As this blog has attempted to show, the world is a wide and wonderful place to try stuff. And just when you learn about one locale that’s perfect for your outdoor obsession — be it hiking, backpacking, climbing, biking, skiing, paddleboarding, canyoneering, or just stepping off the beaten path — the list of places grows.
This, of course, is a decidedly good thing.
The summer family road trip – it’s a tradition that’s as old as the Model T (or older, if you count covered wagons and trailblazing). Despite evolving technologies (from electric cars to flat-screens embedded into head rests), the tradition is still one of the best ways to break from routine, get into the world, and start #TryingStuff.
Reel set up may seem simple, but it needs to be done right. Chad Hoover shows us how to dial your reel in for precision casting.
Standing on the Yasmena dive boat out of the port of Aqaba, Jordan, you can see the coasts of Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.The Red Sea and surrounding landscape is beautiful from this vantage point, with the vast desert extending down to the ocean—and underneath the azure water it is even more magnificent. Yazan Alsaed, the Yasmena’s captain, has been a dive instructor for more than 20 years—he runs the dive and snorkel company Sea Guard, with three boats that operate year-round from the Aqaba port. The boat is immaculate—with first-rate snorkeling and scuba equipment, a top deck for sunning, and a kitchen that serves fresh tuna steaks and deliciously cold and frothy mint lemonade.
The coral reef here is vibrant and healthy. In order to protect the marine environment around Aqaba (including the Israeli town of Eilat, two miles along the coast), the Jordanian government established a marine park in 1997. The reef runs about 11 miles along the eastern arm of the Red Sea to Jordan’s border with Saudi Arabia and is so close to the shoreline that you can snorkel to it from one of the private or public beaches. But further out, the dive boat can deliver you to more than 20 world-class spots—including a sunken ship. The Cedar Pride, a 230-foot-long international cargo vessel, was sunk in 1985 to create a site for divers. It lies across two big coral reefs, so you can swim under the ship. The deepest point of the ship is 88.5 feet, but its highest point is only 30 feet under the surface, so you can see it even if just snorkeling.
More than 200 varieties of coral populate the reefs, in contrast to Hawaii’s more modest 45 species and Bermuda’s paltry 15. With an excess of 1,000 species of tropical fish, few crowds, and an exotic vibe straight out of Arabian Nights, Aqaba is a premier dive and windsurf spot that’s undiscovered by most Westerners.
But there’s more to this part of Jordan than the varied sea life.
The city of Aqaba is ancient, even by Middle East standards. It’s been inhabited since about 4,000 BC. The Nabateans, who carved the giant columns and granaries into the sandstone cliffs in Petra, called this coastal city home, and the Roman Tenth Legion was garrisoned here. In more modern times, it witnessed one of the most pivotal Middle East battles in World War I—the historic Battle of Aqaba.
Aqaba takes the guesswork out of what to wear when you’re visiting Jordan. While most people dress conservatively in the souk (market), the beachfront hotels and dive boats have a more cosmopolitan air—shorts, sleeveless tops, and even bikinis are nearly as prevalent as headscarves and traditional robes.
And Aqaba has arguably the best shopping in Jordan. It is a duty-free zone, so the prices are some of the best in the country. While there are modern boutiques, don’t miss the old souk, where you’ll find a kaleidoscope of shops, with souvenir stands, rug emporiums, and small cafes serving cardamom-spiced coffee and savory lamb kabobs. There are plenty of hotels and guest houses to choose from in Aqaba, where five star luxury properties like the Kempinski Aqaba Hotel or the InterContinental Aqaba line the seashore. The latter has expansive, modern guest rooms as well as a first-class spa, a gorgeous outdoor pool, and 900 feet of private beach. You can eat and drink in one of the hotel’s several restaurants, or head into town to sit at a café with a cold beer and fruit-flavored hookah and revel in your good fortune.
Wadi Rum | The Kingdom of Jordan
Anyone who believes the desert is devoid of beauty has never been to Wadi Rum.Most famously portrayed as the backdrop to the film Lawrence of Arabia, this now-protected area in the south of Jordan covers just less than 250 square miles of dramatic desert wilderness. Within this vast, rust-colored sea of sand punctuated by jutting sandstone peaks are ancient rock carvings, Nabatean temples, and fresh water springs, all waiting to be explored.
In short, visiting Wadi Rum while in Jordan is a no-brainer. Perhaps more challenging is deciding how you want to experience this varied landscape. By jeep, camel or horse? By foot? By bike or by rock climbing the same routes that were once traversed by the ancient Bedouins, whose ancestors still call this region home? Whichever you prefer, the desert’s canyons, rock bridges, sand dunes, and patina-covered sandstone cliffs provide an experience that resonates like a fine symphony or an Old Master‘s painting.
The vast majority of people living in and around Wadi Rum today is of Bedouin origin and, until recently, led nomadic lives, relying on goat and camel herds to make ends meet. Many now split their time between the village and their camps and tents, which fulfills their desire for freedom and the reality of keeping their children in school. Rum Village lies within the borders of the protected area. But Bedouin tents, with spectacular tea and polite conversation, are scattered throughout the region, a friendly refuge from the midday sun.
You won’t find luxury five-star resorts here. There is a guesthouse in Rum Village, you can pitch your own tent at one of the established campsites, or spend the night sleeping beneath the stars at Captain’s Desert camp, arguably the best way to experience the magic of both the people and the landscape. There are many “private” camps in the reserve—Captain’s Desert camp is nestled into a nook of sand surrounded by rocks, an oasis in the wide desert.
Spend the day exploring, then drop your stuff off in one of the tents that encircle the fire pit and scramble up one of the surrounding bulbous jebels, or rock formations, to watch the sun sink below the horizon. Then dine on an elaborate feast cooked in an earthen oven, sip tea, and be prepared to dance around the campfire as the music starts and the stars carpet the sky.
Rise with dawn the next morning. Feel the breeze start to warm the desert air. Marvel at the sunrise as the world turns from dusty rose to orange to bright yellow. And then try to decide whether you’ll be riding a camel or pulling on your climbing harness after breakfast.
Be careful, however, as every visitor to Wadi Rum forever yearns to return. As T.E. Lawrence wrote in the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, “For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match.”
Winterval—the cold and miserable period in between seasons that tests your mental toughness and can break even the best of us.Not enough snow to ski, yet still too much snow and muck to rock climb. So what is a rock rat, sick of indoor climbing walls, to do? Pack your bags and set out on a road trip to one of these destinations, each of which will deliver the “Sun’s Out, Gun’s Out” goods when your hometown crag is stuck in limbo.
Red Rock, Nevada
Home to the annual Red Rock Rendezvous held in early spring, this desert sandstone and limestone oasis outside of Las Vegas offers good climbing year round. Cheap airfare, camping options, abundant affordable lodging, and a vibrant nightlife close at hand all make Red Rock an extremely popular climbing destination for good reason. With a mix of bouldering, steep and tightly bolted sport climbing faces, moderate trad multi-pitch routes, and cracks that eat up pro, there is something for everyone here. Short approaches and bolted anchors on popular routes not only quicken the pace to accommodate multiple parties but make most climbs relatively low on the commitment scale. Red Rock is just plain fun.
Indian Creek, Utah
Even though the powder may still be falling in the Wasatch, the desert towers and Wingate sandstone cliffs a short drive from Moab are basking in the warm spring sun. Better known as the crack climbing capital of the world, Indian Creek is a true test for anyone who calls themselves a climber—with most vertical sandstone splitters starting at 5.10 or higher. Pack a bag with plenty of hand tape, high-top shoes, long-sleeve shirts, and a big rack o’ cams, then get ready to jam your winterval blues away on these classic crack routes. Beware, as you may just receive a physical and emotional beating instead.
New River Gorge, West Virginia
Within the 63,000 acres of New River Gorge National River, over 1,400 established rock routes sit waiting for you. The cliffs at “The New” range from 30 to 120 feet in height, with a nice mix of both face and crack routes. Many high-level climbers head to West Virginia in the spring to train for the upcoming season, as the majority of routes fall in the 5.10-5.12 range. With an abundance of camping options, it is easy to see why dirtbags flock here by the vanload.
Red River Gorge, Kentucky
It is hard to say whether people come to “The Red” primarily for Miguel’s pizza and climber-only campground community or for the actual climbing itself. Overhanging, juggy sandstone delights of all levels are spread across six major regions with approximately 50 climbing sites on both public and private land. Access normally begins at an unmarked trail and with many of the routes unnamed or unrated, Red climbing is truly an adventure in itself.
Petra stands as one of the New Wonders of the World and a must-see on the list of anyone visiting the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. You can dedicate days of your itinerary to exploring the intricate maze of archeological wonders—but surprisingly you can also get in some pretty serious hiking. Although the traditional Siq (Arabic for canyon) approach is a memorable way to first lay eyes on the rose-colored Treasury façade (an image immortalized in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, even better is a bird’s eye view that you will likely have all to yourself. So grab a small daypack and plenty of water, pick up a guide or contoured map of Petra from one of the stalls near the entrance gate (very little is sign-posted, so a map is essential), and get ready for some Harrison Ford-worthy tomb exploration.
The Bedoul Bedouin are Petra’s traditional guardians. Up until the site gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 1985, the Bedoul made their homes in caves scattered amongst the ancient ruins. Today, Petra’s vast network of “secret” trails are remnant not only from Nabataean times, but more recent decades when Bedoul herded their goats and sheep in and around the rocky cliffs that frame the monuments.
There are lots of secret entrances into Petra, but one of the best takes you high above the canyon for a bird’s eye view. Leaving the main tourist trail almost immediately, you clamber over red sandstone boulders and precariously teeter along cliff edges. If you weren’t winded after this 1.5-mile hike up the back way into Petra, then the Hellenistic Treasury facade shining in the morning sun 256 feet below will take your breath away. Continue your morning hike past the High Place of Sacrifice, with expansive views across to the Amphitheatre and Royal Tombs, then down along the Lion Monument and multi-colored tombs of Wadi Farasa that beckon you to explore inside and escape the midday sun’s blaring rays.
After a brief break for some lunch and cold drinks, don’t miss the more than 800-step hike up an ancient path cut into the mountainside, which leads to the Monastery. It’s worth dodging donkeys laden with cases of bottled water and endless sales pitches from the small stall owners hawking jewelry and camel sculptures. Similar in design to the Treasury but far bigger, the majestic Monastery facade is best enjoyed sipping tea or a cold mint lemonade at the cave stall across the vast courtyard. If you can swing it, follow the “Best View” signs to one of several lookouts to watch the sun set behind Jebel Haroun and join the debate about which view is actually the best (don’t worry—there are no real losers). Hike back down to catch Petra by Night, where thousands of candles arranged in paper bags light up the Treasury, and you’re transcended by traditional Arabic music to a place that feels as timeless as the surrounding landscape.
Far View Lodge | Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
While touring the gob-smacking testament to human invention that is Mesa Verde National Park, it’s easy to understand why the Anasazi chose this valley as the place to build their ancient cliff dwellings. Even without the presence of the country’s largest archeological preservation, the unfettered beauty of this region of the southwestern Colorado is enough to stop you in your tracks and invite you to linger for weeks, which is why the Far View Lodge is so wonderful. The aptly name hotel sits 15 miles inside the park—one of the very few national parks that have hotels inside their borders—perched atop one of the higher points in Mesa Verde.
From your private balcony (yep, each room has one), you can cast your eyes across the expanse of four distinct states, spot curious wildlife, and trace your gaze across distant mountain ranges. We say spend the day exploring the park, and retire to your room to watch the sunset. Then head down to the lobby to dine at the Metate Room, and return to star gaze across that expansive western sky. Then repeat again the next day—the park’s mysteries reveal themselves with leisurely exploration, and the Far View Lodge makes for the ideal basecamp. The rooms are perfectly bare bones. No TVs, no telephones, and no cell service. Nothing, in other words, to distract you from the surrounding landscape. But they do have in-room fridges to keep a few of Colorado’s famed craft beers cold. Or upgrade to one of the Kiva Rooms, which also come with handcrafted furniture and an a/c. The Far View Lodge is open from mid April till mid October, and the lobby does have free wireless for those who simply have to stay plugged in, even while blissing out.