Richard Bangs Keep the Quest Alive Sun, 17 Sep 2017 23:11:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Racism on the Road: 3 Friends Drive Across America in the 1960’s Sun, 17 Sep 2017 22:45:40 +0000 by Al Hirshen In September 1961, two college friends and I picked up a yellow and green Ford taxicab in New York City, to be delivered to its new owner in Kennewick, Washington. Anyone who wanted to purchase a new or second-hand car in NYC, without having to pick it up in person, used a […]

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Racism on the road

Photo cred: Didrik Johnck via Flickr

by Al Hirshen

In September 1961, two college friends and I picked up a yellow and green Ford taxicab in New York City, to be delivered to its new owner in Kennewick, Washington. Anyone who wanted to purchase a new or second-hand car in NYC, without having to pick it up in person, used a “Drive Away” agency. It was a cheap way to travel to other parts of the USA. We only had to pay for gas and tolls.

All of us were recent graduates of the City College of New York (CCNY) and, as was typical of the time, we were the first or second in our families to go to college. You could call us a diverse group of Americans: I was a Bronx son of Ukrainian-Polish Jewish immigrant parents; Oliver, a Queens Black man and son of a Seventh Day Adventist mother; and Walter, a Polish Catholic from the lower East side of Manhattan. Oliver was a dark-skinned, muscular man with a kind, mustached face. People felt his warmth and immediately liked him. Walter was the fairest and tallest and the most reserved of us. I was the skinny guy who loved to laugh and argue. Hadn’t I been the captain of the CCNY debate team?

We had five days to drive across America and deliver the car. Afterwards, we planned to go south to Orange County, California, lay back with our CCNY friend Joe and enjoy his apartment’s swimming pool.

We left NYC in 90-degree heat toward Chicago and, as we were going to Southern California, we were dressed in short sleeve shirts and summer pants.

Sundance, Wyoming

It was lightly snowing in the late afternoon when we arrived in Sundance, Wyoming. The scene reminded me of James Joyce’s The Dead. : “The snow was falling, faintly falling over the crosses where Michael Fury lay buried.”  We were totally unprepared for this drastic change of weather. Perhaps as “New Yorkers” we had in mind the maps of our country where New York and California make up 99% of America. It was the kind of mistake the young are prone to make.

Just after being greeted by the unexpected snowfall in Sundance, we encountered another problem—a loud, grinding, sound suddenly coming from under the car. The first garage mechanic we visited in Sundance abruptly told us he could not be of any assistance. Was the car going to die on us two-thirds of the way to our destination? The second mechanic said the rear differential was a goner. He could fix it but would have to have the necessary parts delivered the next day. If the parts arrived on time, the car would be ready later that day. We called the owner and received the go ahead.

We carried our luggage from the mechanics to a hotel we had noticed on the main road in town. Without sweaters or coats, it was a chilling walk.

When we entered the hotel, a man who was at least six-foot-four and looked to be nearly 300 pounds, towered behind a desk and told us he had no rooms available. We found shelter from the snow at a bar near the hotel. Without the burden of luggage, I went to check out a motel we had spotted on our way into town. I was the guy who had set up the “drive away” and as I had the most forceful personality of us three, it seemed natural that I would be the one to venture forth. But first, I gave the hotel another try. I told the owner we would happily pay to use the lobby overnight. The lobby had a few stuffed chairs and a sofa. He curtly said, “My wife wouldn’t like that.” I sensed this refusal was a cover for something else.

I trudged on to the motel, shivering from the cold. The owner, an older man, at first stated he had rooms, but then hesitated and asked, “Are you with the colored boy?” When I said yes, he exclaimed: “I will not rent to coloreds!” Shocked, I asked him to repeat what he had said. He repeated it word for word. How did he know I was with a “colored boy”? Was it so strange to see a person of color in Sundance that the news of Oliver’s presence was spreading like wildfire? Had the hotel owner quickly called him with the news? Back at the bar, rubbing my hands together for warmth, I told my friends they would not rent to college boys. I was not going to tell Oliver that the color of his skin would prevent us from getting a room. It just was too hurtful. Walter said: “You got to be kidding!” Oliver said nothing. I then offered to walk around and see what else I could discover.

On the main street, I spotted an official-looking man who turned out to be the night marshal. He could have been any average man going about his business except for the badge pinned to his heavy brown jacket. After explaining our predicament I asked if we could sleep the night in the town jail. At first, he indicated that we could, but then he asked if I was with the “colored boy”. Again I said yes, but quickly added that we did not intend to freeze to death. Either he let us sleep there the one night voluntarily, or we would find reasons for him to lock us up. After what seemed an eternity, he said ok. I asked if the jail had heat. There was a pot-bellied stove, he told me. He would supply some wood and coal. I was elated, thanked him profusely and told Oliver and Walter the good news that we were going to spend the night in jail.

As we were walking towards the jail, a car with men we recognized from the bar swerved toward us, causing us to throw our luggage and jump to the side of the road. They continued on their way. Walter and I gave each other a glance that said: “We need to get out of Sundance as soon as possible.”

When the night marshal opened the door to the jail, there were only two simple cells, each with a single-person bed and a large table. We lit up the stove and stood around it to get warm, then tossed a coin to decide who would sleep on the beds in the cells, and who had the bad luck of the small “table bed.” Walter, who was without any “butt padding,” accepted his fate with good cheer. We had been given thin blankets by the night marshal. Luckily, we awoke in the night in time to discover that the fire had gone out and were able to relight it and avoid hypothermia. The next morning we awoke with a start, as the front door was thrown open with a jolt by the day marshal. Although we had not discussed our recognition that we were the subject of bigotry and potential violence, each of us had a two-by-four firmly in our grasp. Boys from the streets of NYC have the same instincts of self-protection.

Of course, we knew that racial discrimination existed in New York City and elsewhere in America, but we did not comprehend the depth of bigotry we would encounter. Mississippi yes, but Wyoming—no way.

After leaving jail and ringing the mechanic, we discovered that we were in luck. The parts had been delivered and the car was fixed late in the day. Unwilling to spend another night in jail, we left the town shouting: “Fuck you, Sundance”. As the daylight was fading, we found a motel in the next town and decided to enter together, so we would know immediately where we stood. To our relief, there was no hesitation and the clerk rented us three rooms. It felt as if we were back to NYC normal. With a good night’s sleep behind us, we headed off toward our destination, Kennewick.

Rexburg, Idaho

Somewhere in the mountains between Yellowstone and Rexburg, Idaho, we heard a thumping under the car. After some investigation, we pieced together that we had lost one of the brackets on the gas tank. We found some wire in the trunk, rigged the gas tank and nervously headed for Rexburg. The mechanic at the Ford dealership flat-out told us he would not fix our car because of Oliver. He did offer to give us some strong wire, however, to do a better patch-up of the tank, which we hastily accepted and drove away. As we made our way to Kennewick, there was undeniably an elephant in the car, but in 1961 men would not think to talk about their feelings, and we didn’t. Instead, we laughed off the incidents of blatant discrimination and changed the subject. We managed to make it to Kennewick without further incident and handed the car over to its new owner. As we drove away in a taxi to get a bus to San Francisco, we broke into a spontaneous cheer, thinking our encounters with racism on this road trip were behind us.

Orange County, California

Our friend Joe was a good-looking, energetic, always curious Italian-Catholic from the tough Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. He lived in a typical Southern California apartment, a stucco-style horseshoe building around a swimming pool. After spending a few relaxed days together, there was a knock at the door. The landlord announced that “the Negro” could not stay. At this point, we’d almost become accustomed to these racist attitudes based on the experiences we encountered on our road trip. But we didn’t expect them here, not in California. We were dumbstruck. Joe had the presence of mind to negotiate and asked: “If all the tenants said it’s ok for Oliver to stay, would that be ok?” He then went to each of his neighbors, who all responded in the affirmative. However, some of them said: “But only if he doesn’t use the swimming pool.” A fear that Oliver’s color might wash off, or…? Oliver agreed to do without swimming for the time of our visit. He was so nonchalant about it that it made me wonder how many times this had happened to him before.

We decided to leave California a day earlier. Walter stayed on with Joe, while Oliver and I left for Chicago to begin graduate and law school. Not a word was said amongst us about this shameful incident. What was the point? Oliver knew we were horrified and shared his pain. We wanted to put it behind us and move on. Leaving a day earlier was no big deal. We had to start our classes anyway.

Chicago, Illinois

A short time later, as I approached the Law School, I saw Oliver sitting on the steps to the entrance. His 5’10’’ body was hunched over. The usual sparkle in his eyes was missing. I was surprised to see him there, as his classes were several blocks away. “What’s up?” I asked him. He said: “I will never again enter into a new friendship–Black, White, or whatever.” I was taken aback and asked why. He told me he had made friends with two Jamaican Blacks over the last few weeks and they had repeatedly talked about race relations in America. Early this morning they had declared: “A Black can’t save money in a White man’s bank.” He told them they were nuts. He himself had money in such a bank. They didn’t believe him. They said, “Prove it.” He went home, retrieved his passbook and showed it to them. At this point, they pulled a gun and ordered him to take them to his bank and withdraw all his funds. With one of them directly behind him and a gun in his back, Oliver withdrew his funds. They drove him around for twenty or so minutes, then to his surprise, stopped the car and let him go. “I thought I was going to die,” Oliver told me.

The Chicago Police later affirmed Oliver’s story. The people involved had targeted Black university students in both Indiana and Illinois. Oliver’s experience showed the negative impact our road trip had had on him. Because of his experiences with Whites over the last month in Wyoming, Idaho, and Orange County, Oliver had been so eager to make new Black friends that he let his New York City street smarts desert him in the process.

The following fall Oliver and I planned to share an apartment together with another CCNY friend who was starting at the Law School. A number of apartments in the paper appeared promising, but when we visited them they suddenly turned out to be unavailable. It turned out that racism was still alive and well in multicultural metropolises like Chicago. After a shockingly large number of refusals, we were dejected but decided to try one more address. I knocked on the door, and a Black man answered. We grabbed Oliver, who was behind us and moved him to the front. Luckily the owner was not prejudiced against Whites! Finally, we had our new apartment for the year. Oliver never discussed the discrimination he faced nor the feelings of anger and degradation he must have felt, and we didn’t push him. Whenever recounting these incidents, we discussed them in a matter of fact way or with humor, sensing that we were the unwitting actors in a Theatre of the Absurd play.

The impact of our road trip and the continuing reality of racial discrimination were major reasons for my joining the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department in 1965. I could no longer idly stand by. My time serving in this division (1965-1968) taught me a lesson about examining my own prejudices while fighting discrimination.

Over the last fifty-six years, whenever we road-trippers get together, we joke about the jail, the swimming pool, and our Chicago apartment. But it is impossible to look back on these memories without reliving the painful moments when we felt helpless because of an unfair reality in America—racial discrimination. Recently, with events such as the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally, we have been worrying that too large a segment of the American public is again accepting bigotry as the norm. We had hoped that as a country we had traveled a long way from the America of our 1960’s road trip. But racism was and continues to be America’s Achilles heel. And whenever we are laughing off our past experiences or stating our present concerns, I always see a flicker of pain in Oliver’s eyes.

Al Hirshen is a former civil rights lawyer, member of the Carter Administration, and a development consultant in numerous countries. His book Stories from a Lifetime of Travel is forthcoming in 2018. You can keep up with him on Facebook here.

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Dhows, Souqs, and Mosques of Oman with Atlas Obscura Fri, 18 Aug 2017 10:32:09 +0000 Explore the treasures of Oman, from the dunes and oases of the desert to a vibrant coastline rich in fortifications, historic port cities, and tropical gardens. February 26th -March 5th, 2018 Combining breathtaking natural beauty with a well-preserved cultural heritage, the Sultanate of Oman is one of the most overlooked tourist destinations in the Middle […]

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Explore the treasures of Oman, from the dunes and oases of the desert to a vibrant coastline rich in fortifications, historic port cities, and tropical gardens.

February 26th -March 5th, 2018

Combining breathtaking natural beauty with a well-preserved cultural heritage, the Sultanate of Oman is one of the most overlooked tourist destinations in the Middle East. On this special trip, you’ll experience magnificent historic forts and palaces, the rolling dunes of the Wahiba Sands by camel, the beautiful walled city of Nizwa, and much more. Come along with Atlas Obscura and adventure travel pioneer Richard Bangs on this one-of-a-kind Arabian adventure.

Your intimate group of 10 to 16 explorers will spend eight days and seven nights traversing some of Oman’s most striking landscapes, from the Arabian Sea to the Al Hajar mountains. With the expert leadership of Richard Bangs as well as an experienced Omani guide, you’ll delve deep into the local history and immerse yourself in bustling streets, ancient souqs, and abandoned villages alongside a group of inquisitive companions.


  • Camel ride & desert stars: Ride a camel across the breathtaking Wahiba Sands and sleep under the stars in a traditionally styled Bedouin tent.
  • Traditional dhow cruise: Relax aboard a traditional fisherman’s vessel and sail along the Arabian Sea, taking in the coastline and mooring at a natural cove.
  • Local agriculture & irrigation systems: Explore the terrace-style fruit orchards built into the mountain slopes of Al Jebel Al Akhdar. These unique orchards are fed by underground irrigation channels that date back hundreds of years.
  • Grand mosques & ancient souqs: Visit Oman’s most exquisite mosque, located in Muscat and able to accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers, and duck down winding alleyways filled with fabrics, spices, and colorful handicrafts.


Day 1 : Welcome to Muscat


  • Today, members of our group will touch down at Muscat International Airport. You’ll be met by a guide at the arrivals hall and transfer to your hotel (check-in begins at 2 p.m.). Enjoy the rest of the afternoon at your leisure, and take your time adjusting to the time change.
  • Muscat is the capital of Oman—officially the Sultanate of Oman—and has been a key trading port between east and west for over 1,000 years. Its etymology is disputed, with suggested linguistic origins ranging from “anchorage” to “strong-scented” to “hidden.” The city is harbored by the Arabian Sea and hugged by the Western Al Hajar (“Stony” or “Rocky”) Mountains.
  • In the spirit of traditional Omani hospitality, your hotel is quite luxurious, sitting perched along the sea. The main beach, along the Gulf of Oman, as well as Turtle Beach, a smaller, secluded area at the edge of the mountains, offer perfect places to relax, in additional to the hotel pools. But not to worry—we won’t let you get too spoiled.

Day 2 : Muscat Explorations & Dhow Cruise

  • After a hearty breakfast, we’ll depart for an action-packed city tour of Muscat. This ancient-turned-contemporary metropolis offers a unique opportunity to witness a modern commercial center existing in harmony with its traditional culture. Over the centuries, Muscat has traded hands and been tugged between different political spheres of influence, including the Portuguese, Ottoman Turks, Persians, and Omanis.
  • We’ll start the day’s tour with a visit to Muscat’s Grand Mosque, the most exquisite mosque in Oman. With an interior that can accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers, the edifice consists of a main prayer hall, ladies prayer hall, covered passageways, meeting hall, and library. A single handmade Iranian carpet of 1,700 million knots and weighing 27 tons covers the floor of the prayer hall. Please note that ladies visiting the mosque are required to cover their heads with scarves and should to be fully covered (no shorts or sleeveless outfits). Men are also to be fully covered, and slip-on shoes are recommended.
  • Next, we’ll sip coffee with the curator of the Bait Adam Museum and learn about the museum’s unique collection of historical Omani artifacts. Afterward, we’ll drive via the waterfront to Mutrah Souq, Muscat’s traditional Arab market.
  • Mutrah is one of the most popular souqs in the Middle East, with its myriad of merchandise beckoning from labyrinthine alleyways, including fabrics, spices, intense perfumes, and rich handicrafts. A visit to this frenetic, pulsating hub of Muscat’s old quarter makes for a delightful experience.
  • We’ll continue on to the magnificent and very photogenic Al Alam Palace, one of the six royal residences of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. The palace is flanked by Al Mirani and Al Jalali, two 16th-century Portuguese forts.
  • At 3 p.m., we’ll transfer from the hotel to the marina to embark on a relaxed dhow cruise, weather conditions permitting. Dhows are a traditional fisherman’s vessel. We’ll see the coastline through the eyes of ancient seafarers who plied this route for centuries.
  • Moor briefly at a natural cove and take in the spectacular Al Bustan Palace Hotel before returning to the marina. Soft drinks, tea, coffee, and dates will be served on board.
  • Tonight we’ll dine at a local Arabic restaurant and return to our hotel for a good night’s rest.

Day 3 : Sparkling Springs & Mountain Villages

  • Wake for today’s drive to the sparkling springs at Nakhl, a traditional town located 75 miles from Muscat. At the heart of Nakhl, among an orchard of palms and against a backdrop of the jagged Al Hajar mountain range, is Nakhl Fort, a top sight in Oman. Dating back to the pre-Islamic period, the fort is now host to both a permanent museum as well as a weekly goat market.
  • Those who are feeling adventurous can opt to take a spectacular canyon drive through Wadi Bani Awf, a dramatic ravine, or wadi. This drive involves steep bends and bumpy, graded roads through some remarkable geological formations.
  • Next, we’ll visit the charming mountain village of Bilad Sayt, located near Jebel Shams, Oman’s highest peak. Tonight we’ll stay at Alila Jabal Akhdar Oman, a boutique hotel set in the magnificent Al Hajar mountains. After a whirlwind day of singular scenery, relax and replenish your energy over dinner here with the group.

Day 4 : Tropical Orchards of Al Jebel Al Akhdar

  • After breakfast, we’ll set out by 4WD to explore Al Jebel Al Akhdar, a central section of the Al Hajar mountain range known as the “Green Mountain” in Arabic. Site of the Jebel Akhdar War from 1954 to 1959, the area was named a nature reserve by Sultan Qaboos in 2011. The region is famed for its fruit orchards, typically nurtured terrace-style along the mountain slopes, and fed via underground Aflaj (also known as Qanāt) irrigation channels. The region’s agriculture, which stretches back hundreds of years, includes pomegranates, walnuts, apricots, and peaches; Jebel Akhdar is also the nucleus of Omani honey bee breeding.
  • We’ll get to take a closer look at the Aflaj irrigation system and learn more about the ways it has been a critical piece of engineering in agriculture across the globe.
  • Next, we’ll visit the villages of Saiq and Wadi Bani Habib, which overlook a spectacular landscape of dramatic peaks, gorges, and wadis. If you love exploring abandoned places, you’ll love wandering around parts of Wadi Bani Habib, now quiet and crumbling.
  • The afternoon is at your leisure. Regroup in the evening for a set dinner, and, of course, some walnuts and apricots.

Day 5 : Overnight in Wahiba Sands

  • Today we’ll rise early for a drive to Nizwa, one of the oldest cities in Oman and a former religious, educational, and trade hub. We’ll arrive in time for the weekly Friday morning cattle market, which is a fascinating spectacle of furious bidding. Nizwa itself lies on a plain surrounded by a thick palm oasis and some of Oman’s highest mountains, and is famed for crafting silver khanjars (traditional daggers). We’ll see many of these khanjars, plus pottery, baskets, and silver jewelry, as we stroll through the souq.
  • We’ll also stop by the Nizwa Fort, which was built in the 17th century and dominates the town center with its 125-foot round tower.
  • Our adventure continues as we head to the desert. Wahiba Sands is a vast, undulating, red and white sea of sand and dunes rising up to 650 feet. Its ever-shifting patterns are home to a variety of flora and fauna. Wahiba Sands is also home to the traditional Bedouin tribe, known for their hospitality and knowledge of the sands. To learn more, we’ll visit a Bedouin house set in this colorful expanse.
  • Tonight, we’ll enjoy dinner under the stars at our Desert Night Camp. Later, we’ll head to bed in large Bedouin-style individual tents, complete with en-suite bathrooms and cozy patios that provide panoramic vistas across the golden sands. But first, you’ll have to take advantage of the dazzling night sky stretching above a dark and empty landscape. This is an evening we doubt you’ll ever forget.

Day 6 : Camel Ride & Transfer to Salalah

  • This morning, we embark by camel! Wake to enjoy a desert ride on the resident, spittle-prone ungulates. Though we aren’t planning to race our camels, nor assign them prizes based on appearance, both of these are Bedouin traditions dating back thousands of years. In addition to camel races and beauty contests, Oman accords special status to their “Ships of the Desert,” which includes such institutions as the Sultanate’s Royal Camels Corps.
  • Afterward, we’ll visit a local Bedouin family. The English term, loaned from French, derives from the Arabic badawin, or “desert-dwellers.”
  • From here, we’ll continue to the airport for our flight to Salalah at 3:30 p.m. After our 5:15 p.m. arrival, we’ll transfer to the elegant Juweira Hotel. Here, we’ll enjoy dinner and boutique accommodations, both sharing regional notes.

Day 7 : Ancient Sites of Taqa & Salalah

  • After breakfast, we’ll head out to explore Taqah, a fishing village and old coastal town. Here we’ll visit Taqah Castle, a fine example of a relatively new fort built in the 19th century, with one of the best fort museums in the country.
  • We’ll proceed onwards to Khor Rori creek, the site of the ruined city of Samhuram and capital of ancient Arabia’s frankincense trade. Excavations have produced evidence of an ancient city with trade links by sea to destinations as distant as Greece. At this unique historical site, we’ll be treated to a short lecture by a local archaeologist.
  • Next we’ll visit Al Husn Souq, where frankincense crystals of Dhofar and typical Dhofari frankincense burners are sold. Walking along the city’s promenade, you’ll see single-story houses dwarfed by lofty, swaying palms. Al Husn Palace, summer residence of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, stands at one end of the promenade.
  • After lunch at a restaurant in Salalah, we’ll explore what is considered the “garden city” of the south. Experience the bounty of this tropical paradise at Garden Farms, which has coconut, banana, and papaya groves, as well as a variety of vegetable beds.
  • Continue to the biblical “Nabi Ayoub,” or Prophet Job’s Tomb,perched high up in the Jebels (mountains). The dramatic drive up, offering panoramic views of Salalah and its surrounding scenery and wildlife, is often the highlight of this trip.
  • Arrive back at your hotel in the afternoon and enjoy a free afternoon to rest or explore.
  • Tonight is our group’s farewell dinner. We’ll toast to our adventure together, and to more explorations in the future!


  • $5,995.00 USD
  • 8 days, 7 nights


$500 non-refundable deposit is required to secure your spot, as we have a very limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill extremely quickly. The full trip costs $5,995 ($500 deposit plus $5,495 final balance) and will cover all fixed costs including all accommodations, meals, and activities listed in the itinerary below.


To register for this trip, please send an email to our Regional Specialist at with your full name, phone number, and and the names of any additional travelers. We will be in touch with further details from there.


Please contact us by email at or call us at 800-282-8747 or 510-594-6028 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, or payment.



  • All lodging in double-accommodation rooms in modern, well-equipped hotels throughout the trip. (Single supplement for a private room is available for $1,500. Otherwise we’ll work to place singles together.)
  • Expert leadership, including both Richard Bangs and local guides.
  • Meals are included as noted in the itinerary.
  • Airport transfers and ground transportation as noted in the itinerary.
  • Basic medical and evacuation protection, purchased by Mountain Travel Sobek on your behalf.


Adventure travel works best with a small group of people. This trip requires a minimum of 10 guests in order to operate. We limit this trip to a maximum group size of 16 travelers (plus your guides, Richard Bangs, and support staff). Please check with us before purchasing airline tickets to confirm that your departure is guaranteed to operate.


Accommodations are based on double occupancy. If you prefer single accommodations, you must pay a single supplement fee of $1,500. If you are traveling alone and wish to share accommodations, we will assign you a roommate of the same gender. If there is not a roommate available, the single supplement fee will apply.


Itineraries and pricing are subject to change. This particular tour has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, whose schedules and availabilities may change in coming months. If any activity or attraction that is advertised is missed or not available, then we will always replace it with another activity or location of significant interest and value.


This is a fairly active tour, and while we will not be trekking, there will be plenty of walking and moving about each day, often in the sun. You should be comfortable with walking between two to four miles each day and spending long stretches of time outdoors and on your feet.


Accommodations in Oman, and especially in Muscat, tend to be quite high end. You will be staying in four-star hotels with top amenities while in the capital, and top quality lodgings throughout the trip, including your night in spacious Bedouin-style tents in Wahiba Sands.


You will be charged a non-refundable deposit of $500 per person to hold your space. The final payment of $5,495 will be due November 28, 2017. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the trip’s Terms & Conditions. For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional $1,500 will be included in the final payment.


  • International flights to and from Oman. (For assistance booking your tickets, we recommend Exito Travel: 800-655-4053,
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.
  • Personal travel insurance covering trip cancellation, lost baggage, etc.
  • Baggage charges.
  • Airport taxes (varies by location).
  • Medical immunizations.
  • Optional tipping to leader, guides and local staff.
  • Your Oman visa.


To register for this trip, please send an email to our Regional Specialist at with your full name, phone number, and and the names of any additional travelers. We will be in touch with further details from there.


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Travel Quote Video #2: “Travel Infuses Vigor and Elasticity….” Wed, 14 Jun 2017 07:00:08 +0000 “Travel infuses vigor and elasticity into every nerve and muscle; it unwearies the eye; it cools the skin; and the whole frame tingles with anticipation of the adventures of the day.” Do you agree? This is the second of our travel quote series, in partnership with Adidas Outdoor.  

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“Travel infuses vigor and elasticity into every nerve and muscle; it unwearies the eye; it cools the skin; and the whole frame tingles with anticipation of the adventures of the day.”

Do you agree?

This is the second of our travel quote series, in partnership with Adidas Outdoor.


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Travel Quote Video #1: “Travel is Living…” Wed, 14 Jun 2017 06:59:03 +0000 The first of our travel quote series, in partnership with Adidas: “Travel is living vicariously through yourself.” Do you agree?

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The first of our travel quote series, in partnership with Adidas: “Travel is living vicariously through yourself.” Do you agree?

The post Travel Quote Video #1: “Travel is Living…” appeared first on Richard Bangs.

The Richard Bangs YouTube Channels Hits 2 Million Views! Mon, 12 Jun 2017 01:38:25 +0000 The Richard Bangs Channel on YouTube achieved another noteworthy milestone last week, passing the two million views mark, making it one of the top sites for original travel video content in the world. Produced by Emmy-winning White Nile Media, Inc., the Richard Bangs Channel has over 300 original videos, and features destinations, hotels, airlines, restaurants, […]

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The Richard Bangs YouTube Channel Just Hit 2 Million Views!

The Richard Bangs Channel on YouTube achieved another noteworthy milestone last week, passing the two million views mark, making it one of the top sites for original travel video content in the world.

Produced by Emmy-winning White Nile Media, Inc., the Richard Bangs Channel has over 300 original videos, and features destinations, hotels, airlines, restaurants, advice, activities and adventures around the world. Its partners include such as Orbitz Worldwide, Adidas, Microsoft, PBS, Ex Officio, Travelsmith, Mountain Travel Sobek, Energizer, Cisco, Casio, Ford, Sony, Volvo, Yahoo, HP, Nikon, MSN, MSNBC, CIE Tours, to major airlines (Qatar, Etihad, Swiss Air, Air New Zealand, LAN) and tourist boards (Vermont, Bermuda, New York, Cayman Islands, Australia, Cancun, Ireland, Illinois, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, Switzerland, Jackson Hole, Florida, Cuba, Seattle), and on.

Since 2015, the Richard Bangs Channel has quadrupled its views and minutes watched on YouTube and continues to see steady growth and engagement with the high-quality videos it publishes on one of the world’s largest social media platforms.

Josh Winkler, former Orbitz Worldwide vice president of partner marketing, saidm “We have found that using video as inspiration is a critical step in the travel planning process, and that along with Richard Bangs’ unique perspective and expert recommendations, travelers will see a featured place as a premier destination and come check out all it has to offer.”

The production arm behind the videos published on the The Richard Bangs YouTube Channel, White Nile Media has been a pioneer in creating content that leads directly to bookings, the elusive value chain featuring a frictionless path from Inspiration to Trusted Information to Transactions. Orbitz case studies show as much as 114% increase in year-to-year booking revenues from White Nile Media video campaigns. See results here and here.

And White Nile Media has uniquely built a global distribution network that allows each video campaign to reach an audience of tens of millions through earned media.

“We create exceptional, evergreen, inspirational content with state-of-the-art equipment, and a talent pool that is the best in the world,” says Didrik Johnck, Executive Producer and Director for White Nile Media.

“We tell stories that clarify and motivate; that reveal the assets and layers of destinations; that enhance the character and essence of a place and its people,” says Laura Hubber, President of White Nile Media.

One of the most anticipated media productions the White Nile Media team has in the works is “Collision,” a new TV series that showcases the disappearing peoples of the world and explores the complex problems that result when a more powerful culture crashes into an original one. It shines a light on the miraculous history and present-day marvels of peoples hanging on to a way of life in the face of encroaching civilization. See the trailer here.

If you’re keen for meaningful, high-quality, broad-reach media coverage or celebration, the creatives at White Nile Media would love to explore the possibilities with you.

Contact us at:

Richard Bangs – – 310-821-2123

Didrik Johnck –

Josalin Saffer –

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Friends of Richard Save (FOR) 15% off Middle Fork of the Salmon River Whitewater Rafting Adventures Wed, 03 May 2017 10:31:30 +0000 Activity Level: Easy Trip Length: 6 days To Save 15% as a Friend of Richard’s, Call 1-888-831-7526 and mention Special Code “MFS15RB” when you book on the Jul 9, Jul 17, Jul 25, and August 10, 2017 departures. Rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is both a fun-filled ride down one of the world’s greatest […]

The post Friends of Richard Save (FOR) 15% off Middle Fork of the Salmon River Whitewater Rafting Adventures appeared first on Richard Bangs.

Join the Best Rafting Trip in the U.S.A.

Activity Level: Easy

Trip Length: 6 days

To Save 15% as a Friend of Richard’s, Call 1-888-831-7526 and mention Special Code “MFS15RB” when you book on the Jul 9, Jul 17, Jul 25, and August 10, 2017 departures.

Rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is both a fun-filled ride down one of the world’s greatest rivers and an unbelievable voyage through time, where layered rock strata and shifting landscapes give way to riverside hot springs, pit dwellings once inhabited by the Shoshone people, and old Gold Rush homesteads that still leave their imprints today. It boasts more than 100 unforgettable rapids in 100 miles, 60 of which are Class III to Class IV in the early departures—a blast for amateurs and pros alike! Mountain Travel Sobek offers one of the best-value trips, providing a deluxe camping and boating experience guided by Idaho’s strongest rafters. You can choose a new boating experience every day: relax on an oar boat, get wet with a team of paddlers, or captain your own vessel on one of our inflatable “ducky” kayaks. With afternoons spent relaxing in natural hot springs, hiking, fishing, visiting ancient rock pictographs, and cooling off in the refreshing waters of Veil Falls, you don’t have to worry about being an expert—all you have to do is enjoy the ride. This is, quite simply, one of the greatest adventures of all time!

Mountain Travel Sobek is an equal opportunity employer and operates under special use permit with the Salmon-Challis National Forest.


Jun 14 – 19, 2017

Jun 23 – 28, 2017

Jul 01 – 06, 2017

Jul 09 – 14, 2017

Jul 17 – 22, 2017

Jul 25 – 30, 2017

Aug 02 – 07, 2017:

(Special family departure with MTS CEO Kimberly Daley! Children under 16 $250 off!)

Aug 10 – 15, 2017


2017 Prices
$1,995  (June departures only)
$2,195  (all other departures)
$2,395  (Special Solar Eclipse trip Aug 18)
$24       USFS Recreation Enhancement Act Fee

6 to 20 trip members


Call 1-888-831-7526 and mention Special Code “MFS15RB” when you book on the Jul 9, Jul 17, Jul 25, and August 10, 2017 departures.


Day 1: Meet in Stanley, Idaho

In the morning, you’ll take a bus ride from Stanley, Idaho into the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. At Boundary Creek, the put-in for most Middle Fork rafting trips, you’ll meet all of the river guides who will accompany you on your journey. You’ll also receive a short safety briefing, and have a chance to ask questions and fill up your water bottle before the river ride officially begins. Then, you’ll choose your boating experience for the day: you may decide on a relaxing ride in an oar boat, where a guide does all the rowing so you can sit back and enjoy the scenery, or you may opt for a spot in the paddle boat, where you and five other MTS guests paddle through the rapids under the captainship of a guide. You’ll have the opportunity to try out all boating options during the course of the trip.

Once on the river, you’ll encounter the first of the Middle Fork’s hundreds of rapids, which on Day 1 will including Sulphur Slide, Velvet Falls (the biggest of the day), the Chutes, and Powerhouse. You’ll also enjoy remarkable scenery. On either side of the river, wooded banks rise up thousands of feet. On some slopes, you can see where past wildfires burnt out whole swaths of forest, leaving behind eerie charred tree trunks and plenty of room for Indian paintbrush and other wildflowers to flourish—a special glimpse into nature’s incredible regenerative power. You may also make a stop at the former cabin of miner Joe Bump, who once panned for gold in these parts.

In the late afternoon, you will arrive at one of the Middle Fork’s beautiful and pristine campgrounds. The exact sites where you’ll stay vary from trip to trip, but all offer something special, whether it’s breathtaking views, natural hot springs, or trails to explore. Or maybe you’ll just prefer to relax with a delicious dinner and a glass of wine. On all nights during your trip, you’ll enjoy appetizers and a meal prepared by the guides, followed by hot drinks and a campfire.

NOTE: You will need to arrive in Stanley on the day prior to Day 1 of your trip. There will be a meeting at the River 1 store in Stanley at 7:00pm. After our orientation at the River 1 Store, you’ll have an opportunity to purchase last-minute supplies (not to mention huckleberry ice cream and coffee from the store’s small café!), and you’ll receive your drybags for the trip. You can then return to your hotel to repack your gear in the drybags and rest up for the adventure ahead.

NOTE: Late July through August departures have no Class IV rapids and can be enjoyed by anyone.

  • Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Middle Fork Camp

Take the best rafting trip in America this summer - the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Day 2: On the river—Pistol Creek

Today will begin like all of your days on the river, with a hot breakfast at around 7:30 a.m. and departure from camp at around 9 a.m. On the water, Class III rapid Pistol Creek provides an exciting jump start to the day. After a few hours you’ll stop for lunch, which may include sandwiches, salads, fresh fruit and veggies, chips, and cookies. Then, if water conditions permit, the guides will bring out a few inflatable “ducky” kayaks for those who want the thrill of paddling through the rapids on their own.

In the afternoon, you may make a stop at the Indian Creek Guard Station on the river’s left bank to learn a bit about the history of the area’s native inhabitants, members of the Shoshone tribe know as the Sheepeater. Then, it’s back into the boats to traverse Pongo rapid and coast into camp around 5 p.m. You’ve traveled about 19 miles downriver today, and can now relax and enjoy some appetizers, drinks, and free time before dinner is served around 7—maybe lasagna, salmon, fajitas, chicken curry, or steak cooked over the fire. Then, play card games or charades with your fellow travelers, or browse the MTS library—a box containing books about the area’s geology, history, and most quirky denizens. You may also choose to simply sit by the fire and watch as star after star appears in the night sky above you.

On low-water trips, everyone will have a chance to paddle through the rapids in inflatable kayaks—a really fun way to enjoy the river. We usually put the kayaks out right after Pistol Creek rapid on this day.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Middle Fork Camp

Take the best rafting trip in America this summer - the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Day 3: On the river—Sunflower/Loon Creek Hot Springs

After breakfast and packing up camp, sail through Marble Falls and Ski Jump, the rapids that start off the day. The water calms down a little after that, making this a good day to fly-fish for cutthroat trout off one of the oar boats (catch-and-release only), or to take a refreshing swim. You may also stop at the hot springs at Sunflower or Loon Creek, where you can have a relaxing soak while you keep an eye out for mountain goats and bighorn sheep—they like to use the rocks around the hot springs as natural mineral licks.

You may notice that today the landscape has changed from that of forest to high desert, and you’re surrounded by sagebrush, golden hillsides, and vibrant blue sky. After lunch, perhaps you’ll explore the terrain by taking a short hike to one of the many cliffs along the river that bear Sheepeater pictographs. Look for depictions of dogs, which the Sheepeater relied on as pack animals because horses couldn’t survive the harsh terrain. You may also notice sheep, human figures, and handprints painted in red on the rock. Then there are, of course, a few more rapids to enjoy before you pull into camp after about 15 miles on the river.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Middle Fork Camp
Take the best rafting trip in America this summer - the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

The Sheepeater Shoshone Indians, who lived along the banks of the Middle Fork for thousands of years, relied on native Bighorn Sheep for much of their food, clothing, and even for making their prized ram’s horn bows. Assignment photo. August 2008. Chad Case. MFS

Day 4: On the river—Tappan Falls

Some of the Middle Fork’s most thrilling rapids await on the 18 miles of river you’ll run today. Start off with the big waves of Tappan I, Tappan Falls, New Tappan, and Aparajo. As you continue downriver, keep a lookout for wildlife. You’re likely to observe bighorn sheep grazing along the shore, totally unperturbed by our presence as we paddle by. You might also catch sight of bald eagles, osprey, herons, river otters, and black bears.

You can also see evidence of past human inhabitants on the riverbanks. Look for shallow circular depressions in the ground—these are the sites of Sheepeater pit dwellings. And in the afternoon, you’ll pass by Kaufman’s Cave, where a Scottish prospector named Clarence Kaufman built a door over the tiny cave’s entrance and lived for about four years.

Among the wildlife we may see on the Middle Fork are bighorn sheep, beaver, river otters, mink, porcupine, black bear, and coyote. Wolves and cougars also live in the region, but are less frequently seen.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Middle Fork Camp

Take the best rafting trip in America this summer - the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Day 5: On the river—Impassable Canyon

Today you’ll coast into the Impassable Canyon, and the most spectacular scenery you’ve seen yet. Reddish-gray granite cliffs loom over the water, and the sharp folds of the rock strata provide striking evidence of the canyon’s geologically tumultuous past. While you’re taking in your surroundings, you’ll also experience some serious whitewater: you’ll run rapids like Driftwood, Haystack, Bernard Creek, Earthquake (look out for Earthquake Rock, which sits exactly on the 45th parallel, peeking out of the middle of the river), Jack Creek, and Goalpost.

In the afternoon, you might make the steep hike up to Veil Falls, a beautiful, icy-cold waterfall that you can duck under for a little respite from the heat. Once back on the river, you’ll pass through Weber, Redside, and Cliffside rapids. You’ll also pass the homestead of Earl Parrot, a hermit who moved to the banks of the Middle Fork in the early 1900s and stayed for about 40 years. He built wooden ladders up the cliff walls to get between his two small cabins, a feat that will truly amaze you once you see the towering canyon walls for yourself.

Once at camp, you’ll be rewarded with a special last-night dinner and maybe even some champagne. Before you turn in, enjoy your final campfire with your rafting companions.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Middle Fork Camp

Take the best rafting trip in America this summer - the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Day 6: Depart for home

While Day 6 is only a half-day of rafting—about 10 miles on the river—it offers the biggest rapids of the trip: Foreplay, Rubber, Rubber II, and Hancock. After a thrilling morning, you’ll reach the confluence of the Middle Fork and the main Salmon River, where you’ll leave your boats behind and board a bus ride back to Stanley (about a 4 hour drive). You’ll stop for lunch along the way and arrive in Stanley by late-afternoon. You could also choose to stay in Salmon. Either way, you will need to arrange accommodation for tonight.


Take the best rafting trip in America this summer - the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Middle Fork Camp — Idaho

Your Middle Fork camping experience includes five nights on the banks of Idaho’s Salmon River, with full porterage and set up. Our dome-style tents are large enough to stand up in, and include cots, Thermarest pad, and fresh sleeping bags and pillows. You can even take a hot shower after a day on the water! All camping spots are on beautiful beaches or plateaus right next to the river, and you’ll have fantastic views every day. At lunch and dinner time you’ll always enjoy gourmet meals at the best table in the house! Camping along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River has many incredible moments, from eagles soaring overhead to night-time stories around the campfire—to an amazing feeling of camaraderie with your guides and group. And, as there is no rush to get to camp, you can take the time to enjoy activities out of the raft, including hiking to waterfalls, finding ancient pictographs, and relaxing in natural hotsprings.


“My MTS Middle Fork Salmon River Trip was outstanding in every respect. The river is stunning, beginning with its intimate canyon, flowing into a majestic riparian paradise! The guides’ skills, knowledge, warmth and repartee were all top notch!” Diane Poslosky

“It’s hard to imagine a more spectacular and pristine part of the world! I didn’t imagine drinking straight from streams, seeing eagles, gazing at so many stars, hiking up waterfalls. Every moment felt magical. I also really appreciated the top-notch quality of logistics—food, gear, pacing, camp spots—and the enthusiasm, expertise, experience, skill, and general wonderfulness of the guides. This was the trip of a lifetime. I came home energized, inspired, and so grateful for the experience. My soul is enriched and my being is invigorated—thank you.” Natasha Hoehn

“The Middle Fork of the Salmon with MTS is the most exciting and thrilling trip to do in the US.” Randolph Churchill

“My husband and I live in the densest populated city in the densest populated state of the USA. We love nature and have been to the National Parks but, they are always crowded during the times we are able to go. It was glorious to spend five days seeing just a few people and what felt like a million miles of river, rocks and sky and sharing the experience with a nice amenable group of travelers and guides. We were awed. We also liked the excellent organization of the trip. This was our first trip camping or whitewater rafting for more than one night and we were a little nervous about it, but, everything seemed to go exactly as planned and we felt the guides always had our backs and we were able to relax and savor this magnificently unique experience.” Maureen Foyle


Call 1-888-831-7526 and mention Special Code “MFS15RB” when you book on the Jul 9, Jul 17, Jul 25, and August 10, 2017 departures.

The post Friends of Richard Save (FOR) 15% off Middle Fork of the Salmon River Whitewater Rafting Adventures appeared first on Richard Bangs.

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The Best River Trip in America! Rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River Wed, 03 May 2017 10:06:35 +0000 View the Itinerary for this Summer’s Rafting Adventure on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River  When I was a river guide on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon I found myself with a couple of weeks off between assignments. I had read Tom Brokaw’s account of his wild trip down the Middle of […]

The post The Best River Trip in America! Rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River appeared first on Richard Bangs.

The Best River Trip in America - the view

North America. USA. Idaho. Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Day 3.

View the Itinerary for this Summer’s Rafting Adventure on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River 

When I was a river guide on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon I found myself with a couple of weeks off between assignments. I had read Tom Brokaw’s account of his wild trip down the Middle of the Salmon in a magazine called West and was drawn to feral nature of the watercourse. It was already a fabled whitewater run, and celebrity boaters such as Robert Kennedy, Arthur Godfrey, George Romney and Jimmy Carter added luster to the legends. It was, by many estimations, the finest river run in America, and I had to give it a go.

I had the time off, but two minor problems remained: I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have a raft. I recruited fellow Colorado guide Breck O’Neill, and together we hitched to his mom’s house in San Jose, where we convinced her to loan us her station wagon. We also picked up Breck’s high school friends Dave Plapp and Mary Pollino, who, while not river runners, wanted to share in the adventure. Together we headed for central Idaho, the long way—in that we first went to Vernal, Utah (500 miles out of our way) and the warehouse of my employer, Hatch River Expeditions.

I cornered co-owner Don Hatch and asked if we could borrow a raft for our journey. Everyone knew that the Middle Fork was Don’s favorite; besides, his father, who had recently died, had made a pioneering run down the river in 1936. So, I thought we would be tugging at his heart strings with our appeal. Nonetheless, Don was not enthusiastic about loaning out one of the tools of his trade, especially to a young buck who the season before had ripped the bottom out of a company raft on the Colorado. I persisted, likening our quest to a holy mission, and at last he consented, warning that we had to return the raft in exactly the same condition or we would have to pay for full replacement. He then pulled a black blob from the back of the warehouse, dusted off a layer of talcum powder, and presented us with our means of conveyance.

“She’s one of my best boats. Take real good care of her,” Don curled his lips.

I recognized that smile. It was on the face of the dealer who sold me a 1963 VW bug that blew up a week after I bought it. Still, we graciously accepted Don’t offer, strapped the frame and oars on top of the station wagon, pushed the blob in the back, and waved goodbye.

The drive north into the massive western edge of the Rocky Mountains was humbling. To an easterner accustomed to the long, rounded ridges of the Appalachians, these mountains seemed desolate and impenetrable. No wonder the Middle Fork had been spared dams, highways and other developments, though not for lack of trying.

My son Walker and I on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

In 1805 William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, attempted to explore the Salmon as a possible water route to the Columbia River, but he turned back when it became clear the rapids were impassable by boat and the canyon walls were too steep for horses and men. A century later, with the advent of specialized boats, access by water became a reality, but the rugged terrain still kept all but the most determined, and intrepid, at bay.

The following twilight we trundled into the Stanley Basin and at dusk arrived in Stanley, Idaho. We quickly found the hot spot in town—the thermal springs—and immediately slipped in for a soak. The night was so crisp the stars seemed to crackle and in the torpid curls of steam I could see the eddies and waves of the river we were about to encounter.

Designated by Congress in 1968 as part of the National Wild and Scenic River system, the Middle Fork of the Salmon is the last great American river remaining, throughout its course, unfettered by dams or hydro-projects of any kind. It begins life at the confluence of Bear Valley and Marsh creeks 20 miles northwest of the hot springs we were enjoying. The source was discovered in 1863 by a mining party led by Captain John Stanley, for whom the closest town is named. Running in the shadows of the two-mile-high peaks of the Sawtooth Range, the river plunges 1600 feet in its 104-mile race to a union with the Main Salmon. Enroute it cascades through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, named in 1984 after the late Idaho senator cited it as one of America’s “premiere wilderness champions.”

At dawn the next morning we bounced down to the Dagger Falls put-in and, for the first time, unrolled our borrowed boat—a thin-skinned cotton neoprene survival raft shaped like an Easter basket. The raft was designed to carry a dozen survivors on the open sea with the sinking of the mother ship; it was not meant for sharp rocks or downriver negotiation. Yet, in a pinch, penny-pinching outfitters often used these boats, which could be purchased as government surplus, to carry clients on lenient runs. Our version looked as it if had already run the Styx—it was covered with patches and caramel streaks of hardened Barge glue.

“If this boat doesn’t make it, we’re all responsible for paying for a replacement,” I reminded our little group as we all stared at the wad of rubber at our feet, a wad that looked more like a deal seal than a raft.

Breck and Mary nodded in agreement. They were anxious to get on the river, whatever the costs or consequences. Dave took a couple minutes before replying; he’d never been rafting and was questioning the wisdom of this little excursion.

View the Itinerary for this Summer’s Rafting Adventure on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River 

But then he hesitantly said, “Okay, I’m in,” and we prepared to cast our fates to the river.

After re-patching a half-dozen pinhole leaks, tying down the orange wooden frame, attaching the nine-foot white ash oars, we shoved off into the fast, cold currents of the Middle Fork and held on for a ride down a bolt of liquid lightning.

Almost immediately, before I had managed more than a dozen strokes, we whizzed by the first tributary on the left, Sulphur Creek. We launched at an elevation of 5,700 feet and were dropping fast, some 42 feet per mile, on a water slide with eddies, down a bowling alley with no gutters. I was at the oars, pulling frantically against the current to slow us down, but we were in the river’s grip and were being pulled toward our first test: the coarse fabric of Velvet Falls.

The Best River Trip in America - on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

North America. USA. Idaho. Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Day 1 put in at Boundary Creek.

The face of the ranger at the Challis National Forest stations had creased to a wide smile when he told us of Velvet Falls, five miles below the put-in, the first class IV rapids on the run. He said the run on the wrong side—the right—dropped sheer and spun a web of whitewater chaos. The trick to running Velvet was to spot the large marker rock on the left while approaching and then position for a left-side plunge.

The advice seemed easy to heed, only now in the midst of the millrace, I couldn’t tell how fast we were going or how far we’d traveled.

“Think we’ve gone three miles yet?” I called out.

“I don’t think so,” Dave answered as we barreled down the right bank.

Seconds later, Breck screamed, “There’s the marker rock. Pull over!”

No way could I make the left shore, so I strained my back, pumped the oars like pistons, and managed to scrape the eastern bank. Mary jumped out with the stern line and tried to hold us. But the boat wouldn’t brake, and she was dragged along the lichen-covered rocks, desperately grasping the end of the rope.

“It’s burning,” Mary’s face wrenched in pain.

“Don’t let go,” Dave shouted back, but it was a useless call.

The rope yanked like a snapping winch cable from her raw hands, and raft shot back into the current, heading for the hairy lip of the terrible right-hand side of Velvet Falls.

The three of us braced for the drop, and down we fell. The raft struck the bottom and started to twist sideways, as though crouching for a capsize. I took one concentrated, correcting stroke with the left oar, and tang, the oarlock snapped, sending the oar into orbit, and me into the duffle pile. The raft kissed the edge of capsizing, then plopped back down and spun toward the right shore, where Breck was able to secure the boat to a tree.

The damage was minimal; the loop of the oarlock was gone, probably two dollars’ worth of metal. But, it was a critical piece, and we had no replacement. So, we found a sturdy piece of Engelmann spruce branch. I whittled it down to the thoe-pin size with my Swiss army knife, and then lashed the oar to the makeshift pin. The process took an hour, about the time it took Mary to thrash through the overgrowth to reach us. The jury-rigged oarpin setup didn’t inspire confidence, especially since we had 34 rated rapids to go, but it was all we had. So, with equanimity punctured, we reloaded and headed downstream.

The going was easier now, although rowing with an oarlock on one side and a crude thoe-pin lashed to the oar on the other, made for less-than-smooth navigation. It was like running on crutches.

The next day we shot through Artillery and Cannon Creek rapids on target, not even a powder burn. We also passed tributaries named Mortar, Springfield, Winchester, Remington, Colt and Popgun. The hot sun broke along the black raft, but the water was refreshingly cold when it splashed my skin, and it was clearer than any gin I had ever encountered. In the calm stretches I could lean over the raft and watch the colored, cobbled riverbed glide beneath me as though we were riding on glass. Sometimes the river was utterly still, and the only movement the lazy turning of my own thoughts.

The Best River Trip in America - on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

North America. USA. Idaho. Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Day 2.

As though detonated, we blasted through the barrel-tight S-turn of Pistol Creek, and then purled into Indian Creek, a level strip of bank where small planes bring in clients and gear during the later weeks of summer when the water is too low to launch upstream at Dagger Falls.

Though the river was fattening with each feeder stream, it didn’t slow down, and for the next 30 miles we were treated to a full course of Class II and Class III rapids, all in a setting that would rate VII on the I-VI scale. Peaks surrounded us on all sides, the Salmon River Mountains to the west, the Bighorn Crags to the east, some craggy with bald rock faces, others blanketed with quilts of conifers and golden grasses. The canyon we were traversing was carved from the Idaho Batholith, a 100- by 200-mile mass of granite that once lay under volcanos long since eroded away, and dated at over 100 million years old.

On the third day, we came to Tappan Falls. Actually, a series of four closely spaced drops, Tappan is rocky even in high water. The lashing holding the makeshift oarlock had loosened so that the blade of the oar bounced though the water as though rubber. I managed to steer the raft down the roiling right side of the river, but in the second drop the boat grated over a kernel of exposed granite, and the sound of the raft ripping drowned the rapids. In a flash, Dave and Mary and the duffel pile were sucked out of sight, as though dropped through a trapdoor. I looked down between my legs and saw the river. The raft’s bottom was gone, torn into two segments that flapped in the water like the wings of a stingray.

Frantically we wrestled the remains of our raft to shore, finally connecting at a small eddy below the last of the Tappan drops. Dave and Mary has splashed to shore a couple of hundred yards downstream and had made their way back up to our anchorage as Breck and I pulled the blob up onto a level spit of shore that was overrun with sharp grass, thorn bushes, and ninebark. A bow-to-stern rip bisected the floor, a rip that would take at least half a day to repair. So, we gathered what had been retrieved of our gear, spread it out like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to dry, and I set to work sewing the floor with a huge hooked needle and a spool of 30-pound-test nylon fishing line.

Clouds of mosquitoes rolled around our heads, and I spent more time scratching and slapping than patching. With the last rays of sunlight, I finished, pleased with my handiwork. I stepped onto one of the raft’s tubes to raise my hand in triumph, and an explosion threw me to the ground. My weight had burst the tube. Half the boat was suddenly deflated, looking like a collapsed lung. While most inflatable whitewater rafts have at least four independent chambers, and some have six, our little craft had just two. I looked closely; the fabric of the tube was rotten. The whole boat was cursed. Our expedition was coming apart at the seams. And we were halfway down the river, with the biggest rapids yet to come.

I suffered through a miserable night in my wet goose down sleeping bag, listening to the river making obscene swallowing noises by our bivouac. With the first frosty light, I was up and patching. The repairs were finished by breakfast, but it took another half day for the glue to set. Dave, looking wan and feeble, had spent much of the night bent behind a tree. He was afflicted with giardiasis, picked up, we suspected from the untreated Middle Fork water we’d all shared.

By noon we were on the water again. We had only inflated the raft 80 percent to ease the pressure of its flimsy skin. We made it through Aparejo and then Haystack, where another boater had drowned the year before. At the confluence of Big Creek, we entered Impassable Canyon, where the worst of the Middle Fork rapids torn holes in the river. The gorge was named by U.S. First Cavalry Captain Reuben S. Bernard in 1879 when he led an ill-conceived expedition to capture the Sheepeater Indians in the area and was turned back by the terrain. Our expedition seemed equally ill-conceived. The river was now huge, the size of the Colorado, and a cold wind blew upstream as though from a tomb. We ran Porcupine Rapids with no new difficulties, then we careened through the center of Redside, a major rapid named for its colorful cutthroat trout.

The Best River Trip in America - on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

North America. USA. Idaho. Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Day 5. Assignment photo. MFS

Suddenly the floor I had so meticulously mended split open again, and once more the river yawned beneath me. I was out of control. My strokes meant nothing. And we were now in the angled waves of Weber Falls.

I struggled with the oars, threw my weight to the high side as we plunged through wave after giant wave, and saw three companions doing the same, faces white as the water. We dropped into a hole sideways, the frame cracked, and my tube patch blew out. Somehow, we managed to hobble into the calm water below right-side-up, with everyone miraculously still in what was left of the boat.

Again, we pulled over for repairs, but I had used all the Barge cement glue last round. Dave was slapping his sides, and his speech was slurred—the beginnings of hypothermia. We talked of hiking out, but the 4,000-foot-high walls were too steep. The gorged was named Impassable for a reason. With no interrupting edge of riverbank, the sheer flat rock face of dark gray granite formed a cryptlike chamber that revealed no end or exit. The map showed just ten river miles to go, and about as many rapids. We decided to go for it.

First, we re-laid the patch that had popped off. Without new glue, it barely stuck, so Mary agreed to sit on the patch, which reduced the situation to a slow leak. Then, we fastened the nozzle of the foot pump to the valve of the leaking tube with duct tape. Breck sat on the thwart with the foot pump in his lap and continued to pump with his hands as I rowed.

We limped through Cliffside, then with five miles left we rolled into Rubber. The waves were huge, as big as anything on the Colorado, and we rode them as though surfers on the North Shore. In the last wave, the raft pitched up a crest, stalled at the top, and bent both the bow and the stern on opposite sides of the wave, and again we heard a horrifying pop.

The other tube had split a seam, and half the raft immediately deflated. We all scrambled to a perch on the tube with the patch, and Breck continued to pump.

The frame hung limply, half in the water, completely useless. There was no way to row to shore. Dave threw me a terrified glance. All we could do was hang on. The blob with four passengers drooped through Hancock, Devil’s Tooth, House Rocks, and Jump Off Rapids, and then we were finished. Like shipwreck survivors hanging onto flotsam, we drifted into the confluence, the clear water of the Middle Fork disappearing into the gray water of the Main.

When I returned the shredded blob of a boat to Don Hatch, I complained it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Don insisted it had been in perfect condition before we trashed it, and held us to our end of the bargain—we had to pay for a replacement. I swallowed and asked how much, thinking he’d want a couple thousand or more.

“$50, and we’ll call it even,” he grinned that grin.

I peeled the bills and grinned back. The moment was incalculable; the trip priceless.

The Best River Trip in America - on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

North America. USA. Idaho. Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Day 4.

View the Itinerary for this Summer’s Rafting Adventure on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River 


The post The Best River Trip in America! Rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River appeared first on Richard Bangs.

Explore Iran: Treasures of Persia (September 2017) Sat, 15 Apr 2017 01:29:43 +0000 Trip dates: September 15 – 29, 2017 Trip Highlights Journey through Iran and visit four UNESCO World Heritage Sites—Persepolis, Pasargadae, Isfahan’s Jame’ Mosque and Meidan Emam Travel with expert guide Saeid Haji-Hadi (aka Hadi), who has been leading tours in Iran for almost 20 years Visit a colorful and crowded 18th-century bazaar, where vendors sell […]

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Trip dates: September 15 – 29, 2017

Trip Highlights

  • Journey through Iran and visit four UNESCO World Heritage Sites—Persepolis, Pasargadae, Isfahan’s Jame’ Mosque and Meidan Emam
  • Travel with expert guide Saeid Haji-Hadi (aka Hadi), who has been leading tours in Iran for almost 20 years
  • Visit a colorful and crowded 18th-century bazaar, where vendors sell Persian rugs, spices, copper handicrafts, and antiques
  • Experience the warmth and friendliness of the Persian people as you immerse yourself in 2,500 years of continuous history

Why Travel to Iran?

For thousands of years before it was known as the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world called this land of enchantment “Persia.” The warmth of the Persian people is legendary, and visitors are considered a gift. Home to some of the world’s most renowned and best-preserved archaeological sites, Iran is a veritable treasure trove of art and history. Starting and ending in Tehran, you’ll explore the cities of Shiraz, Yazd, and Isfahan, and learn about the country’s rich, textured past while visiting ancient ruins, palaces, and world-class museums. You’ll wander through vibrant bazaars and discover priceless treasures and dazzling beauty, including Iran’s crown jewels and mosques—beautifully decorated with blue and aqua tile mosaic. With the knowledge and experience of our local guide who’s led trips here for over 20 years, you’ll be one of the few lucky travelers to discover this unique destination.


For booking details and inquires, please contact Brian Allen at


2017 Prices

**$7,595 (6-18 members)–special September 15 departure with explorer Richard Bangs**

$1,600 single supplement


Day 1: Welcome to Iran!

Welcome to Tehran, the capital city and modern heart of Iran! After arriving at Tehran’s international airport early in the morning, a Mountain Travel Sobek representative will meet you outside the customs and immigration area at the airport, brief you on your immediate arrangements, and escort you to your hotel. There will be a group meeting with your leader at around 10 am on Day 1.

Our hotel is situated adjacent to Laleh Park—Tehran’s version of New York’s Central Park. This large, well-kept park has many walking paths and is home to Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which has a fascinating collection of works by modern Iranian painters and a large collection of Western modern art. In addition to the art museum, we’ll also take a tour of Tehran’s stunning Carpet Museum, which has more than 36,000 square feet of exhibition space containing the largest collection of Persian carpets on the planet! Tonight we’ll enjoy dinner at Zeytun restaurant.

  • Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Laleh Hotel

Day 2: Discover the jewels of Tehran

We’ll start the day with a buffet breakfast, before driving to the city center to visit one of the gates of old Tehran. We’ll then spend the rest of the morning visiting the National Museum of Iran, which features some of the world’s most valuable Persian antiquities right up to the modern Islamic era. After lunch, prepare to be dazzled by the largest collection of jewels in the world at the Crown Jewels Museum located in the National Treasury. Enjoy dinner with the group this evening.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Laleh Hotel

Day 3: Walk through Tehran’s Sa’ad Abad Palace Complex

After our buffet breakfast, we’ll begin a morning tour of Sa’ad Abad Palace Complex, the former residence and working office of the Pahlavi kings (Shahs). Walking through the hills of this huge complex of palaces, you’ll feel the difference in temperature between here and the main city. Later, we’ll explore the Reza Abbasi Museum, which showcases Persian art dating back to the second millennium B.C., including an impressive collection of gold and silver Achaemenid and Sassanid artifacts. We’ll have lunch at a local restaurant before returning to the hotel to rest and pack for tomorrow’s drive to Yazd.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Laleh Hotel

Day 4: Take a scenic drive to Yazd

Today we’ll drive on the highway to Yazd, passing mountains, desert, and a salt lake. En route we’ll visit 12th-century Jame’ mosque in Ardestan and enjoy lunch in a local restaurant. Next we’ll head to Na’in to visit an early 11th-century Seljuq mosque and an 18th-century Safavid Persian traditional house, before taking and a walk around the town’s ancient citadel and old neighborhoods. This evening we’ll check into our hotel in Yazd.

(Driving time: 8 hours approx. with rest stops, lunch, and visits on the way)

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Yazd Arg Hotel

Day 5: Explore Yazd, one of the oldest towns on earth

With a history of more than 5,000 years, Yazd is regarded by UNESCO as one of the oldest towns on earth. We’ll start the day by exploring the 15th-century Mirchakhmaq Square, followed by a visit to the water museum, which showcases an impressive desert water supply system. Yazd is also a center of Zoroastrian culture and we’ll visit the Zoroastrian Fire Temple, which holds a fire that has been kept alight continuously since 470 A.D. In the temple’s “Tower of Silence,” we’ll see a circular, raised structure used to expose their dead, much like the traditional Tibetan “sky burial.”  Then we take a short ride to the nearby town of Saryazd to visit an ancient desert rural citadel, where people stored their precious personal belongings—similar to a bank deposit system today. Its one of the earliest in the world and used since the Sassanid period! We’ll also visit the caravanserai there before heading back to town for a look around the old Bazaar of Yazd.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Yazd Arg Hotel

Day 6: Stroll through the serpentine streets of Yazd

We’ll start the day with a visit to 14th-century Jame’ Mosque, known for its lofty minarets and exquisite blue tilework. From here, we’ll stroll through the serpentine back alleys of the old quarters of the city, visiting the prison of Alexander, the 12-Imam Mosque, and Lariha House, one of the most beautiful and splendid aristocratic houses of the 13th century. All of the sights offer a glimpse of what Yazd was like centuries ago.

After tea and baqlava in an 18th-century public bathhouse, which was recently converted into a traditional Persian restaurant, we’ll visit the 18th-century Dowlat Abad Garden and its lofty wind tower. Wind towers are an important part of the architecture and have provided natural air conditioning for thousands of years. This one stands almost 110 feet tall and is considered an architectural masterpiece. Next we’ll visit Pire Sabze Chak Chak the Ka’ba of Zoroastrians, the most important Zoroastrian site in the world, located in the middle of nowhere!

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Yazd Arg Hotel

Day 7: Cross Lion Mountain and visit Pasargadae

Today we’ll travel to Shiraz via Shirkuh (“Lion”) Mountain. En route we’ll visit Abarqu, which is home to an ice-house and a 4,000-year-old cypress tree! One of the oldest trees on earth, it’s more than 80 feet tall and is protected as a national monument. After lunch, we’ll visit the archeological site of Pasargadae, the first Achaemenid capital and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, you’ll find the tomb of Cyrus the Great, the hillside fort of Tall-e Takht, and the remains of palaces and gardens.

(Driving time: 5 hours approx.)

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Bozorg Hotel

Day 8: Full-day tour of Shiraz

This morning we’ll head out on a full-day tour of Shiraz, “the town of roses and nightingales.” We’ll begin with Bagh-e Eram (Eram Garden) with its collection of magnificent roses, followed by a visit to the tomb of Hafiz, the 13th-century mystic and the most celebrated Persian poet. Later we’ll enter the old quarter of town, with its heavy traffic and noise, to pay a visit to the 9th-century old Jame’ mosque, Khan theological school, and the colorful nomadic bazaar.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Bozorg Hotel

Day 9: Tour ancient Persepolis

Today may very well be the highlight of our trip, with an excursion to Persepolis (the ancient ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid empire) and the royal necropolis in Naqsh-e Rostam. Persepolis was home of the King of Persia for over 200 years. It once was a vast complex located on an elevated terrace, with a series of ceremonial palaces, halls, the royal treasury, and tombs. Although it was burned to the ground by Alexander the Great in 330 BCE, you can still see the incredible remains of several monumental buildings, including the Gate of All Nations, Palace of 100 Columns, Palace of Darius, Xerxes’ Palace, Central Palace, and Apadana Palace.

After a tour of these exquisite antiquities, we’ll dine in a local restaurant and relax before returning to Shiraz. Back in Shiraz, we’ll have free time in the 18th-century Vakil Bazaar, a colorful, traditional, and crowded marketplace where you’ll find Persian rugs, spices, copper handicrafts, and antiques. We’ll end in Saray-e Moshir, an urban caravanserai at the south entrance of the bazaar that now functions as exhibition space for Iranian handicrafts.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Bozorg Hotel

Day 10: Journey through the scenic Zagros mountains to Isfahan

Today we’ll enjoy a scenic drive through the Zagros mountain range, passing villages along the way. We’ll stop to enjoy lunch in Yasuj, before arriving in Isfahan via Shahreza.

(Driving time: 7½ hours approx.)

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Abbasi Hotel or Kowsar Hotel

Day 11: Tour the colorful city of Isfahan

Isfahan (also spelled Esfahan) is a wonderful and colorful city filled with Islamic art and architecture. Four times the capital city of Iran, most recently in the 16th and 17th centuries under Shah Abbas the Great, the Persians called it Nesf-e-Jahan (half the world), meaning that to see it was to see half the world. Our tour begins with the Vank Cathedral, also known as The Church of the Saintly Sisters, which belongs to the Armenian Christians who came to this area in the early 17th century by the order of Shah Abbas the Great. In addition to the cathedral, it houses a museum, a historic printing press, and a large library which includes the first book printed in Iran, as well as an array of Armenian textiles.

From here we’ll walk (if time permits, otherwise we’ll drive) on the Sio-Se-Pol and Khajou bridges to Chehel-Sotoun Palace, where we’ll view large frescoes depicting court life, counterbalanced by miniature paintings of the 17th-century Safavid dynasty. Later we’ll visit the Jāmé mosque where you can study and enjoy the thousand-year history of the art and architecture of the Islamic world in Iran. At the end of the day we’ll have some time to watch the beauty of a Persian carpet show in a fantastic carpet shop.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Abbasi Hotel or Kowsar Hotel

Day 12: Explore gardens, mosques and teahouses in Isfahan

We’ll begin another fascinating day accompanied by the peaceful sound of water fountains and birds as we stroll through the harem garden of the 17th-century Hasht Behesht (Eight Paradises) Palace. A short walk leads us to the Royal Square (Naqsh-e Jahan), the main polo ground and entertainment center for Safavid kings. At 1,840 feet long—over five football fields—it’s the second largest square in the world, surrounded by buildings from the Safavid era including the Imam Mosque (also known as Shah Mosque) and Ali-Qapu Palace.

Across the square, we’ll visit Sheikh Lotfollah, the first ladies’ mosque in the Islamic world, accessed by women of the court via underground tunnel. Inside the double-shelled dome, we’ll find a peaceful ambience along with a magnificent mixture of calligraphy and tiles. As we depart the ladies’ mosque, we’ll window-shop our way through the covered bazaar to the ornate Imam Mosque, which contains an ocean of blue tilework along with a pool in the center of the courtyard. After relaxing and meditating for a while, we’ll enjoy a cup of tea at a traditional Sufi teahouse.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Abbasi Hotel or Kowsar Hotel

Day 13: Enjoy a scenic mountain drive to Kashan

Today we’ll take a scenic drive through the central mountains of Iran, the Karkas Mountains. En route, we’ll take a look at the façade of a Khanegah (monastery or Dervish house), visit a Sufi tomb with magnificent stalactite decorations, and observe a skillful artist in a ceramic workshop in Natanz. We’ll then move on to the remote and traditional village of Abyaneh, which has kept its ancient traditions, costumes, and dialect intact for hundreds of years.

Next, we’ll arrive in Kashan, where we’ll visit Bagh-e Fin, a prime example of the Persian-style gardens of the 17th century with a huge spring and two pavilions. We’ll also visit the 19th-century mausoleum of Emamzadeh Ebrahim, where we’ll see exceptional tile and mirror work that’s unique to Persian art. At the end of the day we’ll visit the bazaar and check into our hotel.

(Driving time: 3½ hours approx.)

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Negarestan Hotel or similar

Day 14: Explore the old quarter of Kashan and return to Tehran

Today we’ll take a morning drive to the old quarter of town, visiting Aqa Bozorg mosque, a traditional 19th-century Tabatabiha house, and a visit Teppe Sialk archeological mounds—one of the first human settlements in the world dating back to 6th millennium B.C. We’ll then hit the road towards Tehran, passing by Qom. We’ll stop for lunch and ice cream in Mahtab rest area, check into our hotel in Tehran later in the day. Enjoy a farewell dinner this evening!

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Espinas Hotel

Day 15: Bid farewell to Iran

Today we’ll bid the group and Iran farewell, and transfer to the international airport for homeward-bound flights.

  • Breakfast


Abbasi Hotel or Kowsar Hotel — Isfahan

The Abbasi Hotel is a living piece of history that was established as a hotel over 300 years ago, and still exhibits some of its original glory, as seen in the intricate tile work, the glittering turquoise dome of Chaharbagh Madresseh. The courtyard-facing guest rooms have a beautiful view of the lovely gardens, which are prettily lit at night. The hotel also has six different restaurants that offer traditional Iranian and continental dishes, as well as coffee shops and a tea house.

Bozorg Hotel — Shiraz

The Bozorg Hotel is a modern hotel with a pleasant and welcoming vibe. It offers all of the comforts and amenities—including a restaurant, gym, and pool—to allow for an enjoyable stay. The Bozorg’s interior design is spectacular, with guests consistently noting its “classy” appeal. The property is located next to the Tomb of Hafez, the famous Iranian poet, and boasts gorgeous views of Shiraz, renowned for being the birthplace of Persian art and culture. With its excellent combination of comfort, luxury, and location, the Bozorg Hotel offers travelers a comfortable base from which to enjoy the wonders of this ancient city.

Espinas Hotel — Tehran

The elegant Espinas Hotel is consistently noted as one of the premier hotels in Tehran. Beyond the opulent lobby, the boutique-style rooms and suites are spacious and well appointed, with comfortable beds and ample en-suite bathrooms. Guests looking to beat jet lag upon arrival in Iran can enjoy the gym, spa, and indoor pool. Espinas provides an elegant stay for all visitors—from visiting diplomats to business travelers to global adventurers—on the front or back end of their trips to Iran.

Laleh Hotel — Tehran

With its prime location near the Carpet Museum and charming cafés, the 380-room Laleh International Hotel provides standard accommodations in Tehran. The property features lovely courtyards, a 24-hour coffee shop, helpful staff, and generous breakfasts, and there is a lovely large park behind the hotel. The Laleh was formerly an Intercontinental, and has a nostalgic feel that will transport you to a different time and place.

Negarestan Hotel or similar — Kashan

The Negarestan Hotel provides modern accommodations for MTS guests on their journey through Iran. A dramatic mountain landscape beckons in the distance as travelers enjoy an excellent combination of comfort and beautiful scenery. Past travelers spoke admirably about the tranquil, quiet, and clean environment the Negarestan provides in addition to its comfortable beds and large rooms. There is a small café and pool table located inside the hotel, making it a convenient place to unwind after a day of exploring the cultural wonders of Iran.

Yazd Arg Hotel — Yazd

Located near the sacred Towers of Silence, Yazd Arg-E-Jadid Hotel has pride of place in this deeply spiritual and mysterious region of Iran. This new hotel features spacious, comfortable rooms with en-suite bathrooms fully stocked with toiletries. The breakfast and dinner buffets offer a wide selection of fresh food, and the hotel shop sells quality goods.


“Our trip to Iran was an outstanding success! Both of our guides were knowledgeable and well prepared, and played off of each other, incorporating lectures, poetry, literature, music, and historical sights. They were generous with their time and answered questions non-stop. Iran is an important country, strategically situated, with 3,000+ years of culture and history. I don’t think MTS could have done more for us.” Joseph Vosicky

Why Travel to Iran with MTS?

Mountain Travel Sobek have been operating their current Iran trip for five years and have taken dozens of guests into the country to experience its ancient sites and warm, welcoming culture. Even though the U.S. and Iran do not have diplomatic relations at this time, it is legal for Americans to travel to Iran. Our role at MTS is to navigate the continuing complexities involved in traveling to Iran by skillfully:

  • Handling the group’s tourist visa through a complex, four-step process
  • Coordinating other required paperwork, from journalist waivers to resumes
  • Keeping groups up-to-date on U.S. State Department travel warnings and alerts
  • Staying informed of any changing regulations in Iran for tourist groups
  • Handling all in-country operations and logistics
  • Registering the group with the State Department Enrollment Program (STEP)
  • Registering the group with the Swiss Embassy, who handle all Western country diplomatic matters in Iran

At MTS we strive to make our Iran adventures seamless, while also ensuring that guests are aware of the realities of travel within the country. For example, the best accommodations in Iran might not be equal to the standard experienced on other group trips and the itinerary not as flexible. What guests can be assured of on every trip is expert leadership from local guide Saeid Haji-Hadi (aka Hadi), who has been leading tours in Iran for almost 20 years.

For more info, contact: Brian Allen at

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{GEO-QUIZ} Submit Your Answer to Win Travel Merch Fri, 14 Apr 2017 01:46:48 +0000 Here’s a Geo-Quiz for you well-traveled folks: Think you know where this photo was taken? Submit your answer below to win a free set of PBS special travel DVDs. Include your name, email address, and your answer. We will randomly select a winner from the list of correct answers and announce the Geo-Quiz champ next week! […]

The post {GEO-QUIZ} Submit Your Answer to Win Travel Merch appeared first on Richard Bangs.

Here’s a Geo-Quiz for you well-traveled folks:

Think you know where this photo was taken?

Submit your answer below to win a free set of PBS special travel DVDs. Include your name, email address, and your answer.


We will randomly select a winner from the list of correct answers and announce the Geo-Quiz champ next week!

The winner will receive:

Four PBS TV special Adventures with Purpose DVDs ($60 value).

Adventures with Purpose: MoroccoAdventures with Purpose: Norway

Adventures with Purpose: EgyptAdventures with Purpose: New Zealand

To read the synopses of the episodes in this series, click here.

Good luck with your Geo-Quiz submissions, travelers!






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Best Hotels in the World: Spring 2017 Thu, 06 Apr 2017 04:49:44 +0000 “Fly and flop; heads in beds.” Those the early memes of Expedia. When the OTA (online travel agency) first launched in 1996, we considered hotel beds commodities, interchangeable experiences, mattress widgets sold in electronic bits and bytes, but without the burden and costs of storage or shipping (good luck, Amazon). We bought hotel room futures […]

The post Best Hotels in the World: Spring 2017 appeared first on Richard Bangs.


Photo cred: Walker Bangs

“Fly and flop; heads in beds.” Those the early memes of Expedia. When the OTA (online travel agency) first launched in 1996, we considered hotel beds commodities, interchangeable experiences, mattress widgets sold in electronic bits and bytes, but without the burden and costs of storage or shipping (good luck, Amazon). We bought hotel room futures like pork bellies, and sold them like feed. It wasn’t until some years later, when I took up traveling for a living, that I found myself on a camel-back sofa in a hotel lobby with highly polished Regency tables and gleaming brass lamps, taut silk upholstery with tasseled fringes, and a blazing fire that blushed my brandy snifter, that I took a breath and soaked in the irenic nature of a great hotel. To this day, I ease down The Road for most of the year on business, and seek out the special pillows on which to lay the weary head.

So, naturally, I think it fair to share some of my uncoverings over the past months, and those I think worth exploring during the flower and feast of Spring, when the color of the world is more than the imagination, and it’s time to travel and escape to another bliss.

Of course, this list is hardly comprehensive, and it is highly personal, but it is a catalogue of those I found special and extreme in coziness, service, originality and that intangible quality that might be called magic.

1) Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Berlin, Germany

It was the glamorous hotel where Liam Neeson capers in the movie Unknown. It is from one of its windows Michael Jackson dangled his then-infant son “Blanket” in 2002. Chaplin, Einstein, Her Majesty the Queen of England, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt all tucked in here. Mussolini stopped by for a hot bath after finding that the water in the palace where he had been lodged ran only cold. Russian anarchists planted a bomb here in 1913 in an attempt to kill the visiting Czar.

Built in 1907 by wine merchant Lorenz Adlon, it was supported by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who insisted that no one set foot in the finished building before him. In the midst of WWII, it crafted a luxurious bomb shelter, and a huge brick wall around the lobby to protect the guests from flying debris.

Few hostelries have been witness to such profound and sometimes twisted history as the Adlon, overlooking the east side of the Brandenburg Gate on Pariser Platz Square. And today, newly re-furbished, it again strides history. Spielberg and Hanks stayed here while filming Bridge of Spies. President Obama checked in for a week not long before my visit.

I’m a fan of Philip Kerr’s novels, especially “If The Dead Rise Not,” with gumshoe Bernie Gunther a hotel detective at the Adlon. So, it is with a sense of story I step into the magnificent world of the grand cream-colored marble lobby, with its air of Wilhelmine decadence, its elephant fountain, gold-leaf embellished coffered ceilings and stained-glass cupola. Beautiful fresh flowers bloom everywhere to the soft sounds of the piano. Before heading upstairs, I take a seat in one of the bergère armchairs, order a Vesper Martini, and look around for royals, heads of state, movie stars and spies. That could be Sally Bowles heading to the beletage floor. “Well, I’m off to the Adlon,” she says in the movie Cabaret.

My room has its own doorbell, always a good sign. Inside, the space is plush and classic, with limestone floors, mahogany furnishings, silk bedspreads and the notable absence of anything overly flamboyant. The black granite bathroom has a heated floor, a steam shower, and a deep soaking tub. Of course, not everything is deco. There is a large flat-screen, Apple TV, a Nespresso machine, an iPad where I can access the internet or check my account, and controls for the lights, and to open and close the drapes.

On the table is a plate with grapes, strawberries, clementines and the fattest blueberries in the world. But the pièce de résistance is a chocolate replica of the Brandenburger Tor, the real thing looming just outside the window, with the sun setting behind. It was just on the other side that Ronald Reagan, in 1987, issued his famous words: “Mr. Gorbachov – tear down this wall!”

Look at the size of those blueberries! Photo cred: Laura Hubber

The Adlon boasts a Michelin 2 star, Lorenz, but my son and I opt for Sra Bua (Thai for lotus pond), an Asian fusion experience with a faultless balance of sweetness, acidity and spiciness, which pairs nicely, believe it or not, with a German Riesling.

And the breakfast buffet at the Adlon is justly infamous, a decadent spread of tropical fruits, Bavarian sausages, caviar, blinis, a mini doughnut tree and an unlimited supply of champagne.

The hotel is in the heart of Berlin, the vogue destination in Europe, so there are so many reasons to get out and explore; but then again, there are so many reasons to stay in.

Photo cred: Laura Hubber

For years, the Hollywood elite have escaped to this inland resort tucked away in the Topa Topa mountains, about 90 minutes north of the city. I’ve heard people whisper, almost with religious reverence, that it is a place to retreat and recharge, but when I heard about a phenomenon called “The Pink Moment,” I had to go.

Built as a private country club in 1923, it retains a sense of the unpublished, a place for those in the know, and it offers up the refined in a setting rustic and Zen-like.

Driving into the 220-acre oak-studded property, I curve around emerald-green fairways, and then become wide-eyed with the brilliant white stucco and bright orange tiles of the Spanish Colonial style buildings, set against blue skies and the green mountains.

I register, and am whisked by golf cart to my hacienda, casually elegant with a four-poster bed, adobe fireplace and gourmet chocolates. I spend the morning lapping the cabana-lined Indigo Pool, and riding the French-inspired LINUS bikes along the paved paths where lavender and verbena perfume the air. After a salad and a Pomegranate Spritz at the Oak Grill, I check out the 31,000 square-foot spa, set in a four-story white stucco and red-tile-roofed building with tiled courtyards and a 50-foot-high bell tower. The Chumash Indians ascribed healing powers to this valley, and it seems they were right. You can check out, but why would you ever leave?

Just before sunset, I take a place on the manicured lawn in front of a 200-year-old oak tree adorned with 28 exquisite, hand-crafted wrought iron and mica glass lanterns, created by Paul Ferrante. And as the sun dips behind me, the place goes quiet. Even the birds stop chirping. Suddenly, the wide bands of piedra blanca (white rock) across the valley fire up with an exquisite rosy hue. It is a fleeting magical moment, celebrated with a bottle of eponymous “Pink Moment” champagne. It makes sense now that Frank Capra shot scenes here as a stand in for Shangri-La in the 1937 movie Lost Horizon.

Photo cred: Laura Hubber

It is now dark, and the oak tree is brilliantly festooned, the hanging hexagons, pendants and spheres emitting light like a fantasy, as though each has been hand-ignited…I have to walk to its trunk to understand how Paul Ferrante created such an illusion. I won’t reveal. You must go and see for yourself.

I complete the evening at the signature restaurant, Olivella and Vine, a valley-to-table experience featuring locally-sourced California cuisine with Italian influences, and it is here that I finally achieve harmonic convergence.

On the quiet waterfront of the southwestern tip of Manhattan rises a 39-story glass, steel and brick tower that offers, if on the right side of history, insanely stunning views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. This is New York’s only waterfront hotel (open the window; hear the seagulls), with a mod Art Deco aesthetic, a nod to the cruise liners that once called at the adjoining harbor. Paneling is dark wood, and the furniture neutral-toned, better to showcase the art collection of over 100 New York-based artists.

My lemon-yellow room comes equipped with a telescope, as well as a chocolate rendition of Lady Liberty, which doesn’t last long. Bulgari toiletries are in the large marble bathroom, bigger than many Manhattan studio apartments, and the king featherbed comes with 400-thread-count Frette linens, feather duvets and goose-down pillows. And the Bose radio next to the heavenly cot is preset to classical music, which somehow seems orchestrated to the movements of passing ferries and ships out the window.

The club lounge offers an endless supply of drinks and yummy foods, including a deadly candy buffet, but because of the bountiful hors d’oeuvres selection, I find myself taking several business meetings here, as it is a better venue than most restaurants to discuss, and close, the deal.

Several years ago I stayed here while speaking at an internet conference in the adjacent convention center, and was so impressed I vowed to return. This year gave me the chance, and if anything, my memories understated the delights of this property.

I have to start with the views, which are billion dollar sweeps across Coal Harbour, a working port busy with tugboats, barges, pleasure craft, float planes, and buzzing helicopters. I check into my corner room late afternoon, and stand motionless for a long minute hypnotized with what is through the floor-to-ceiling windows, an expanse of water shimmering in the winter sun like hammered gold, and saw-toothed mountains beyond crowned with a tiara of snow.

But beyond the view, so many things make this stay exceptional. The room is coolly considered in white and shades of grey with black accents and geometric patterned carpets. The bed is piled high with over-sized pillows and a soft duvet. There is an overstuffed chair and ottoman and lamp for reading. A welcome basket offers a jar of honey that could not be more local…it is extracted from beehives on the roof of the hotel. The bedside chocolates are rooftop-grown rosemary in honey brittle, and lavender in honey toffee, both handcrafted by Chocolate Arts just down the street.

The grey marble-tiled bathroom features a rain shower, and a television embedded in the mirror, and is stocked with Le Labo Rose 31 shampoos, conditioners and unguents with my name emblazoned on the little bottles, personalization taken to the agreeable extreme.

Photo cred: Laura Hubber

Vancouver is among the most beautiful cities in the world, and to soak in a different view, I spend an afternoon in the rooftop outdoor heated pool, which offers up eagle eyes of the city and its glass-fronted high-rises. Wait, there goes a real bald eagle. How cool is that?

Photo cred: Laura Hubber

I came to Switzerland to visit my friend Suzi Levine, who was serving as the U.S. Ambassador under Obama, and she asked if I might give a talk to a group of young entrepreneurs in Zurich. Of course, and I booked an old favorite to ready for the presentation.

Staying here is like traveling back in time. The hotel was constructed in art nouveau style in 1909, with marble floors, soaring ceilings with glittering crystal chandeliers, antiques from the home of the former owner, and an impressive art collection throughout the hotel, including original lithographs from Jean Tinguely and Paul Leber. The property today is listed as a protected monument.

I think they still use the original room keys, attached to a heavy brass chain. Inside, my space is light-filled, and features, through a set of French doors, a charming balcony overlooking Lake Zurich, and the distant snow-capped Alps, all of which are larger than life when viewed through the in-room binoculars. There is an original gold-framed Degas lithograph on the wall, and of course, because this is Switzerland, a Nespresso machine on the credenza, along with water, fruit and delicious Gebäck.

The wingback chairs and mirrored armoire are antique, but the internet is high-speed, so I have everything I need to cook up my presentation, which somehow earns a standing ovation.

6) Quin Hotel, West 57th Street , NY, NY

Photo cred: Laura Hubber

Poets and musicians stayed at the Chelsea; songwriters worked in the Brill Building; now the visual artists have discovered the Quin.

My room on the Quin’s capstone level – the 17th floorhas the biggest private terrace I’ve ever seen in Manhattan. I could play squash up here, while gazing down 57th Street from the Freedom Tower to, dare I say, Trump Tower. It’s winter, and it’s snowing, so after a few heady minutes standing on the terrace and catching flakes with my tongue, I spend most of my time inside, looking at the Christmas card view through the oversized wall-to-wall windows. I’m told in the summer,; the terrace is the place to get a Swedish massage.

Photo cred: Laura Hubber

The room has soaring 15-foot lofted ceilings, a king-size Duxiana bed (where you sleep like the dead), and a marble bathroom with heated floors, a custom wet room with an extra-wide flat panel rain shower, plus a multi-jet body spray system with adjustable sidebars. It’s the most comprehensive shower I’ve ever stormed.

But it’s the Arts Program that has really distinguished the Quin. Original art is everywhere, including works by the likes of Amanda Marie, John Jacobsmeyer, Pure Evil, Michael De Feo, and Jessica Augier. There is a special exhibition and work space for its artist-in-residence program, 10-days in an inspiring room, which is turning out some bleeding-edge work. In the lobby is a 15-foot video art wall, to be enjoyed with a complimentary flute of champagne, and there are regular interactive, intimate artist salons, to which guests are invited.

The Quin likes to say it is quintessential New York, and it may be, but it is certainly at the intersection of art and commerce. There’s a button on the phone that connects to a Bergdorf Goodman personal shopper. That is the art of the deal.

Most of my travel is business-related, so I rarely stay at an all-inclusive, but the chance to spend time with my elder son over a long weekend without the hassles of continued commerce, was appealing. Many friends recommended the Grand Palladium, and they were right to do so.

The first thing to call out is the friendliness of the staff. They must earn master degrees in pleasantness…without exception, everyone we spoke to or passed telegraphed hospitality and good will. Maybe it’s just that they enjoy the property, the setting and the job. It is a bit like working in paradise.

Like many large resorts along the Mexican Pacific coast, there are several great pools, four excellent a la carte restaurants, and a boatload of tequilas and mezcals. But a few things distinguish the Grand Palladium. One is the rescue zoo, which rehabilitates wildlife (monkeys, crocodiles, deer) that has lost a parent to poaching, or suffered as an illegal pet. I am a fan of these programs, as they not only help the animals, but they acquaint children with creatures not often seen, and perhaps help make a lasting connection.

And speaking of connections, the hotel is in a prime whale-watching stretch. We take a boat out into the Bay of Banderas and see dozens of humpbacks, breaching, spouting, and generally gamboling about as though on vacation.

The surfing off the private beach here is legendary, as is paddle boarding, and for those not yet fluent in the waves, there is a salt water pond within a retaining wall, where I spend some quality time dabbling about.

Another distinguishing asset is the moonlight massage, to which both my son and I indulge, on tables set up far from the pools, so the only sound is that of the gently lapping waves, and practiced hands on our backsides.

Photo cred: Walker Bangs

We finish each evening at the Hemingway bar, which not only serves up Papa’s favorite drinks, mojitos and daiquiris, but also has a chocolate night in which half the room is dripping with every chocolate fantasy Willie Wonka ever had.

Photo cred: Laura Hubber

Staying at some small hotels is like staying at the home of a dear friend. As part of a neo-Baroque castle, built in 1898, this house is all rich tradition, atmosphere and style. When I was shooting a PBS special on Switzerland, I first stayed here, and made note to return, as it was so satisfyingly cozy, situated ideally for covering the best of Zurich. It’s a five-minute walk to the Stadelhofen train station, from which you can travel to almost every site in Switzerland. From its fifth-floor rooftop terrace you can see much of the city that has often been cited as the best in the world.

I’m greeted like an old acquaintance, handed a glass of champagne, some welcome chocolates, and a package of Waltz 7 Aroma Tab Energizing Mint…it’s not what it sounds. You place the tab on the shower floor and it fizzles up a spa-like fragrance that makes the body tingle. A novelty for me, and a nice one at that.

This is a small luxury hotel, so it is a pleasant surprise to find the room larger than reason, with furnishings comfortable and rich, like a cashmere sweater. Inside is an electronically adjustable bed, with a pillow menu (seven choices), and pillow spray (lavender or eucalyptus). The room also offers the all-important Nespresso machine, a fresh fruit basket, and a burning rechaud candle in the bathroom. There are charming touches everywhere, such as the orchid on the wash cloth. Motorized shades block light and sound so after walking around the old city I return and fall into a deep and beautiful sleep.

But it’s the lounge that really makes me fall in love for the simple reason the barkeep offers up the tastiest popcorn I’ve ever munched, and his servings are bottomless. This is one stop where it is wise to ignore the Swiss timepiece and just linger.

Photo cred: Laura Hubber

When I worked at Expedia, based in Bellevue, Washington, I often stole away to Whistler to ski, but discovered the joy of breaking up the journey with an overnight in downtown Vancouver. After sleeping around, I found that the premier boutique is the family-owned Wedgewood Hotel & Spa, brilliantly located right across from Robson Square and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

The experience begins beneath the large, navy blue awnings, with the door pulled open by a bowler-hatted, nattily-dressed and super-friendly valet. I pour into an elegant English manor-style lounge with posh wingback chairs, a blazing old-fashioned fireplace, and Venetian light fixtures. The receptionist warmly shakes my hand as though I’m a visiting diplomat.

My room is oddly quiet, given the location, and features antique appointments, a fireplace, original art, thick damask drapery and a private, furnished walk-out balcony with west-facing city views. There is not just a welcoming chocolate, but a whole box of chocolates, and freshly baked cookies at turn-down. There is real cream in the fridge for the brew from the Nespresso machine. The spacious bathroom boasts Frette Egyptian cotton towels and bathrobes, Gilchrest & Soames toiletries, marble accents and a deep-soaking tub. And talk of extreme service… every time I leave the room a staffer comes in and folds the toilet paper ends into triangles.

Photo cred: Laura Hubber

After a dinner meeting, a few blocks away, I stop into the cozy Bacchus Restaurant, collapse into a velvet, over-sized chair in front of the roaring fireplace, and order a gin martini to match the live piano jazz. If I could live in Vancouver, I would live here.

There used to be caged songbirds in the lobby of this grand dame hotel, opened in 1926, and now, after an ambitious $180 million renovation, as a tribute to that refrain, there are eight brass warbler silhouettes on the hotel’s central revolving door. What a wingedly wonderful way to start a stay.

The lobby is a massive marble rotunda, updated with American Colonial and Federalist décor, inspired by nearby Park Avenue residences. Above looms a flat laylight ceiling with translucent panels; below, a diamond-patterned marble floor. And all around are tall white columns, fresh-cut flowers and iconic New York artwork, such as the 19th-century Hudson River School landscapes.

Then there is The Gin Parlour, a clubby bar that pays tribute to the city’s Dutch and English roots, serving 88 different kinds of premium gin. I opt for my old favorite, Bombay Sapphire, before heading up the grand Carrara marble staircase taking the slow route to my room.

There is an eagle medallion doorplate at my room, like what might be found at a tony Park Avenue apartment. Inside I find a plush king with Anichini bedding, and a separate living area, with a decorative fireplace, pull-out sofa, desk and hardwood flooring and some sharp-end-of-cutting-edge entertainment technologies, such as a Press Reader featuring 2,000 international magazines and newspapers. A time machine that runs both directions, from the jazz age to future tech, the InterContinental New York Barclay croons with timeless hospitality.

For years when on deadline for a book or feature, I would check into a hotel, away from all the home distractions, and dive into productive work. I now live in Los Angeles, and have sampled most of the great hotels with this dynamic, but one has emerged as a favorite: The newest boy in town, The Shore, right on iconic Ocean Avenue.

It’s a sleek property, with upcycled orange egg chairs in the high-vaulted, glass-enclosed lobby; a solar-heated courtyard pool; and a killer view of the blue Pacific and the Santa Monica Pier with its saber light-show Ferris wheel.

And the room is designed for maximum light, including an all-glass shower that bisects the bedroom and bathroom (a touch of a button brings a privacy shade down over the side of the shower). The room itself is a blend of orange, white, teak-colored wood and turquoise, which somehow for me lends itself to concentration and creativity.

I also feel guilt free when staying here…it is a LEED Gold certified building (LEED with luxury); the thermostat is self-adjusting, and the AC goes off if the balcony door is opened; it sources locally (the soap is from Lather, a nearby apothecary; the night chocolate is from the Torn Ranch Artisan Truffle Collection), and you can buy the in-room stuffed starfish with 75% of the price going to Heal the Bay. And, once checked in, you can walk everywhere, to the beach, the pier, to shops, theaters, a score of restaurants, and the street entertainment along the Third Street Promenade.

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