Tag Archives: National Parks and Forests

National Parks Fee Free Day This Monday!

National Parks Fee Free Day! On Monday, January 16, 2017, all 400+ U.S. National Parklands are providing free admission in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. So if you have the day off, why not spend it in a National Park or at a National Monument or Historic Site? Find a park to visit at FindYourPark.com.

The National Parks are yours to enjoy and appreciate. A visit to one of these national treasures is the perfect way to celebrate the beauty and heritage of the United States. So this Monday, bring a friend and get out there to enjoy America’s National Parks… and share your photos!

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Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

A bit of history…  On March 1, 1872, Congress passed an act that officially established Yellowstone National Park “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” This event started a worldwide movement. And, today our planet houses more than 1200 national parks or equivalent preserves.

Furthering efforts to support and protect our park system, President Woodrow Wilson signed an act on August 25, 1916, creating the National Park Service, a federal bureau in the Department of the Interior. This “Organic Act” states that “the Service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations . . . by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Everglades National Park XplorMor Inc

Hiking in Everglades National Park, California, USA

The U.S. National Park System now comprises more than 400 designated areas covering more than 84 million acres in 49 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands. These areas have been deemed to hold national significance, and therefore protection in accordance with various acts of Congress.

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Panum Crater Hike, Inyo National Forest, California, USA

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees now care for America’s national parks and “work with communities across the nation to help keep local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.” Learn more and get involved at www.nps.gov

Our Day with Mario in Zapata National Park, Cuba

The Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience continues in Zapata National Park, Cuba…

Our new host, Dayami, used to work for Zapata National Park until her and her husband opened their casa to visitors. Now it’s full time at home. I pulled out my map and showed her where we planned to explore and hike in the park, and asked about transport. Little did I know this plan wasn’t possible without an official guide, and she didn’t think there would be any guides available during our stay. An official guide was needed not just to enter the park lands but to veer us away from the military stationed around Zapata. Really? This pretty important point was unfortunately not made clear during the planning stage by any of our hosts or contacts or research. Now our team was on the cusp but not allowed to enter. How could we come all this way but not complete my so-carefully outlined itinerary? It’s in these moments we’d learn about Cuban openhandedness. There is no lack of generosity in Cuba. Dayami seeing my stricken face immediately began to brainstorm possibilities and a friend she could call to get us in the door and satisfying our scientific goals.

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Dayami Hostal in Playa Larga, Cuba

Unfortunately the friend she had in mind to guide us was already booked for the week by a Chinese couple interested in birds. Did they know the migrating bird season had come and gone? Maybe we should switch itineraries. Not to be deterred, we walked through town to the park’s visitor office, a small understated cement block building you could walk right passed if you weren’t paying attention. We hoped to turn our luck.

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Zapata National Park Visitor Center, Playa Larga, Cuba

Inside I finally found a shelf of pamphlets and maps, and excitedly began to look through them, only to realize they were from everywhere but Cuba. There was even a pamphlet about saving the redwoods of California. As I’m a native Californian, I’m all about protecting our redwoods but shouldn’t the Cubans be promoting their own homeland campaigns? There’s been no money for such luxuries. A tall man wearing a cap and canvas vest both displaying a logo for Zapata National Park greeted us. After some moments of discussion with my rough Spanish and his bits of English we miraculously found a guide would be available in about an hour, and would give us a ride into the park. Of course there were no park maps or booklets, and we had to pay an entrance fee and a fee for his guidance and a fee for the car and driver, but that was expected and truly worth every kook.

zapata national park, Zapata Insects Julia ThomsenCopyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cienega Occidental de Zapata;Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Matanzas;Cuba Peninsula de Zapata Playa Larga;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Cuba Zapata;Explore Cuba;Matanzas Province;Parque Nacional Peninsula de Zapata;Peninsula de Zapata;Playa Larga;Playa Larga Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UN Biosphere;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba;Zapata Peninsula]

Zapata National Park, Playa Larga, Cuba

About an hour later our guide Mario arrived at our casa in an old jeep with a driver. He has worked for Zapata Park Service for over 22 years, and was yet another Cuban willing to share all his knowledge and make sure we were more than satisfied with our experience. We could not explore the area to the west as planned, including the unpaved road to Santo Tomas due to flooding. I felt thwarted. But Mario’s plan saved the day and saved my face from being stricken again. He had us driven to another stretch of the park definitely less traveled by tourists and locals alike. We walked the forest floor in search of Cuban insects, turning over rotting logs and large rocks and inspecting the underside of leaves hanging down from the canopy. We dressed in head-to-toe protective gear and a thick layer of Deet. And somehow escaped the onslaught, coming away with photos and jotted notes and discussions of all the wonderful diversity we’d seen. I even photographed a pygmy owl.

Zapata Insects Julia ThomsenCopyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cienega Occidental de Zapata;Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Matanzas;Cuba Peninsula de Zapata Playa Larga;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Cuba Zapata;Explore Cuba;Matanzas Province;Parque Nacional Peninsula de Zapata;Peninsula de Zapata;Playa Larga;Playa Larga Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UN Biosphere;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba;Zapata Peninsula]

Zapata National Park, Playa Larga, Cuba

We arrived back at the jeep to find its driver shirtless, hot, sweaty and burnt red leaning over the engine with a frustrated, apologetic expression. Something was apparently wrong with the vehicle, and we were out in the park a good hike from any used road and without cell phone reception. In fact, for the Americans there is no cell reception in Cuba. And despite the news of Internet cafes opening, we never found one. After some moments of discussion between Mario and our driver, and a definite word that sounded like “broke”, a plan was hatched. The ladies would get in and the men would push and jump in once the engine got going. I had to wonder if it would get going. To everyone’s surprise with a hard push the engine started. The men jumped in and off we went on the bumping dirt drive back to Playa Larga. We were dropped off at Dayami’s casa, paid Mario for his services and with a push and a wave the jeep was on its way. Once again fresh cold juice was awaiting our arrival, and with a cold shower and clean clothes, all was right in the world. Our day with Mario was unplanned and perfect.

Zapata National Park, Cuba Julia ThomsenCopyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cienega Occidental de Zapata;Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Matanzas;Cuba Peninsula de Zapata Playa Larga;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Cuba Zapata;Explore Cuba;Matanzas Province;Parque Nacional Peninsula de Zapata;Peninsula de Zapata;Playa Larga;Playa Larga Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UN Biosphere;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba;Zapata Peninsula]

Zapata National Park, Playa Larga, Cuba

Explore insects of Zapata National Park, and look for The Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience to continue…

Joshua Tree National Park: Land of Subtle, Stark Wonder

I’d never been to Joshua Tree National Park before. I’d heard about it from friends, and often said to myself I should go there, but I never got around to it. Like a lot of things in California, it was so close that it was easy to forget it was there. California is like that, so full of things to see and experience your choices become as congested and difficult to maneuver as the freeways of Los Angeles. A friend of mine, back from teaching kids in Korea for the winter, asked me to join him on a day long excursion to this special place, and not having seen him in almost two years I could not refuse. Besides, it would be good to get away after a truly awful divorce from someone I thought I could trust. This is also a common thing in California.

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Joshua Tree National Park, California by Garrick at XplorMor

Like most people, in my youth I thought of a desert as a barren, boiling wasteland choked with sand. I thought of Lawrence of Arabia leading a charging army of fierce desert nomads. Deserts were places for the lost and the damned, filled with shallow graves just off the road and swarmed by nefarious hitchhikers and shady characters. Giant worms ridden by noble Fremen charged across endless dunes. It was easy to believe the Hollywood vision. And nothing could be further from the truth (except when it is). Deserts (yes there are different kinds), as varied as any other environment you’ll pass through, team with survivors, creatures so well adapted they thrive in places that can suck the life out of a person in a few hours.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, National Park, Joshua tree, rock formations, Garrick's Xplorer Journal, explorer journal, XplorMor,

Joshua Tree National Park, California by Garrick at XplorMor

Joshua Tree National Park is a place of subtle and stark wonder. It snuck up on me, refusing to compromise its existence just because I happened to be there. I became bound to it, not the other way around. As I drove along its lonely road (however many other drivers there may be), I couldn’t help but wonder what mysteries existed unseen in the natural cracks of its distinctive purple-brown, crumbling hills. This place came to be because of a very specific set of conditions, including, but not limited to, elevation, soil composition, and the climate created by the mountains around it. It is a place that sits in a fragile equilibrium, which is now threatened by climate change, yet it persists.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, National Park, Joshua tree, rock formations, Garrick's Xplorer Journal, explorer journal, XplorMor,

Joshua Tree National Park, California by Garrick

Joshua Tree is home to its namesake, a strange Frankenstein tree that looks like a cross between a cactus and an oak tree. Before the pioneers came and cut down the old growth, these wondrous inhabitants of the desert grew massive, but slowly, beholden by the trickle of precious water they receive each year, only able to grow a few inches or less each wet season. The Joshua trees now struggle to become the heirs of their pre-Colonial ancestors, but what they have achieved is still impressive, slowly remaking a desert forest.  Out of this persistence in such harsh environments, I gained a better understanding of what I can endure, and how I can thrive in the hardest times. The desert’s heat and silence burn away all but the essential pieces of you, leaving behind something stronger and clearer than the person who first entered its mysteries.

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Joshua Tree National Park, California

Xplorer Journal written by Garrick Thomsen; photos courtesy of Patrick MacKay. Great work!