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The Underwater World at the National Aquarium

Just a 40 mile drive from the heart of the nation’s capital, the award-winning National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, is a major regional attraction hosting 1.5 million visitors every year. It’s a cornerstone of tourism in Baltimore’s sleek Inner Harbor district, where it entertains visitors alongside other attractions such as sightseeing cruises, Port Discovery Children’s Museum, historic ships like the USS Constellation, and lots of dining and shopping options at Harborplace and The Gallery.

The 33 year-old National Aquarium is a self-supported non-profit organization devoted to conservation and education about the world’s oceans and other aquatic environments. Between its many highly naturalistic exhibits of aquatic and terrestrial life, the aquarium is home to over 17,000 individual fish, birds, reptiles, and other animals representing 750 different species.

The newest exhibit, Blacktip Reef, recently celebrated its first anniversary on August 8th. The ambitious display replicates life on an Indo-Pacific reef, with nearly 800 creatures that can be viewed from several different perspectives, including a floor-to-ceiling pop-out viewing window. While walking through this exhibit, guests can check out a 500-pound sea turtle named Calypso; a spiky, camouflaged wobbegong shark; countless colorful varieties of tropical fish; and a school of blacktip sharks. Even people who can’t make it there in person can enjoy Blacktip Reef via an online Shark Cam!

The aquarium has several additional exhibits that explore other ecosystems such as an Atlantic coral reef, a tropical rain forest, and an Australian river gorge. It also offers a number of “Immersion Tours,” allowing more in-depth experiences. These include guided tours of the public exhibits, a behind-the-scenes look at the site’s veterinary facilities, a supervised dive in the Atlantic reef exhibit, an interactive dolphin encounter, and much more.

Anyone with an interest in marine life should definitely consider a stop by the National Aquarium if they find themselves traveling through the Washington, D.C., area.


Water Meets Desert in a Big Way at Lake Mead

Just a short drive outside Las Vegas is one of the nation’s most spectacular parks. With features like the Liberty Bell Arch, marinas, and countless hiking trails, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area is one of the most popular attractions in the Las Vegas Area.

The largest capacity reservoir in the US, Lake Mead is the section of the Colorado River held back by the mighty Hoover Dam, located downstream and a couple hours west of the Grand Canyon. The surrounding national recreation area, the very first in the US, opened in 1964, making this year its 50th anniversary.

Today, the park at Lake Mead offers countless activities for pretty much any kind of outdoor enthusiast. Open year-round, the lake itself is a favorite destination for boaters, beach loungers, fishermen, and even divers. The marinas give visitors a choice of places to eat, while areas throughout the park provide places for those who prefer to picnic.

Away from the lake, the area is criss-crossed by hundreds of trails for hiking and cycling, as well as campgrounds and picnic areas. Canyons, desert flats, and mountains dominate the landscape, providing plenty of stunning photo opportunities of complex geological forms (including gravity-defying stone arches), desert wildlife, and awesome panoramas.

A first-time visit to Lake Mead will almost surely include a stop at Hoover Dam, as well. An unbelievable feat of engineering, the dam provides electricity for nearly 1.5 million people and stores water for cities throughout the southwest, including Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. The views are stunning, both at the dam itself, and from the bypass bridge that now crosses high above and just downstream of the dam.

Lake Mead has undergone many changes in recent years as water levels have dropped significantly. Before heading out, make to check the Lake Mead park website for any warnings or notices of closures. Use extra caution when boating, because shallow water might hide unexpected rocks or other hazards. Also, keep in mind that the area is hot and arid, so pack plenty of water and sun protection before hitting the hiking trails or beaches. Above all, have fun!

A View of Niagara Falls from Every Angle

As one of the most massive cascading waterfalls in the world, Niagara Falls is among the top natural tourist draws in North America. Every year, over eight million people come to the US-Canadian border to view the breath-taking waterfalls.

Because it is a popular destination for tourists and nature enthusiasts, as well as a huge hydroelectric producer and commercial site, the Niagara Falls area is exceptionally well-developed. Over the decades, park officials and business interests have managed to strike a balance between its natural and economic offerings. As a result, measured against other waterfalls elsewhere in the world, there are comparatively many unique and amazing ways to experience these particular falls.

The View from a Boat

On both sides of the border there are several boat tours available that take visitors right up to the base of the plunging waters. From the bottom of any of the three Niagara Falls, guests experience the thunderous crash and intense whirls of unimaginable amounts of water flowing from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario.

The View from the Banks

Well-maintained boardwalks and trails line the Niagara River in the vicinity of the Falls. Aside from providing picturesque strolls along the water, these walkways allow visitors to get up close to (and practically under!) the cascades themselves.

The View from Above

Several scenic bridges span the Niagara River, and offer up stunning views of the river and its falls, as well as the gorgeous park land surrounding them. A bit downstream from the Falls, the famous Whirlpool Aero Car on the Canadian side takes intrepid visitors on a hanging cable car ride over the impressive Niagara Whirlpool.

The View From Behind

There are even ways to see the Horseshoe Fall from behind! Tunnels winding through the bedrock lead visitors to decks at the base of the cascade, as well as to a couple of observation portals directly behind the vast curtain of water.

The Historical View

Several area museums in the area document the history and geology of Niagara Falls. For an especially memorable look at Niagara Falls, Ontario’s Niagara Parks agency has put together an intense, Universal-Studios-style show called “Niagara’s Fury,” which recreates the geologic origins of Niagara Falls, complete with rumbling platform, snow and mist, and a 360-degree panoramic screen.

Beating Jet Lag

Anyone who has ever taken a cross-country or transoceanic flight likely knows what jet lag feels like. It’s very common for a traveler to experience a few days of grogginess and fatigue as one’s sleep cycle adjusts to a new time zone. How many days it lasts depends on how far away the destination is: traveling across more than one time zone generally results in increased jet lag.

Unfortunately, jet lag is a very normal response when the body has to adapt to a place located far to the east or west of home. For that reason, the condition is almost inevitable. However, a few steps can be taken to ease the body’s transition to the new locale.

Start adjusting sleep schedule before the trip.

Giving the body a head start on the new time zone can go a long way to lessening the effects of jet lag. Beginning several days ahead of the flight, simply go to bed a half-hour earlier every night, and wake up a half-hour earlier every morning. This applies to eastward flights; if your flight is taking you west, instead, reverse the time-shifts – later to bed, later to rise.

Stay rested during the flight.

Flying is rarely comfortable, and getting rest on board an airplane can be difficult to do, but it’s well worth it if you can. To maximize the odds of getting some decent rest, pack some earplugs, a sleep mask, and a pillow in a carry-on bag. Also, avoid caffeine to improve sleep quality. Some people might consider using sleeping pills or melatonin, too – however, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor first.

Stay hydrated.

Airplanes are very dry environments, and tend to dehydrate the body. This generally leads to fatigue and poor sleep. Drinking a glass of water every hour will help keep the body hydrated, while moisturizing lotion and eye drops can decrease other uncomfortable symptoms of dehydration.

Embrace the new time zone!

After a long, tiring flight, many people’s first impulse is to take a nap. Unfortunately, that can actually interfere with the body’s ability to adapt to the new time. If you arrive in the morning or early afternoon, it’s usually better just to stay awake until the local bedtime. Similarly, if you arrive at night, use an alarm clock to get up at the local breakfast time – even if that means only couple hours of sleep. Either way, make it a point to enjoy as much of the local sunshine as possible.

Forcing yourself into the new time zone’s natural schedule means that first day will probably be difficult. However, the body will have a much easier time adjusting over the next few days, so the overall time spent jet lagged is decreased.

For more tips on how to beat jet lag, click here.

What to Take? A Few Big Tips for Little Hikes

However, even if you’re just enjoying a modest hike along well-traveled trails, there are still a few small but important preparations to make, just in case. Listed here are a few basic tips, but if you’d like more in-depth information, the American Hiking Society an excellent resource for hikers of all skill levels.

Take water.

One of the worst things that can happen when you’re out hiking is to be caught without water. In the event of an unexpected injury or poor turn of weather, thirst will leave a body vulnerable to heat stroke, hypothermia, and any number of other ailments. It’s also a good idea to take along an extra snack, just to keep your energy up during that last mile. Just remember to take your trash with you!

Take first-aid.

Little pre-made first-aid kits are cheap and readily available, and they’re great to have on hand in case you tangle with some stinging nettles or get a nasty scratch. They’re also good in case you encounter another hiker in need of a band-aid or pain-reliever. Remember that not everyone is as prepared as you are!

Along with medical supplies, it’s also wise to carry a couple extra safety items. First, a flashlight is just the thing in case you get caught outside after dark (remember to also pack a fresh set of batteries). Second, a whistle weighs practically nothing, and is a much more effective way to call for help than yelling.

Take proper clothes.

It’s a good idea to dress in layers. That way whether it gets a little too hot or a little chilly, you’ve got a way to account for the weather. Also remember that weathermen make mistakes, so having a lightweight raincoat or poncho is a good way to prevent a miserable few miles of hiking while soaking wet. Another good rule of thumb is to always have a hat.

Take a friend.

The absolute best policy is to hike with someone else. Not only is this a good idea for safety reasons, but it also makes the hike a little more fun!

Before heading out, it’s wise to let someone know where you’re going and how long you’ll be. That way, if you don’t make it back, someone else knows your whereabouts.

Take it slow.

Finally, remember that there’s usually no reason to rush. Going too fast is a good way to overtax untrained muscles or stumble over an unseen rock and sprain an ankle. It’s always best to go at a relaxing pace, enjoy the scenery, and stay alert!