Naturalist Vacations Can Take Many Forms



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Southeastern Arizona is a great place to spot a large variety on hummingbirds.

I often write about luxury vacations such as cruises, luxury resorts and what I call the better life. However, there are many who very much enjoy the outdoor life to take in nature’s beauty and wildlife. One company, Naturalist Journeys, guides you out into nature. I will list in this article some of the tours you may have an interest in and at the end will give you contact information.

Aug. 10-17 – Southeast Arizona: Monsoon Madness – Birds, Butterflies, Dragonflies and More! The summer monsoon season turns Southeast Arizona’s mountains and deserts a verdant green. Arizona’s “second spring” is the best time to find a high diversity of hummingbirds (up to 14 species may be present), nesting grassland sparrows, breeding birds of Mexican affinity, and insects such as butterflies and dragonflies. Walks in cool shaded canyons will be enjoyed and there will be time in the pine and mixed conifer habitats for mid-day hikes; during early mornings and evenings you can explore desert and grassland terrain. Author, guide and local resident Bob Behrstock brings expertise with dragonflies and butterflies as well as birds to this adventure. From Tucson, you will explore lush canyons of the Santa Rita Mountains and nearby Arivaca Cienaga of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. This tour will also visit legendary birding sites such as Kino Springs, the Nature Conservancy Preserves at Patagonia and Ramsey Canyon and an excellent wetland area at Whitewater Draw. Cool lush canyons of the Huachuca Mountains promise hummingbirds in vast amounts. At several feeding locations you will find excellent opportunities to find and photograph colorful species. Your hosts at two delightful lodges treat guests with special meals and hospitality. In Bisbee and at Fort Huachuca the tour operators will blend in a bit of Arizona’s history and add human color as well. This tour is priced at $1,850 from Tucson.

Aug. 17-29 – Extraordinary Alaska. Alaska remains a wilderness jewel. More than any place in North America, it retains its wild character and ecological integrity, making a visit here a” must do” experience. The grandeur of the scenery alone is worth the trip; and this tour focuses on history and finding the wildlife, which is abundant. August offers a display of late-blooming wildflowers, ripe abundant berry crops and brilliant color that starts to decorate the tundra. It’s the best time to see Grizzly Bears and Caribou in Denali Park. This journey includes three nights at North Face Lodge in Denali, a highlight of the trip for many. Also there is a sampler of Alaska’s magnificent scenery visiting Seward where you will have an opportunity to enjoy a boat trip into the Gulf of Alaska in search of whales and puffins. In Nome the tour explores a wild and beautiful landscape close to the Arctic Circle. Nome is accessed only by air or sea. This is the end of the famed Iditarod Race and home to several Native Corporations. You will be able to stuff yourselves on ripe blueberries and search for migrant waterfowl such as five species of loons. Priced from $4,990.

Sept. 6-19 – Grand California. On this trip you will join Greg Smith for a grand exploration from ocean shores to the high sierras, experiencing a remarkable mix of species and scenery. Fall brings vast bird migrations including a number of western warblers and five species of hummingbirds. Regional specialties include Wrentits, California Quail, White-headed and Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, California Condors and chestnut-backed Chickadees. One of the highlights of this journey is a day on the ocean off Monterey where up to thirty species of seabirds have been seen on a single pelagic trip. The operators hope you will see Humpback Whales and dolphins and sea lions and Southern Sea Otter. Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the most scenic areas of the Pacific Coast and its biodiversity is amazing. The park lists 490 species of birds. Shorebirds abound and you should find over 20 species, including Red-necked Phalaropes. Yosemite National Park is one of the great biological and geological attractions of the region and where the tour will spend several days enjoying its birds and mammals. The bird list is more than 30 species and includes Clark’s Nutcrackers, While-headed and Pileated Woodpeckers and Sooty Grouse. This journey is designed as a two-week trip; clients can sign on for the full exploration or for a short-trip option of either week. Priced from $3,590 from San Francisco.

Sept. 12-19 – Explore Oregon. The highlights of this adventure include: Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Steens Mountain and Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge. This trip explores Great Basin geology and landscapes of sagebrush/high desert, vast interior wetlands, mountain forests and alpine tundra. September is migration time at Malheur and you should see huge flocks of waterfowl, including swans, geese and ducks. Sandhill Cranes gather by the thousands and a good number of songbirds appear in the oasis of trees and shrubs near your headquarters. On Steens Mountain raptors are on the move, soaring above spectacular cliffs and glacially-eroded valleys. From the top of the Steens, in less than three miles, the east scarp of the mountain drops to the heart of the Alvord Basin more than a mile below (at 4,023 ft.). This remarkable topographic relief, along with the half-mile deep glacial canyons, provides not only spectacular views, but also great ecological variation which supports outstanding biological diversity and rare species. The tour company is still putting this tour together. Price to be announced.

Sept. 25 – Oct. 4 – Tour New Mexico and Colorado. This tour will visit the Southern Rockies of New Mexico and Colorado at a time when the aspen forests should be ablaze with fall color. You’ll be able to see Great Sand Dunes National Monument, the striking Sangre de Christo Mountains and visit productive mountain wetlands.

At Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. Tour participants will stay two nights at the Nature Conservancy’s Medano-Zapata Ranch. Highlights of the journey include travel on the scenic Cumbres and Toltec Railroad.

I did this two years ago and believe me, this is one of the most spectacular rail trips you can experience in the United States.

You’ll also visit artisan markets, dances and celebrations at Taos Pueblo surrounding San Geronimo Day, the Navajo Fair at Shiprock and ancient ruins of Chaco Canyon Bandelier National Park and more. This tour is a great blend of nature and culture. Departs Durango, Colo. and is priced at $2,990.

Turning east, you can enjoy birding at Cape May and Hawk Mountain Oct. 2-9. Hawk Mountain is truly a Mecca for birders and conservation-minded people. The mountain became the world’s refuge for birds of prey in 1934 and is now one of the world’s premier raptor and raptor migration research centers. On this adventure you will tour the mountain and wonderful educational facilities, enjoying the beauty of eastern Pennsylvania in fall, hawk migration, and the camaraderie of hawk watchers from all over the world. One of the top birding destinations in North America, the Cape May Peninsula of New Jersey is famous for it’s concentrations of migrating birds, tidal salt marshes and Victorian charm. There’s a reason they hold the World Series of Birding here every year. Many of the land and sea birds migrating along the coast spend some time at the Cape May Peninsula. The town itself, a national historic site, offers some of the country’s best examples of Victorian architecture and some of the best seafood dining on the East Coast. You’ll visit the Cape May Bird Observatory, Cape May Point Hawk Watch, Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and many of the fresh and saltwater habitats. On this tour you will stay at Congress Hall, a classic hotel/resort in the heart of historic Cape May and close to birding sites. The tour departs from Philadelphia and is priced at $2,536.

Visit the Web site: or call 1-866-900-1146 for more on naturalist vacations like these. If the outdoor world is your piece of cake, this company is a good place to begin.


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