Earth Day 2021


National Park Week, Day VI: Everglades National Park

The view from Flamingo; Camera: Widelux, 35mm

The Everglades may be the only National Park I’ve had to fast talk my way into. They were having wildfires when I drove down from Tampa one spring. I had seen the warning signs, but kept going until I came to a roadblock. Off to my left, I could see some smoldering, but as far as wildfires go, it looked pretty tame. The ranger hemmed and hawed at me, but I persisted. Eventually I said, “Look, I’m from Alaska, we deal with this all the time, and that doesn’t look like Armageddon out there.” The ranger said I could go forward, but I had to commit to staying at Flamingo for several days, and not even drive back to the roadblock. I made the deal, and released the clutch.

Looking out across the river of grass

It was dry, and it was hot during the day, and the mosquitoes still gave Alaska a run for the money. It was hard not to be impressed by the little bloodsuckers tenacity. I was also impressed by the vultures. It isn’t every day you see a string of them with their wings fully extended drying in the sun, when you climb out of the tent in the morning.

Map of the Everglades: Before and after

Everglades National Park covers 1,508,976 acres, which is 20% of the size of Florida’s original Everglades. It is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, and the largest wilderness of any type east of the Mississippi River, and the third largest National Park in the Lower 48.

The Everglades were a vast network of wetlands, interspersed with forests. Water flowed from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades and into Florida Bay. It was the first Park created to protect a fragile ecosystem.

A hike out to the Gulf to see the Mangroves

I did a lot of hiking during my time in this incredibly unique Park. Many trails led me out to the Gulf Coast, with the final section through the dense mangrove forests.

Another incredible way to see the Everglades would be the Canoe & Kayak Trails through the Park. There are numerous water trails for either a canoe or kayak, and trips can be fully guided or self-guided. Many campsites are on raised platforms. Any return trip to the Everglades for me, would have to include some of the water trails.

Three alligators lounging on the waters edge.

For wildlife, I mostly saw all sorts of birds, from great blue herons and white ibis, to osprey and brown pelicans. Over 360 species of birds have been seen in the Everglades. I was surprised to learn that the black vulture was a bit of a vandal. It seems that greeting people when they climb out of their tent in the morning was not their official duty in the Park. It turns out that they enjoy tearing the rubber off of vehicles. I’m not totally unfamiliar with the habit, as I’ve seen ravens steal wiper blade rubber, but the vultures seemed to be particularly vengeful. To the point, that people were actually renting blue tarps and bungee cords to deter the vultures. I chose not to wrap the car with a blue tarp, and honestly had no trouble. They did eyeball the Nissan from a distance, which I could live with.

The Everglades has two distinct seasons: The Dry Season, which is roughly November to March, and the Wet Season which runs April to November. I was told that the Wet Season can be buggy, and I was there before the Wet Season began, and I can tell you that it was quite buggy once the sun started to set.

Each year brings over one million visitors to Everglades National Park.

Happy Earth Day! Go find your Park!

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

National Park Week, Day V; Today’s Park Theme: Wayback Wednesday

Memorial Obelisk on Last Stand Hill

Not far from the confluence of the Yellowstone and Big Horn Rivers, among the rolling hills of Southeastern Montana, the Battle of Little Bighorn was fought on June 25th and 26th of 1876.

As many as 2500 Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors met the 700 soldiers of the 7th Calvary under Lt General George Armstrong Custer. The 7th Calvary lost 52% of its men, some 268 officers, soldiers and scouts were killed in total. It was an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Cheyenne and their allies.

Grave markers of Custer’s immediate command

Custer would fall with his men on what is now known as Last Stand Hill. The soldiers were originally buried where they fell in shallow graves, but most were reinterred around the memorial obelisk that stands at the top of the hill. The grave markers on the hill’s slope, are placed approximately where the men fell. Custer’s marker is the one shaded in black. Many of the officers were reinterred out on the east coast, Custer’s remains were reinterred at West Point. Lt John Crittenden’s body was left buried where he fell until 1932, at the request of his family. Crittenden was reinterred in the nearby National Cemetery when road construction in the Monument came near his grave. Crittenden was 22 years old at the time of his death.

The Indian Memorial at Little Bighorn

Estimates for Native American casualties during the battle, vary widely. Initially, as few as 36 were named as dead in battle, but Lakota Chief Red Horse stated in 1877 that 136 Native Americans were killed and 160 wounded.

Closeup of the Indian Memorial; Camera: Rolleiflex, Film: TMax100

The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument encompasses just over 765 acres, which includes Custer National Cemetery.

Custer National Cemetery; Camera: Rolleiflex, Film: TMax100

Custer National Cemetery was created in 1879, to protect the graves of those already killed in battle here. There are approximately 5000 persons buried at Custer National Cemetery. The cemetery closed to reservations in 1978, but reservations made prior to that date will still be honored.

Little Bighorn Battlefield NM received 332,328 visitors in 2016.


Kenai Fjords National Park

National Park Week, Day IV; Today’s Park Theme: Transformation Tuesday

Map of Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords: Where Mountains, Ice and Ocean meet.

Kenai Fjords was first designated a National Monument in 1978. With the passage of ANILCA, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980, Kenai Fjords officially became a National Park.

Exit Glacier

Kenai Fjords encompasses 669,984 acres, which includes the massive Harding Icefield, which is the source of at least 38 glaciers.

Climbing up to Exit Glacier; Camera: Leica M3, Film: TMax100

Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield can be reached from the community of Seward. It’s a short drive from town to the visitor center and trail head. The short and relatively easy trail takes one to the foot of the glacier. Exit is retreating at a pretty good clip, and is now losing ice during all seasons.

The Harding Icefield

The Harding Icefield covers over 700 square miles, and that does NOT include the 38-40 glaciers that spawn from it. The hike past Exit Glacier to the icefield can be described as strenuous, but the view, when clear, is absolutely amazing.

An emergency shelter surrounded by the Harding Icefield

Harding Icefield is one of four remaining in the United States, and the largest that is contained completely within the country. It receives, on average, 400 inches of snow each year.

Bear Glacier as seen from Resurrection Bay

Much of the Park is only accessible by water, and sea kayaking is a very popular activity. There are many tidewater glaciers that can be reached from Seward.

Kayakers dwarfed by Aialik Glacier

Two glaciers that I have visited from Seward are: Bear, which is the longest glacier in the Park, and Aialik Glacier, which is a bit more impressive from the water. Bear has receded to the point, that a lake now exists between the ocean and the glacier. The lake is often filled with small icebergs, which makes kayaking interesting. Aialik is a giant ice wall from the water’s surface.

Kenai Fjords National Park received 321,596 visitors in 2018. It is the fourth most visited Park in Alaska, and the closest to the city of Anchorage.

Find your Park!

General Grant National Memorial

National Park Week Day III; Today’s Theme: Military Monday

General U.S. Grant National Memorial

I was on my Amtrak Railpass tour of the Lower 48, when I was lucky enough to be invited to spend some time in New York City. While exploring the campus of Columbia University, I decided to walk down to General Grant’s mausoleum.

Let Us Have Peace

General Grant died of throat cancer on 23 July 1885. The mayor of NYC at the time, William Russell Grace, immediately offered a place in his city for the mausoleum. Grant himself, had only one request: That he should lie beside his wife Julia when she passed. That left out the military cemeteries, which did not allow women to be interred at that time.

Memory of the country’s Civil War was still fresh, and any funding need for a memorial to the General who ended the war, was met with enthusiasm. Not to say that there wasn’t controversy. Washington D.C. felt that they should get his memorial, and there were design competitions and delays. Still, construction began in the summer of 1891, and Grant’s remains were transferred to the red granite sarcophagus on 17 April 1897. The monument was dedicated ten days later on the 27th, which would have been Grant’s 75th birthday.

The 8.5 ton red granite sarcophagus, the final resting place of General Grant and his wife Julia

Julia Grant would die five years later in 1902.

The National Park Service assumed authority over the tomb in 1958. In 1991, efforts were made to bring attention to the deteriorating condition of the mausoleum. This was not the Park Service’s finest hour. A Columbia University student, Frank Scaturro, who was also a volunteer at the Grant Memorial, tried in vain to bring attention to the lack of maintenance at the tomb. Graffiti and vandalism plagued the Memorial, and the building was in very poor condition. After two years of being ignored by the Park Service, Scaturro wrote a 325 page whistle-blower report to both Congress and the President.

In 1994, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to  “restore, complete, and preserve in perpetuity the Grant’s Tomb National Memorial and surrounding areas.” The restoration of the Memorial was completed in 1997, and the site rededicated on 27 April 1997 – 100 years after the original dedication.

When I was there, the Memorial had a jazz concert playing nearby, and the grounds and Riverside Park were immaculate. It is a very peaceful setting above the Hudson River.

Approximately 80,000 people visit the Grant National Memorial in non-pandemic years.

Find your Park!

Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve

National Park Week Day II; Today’s Park Theme: Volunteer Sunday

The Chitina River en route to McCarthy

Wrangell-St Elias may very well be my favorite road accessible park in Alaska. Denali is closer, and I visit it the most, but Wrangell-St Elias is a trip of its own. First off, it is the largest National Park at 13.2 million acres. It starts at sea level and rises all the way up to 18,008 feet with the summit of Mount St Elias, which is the second highest peak in the United States.

Mount Blackburn

Within Wrangell-St Elias is four mountain ranges: The Chugach, Wrangell, St Elias, and the eastern part of the Alaska Range. Mount Wrangell is one of the largest active volcanoes in North America, and nine of the sixteen tallest peaks in the U.S. are within the boundaries of Wrangell-St Elias.

If you prefer glaciers, Wrangell-St Elias has you covered with 60% of Alaska’s glacier ice within this park. It has the state’s longest tidewater glacier, North America’s largest piedmont glacier, and the world’s longest valley glacier.

The park offers an endless list of things to do. The hiking here is phenomenal, although established trails are few. The beating heart of this park is wilderness. I have seen the gamut of Alaska wildlife with Wrangell-St Elias.

The Kennecott Mine

The Edgerton Highway runs along the Copper River Valley to Chitina, where the McCarthy Road follows the old CR&NW Railway grade to the Kennicott River. For years, you had to stop there to take a tram across the river to the town of McCarthy and the mines of Kennecott. Today, the tram sits unused, and a walking bridge spans the river.

The Kennecott Mine and company town were named after the Kennicott Glacier, but they missed the spelling by a letter. It gets confusing trying to keep it straight. Copper ore was discovered here in 1900, and a rush soon started. Eventually, Kennecott would have five mines operating, but by 1938 operations had shut down. During that time span, the mines produced over 4.6 million tons of copper ore, and gross revenues of $200 million. I’m not sure what that dollar amount would add up to today. The Kennecott Mines are now a National Historic Landmark District.

McCarthy, Alaska in 1915
McCarthy Hardware in 2011

The population of McCarthy in 1920 was 127. By 2010 it had dropped to 28.

Some of the mines like Jumbo can be hiked to, and the green of copper ore can still be seen in the rocks around the area.

Fishing the Copper and Chitina Rivers is an Alaskan tradition, going back millenniums. Dipnetting for salmon is restricted to Alaska residents, but I can tell you that it is an adventure like no other.

If you want a park that you can disappear into, Wrangell-St Elias may just be the place for you. 2018 saw only 79,450 to the nation’s largest park. Like Alaska in general, that’s a lot of elbow room.

Find your Park!

Joshua Tree National Park

It is National Park Week, so we will revisit a few of the National Parks that I have been to. We are extremely lucky to have such a system in the United States: from Battlefields to Memorials, and Monuments to Parks and everything in-between, the National Park Service has it covered.

One of the best sites on WordPress, without exception, covering the National Parks, and all public lands is:

https://nationalparkswitht.com Check this very rewarding site out! You will not be disappointed. It is one of my favorite sites on this platform.

Today’s Park Week Theme: Park Rx Day

Entering Joshua Tree

The Day One Theme for National Park Week is Rx Day: Where being outdoors improves your mental and physical health. Anyone who has followed this blog for anytime would not be surprised to hear that I support that conclusion. As a dweller of the Far North, I find myself intrigued by the desert, and I have to admit that Joshua Tree is one of my favorite parks. Full Disclosure: I may say this all week long.

There is a simplicity to the desert that I find fascinating. Rarely have I found a crowd when I visit the desert, which suits me just fine. I have been to Joshua Tree several times: Once on the Beetle Roadtrip, at least once during a Land Rover Roadtrip, and once when I was on an Amtrak Railpass crisscrossing the country. Each time, I found my visit to Joshua Tree to be soul cleansing, and I do not use that term lightly. Even though, I may not have known I needed it, that is exactly what I found as I hiked the trails of this magnificent National Park.

The Land Rover meets a Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree was declared a National Monument in 1936, and it wasn’t reclassified as a National Park until 1994. Today, the Park encompasses 790,636 acres, including parts of two deserts: The Mohave and the Colorado. In the open areas of the Mohave Desert thrives the Yucca brevifolia, also know as the Joshua Tree, from which the park gets its name.

Hiking Joshua Tree

I spent much of my time hiking Joshua Tree, and I do not remember ever coming across another hiker on the trails. I met people at other areas, like lookouts, etc, but on the serious trails I was alone with my thoughts and the wilderness. I was certainly helped out at times by a friend who was a park ranger, who could point me in the right direction, but I imagine that much was simply luck of the draw.

Hiking trail in JTNP

In the spring of the year, I found the park relatively green, but I still carried plenty of water, as temps did rise above what I am used to by noon. Still, I found the desert refreshing in a way that only someone who lives in a completely opposite environment can. I have found myself coming back to this park often.

Lost Palms Oasis

A popular hike is out to Lost Palms Oasis, which is approximately 7-1/2 miles roundtrip. Most of the hike was through hilly terrain with a drop down into a palm-filled canyon at the end. It was a beautiful hike, with what really is an oasis at the end. Well worth the effort, although this is hardly the only hike in the park worth sweating over.

The homestead at Keys Ranch

The park has a rich history of mining and ranching, and a good example of both is Keys Ranch. I took the tour on one of my visits, and as an end-of-the-roader myself, I really enjoyed it. The family had a rich history in the area, and had carved a unique, yet wonderful homestead out of the desert. If in the area, I really do recommend a stop at the ranch.

The Keys Ranch Willys Jeep

Any resident of Interior Alaska would sympathize with the ranch life out here. The ranger giving the tour took us through their “hardware store” of used parts sitting out in the dry air, ready to be put back into action. There is even a sawmill run by a FordAll tractor. A dam was built to collect what little water flowed from a creek, which allowed the family to prosper.

Gram Parsons’ Rock; RIP Grievous Angel

I should not perpetuate this story, as it will annoy my ranger friend, but how does one talk of Joshua Tree without mentioning Gram Parsons? I did my pilgrimage out to the Gram Parsons Rock, in spite of the annoyance it gave to others. Parsons, who was a singer and musician in bands such as The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and others, was a huge fan of Joshua Tree back in the 1960’s and ’70’s, when it was still a National Monument. The cliff notes version of the story, is when Parsons overdosed in 1973, his friends knowing that Parsons wanted to be cremated within Joshua Tree NM, stole his body from the Los Angeles International Airport in a “borrowed hearse”. They then brought his body and casket to Cap Rock and attempted an unofficial cremation with five gallons of gasoline. Police arrived, and the friends escaped, only to be caught later. Since it wasn’t exactly a crime at the time to steal a dead body, they were charged with stealing the coffin and fined $750. Cap Rock, or what is now mostly known as Gram Parsons Rock, still brings mourners and fans of the influential singer/songwriter. I should note that it is the site of my very first selfie. One of a total of three. I should also note that Park Rangers are not overly fond of giving directions to the rock, even if you have known them since they first arrived in Alaska, back when they were a young Cheechako. Just saying.

One of my campsites in Joshua Tree

I have met many rock climbers within Joshua Tree, and have offered a few beers to some after their climb, after finding out they were camping near me. This park, along with Yosemite and Zion seems to be a magnet for climbers.

My favorite individual who I shared a camp with was an Argentinian. I had just traveled from Prudhoe Bay to Belize and back to Southern California, obsessed with driving to the tip of South America. My new friend from Argentina had beat me to it, and was driving north to Alaska from Tierra del Fuego in a mid-80’s Land Cruiser. He had spotted my old Land Rover first, as one does, when I was out hiking, and stopped by with a bottle of Argentinian Fernet. The next night, I went down to his campsite with a bottle of Scotch. We had a lot to discuss.

One never knows who you will meet when you are out & about in our public lands.

There were 2,399,542 visitors to Joshua Tree NP in 2020.


Winter hanging on?

Film Friday:

Camera: Rolleiflex; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X400

Answer: No, winter has lost its grip. The melt is on.


Glacier on the move

Muldrow Glacier in Denali National Park is surging:

Muldrow Glacier, with Traleika Glacier coming in from the top left

In early March, pilot Chris Palm, who took the photo above, noticed something very different about Denali Park’s famed Muldrow Glacier. The normally smooth surface of the glacier was broken up by crevasses stretching across the width of Muldrow.

The long awaited surge had begun.

The 39 mile long, Muldrow Glacier last surged in 1957, so scientists were thrilled to study a natural phenomenon that has not occurred here in 64 years.

Surge-type glaciers are relatively rare, with approximately 1% of the glaciers world-wide being surge glaciers. Denali National Park has several, most of which get their start from the face of North America’s tallest peak.

Newly formed transverse crevasses on Muldrow

As snow and ice builds up at the higher elevations of a glacier, meltwater is also building up underneath the glacier. This meltwater acts as a lubricant when the weight from above passes equilibrium. The glacier then surges downward at a rate of up to 100 times faster than normal. At some point, the meltwater trapped under the glacier will be released in an outburst flood. Once the water is reduced significantly, the glacier’s surge will slow and it will go back to a state of quiescent (non-surge) once again. Over time, the process repeats itself. Muldrow Glacier has a history of surging roughly every 50 years.

An animated time-lapse of Muldrow Glacier on the northeast flank of Denali. The starting time is August 2018.

There are two GPS stations on the glacier to monitor its movement. There are also four time-lapse cameras facing different areas of the glacier, including one at the terminus to monitor the glacier’s “bulldozing action”. Another is looking over the McKinley River in order to capture images of the outburst flood. The Alaska Earthquake Center also has a seismic monitoring station, and a sound station has also been installed in an attempt to capture the grinding sound of the surging glacier.

Mapping Muldrow’s movement

In 1957, most accounts have the surge starting in May, 1956 on Traleika Glacier, which is the main tributary of Muldrow. Muldrow Glacier would advance over 4 miles before the surge ended in September of 1957. Approximately 3.3 cubic kilometers of ice was redistributed from the upper reaches of the glacier to its toe. At the upper levels, the ice thickness had dropped as much as 170 meters, but the toe rose to a 200 foot tall ice wall.

Currently, the Muldrow Glacier is moving between 10 to 20 meters per day, and is only 800 meters short of the 1957 terminus. At the current rate of surge, Muldrow will reach the 1957 distance in June.

All images, photos and maps are courtesy of the NPS; Sources include: NPS – Denali NP&P, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, University of Alaska – Fairbanks


Bowhead Whale Exhibit

Bowhead whale skull at the Museum of the North

In 1963, a young, male bowhead whale was harvested by Native Whalers in Utqiaġvik. The skeleton of the 43′ whale was eventually offered to the University of Alaska – Fairbanks, and it has been in the collection of the Museum of the North ever since. Only the skull has been put on display.

That is about to change, as the Museum is currently putting together the entire skeleton, and will display it from the lobby ceiling once it is complete.

The above video from the UAF Museum of the North, details some repair that had to be done to the ribs of the bowhead whale.


Is Winter about to lose its grip?

Snow depth graph credit: ACCAP/UAF

After the 14+ inches of snow dumped on us last week, there is only one year since recording began, that snow depth this late in the season was deeper. That was the infamous Winter of 1990-91. We have a whole lot of snow on the ground… and on the rooftops.

Graphic credit: NWS-Fairbanks

We have also set some cold records so far in April. On more than one morning, we have tied the record low temp in Fairbanks. On Friday, we tied the record low of -16F, and shattered the record low high when we climbed to a paltry +3F.

Saturday night saw a return visit to the deep freeze, with the temps dropping to -29F officially at the airport. It dropped to -35 at the cabin. The record low for the month of April is -32F, which we have left intact. Not to be outdone: Old Crow, YT dropped to -40.2C. Way to go Yukon!

Temperatures for this coming week have us seeing +40F for the first time since October. That is also a new record.

Map credit: ACCAP/UAF