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Archive for April, 2007

Anhinga and Friend

The Everglades National Park was the first place where we felt like honest-to-goodness birders. We walked around book in hand, binoculars on point, ears wide open. Our heightened senses weren’t necessary; birds are everywhere! The Park’s famed Anhinga Trail follows a boardwalk through a densely inhabited landscape. The birds (and the alligators) seem too content with their lives to even move. Wood storks, anhingas, herons, egrets and purple gallinules sit relaxed to your right and left welcoming you to their paradise.

Eco Pond, located near the Park’s southern tip, offers a look at even more species. We were lucky enough to hop onto an 8:00 a.m. Ranger-led bird walk and were greeted with an advanced lesson from both Ranger and fellow bird-watchers. “There’s a eastern phoebe” someone whispered. “Where,” we whispered back. “Look into that tree, third branch from the bottom on the left.” Dozens of high-powered binoculars moved in unison. This pattern of spotting, confirmation, and full group turn continued for two hours and over 50 species of birds. It was the perfect way to learn.

It was also wonderful to be accepted into this roving band of bird lovers. We were the youngest (by far), the most inexperienced (by far), and the most excited (OK, that’s a lie. Everyone was equally excited). We asked our Ranger if every bird walk was full of knowledgeable enthusiasts. “Of course,” she responded, “how do you think I’ve learned so much? Visitors have taught me sounds to listen for and places to look. Everyday I learn and see something new. This is a wonderful place to live, work and be.” Click Here to Read More.

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Golden Eagle

On Monday, we said that today we would profile a “globally important birding area within the National Park Service”. You say, “I didn’t know Zion National Park was known for birding. I thought that park was famous for its beautiful scenery centered around the profound steep gorges shaped by the Virgin River.” You would be right. While we did see a handsome golden eagle, two Coopers hawks and dozens of hawk moths (are they birds? absolutely not, we realized) within Zion, the park is not a notable birding destination.

So why are we at Zion? Because today is Gab’s birthday! Zion is one of her favorite places in the National Park System and home to her all-time favorite hike: the Narrows. Two years ago we spent her birthday there and we always long to return. So, today, in mind and spirit we have traveled to the most beautiful place in the Colorado Plateau. We are hiking in the Virgin River, towering cliffs to our left and right and knee deep in rushing water, not knowing what is around the next bend. We are struggling up the switchbacks of Walter’s Wiggles eager for a golden eagle’s view of Zion Canyon. We are smelling the sagebrush and listening to the trickle of our campside creek. We are relaxing and bathing in the overwhelming otherworldliness of our surroundings.

That is until it gets dark. Then we’re going to downtown Harrisburg to see one of Gab’s favorite bands. Happy Birthday!

Click Here to Read More about Zion National Park.

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August Day at Yellowstone

Spring has arrived in Pennsylvania! And just when our not-as-hot-as-expected series is ending. Coincidence?

The last stop on our unexpected temperature tour is Yellowstone National Park. It is August. Late August. Summer’s peak. It’s chilly. 45 degrees and cold rain. We pitch our tent and gingerly read the weather forecast. 20-degrees tonight, 50% chance of snow. We discuss our options. The nearest affordable lodging can’t be closer than 100 miles away. We’ve already bought the tent site. Let’s tough it out. The campground is half full; we are just as tough as them. Right?

At around 6:30 p.m. the sky began an ominous turn. Night wasn’t falling but the light was leaving. Black clouds approached slowly sneaking in with steadfast ferocious glee. “Gab? Can you start dinner now while we have a chance?” Michael sheepishly queried. Mac and cheese has never been cooked or eaten quicker.

At 7:00 p.m. the darkness enveloped us. Then the heavens opened. Freezing rain in August. We dove into our car. “Do you think the tent will fly away, collapse or leak?” someone asked. We exited the car and dove into the tent.

At 7:30 the ice storm seemed to be subsiding. Light returned to the skies. We escaped the tent and made a beeline to the Canyon Village lodge. Must warm up. Must warm up. We weren’t the first to arrive but we were quick enough to snatch the couch seats next to the fireplace. But the lodge isn’t open all night. The tent beckoned.

We slept well and our sleeping bags kept us plenty warm. Just don’t ask Gab if she agrees. Click Here to Read More.

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Badwater Basin

Wasn’t spring supposed to arrive a few weeks ago? Isn’t that what Punxsutawney Phil said? This week at USA-C2C.com we are highlighting three H-O-T hot National Park destinations with the hope that it brings sweltering thoughts and helpful warm fronts to combat the coldness.

Our hot, hot, hot retrospective has taken us to California’s Pinnacles National Monument and Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Today we journey to the hottest place in the western hemisphere: Death Valley.

We visited in mid-October. Death Valley was still oppresively hot. Too hot to walk in, too hot to get out of the car, too hot to open the car windows, too hot to sleep in, too hot to move.

Death Valley operates like a furnace. The hot air gets trapped in its ominous expansive bowl and never escapes. The heat just circulates amidst the surrounding mountains. Man was never meant to survive (or even pass through) here.

Death Valley’s dry heat covers you like a two-ton blanket. It cloaks your desires and motivations and renders you powerless. Your sweat comes only intermittently; there’s no moisture in the air. There’s no relief.

Hot 50 mph gales eternally hurl sand and dust at their erosion targets. Namely you and your car. Death Valley doesn’t appreciate your visit. Click Here to Read More.

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Hot Day...Must Fill Water

Wasn’t spring supposed to arrive a few weeks ago? Isn’t that what Punxsutawney Phil said? This week at we are highlighting three H-O-T hot National Park destinations with the hope that it brings sweltering thoughts and helpful warm fronts to combat the coldness.

Monday’s stop was California’s Pinnacles National Monument. Today we head up the Pacific coast to Oregon.

“Oregon?” you say. “Isn’t Oregon’s weather perpetually pleasant and its surroundings eternally emerald? Isn’t it home of the Ducks, the Goonies, and state-mandated recycling? Home of Rose Gardens, hoppy beer, lush volcanic wilderness, big trees, and Troy Polamalu?”

Indeed it is. But that’s only the state’s western one-third. Once you cross the Cascade Range you’re in the desert. Dry, unforgiving, surface of Mars-looking country. Did we mention it’s really HOT. Bring water and provisions. Very few people live out there.

A great portion of central and eastern Oregon is contained in the sprawling John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. But what do the Fossil Beds contain? Only six distinct and diverse successive ecological climates whose fossilized remains represent over 40 million years of continuous life on Earth a/k/a almost the entire time that mammals have inhabited the planet.

The most interesting places are often in the most unlikely of locations. Click Here to Read More.

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Hot Day Amid the Pinnacles

Wasn’t spring supposed to arrive a few weeks ago? Isn’t that what Punxsutawney Phil said? This week we are highlighting three H-O-T hot National Park destinations with the hope that it brings sweltering thoughts and helpful warm fronts to combat the coldness.

Our first stop is Pinnacles National Monument. Our May visit to this little known California rock outcropping was so hot that our memories are all coated with a hazy yellow hue.

We arrived at 9:00 a.m. Already 90+ degrees. Bad sign. Our hike’s route began at the parking lot at immediately climbed up; a 1,000 foot altitude difference. Each step brought us closer to the sun, into rocks and away from life-sustaining shade. Flies swarmed around us hoping to cool off. Hundreds of vultures (and perhaps a few California condors) circled just a few yards overhead waiting for us to make the wrong move or succumb to the heat.

We were a land-bound Icarus in the realm of the winged. Our descent towards the explorable caves below could not begin soon enough. Just after Pinnacles’ apex we passed our only fellow tourist, a sweat-drenched, red-faced Briton who couldn’t even muster the strength to say hello. His face said, “why didn’t I go to Muir Woods instead? Must…get…back…to…parking…lot.” We empathized and kept going.

Soon enough we reached the dry creek-hugging trail that circumnavigated the Pinnacles, veered through the respite-giving caves and led back to our trusty Nissan Altima. Air conditioning on!

Click Here to Read More.

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