Image: San Juan kayaks
R.B. Bailey
Sure, you can see orca whales, porpoises and seals during the day on a trip into Washington’s wild San Juan Islands. But evening brings kayak excursions in search of micro-size bioluminescent creatures called dinoflagellates, which spark and glow in the water like pixie dust.
updated 4/2/2009 9:54:59 AM ET 2009-04-02T13:54:59

It’s 10 p.m. on the banks of the Macal River, a whitewater stream in the mountains of Belize, and Carlos Quiterio has a rhyme to tell: “Black and yellow, kill the fellow; yellow and black, kill the jack.”

Quiterio is leading a night hike at Black Rock Lodge, an eco-resort in Belize’s Cayo District, and we’re alone in the inky night, clouds shifting on a pale moon. Spider eyes pop from the grass like blue sparks, irises ignited in the swoop of a flashlight beam.

His rhyme — a mnemonic device culled from a childhood of jungle play — was made to aid in the identification of deadly snakes. “Let’s watch for the fer-de-lance,” he says, referring to an aggressive viper recently seen on a riverside walk.

Nighttime hiking — or biking, skiing or kayaking — can make for the ultimate adventure, as well as a great way to experience a destination. Fortunately, whether you want to go on your own, hire a guide, or catch up with a local group of enthusiasts, there’s no shortage of opportunities to have an experience where adrenaline shares space with the sublime.

Take the San Juan Islands Kayaking Weekend, a program offered by REI Adventures. After a day of sea kayaking in Washington’s Puget Sound, paddlers have dinner and then suit up again for a late-night tour. The objective is to see a luminous species of tiny creatures called dinoflagellates that glow in the cold waters of the San Juans.

It's A Snap! Readers' best shots“It’s like silver sparklers in the water,” said guide Clark Casebolt, who has experienced the bioluminescence phenomenon dozens of times while leading the REI trip. “The water drips, glowing like molten metal onto a spray skirt.”

Land-lubbers, too, have no shortage of moonlight options. At Quebec’s Mount Sainte Anne resort, for example, there are 17 trails lit up and open each night on a 2,625-foot mountain, letting skiers schuss under the stars. Bikers can do races like the 24 Hours of Moab, an annual competition in Utah that features participants pedaling straight through the night.

But not all moonlight adventures are so hard-core. In Singapore, the Night Safari Zoo, opened in 1994, is touted as the “world’s first wildlife park built for visits at night.” The zoo, open 7 p.m. to midnight, is illuminated mainly by starlight, and guests can see more than 1,000 nocturnal animals in vast naturalistic habitats.

So whether you’re in the urban jungle of Singapore, the slopes of Quebec, or the desert of Utah, you can revel in the oddity and thrill of a nighttime adventure.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation


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