Great Sand Dunes

Aspen Trees at Great Dunes

Aspen trees around Great Sand Dunes NP at high elevation in the fall.

Great Hike: None

I don’t like hiking in sand and, as you might guess from this park’s name, there is a lot of sand here. However, just because I didn’t find a great hike doesn’t mean that Great Sand Dunes NP isn’t a fun place to visit. As a matter of fact, it is!

The dunes are bordered by creeks, backstopped by mountains, and flowing with soft sand. For kids and kids-at-heart this park is a place to come play. You can take off your shoes and walk through the sandy base or scramble up the dunes and throw yourself down its soft sides. Since there are creeks all around the perimeter, oddly, you can frolic in the water or make sand castles just about any time. Me? I enjoyed taking pictures, especially around sunset when the late day color and long shadows gave the mounds additional character.

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Joshua Tree NP

Wrigley Memorial

Catalina Island was purchased by the Wrigley family in 1919. To this day they remain committed to the preservation of the island, William Wrigley Jr's original ambition. This memorial is in his honor.

Great Hike: Barker Dam

My ambition has been to go on a great hike in each park and not necessarily to determine the best hike after an exhaustive survey. Though sometimes I tried for the higher standard, after more than 25 miles of hiking these past three days on Catalina Island I didn’t have it in me today to strike out on long trails. Consequently I consulted with the Visitors Center ranger and narrowed down my list of prospects. 

Before talking about my hike I want to describe the park. Most people haven’t heard of Joshua Tree NP and with good reason. It’s only been around as a National Park since 1995 and while it was created for several reasons there is one stand-out reason which affected me. 

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A Green Green Desert

A Green Green Desert

Weather was almost perfect. After a rain the desert is greener and with little dust. However, it was partly cloudy which is always a challenge for a photographer as I spend much of my time “chasing the sun”.

A green desert? Yes. This part of the Sonoran desert has two rainy seasons and the result is a predictable green. And as my visit came after recent rains at the dawn of Spring, the desert was an especially radiant shade of green. Miniature flowers were in bloom across the desert floor, cacti of different types were baring blossoms, and a floral scent was in the air. In general, Organ Pipes Cactus National Monument was showing at its best!

A Green Green Desert

Blooms in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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From 750’ Underground to 9,500’ Above

Underground to Over

When last I visited the International Space History Museum it was raining. Today was sunny. There was no way I wasn’t going back to take pictures of their outdoor exhibit: John P. Stapp Air and Space Park.

As a photographer, I’ve found no better cave than Carlsbad Caverns to visit and shoot. Its huge expanse of beautifully lit formations sets the stage. However, what really sets it apart is the freedom the National Park Service gives you to roam at your own pace, to set-up tripods and to take pictures. I’ve now visited four times and I most certainly plan to return. A gallery of pictures is forthcoming … but not today, I’ve got a road trip to continue!

A snow storm hit New Mexico when last I visited. This of course didn’t affect Carlsbad Caverns which lies 750 feet underground but it sure affected the National Solar Observatory at 9,500 feet in elevation! Sunspot, as its known, is an observatory dedicated to studying the sun with its many telescopes. At this elevation, at this latitude, with this weather it’s an ideal spot to study the sun. Here are some of the telescopes to be seen.

Underground to Over

National Solar Observatory

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The Loneliest Road in America

Lehman Caves

At 13,063 feet, Wheeler Peak is the tallest mountain in Nevada. While the sign is there to warn oncoming traffic at a “T” intersection, I found it comical to assume it was an expression of awe at the scale of the mountain.

Loneliest Road in America

Lincoln Highway

Everyone knows about the Rockies and the Colorado Plateau and everyone knows about the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges but what about the land in between? The region in between is called the Great Basin and is occupied largely by the State of Nevada. Filled with north-south mountain ranges separated by wide valleys (as seen above), what little water falls in this region stays in the region hence the name “basin”. It’s across this ripply arid land that I drove today. Continue reading

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Who names themselves “Truth or Consequences”?

Truth or Consequences

In October of 2009, Truth or Consequences won the right to host the Spaceport Visitors Center. In January of 2010 I went looking for that facility. The sign you see is all they had done in four months.

In 1950 the town of Hot Springs won a contest to rename itself after the popular game show Truth or Consequences. Crazy stunt, yes, but the town seems predisposed to such oddities. Sixty years later they won the right to host the Spaceport Visitors Center and today I went looking for it. Continue reading

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Crater Lake with Birds and Caves

Crater Lake

Birds in such abundance that I could scarcely believe it. Across the refuge the vegetation density varied by design and resulted in different clusterings of birds. So many birds; so many types!

Crater Lake takes my breath away. I’ve been to many places and this one is in the top tier of picturesque settings if it’s not closed due to weather. I’ve been up the mountain four times: twice I got to the lodge only, twice I’ve made it along the west rim, never have I driven the full perimeter. Even in the worst of situations I’ve seen been stunned but what I’ve seen. Enjoy these pictures!  Continue reading

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Hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail

Trans-Catalina Trail

Opening this year was the Trans-Catalina Trail which extends from tip to toe along a 37.2 mile path. It’s fairly well marked and in good condition but that didn’t prevent me from getting lost for a while.

No, I did not hike the full length of trail which begins in the far north of Catalina at Starlight Beach and finishes in the far south at Pebbly Beach. I did what was a reasonable one-day outing, a total distance was around 12 miles.

Trans-Catalina Trail

Crazy as it sounds I hiked from Point B to Point A. Continue reading

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South Dakota National Parks

Rushmore

This profile view of George Washington is one I hadn’t seen before and which under these lighting conditions looks quite good. Pat on the back complete. I chose it for its distinction.

Mt. Rushmore is the most notable destinations. Vaguely I knew of Badlands but I’d not even heard of either Wind Cave or Jewel Cave. Not surprisingly, since they’re all National Parks, I found them really worthwhile visits.

This set of parks is the primary reason I traveled so far north on my way to Los Angeles. Mt. Rushmore was my prime attraction. Its not that I reeeeeally wanted to see four Presidents’ heads carved in the side of a mountain. Superficially Mt. Rushmore sounds kind of goofy, kind of like an attention-getting stunt. Of course I was wrong. It’s a National Park for a reason!

RushmoreThis site pays homage to some of the U.S.’s greatest leaders. It’s sedate and respectful and the carvings are huge! I learned about the site’s construction and of the many difficult challenges they had to overcome during construction. Distinctive subtleties were interesting such as how the create a “glint in the eye” effect (by using pillar protrusions in each pupil). Plaques on display along the walking trail explain the history and the significant contributions of the four   Presidents. I didn’t think that Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy) and Lincoln all had big heads … but now I know better! See pictures below.  Continue reading

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