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Happy Birthday, LBJ!

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Lyndon and Lady Bird.jpgTo sustain an environment suitable for man, we must fight on a thousand battlegrounds. Despite all of our wealth and knowledge, we cannot create a redwood forest, a wild river, or a gleaming seashore. But we can keep those we have.                                                                                                               -- Lyndon Baines Johnson


Lyndon.jpgLauded for his contributions to civil rights and maligned for his role in the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson is seldom hailed as a great environmentalist. His sweeping domestic program, the Great Society, is usually thought of as an economic agenda. Of course, he was deeply committed to putting "an end to poverty and racial injustice," as he explained in May 1964 to the graduating class of the University of Michigan. "But," he continued, "that is just the beginning." Listing his goals, he declared that it was vitally important to ensure that everyone had access to "a place where man can renew contact with nature."

LBJ also understood that many people, especially the poor, were isolated from natural beauty. Places like Yellowstone and Yosemite were great, but they were also very remote. Lyndon's job was fusing the traditional conservation movement with the changing realities of America's increasingly urban society. "We must not only protect the countryside and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities," he explained. Urging local governments to beautify towns and create city parks and greenways, Lyndon pledged to create new parks and recreation areas within driving distance of major cities.

In February 1965, he spoke to Congress about conservation: "Association with beauty can enlarge man's imagination and revive his spirit. Ugliness can demean the people who live among it. What a citizen sees every day is his America. If it is attractive it adds to the quality of his life. If it is ugly it can degrade his existence."

Lyndon Johnson passed more National Park Service-related legislation than any other president, creating a staggering 52 parks, recreation areas, national historic sites, wildernesses, monuments, seashores, lakeshores and memorials! He even set aside working farms and created a national park dedicated to the performing arts (Wolf Trap National Park, in Virginia). Moreover, he created the National Parks Foundation, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Trails System. Among the diverse group of historic sites and national landmarks set aside during the Johnson Administration are:

Lady Bird wildflower.jpg•    Biscayne National Park, Florida
•    North Cascades National Park and San Juan Island National Historic Park, Washington
•    Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site and Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
•    Arches National Monument and Canyonlands National Park, Utah
•    Redwoods National Park and John Muir National Historic Site, California
•    Eisenhower National Historic Site, Pennsylvania
•    Agate Fossil Beds National Park, Nebraska
•    Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland-Virginia
•    Herbert Hoover National Park, Iowa
•    Roger Williams National Historic Park, Rhode Island
•    Roosevelt Campobello International Park, Maine-Canada
•    Ellis Island National Monument and Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, New York
•    Padre Island National Seashore and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
•    John F. Kennedy National Historic Site, Massachusetts

(Fittingly, LBJ's ranch is now a national park in its own right.)

At the urging of his wife, Lady Bird, he championed the Highway Beautification Act. This law tore down billboards and removed "beauty-destroying junkyards and auto graveyards," planting flowers and trees in their place. As Lyndon said, "The roads themselves must reflect, in location and design, increased respect for the natural and social integrity and unity of the landscape and communities through which they pass."

With the help of the Democratic Congress, he passed dozens of bills designed to limit pollution, preserve rare habitats and protect endangered species, like the Air and Water Quality Acts, the Pesticides Control Act, the Wetlands Preservation Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

And now... Test your environmental knowledge with this word search! When you're done, copy the unused letters into the blanks to discover a little-known fact about LBJ...

Lyndon wordsearch.jpg

Here are the answers (no peeking!)


Lyndon wordsearch answers.jpg
LBJ house.jpg

Tide Pooling In California and Oregon

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tidepools.jpgBefore we went to California, we'd never seen a tide pool. We'd been to Galveston, which had a lot of broken glass as well as some seashells. We'd been to Normandy, and seen mussels and sand dollars on the beach. We'd been to Cannes, and played on a beach where we'd seen crabs and gotten shells as souvenirs... but not in tide pools.

During our stay in California, we lived in the Coast Range in the middle of the wine country; to travel anywhere we had to drive through vineyards. If we drove for approximately forty minutes, we got to the shore. But just finding a beach we liked was difficult.

The first time we went beach-hunting, it was evening and growing cold. The wind was blowing, yet even on a not-so-nice day the beach was rather crowded. We had to turn around. Other beaches were either fenced off, private property, or, like one secluded cove of red seaweed, smelled terrible.

Finally, we were driving along the green-spotted, scenic drive Highway 1 and looking for a sign reading "Goat Rock." When we spied the wooden plaque, we turned onto a dirt road (potholes included) and drove for about half a mile. We parked in front of the huge boulder, wondering how the beach had gotten its wacky name. Here was the Rock part, but the Goat's origin was unknown. It could have been named because the explorer who named it saw a goat in the rock (like Stevenson, in "Silverado Squatters," who saw a lion in a rock). Maybe it was because goats used to live on the rock. It's possible that it was because the explorer's pet goat found the rock. Or that the explorer was just crazy about goats. It's hard to tell.

Whatever the reason, we frequently went to Goat Rock. Once, we walked to the beach's "end," the distant rocks with small pools of water in them. We couldn't find any life, however, except for some green, orange, and pink seaweed that looked like the giant kelp washed up on the shore in miniature. Another time, we found some beached bat stars, a species of sea stars (more commonly incorrectly called starfish). I didn't pick one up, but Katrianna dared to.

To see actual tide pool life, however, we swam against the tide of the school groups, going to a beach where no one but ourselves was tide pooling, unlike our Shell Beach experience, where even on a cloudy day a troop of kids were listening to a lecture about the animals found in the pools. Because of Mom's planning, we knew that Salt Point State Park's Gerstle Cove was supposed to be a good place to see tide pools.

It turned out that it was. Once we'd parked, we walked down the path, merging with a paved road that lead down to the cove. The tiny patch of sand was dotted with many cute little crabs scuttling in and out of their holes.

Looking into our first tide pool, a puddle in a rock, we viewed our first sea anemone. Climbing over a few rocks, we saw another tide pool with some hermit crabs, several crabs of various sizes that didn't have the snail shell that characterizes the hermit crabs (like the ones on the beach), a pickle-like sea cucumber, and a sea star.

I was scared by the huge, ugly insects called rock lice that crept around on the rocks. Mom said that they were a natural protection for the tide pools, but that did not make me think more highly of the prehistoric-like creatures, and I continued to scratch, thinking one was catching a ride on me.

We saw fish, sea stars that were purple with white polka-dots, a sea star that was orange, lots of crabs, two sea stars "kissing," a green sea star no bigger than a quarter, and many more anemones. Herring gulls flew about, swooping or perching on rocks. That was our best tide pooling experience -- we saw all of the creatures on the plaque except for the bat stars, which we'd seen at Goat Rock.

When we were on a trip to Oregon, we saw the ending point of the Lewis and Clark expedition, including where they'd climbed to a beach, now called Cannon Beach, to see a beached whale. While we were looking at the fish swimming around in the tide pools, the barnacles clinging to the rocks, and the green seaweed overhanging the pools and snapping pictures, a tide swept up. I ran to safety as quickly as I could and only the edge of my shoe got wet. Mom and Katrianna stood on rocks while the tide drenched them six inches up. At Goat Rock, a sign said to always be careful of berm tides.  Berm tides can be dangerous and even carry people out to sea, but this one preferred soaking people. That was our last tide pooling adventure... and by far the wettest.

Edward I: Environmentalist by Accident

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Edward I.jpgEdward the First, the fifth Plantagenet king of England, is famous for clobbering the Scottish and Welsh armies, getting clobbered by the French, banishing the Jews, going Crusading, taxing everybody he could get his hands on, and performing other violent acts.

Tall for the times at 6'2", Edward had a terrible temper. When his son requested an earldom for his friend, the king tore out fistfuls of the boy's hair. When the Dean of St. Paul's entered the throne-room, mustering his nerve to discuss lowering taxes, he was supposedly killed on the spot by the mere sight of the king.

Is it feasible that this ferocious king, represented in medieval allegory not as the "noble" lion but as the "powerful" and "volatile" leopard, had a good side? It's possible. He maintained a good relationship with his parents, and loved his own wife and children. At fourteen, young Prince Edward married Eleanor of Castile, who was about the same age. Unusually, they were dedicated to each other; Edward didn't have affairs, and he didn't lock Eleanor up in a tower! When Eleanor died after thirty-six years of marriage, Edward was devastated, and built Eleanor Crosses wherever the funereal procession stopped. (His second marriage, to the young Margaret of France, also turned out well, despite their fifty-four-year age difference.)

Yet less well known is the fact that if Edward had had his way, coal pollution would never have been an issue.

Coal was so abundant on England's northeast coast that it was collected in wheelbarrows. People could even pick it up on the beach! It had been used since prehistoric times -- in the Bronze Ages, Welsh funeral pyres were fired by coal -- but when the Romans conquered "Britannia," they fell in love with the fuel.  At first, they thought it was very pretty, and fashioned it into ornaments for themselves. They called it gagate; this word would evolve into "jet," a dense variant of coal still used in making jewelry. (However, the Roman artisans often mixed up the higher quality jet with ordinary coal.) They also popularized burning it. After the Romans had cleared out, the Britons forgot about coal and resorted to wood. The early historian, St. Bede, describing the abundant "jet," didn't mention that it was used for heat, but observed that the smoke kept snakes away.

At any rate, until the 12th century, everybody in London burned wood. Soon, however, London began to grow, and the forests dwindled. Wood became expensive and rare. Instead, the Londoners decided to try the cheaper, easily-obtained coal. There was only one problem. Burning wood produced some smoke, but a lot of heat. Burning sea-coal produced a little heat, but a lot of sulfurous smoke. Nevertheless, instead of thinking of a better solution, everyone decided to burn more coal. The thick smoke combined with the natural fog and hung over the city for days.

In 1306, Edward, instigated by a group of prominent noblemen and clerics, passed legislation banning the burning of sea-coal. The king's mother, Eleanor of Provence, had gotten so sick from the smoke surrounding Nottingham Castle that she had had to flee the town. (Edward I's great-grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had had a similar experience with the burning wood around Tutbury Castle.)

Despite the king's commands, the law was disregarded. The poor didn't have the money to buy wood and there weren't any other alternatives. Edward altered his bill. Now, first-time offenders were subject to immense fines. If they were caught a second time, their furnaces were destroyed. Unfortunately, this didn't work either. The atmosphere was getting tense. Edward altered his bill again. This time, a death penalty was installed for burning coal. One person was seized and executed. But everybody kept on burning coal. Edward couldn't execute his whole kingdom. Besides, even if he could have, then he wouldn't have had anybody to tax or beat up, so what's the point of that? Consequently, the law was ignored, although Edward II, Edward I's successor, tortured a few people who were unable to meet its terms. Astoundingly, that didn't help.

princess elizabeth.jpgSubsequently, others tried to exterminate the burning of coal, including the kings Richard II and Henry V, whose palace at Westminster was permeated by the odor. By the time Queen Elizabeth acceded to the throne, the situation was worse than ever. Short beds, which forced sleepers to sit up, were popular, as people had difficulties breathing if they lay down. The queen was reported to be "greatly grieved and annoyed with the taste and smoke of sea- coales," and tried to get it banned, at least while Parliament was in session.

Later, in 1661, a prominent Cavalier named John Evelyn was asked by Charles II (whose palace at Whitehall was getting all the fumes from a nearby duke's residence) to write a book against coal. He complied, and the result was Fumifugium: or, The Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoake of London Dissipated, Together with some Remedies humbly proposed by J. E. Esq., to His Sacred Majestie, and to the Parliament now Assembled. The title "Fumifugium" was compounded of two Latin words, fumus, meaning "smoke," and fugit, "to escape or get  away from." (It's actually pretty terrible Latin, just for the record.)

John Evelyn.jpgEvelyn's book was one of the first comprehensive studies of the dangers of coal burning, and one of the earliest to discuss air pollution. (It also blamed the English Civil Wars on bad air caused by coal fires, not on any political issues!) Not only did it berate the smell of the smoke, it also attacked it as being unhealthy and aesthetically unpleasing. Evelyn wrote that the fumes were

"...so universally mixed with that otherwise wholesome and excellent Aer, that her Inhabitants breathe nothing but an impure and thick Mist, accompanied with a fuliginous and filthy vapour, which renders them obnoxious to a thousand inconveniences, corrupting the Lungs, and disordering the entire habit of their Bodies; so that Catharrs, Phthisicks, Coughs and Consumptions, rage more in this one City, than in the whole Earth besides."

He also complained that "Whilst these [the "Chimnies of London"] are belching it forth their sooty jaws, the City of London resembles the face rather of Mount Ætna, the Court of Vulcan, [or] Stromboli, ... than an Assembly of Rational Creatures, and the Imperial feat of our incomparable Monarch," adding that the black particles in the smoke ruined the facades of palaces, churches, and houses. Evelyn goes on to say that it killed birds and insects and blighted flowers and fruit trees. He adds that travelers could smell the city long before they could see it.

Evelyn did not advocate the prohibiting of coal-burning; he merely said that trades, such as brewing, dyeing, lime-burning, which put out a significant amount of smoke should be relocated to where the soot would not affect the city. He also proposed moving other noxious businesses, such as butchers and chandlers, out as well. To promote cleanliness, no burials should be permitted in churches or even within the city walls. Not even this approach, however, gained much support.

James Watt.jpgThe Industrial Revolution effectively destroyed any hopes of outlawing this pernicious fuel, as it was considered indispensable to development. Anyone who was opposed to coal was opposed to progress. Factories relied on it to fire their huge furnaces. It heated workers' homes. Worst of all, it provided the steam for James Watt's new steam engine. Getting rid of it was impossible. In fact, coal usage in Great Britain multiplied by 100 between 1800 and 1900.

The coal-produced smog, called "fog" by the Londoners, was familiar to people such as Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Darwin, James Russell Lowell (who was proud to have survived the smoke), Arthur Conan Doyle, Heinrich Heine, and Thomas Carlyle, who called it "fluid ink." Finally, in 1956, four years after a four-day "fog" killed approximately 4,000 people, Parliament passed the Clean Air Act, which reduced coal burning to a large extent.

To this day, coal continues to be one of the worst energy sources on the planet. It is the largest contributor to man-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, one of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The difference that the success of Edward I's 1306 law would have caused is unfathomable. Even though he was a terrifying warrior and sometimes a cruel king, ironically he deserves to be remembered as one of the earliest environmentalists.

California Condors: 9-foot Thunderbirds

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cndr.jpgCalifornia condors are remarkable birds. They have a nine-foot wingspan, the largest of any North American bird! They are so large that they are more often mistaken for airplanes than other birds. Due to their size, Native Americans called them "thunderbirds," because the sound of their wings flapping purportedly made thunder. They are mostly black, with white patches under the wings. Another myth, from the Chumash tribe, tells that condors once had white feathers, but were burned when they got too close to a fire.

The critically endangered condors are in the same family as vultures, and many vultures are scavengers, meaning that they eat the remnants of dead animals. Unlike some vultures, however, condors do not have a particularly good sense of smell, instead using their sharp eyes to find food. They do not have talons and cannot carry prey, so they eat 2-3 pounds of food at a sitting and then sit for a day to recover! They are so big that they intimidate most would-be competitors for food. Even bears ignore them, and golden eagles are the only species that will fight them. Dominant, older birds eat before the younger ones.

Condors mate for life. When a male spots a potential mate, his head turns bright red and he walks towards her with his wings spread. If she lowers her head, it means she accepts. Although no actual nest is built, they lay their eggs in hard-to-access caves in rocky cliffs. Incubation takes two months, with the parents taking turns sitting on the egg.

At one point, there were thousands of condors in the wild. Ten thousand years ago, they lived on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, from British Columbia to Baja California and from New York to Florida. However, they were endangered by many factors. They were hunted (particularly for museums) and poisoned by DDT. They got lead poisoning by scavenging dead animals killed by hunters who used lead bullets. Their habitat was also destroyed, and, as more people moved in, condor collisions with power lines increased. Additionally, people collected the condors' eggs. In the Gold Rush, condors were even turned into pets. The entire California condor population was reduced to 22 birds.

condorbaby3.jpgCaptive breeding programs saved the condors. In the wild, condors are slow breeders, but they "double-clutch," or lay a second egg if the first one is lost or taken. So scientists took the condors' first eggs, allowing the pairs to raise the second eggs. The first eggs were put in an incubator until they hatched, when the chicks were fed with condor puppets and recordings of condor sounds were played to them. In twenty years, the population grew to 200 birds.

Today there are 369 condors in the world, and 190 of these are wild. However, they are not safe. Some of them have been killed by coyotes or eagles. Some still flew into power lines, but now before new birds are released they "undergo a power pole aversion training program which uses mock power poles that deliver a small electric shock to the birds when they try to land on them," according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. This has effectively stopped the collisions. They are also accidentally hunted, or are poisoned by chemicals. Lead poisoning from scavenged meat is still one of the biggest threats. Since reintroduction, 15 condors have died from lead poisoning. (Nine of the cases were proven, and six were recorded as very likely.) Recently, lead ammunition has been banned within the condors' range. Although some people refuse to comply with this law, it has reduced the risk. They have been reintroduced to parts of California, Arizona, and Utah. They are still very rare, but their populations are increasing. Captive breeding and careful conservation seem to have saved this magnificent raptor.

Zion National Park's Top Hikelights

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riversideblog.jpgRiverside Walk Trail

deerzion.jpgWe went on a two mile hike, Riverside Walk.It starts by going down a paved stairway into a canyon. We saw an "amateur arch," an arch which hadn't yet been fully formed. It was part of a hanging garden, which was surprisingly lush for the desert. We also saw a family of deer. They were eating and weepwallzion.jpglicking a rock for the salt. Later on the family came out and walked alongside the trail for a while, then went back to the woods. There are nice views of the Virgin River alongside the walk, and some towering rocks leading to the walls of this canyon. The trail ends where the river takes up the whole of the canyon floor, but you can still go on to a place called The Narrows. This is a less populated hike, as there is barely a trail, but it is still one of Zion's top attractions.

Weeping Wall, Zion Nat'l Park    

    Weeping Wall (or Weeping Rock) is a short, paved hike, only 0.5 miles roundtrip. It goes up to a wall where water drips down. The water is 2000-4000 years old, as it has to seep down through sedimentary layers of shale. The water still drips quickly, despite that. We chose people where our water came from (Mikaela was the Egyptian pharaoh, Khufu, and I was Julius Caesar [I said he splashed Augustus with it].)

Emerald Pools

The Emerald Pools are very nice if you go in the fall. The trail is filled with ruts and small waterfalls trickle quietly across the trails, but the leaves on the trees are filled with fall color, making the hike to the bright blue-green lake waters very pretty.

Who's hiding in the fall foliage?


Viewpoints and Scenic Drives


The Zion-Mt Carmel Highway's famous 

Checkerboard Mesa is a stop recommended 

by several travel websites and magazines, but its eroded chessboard pattern is not as remarkable 

patriarch1.jpg

as many travel episodes show it to be. However, it is a nice stop (and don't forget to bring some checkers: they make a good picture).


Another good stop is the "three patriarchs," Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob. However, Mt Isaac's name cannot be fully attributed to the Biblical character: the man who gave these three mountains their names happened to be called Isaac, too. A clever way to name something after yourself without bluntly stating it?


BP Oil Spill Response: Testing The Cap

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The BP oil cap may not work due to pressure, as the rubber seal already has 600 atmospheres of pressure on it. In the case that the pressure is too great, the well could leak for years. Then we would face the considerable problem of the oil pumping out of the earth faster than our planet could take it back in. In that case, as happens with water and other liquids pumped out from under the surface, a large sinkhole would form.

Also the whole Gulf ecosystem, especially marshes such as the Everglades, are likely to be wiped out. Recently iNational Geographic I read a study about oil being buried under seemingly white and glistening beaches as a result of extensive overturning of the sand to clean the beaches. That could be a danger to crabs and other fauna under the sands.  Numerous bird species have already been affected, and it is anticipated that many more will become extinct if the oil well is not capped properly. 

Becoming a vegetarian not only benefits the animals, it also helps the planet. By easily altering your diet, you can save many resources, including land, food, water and energy.

Energy One third of all fossil fuels produced in the US are used to raise livestock to be eaten. Eighty percent of all agricultural land is used by the meat or dairy industries. All of the little stages needed to convey meat to your home add up into one huge problem. Turning off lights or unplugging appliances when they are not needed are very minor contributions when compared to the immense environmental profit created by a transition to vegetarianism. Consider the steps needed to produce a packaged hot dog or hamburger or chicken nuggets:

1. Remember the 80 percent of all farming land used by the meat companies? They use a lot of the land to grow corn, soybeans and grain to be used as feed. These crops must be watered, sprayed with pesticides and nurtured just as food for human consumption would be. This uses a lot of energy in itself. While this process is not eliminated by vegetarianism, many of the other steps could be.

2. When you see 18-wheelers driving down the highway, don't they strike you as being very bad for the environment? They're giving off clouds of pollution, and they get very bad mileage or they use more gas per mile than an energy-efficient car would use. Those trucks carry the grain to the feed mill. The feed mill isn't environmentally-friendly, either. It uses a lot of electricity to power it. Although being a vegetarian isn't perfect, at this point the food would be ready to go to the grocery store. But there's still a long process before the final product arrives at the supermarket.

3. The feed is loaded back into the 18-wheelers and driven to the factory farms, where animals are mass-produced. The animals have to be raised on the factory farms, which wastes a lot of energy. Think about it - they have to be fed, watered, and given injections of hormones and antibiotics to prevent the diseases which spread quickly in such unsanitary conditions, and many other things that most people don't realize are necessary.

4. Once the animals are grown, they are loaded onto specially-equipped 18-wheelers and trucked to the slaughterhouse. The slaughterhouse, which is yet another inefficient industrial building, takes huge amounts of energy to run.

5. After they have been killed, the animals are often again transported and delivered to packaging factories, which must be powered to pack the bags of processed food that you buy in a grocery store.

6. The packaged food is driven to a grocery store, where it must be refrigerated to prevent its spoiling. You buy it and take it home, where it must again be kept cool.

Greenhouse Gases If every American substituted vegetarian food for a meal of chicken once a week, the carbon dioxide reduction would be equal to taking over half a million cars off the road, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, an organization trying to preserve natural resources. Eating one pound of meat is the carbon dioxide equivalent of driving an SUV 40 miles in the amount of energy expended to produce the final product.

Wasted Food Eating meat wastes more grain than dining on vegetarian foods, which do not have to be harvested to feed animals before they finally become human food. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of animal meat, according to John Robbins' Diet for a New America. That's a ratio of 16 to 1. If every pasture used to graze livestock or grow cattle feed was planted with soybeans for human consumption, no one in the world would be starving.

Pollutants The runoff from factory farms producing meat pollutes public water more than all other industrial sources combined. In towns around Bellingham, in Washington state, the fields are sprayed with contaminated, brown water from chicken plants. We went to a town, Lynden, which had a Dutch heritage and featured windmills and half-timbered buildings. It would have been quaint, except that it smelled horribly like the dirty water being used to irrigate the nearby fields. Because the corn fields were also being watered with the polluted water, that Halloween we could not go to any corn mazes.

Scenic Drives The French and Swiss Alps have been turned into huge cow pastures. The smell in some towns was so bad that we could not walk around in them. We tried to hike up to a glacier located in open space in France, but had to jump fences and avoid the fields with grazing cows in them. In England, it is sheep and not cows which roam everywhere. Although the sheep are not as bad as cattle, they still make traveling less enjoyable. When driving through the Midwestern US, we often pass stockyards where cows are packed into small, muddy enclosures.

Benefits of Vegetarianism Although being a vegetarian sounds strange and difficult, it is one of the very best things you could do for the environment. People turn off the air conditioning or the TV when they leave a room and use canvas grocery bags instead of paper or plastic ones, but, although this helps the environment some, eating meat wastes a lot more energy.

Grand Canyon National Park: Hiking The North Rim

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A two-hour-long drive from Zion National Park, the forested North Rim of the Grand Canyon offers a shady alternative to the rocky South Rim. In summer, the national parks of the Southwest get unbearably hot, so we went in early November. Depending on how much snow falls, the North Rim sometimes closes in October, but the visitor center was open when we went. It was cold enough in the evenings that we were obliged to wear our winter jackets, but in the afternoon we hiked in T-shirts. (It gets hot in the day - bring lots of water!) Another advantage of visiting the North Rim instead of the South Rim is that, because only ten percent of all tourists traveling to the Grand Canyon visit the North Rim, it is not crowded. The campground was closed during our visit; consequently, we camped at the much warmer Zion. The following trails we hiked in a day, so none are very long or strenuous - no one wanted to hike 21 miles to the South Rim!

Bright Angel Point
Even though Mikaela hates heights (she is terrified of Ferris wheels, although they are Katrianna's favorite amusement park rides), this hike allowed for good photo-taking opportunities. The view is best when seen in the morning because air pollution worsens in the afternoon, making it harder to see. The paved, often narrow trail climbs though switchbacks, using fences in some spots and only shrubs in others to block the steep cliffs, to the viewpoint. The Colorado River can be seen from the overlook, still carving away at the canyon it formed. Coconino Overlook is more scenic and GC cconno2.jpgless scary but Bright Angel Point is more dramatic. Of course, nothing is as terrifying as the cracked Angel's Window, but this hike will not be enjoyed by people with acrophobia.

Coconino Overlook

People who hike from rim to rim pass this pretty panorama on their way up or down. We only went 1.5 miles round trip along the North Kaibab trail, which leads through switchbacks into the canyon. It is very easy on the way down and, although the return trip is uphill, it is not very difficult even coming out. The unpaved trail goes through a forest and over a fallen log slanting across the trail. For a short part of the walk, you travel under overhanging boulders (which look scary but assuredly will not fall on your head). Katrianna found it fun to yell things into the canyon and listen to the echoes. The view of the river was Mikaela's favorite scene of the canyon because it was shady and forested. Best of all, she was not scared.

Cliff Springs Trail
Driving along the paved road to Cape Royal, you will see a pullout with a hard-to-spot sign reading, "Cliff Springs." If you park there and cross the road, you will see a flight of pine-needle covered steps leading down into the forest. We hiked this trail at dusk, when it is mysteriously shadowy and very nice (even though it gets cold after sunset). A few steps down the trail, we came to an ancient Puebloan granary. The old walls had partly crumbled, revealing the inside chambers. Continuing down the trail, we hiked though a subalpine forest of aspen, pine and fir trees, a habitat we had not expected to find in Arizona. But the actual "spring" was the best part. To access it, we had to walk under a rock ledge that in parts was dripping water - and growing mold - across damp, sandy patches and through a small stream (which Dad found slippery, and proved it by almost falling in). The sunset was making the rocky hills on the other side of the valley glow with a soft pink light. It was definitely a worthwhile trail.

GC angl'swndow2.jpgCape Royal and Angels Window
Those with a fear of heights should not attempt to walk out on Angels Window. Cape Royal Overlook was also scary - in Mikaela's perspective - but is tolerable to acrophobics and will not leave them with quaking knees. We went a few steps out onto the window (which in national parks does not refer to a software program, instead meaning a narrow rock formation with a hole in the center). From our viewpoint you could not see straight down but on either side was a sheer drop with a frightening panorama. When we had returned to the first view of the window and were looking back at it, we were startled to see the crack that had been directly under our feet. The window is prettiest at sunset, when it is softly pink with the fading light. Cape Royal was another overlook and is easily confused with Bright Angel. The view from the point, however, is worth the short walk.

Gc brghy2.gifTo Keep Passengers Entertained On Long Drives
Get a copy of Brighty of the Grand Canyon, by Marguerite Henry. It's a short (224 pages long) novel based on the life of a real burro named Brighty. In the book, Brighty has many adventures. In one chapter, the burro accompanies Theodore Roosevelt on a mountain lion hunt and in another he is the first to walk across a bridge spanning the Grand Canyon. His owner, a prospector named Old Timer, was killed by a miner who wanted the valuable minerals on Old Timer's property. In the end, Brighty and his new owner, Uncle Jim, take the miner into court for a trial. The story is especially interesting to visitors to the Grand Canyon. WARNING: This book is extremely hard to put down and will inevitably be the cause of quarreling between readers in the backseat, who turn to questionable means to get the book (including hiding it between the folds of a jacket or snatching it from another reader's lap when they were not holding it). Nevertheless, it is still worth getting.

The Colossal Explosion: Yellowstone's Massive Volcano

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       When Wyoming was still a territory, Lieutenant Gustavus Doane, head of an exploring expedition, noticed something strange when looking out from the top of a mountain. He noticed that there was a giant volcano. But the Lieutenant, even though he made a good guess, thought wrong: in his mind, the ancient crater was extinct.

    ldfthflgysr.jpgTwenty craters have been in existence since mighty sheets of ice covered Yellowstone National Park. The volcano is known to be the cause of all the geysers, mud pots, terraces, and hot springs in the park.

When we went to Yellowstone, we liked seeing the mud pots (even though they smelled like rotten eggs) and we saw Old Faithful erupt three times. Then we went to Morning Glory Pool (a multicolored hot springs.) But, while we were there, we didn't see any symptoms that the supervolcano's blast was going to happen soon.

    Earthquakes have been happening recently (which is a sign that the park could explode soon). However, scientists say the eruption could happen anytime from next week to the next millennium. The future is anybody's guess!

   

For More Information:
USGS Volcano Facts
Discovery's Yellowstone Insights   
National Geographic's "Under Yellowstone"


Why Leaves Change Color in Fall

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Trees and bushes colored bright shades of orange, yellow, red, and brown are a familiar sight in fall. They light up the hillsides for a few months, until the leaves fall from the trees. But why does this happen?

When maple trees' leaves are green, they are absorbing sunlight and carbon dioxide. The chlorophyll in the leaves enables them to turn those two ingredients into glucose, a kind of sugar which gives them energy and helps them grow, using a process called photosynthesis. When the photosynthesis stops, the glucose is trapped in the leaf. Sunlight and cold weather turn the glucose red. Oaks turn brown because of the wastes left in their leaves, but the brown leaves don't actually drop from the tree. Instead, they stay on the branches until late winter or early spring, when the new leaves replace the old ones. Other pigments found in leaves called carotenoids are yellow-colored, which is why aspen and larches turn golden. You can't see the colored pigments in summer because the chlorophyll's green coloring is stronger than the others. It is only when the chlorophyll fades out of the leaf that the others are visible.

Later on, in late fall or winter, the deciduous trees lose their leaves because, although their trunk and branches will not freeze, the leaves cannot endure such frigid temperatures. Also, because winter has less sunlight than the other seasons, the leaves cannot make very much energy. It is more efficient for the tree to live off of the energy it stored, just as many hibernating animals live off of the food they ate in the warmer seasons.

Evergreen trees have their own system of coping with winter so that their needles don't freeze. They have a waxy coating on the needles and their cells have fluids that prevent freezing inside them. So while the deciduous trees aren't producing any oxygen, the evergreens take over. This is yet another reason why it's important to conserve these valuable resources.

This is how trees produce the colors commonly termed "fall color" before shedding the leaves, a beautiful annual phenomenon.

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