Baby boomers – the 70 million Americans currently in their 50s and 60s, with the vanguard turning 70 in 2016 – tend to be an adventurous bunch in general.
They were the first generation of Americans to go backpacking in large numbers across Europe – and later across Asia and other continents, including their own – staying in hostels, sometimes camping out, getting to know the locals beyond what was written up in guidebooks.
They cut their teeth on what have now become widely known as eco-tourism and cultural travel, shunning large tour groups that dutifully followed guides en masse in favor of forging paths to the often exotic, off-the-beaten path places they discovered (We affectionately refer to these as Senior Tours.).
They became adept at lifelong learning and experimentation, seeking intellectual, spiritual – or simply pleasurable – experiences from their far-flung travels.
As a group, they never really stopped traveling. But now that many are nearing retirement or have already retired, they are by all accounts the generation that has the most time and money to travel — and the will to spend it on seeing and experiencing as much as they can.
Meet Clark Norton, a Tucson, Arizona-based adventurer and baby boomer travel expert.
Over the past several years, Clark’s had the following exciting, sometimes scary, often challenging, but ultimately exhilarating adventures:
- Summiting a peak in British Columbia, and then rappelling down the side of a cliff onto a glacier.
- Whitewater rafting in Nepal on class IV and V rivers.
- Riding a camel in the Sahara and Sinai deserts.
- Hiking for a week over the hills and dales of County Kerry in southwest Ireland.
- Watching three whales dive directly under his Zodiac (a small hard-rubber boat) and surface less than 20 yards away in Glacier Bay, Alaska.
- Biking 45 miles from the top of Maui’s Mount Haleakala to the shores of the Pacific, the world’s longest downhill bike ride.
- Swimming with piranhas in the Amazon.
- Learning to Scuba dive in Micronesia.
- Mushing a dogsled team in Finland.
And he’s done them all after the age of 50. The reason he was able to do them?
“Every one of them was on a guided tour,” Norton says, “and every one of them was organized by an experienced tour operator and led by an expert guide or guides.”
Senior Tours – All New Experiences
Until those trips, Clark had never rappelled down a cliff, ridden a camel, swum with piranhas, or biked down a volcano at dawn hoping that my brakes wouldn’t go out and send him careening over the mountainside.
Clark came into contact with plenty of adventures on his own in his younger days, but none of them were more memorable than those trips he’s experienced since turning 50. Until those trips, he had never rappelled down a cliff, ridden a camel, swum with piranhas, or biked down a volcano at dawn hoping his brakes wouldn’t fail him sending him careening over the mountainside.
Norton contends that the older he gets, the more satisfying it becomes to know that he can still go adventuring and not only live to tell about it, but look forward to his next opportunity to stretch his personal boundaries.
“But again,” he emphasizes, “I thank my guides’ expertise for that – and whoever keeps the bicycle brakes in repair, the mountaineering gear in good working condition, and the piranhas at bay.”
Baby Boomers: An Adventurous Generation
Clark Norton isn’t alone.
The adventures of another boomer, Carol Bruen, for example, have taken her from Easter Island to Uzbekistan, Tanzania to Cambodia and beyond. Like Norton, she’s another good example of just how much some baby boomers have explored the world — and continues to do so.
On one family trip to East Africa, Carol, her husband, Jim, and two children took a multi-day canoe trip down the Zambezi River in Tanzania. She recounted that even though the hippos were terrifying and they would get stuck on sandbars and have to get out and push, this made for great adventure and storytelling with their kids.
Carol acknowledges that now that their kids are in their thirties and forties and have families of their own, age may be catching up to her and Jim a bit, and they may have to soften their adventures with more comfortable beds and fewer crocodiles.
While they once had a great time surrounded by chimpanzees on a reserve at Lake Tanganyika in East Africa, for example, “Gorilla tracking in Rwanda may have passed us by.” Then she adds, “But we’ll see.”
Risk-Taking Not Required
None of this is to say that you can only enjoy adventure travel– or, as Clark Norton likes to call it, “adventurous travel” — unless you’re a natural-born risk-taker or adrenaline junkie.
In fact, while there are never any guarantees of complete safety, and a whiff of danger can add a certain excitement to your trip, adventurous travel needn’t be truly risky in the hands of experienced, watchful tour guides.
Nor does it necessarily require great strength or endurance. Anyone who’s reasonably fit can enjoy an adventurous outing, as long as it fits their comfort level.
And here’s the really good news: You don’t have to travel to the far corners of the earth to find your share of adventurous experiences.
There are plenty to be found right here in the southwest corner of the United States, across Arizona and beyond – all of which can be experienced through Southwest discoveries.
Why We Call Ourselves Southwest Discoveries
At Southwest Discoveries, you will find terrific regional hiking tours that will provide plenty of fresh air and exercise but won’t leave you too exhausted to enjoy a fine dinner in the evening and discuss the adventures of the day with your companions.
And while hiking is usually a key component of our tours, it’s really just one element in what are truly missions of discovery.
You may find yourself riding a bike, a horse, or a raft; engaging in some canyoneering or bird watching; picking up nature photography tips; learning some intriguing new things about history and geology; maybe even doing some wine tasting. (We can pretty much guarantee you won’t encounter hippos.)
Here are some of our senior tours offerings that will help you define your own level of adventure:
The splendors of the Sonoran Desert take front and center here, as our experienced guides lead you on an interactive tour combining marvels both past and present. You’ll enjoy not just interpretative hikes, but also wine tasting, bird watching, star gazing, horseback riding, nature photography workshops, and more.
In this truly epic adventure, you’ll enjoy hiking, mountain biking, rafting tours, canyoneering, photography workshops, and more – all against the backdrop of iconic Arizona Sonoran Desert scenery. (Springtime in the desert offers the kind of stunning beauty you’ll find nowhere else.)
If you’ve admired the jaw-dropping beauty of Northern Arizona’s red rock country on postcards, in pictures, and on video, you can now experience it firsthand on this remarkable adventure trip. As you hike, bike and go canyoneering along the trails through awe-inspiring Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, you’ll also travel back in time to explore Native American ancestral ruins and petroglyphs.
On our week-long Grand Canyon Epic tour, you’ll journey to one of the world’s natural wonders – and see it like few travelers do. Backpack and hike through the spectacular canyon, explore hidden springs, discover Native American archeological sites, and learn the secrets of the magnificent Kanab Creek Wilderness. The Grand Canyon is a wonderland of mesas, mountains, and spectacular geology, which is best appreciated up close – and not simply peering over the rim.
So keep these key takeaways in mind when you get the urge for adventure:
• You don’t have to be in your 20s and 30s or in top physical condition to experience adventurous travel. Folks in their 50s, 60s — and beyond — can continue to be active travelers who seek out often challenging, but perfectly manageable, trips.
• Expertly led guided senior tours can lead to all new adventures that you might never think of trying otherwise – and keep you safe in the process.
• By defining what adventure travel means to you, you can create experiences that push your comfort level, yet are fully rewarding.
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