Hiking Madeira’s Mountains

Hiking Madeira’s Mountains

Hiking Madeira’s Mountains

An experience I never expected

        Tossing bits of dried fruit over to a pair of red-legged partridges, it suddenly dawned on me that perhaps I greatly underestimated the vast wildlife we were about to encounter on our eight-hour hike through the mountains of Madeira. The local guide and our new long-limbed friend, David, chuckled with my sudden influx of inquiries concerning the danger of mountain lions and cliff jumping goats. Much to my surprise, the only ‘predators’ to fear on this Portuguese island located off the coast of Morocco were the hungry feral canines and felines that roamed the domesticated neighborhoods. 

        I jumped at the opportunity for an all-day nature hike in lieu of another day of urban exploration; however, amidst my excitement I neglected to research what to expect from this Portuguese archipelago. As we continued our cliff-hugging journey through the tallest peaks of this island, I was mindfully balancing out the thoughts of ‘how did I not consider the wildlife?’ and ‘do NOT look down!’ 

Tall, lush grass veiled the hand laid steps that furrowed into the fertile mountainside which appeared hidden from a faraway glance. The only note of caution was to not grip the slim wire that hangs like a mere barrier between the rocky mountain side and the steep descent down the sharp cliffs.  

        Madeira is a floating garden-like island where what little was brought here has remained. A place where the most popular beverage, Poncha, uses ingredients sourced from the backyards of neighbors growing sugar cane in their own yard. The friendly and modest locals prepare seafood with inherent skill and captivate visitors with conversation in English. I learned that the only wildlife sustained on the island are birds and feral ‘pets’, at least for now.

Immersed in the island’s flora and fauna, not only did my experience cultivate a newfound respect for this island that dates to the ice ages, but I didn’t feel like a tourist.

        It’s moving to be in a place that still feels untouched by human permeation of insatiability. With little to fear from non-existent predators, it is no wonder the partridges teetering on a cliffside with us were welcoming during our midday snack break. This pearl of the Atlantic Ocean maintains much of its original beauty, and is truly a paradise in the purest form. It felt as if we were the first group to hike this trail, and when we left no trace that we had been there- I had the distinct feeling that I experienced something I never expected to.

The majoirty of the hike was on hand made trails with this wiring you see here.  Our guide told us to not truly hold onto it as it had sharp pieces… yet the ground was slippery, so we needed to hold on (haha).  However the views (below) were well worth the before-dawn pick up and tricky hiking conditions.

We took this hike with a tour group — Up Mountain Madeira

I would highly recommend them.  They were easy to book with, communication was always timely and the guides went above what I would have expected.  We also loved that the size of groups were limited.

Laura of Blue Eyed Compass, a Sustainable Travel Blog

Hi!  I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger, as well as freelancing online brand strategist. I share real & honest information about traveling, how to do so sustainably, and ways to earn an income while working remote.

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Towns to visit Outside of Zurich, Switzerland

Towns to visit Outside of Zurich, Switzerland

Towns to visit Outside of Zurich, Switzerland

The cutest towns to visit in one day when visiting Zurich, Switzerland

While most major cities are hubs for travelers there is quite a bit to experience and enjoy in the towns that are outside of the comforts of an international city cushion.  Food, people, transportation, the entirety of a destinations culture are most ingrained in small towns.

Below are three small destinations outside of Zurich that can be visited in one day.  Yes, you read that correctly. Three places in one day. Waking up early to catch a morning train is my personal travel style and what makes it possible to explore as this post suggests.  Basically, aim to experience as much as the daylight will allow. You can stay in the major hub for a reasonable price and be able to see more places than most.

Stein am Rhein

Stein am Rhein is a quaint and colorful town cozied next to the Rhine River.  The train station leads to a short bridge where you can see the town nestled in its original roots and waking up for the day.  Cobblestoned streets wind into the Old Town main square where every half-timbered building has a painted façade.

Pop into the nearest café to enjoy a cappuccino or espresso and a flaky sweet pastry, then wander outside to enjoy the serene calm before tourist groups clatter through. Make sure to take advantage of restaurants and benches that line the river for an exceptionally calm view.  And if you have the time, explore the Hohenklingen Castle.

Exceptional preservation of architectural heritage makes Stein am Rhein a place worthy of your time.  An hour or two to walk around is all you need to enjoy it.

Rhine Falls

Rhine Falls is Europe’s largest waterfall!  Its immensity comes from its width rather than its height.  With three different areas at Rhine Falls, my suggestion is to choose one and enjoy it from there;

  1. View point from the Worth castle; cross the bridge up top to get to it
  2. View point in the middle; this is where my pictures are from
  3. Open area at the bottom of it; where the boat rides are available (see below for details on this)

        Tectonic shifts during the Ice Age forced the Rhine River to the path it takes today and created Rhine Falls.  In the middle of the falls is a small but mighty rock that has withstood the test of time for over a thousand years!  Small boats ferry passengers over to climb the stairs and platforms hovering over the falls allowing brave people to feel the strength of the water.

        We couldn’t resist shffling onto a small speed boat to battle against the current of the falls and climb those stairs.  Most people were polite about cautious walkers and those wanting to take solo pictures, which made for a pleasant excursion.  Once back on dry land, hop onto the Rhyfall Express, a motorized ‘train’ that transfers guests to and from Schaffhausen, our next stop.

In total, Rhine Falls took about 2 hours to visit including the boat trip.

*See my tips below for how to successfully get to Rhine Falls (and not waste time getting onto the incorrect train like we did)

Schaffhausen

        Schaffhausen is a MUST-see town.  It was my favorite stop of the day!  Settled between the Black Forest and wineries with its own fortress lies this whimsical town.  Schaffhausen is known as being one of the most delightful towns in Switzerland because of its lavish facades (similar to Stein am Rhein), oriel windows, colorful buildings, great shopping and a wonderful open square.  Being that we visited at the end of the day on a Sunday by the time we arrived most places were closed for the day (as is typical of Europe), however just walking around was enough to pacify us. It is also what led us to our first of many Swiss chocolate shops

Finishing the day at Schaffhausen was the perfect ending to exploring northern Switzerland.  It also helped because there were no train transfers from Schaffhausen back to Zurich. That meant a simple train ride back into Zurich’s city center.

TIPS for towns to visit outside of Zurich, Switzerland

  • Getting there; Zurich to Stein am Rhein– check the Swiss train website for transfer details as you’ll need to transfer trains at Schaffhausen.  I found it best to follow what the website said as opposed to interpreting the many signs at the train station and it never led me amiss
  • At Stein am Rhein there is a castle atop of the nearest hilltop, called Hohenklingen Castle.  You can hike up or drive (I’ve read there is a car park up there)
  • Lindwurm Musuem in Stein am Rhein is a stop for those interested in exploring medieval middle class living.  Entrance cost is 5 CHF.
  • Getting to Rhine Falls from Stein am Rhine: I like to think myself an avid traveler who is able to get herself around easily with some research… figuring out the trains from Stein am Rhein to Rhine Falls was confusing.  This is your warning and some tips to get there quicker than we did—take the train back to Schaffhausen. Then take a train to Neuhausen. From the Neuhausen stop you can walk to Rhine Falls. There are signs to follow that are easy to find.  You can also walk along the river at the Schaffhausen stop to reach Rhine Falls. That should take you about 45 minutes.
  • Leaving Rhine Falls via the Rhyfall Express: Ask the driver what direction the tram is going/if they’re going to Schaffhausen.  For as cheap as it was, I would suggest doing it. It drives you through the town leading into Schaffhausen.
Laura of Blue Eyed Compass, a Sustainable Travel Blog

Hi!  I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger, as well as freelancing online brand strategist. I share real & honest information about traveling, how to do so sustainably, and ways to earn an income while working remote.

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Visit White Sands National Monument

Visit White Sands National Monument

Visit White Sands National Monument

A New Mexican Gem- what to expect & how to plan your visit

Last Updated December 4th, 2019

White Sands National Monument is a hidden gem in the state of New Mexico. It’s best known for it’s beautiful dunes of, you guessed it, white, soft sand. Located in between the towns of Alamogordo and Las Cruces White Sands is a must see destination in South-Central New Mexico.

While planning a road trip can be difficult work, this guide will help alleviate the stress of planning your visit to White Sands.

If you ever find yourself on a road trip through the ‘Land of Enchantment’ be sure to add White Sands National Monument as one of your stops.  Beautiful & serene, it was a stunning place hidden in the desert.

        As an east coast girl, I knew little to nothing about New Mexico prior to my visit… apart from Walter White’s fictional take over and an assumption that there must be tumbleweeds everywhere.  So, when I ventured there for a family visit with my boyfriend I was intrigued as to what he would have planned for us.

So, what exactly is White Sands?

It’s a nationally preserved destination in the Tularosa Basin of New Mexico. Known for its white sand dunes that extend for miles. Every year the dunes shift and change with the wind making it a special place to visit every year.

Where to stay near White Sands National Monument

I would suggest staying in Las Cruces, New Mexico. While it’s an hour away from the dunes, it has the better hotel options compared to Alamogordo and is closer than El Paso, Texas.

How to get to White Sands National Monument

Driving from Las Cruces: take US-70 E for 50 miles, then turn LEFT onto Dunes Drive.

Driving from Alamogordo: take US-70 W for 8 miles, then turn RIGHT onto Dunes Drive.

Driving from El Paso: take I-10 W for 40 miles, then US-70 W for 7 miles, turn LEFT onto Dunes Drive.

My experience: After an evening in Las Cruces, we woke up early to reach this great natural wonder.  Driving through the desert was stunning for sunrise; with little vegetation and vast open lands there isn’t much to hide the sun peaking over the horizon of the mountains west of Alamogordo.

As the terrain began to be hilly towards the end our drive we were able to see the tops of the white sand dunes in the distance. This sneak peek will definitely have you stoked to enter the park!

Check for road closures BEFORE you go

White Sands National Monument is close to the White Sands Missile Range. If you’re driving from Las Cruces or El Paso you’ll want to check if there are any scheduled missile tests prior to leaving. If so, the road leading to White Sands may be closed for over three hours

You can check the National Park Service website for closures. 

 

Entering White Sands National Monument Park

Upon pulling into the parking lot you’ll find a visitor center with a small shop and museum displaying the importance of desert life and its wildlife.

Opens at 8:00am

Entrance Fee: only $5

*White Sands Travel Tip: I would suggest getting there in the early morning when it opens OR in the evening for sunset.  Remember, it’s in a desert, so midday will be extremely hot.

What to do inside of White Sands:

As tempted as you might be to park at the first available spot within the park, don’t! Instead, drive as far back as you can to find solitude away from the other visitors. The park is quite large so drive to the back (before the road curves back towards the entrance).

The road in the park at the base of and in between the dunes. It’s quite scenic with over eight miles of glistening white, cascading dunes

Once parked get out of your car and walk around. Once you’re away from the crowds you’ll easily be able to secure an area for serene solitude.

 *White Sands Travel Tip: We visited in the morning and were easily able to walk around barefoot. Unlike sand you find at most beaches, the sane here is cool to the touch and much easier to walk along than a coastal beach sand.

Be sure to bring a sled with you, or rent one at the visitors center. Call ahead of time to ask about sled rentals, as sometimes they run out. And don’t bother trying to sled with cardboard boxes like we did… they don’t slide (haha!)

What is the sand at White Sands made of & where did it come from?

The sand here made of gypsum – a solft, sulfate mineral -that’s been eroded from the nearby San Andreas and Sacramento mountains. Within the mountains are ephemeral lakes (lakes that fill up with precipitation & then evaporate), and when they evaporate the minerals left behind are transported by the wind and is what forms the dunes.

FUN FACT: gypsum is water soluble, so typically eroded gypsum would runoff to the ocean from rainfall, but White Sands is situated in a mountain basin with no access to leave. This is why it’s built up over time to create the white sands dunes we’ve come to cherish.

Top Tips for visiting White Sands National Monument

  • Go early in the morning or at sunset; it’s in the desert, so the sun will be beaming.  Best to avoid high afternoon sun
  • DON’T leave trash behind
  • Wear whatever you like! Since the sand is easy to walk around on & the dunes are easy to climb, ladies can comfortably wear dresses.
  • Bring your own sled to slide down the dunes. (*we thought a broken down box would work…. It didn’t.) Or you can rent sleds at the guest center
  • Bring a water bottle with you. There is only water at the visitor center, so bring your own out on the dunes if you plan to spend a few hours there.

Don't Forget to Pack:

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