Carlsbad Caverns) which has one very run down hotel and a restaurant that closed 10 minutes before we got there at 6pm. In the morning we got to the entrance of Carlsbad Caverns National Park right as they were opening the gate. Upon arriving we received the unfortunate news that the elevator that takes you 750 feet down into the caverns was broken. Luckily, you can still access the caves by walking through the natural entrance along a one-mile trail that is paved but has a serious steep grade, up to 20% at a time. This change of plans actually made our trip that much better because you slowly lose the natural light from the entrance and can see how the caverns formed as you descend deeper and deeper. Once you reach the bottom and the Big Room we walked the 1.5 mile mostly flat trail where we were surrounded by huge cave formations, each with unique shapes that led each of us to see different things similar to when you look at clouds. After eating some lunch in the cafeteria, we joined an afternoon ranger-led tour through King’s Palace where halfway through the ranger turns off the lights to let you feel how the first explores of the caves felt. It is a very strange feeling knowing that your limbs are there and that my parents were right next to me but my eyes not being able to confirm that for my brain. Of course, with the elevator being broken we had to make the mile trek up 750 feet which was a difficult climb but offered some entertaining sights along the way with the variety of clothes and footwear other visitors were wearing. Heading straight south in just under an hour we reached our third national park of the trip, Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We only spent about an hour or so at the park doing some of the short trails around the visitor center because we had limited time, but the park has over 80 miles of trails. Many of the trails are great all-day excursions including the Guadalupe Peak Trail which takes you up to the “Top of Texas” at over 8,700 feet with fantastic views if you visit the park on a clear day. Unfortunately, there are no hotels close to the park until about an hour south of the park in the town of Van Horn where we stayed at the historic Hotel El Capitan built in 1930 and has the feeling of a Spanish-colonial building.

Tips for Avoiding Bears While Hiking

Most bears do everything they can to avoid contact with people and the reverse is true. Still, bear/human encounters do happen in bear country including while people are hiking in Yellowstone National Park. However, this potentially deadly situation – for both the bear and for hikers – can usually be avoided by using some common sense and by taking a few precautions. Reduce your chance of a bear encounter by following these six tips:· Hike in a group: The more the merrier and the louder. Noise gives bears ample warning that humans are nearby and can keep them from being startled by our presence. Bring your friends with you when hiking and make sure that you make enough noise to alert bears of your presence. (They will usually shy away from such noises provided they have enough time.) Be vigilant: Stay alert and remember that bears can be in places where you do not expect them to be. This means being aware of your environment. For example, running water, a curve in the trail or dense vegetation all may signal you may be entering an area where bears are present. Avoid bear food: If you smell something dead or see birds circling it may be an indication that the food source for a bear may be nearby. You do not want to come between a bear and any food it may be feeding upon. Hike during the daylight hours: Bears prefer to do their hunting in the evening and at night to get an advantage on their prey. Hiking at this time may increase the chance that you will encounter one of them. Avoid wearing scented lotions or perfumes on the trail: Bears have one of the most sensitive noses in the animal kingdom. In fact, a bear’s sense of smell is 7 times better than a blood hound’s or 2,100 times better than a human. Therefore, try to avoid wearing anything that will produce a strong odor that bears might mistake for a food source. Carry bear spray: According to a recent study in The Journal of Wildlife Management, people who carry bear pepper spray into the wilderness have a better chance at surviving a bear encounter than those who carry guns. Experts recommend that if you do encounter a bear try to yell at it and give it a warning before using your spray. Using these tips on your hiking trip you can increase the chances that you will not encounter a bear and that neither of you will come to harm. Our adventure vacations are fun and exciting but that fun and excitement should be tempered with good judgment and a respect for nature.

5 essential winter hiking tips from Ben

Our resident Dynamic Operations Guru, Ben Sander, is a seasoned veteran of hiking. He's also lived in some chilly places with ample winter hiking options. He's got some tips we are pretty essential to a great winter hike. 1. Bring a pair of Yaktrax. Usually only around $20, Yaktrax are super lightweight making them an easy addition to your hiking pack. They quickly slip onto the bottom of your boots and can be a life saver offering traction on icy trails and walkways. 2. Check out hikes with views that may normally be obscured by tree cover. Winter is a great time to hike on a trail that is lined with trees that have dropped their leaves for the season, offering a different perspective on a trail you may have done many times or a opening up a viewpoint that may have been covered by leaves most of the year. 3. Explore frozen waterfalls. I love waterfalls and I love them even more when they freeze over during the winter. Often times just the outside of the waterfall freezes over with water still flowing underneath the top layer which is simply beautiful. If you are lucky you may even catch an ice climber on the waterfall slowing making their way to the top of the falls. 4. Wear layers. Clothing has come a long way in keeping us toasty warm even during the coldest months. Clothing with reflective layers on the inside will keep your valuable heat inside while often still letting your breath when it needs to. I usually wear a synthetic base layer, long sleeve thermal layer, fleece if needed, and then a jacket with a reflective layer on top. As I warm up I remove layers to avoid sweating too much which can often lead you to get cold very quickly. 5. Be aware of length of hike with shorter days. It is always a great idea to choose shorter hikes during the winter so you can make sure you are off the trail before the sun sets. Even better is giving yourself an hour of buffer before the sun sets to allow you to do most of your drive home while there is still daylight, as you will most likely be tired after hiking and adding nighttime driving on top of that can be risky.

Going beyond the Mighty Five National Parks in Utah

When someone says National Parks and Utah you most likely think of national parks like Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion and perhaps even Capitol Reef. Did you know that southern Utah has six other national park units celebrating some of the best cultural and natural wonders in the state? In the fall of 2014 I made it my goal along with my parents to visit all the park units in Southern Utah to enjoy the diversity of landscapes and cultures the National Park System and other federal agencies protect in the region. We joined a guided tour for the first part which focused on Arches and Canyonlands which you may know has set records for visitation in the last few years which may result in a reservation system to enter the park. The advantage of being with a group is that our guides know many of the secret spots in the park and when to go to them to minimize interaction with the crowds. A prime example is once we arrived to Moab, the gateway town for both parks, instead of heading into Arches during the busiest time for visitors we instead continued a bit farther west to the northern entrance of Canyonlands and the Island of the Sky District. Views don’t get much better than this region of the park which allows you to look south and follow the path of the Colorado River as it winds its way through the park. On our way back to Moab we ducked into Arches as the crowds had decreased with late afternoon arriving. This provides a great opportunity to drive the 16 mile road in the park and get an overview from our guides of the many rock formations the park protects and that we would be taking a closer look at the next morning. Getting an early start is key to beat the morning rush in Arches. With just a few hours you can work your way from the northern end of the park and walk amongst the arches in the famous Devil’s Garden to taking a stroll out to Delicate Arch where the sheer size of the arch makes everyone look like ants to enjoying a loop hike in the Windows section of the park where you can sit under one of the windows and enjoy the warmth of the sun all before the parking lots and trails begin to fill up. Another benefit to an early start is it gives you time to explore outside the park in neighboring land protected by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) where we tried our hand at canyoneering. Now for someone like me who is not a big fan of heights strapping on a harness and rappelling down into a slot canyon where I cannot see the bottom was a frightening but in the end one of the most amazing experiences I have ever done. It was made even better when you exit the canyon in a slot not much wider than your whole body and it instantly opens into a vista farther than the eye can see. Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better we rappelled right under a huge arch where once again you feel the magnitude of the landscape around you and realize we each are just one small part of a much larger planet. We had seen Canyonlands from above but now it was time to get down to the ground level and go to the Needles District of the park. On your way into the eastern entrance of Canyonlands make sure you stop off at Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument in one of our nation’s newest national monuments, Bears Ears, where you can see one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in the country dating back over 2,000 years. As you drive deeper into the park you will be welcomed by cliff walls that give you a true sense of where the park gets its name of Canyonlands because as far as your eye you can see you will see one canyon after another. After saying farewell to our guides and our group it was time to explore some of Utah’s lesser known parks starting with Hovenweep National Monument. The park transports you back in time to the home of over 2,500 people who lived in the area from A.D. 1200-1300. You can walk amongst historic structures on a short mostly paved loop trail including homes, storage towers, and see buildings built right into the side of the canyon. Although technically across the border in Colorado we stopped at Canyons of the Ancients, protected by BLM, to learn even more about the people that lived in this region for over 10,000 years. Visiting both sites give you a true sense of the region and the hardships the Puebloan people had to endure to survive in the area. Back in 2014 our drive west from here was not yet part of Bears Ears National Monument but if you follow highway 95 today you will be treated to a fantastic landscape which is one of the reasons this land is now protected by the National Park Service. Unfortunately, that protection is now under threat as the monument may be reduced or broken up which would still leave it under federal protection under the BLM, but under less strict regulations which may impact this vital area by allowing mining or drilling. Just off of highway 95 is another hidden gem, Natural Bridges National Monument, where you will be welcomed by a large array of solar panels, as the park completely runs off of renewable energy. A perfect spot for lunch if the timing works out for your trip as you can walk to the bottom of the canyon and enjoy your lunch under a huge natural bridge and ponder the power of water which carved the bridge and the two other bridges in the park. We only spent a couple hours doing the scenic 9-mile drive and some short hikes, but the park left a deep impression on me as it was an important reminder of the power of nature. Even though you may be tempted to take an afternoon nap in the car on your way north on highway 95 to Capitol Reef I would recommend keep your eyes open because the landscape just keeps getting better and better. You wind your way up to the Colorado River and the northern section of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area while being surrounded by red rock canyon walls until you cross the river to make a stop at the Hite Overlook to get a great view of the Colorado in both directions. After a couple more hours of eye-popping views you will enter the eastern side of Capitol Reef National Park home to largest waterpocket fold in the country and in my opinion a park that perfectly blends nature and culture into one. You can go for hikes through slot canyons, explore a living homestead with an active orchard, go on one of many scenic drives, or check out a pioneer registry of names carved right into a rock wall. Spending at least half a day here is the bare minimum as you could spend many days if not a whole week finding all the secret spots in this park. If the scenery in Utah has blown you away so far just wait until you drive south from Capitol Reef along scenic highway 12 making your way from 6,000 feet to nearly 10,000 feet. Since we were traveling in September as we gained elevation the fall colors kept getting better and better making the drive even more spectacular and hard to resist stopping at every overlook to take photos. As you are coming back down from the peak just past the town of Boulder, UT, in Grand Staircase-Escalante, stop off and hike either the Upper or Lower Calf Creek falls trail. The Lower falls trail is fairly flat and leads right to the base of the falls which is a true oasis in the surrounding desert landscape and makes for some fantastic photos. After a full day of fantastic exploration, you will see a left turn off of Highway 12 into your next national park, Bryce. I have never visited a place quite like Bryce and its larger-than-life amphitheater full of hoodoos as far as you can see. Walking the rim trail right from the lodge as the sun is setting is a once-in-a-lifetime type experience with the hoodoos glowing in the last glimmers of the sun light giving you a sense of how special this place is. Depending on how adventurous you are a number of trails from 2 to 10 miles round-trip will take you down into the canyon to get a closer look at famous structures like Thors Hammer, Queen’s Garden, and Wall Street. You will see how they are carved by freezing and thawing but also unfortunately more recently by acid rain making some look more like mushrooms than hoodoos. Each formation has its own personality and it is fun to see how each person interprets what they look like, similar to what we often do with clouds. Often left out of trips that people plan when going to Bryce and Zion is Cedar Breaks National Monument. At just over 11,000 feet depending on the time of year you visit you may be welcomed by over 150 species of wildflowers, fantastic fall colors or on my most recent visit there was a few inches of snow. Similar to Bryce the park features a huge amphitheater of hoodoos, but here the canyon is 2,500 feet deep which you can view from a trail that follows the rim of the amphitheater and even though the trail is only 4 miles round-trip it can feel like a lot more because you are so high up. Capping off a fantastic Utah journey is Zion National Park where like Capitol Reef you can spend a few hours, a few days, or over a week exploring all the park has to offer. One of my favorite parts is that no cars are allowed in most of the park and instead you get around by a free shuttle or by renting a bike. Hikes range from easy trails that take you along the Virgin River, to visiting the Emerald Pools, or below Weeping Rock. Even if you don’t feel like taking on the famed Narrows (although the walk through the Virgin River is quite epic) make sure to at least do the Riverside Walk trail to the beginning of the Narrows to get a sense of how grand Zion Canyon is. For those really wanting an adventure head up to Angel’s Landing where you can take on your fear of heights by using chains to assist you to the top. As mentioned before I do not like heights, so I made it to the first section of chains and then waited for my friends as the views were quite enough for me even there. A great way to either start or end your visit to Zion is the Watchman Trail with outstanding views of the canyon and a trail that almost everyone can hike with a gentle uphill to the viewpoint. Don’t forget that Zion has two sections and visiting Kolob Canyon will allow you to get away from the crowds and see a completely different side of the park with red walls surrounding you and views of Zion and beyond from above. Southern Utah is definitely a place you will need to visit more than once in your life but spending 10-14 days seeing the Mighty Five and also checking out the six other national park sites the region offers will be a journey you will be remember forever. Black Sheep Adventures offers an eight-day tour that includes all these parks except Arches and Canyonlands. Hope you can join us soon to explore this fantastic part of our country.

Yellowstone National Park Hiking

Where to find wildlife in Ye‍‍llowstone? Yellowstone National Park’s wildlife can mostly be found in two main areas, Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley. Lamar Valley has been called by many, "America’s Sergenti" for the diversity of species you can see on any given wildlife drive or hike in the area. It's astounding how much wildlife you can find. Some examples of wildlife you'll find in Yellowstone National Park include bison, wolves, moose, elk, pronghorn sheep, bighorn sheep, and the elusive black and grizzly bears. While most of these animals can be found in Lamar Valley (when the timing is right‍‍), if you don't have much luck there you can head a bit farther south in the park to Hayden Valley. Here you will can be treated to huge herds of bison and rolling hills, making for some delightful photo opportunities. Keep in mind that sometimes you just won't see many animals though. There are a number of factors at play here like time of day, time of year, noise from other curious on-lookers, and your patience level. Who can think of a more relaxing day than walking around Yellowstone on the look-out for a herd of bison though?!