Picture of the Day: Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is one of the most photographed things in Acadia National Park and for good reason! The Lighthouse is perched perfectly picturesque on the edge of Mt. Deserts rocky shore and it has become a symbol for the eastern United States’ first National Park.

Picture of the Day: Grand Canyon Sunset

The Grand Canyon is a magical place to be at sunset. As the sun sets over the horizon the light is sucked out of the canyon but not before it puts on one last show of reds and oranges lighting up the massive canyon. Every second the light changes and will put your focus on another one of the infinite rock formations before you. The Grand Canyon isn’t just a place to see but to experience and every day there is an unforgettable experience. If you haven’t been to the Grand Canyon then get out and go right now.

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Beehive Trail

The Beehive Trail is one of Acadia National Park’s “iron rung” trails meaning it is mostly a non-technical rock climb up the Beehive cliffs with the assistance of iron rungs in the rock places there by the NPS. The nearby Precipice Trail is similar but involves more rock scrambling, higher cliffs, and is all around scarier but sadly it was closed due to peregrine falcon nesting when we last visited in July. The falcons don’t seem to like the Beehive cliffs though which is good for me since the Beehive is one of my favorite hikes! My only complaint is that it isn’t longer at two miles round trip (only .5miles or so is climbing).

We had just been at Sand Beach and walked across the street to the Beehive trailhead to begin our hike. It was a beautiful summer day on the Maine coast and the greens of the trees and blues of the water were vibrant as ever in the afternoon sun. Last time I hiked this trail was in the peak of Maine’s fall leaf season and the whole place was lit up with reds, oranges, and purples that glowed on the mountains. One day I hope to visit Acadia in the dead of winter to experience it in all seasons. But anyways the trailhead marker is a small stump with words carved into it and the trail starts off very rocky and uphill.

Soon we reached a fork in the road in the shape of a circle with hard granite sticking out of the dirt. A sign pointed left and a sign pointed right toward the Beehive and that’s the way we headed. Soon there is a sign warning of the dangers of climbing Beehive and it includes the fact that multiple people have fallen to their deaths on these cliffs.

With this grave news the Beehive pokes up through the trees looming as a high up peak with little ant-like people on its face. The reason it is called the Beehive is evident with this view.

The trail doesn’t take any time getting to the climbing and pretty soon we were waiting behind an old lady stuck 3 feet up with her family telling her she probably should sit out of this hike. After they talked her down we carried on upwards with some big rocky steps and a couple iron rungs. After the first few sets of iron rungs a view opens up of sand beach and the bay where we had just been. The water a deep blue that shone in the afternoon sun.

From here we climbed up several sets of iron rungs before crossing a small wooden bridge sticking out of the side of the cliff. The views here are great.

After the bridge we turned a corner and after a few more iron rungs we were up at the rocky top of the mountain with amazing views of Mt. Desert Island all around.

After we took in all the great views we went over the top of the mountain to reach the return trail. The return trail takes you down quickly with a bunch of steps cutting through the aspen forest. It felt like no time before we returned to the fork and then soon we were back at the trailhead and ready for the next hike.

I love the Beehive Trail! It is so fun and unique with great views! If you ever have the chance to visit Acadia I would highly recommend the Beehive trail.

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Blue Mesa Trail

The Blue Mesa Trail is a one mile paved loop trail in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. The trail takes you through blueish-gray badlands littered with petrified logs and a couple signs about the areas history. According to one of the signs this area was once a swamp filled with dinosaurs but now it’s a unique and beautiful desert filled with Dino ghosts. Petrified Forest is one of the most fossil filled places in the country and Blue Mesa has some of the most fossil discoveries in the petrified forest. So keep an eye out while hiking and maybe you’ll spot a prehistoric giant alligator skeleton sticking out of the ground (probably not though).

I woke up early in the Kaibab National Forest 15 minutes from the Grand Canyon’s rim where I had spent the previous day. I made some coffee and hit the road for Petrified Forest National Park. I got to petrified forest around 9am and I spent my whole morning in the southern end of the park where the majority of the petrified logs are. Around noon I arrived at the Blue Mesa area and set off to hike.

The trailhead has great views of the surrounding desert and it looks like the perfect western landscape looking out at the rugged terrain while a train chugs along in the distance. There is a “sun shelter” at the trailhead which is a nice spot to make a little lunch before or after the hike. The trail is paved for the entire mile but is very steep at the beginning as the trail drops from the top of the mesa to the bottom. I loved the views from here as I descended into the ancient dino swamp.

After the steep descent the trail is mostly flat as it makes a loop through the bowl shaped area created by the walls of badlands around. My favorite part of this trail was how the badlands looked completely different from every angle making it feel like there was always something new to look at and examine.

The park’s namesake petrified forest of logs also inhabits the Blue Mesa reminding everyone that there used to be trees in this now empty desert.

I made my way around the loop, taking pictures along the way and then found myself at the bottom of the steep incline back up to the trailhead. I was surprisingly winded once I reached the top so I took a second to drink some water and enjoy the badlands once more before I departed from the area.

The Blue Mesa Trail was one of my favorite hikes I did that day and I would gladly return to hike it again!

Thanks! – Josh

Picture of the Day: Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam is awesome! It is an American icon of ingenuity in the west and the history behind it is enthralling! The scale of it is enormous and the canyon it sits in is beautiful making me wish I could go back in time to explore it pre-Dam. I love taking pictures here and was happy to visit recently and get some pics. Here are a few I took while the water was a vibrant blue-green popping in contrast to the canyon’s tan and brown walls.

Thanks! – Josh

Picture of the Day: General Sherman Tree

This is a picture of the worlds largest living thing (not including fungus) and a few of his friends! Look at the people in the bottom left corner for a scale on how huge these trees really are!

Thanks! – Josh

The 5 Most Dangerous National Park Day Hikes

National Parks are known as America’s best idea. As a result, many people think that they are completely safe places to visit. And they can be when proper precautions and planning are taken. However the huge influxes of visitors in recent years has also created a spike in visitor deaths. Below are the 5 most dangerous day hikes in our National Parks.

5) The Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park: This short trail with gorgeous views of the Park and the Atlantic Ocean also has had several deaths from hikers falling from the precarious cliffs. Famed for its 26 iron rungs climbing vertically up Champlain Mountain and the narrow ledge to navigate, this trail is thrilling and dangerous. You can read more about the Precipice Trail here.

4) Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park: One of the most famous day hikes in America is also one of the most dangerous in America. The trail’s notoriety brings a flood of hikers who inevitably are at risk at plummeting to their deaths. The 1400 foot drops on each side of a 2 foot wide trail are breathtaking and treacherous. You can read more about Angels Landing here.

3) The Narrows in Zion National Park: This gorgeous slot canyon in Utah can be as narrow as 20 feet across with rock walls a thousand feet high on each side. Unseen storms upstream can cause flash flooding and a race for your life. As this hikes popularity has increased, so have the drownings.

Wading in the Narrows

2) The Bright Angel Trail in The Grand Canyon National Park: Hordes of tourists descend this trail into the canyon. It’s an easy hike down and the views are amazing. Suddenly you realize it’s getting late and super hot and you now have many miles of switchbacks and thousands of feet of elevation change to get back to the top. Rangers rescue folks here almost daily, but still heat exhaustion claims lives every summer. Read more about the Bright Angel Trail here.

1) The Half Dome Trail in Yosemite National Park: The most dangerous day hike in the National Park system is Half Dome. You’ve probably seen pictures of the nearly vertical ascent up the cables. If one person slips, they can take several others down with them. But this trail is electrifying in more than one way. Stay off Half Dome if thunderstorms are in the area. Not only is the treacherous trail slick, but numerous hikers have been struck by lightning on this trail.

Photo Credit yosemitehikes.com

Sunday Hikes: The Inscription Trail

The Inscription Trail is a half mile paved loop trail in New Mexico’s El Morro National Monument. Half a mile wouldn’t usually take somebody 30 minutes to walk but if a park ranger hands you a hefty book with a couple paragraphs for each of the twenty something stops along the trail it’ll probably take you a while. And that’s what happened to me as I arrived just before the park closed it’s gates to day hikers. With my bible sized pamphlet about the rock inscriptions I started the trail to learn all about the history of El Morro. In a nutshell what I learned is that because of a year round watering hole at the base of El Morro’s sandstone cliffs, the area became a vital stopping point for people traveling west in the vast New Mexico desert (just like the first Love’s Truck Stop in New Mexico is to me after driving 18 hours from Georgia).

Anyways because of the sandstone’s easy markability many early graffiti artists made their mark in El Morro. Beginning with early Native Americans and continuing through the ages past Spanish explorers, pioneers of the Wild West, the infamous Don Juan, and up to miner 49ers. Since El Morro was made a National Monument in 1906 marking up the ancient walls is off limits but the history of people writing “[Blank] Waz Here” will be immortalized by this national monument.

My favorite inscription was a Native American depiction of some bighorn sheep!

Thanks! – Josh

The 5 Best National Parks for Sunrises and Sunsets

Similar to yesterday’s top 5 National Parks feature, by their very nature all National Parks have amazing sunrises and sunsets. Having said that, some are a little better than others. Without further ado, here is today’s list.

5) Shenandoah National Park: Fighting off strong challenges from Canyonlands National Park and Haleakala National Park is Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive runs north/south atop the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains giving a gorgeous sunrise on one side of the road and an amazing sunset on the other side. Fog is common in the mornings creating a fabulous sunrise.

Sunrise in Shenandoah National Park.

4) Acadia National Park: Next on this list is Acadia National Park. From the summit of Cadillac Mountain you can be the first in the USA to see the sunrise. Really the views from any of the mountains in this park are amazing.

View from Champlain Mountain.

3) Grand Canyon National Park: 3rd on our list is also one of the most visited. Sunrise and sunset bring out amazing colors in the rocks that washed out by the bright sun during the day.

Mather Point.

2) Saguaro National Park: The final two entries on our list are very close. Both are amazing and beautiful. At #2 is Saguaro National Park. A sunset here with a giant saguaro cactus in the foreground is almost as good as it can get.

Saguaros can grow over 40 feet tall!

1) Joshua Tree National Park: California’s Joshua Tree National Park has the best sunsets in the National Park system. Look at this sunset and try to disagree. Congratulations Joshua Tree National Park!

Sunset at Joshua Tree National Park.

The 5 Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

One of the most exciting parts of visiting a National Park is spotting wildlife in its native environment. By their very nature, all of the National Parks are excellent places to see wildlife. But, some are better than others. My criteria to choosing the best is as follows: a wide variety of wildlife, easy to find and view them, and the larger and more rare the animal the better.

5) Rocky Mountain National Park: #5 on the list is located in beautiful Colorado. Moose were not historically found in this area, but this National Park is the most likely place to see a moose now. Herds of Elk and Bighorn Sheep are commonly seen. You can also spot Black Bears, Cougars, Mule Deer and Marmots. Unfortunately, Bison, Grizzly Bears and Wolves are no longer found here or this park would be higher up the list.

The marmots here are super friendly.

4) Olympic National Park: Next on our list is Olympic National Park. This park has a wide variety of geography from Pacific Ocean coastline, glacier topped mountains and temperate rain forests. This means there is a wide variety of wildlife also. Some of the wildlife you can see in Olympic include Roosevelt Elk, Mountain Goats, Black Bears, Black-tailed Deer, Marmots, Sea Lions, Seals, and Whales. Bonus: natural aquariums in the tide pools along the coast.

Roosevelt Elk in the Hoh Rain Forest.

3) Katmai National Park: Have you seen those great videos of brown bears catching with their sharp teeth the salmon on their way upstream to spawn? Well, Katmai is the place to see that and puts this park squarely on the list at #3. Visit Brooks Camp in July and September to see the highest concentration of bears. Also seen in this National Park are Moose, Caribou, Whales, and Wolves among many other animals.

2) Glacier National Park: This National Park is just crawling with mega fauna. Hiking the gorgeous trails throughout North America’s Alps is the best way to see the ample wildlife. Some of the wildlife you can see includes Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Cougars, Elk, Deer, and Wolverines. The alpine meadows are also home to Ptarmigans in large numbers.

Ptarmigan in Glacier National Park.

1) Yellowstone National Park: Our first National Park is also first on this list. The wildlife in Yellowstone are everywhere. They are in the road, the fields, blocking your pictures. It’s almost impossible not to see dozens of animals everywhere you go. Some of the most commonly seen include Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, Bison, Elk, Mule Deer, Moose and Wolves.

Bison in the road.