Posts Tagged ‘national parks’

The Wild Life Part 2: The Badlands

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

The Black Hills once again showed off by wowing us with dazzling landscapes and very opportune wildlife appearances. When we arrive at the first overlook of Badlands National Park early in the morning my mom and I were both stunned by the surreal beauty of this unusual park.

As I scrambled down into a good position for my landscape shots, I nonchalantly declared that “The only thing that would make this view better would be if a bighorn sheep was right front in center.” As I checked in my view finder to line up my show I was astonished to see that I had been lucky enough to find right in front of me a bighorn sheep slowly making his way up the side of the mountain right toward me.

As I stammered out excited exclamations to draw my mom’s attention and gesticulated wildly in the bighorn sheep’s direction, he only continued to calmly move even closer.

I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I already felt insanely spoiled by my mountain goat sighting and here was another beautiful animal standing right before me.

The wild beauty held in the square caramel pupil of the bighorn sheep once again shocked me into total astonishment. How can a quiet majesty like this exist in a world full of so much noise?

The National Parks are so incredibly important to this country and sadly so many people will never get to experience the wonder preserved within the boundaries of these parks. These special places are not a manufactured space for the amusement of tourists, but rather they represent the remnants of a world left undisturbed by modernization and the greedy outstretched hand of man.

The Badlands in many ways epitomize the strange glory of the national park system. You drive into what appears to be nothing more than endless grasslands when suddenly you find yourself standing on the precipice of a natural wonder shaped by a millennia of natural forces. These spires and rocky edifices were carved by the hand of Mother Nature meticulously to cradle the unique characteristics of the world.

Even the wild animals embody a special feeling of otherworldliness. I was lucky enough to witness an entire family of bighorn sheep including several small babies. The fresh eyes of new born life shone brightly in their dark gaze. Locking eyes with these graceful creatures brings an exhilarating rush of understanding that stems from some unknown place inside of me. I don’t know exactly what it is that feels so understood in those moments, but I know that I will carry it with me always.

The Badlands really display the beauty of barrenness. Last time I explored the Badlands everything appeared to be dust, but this time around I was lucky enough to see the ground coated in green and a sparse, yet beautiful collection of wildflowers sprinkled throughout the park. The deep desert hues of the mountains contrasted so brilliantly with the green grass of the plains. 

The life here can seem so fleeting and in many ways that is what makes it so extraordinary. The continual struggle for survival, for a single foothold in life in a place as extreme as the Badlands, really illuminates the resilience of nature and the determination to continue on despite seasons of barrenness.

The best way to experience this for yourself is definitely to lace up your hiking boots and head deep into the rocky crags and spires of the park. Behind the looming towers of layered rock exists a microcosm of clay riverbeds, veins of blue grey pumice, and secret caverns of water carved rock.

My favorite hike in the park has to be the Notch Trail near the eastern visitor center. When you leave behind the boardwalks leading across the rocks and weave your way through the rocky towers, there lies a log ladder snaking up the mountainside.

This deceptively tall ladder while visually stunning creates quite the bottleneck of hiker traffic so definitely arrive early to dodge the crowds and enjoy the peaceful canyon trail! 

After climbing to the top of the notch and hiking a great deal around the park we took a fun break from the serious beauty of the Badlands by visiting a prairie dog town just outside of the park.

As I said before, I’m a sucker for these little guys. Especially when they come in groups of two!

We were sad to leave, but let’s be real, when would I ever be happy to leave a National Park.

On to Madison and then the western side of lower Michigan!

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The Wild Life

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

The last two days have been long but filled with inexplicable beauty. We left the Grand Tetons as the sun rose, casting the impressive mountain range in golden light. It was hard to leave this extraordinary national park but we were drawn forward in our journey with the promise of even more great national parks to come. Our next adventure destination: the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Our first stop in the Black Hills was the Wind Caves National Park where sprawling grasslands spotted with wildlife hides miles of intricate crystalline caves just below the surface. Sadly we didn’t have time to go into the caves but that just means one more reason we have to come back!

As we left the Wind Caves we wove our way through rolling prairies on our way to our next stop, Custer State Park. Generally state parks are overshadowed by the grandeur of national parks, but one thing road tripping across the country has taught me is to never underestimate a state park. Custer State Park is a prime example of this. This preserve for wildlife and gorgeous grasslands never fails to awe me.

Our first wildlife encounter began with a prairie dog town that stretched far across the grassy landscape. These frisky little ground mammals are often heard before they are seen since their barking warning sounds echo from burrow to burrow whenever you draw near.

I personally love these little guys. They have so much character and always make me laugh. I had a great time photographing them as they ran from hole to hole, whisking their tails, and arching their backs as they called out to their neighbors.

There is literally wildlife all over this state park. Everywhere you turn there is some beautiful animal waiting to be discovered. As a wildlife photographer, spotting and photographing wild animals brings me so much life and excitement. I felt so in my element with my camera in hand and eyes keenly surveying every inch of the park. I can’t express how much I enjoy this place.

Custer is known for what their “Begging Burrows” or a group of donkeys that have learned to beg for food from tourists driving through the park. While I disapprove of feeding wildlife it does make for some fun experiences when a donkey walks straight up to your window and sticks its head right in looking for food.

This donkey even head butted my camera as he tried to stick his head into the car. I loved watching them meander down the roads and then venture out into the mustard grass hills of the park.

After our time with the begging burrows we were on the hunt for bison and found ourselves sadly lacking in opportunities to spy these giant iconic animals. We did discover quite a few beautiful roads while we pursued the illusive bison.

We actually only found bison once we left Custer State Park but boy was I excited to finally find them!

I did almost get charged by an angry male bison, but aside from that, I loved watching these lumbering creatures graze slowly across the grasslands.

After the bison, our Black Hills exploration led us to SD- 87, which is popularly known as Needles Highway.

This extraordinary stretch of highway weaves up the Black Hills through narrow rock tunnels and towering needle-like spires of rock.

We loved the drive but found ourselves suddenly stopped before one of the major tunnels in a traffic jam. When I left the car to investigate the reason for the sudden halt in traffic I discovered a mountain goat casually blocking traffic in the tunnel as he continually licked the wall.

When a barking dog in one of the cars finally startled the mountain goat out of the tunnel and back to his natural mountainous habitat, I was lucky enough to have front row seats from which to photograph him.

He was really quite the model and gave me every angle of his handsome face. I may have taken approximately 1,000 pictures of him as he climbed around the rocks and showed off his good looks.

I could not believe how lucky we were. Being blessed enough to experience moments like this makes me feel like the luckiest girl in the world. It still shocks me how much I have experienced becase of amazing trips such as this one.

I feel so humbled staring into the face of wild beauty. Driving across the country provides me with the opportunity to glimpse behind the curtain of natural wonders. I live for moments like this and wouldn’t exchange my memories of moments such as this for anything.

The shock of experiencing this natural beauty still had not worn off by the time we reached our final destination in the Black Hills for the day: Mount Rushmore.

This man made marvel offered a provocative juxtaposition to the wild beauty we had just encountered.

It wouldn’t be fair to choose one experience over the other, but it shows just how quickly vastly different experiences occur when adventuring on the road. This country has (almost) too much to discover. It feels both overwhelming in its sheer quantity and also exhilarating knowing there will never be an end to the adventure this life has to offer.

 

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A Day of Reflections

Sunday, July 1st, 2018

The beauty of stillness is similar to the beauty of water; it fills the space you create for it. Stillness in nature and in mind allows for reflection that can awe and astonish with its depth.

We had a full day in Grand Tetons National Park today and every minute was filled with beauty and reflections. Stormy skies cast the morning in a mysterious atmosphere of oncoming turbulence, however it proved to only be a threat when blue skies finally prevailed. Even the dark and cloudy skies only served to enhance the beauty of this amazing national park.

Our day was spent hiking between several of Grand Teton’s most beautiful lakes including Jenny Lake, String Lake, and Leigh Lake. The deep colors and still waters I witnessed on my eight mile hike took my breath away.

The Tetons were really showing off today with all of their best colors and reflections. It felt like the world had been turned upside-down and I was lost somewhere between where the water began and the earth ascended. You could have flipped the world over and everything would have stayed the same.

The trail we hiked was gorgeous and ran along three different lakes right on the waters edge. It was hard not to stop at every single cove or outlet where the crystal clear water lapped at sandy shores. However, the mosquitos chased us the entire hike and I think I may just be a giant collection of mosquito bites at this point. We were truly being swarmed every single time we stopped and even while we were still moving.

In the end the bug bites were worth it because every single bend in the trail or bridge we crossed offered up the most incredible views I have ever seen.

We also left the lakeside to climb the side of the great mountains and came across fields of wildflowers, winding paths through stunning meadows, and then back down once more to the lakes below.

The final bridge we crossed was both a celebration and a last longing to never leave the foothills of those beautiful mountains.

The Tetons will always have a place in my heart. This gorgeous mountain range offers unending beauty that neither photos nor words can fully capture. I suppose that is the root of the beauty here, it cannot be capture; the freedom of this untamed natural wonderland will never belong to people. Every time I come to a place such as this I am only a visitor, a very blessed human humbled by something so much greater than myself.

I hate to leave but I also know that this place will never leave me. The Grand Tetons will always be one of my favorite national parks and I am so happy to have had the brief and wondrous time in this park once more. Until next time…

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Doing More with a Day

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

Road trips create a strange dynamic for the passing of time because each 24 hours occurs as it normally does, yet so many vastly different experiences can happen during that normal expanse of time. Today was one of those days were it felt like three different days crammed into one.

The first part of our day was spent in Idaho where the miles crept by along with countless fields of corner and empty silos. The monotony of this was only briefly interrupted by the most Idaho tourist stop ever: the Idaho Potato Museum.

As we drew closer to Wyoming the landscape drastically changed and suddenly the flat farmland gave way to gorgeous rolling hills of green and yellow. I had to stop in this amazing field of mustard grass where the yellow of the endless land seemed to shine brighter than the sun. It took my breath away. There is a simple yet wondrous joy that comes from experiencing awe-inspiring natural beauty like this.

After leaving the sunny fields of mustard grass, I couldn’t stop smiling. Everything we came across seemed beautiful after that, even old collapsing barns left abandoned to the whims of time.

After coming over the Teton Pass we finally arrived at our destination for the next two nights, Jackson, Wyoming. We didn’t stay put for long though since we had a day full of adventures in Jackson Hole.

Our first stop was Teton Village where we decided to take an aerial tram to the summit of Rendezvous Mountain, which sits at just over 10,000 feet in elevation.

The ascent was breath-taking, literally. The thin cold air made it difficult to breathe and definitely made my dizziness issues much worse. Still, it was entirely worth it because the views were stunning!

You could see almost all of Jackson Hole from the top, including the Grand Teton range which towered in the distance.

We were on top of the world and despite the biting winds and thin air, we enjoyed every second up there.

After enjoying a delicious hot chocolate, building a cairn on top of the mountain, and way too many pictures we descended so we could begin the next part of our adventure.

We drove to the Grand Teton National Park proper to squeeze in a hike at Phelps Lake. The hike through pine forests, across rivers, and along the lakeside really was all we could have asked for.

I even got to check off my biggest goal for my time in the Tetons: see a Moose. Technically, I went above and beyond because we found a mother moose and her newborn calf. We watched them feeding for quite some time but had to leave because we started getting devoured by mosquitos.

The best part of the hike was Phelps Lake itself. The crystal clear emerald waters and the rocks hiding beneath the surface all perfectly accented the towering mountains looming in the distance. It was truly a perfect sight.

Our first day in the Grand Tetons was exactly how I had hope it would be. I have been wanting to return to this National Park for over five years now since I felt I took the wrong approach during my first visit a decade ago.

I cannot wait to see what tomorrow holds. We are already pretty exhausted from our trip but super excited for what is to come. Tomorrow we will be spending the whole day in Jackson Hole and if it is even half as good as today was, I will be ecstatic.

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Utah Trip: Home!

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

I know this is out of order but bear with me. Today was the last day of our road trip around the Southwest. After a week, four states, and twelve national parks my mom and I are finally home. Reasonably, we are both very tired so todays story of how we went all the way from Death Valley’s 108 degree weather, to mountains of snow in Yosemite and finally home to our lovely little Santa Cruz. However you will have to wait one more day for the photos and the fully story. Stay tuned!!

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The Unsuspected Place

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

This picture is at Pictured Rocks National Park in Northern Michigan. In a place of such pristine beauty, were the sandstone rock walls stand like monoliths looming over Lake Superior, there is wonder in everything. Most people would expect a picture of these cliffs, but my favorite shot when I was there, was not of the towering monoliths or the emerald green waters, but of the forest hidden behind it all. People will tell you where to find the most beautiful sights in places like this, but the real beauty is found in the unspoken places. Down the little untreaded paths were no ranger or tour guide will lead you. It is up to you to discover it and keep the little wonder a secret in your heart. Find your own beauty, mine lies in the forest. Where the trees are white as snow and the ground is red with fallen leaves and pines. This is were I find beauty, in the unsuspected place.

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