Category Archives: National Park

Southern Africa Snapshots, Part III

South Africa, Swaziland & Zimbabwe wrap-up.

More places. More wildlife. More connection with the noble battle against Apartheid. More experiences to tuck into my memory bank. And more images to post here, starting with Kruger National Park that by itself is the reason that many international  travelers visit South Africa. Scroll back for previous days’ thumbnail reports, and watch for more to come until I post about my final day.

Day 8 – Kruger National Park

One of the nine gates into humongous Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves, covers an area of 7,523 square miles. It was first protected by the government in 1898, becoming South Africa’s first national park in 1926. To the north is Zimbabwe and to the east Mozambique. It is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, an international peace park and also part of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere area designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

And below are some uncaptioned images from the too-short time in his enormous park. We visited for less than a day. Sigh.

The visitor center’s “sightings board” indicates what was seen where. Rhinos are not listed because of the ongoing poaching problem.

Continue reading Southern Africa Snapshots, Part III

Montana Wildfire Takes Sperry Chalet

Historic lodge in Glacier National Park destroyed.

While Houston and the Texas-Louisiana coast were drowning from Hurricane Harvey’s unreal amounts of ware, the Sprague Fire was raging through northern Montana. The human toll was zero, and many animals are able to keep away from wildfires,  but buildings can’t escape The fire’s most prominent victim to date is Glacier National Park’s Sperry Chalet, a historic backcountry lodge opened in 1914. Here’s what the sad report from The Spokesman:

Glacier National Park’s historic Sperry Chalet was lost to the Sprague Fire today [August 30, 2017] at about 6 p.m., park officials report. The main chalet building at a remote site in the park burned despite the efforts of a “highly skilled group of firefighters” staged at the remote chalet for the past week, officials said through InciWeb.

“Those firefighters had an extensive hose lay, sprinkler, and pump system installed to protect all of the structures associated with the Chalet,” according to the report, which pegged the lightning-caused fire at 3,275 acres tonight.

“The high winds experienced this afternoon pushed the fire to the east. The firefighters, supported by three helicopters, made a valiant stand to save the structure but were unsuccessful in saving the main Sperry Chalet. The firefighters remain on site, ARE SAFE, and are currently actively engaged in protecting the remaining structures.”

National Park Service photo of firefighters’ ultimately vain efforts to save the Sperry Chalet.

Sperry, which is at elevation 6,500 feet on the west side of the park, was closed Aug. 15 as the fire advanced after being first reported on Aug. 10. The chalet site is accessed by trail from Lake McDonald Lodge, which was closed Wednesday because of extreme smoky conditions in the area.

Sperry Chalet was built in 1913 by James J. Hill and son Louis Hill of the Great Northern Railway, the prime developer of Glacier National Park. Listed as an Historic Landmark, these rustic buildings, built of native rock, have survived their rugged environment relatively unchanged for more than 90 years.

Guests access the chalet over 6.7 miles of trail gaining 3,300 feet of elevation. Opened in 1914, the main building was a two-story rustic hotel.  Other than a modernized kitchen and the new composting restroom facility, the interiors and exteriors were much as they were built.

Sperry is one of the park’s two backcountry chalets. While guests at the park’s other chalet, Granite Park, hiked in with their own food, those at Sperry had meals, drinks and bed linens provided.  But there was no electricity in the sleeping cabins.

If only some of Hurricane Harvey’s rain could have been diverted to northern Montana.

Easter Island ‘Discovered’ 245 Years Ago

Mid-Pacific island now a bucket-list destination.

According to the “on this day in history” tidbit, Easter Island — though inhabited — was “discovered” on the Tropic of Capricorn by European seamen. The indigenous people called it Rapa Nui. The short version of the story is:

On this Easter Sunday, 3,000 miles from the nearest continental land, Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen finds a 63-square-mile island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. Towering stone statues mystify these first European visitors and others for centuries to come.

Now Chilean territory, its famous monolithic statues continue to intrigue visitors. Archeologists have restored some of the nearly 900 moai. A visit to remote the Rapa Nui National Park is indeed a bucket list experience.

All National Parks Free to Celebrate Centennial

Visit, appreciate and protect our National Park lands.

NatlParkServiceLogoThe centennial of the National Park Service as been promoted and written about and covered in the broadcast media for months, but the agency’s celebratory freebie long weekend is Thursday, August 25 through Sunday, August 28. On those days, all 412 National Park Service units (Parks, Monuments, Historic Sites) are open to the public for free.

That means no charge for entrance fees, commercial tour fees and transportation entrance fees. Other fees collected by concessionaires (lodging and food service, camping, tours and outfitters such as fishing or climbing guides) are still in effect.

Expect normally busy parks like our nearby Rocky Mountain National Park and communities just outside park boundaries (Estes Park and Grand Lake adjacent to RMNP, for instance) to be crowded. But even as we celebrate, we should be aware of the increased development pressure directly at the edge of popular parks. The 1916 legislation that created the Park Service had a mandate to leave park scenery and wildlife “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” That was then and this now.

Celebrate by Protecting

The Los Angeles Times recently wrote an op-ed exposé, “Can America’s National Parks Defeat Developers at Their Gate?“, pointing out the detrimental proximity of wind farms in the Mojave to protected land and other projects. Grand Canyon Escalade is a frightening plan to construct a huge resort and a tramway that would ferry up to 10,000 people a day to the bottom of the Grand Canyon at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, just outside of National Park boundaries. The developer tries to make a case for how wonderful it would be for the land, the river, the wildlife and the Navajo Nation, while its opponents, including the Grand Canyon Trust, document the abuse of those very same interests of that would result. My feeling is that it is preferable to stop a questionable or outright undesirable project than to “un-build.” Let’s give the parks a big birthday present and put the brakes on rampant development in the neighborhoods of “America’s Best Idea.”

Hot-Foot It to Hawaii for New Lava Hike

Lava flow close-up on Big Island hike,

Kilauea, one of three active volcanoes on Hawaii Island, has been erupting for over three decades and presents ever-changing lava flows. New reports during the first week in July from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory noted an active lava flow across the southeast coastal plain of Kilauea.


This newest lava outbreak provides upfront access for hardy hikers with Hawaii Forest & Trail. The company has revived its Kilauea Lava Hike to take advantage of the opportunity for fit hikers to experience this bucket list adventure. This new version of the challenging Kilauea Lava Hike traverses 6+ miles of rugged lavascape accompanied by professional and experienced Hawaii Forest & Trail guides.

The reward is  series of stunning views of Kilauea’s coastal plain on to the edge of the volcano’s molten lava flow, an experience that has been out of reach for several years. The hike begins at Hawaii Forest & Trails’ Kona headquarters, with an additional guest pickup available at Queen’s Marketplace in Waikoloa.

The company provides raingear, water and flashlights. Long pants and hiking boots are required. The 3.5-hour Kilauea Lava Hike returns to Hawaii Forest & Trail’s vehicle at about 6:30 p.m. when guests then head out for a local-style dinner in Hilo. Hawaii Forest & Trail’s Kilauea Lava Hike is priced at $192 plus tax per person. To reserve, call 800-464-1993,

Glamping’s Fuzzy Frontiers

Resource for rustic luxury & an example in name, at least.

Summer is coming, and with it, thoughts about where and how to vacation.

GlampingHubGlamping Hub is a photo-rich website with information about and links to all manner of rustic yet luxurious accommodations in the US and other countries. It includes traditional safari tents plus yurts, cabins, extra-comfortable camper-vans and even treehouses.  It also includes weekend getaway suggestions and pet-friendly lodgings.

I’m glad that the site includes maps, because it is somewhat geographically challenged. Every property in Colorado, for instance, is described as being “near Denver.” The Utah page includes “Mountain Cabins Near Boulder,” but the links all are to Colorado sites — confusing since there is a Boulder, Utah, within the Escalate-Grand Staircase National Monument. The website needs work, but I love the concept.

mighty_five_logoMeanwhile, the  Mighty 5 Tour is  a new all-inclusive luxury travel experience to Utah’s five breathtaking national parks.  Perhaps you’ve seen the television commercial touting the parks. The press release calls it “‘Glamping’ in Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks,” but it isn’t at all.  “Glamping” generally means luxury camping in well-appointed tents and attentive staff — not staying in hotels or eating in restaurants. Still, it is an intriguing offering for anyone with a big budget and a yen to experience some of the Southwest’s most spectacular country.

Backcountry guide Mike Coronella created two tours to introduce small groups to Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion national parks. He personally guides each hike, including park locations rarely glimpsed by visitors. An expert outdoorsman and award-winning guide, he is an author, college photography professor and member the Grand County (Utah) Search and Rescue team. Accommodations at the region’s finest hotels and best restaurants.

The Mighty 5 Signature Tour ($7,800 per person) is a ten-night, nine-day journey with twice-montly departures in May, September and October. The six-night, five-day Mighty 5 Summer Tour ($5,200 per person), offered in June, July and August, also visits all five parks and offers similar accommodations and dining experiences.

“Pampered from arrival to departure, guests are attended to by a full-time concierge, travel in a custom Mercedes Benz Sprinter van, have free use of our Osprey back packs and Leki trekking poles – we’ll even supply you with your own National Park pass, good for a full year,” says Coronella.

The departure point is St. George. Utah, which serviced daily by Delta Airlines and United Airlines, and is less than a two-hour drive from Las Vegas.  Book online or FoMoInfo, call 435-259-1565.

The Rebranding of Yosemite

Outgoing concessionaire trademarked landmarks.

Yosemite signI was flabbergasted to learn that the most iconic features of Yosemite National Park are being renamed. As of March 1, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls will become Yosemite Valley Lodge; The Ahwahnee Hotel will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel; Curry Village will become Half Dome Village; Wawona Hotel will become Big Trees Lodge, and Badger Pass Ski Area will become Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.

It seems that DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc., the Delaware North subsidiary that has been the concessionaire running the lodging, food service, bus service, activities and so forth since 1983, trademarked historic names when it learned that its contract was not to be renewed. DNC valued the famous names at $44 million, a sum the Park Service is either unable to pay or prohibited from paying. To me, it’s a hostage situation with one of our treasured parks.

Yosemite Hospitality, a subsidiary of Aramark, is the new concessionaire. This mammoth corporation (270,000 employees) provides food, facilities and uniform services to schools, convention centers, hospitals, large workplaces, remote workplaces (think off-shore oil rigs), correctional facilities  and more across the country and internationally.

I know it’s all about the money, but this stings. And I’m guessing that loyal visitors will continue calling the hotel The Ahwahnee,  the ski area Badger Pass and so on, regardless. And I’m guessing that John Muir is rolling over in his grave.


3 New National Monuments

Nevada, California & Texas areas now protected.

When less-known public lands and sites are upgraded to National Monument status, they get added protection and also a boost in visitation. President Barack Obama has signed declarations of three new National Monuments  under three different federal agencies, appropriate to their size, settings and history.

NatlConservationArea-logoNevada’s Basin and Range National Monument is an extraordinary place featuring ecologically rich valleys framed by picturesque mountain ranges. It has long been threatened by oil and mineral development. Now, pronghorn deer, Pygmy rabbits, burrowing owls, red-tailed hawks, and the White River Catseye plant can roam, fly, and grow on protected lands.

A window to our past, Basin and Range tells the story of the many people who have called these mountains and valleys home. From the early people of the Great Basin, to the Native Americans who resided here, to 19th century settlers who traveled here in search of opportunity, these lands are a place to explore and learn. It is under the Bureau of Land Management.

USFS-logoNorthern California adventurers have long known that Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument is a fishing, hiking, camping, birding and horseback-riding paradise. Visitors can view the 80-foot-high Zim Zim waterfall, fly-fish in rivers and streams, and appreciate the wildflowers and wildlife. The 330,780-acre National Monument is partly a designated wilderness area north of the Bay Area and Sacramento is also one of the most biologically diverse regions in California filled with osprey, wild tule elk, river otters, bald eagles, rainbows of butterflies and half of California’s dragonfly species. It is U.S. Forest Service jurisdiction.

NatlParkServiceLogoTexas’ Waco Mammoth National Monument is a significant paleontological site that offers a glimpse into the lives of Pleistocene mammoths that roamed the region long ago. Tours are given daily to the sizable dig shelter operated by the National Park Service. It is the nation’s only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths. Visitors can view in situ such fossils as female mammoths, a bull mammoth and a camel that lived approximately 67,000 years ago.

New Utah National Parks Audio App

Audio-guides to five great parks in one scenic state.

JustAhead-logo.pngThe Society of American Travel Writers is holding its 2015 convention in downtown Las Vegas — nostalgic and de-glitzified compared with The Strip. Having grown up in Connecticut, long road trips don’t come easily to me, but still my husband and I thought we’d take a leisurely road trip to Las Vegas, visiting some or most of Utah’s five national parks coming and/or going.


I’ve now learned of something we’ll need to take along: “Driving Among Utah’s ‘Mighty Five’ National Parks”, a new GPS-prompted mobile app/audio tour guide from Just Ahead Guides that cover Arches, Canyonlands Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion. We’ve been to Moab and its two nearby parks (Arches, Canyonlands) any number of times, summer and winter. Still, more insights are always welcome. But neither one of us has more than driven through Zion or Bryce, and neither of us has been to Capitol Reef.

The good part  is that Just Ahead guides work without an Internet connection or cell phone service. Drivers or passengers simply download the app, turn it on and enjoy what the company calls “a richly narrated tour.”  Just Ahead utilizes GPS technology to identify exactly where drivers are on the road in order to deliver stories and maps relevant to the exact location. Each app points out not-to-miss features as well as helpful driving directions.

The Just Ahead app is a free download available either through the Apple App Store (iPhone) or via Google Play (Android), and each destination guide is available as an in-app purchase. Guides range from $4.99 to $9.99 and include a free trial and free guide updates.

Spring Splendor in Rocky Mountain Natl. Park

Deep snow, broad views & a splendid wildlife day.

015My most recent post was about Rocky Mountain National Park’s centennial. Today, we took two visitors — one from Switzerland, one from Malaysia — to see the newly plowed Trail Ridge Road. As always shortly after the road opens for the season, vehicles travel between high snow walls on parts of the road and on other parts with jaw-dropping views of snow-covered peaks. Today provided an exceptional wildlife experience too: elk, bighorn sheep, a marmot and even an owl.

There is still plenty of snow at the Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet above sea level.
There is still plenty of snow at the Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet above sea level.
It is often possible to see elk in Horseshoe Park. Today was no exception.
It is often possible to see elk in Horseshoe Park. Today was no exception.
Two weeks ago, we were thrilled to see bighorn sheep on a slope high above. Today, they were close to the road.
Two weeks ago, we were thrilled to see bighorn sheep on a slope high above. Today, they were close to the road.
Bighorn sheep at Sheep Lakes.
Bighorn sheep at Sheep Lakes — and a small rodent of some sort (prairie dog, perhaps) paying minimal attention.
The marmot at the Forest Canyon Overlook is hard to spot, but trust me -- it's there.
The marmot at the Forest Canyon Overlook is hard to spot, but trust me — it’s there.
Owl up in a pine tree, also right at the edge of the road.
Owl up in a pine tree, also right at the edge of the road.