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National Parks: Test Your Knowledge

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collageII.JPGWhat's the oldest national park? The most visited? Where can you find active volcanoes, crocodiles, America's driest desert or the world's biggest trees? Find out, in this puzzle!

To solve the puzzle, fill in the boxes with the answers to the clues below. When you're done, check the green column to discover the most visited national park in the country!

National Parks.jpg1. This swamp in southern Florida is home to flamingoes, alligators and the only population of wild crocodiles in the USA.
2. Situated on Montana's US-Canada border, this park is named for the icy deposits on its mountains.
3. You can find the biggest trees in the world in this California park.
4. This park features Utah's most iconic rock formation.
5. Devil's ____ is a rock outcropping in southeast Wyoming; Native Americans believed the spot was holy.
6. You can climb mountains of sand in this Colorado National Monument.
7. Most visitors snorkel or scuba-dive around the coral reef in this Florida park.
8. This very big Kentucky cave shares its name with an extinct relative of the elephant.
9. This northern California park preserves the tallest trees in the world.
10. This gorge-ous canyon, near Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, is truly fit for a -- royal?
11. The first national park in the USA, geysers, bison and hot springs dominate the landscape.
12. This deep Arizona gorge, carved by the Colorado River, is the second-most visited park in the country.
13. This park in southwest Colorado contains the ancient stone dwellings of the Anasazi Native Americans.
14. This Colorado park shares its name with the ____ Mountains it's situated in.
15. This Nebraska landmark (Scott's ____) greeted settlers on the Oregon Trail.
16. An active volcano in Oregon, Mt. St. _____ last blew its top in 2008.
17. This California park encompasses the hottest, driest desert in the US.
18. This preserve sits on Maine's northern coast; it shares its name with a former French-Canadian colony.
19. Naturalist John Muir and his friend President Teddy Roosevelt saved this park, home to Half Dome and El Capitan.
20. Hawaii _______ still spew lava, so watch out if you visit this park!
21. Paleontologists search for the fossils of these extinct reptiles in this Colorado national monument.

When you're done, you can check your answers below (no cheating!)...

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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...

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Here are the answers (no peeking!)


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State Birds Word Search

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Since 1927, each state has been represented by a native bird. Washington, D.C.'s official fowl is the Wood Thrush, famous for its beautiful song. Henry David Thoreau, a fan of the thrush, wrote in his journal entry for July 5, 1852:

woodthrush.jpg"The wood thrush's is no opera music; it is not so much the composition as the strain, the tone -- cool bars of melody from the atmosphere of everlasting morning or evening. It is the quality of the song, not the sequence. In the peawai's note there is some sultriness, but in the thrush's, though heard at noon, there is the liquid coolness of things that are just drawn from the bottom of springs. The thrush alone declares the immortal wealth and vigor that is in the forest. Here is a bird in whose strain the story is told, though Nature waited for the science of aesthetics to discover it to man. Whenever a man hears it, he is young, and Nature is in her spring. Wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of heaven are not shut against him. Most other birds sing from the level of my ordinary cheerful hours--a carol; but this bird never fails to speak to me out of an ether purer than that I breathe, of immortal beauty and vigor. He deepens the significance of all things seen in the light of his strain. He sings to make men take higher and truer views of things. He sings to amend their institutions; to relieve the slave on the plantation and the prisoner in the dungeon, the slave in the house of luxury and the prisoner of his own low thoughts."

After you find all the birds in the word search, you can check your answers below:birdswordsanswers.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.

Florida Backyard Birding

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pterydactyl.jpg    On vacation in Florida, we saw a surprising variety of wild birds. There were ospreys, great and little blue herons, roseate spoonbills, white ibises, limpkins, bald eagles, moorhens, coots, vultures abounding, sandhill cranes, and all varieties of egret -- great, snowy, and cattle.

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    Many of our opportunities occurred close to home, like the pier in Venice, which hosted several anhingas and pelicans. One pelican appeared to have a hurt wing, so we rang the local Save Our Seabirds. They took the pelican and we saw him again (looking better but still favoring his hurt wing) in the Sarasota branch.There was also a church very near to our house with a cross atop it which adornment was the favorite haunt of a bald eagle who evidently hadn't been acquainted with the separation of church and state yet. At the nearby Myakka State Park we saw a stray flamingo flying overhead, along with many roseate spoonbills and some black-crowned night herons as well. Magnificent frigatebirds are rare, but we saw them flying overhead twice (they can be easily identified by their throat pouches, while are still conspicuous when not inflated). The crested caracara is harder to identify, but it flew over occasionally.
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  But best of all was the lake back of our house. Almost every evening we would hear our resident pair of sandhill cranes "chortling" across the lake and then flying off to roost. But one day they began to build a nest in a clump of reeds opposite us -- tweaking the grasses with their bills and inquisitively sitting on it. Then, one morning, we found them incubating their eggs, and they never flew away at night again. One chick hatched about a month later, and was quickly nicknamed "Junior." He was at first inside the nest for the most part, but then he gradually began to walk about the lake with his two parents, as viewed with our binoculars. As he grew his appearance changed from that of a small downy chick to a small tawny bird the size of a chicken, with inordinately long legs. One day we decided to go across the lake for a close-up view of the cranes, and we walked across the subdivision to the nest site. They were calmly feeding there, and they showed no signs of being afraid of us. Junior kept running from one of his parents to the other to be fed on the grubs they were digging from the ground, and now and then one of the parents would rise for a moment to see if they detected any intruders, and then resume foraging. The chick gradually grew until his fledging stage arrived -- we would see the two parents walking along the lake and flapping their wings, and Junior following, anxious to keep up with Mom and Dad. By the end, Junior was larger than his mother, and only lacked a red cap to resemble his parents almost precisely.
   The little blue herons and the white ibis seemed to get along relatively well with each other -- we'd see them making rounds across the pond, filing one by one and digging in the Great Blue Heron.jpgpond bed and grass slopes on the bank. Their heads would bob comically up and down. The ibis typically walked much faster than the herons, however, so they would generally end up at least twenty yards away. Juvenile white little blue herons would also sometimes be seen. Little and Great Blue Herons (the latter could sometimes be seen feeding on the lake, occasionally the Wurdemann's or Great White varieties) both flew with their necks bunched up in a comical fashion. Limpkins are relatively rare; they only showed themselves a few times at our pond. They would generally stand near the bank with the herons and ibises.
    Wood storks would sometimes land on the other side of the pond in the late afternoon to feed, and occasionally roost in the tall pines (very seldom, on our side of the pond), but most of the time they would fly off. Also, sometimes we would see a mysterious phenomenon; a group of birds would be flying in the distance, and then they would disappear, often when they went in front of a cloud. We then discovered it was the wood storks flying, and tilting themselves midair until we could not see the black bottoms of their wings.
    Ospreys and eagles frequented a large tree just to the left of our house, and you would sometimes see the ospreys diving for fish, flapping, hovering -- then diving. A juvenile eagle and his parent would sometimes be seen in the tree, attempting to establish authority over a raven that persisted in irritating them. There were regular battles for supremacy (in the bird world, that's the higher branch).
    We also had a chance to view the lives of moorhens, coots, and ducks in detail. In the small-bird world, there was a mockingbird pair who built a nest in our shrub, but theirs was a fussy baby who emitted regular sounds almost like a timer beep when hungry (and sometimes just as irritating). We never got to see much of the chick, who was hidden away in the foliage, but we saw the two parents entering the shrub with food and singing their melodious songs.

Good luck birdwatching and always remember these tips:
-Never get too close to a bird that it might become nervous
-Never at any time litter: a bird might learn to feed in developed places and be run over.
-If you see a hurt bird, always call the nearest wildlife rescue center. Never touch the bird, however.
-Be extra respectful of a bird with a nest.

Does Shelling Harm Wildlife?

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Shell.jpgRecently, we were walking on the beach just after low tide. Rims of seashells marked where the waves had come. Many of these were fragmented, and the majority had been bleached by the sun. There were some pretty scallops and cockles, and several still-connected bivalve shells. Then, Mom found a beautiful conch. The shell was mottled with shades of brown, edged in red. The spiked tips were pointed and distinct, unlike some of the worn ones we had collected earlier.

conch shell.jpgMom picked it up and held it up to the light. It was inhabited, and we could see the conch's claw. We put it back where an occasional wave would wash over it. The prettiest shells we found had creatures in them. Many were conches, but some of the shells had been claimed by hermit crabs. We didn't take any of the ones that were alive, but we saw other people carelessly collecting them. One lady had two grocery bags filled with large, colorful shells. Although the signs along the boardwalk read "No Live Shelling," several people were ignoring that rule.

hermit crab.jpgOn many beaches, collecting live animals is illegal. For instance, Washington State has banned the taking of any invertebrate, and in most national parks it is illegal to take anything. In addition to wanting the shells, people get them for food and bait, or as pets for their home aquariums. However, even in places where there are no laws preventing this collection, it is a bad idea. Not only does it harm the individual animal, but overharvesting of a species can lead to a decline in its population, making it endangered or even extinct. When this happens, the natural balance is also upset, because the creatures that relied on the animal for food or used the shells as shelter are no longer able to find them.

Buying shells commercially is not environmentally-friendly. Many companies catch live shellfish, which are killed for their meat, their shells, or both. Live sand dollars and sea stars are also captured and sold. Because they are caught in such huge numbers, many rare species are threatened by this practice.

One example is the Queen Conch. Its shells are used as jewelery or decorations and its meat is eaten or used as bait. They were captured so extensively that their numbers declined. Although they are not officially endangered, many Caribbean countries are trying to conserve the conches living near their shores and have agreed not to export them until the populations have stabilized.

The critically endangered Black Abalone is another animal which has been depleted by the meat and shell industry. They were once plentiful along the Pacific coast, from California to Mexico. Its meat was more popular than its small, smooth shell. At the time they were being harvested, there were no rules about protecting an individual species. After the California fishery had run out of one species of abalone, they would switch to another. Withering syndrome, a disease, also decreased the numbers. Today, hunting these mollusks is illegal, although some poaching occurs.

Collecting empty shells at the beach is harmless, except in parks where removing anything is illegal. Just make sure they are empty before you take them!

Christmas Tree Cutting in the National Forests

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Christmastreecutting.jpgThe day after Thanksgiving means the beginning of the Christmas season. The radios begin playing Christmas carols as people put up their lights and decorations. Bits of wrapping paper deck the floors as people hurry to hide their presents. Kids wonder what they'll get as they try to surprise their family with some useless -- but essential -- item. Nativity plays are written and then rehearsed at the top of the actors' lungs.

But the Christmas tree plays just as big a part of the festivities as any of those things. Traditionally, Dad carries it in, Mom puts the lights on it, and finally the kids get to help decorate it. But as we've learned, getting your tree from the wild adds much more to the whole tradition.

Many national forests across the country allow you to cut your own Christmas tree. When we heard about it for the first time, we thought it sounded suspiciously like logging. However, there are many reasons why it is better than getting one commercially.

By doing this, you are helping with the maintenance of forests. It may be viewed as a better alternative to prescribed burns or selective logging. When clumps of trees are too close to each other, they don't get enough light to grow properly. So, if you choose a tree that's standing next to at least one more, it will make the other trees in the stand healthier. Usually, forests not offering this program have to either use prescribed burns to remove stands of trees and dry wood that is a potential fire hazard or hire people to cut down some of the trees. They have to do something, or wildfires will start easily and quickly get out of control. So you're also helping to make forests safer.

Additionally, places with a large demand for trees set a limit on obtainable permits. In the desert states, where trees are not as common as in other places, available permits may total just above 6,000. However, where self-serve Christmas trees are not as popular, there may not be any limit at all. Besides this rule, there may also be restrictions regarding how many trees one family may take. The numbers can vary from one per family to five per person, so it's a good idea to clarify this if you plan to get more than one Christmas tree.

It is illegal to cut the top part off a tree. Accordingly, the highest you can cut is six inches off the ground. In some places, the circumference of the trunk also has to be six inches or less. Still, I would recommend following this rule whether it is enforced or not, because the trees with thicker trunks are older and will take longer to grow back. Chainsaws are also prohibited. Another general rule is that you're supposed to cut at least fifty feet from the road. In most places, however, there are specific plots indicated with ropes or ribbons for cutting trees and you don't have to worry about that.

chorusfrog.jpgGetting a Christmas tree that has already been cut can have its own problems. In 2009, Washington sent shipments of Christmas trees to Alaska. Unfortunately, live Pacific Chorus frogs had made their homes in the trees. This species of frog can carry fungi or viruses, including the chytrid fungus that has killed amphibians on many continents. The frogs were not native to Alaska, and residents were told to kill the frogs if they found them in their tree. In 2007, a load of Washington trees headed for Hawaii was redirected to Alaska when they found two yellow jacket queens and a kind of hornet riding on them. Hawaii is much stricter than Alaska about what it lets in (they probably learned from the mice, mongooses and mosquitoes introduced by early settlers), and requires trees to be shaken by a machine before entering the islands. No matter where you live, introducing non-native species is a problem.

If there is a national forest near where you live, you can find out if they allow Christmas tree harvesting. (Do not rule yourself out because you live in the Great Plains. Both Nebraska and South Dakota actually allow cutting Christmas trees in their national forests.) For most national forests, their websites list details under the "Passes and Permits" section.

It's a good idea to know what species of tree you're allowed to cut. In Florida, bushy sand pines are available. In one New Mexico forest, any species of conifer is available. In Arizona, it varies by forest. In two of them, you can take any species of tree; one is exclusively firs; another only pinon or juniper trees. In some Colorado forests, you are obliged to take the yellow-green lodgepole pine.

Directions are also important so that you make sure you end up going to the right forest. In California, both the Mendocino National Forest and the Lake Tahoe Basin do allow people to take trees, but the nearby (and easily confused) El Dorado National Forest penalizes those who do.

Finally, cutting your own Christmas tree in the forest is an experience that is entirely unmatched by going to most tree lots. Finding a tree yourself is unforgettable -- although it does help if you remember to bring a camera!

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 

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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?


Less Fog Means Withering Redwoods?

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rdwd1.jpgBesides the obvious issues that global warming introduces, like the melting of the polar icecaps or the rising ocean levels, issues affecting smaller areas are still disastrous. They are determining the future of our everyday lives and the land set aside permanently as national parks. According to a recent National Geographic news article, redwood trees, the world's tallest living things, may go extinct. We might have seen them just in time.

When we were staying in CA, sometimes we would be driving in at night. We lived about 45 minutes away from the beach, so the fog would drift in over the road and make it nearly impossible to see. We would cross over Golden Gate Bridge and look down at the gently rolling mists. While they made it harder to drive, they were also essential to the survival of these botanical giants.

The clouds kept the conifers moist, at exactly the climate they required. A hundred years ago, there was no threat from global warming. A university study said that there has been a 33 percent reduction in the amount of coastal fog produced today when compared to the data from a century ago.

The redwoods only live in the humid areas near the coast, where the fog keeps them watered. Because they have adapted to this ecosystem, they cannot live long in a drought by shutting down their systems to conserve water, as other desert plants do. This means that if there is nothing that can be done, the redwoods may dry out and wither. Some other species of tree, however, can adjust to living with less fog by not growing as quickly as they do in years when water is plentiful.

We went to Humboldt State Park on a mostly overcast, cold day. Logging had thinned many of the forests; the largest existing piece of hewn redwood, made into one person's RV, is on display at the park's visitor center. Early environmentalists had preserved large groves, which have been turned into state parks. To this day, the groves bear names like "Founders Grove," or "Rockefeller's Grove," after these early conservationists.

The tallest tree blew over in a storm a few years before and became a "nurse log." Nurse logs are decaying trees that provide the necessary nutrients for other plants to grow. Saplings, fungi, ferns, and lichen are common plants that sprout from the reddish-brown bark. Insects, like beetles and ants, live in the log's crevices. In places humid enough, these are also home to banana slugs and snails.

As well as being an impressive species themselves, these trees are essential to many other kinds of life. The terrible fact that they are in danger means that if they do not live, their ecosystem will be seriously disrupted. This issue is another reminder that the choices we make in our everyday lives do have consequences and therefore we need to decide to do everything in a manner that will not harm the planet. The fate of these giants is uncertain, the fate even of our planet is uncertain, and it's our actions that will determine it.

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.

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