Sometimes I don’t know why I still live in Michigan…

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Temperature reading on February 20, 2015 near Clayton, Michigan.

The other day we got down to -24 F (-31 C) here in southeast Michigan. The actual temperature.  Not the wind chill, which probably exceeded -40 F (-40 C). I believe this is the coldest temperature I have experienced in my 38+ years.  Gotta admit, I’m not a fan. In the mere 60 seconds it took me to roll my garbage out to the road, it didn’t take long for my face to simply hurt from the cold.

Compared to last winter I guess I can’t complain.  Last year we flirted with -20 F, but even worse than the cold was the snow.  Last winter we got 85″ (216 cm), yet this year we have so far received less than half that amount.

Watching weather reports about Boston and the rest of New England has been kind of entertaining over the last few weeks.  They have received over 100″ of snow so far, and that kind of nonsense is better seen on TV than in person. The brutal northeast winter even convinced the Ithaca, NY tourism board to promote travel to Key West instead.

I just need to keep reminding myself that spring is right around the corner. Warm and sunny Michigan summer days filled with boating, fishing, camping, and hiking are almost here.

Posted in Culture, General, Weather and Climate | Tagged | 2 Comments

Avoiding Crowds at America’s National Parks

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Bison jam on a bridge over the Yellowstone River near the Lamar River. Photographed 09/06/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Of the 59 national parks in the United States many are well-known and heavily-traveled. About 20 of them see over one million visitors annually, and at times that can make traffic and crowds annoying to deal with. If you’re like me and have a strong desire to avoid people and get in touch with nature on a more intimate level, you may be interested in these travel tips I have learned over the years…

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Crowd waiting to see the eruption of Old Faithful Geyser. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

#1:  Avoid the major parks in the height of summer
Most people know about major parks like Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, YellowstoneOlympic, Rocky Mountain, Zion, Grand Teton, Acadia, and Glacier. Each of these parks see over two million visitors annually, and with good reason. The natural wonders they offer are breathtaking, filled with spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, gorgeous plants, and fascinating geology.

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The Grand Canyon during a break in a rainstorm. Photographed 04/08/2013 at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

At the same time, these parks become engorged with crowds during peak travel season in the summer (July-August). If you don’t mind miles of traffic jams, full parking lots, booked-up campgrounds and lodges, long concession lines, and crowds so dense they’ll ruin any encounter with nature, more power to you. But if you want to experience the natural wonder of these special places in the way they deserve, above all avoid the peak summer season.

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Although Cuyahoga Valley is one of our busiest national parks, I never saw another person while hiking to Blue Hen Falls in September. Photographed 09/17/2011 at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio.

The spring and autumn shoulder seasons (April-June and September-October) often allow visitors to see these locations in a more relaxed setting while avoiding the harsh weather of winter. Shoulder season visits can have some caveats, however. In the spring snow accumulation often persists at many high-elevation parks, making many roads impassable. Some roads don’t even open until June or July (Crater Lake comes to mind). On the other side of summer some parks see a second peak in visitation in October with the appearance of gorgeous autumn leaves (like Great Smoky Mountains and Acadia). Most other parks don’t experience this fall color rush, however, making them ideal destinations in autumn. September and October are perhaps my favorite months for visiting most parks.

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Half Dome and the Merced River in the quiet of autumn. Photographed 10/26/2013 at Yosemite National Park, California.

Winter (November-March) can sometimes be the most rewarding time to visit since crowds are at a minimum (except for the Christmas season, which can be surprisingly busy). Winter weather can range from pleasant to downright rotten at most parks, making a winter visit a bit of a gamble. But if you’re up for a challenge and the weather cooperates, you can have one of the best times of your life. For what it’s worth, however, many parks with northern locations or high elevations have road closures to contend with. If you know what you may be in for and prepare accordingly, you can still have a a great time.

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Snowy scenery photographed 04/12/2014 at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Southern parks are relatively safe from harsh weather in the winter (Dry Tortugas, Everglades, Biscayne, Big Bend, Guadalupe, Saguaro, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and Channel Islands), and although that makes them easy to visit this time of year, they also tend to be relatively busy (but usually not bad).

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Typical winter crowd in the Badwater Basin. Photographed 12/22/2012 at Death Valley National Park, California.

#2:  Visit a lesser-known park
Two-thirds of our national parks see fewer than one million visitors per year, and some don’t even see 100,000. The lesser-known parks are often free from large groups of people, even in the peak summer season of July and August. These best-kept secrets of the National Park Service are worthwhile destinations, harboring a variety of natural features that invite exploration…all without crowds that can ruin the experience.

Morning light over Lake Kabetogama at the Woodenfrog Campground in Kabetogama State Forest. Photographed 07/24/2012 near Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota.

I’ve visited VoyageursGreat Sand DunesBlack Canyon of the GunnisonNorth Cascades, Theodore Roosevelt, Badlands, and Wind Cave during peak summer season, and although somewhat busy the traffic and crowds were still pretty sparse. On top of that, lesser-known parks like these can often seem almost empty outside of summer.

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Even in August the prairie of Wind Cave gets most of its attention from native wildlife like American bison. Photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

#3:  Visit a park early in the morning
Most people, for whatever reason, don’t seem to get “up and at’em” until around 11 am. If you’re a morning person this can really work to your advantage. Venturing out at first light can grant you several hours of relatively quiet enjoyment of the serenity and beauty of nature. Wildlife are often active in the morning twilight, and the rising sun can provide some spectacular views and photo opportunities.

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The Fiery Furnace just after dawn. Photographed 04/15/2014 at Arches National Park, Utah.

My wife and I visited Rocky Mountain National Park in August (a major park in peak summer season) but we drove through from 6 am to 10 am.  In that time we only saw a few cars but got to see abundant moose, elk, deer, marmots, pikas, and other animals all without the crowds.

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Bull moose photographed 08/05/2013 at Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

 #4:  Visit a park late in the evening
Although not quite as good as an early-morning visit, a late-evening visit can also be rewarding. By this time of day many people have gone back to their rooms or campsites for dinner, making crowds relatively thin. Animals again become active in the twilight, and the setting sun can provide for some excellent scenery and photographs.

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Sunset through The Window of the Chisos Basin. Photographed 02/09/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

When visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park in June, my wife and I were treated to an amazing encounter with a couple of black bears just before dusk. A mother sow and her cub wandered across the road near our campsite in the Cataloochee Valley, and it was an experience to remember. On top of that, some of my favorite photos have been taken against national park sunsets.

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Sunset over the Tetons and Jackson Lake from the Signal Mountain Lodge. Photographed 09/04/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

#5:  Venture onto less-traveled roads
Most parks have main roads that most visitors stick to. Whether it’s Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite Valley in Yosemite, or Going-T0-The-Sun Road in Glacier, these primary routes bear the brunt of most tourist traffic. In spite of this, there are often other less-traveled roads to be seen that still pack a punch. Great Smoky Mountains has the Cataloochee Valley, Yosemite has Tuolumne Meadows, and Glacier has Bowman Lake and Medicine Lake. Getting away from the hot spots can often be less crowded and more rewarding.

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Elk along the northern road into Cataloochee Valley. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC.

When my friends and I visited Badlands National Park last summer we came in from the west on the rugged gravel Sage Creek Road and camped at Sage Creek Campground. This less-traveled edge of the park harbored numerous bison, pronghorn, and prairie dogs that were much less common on the paved and well-traveled eastern roads of the park. If we had stuck to the “main drag” we never would have witnessed these majestic beasts in their natural setting.

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Pronghorn (Artiodactyla: Antilocapridae: Antilocapra americana) photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

#6:  Get out of your car
National park visits average only about four hours in length, and most visitors barely leave their vehicles. Although a lot of the “high points” can be seen from a car on the road, there are countless other things to experience off the beaten path.

Like giant sequoias to hug. Photographed 08/13/2011 in the Giant Forest at Sequoia National Park, California.

Venturing off on foot for even a mile or two is often a great way to escape traffic and crowds. On top of that it usually exposes visitors to many fascinating organisms and landscapes they never could have seen from their car.

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View along the Hickman Bridge Trail. Photographed 04/12/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

While camping at Avalanche Creek in Glacier National Park, my friends and I decided to hike a few miles to Avalanche Lake. This quiet and isolated locale was perhaps the most gorgeous place we saw in the entire park. Here snow-capped peaks hugged towering waterfalls and one of the most amazing reflective pools we had ever seen. Hikes, even short ones, have always been highlights on my national park visits. They’re typically quiet, personal, and yield the most spectacular rewards.

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Avalanche Lake at the end of the Avalanche Creek Trail. Photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

#7:  Plan accordingly
The National Park Service, Yelp, TripAdvisor, independent blogs, and many other websites provide invaluable resources for travelers. The information they offer can help one learn when crowds are dense, when visitation is light, where to go, what to do, and what to expect from weather, road conditions, and available lodging and amenities. An hour or two of research at home can save a lot of time once you get to where you’re going, and help you accomplish your goals with minimal effort.

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Quiet, less-visited outpost along the Gunnison River near East Portal. Photographed 08/04/2013 at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose, Colorado.

#8:  Don’t be “one of those people”
Certain national park visitors sometimes engage in inconsiderate behavior that only makes congestion worse. Their time-consuming actions often lead to a back-up in lines, crowds, and traffic, creating a headache for other people.

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Bewildered first-time visitors to Zion Canyon. Photographed 03/2010 at Zion National Park, Utah.

The most annoying encounter I have with other visitors is when they don’t plan ahead and have no idea what they’re doing. They’ll talk to the ranger at the visitor center for half an hour, trying to get even the simplest grasp of what there is to see and what they should be doing. This ties up park resources, preventing other visitors from asking simple questions or even making a purchase from the gift shop. The information the visitor requests is almost always available online or in the park guide, and if they had done the most basic research beforehand they could have saved everyone a lot of time.

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Visitor center exhibits are also a great wealth of information. If you don’t know much about where you’re at, these resources are worth exploring. Photographed 03/2008 at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

The second most annoying encounter I have is among people who stop in the middle of the road to look at something. It could be a scenic view, a magnificent animal, or something else. Regardless, park roads are often littered with turnouts that allow people to pull over, get out, and look at things without holding up traffic. There’s no excuse to just stop in the middle of the road.

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And DO NOT STOP TO FEED THE WILDLIFE. It’s not good for them. Photographed 03/10 at Death Valley National Park, California.

Finally, the third most annoying encounter is among people who drive slower than dirt and don’t use turnouts to let others pass. Not everyone in a given park wants to crawl along at 10 mph. Some people are trying to get to a scenic overlook before the sun sets, some are trying to get to a campground before it’s full, and some just want to see the world at something slightly faster than a glacial pace. If cars are backing up behind you, be a considerate fellow traveler, pull over, and let them pass. The innumerable signs that say “Slower traffic use turnouts” aren’t just there for decoration.

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Although this may be the first time you’ve ever seen bison, the people behind you may have seen them a hundred times. Please pull over and let them pass. Photographed 08/08/2014 at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

In the end a little research, knowledge, and consideration for your goals and desires (as well as the goals and desires of others) can make your national park experience something wonderful. A lack of research, knowledge and consideration, however, can make it miserable. The stressors of traffic, crowds, and lines can be avoided with a little planning, and will only make a visit to a national park that much more enjoyable.

The author standing alone in the solitude of Mount Franklin. Photographed 05/26/2012 at Isle Royale National Park, Michigan.

Posted in Culture, General, Geology, National Parks, Vertebrate Zoology | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

The Least-Visited National Parks in America’s Lower 48 (and why you should visit them) Part 2

Last week I presented “The Least-Visited National Parks in America’s Lower 48 (and why you should visit them).” I later realized that most people focus on the “most” or “least” of something, and that often leaves out the “next most” or “next least.”

Although the ten least-visited parks in America’s lower 48 are indeed well worth a visit, the next ten also deserve some attention. These special places see only about 242,000-516,000 visitors per year, making most of them still relatively unknown on the national park circuit.

So here are #11-#20 of “The Least-Visited National Parks in America’s Lower 48 (and why you should visit them):”

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Dune field against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Photographed 08/03/2013 at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve near Alamosa, Colorado.

#11:  Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
Visitors in 2013:  242,841
Why visitation is so low: This park is several hours southwest of Denver in a relatively unpopulated area of Colorado.  It isn’t near the famous ski resorts or better-known Rocky Mountain peaks, but it has an allure all its own.
Why you should go there:  The namesake tallest sand dunes in North America cover 30 square miles and reach 750 feet in height. They’re a spectacular sight whether you’re trekking across them or looking down on them from the adjacent Sangre de Cristo Mountains. If sand isn’t your thing, hiking up to Mosca Pass leads one through a variety of rugged ecosystems hosting many interesting plants and animals.

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The Window of the Chisos Basin at sunrise. Photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

#12:  Big Bend National Park, Texas
Visitors in 2013:  316,953
Why visitation is so low: Big Bend is one of the most remote parks in the lower 48.  It’s several hours from El Paso and San Antonio, and the drive is long and lonely across the sparsely-populated Chihuahuan Desert.
Why you should go there: Big Bend is one of my favorite national parks for a variety of reasons. I love the hot, dry desert climate, especially in winter. The life-giving Rio Grande provides a ribbon of greenery in this harsh environment. There is abundant wildlife including deer, black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, lizards, and snakes. Numerous desert plants and colorful rocks fill the gorgeous landscapes. Fascinating geologic features seem to decorate every view. Hundreds of miles of excellent hiking trails spread out in every direction. Peculiar nearby towns like Terlingua and Boquillas Mexico are also worth exploring. Best of all, crowds are relatively sparse even in the resort area of the Chisos Basin. And when in the Chisos Basin, Forever Resorts provides some top-notch amenities at a reasonable price.

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Stalactites, stalagmites, and columns. Photographed 03/2008 at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM.

#13:  Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Visitors in 2013:  388,566
Why visitation is so low: Like Big Bend to the south, this park is several hours from any major metropolitan area. Its location in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert makes it rather remote. And Carlsbad, New Mexico isn’t a major draw unless you’re an oil worker.
Why you should go there: Carlsbad Caverns is, in my opinion, the most gorgeous cave system in the United States. Many different types of dripstone decorate the extensive caves including stalactites, stalagmites, columns, curtains, soda straws, and more. This park hosts a great deal of subterranean beauty, and the above-ground portions of the Chihuahuan Desert aren’t too shabby either. The limestone that harbors these caves is part of a Permian Era coral reef that existed from about 280-240 million years ago, and more of this reef can be seen at nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas (#6 of the least-visited parks).

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Coast redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens, Cupressaceae) with friend Jim for scale. Photographed 04/26/2013 at Redwood National Park, California.

#14:  Redwood National Park, California
Visitors in 2013:  393,364
Why visitation is so low: The Pacific coast of northern California is relatively isolated by the Klamath Mountains. Towns are few and far between, and the roads wind tediously through the surrounding hills. Winter snows often close high-elevation roads, and fog seems ever-present.
Why you should go there:  This park is home to the majority of the remaining coast redwood trees, the tallest trees on earth. They can approach 400 feet in height and are truly a sight to behold in person. The temperate rainforests they inhabit are home to many other intriguing plants and animals, including giant yellow banana slugs.

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Steaming fumarole at Sulfur Works. Photographed 04/26/2013 at Lassen Volcanic National Park, California.

#15:  Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Visitors in 2013:  427,409
Why visitation is so low: Situated near the southern end of the volcanic Cascade Range in northeast California, Lassen is far-removed from major cities. It’s several hours northeast of San Francisco and Sacramento, making a visit a bit of a trek. Snow closes the road through the park in winter, limiting most visitation to only a few months during the summer.
Why you should go there: Lassen features many of the volcanic and hydrothermal features of the better-known Yellowstone National Park in one concise and lesser-traveled location. Here you can enjoy hiking volcanic peaks, boiling mudpots, and steaming fumaroles while the otherworldly stench of sulfur competes with the pleasant aroma of the surrounding pine forests.  And all without the traffic jams and crowds of Yellowstone.

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Square Tower House photographed 04/14/2014 at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

#16:  Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Visitors in 2013:  460,237
Why visitation is so low: Located in extreme southwest Colorado near the Four Corners, this park is far removed from the surrounding cities of Denver, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, and Salt Lake City. It’s about four hours from any of these cities into “the middle of nowhere.”
Why you should go there: Mesa Verde is the only national park that focuses more on cultural artifacts rather than natural features. Relics of ancestral Puebloan peoples blanket this park including dozens of massively impressive cliff dwellings, unearthed villages, and countless artifacts. The museum is an invaluable resource for interpretation before exploring the extensive Native American history this park has to offer.

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Shafer Canyon from the Shafer Canyon Overlook. Photographed 04/13/2014 at Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

#17:  Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Visitors in 2013:  462,242
Why visitation is so low: Like Mesa Verde this park is in the middle of nowhere. It’s several hours from Denver, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, or Salt Lake City, making it one of the more remote parks in the lower 48. Moab, Utah is the closest town of any size, and a great oasis in this isolated corner of America.
Why you should go there: While Grand Canyon National Park to the southwest sees many more visitors, Canyonlands is perhaps much more diverse in its scenery. It’s divided into four distinct “districts,” each with its own unique appeal. “Island in the Sky” is a stretch of high mesas that look down on the surrounding gorgeous topography. “The Needles” presents an up-close look at the rugged, colorful, and beautiful terrain of the canyons. “The Maze” is a no-man’s land of confusing labyrinths suitable only to the most skilled of back-country navigators. And the “Rivers” of the Green and Colorado present a whole different challenge in the form of endless whitewater. The landscapes here are remote and difficult, but they are among the most amazing in the United States.

View along Convoy Point, photographed 04/09/2012 at Biscayne National Park.

#18:  Biscayne National Park, Florida
Visitors in 2013:  486,848
Why visitation is so low: Although within an hour south of Miami, the unique appeal of Biscayne is perhaps overshadowed by many other competing attractions. Disney World and its associated Orlando parks aren’t far to the north, Everglades National Park isn’t far to the west, and the Florida Keys aren’t far to the south. On top of that, the appeal of Miami itself and its nightlife and beaches are a distraction all their own.
Why you should go there: Biscayne National Park is mostly water, and with good reason. This healthy chunk of Florida coast is filled with spectacular little islands, pristine coral reefs, and all the marine flora and fauna that go along with them. Dolphins, manatees, alligators, and a spectrum of colorful fish and invertebrates fill the waters. Even along the shore you can find lizards, snakes, subtropical plants, and a seemingly endless array of marine fossils from ancient reefs. The visitor center is top-notch, and even if you don’t venture into Biscayne Bay the coastal experience from Convoy Point is worth an hour or two.

Exiting the Historical Entrance. Photographed 05/14/2012 at Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky.

#19:  Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Visitors in 2013:  494,541
Why visitation is so low: Mammoth Cave is one of America’s oldest tourist attractions, and one of our oldest national parks (established in 1941). In spite of this it sees far fewer visitors than it probably should. I suspect this may be because 1) Caves don’t excite people, or 2) Kentucky isn’t a “destination vacation” for most people. In spite of this, its proximity to many eastern cities should make it far more popular than it is.
Why you should go there: This is the largest known cave system on the entire planet. If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what would. Among the hundreds of miles of surveyed passageways, a variety can be experienced through a number of ranger-lead cave tours. These treks range from the relatively benign (a quick trip through the historical highlights) to the far more adventurous (a “Wild Cave Tour” that involves professional caving equipment, belly-crawling, and tight squeezes…not for the faint of heart.) The above-ground portions of this park are nearly as impressive, showcasing the forests of western Kentucky, sinkholes where rivers disappear underground, and the numerous species of bats that swarm here every evening.

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View inside Wind Cave. Photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

#20:  Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
Visitors in 2013:  516,142
Why visitation is so low: Southwestern South Dakota features a variety of tourist attractions, so there is a lot of competition for attention. This region features the motorcycle rallies of Sturgis, the wonders of Badlands National Park and Devils Tower National Monument, the historical appeal of Deadwood, and the American icons of Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. The Black Hills themselves are gorgeous, and the surrounding tourist towns provide an endless array of distractions.
Why you should go there: Although not the biggest cave in the world (like Mammoth Cave) or perhaps the prettiest (like Carlsbad Caverns), Wind Cave is the “most complex” cave system on earth. Here countless tight passageways intricately wind around each other, creating a nightmarish labyrinth of tunnels. The ranger-lead tours are educational and fun, and provide a layer of safety in this dangerous environment. Back on the surface countless prairie dogs, pronghorn, and bison conspire to make this place as amazing above as it is below.

Posted in Botany, Culture, Ecology, Environment, General, Geology, Invertebrate Zoology, National Parks, Paleontology, Vertebrate Zoology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Least-Visited National Parks in America’s Lower 48 (and why you should visit them) Part 1

Although the United States has over 400 locations administered by the National Park Service, there are only 59 that are official “national parks.” Of these 47 are located in the lower 48 states and are relatively accessible. Most people know about well-known and well-traveled parks like Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Olympic, Rocky Mountain, Zion, Grand Teton, Acadia, and Glacier. Each of these parks see over two million visitors annually, and with good reason.  The natural wonders they offer are breathtaking, filled with spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, gorgeous plants, and fascinating geology.

At the same time there are many other national parks in the lower 48 that are waiting to be discovered. For various reasons these parks aren’t nearly as well-known, and yet they harbor some of the best-kept secrets in America. Instead of counting visitors by the millions, these parks count only about 16,000 to 238,000 per year. The limited number of people who know about these parks enjoy the sparse crowds and more remote and natural feel of these special places.

I’m presenting these parks here for two reasons. First, they’re really amazing places that shouldn’t be missed. Second, their long-term survival depends on public awareness and support. Although it would be nice to selfishly protect these amazing places as secrets that few know about, they belong to everyone and should be visited and appreciated by everyone.

Morning at Lane Cove. The red light from the morning sun faintly illuminated Sleeping Giant in Ontario, Canada. Photographed 05/26/2012 at Isle Royale National Park, Michigan.

#1:  Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Visitors in 2013:  16,274
Why visitation is so low: Located in the middle of Lake Superior, Isle Royale can be reached only by ferry, float plane, or private boat. Brutal northern winters mean the park is only open from about early May to late September. Even during the relatively mild weather of the summer, unpredictable high winds and waves as well as violent storms can interfere with the best-laid travel plans. On top of that the island has no roads, no wheeled vehicles, no cell service, and only limited supplies and amenities.
Why you should go there: Isle Royale is almost entirely designated wilderness, providing an excellent escape from civilization. When my friend and I visited we hiked 40 miles without seeing another person on the trails. Here rocky ridges look down on dense forests and serene coves along the shore. Moose, wolves, and other smaller mammals prowl the landscape while the shores teem with birds and fish. Backpacking or kayaking around the island requires planning, equipment, supplies, and at least a little skill, but the reward is sublime. You’re literally on your own here, and although some people find that frightening that’s what makes it awesome.

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Diablo Lake photographed 08/16/2014 at North Cascades National Park, Washington.

#2:  North Cascades National Park, Washington
Visitors in 2013:  21,623
Why visitation is so low: Although located only three hours northeast of Seattle, the rugged Cascade Range seems to deter many people. Winter snows often block roads and trails, limiting visitation mostly to the summer months. Even then the weather can make things challenging. The nearly-800 square miles of wilderness hosts few roads, limiting the most rewarding travel to hiking and backpacking.
Why you should go there: The remote and spectacular terrain includes temperate rainforests, lakes and rivers, waterfalls, alpine glaciers, and soaring jagged peaks. The varied landscapes provide endless and constantly-changing scenery, and each biome hosts its own unique range of plants and wildlife.

Fort Jefferson and its seawall. Photographed 04/10/2012 at Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida.

#3:  Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Visitors in 2013:  58,401
Why visitation is so low: The Dry Tortugas are a collection of several tiny islands located about 70 miles west of Key West. A ferry, float plane, or private boat is the only way to arrive at this slice of heaven. Hurricanes in the summer and autumn as well as storms and high seas in the winter can have an impact on travel.
Why you should go there: Few people go to the trouble of visiting Dry Tortugas, making crowds pretty sparse. The islands are surrounded by coral reefs filled with a staggering array of colorful fish and marine invertebrates, and the snorkeling and scuba diving here are amazing. A variety of shorebirds also fill the skies and the beaches. If that’s not enough, the ruins of Fort Jefferson dominate the area and invite exploration. This nineteenth-century fortress is the largest brick structure in the western hemisphere, and the history found here is almost as fascinating as the natural beauty.

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HIghway approaching Wheeler Peak from the west. Photographed 04/07/2013 near Great Basin National Park, Nevada.

#4:  Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Visitors in 2013:  92.893
Why visitation is so low:  Approximately a four-hour drive from either Salt Lake City or Las Vegas, Great Basin is one of the most remote national parks in the lower 48. Towns are few and far between, and one should refuel whenever the opportunity presents itself. Snow often shuts down roads at higher elevations during the winter.
Why you should go there: Ranging in elevation from about 3,000 to over 13,000 feet, this park presents an impressive look at the varied terrain of America’s basin-and-range province. Low, sun-baked plains give way to thick conifer forests and then high, snow-capped peaks. Great Basin also harbors some excellent bristlecone pines (the oldest plants on earth), as well as the gorgeous Lehman Caves.

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Bald cypress along the low boardwalk. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

#5:  Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Visitors in 2013:  120,340
Why visitation is so low: As one of America’s newest national parks (established in 2003), most people don’t yet know about this jewel of the east. I suspect the lack of mountains and large mammals may discourage some potential visitors.
Why you should go there: Congaree is the largest unspoiled hardwood floodplain forest left in the United States. It hosts gigantic pine and cypress trees that are among the biggest in the east. The forest is thick and dark and home to a variety of wildlife that can be seen from the extensive trails. The rivers provide excellent kayaking and canoeing opportunities, and a variety of birds, lizards, snakes, turtles, and even alligators can be found near the shores.

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View south from the side of Guadalupe Peak. Photographed 02/12/2014 at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas.

#6:  Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Visitors in 2013:  145,670
Why visitation is so low: Situated in west Texas, this park is literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s several hours from Albuquerque, El Paso, and San Antonio, making it a bit of a trek to visit. Carlsbad, New Mexico is only about an hour away so if you visit the nearby Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains should also be on your itinerary.
Why you should go there: Extensive canyons, quiet streams, harsh deserts, verdant woodlands, and gorgeous mountain views provide scenic wonder and a home for many interesting plants and animals. Roads here are few, but hiking and backpacking are worthwhile endeavors. Climb Guadalupe Peak (the highest point in Texas), and look down on the beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert. Along the way you’ll see a variety of cacti and maybe even deer or a mountain lion.

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View from Tomichi Point. Photographed 08/04/2013 at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose, Colorado.

#7:  Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
Visitors in 2013:  175,852
Why visitation is so low: As a relatively new national park (established in 1999) that is far from the beaten path (located in western Colorado), the appeal of Black Canyon has yet to reach the masses.
Why you should go there: This deep, dark, narrow canyon is a sight to behold. The sound of the raging Gunnison River below is unforgettable. The surrounding rivers, plants, and wildlife aren’t too shabby either.

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Cavern Point on Santa Cruz Island. Photographed 10/26/2013 at Channel Islands National Park, California.

#8:  Channel Islands National Park, California
Visitors in 2013:  212,029
Why visitation is so low: Although located only about 50 miles from the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, seeing this park is apparently too much trouble for most people. Visitors must drive to Oxnard or Ventura and board a ferry to one of the islands, and then rely on their own two feet (or a kayak) to get around.  The majority of people only see the visitor center in Ventura and don’t see the islands themselves.
Why you should go there: The ferry alone is worth the trouble as it often passes near seals, sea lions, dolphins, whales, and a variety of shore birds during the trip. Once on one of the islands these marine animals can still be seen, along with many other mammals, fish, birds, and reptiles. The terrain is rugged and fun to hike, and the canyons, peaks, and jagged coasts are rewarding places to explore.

Lake Kabetogama at the Woodenfrog Campground in Kabetogama State Forest. Photographed 07/24/2012 near Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota.

#9:  Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Visitors in 2013:  233,390
Why visitation is so low: Situated in northern Minnesota along the Canadian border, Voyageurs isn’t exactly in the middle of vacationland for most people.
Why you should go there: This remote wilderness is relatively free from visitors, making it an ideal destination to escape from civilization. The seemingly endless maze of lakes and rivers invite exploration by a variety of watercraft, and the dense forests invite exploration by foot. Moose, wolves, bears, and many other animals can be found in this unspoiled Eden. Fish fill the abundant waters, making it an angler’s paradise.

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Pinnacles along the High Peaks Trail. Photographed 12/16/2012 at Pinnacles National Monument, California.

#10:  Pinnacles National Park, California
Visitors in 2013:  237,677
Why visitation is so low: Pinnacles is America’s newest national park (established in 2013), so most people aren’t even aware of it yet.
Why you should go there: The jagged, volcanic peaks of Pinnacles are a great place to hike, backpack, and rock climb. A variety of interesting plants and animals can be found here, including California condors.

Continued in “The Least-Visited National Parks in America’s Lower 48 (and why you should visit them) Part 2…”

Posted in Botany, Culture, Ecology, General, Geology, National Parks, Vertebrate Zoology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2014 Countdown: 20 Favorite Landscape Photos

In the long and proud tradition of year-end countdowns, I thought I’d mark the end of 2014 with a few of my own. This second series is “20 Favorite Landscape Photos.” Out of all the scenery I managed to photograph this year, I like these the best.

#20: Au Sable River
Location: Westgate Overlook in Huron National Forest, Michigan
Date: October 10, 2014
Michigan’s eclectic mix of hardwood forests make it an ideal place to enjoy autumn color. Our abundant waters and temperamental skies often enhance any scene with both serenity and tension.

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Au Sable River from Westgate Overlook. Photographed 10/10/2014 at Huron National Forest, Michigan.

#19: Meadow in Paradise Park
Location: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Date: August 15, 2014
The alpine glaciers of Mount Rainier feed numerous cascades and lush greenery for hundreds of square miles.  Colorful wildflowers and abundant wildlife make this place feel like it’s out of a fairy tale.

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Small creek and lush meadow near Paradise Park. Photographed 08/15/2014 at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

#18: Badlands and Prairie
Location: Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Date: August 18, 2014
Although the colorful weathered rocks of the South Dakota badlands are beautiful, the grassy prairies surrounding them harbor many animals including bison, pronghorn, and prairie dogs. This photo shows a bit of both landscapes.

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Hills photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

#17: Little Missouri River
Location: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Date: August 8, 2014
North Dakota’s badlands and prairies may seem dry, but several significant sources of water breathe life into this arid environment.

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Little Missouri River near Wind Canyon. Photographed 08/08/2014 at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

#16: Devils Tower
Location: Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Date: August 17, 2014
Against the rolling hills of northeast Wyoming, the volcanic remains of Devils Tower stand like a sentinel watching over the plain.

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Devils Tower photographed 08/17/2014 at Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming.

#15: Waterpocket Fold
Location: Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Date: April 11, 2014
One of the most gorgeous locations in the American west, the red rocks of the Waterpocket Fold stand in stark contrast to the green foliage and blue skies.

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View along the Waterpocket Fold from Panorama Point. Photographed 04/11/2014 at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

#14: Northern Rockies Waterfall
Location: Glacier National Park, Montana
Date: August 9, 2014
Ice and snow persist in the northern Rocky Mountains even in late summer, where melt water feeds spectacular waterfalls, verdant foliage, and abundant wildlife.

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Mountain view photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

#13: Sunset Through The Window
Location: Big Bend National Park, Texas
Date: February 9, 2014
The focal point of the Chisos Basin is “The Window,” a gap in the mountains that provides a view down on the Chihuahuan Desert below. Although fit to gaze through any time of day, sunset is particularly satisfying.

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Sunset through The Window of the Chisos Basin. Photographed 02/09/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

#12: Cliff Palace
Location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Date: April 14, 2014
Of all the ancient Native American ruins to be found at Mesa Verde, Cliff Palace is among the most impressive. This shot captures the scale of the quaint stone village against the surrounding landscape.

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Cliff Palace photographed 04/14/2014 at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

#11: Avalanche Lake
Location: Glacier National Park, Montana
Date: August 9, 2014
Although it involves a bit of a hike, the reflective glory of Avalanche Lake is worth the time. Tucked into the mountains of Glacier National Park, this hideaway provides a quiet escape from the busier locations.

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Avalanche Lake photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

#10: Bayou Sunrise
Location: Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
Date: November 1, 2014
Even though it’s situated within the city limits of New Orleans, Bayou Sauvage offers a sampling of more expansive southern swamps. This natural amuse-bouche harbors fascinating subtropical plants, abundant wildlife, and spectacular Gulf Coast scenery.

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Morning light over a bayou. Photographed 11/01/2014 at Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge near New Orleans, Louisiana.

#9: Landscape Arch
Location: Arches National Park, Utah
Date: April 15, 2014
Of the over 2,000 natural stone arches to be found at Arches National Park, Landscape Arch is among the most impressive. The short hike among red rocks, green plants, and blue skies is well worth the time.

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Landscape Arch photographed 04/15/2014 at Arches National Park, Utah.

#8: Green River Canyons
Location: Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Date: April 13, 2014
The Canyonlands of southeast Utah harbor many fascinating views of eroded rock landscapes, but one of the best sights overlooks the canyons along the Green River. The Island in the Sky lives up to its name, allowing visitors to look down upon the varied landscapes in all directions. And after looking down, you will hopefully have enough time to venture into these fascinating places.

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Canyons from the Green River Overlook. Photographed 04/13/2014 at Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

#7: Teton Sunset
Location: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Date: September 4, 2014
Mountains against a sunset are beautiful. Lakes against a sunset are also beautiful. Mountains and lakes against a sunset are the most beautiful of all. Especially when said sunset finishes off a day watching bears, moose, and elk in their natural habitat.

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Sunset over the Tetons and Jackson Lake from the Signal Mountain Lodge. Photographed 09/04/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

#6: Chihuahuan Desert Mountains
Location: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Date: February 12, 2014
Exploring a landscape is an amazing experience, made even more amazing when you can finish by looking down on the landscape you just traversed. The arid plains and rugged canyons of the Chihuahuan Desert come into perspective when you can climb one of the mountains and look down on it all.

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View south from the side of Guadalupe Peak. Photographed 02/12/2014 at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas.

#5: Horseshoe Bay Beach
Location: Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda
Date: May 22, 2014
Beaches are defined by the nexus of land and water, but the pink sand, dark rocks, turquoise water, and deep blue skies of Bermuda redefine what a beach can be.

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Turquoise water, pink sand, and dark limestone photographed 05/22/2014 near Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.

#4: Rio Grande and Santa Elena Canyon
Location: Big Bend National Park, Texas
Date: February 10, 2014
Along the border of the United States and Mexico, the Rio Grande River carves its way across thick rock mesas and parched desert scrub. Steep-walled canyons give way to the open Chihuahuan Desert, and the indelible course of the river offers a chance at life to a harsh landscape.

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The Rio Grande near Santa Elena Canyon. Photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

#3: Lower Yellowstone Falls
Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Date: September 5, 2014
A steep staircase leads hundreds of feet down Uncle Tom’s Trail, where the payout is an unparalleled view of Lower Yellowstone Falls. Here the mist gives rise to rainbows while the colorful walls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone frame every view with beauty. Although the trek back up the stairs is strenuous, this location is one of the best places to see at Yellowstone.

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Lower Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

#2: Oxbow Bend Reflections
Location: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Date: September 5, 2014
Jagged snow-covered peaks, dense conifer forests, and abundant wildlife all reflected against the quiet waters of the Snake River. This spot defines the American west in one amazing view. If anyone ever says “I want to see America,” take them here.

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Oxbow Bend along the Snake River against the Teton Range. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

#1: Grand Prismatic Spring
Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Date: September 7, 2014
I was enamored with Grand Prismatic Spring the first time I saw a photo of it as a child. I simply couldn’t believe such a place existed on earth. Seeing this place in person with my own eyes was pretty moving. Although made up of nothing more than mineral-rich water from a hot spring, colorful thermophile bacteria, and the green hills and blue skies of northwest Wyoming, this little spot on the globe was the new definition of natural beauty for me.

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Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen in nature. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Posted in General, National Parks | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

2014 Countdown: 20 Favorite Wildlife Photos

In the long and proud tradition of year-end countdowns, I thought I’d mark the end of 2014 with a few of my own. This first series is “20 Favorite Wildlife Photos.” Out of all the wildlife I managed to photograph this year, I like these the best.

#20:  Black rat snake (Squamata: Colubridae: Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta or Pantherophis obsoletus obsoleta)
Location: Zaleski State Forest near Athens, Ohio
Date: May 2, 2014
When you stumble upon one of the longest snakes in North America laying across a trail, you tend to remember it.  This individual was about five feet (1.5 m) long and was cooperative enough to allow me to get some close-up photos.

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Black rat snake (Squamata: Colubridae: Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta or Pantherophis obsoletus obsoleta) photographed 05/02/2014 at Zaleski State Forest near Athens, Ohio.

#19:  American bullfrog (Anura: Ranidae: Lithobates catesbeianus)
Location: Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge near Bono, Ohio
Date: June 28, 2014
Although I’ve heard plenty of bullfrogs over the years, this was the first time I got to see one up close and personal. I thought the reflections of cattails and other plants in the water made this photo more interesting.

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American bullfrog (Anura: Ranidae: Lithobates catesbeianus) photographed 06/28/2014 at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge east of Bono, Ohio

#18:  Black-tailed prairie dog (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Cynomys ludovicianus)
Location: Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
Date: August 17, 2014
Although relatively common across much of the Great Plains, it’s still pretty fascinating to watch these large rodents communicate among their communal dens. They have barks to notify each other of a variety of interesting events, and have distinct calls for each of the various predators that may threaten them…including humans.

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Black-tailed prairie dog (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Cynomys ludovicianus) photographed 08/17/2014 at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

#17:  Antelope ground squirrel (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Ammospermophilus sp.)
Location: Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico
Date: February 8, 2014
Although abundant and relatively uninteresting, there was something endearing about this little guy chewing on a seed among the black basalt boulders he called home.

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Antelope ground squirrel (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Ammospermophilus sp.) photographed 02/08/2014 at Petroglyph National Monument near Albuquerque, New Mexico.

#16:  American pika (Lagomorpha: Ochotonidae: Ochotona princeps)
Location: North Cascades National Park, Washington
Date: August 16, 2014
These tiny, unassuming mammals may look like mice but they’re more closely related to rabbits. They eke out a living among high-elevation rocks in the North American west, communicating with adorable little squeaks. They’re easier to hear than see, so when you catch a glimpse of one you want to grab a photo.

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American pika (Lagomorpha: Ochotonidae: Ochotona princeps) photographed 08/16/2014 at North Cascades National Park, Washington.

#15:  Greater Roadrunner (Cuculidae: Cuculiformes: Geococcyx californianus)
Location: Big Bend National Park, Texas
Date: February 9, 2014
I didn’t see this bird drop a boulder on a coyote, go “beep beep” and then run off, but it was pretty quick. I was glad to get this shot before it disappeared.

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Greater roadrunner (Cuculidae: Cuculiformes: Geococcyx californianus). Photographed 02/09/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

#14:  White-tailed prairie dog (Rodentia: Scuiridae: Cynomys leucurus)
Location: Arches National Park, Utah
Date: April 15, 2014
Far less common than its black-tailed cousin to the east, this white-tailed prairie dog was fun to watch. It didn’t have any nearby relatives to bark at, and instead spent its time casually gnawing on the leaves of a canaigre dock.

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White-tailed prairie dog (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Cynomys leucurus) photographed 04/15/2014 at Arches National Park, Utah.

#13:  Young eastern newt (Caudata: Salamandridae: Notophthalmus viridescens)
Location: Zaleski State Forest near Athens, Ohio
Date: May 3, 2014
Eastern newts aren’t terribly impressive as adults, but the juvenile “red eft” stage of development presents some striking coloration. These little amphibians spend most of their time among damp leaf litter, so it takes some patience and luck to happen across one.

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Young eastern newt (Caudata: Salamandridae: Notophthalmus viridescens) photographed 05/03/2014 at Zaleski State Forest near Athens, Ohio.

#12:  Caribbean reef squid (Teuthida: Loliginidae: Sepioteuthis sepioidea)
Location: Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda
Date: May 23, 2014
It’s not every day a marine animal hangs out near the shore where you’re standing, so when you see one you’ve got to get some photos.

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Caribbean reef squid (Teuthida: Loliginidae: Sepioteuthis sepioidea) photographed 05/23/2014 near the Royal Naval Dockyard on Bermuda.

#11:  Bobcat (Carnivora: Felidae: Lynx rufus)
Location: Big Bend National Park, Texas
Date: February 11, 2014
This is a terrible photo but I felt fortunate to get even a bad shot of a bobcat. They’re relatively common but highly elusive predators, and are rarely seen in the wild. Even more interesting is what was happening when this photo was taken. My wife and I watched two of these small cats scurry nervously across the desert floor in the early morning twilight, only to be pursued a moment later by a mountain lion. It seemed like the mountain lion was hunting them down, and if I could have captured the whole scene it would have been fascinating.

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Bobcat (Carnivora: Felidae: Lynx rufus) photographed 02/11/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

#10:  Bald Eagle (Accipitriformes: Accipitridae: Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Date: September 7, 2014
I’ve seen Bald Eagles a few times, but never as up-close-and-personal as at Yellowstone National Park. My wife and I were on our way out and thought we had seen everything we were going to see, but two of these American icons were waiting for us by the side of the road near the west exit.

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Bald eagle (Accipitriformes: Accipitridae: Haliaeetus leucocephalus) along the Madison River. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

#9:  Trumpeter Swans (Anseriformes: Anatidae: Cygnus buccinator)
Location: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Date: September 5, 2014
The Teton Range reflecting against Oxbow Bend on the Snake River is a sight to behold, and even more so when a pair of Trumpeter Swans decide to paddle across.

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Trumpeter Swans (Anseriformes: Anatidae: Cygnus buccinator) on Owbow Bend along the Snake River. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

#8:  Dunlins (Charadriiformes: Scolopacidae: Calidris alpina)
Location: Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
Date: May 14, 2014
Although these little wading birds didn’t look like much from a distance, their active fishing was interesting to watch up close. The bird in the foreground had a small fish in its beak.

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Dunlins (Charadriiformes: Scolopacidae: Calidris alpina) photographed 05/14/2014 at Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland.

#7:  Canada Geese (Anseriformes: Anatidae: Branta canadensis)
Location: Zaleski State Forest near Athens, Ohio
Date: May 2, 2014
Canada Geese are exceedingly common in the eastern United States, but it’s not every day you see a new family going out for a swim on a stream.

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Canada Geese (Anseriformes: Anatidae: Branta canadensis) photographed 05/02/2014 at Zaleski State Forest near Athens, Ohio.

#6:  Columbian black-tailed deer (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Odocoileus hemionus columbianus)
Location: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Date: August 15, 2014
While the low clouds and fog obscured the views of Mount Rainier, they did lend a sense of fantasy wonder to the plants and wildlife on the meadows flanking the mountain.

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Columbian black-tailed deer (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) photographed 08/15/2014 at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

#5:  Pronghorn (Artiodactyla: Antilocapridae: Antilocapra americana)
Location: Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Date: August 18, 2014
While watching the large herbivore herds that wander across the western reaches of Badlands National Park, I got this nice shot of two pronghorn facing the rising sun.

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Pronghorn (Artiodactyla: Antilocapridae: Antilocapra americana) photographed 08/18/2014 at Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

#4:  Bull elk (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Cervus canadensis)
Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Date: September 5, 2014
Elk are relatively common in the American west but only bull elk sport large racks. Males grow these impressive structures during the mating season “rut” in late summer and early autumn. Catching a glimpse of the enormous antlers is rewarding, but hearing bull elk “bugling” is even cooler.

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Bull elk (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Cervus canadensis) along the Madison River. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

#3:  Mountain goat (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Oreamnos americanus)
Location: Glacier National Park, Montana
Date: August 9, 2014
It’s not hard to spot mountain goats near Logan Pass at Glacier National Park, but seeing one three feet in front of you is pretty shocking. While hiking the Highline Trail this individual popped out from behind a bush right next to my friends and I, giving us a nervous look as we cautiously backed away.

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Mountain goat (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Oreamnos americanus) photographed 08/09/2014 at Glacier National Park, Montana.

#2:  American bison (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Bison bison)
Location: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Date: August 8, 2014
During the nineteenth century humans nearly hunted American bison to extinction, driving their numbers down from about 30 million to only a few hundred in only a few decades. Today these large herbivores are enjoying a small bit of recovery on protected lands. There are few things in this world that can compare to a one-ton beast of pure muscle strolling right past you, especially when it’s against the badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

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American bison (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Bison bison) bull near the Ridgeline Trail. Photographed 08/08/2014 at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

#1:  American black bear (Carnivora: Ursidae: Ursus americanus)
Location: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Date: September 4, 2014
Bears are among the most enchanting of North American mammals. They’re relatively uncommon, hard to locate, and relatively shy. When planning and luck fall in your favor and you happen to catch a glimpse of one, it’s something to remember forever.

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Large black bear (Carnivora: Ursidae: Ursus americanus) along Moose-Wilson Road. Photographed 09/04/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Posted in General, Invertebrate Zoology, National Parks, Vertebrate Zoology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

This is cool you should watch it: “Virunga” on Netflix

This evening I watched a great new documentary on Netflix called “Virunga“.  While it’s centered on the beauty, wildlife and wonder of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it goes far deeper and explores the threats to one of the last remaining pristine natural areas of the world.

Dominant political forces, business interests, and military powers descend on the park’s oil reserves, while a small but dedicated band of park rangers and journalists work to defend the park and its wildlife and issue a desperate call for help.

The movie is well-made, intriguing, suspenseful, and emotional. It’s worth watching for anyone who cares about protecting nature, wildlife, and the environment from destruction, as well as anyone who may be interested in a thrilling tale of a scrappy group of idealists facing long odds against exploitative and wealthy people.

Posted in Culture, Environment, General, National Parks | Tagged , , | 1 Comment