Go through all your National Parks photos and enter the Share the Experience photo contest.
The Department of the Interior has announced the start of the 2013 "Share the Experience" contest.
The "Share the Experience" photo contest showcases our nation's public lands, including national wildlife refuges, forests, recreation areas and our national parks and draws entries from all across the United States. It is the largest national park and public land photo contest for amateur photographers.
The winning photograph will appear on the 2015 America the Beautiful pass for entrance to 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests. All entries have the chance to be featured on the Interior Department’s popular Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts.
The "Share the Experience" begins May 10, 2013 and runs through December 31, 2013. Amateur photographers can participate by uploading photos on www.sharetheexperience.org.
Remember to think about all our federal lands, including the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
You've heard the joke that ends in "With all that poop, there's got to be a pony somewhere." At Shackleford Banks at Cape Lookout National Seashore, it's literally true. Follow the poop and you might see horses.
Shackleford Banks is an island in the National Seashore to the west of Cape Lookout lighthouse. You can't go from one to the other, unless you swim. Today, I took a ferry from Beaufort to Shackleford Banks.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. You could swim in the Sound or collect shells but I really wanted to see the horses. About 110 horses are spread over the nine-mile long Banks. They are the descendants of Spanish horses that were brought over to the U.S. and somehow were thrown overboard or escaped. No one is really sure how they got to the Banks.
The ferry captain gave us some tips. "Walk up about a half-mile and look for a water hole. They should congregate there." Great advice but no one told the horses. Once I got to the water hole, I had to cut cross-country through the trees and grasses.
I got steered right by a young family who had seen them. And the horses were there, munching the new green grass. These feral horses are organized into a harem of 4-6 females. I didn't know when the male was. As they say, "you don't want to get between the man and his woman." I stayed a respectful distance away, so the pictures are not that great.
I am still amazed by what the National Park Service protects. These horses are wild. They are not fed or given any medications but some males are on birth control. Unlike the horses on the Appalachian Trail, these horses do not come up to visitors and nuzzle them. These Banker horses ignore you.
I've now seen all the National Parks in North Carolina.
When I'm on a book tour, I take the opportunity to visit new places. On this trip, I went to Cape Lookout National Seashore in bits and pieces.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail goes right up Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I feel I have seen every bit of it and understand this park unit. But Cape Lookout, located south of Cape Hatteras, is not easy to get to. The island consists of 56 miles of beach, dunes and salt marsh alongside the sound. You need to take a commercial ferry. In addition, the budget cuts affected my plans.
The CALO Visitor Center is on the mainland on Harkers Island, off US 70 east of Beauford, NC - a long way from anyplace else I needed to be. Right now, the CALO Visitor Center is closed on weekends. So I had to see it on Friday. It's a small place. Though I read all the exhibits, even I was finished with it in less than an hour.
Then I took the ferry to the Cape Lookout lighthouse. This must be the most popular part of the national seashore. People congregate where they're dropped off to walk the beach, wade, fish and check out the keepers quarters under the lighthouse. The lighthouse doesn't open until Wednesday and I won't be in the area by then. Grrr! By the way, all that information is on their website. None of it was a surprise.
I walked to the Cape Lookout Historic Village, about two miles away, a 45 minute walk. The guy who sold me a ticket for the ferry tried to discourage me from the walk, saying it would leave me exhausted. He didn't know how long the walk was. He obviously had never done it. I got the distance from the NPS website.
No, I didn't tell him that I walked 1,000 miles across North Carolina. I just thanked him for his advice but it left me angry. What about the visitors who are not as confident? I try to encourage everyone to walk--you can't call two miles on the beach, hiking. Maybe I should have said something. By the time, I got back to his little store, he was off-duty.
Cape Hatteras Village is now deserted and fascinating. Houses stand forlorn and empty, a former shell of themselves. Coast guard personnel and their families lived here along with seasonal fishermen. I walked the streets,now in sand, though I doubt if they were ever paved. I saw no one.
Cape Lookout Village is a historic district. The National Park Service has had a plan in place for several years to restore these houses but no money. After a while, these houses may just collapse.
But wait, what about the horses? That's on another island. If you don't have your own boat, you have to see the seashore in pieces.
Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods by Christine Byl, published by Beacon Press, 2013. $24.95
I've been maintaining a piece of the Appalachian Trail as a volunteer for longer than Christine Byl has worked on trails. However, I've never done the kind of work she's describing. Her book, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods, is a look into what it takes to build and maintain trails out west so I can hike to a scenic spot. This is tough work.
Byl started working as a traildog after college. For sixteen years, she was a laborer who worked in the woods designing, building, repairing, and maintaining trails in Glacier National Park and later in Alaska. Unlike the A.T. and other long-distance trails in the East, major trail work in National Parks is done by seasonal employees and not by volunteers.
In the book, Byl recalls long days of clearing brush, digging ditches, building bridges, cleaning up after forest fires, and blasting snow. She learns how to use unfamiliar tools like a crosscut saw, Pulaskis, and chainsaws. She needs to deal with the harsh living conditions and injuries that are part of the job.
If you're looking for a plot or a narrative arc in her story, you might be disappointed. However, if you want to get a feel for hard, physical work done so you can hike in the National Parks for your two-week vacation, you'll enjoy the book.
Hiker to Hiker is part of a blog tour. So I had a chance to ask Christine Byl a few questions. So here's Christine in her own words.
1. What year did you start as a trail dog? When did you leave for good?
I started on my first Glacier National Park trail crew in 1996 when I was 23. I worked in Glacier from '96-'02, with a season off in 1997. Then I moved to Cordova, Alaska and worked for the Forest Service, in 2003. Up north to Denali National Park from 2004-2008. After that, I started my own trail contracting business with my husband. So, I haven't been on a crew in 5 years, but I'm still a trails professional. Haven't left for good yet!
2. Did you ever try (or dream) to get a full-time career job with the National Park Service?
I've always had the strong sense that for me, trail work was a great seasonal job to augment other pursuits and passions, but I did not want a career with the NPS. My husband had a term job for a few years before we started our business, which came with health insurance—that was pretty awesome. But, a six-month season suited me perfectly. As I say in Dirt Work, "I've never wanted to climb any ladder for the NPS except the one leaning against the tool shed." This is just a personal preference though—I know and admire a lot of career NPS folks who do excellent work in parks all over the country.
3. If you had to pick out an (one) experience on the trail that said to you "this is what I'm meant to do. This is why I'm doing this", what would it be?
More than one experience, it was a generally growing sense, over time. But my first season, I do remember that I felt more like I fit somewhere than I could ever remember feeling before. Or, at least, that I wanted to belong to this group, even though in many ways, I didn't really fit yet. Over the years, I have developed a real sense of community with trails people. We don't need to have everything in common, but we share this intense bond that comes from doing hard work together and knowing the same places deeply. I do have moments every season, in all kinds of situations, where I'm struck by the fact that there's nothing I'd rather be doing. (Usually this happens in sunny weather, though!)
4. Do you know of any trail dog that does this as a long-term career? Until they retire and collect a pension?
I know of both long-term seasonal traildogs (who don't retire and collect a pension) and also some that are permanent, with all the benefits that come with that. Most of the permanent positions are foreman jobs, so they get out in the field less and are doing more logistics, planning, budget, office stuff. But one really close friend has been in the trails world for 16 years, the last 4 in a permanent job, and still gets out in the field often. Another friend has been a seasonal for almost 30 years, leading crews for most of that time. He won't get retirement, but he's had one of the "realest" trails careers you can imagine.
5. When you were a seasonal and before you went to grad school, how did you support yourself? How do most seasonal traildogs support themselves?
Generally speaking, I've supported myself for the last 16 years from seasonal trail work. Even during grad school, every summer I went back to the field when school let out. Sometimes I've had other jobs in the off-season—from temp work to college professor—but the bulk of my income is trails/field based.
Seasonals vary widely in how they make money. Especially in the NPS, the wages for trails jobs are decent enough that many people just work for 6 months and live frugally on that income, doing whatever else they love in the winter—traveling or volunteering or writing or ski-bumming, whatever. Some people go back to school. Others have off-season jobs, everything from working in Antarctica to construction jobs to teaching. Still other traildogs work trails all year long, moving to parks in different climates in different seasons. So, you might work in Alaska in the summer and in Saguaro in the winter. I've never worked in a southern park, though I have heard great things about them.
6. Do you have any lasting injuries or aches that will be permanent?
Oh yes. I don't think I know anyone who's been doing trails this long that doesn't have at least some minor complaints, except one friend who I swear is bionic. I had carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists that healed pretty well but can flare up if I'm not careful. I had two hernia surgeries from which I have scar tissue; I will always have a weak spot there and have to be really careful because they can often recur, I'm told. And then, I have the myriad little dings that most field laborers have—creaky knees, a couple of broken fingers that get stiff and cold easily, lots of scars. So far though, I think the consistent exercise, the high level of fitness and strength, and the mental health benefit that I get from working outside has outweighed any health downsides. But ask me again in ten years and we'll see how I feel about that!
Check out other reviews on Christine Byl's blog tour.
I listened to Pres. Obama carefully on Tuesday evening when he gave his State of the Union address. It was a good message, a message of hope and enthusiasm. We can't just cut, cut, cut. We have to grow the economy and give people opportunities. That's the American way and I agree. But he talked about jobs, jobs, job but not one word on our public lands. It's as if Americans just needed to work and eat, work and eat.
John Muir said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”
However, the President just talked about bread or jobs. According to National Parks Conservation Association, national parks generate over $31 billion for the local economy. When Congress feels the need to shut down the government, the first thing they shut down is National Parks. As if parks were the only nonessential federal service.
Poor and middle-class Americans may not have the money or opportunity to recreate on private land. This is where public parks and forests come in. Compare the entrance fee for Yosemite - $20 for a carload for seven days - with Disneyworld where a one-day ticket is $89.
Many state parks are free and closer to where people live. And of course, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is free. The best bargain in America? An America the Beautiful Pass.
The next day Wednesday February 13, the President came to Asheville. And for a few hours, the eyes of the world were on us. He toured the Linamar plant, a Canadian auto parts manufacturer. We're grateful that Linamar moved in when Volvo left. They provide good jobs and make use of a large manufacturing site. Then the President had a lunch of ribs and sides from 12 Bones.
But he had no time or thought about the natural surroundings around him. The Blue Ridge Parkway was very close, Great Smoky Mountains National Park not much further. Businesses move here partly because of the beauty and accessibility of the outdoors.
The Asheville area has three National Parks (also Carl Sandburg House) less than an hour's drive. All three need our love, attention, and money. All the volunteers in the world (and I'm one of them) can't replace properly funding our public lands. Outdoor professionals need to have enough money in their budge to manage our parks.
So, President Obama, the next time you want to give a speech of hope and opportunity, think of our public lands. They're distinctly American as well.
Can you ask visitors to volunteer in a national park? Why not? Since our Congress and taxes are not doing the job and are not funding the National Parks correctly, parks are using volunteers for more functions. And volunteers love it.
Many of so-called volunteers are not real volunteers. Either they have an internship which looks good on a resume or they're part of a group that thinks that a day in a park is a fun way of spending time with friends. But no matter. They're helping a park.
But in the Dry Tortugas, volunteers of any sort are not easy to get. It's a 2.5 hour ferry ride which costs $165 with Yankee Freedom. Volunteers must live in the fort for a few weeks. I don't think they get Boy Scout troops for a day that help clean up the place. That's where visitors can come in.
Our second day in the Dry Tortugas was centered around studying Fort Jefferson. We had walked around the fort the previous day and read up on it but nothing beats a walk and talk with a ranger. But here, there are no interpretive rangers at the moment, another indication of poor funding. A tour guide for Yankee Freedom took us around and she was great.
A Bit of History
Fort Jefferson was built between 1846 and 1875 but it was never finished. It was planned as a (late, in my view) reaction to the War of 1812. After the British burned Washington, DC, Congress authorized several similar forts up and down the east coast, including Fort Sumter, Fort Pulaski and Fort Jefferson.
Lots of activity, lots of casemates (gun rooms), lots of cannons but not one shot was fired in anger. Though it was located at the southern most tip of Florida, the fort stayed in Union hands during the Civil War. It was used as a prison; the most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd. Dr. Mudd was an American physician who was convicted and imprisoned for aiding and conspiring with John Wilkes Booth in the 1865 assassination of President Lincoln. You remember that from schol, right?
After the army abandoned the fort, it deteriorated until it became a National Monument in 1935 and a National Park in 1992. Our tour guide claimed that it was the least visited park in the east.
After lunch, Lenny wanted to veg out and I wanted to go back to snorkeling. Instead, I asked for a large garbage bag from the Yankee Freedom staff and told them that I was going to pick up garbage on Bush Key, the island connected by a land bridge to Garden Key. See the top picture.
The staff was amused and astonished but said "Yeah. Go for it." Lenny figured that he could veg out on the long boat ride back and we circled Bush Key. We found buoys, plastic bottles and even a propane can. Most of the junk was from boaters. Walkers who saw us probably through that we were wards of the court. They surely didn't volunteer to help.
We also saw a colony of hermit crabs eating a bird. Hermit crabs move into any shell they can fit in and carry their new house on their backs. Fascinating.
But back to volunteering. If you're staying on Dry Tortugas for more than a day, you have time to help the park in some way. Ask the rangers. They will be surprised.
We worked our way down the Florida Keys to Key West singing “It’s five o’clock somewhere.” But our time in Margaritaville was not spent carousing and drinking; we spent a few hours window shopping and looking at outdoor sculptures with our granddaughters. That evening, we called it a night before 9 pm with great anticipation. We had the alarm clock set to 5:30 am. We were going to the Dry Tortugas – finally.
The Dry Tortugas may be the most remote national park in the east. Tortugas means “turtle” and dry means that there is no fresh water. The Dry Tortugas lie 70 miles west of Key West. The national park is mostly open water with several small islands. Garden Keys is the only one accessible by commercial ferry, the Yankee Freedom. Yes, you can go with a commercial seaplane, but if you think the boat is expensive, you don’t even want to ask about the cost of flying.
The boat trip takes two and a half hours. Because we were camping, we had to arrive at the terminal at 6:30 am to load our gear on the boat. The boat leaves at 7:30 and they serve breakfast on the boat. Most people just go for the day, arriving at 10:30 am and getting back on the boat by 2:45 pm. We thought that there was too much to do for just four hours and decided to camp.
After the day trippers get off the boat, a park ranger meets the campers and explains the camping rules to those of us staying overnight. Ranger Williams is the law enforcement ranger on the island and also the EMT. “If you have a medical emergency in the middle of the night, come and knock on my door,” he said.
“Also, from time to time, there may be Cubans refugees landing on Garden Keys. If that happens, come and get me. I call the Coast Guard who checks them out.” None of the campers expected this as part of a safety lecture. I was flabbergasted. The "chug" to the left is an example of the type of boat they use to escape Cuba.
Though the island is further away from Cuba than Key West, there are fewer Coast Guard ships patrolling the area and so they have more of a chance to get “one dry foot” on land. And that’s all the Cuban refugees need to be on their way to permanent residency and citizenship.
So while the rangers are safely tucked away in their air conditioned apartments in Fort Jefferson, the campers would be the first line of defense in case Cubans landed. It was an exciting prospect but no one landed in the middle of the night.
We set up our tent under palm trees and went to explore the island. First, we checked out the bird life. Even bird newbies can recognize the magnificent frigates, which seem to float overhead. Bu there were pelicans, black skimmers, plovers, and sanderlings, just for a start.
The beach is lovely and we snorkeled. Lenny is an old pro and took off around the various structures that hold corals and fish life. I gave snorkeling a try. My first attempt resulted in tripping over the fins and falling into the water. I got rid of the fins. On the second attempt, I got water into the mask and into my nose. But after I tightened the mask, the third time was a charm. I actually saw fish and coral. Snorkeling worked.
After the ferry left with the day trippers, I thought that the campers would have the island to ourselves. But seaplanes brought more tourists for a couple of hours. Campers on private boats came ashore. But the island was definitely quieter We ate a cold dinner under a full moon. The wind had died down and it was warm. I walked around the island, just listening to the waves. Finally, I reluctantly went into my tent to go to sleep.
How are you going to keep them down on the farm after they're seen Paree?
In other words, how are you going to get children excited about a national park after they've seen animals up close at a zoo? I'm sure the professionals working to get children back to nature worry about that. A zoo is not nature but a safe and approved place for adults to take kids.
We went to Jungle Island in Miami, a private zoo. I don't like to trash anything too much on this blog - I use Trip Advisor for that. Let's just say that it was an expensive disappointment. But the animals were there, in cages. So it's a big concern to then take children to a natural place, where the animals are not there for show. You have to find them.
The next day, a visit to Everglades National Park.
What a place - teeming with birds, sea life and of course, alligators. The anhingas were preening themselves, the alligators and turtles were out in the sun. And countless number of herons, egrets, and gallinules, a colorful bird which appears to walk on water.
South Florida is a world unto itself. It's much more than Miami and its excesses. The tropical setting, palm trees and wildlife are like no other in the United States. Those who dismiss going to Florida because of the reputation of its cities should spend a day in Everglades.
We did the conventional visit, walking the Anhinga Trail, where the animals congregate during the winter dry season. This area of Florida only has two seasons - wet and dry. You want to come here in the winter when it's bug-free and where the water is scarce. That congregates the animals in the slough (wetlands or swamp).
Walking this trail is not a solitary experience. Busloads of people come here as well because that's where the alligators are. But don't let that deter you. The animals aren't concerned. They want to be in and around the water.
I am continually amazed by the beauty of Florida once you get off the interstate and get on small roads. Even better, once you get off the pavement.
Lenny and I continued our exploration of Canaveral National Seashore by checking out Seminole Rest. It consists of a large mound of shells, dating back to 2000 BC. Unlike most of the shell mounds, the owners of this property refused to sell the shells for road building. Instead they built two houses on the mound, one for themselves and one for a caretaker. Today, you can take a short walk to the Intercoastal Waterway and around to see the two historic houses saved by the Park Service. The picture above is of a scene on this walk of live oak trees, smothered by spanish moss.
The National Seashore abuts Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. We checked out the manatee observation deck. Sure enough, a couple of manatees were lounging in the lagoon. They came to the surface just long enough to take their next breath but did not show much of their bodies, so no pictures.
The other major attraction in the refuge is the Black Point Wildlife Drive, a 7-mile drive through an amazing wildlife viewing area. This is one of best places to see all the birds of Florida, from sparrows to roseate spoonbills. The latter are large shore birds, with pink punky stripes on their white bodies. We took the drive slowly and Lenny kept checking the birds in our Peterson bird guide. While we were driving around, we learned that the refuge offers a guided birding trip with an expert volunteer birder. Maybe next time.
The one-way road attracts serious birders with serious scopes on tripods. We have good binoculars but they just can't compete with the professional equipment. Even so, we identified over 30 bird species. We're sure that there are many more.
We didn't leave enough time for the drive. By the time we got to the 5-mile loop trail, it was time to go to the visitor center and hit the road south to Miami. I had to remember the purpose of the trip to Florida--to see Lenny's mom.
Am I ready for the noise, pollution and crowds of the city?
Florida's natural beauty is a constant state of wonder. As we drive down to Miami, we continue to explore the national park units of the state.
Indian River in Central Florida is more than oranges. It’s also part of what is called the “other Florida,” not the Disneyworld, Orlando, and Miami development but the home of hammock forests and estuaries. Canaveral National Seashore, created in 1975, is the best example of this habitat. Located at the end of New Smyrna Beach, 15 miles south of Daytona Beach, you can reach it by getting off I-95 and driving through a residential area for about 13 miles.
The maritime forest that I saw in the Outer Banks is generally the same here - palmetto trees, sawgrass, live oaks, and other succulents. We didn’t see any animals but we were here in the middle of the afternoon, not the best time to see wildlife. Still some biting insects, probably not mosquitoes, took advantage of my naked arms.
Besides the natural habitat, Canaveral National Seashore protects the few artifacts left from when this area was inhabited.
Eldora was a 19th century village in Central Florida, close to what is now New Smyrna Beach. Almost 100 people lived here but only Eldora State House remains. A freeze wiped out the orange crop one winter and that was enough to get people to move. Now the house is a museum.
Behind the house is Castle Windy, a shell mound. It looks like a garbage dump for oyster shell dating back to pre-European times so it’s protected. Further north, Turtle Mound is a 35 foot hill, hill by Florida standards, also filled with shells. The Park Service has built an elaborate boardwalk so visitors can “climb” the mound and not disturb it.
But how did the National Park Service get this land? For that, you can thank the space program. In the 1950s, NASA bought land to “buffer their activities.” In other words, they didn’t want a housing development next to their launching pads. So they bought the land around the Space Center. They turned over some of the land to the National Park Service and some to the Wildlife Refuge. Both agencies manage the land according to their mission.
All of this wilderness is in the north part of the National Seashore. Tomorrow, the southern part.
We had a great Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's house-turkey and all the fixings. We couldn't have gotten more traditional with the food.
And then we played National Park Service Monopoly. What a great idea. The original Monopoly game used the names of the streets in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Maybe during the depression, that was considered a glamorous city. Now there are several different monopoly games including Disney and the Simpsons. But how could you buy and sell National Parks?
The NPS monopoly game was designed with the help of the National Park Foundation, the official charity of the National Park Service. Just as Friends of the Smokies is the official charity of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the National Park Foundation helps all parks.
Back to the game. Which park was going to be worth the most money? Yellowstone, worth $400. That was the equivalent of park Place. Then in descending order:
Yosemite - $350
Olympic - $320
Great Smoky Mountains National Park tied with Everglades for $300.
In case you're wondering, the Capital Mall in Washington DC was worth only $60. Does that say anything about our Federal Government?
The playing pieces included a bear, ranger hat, canoe and hiking boot. I chose the hiking boot.
Instead of houses and hotels, you bought ranger stations (brown pieces) and tents (green pieces). And of course, the Chance and Community Chest cards had been adapted to National Parks.
I doubt if this game will encourage families plan a National Park vacation. However if you buy the game, a portion of the sales goes to the National Park Foundation - and that's good thing. Maybe for Christmas?