Russia's Ring of Fire virtual wonderland of geysers, natural beauty
Areas currently open to limited number of travelers
Russia's Kronotsky area, known as the nation's Ring of Fire, is a natural wonderland that has been off limits for many years, with only scientists and researchers as the land's sole visitors. The area has now been made more accessible since 2011, but only to a select number of travelers.
Brown bears troll in the Valley of the Geysers, ambling among purple orchids, emerald grasses and the second-largest gathering of geysers on Earth.
Keep yourself warm in this beautiful hooded sweatshirt --
Meadows with golden rhododendron soothe the eye. Visitors are able to drink from snowfield streams. Spectacular volcanoes loom ahead, which are part of the great arc of volcanic and seismic activity known as the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Russia's Kronotsky Zapovednik is the world's largest system of strictly protected nature reserves.
"I was one of the first foreigners permitted to go hiking here as a mere tourist," Fred Strebeigh with the BBC says.
Russian began the country's system of zapovedniki, OR strictly protected nature reserves in 1916. Previously, these vast landscapes have been mostly inaccessible, except to scientists, rangers and students.
Strebeigh remarks that it's "as if the U.S. National Park Service (also, incidentally, founded in 1916) had forbidden hiking for most of a century - then decided a few travelers deserved a chance to explore the Grand Canyon or get close to Yellowstone's Old Faithful."
Strebeigh describes his small group finally straddling one of the areas most intimidating volcanoes. "Now, as our group of three reached the mid-point in a five-day hike, snow-crowned Kronotsky Volcano rose before us, lifting more than 3,500 meters from the nearby Pacific.
"At its base, 30 million landlocked salmon swirled in its lava-dammed lake, a buffet for hundreds of the world's best-fed (and, weighing up to 700 kilograms, largest) brown bears. Kamchatka snow sheep roamed unmolested in the volcano's heights - a privilege, since foreign hunters pay handsomely to shoot this long-horned subspecies in unprotected mountains."
There is absolutely no hunting permitted in the area. "The Russian word zapovednik comes from zapoved (commandment), as in 'thou shalt not harm.' The reserve's 33-year-old director, Tikhon Shpilenok, who came here after he worked as an anti-poaching ranger at another zapovednik, happily cited Russian law that permits only "educational tourism" in Russia's 102 zapovedniki.
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