Best Trips of 2001: A Better World

A Better World

Sacred stones: praying at a Mani Wall beside the Tsangpo River, Tibet     Photo: Galen Rowell

On each of these trips—and you just might help improve the planet.

Norway: The Book of the Living
Joining this Yarlung Tsangpo Gorge cultural preservation project is "like being one of the first groups to Mount Everest," says Richard D. Fisher, director of trip-outfitter Wilderness Research Expeditions. Substitute the world's deepest canyon, the 16,650-foot-deep Yarlung Tsangpo Gorge in eastern Tibet, for its tallest mountain and you realize that this is not hyperbole. Fisher, 48, was one of the first Americans to explore the center of the gorge—which is four times the size of the Grand Canyon—in 1992. This year he'll return with 12 clients to hike, jeep, and camp for 21 days on the canyon's floor, heading west from sand-dune desert to thick jungle. Along the way the team will collect historical documents and take photos for Fisher's book on the history of the gorge—which is believed to be the birthplace of Tibetan civilization. Outfitter: Wilderness Research Expeditions When to Go: April–May Price: $5,500 Difficulty: Moderate —David Friedland
Do Some Good

Spain: Mediterranean Marine Biology
Sail along the arid, deserted southern coast of Spain where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic for 12 days on a 91-year-old Norwegian fishing boat, helping University of Madrid biologists study the food-chain role of bottle-nosed and common dolphins, sperm and fin whales, and leatherback and loggerhead turtles. Plot positions, record behavior and sounds, and hoist sails as you attempt to identify critical habitats for future marine-protection areas. Outfitter: Earthwatch Institute When to Go: January, March, June–September Price: $1,995 Difficulty: Easy
Chile and Ecuador: Following Darwin's Footsteps
A 22-day exploratory trip to the major stops along Charles Darwin's 1834 Chilean route from Tierra del Fuego to Valdivia. The Nature Conservancy's local partner organization leads a hike through Torres del Paine National Park (a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve), and environmentalists talk about their struggles against the wood-chip industry. You'll visit a TNC marine-otter conservation project an hour's flight from Santiago, Chile, before heading to the Galápagos's Rabida Island, home to nine of the 13 species of finches that inspired Darwin's natural selection theory. Outfitters: The Nature Conservancy; International Expeditions Inc. When to Go: November–December Price: $9,896 (includes international airfare) Difficulty: Easy

Russia: Investigating Lake Baikal's Pollution Levels
Help Russian scientists protect the deepest (more than a mile), largest by volume (14,000 cubic miles), oldest (20 million years) lake in the world and its 1,080 endemic species by taking water and fish samples from a motorized research vessel to measure chemicals and organic-waste levels. Then patrol the shorelines to observe sables and the world's biggest brown bears, and to scout potential nature-reserve sites. Hard work is rewarded with fresh salmon dinners and views of the 9,000-foot Sayan Mountains from lakeshore campsites. Outfitter: Earthwatch Institute When to Go: July–August Price: $1,695 Difficulty: Moderate
Kenya: Studying Bats and Elephants
Spend 12 days walking and jeep-riding in the flat, butte-fringed Taru Desert and Masai Mara Savanna, working with scientists to catch and count bats and identify and classify elephants by their tusk lengths and ear markings. With mist nets, headlamps, bat detectors, and microphones, you'll learn to distinguish the calls and wing shapes of horseshoe, free-tailed, and yellow-winged bats, which inhabit caves and acacia trees. Then you'll impart your newfound wisdom to local schoolchildren during nighttime field trips. Outfitter: Bat Conservation International When to Go: May Price: $4,145 (includes international airfare)Difficulty: Easy

Australia: Wilderness Leadership in the Kimberley
Thirty days of trekking from one water hole to the next in Australia's Outback is an education in and of itself--add NOLS expert Leave No Trace instruction and the wisdom of the aboriginal Bardi and you've got yourself some first-class learning. You'll spend your days practicing the fundamentals of expedition camping, traditional hunting techniques, and the essentials of eking out an existence in a hostile environment. Outfitters: National Outdoor Leadership School When to Go: June, July Price: $3750 Difficulty: Strenuous


Oregon: Native American Sights in Hell's Canyon
Hop in a raft and take on the Class IV Snake River through Hell's Canyon National Recreation area with Jeff van Pelt, master flint knapper and Umatilla tribal historian. You'll stop along the way to learn about Native American petroglyphs, explore pit house sites and rock shelters, and examine some of the thousands of Native American artifacts on the shores of the Snake. At the end of each of the five days, sit back on the bank and contemplate the river crossing where Chief Joseph and his band fled the Wallowa Valley. Outfitters: Hells Canyon Whitewater Co. When to Go: August Price: $1000 Difficulty: Easy

Belize: Rainforests, Reefs, and Ruins
Belize sports the world's densest population of jaguars, the Western Hemisphere's largest barrier reef, and the sparsest human population in Central America. Researchers from the American Natural History Museum will guide you on a ten-day adventure through Belize's wild side with visits to Pook's Hill Nature Reserve, Green Hill's Butterfly Farm, and the Maya Medicine Trail, where coatimundi, potoo, and the endangered Morelet's Crocodile make their home. You'll also get a full day to explore Tikal, the massive Mayan ceremonial pyramid in nearby Guatemala. Outfitters: American Museum of Natural History When to Go: March, November Price: $3450, includes airfare from Miami, Dallas, or Houston Difficulty: Easy

South Africa: Monitoring Penguins
Each morning before breakfast on this two-week trip you'll take a stroll down to the beach on Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years) to observe Chilly Willy and his pals. Then, after a bite to eat, you'll spend the first part of the day checking nests, observing parent-chick interactions, and weighing African penguins. Dr. Peter Barham from the University of Bristol will brief you on how to avoid being snipped by the defensive birds and explain their behavior and what threatens them. Outfitters: Earthwatch www.earthwatch.org When to Go: March, April, May, June Price: $1895 Difficulty: Easy
Dominica: Restoring Coral Reefs in the Lesser Antilles
No, Reef Ball is not the newest fun-in-the-sun watersport, it's a concrete modular reef system used to restore damaged ocean reefs throughout the world. Besides helping to build and deploy reef balls, this seven-night trip includes snorkeling, sea kayaking, opportunities to see some of Dominica's 7 species of whale and 11 dolphins, a guided hike to Boiling Lake, the world's largest volcanic lake, and trips to some of the Caribbean's premier scuba diving destinations. And best of all, you can tell everyone you took a "working vacation." Outfitters: Reef Ball Coalition Inc. When to Go: February, April, July Price: $1399 Difficulty: Moderate

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