Hidden Gems

We all talk about those hidden gems we’ve stumbled upon. Here are a few of my faves.

The Arctic tundra

I’ve tried to put my finger on exactly what I liked so much about the tundra, but that’s hard to do. Was it the herds of caribou grazing in the swampy fields filled with arctic grasses swaying in the wind? Or the mile upon mile of unbroken tundra stretching as far as the eye can see? Or the sun shining relentlessly upon our tent at 2:00 in the morning? Or the musk ox wandering slowly? Or the spectacular Brooks Range rising dramatically before us?

Caribou in the tundra

arctic flowers

I think what impressed me so much about the Arctic tundra was the very fact that it challenged so many facts I’ve always revolved my life around. Every single day of my life I knew the sun would come up in the morning – and set at night. But in the arctic, that’s not necessarily true. In the summer (when we were there) the sun never leaves the sky. In the winter, the sun never rises. That’s a whole new set of facts thrown at me – and one that left my brain all topsy-turvy and spun around.

Camp by frozen lake

In the tundra trees never grow. The four of us have grown so accustomed to camping hidden amongst a grove of trees that the tundra took us by surprise. There was not a one – seriously! Not even one tree! When we were tired and ready to set up our tent, we simply pulled off the side of the road and camped. We made no effort to hide – we couldn’t have even if we had wanted to.

cycling the tundra

in the tundra

And then of course there were the caribou. Or reindeer as I preferred to call them. This is Santa’s playground, and I kept an eye out for Rudolf. Unfortunately, I never saw him. I think Santa may have had him hidden away.

On top Atigun Pass in Brooks Range

The Sonora River Valley in Mexico

“Why don’t you ride through the Sonora River valley?” a cyclist we met on the side of the road in Mexico asked. “I just came through there and it was great!”

The Sonora River valley? Where is that?

The tiny road snaking alongside the Sonora River between Douglas, Arizona and Hermosillo, Mexico in the Mexican state of Sonora wasn’t even on our map. In Google Maps online, you have to zoom in nearly full-on before you even see the towns – but the road still doesn’t show up. Even so, it was a delight to cycle like we had never found before.

Sonora River

Sonora River Valley

All along the valley, we cycled through small, historic towns every 15 or 20 kilometers. The people had smiles ready and beers in their hands. They invited us to lunch and to spend an afternoon in a hot spring. We were welcomed by hundreds of cattle ranchers at their annual meeting, party, and rodeo. We spent a night with one of those backcountry Mexican hicks like you see in the movies – but this one was real. In the morning, he caught a raccoon for his lunch.


Small town life

With exotic names like Aconchi, Banamichi, and Bacoachi, the towns were nothing but a sheer delight. Each pueblo revolved around a central plaza with an old church dating back to the 1500’s. The villages were clean and cheery places filled with friendly people just waiting for a family of cyclists to come passing through.

Sonora River Valley

Sonora River Valley

Tolu, Colombia

It was one of those days. Hot. Sticky, The humidity level was about as high as the space shuttle. We were traveling through the northern plains of Colombia dreaming of the Andes – beautiful mountain views, cooler temperatures, and interesting scenery. Not this drab, boring, grassy plain by the ocean.

We pulled in to Tolu looking for a bed and a shower. A bit of food would be nice too. We didn’t expect the full blown Colombian beach resort or sloths in the trees or delicious street food or bicycles built for 15. We quickly fell in love with the town and stayed five days.

Our first stop in town was the central park. John and the boys stayed with the bikes while I went out in search of a hotel. When I returned a few minutes later, I found them all standing under a massive tree in the middle of the park, craning their necks gazing into the tree. “A sloth, Mom!” Daryl cried. “Come look!”

Looking for sloths


In Costa Rica we had wanted to see sloths – I had never seen one in the wild before – so we paid a visit to the much touristed Manuel Antonio National Park where sloths abound. We saw them – way up high in the trees looking like a dark lump. And now, here they were – four of them – just above our heads. I decided I liked Tolu.

We spent five days in the resort – just couldn’t seem to pull ourselves away. Every night we tried different varieties of street food and watched all the bicycles ply the streets. Bicycles built for one, two, three, six, and twelve. Huge caravans of bikes of every size and variety parading around town each night – riders laughing and shouting and having the time of their lives.

street food

bicycle built for 6

During the day, we hung out in the water, relaxing and talking with Colombians who had come for the weekend. We ate ice cream. And we sat under the tree and watched sloths. Tolu was nothing more than heaven on earth.

tolu, colombia


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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3 Responses to Hidden Gems

  1. @toddlucier January 4, 2010 at 8:43 am #

    Hi Nancy,
    Nice to see arctic tundra made it to your list. My fist experience camping on Tundra in Greenland left me tiptoeing around the incredibly small arctic plants that thrive in this harsh environment.
    The lack of trees makes everything seem larger than life. I also thought muskox were an incredible looking animal – ancient.

    Happy cycling.

  2. nancy January 4, 2010 at 9:08 am #

    I LOVED the tundra! Seriously – we’ve now cycled all the way down to Ecuador, and I think the tundra was my favorite part. It is so cool up there!

  3. Colleen Lanin at Travel Mamas January 4, 2010 at 2:05 pm #

    You are almost tempting me to pack up the family for an around the world on bicycles…almost! I love your three hidden gems! Thanks for playing along!

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