To keep life simple, every weekend day that I have a post, I’m just going to share a picture that reminds me why our planet is so darn cool.
In honor of keeping Earth Day/Month/Extravaganza simple, I wanted to start out with a topic that takes as little effort as humanly possible. I’m going to suggest that you take on the momentous task of watching a television show.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Cosmos. It’s the reboot of a series that originally aired in 1980 with Carl Sagan. This time around it’s hosted by science superstar Neil Degrasse Tyson. Four of the episodes have already aired, but there are still 9 to go… more than enough to get you through April. If you haven’t watched it yet, you can see past episodes on their website. I haven’t seen the original series, so I’m just going to comment on the new one.
The series is written for a broad audience, so you could probably show it to a twelve-year-old and they’d have no problem following it. In fact, Neil Degrasse Tyson kind of reminds me of an interplanetary Miss Frizzle with his soothing voice and “Ship of the Imagination.” If you’re out of grade school though, Cosmos still has something to offer. One of my favorite features are the animated stories of Important People of Science. The show takes on the greats, like Isaac Newton, but you’ll also learn about the ones you didn’t study in school. The animation is distinct and realistic, making it feel like you’re watching a graphic novel.
To tie this in a little better with the Earth Day theme, I think a grand overview like this is important. Some people come to appreciate the importance of our planet through the little things it offers, like flowers and sunsets, while for others seeing the earth as a unique (as far as we can tell now) piece of an unbelievable vast universe helps them see it a kind of underdog or rare jewel to be protected. Last year I watched the Discover Channel’s North America series and I loved it so very much. I am enthralled with images of baby birds awkwardly flying for the first time or trees that have witnessed ice ages. I am equally captivated by Cosmos and its story of a tiny planet and the people that live on it that are trying to figure out how it, and the universe around it, works. I think both of these views give us a complete picture and better appreciation of the planet we call home.
Before reading this post, I suggest you listen to this:
Now, the only relation it has to the rest of this post is that it has the same name as the trail I hiked this weekend. It certainly would have been a better song to have in my head than Jonathan Coulton’s Mr. Fancy Pants on my climb…
Unlike Robin, I don’t live in the middle of a national park and I repeatedly use this excuse to spend the weekend at the movies, the beach or just watching Orange is the New Black instead of exploring the outdoors. What this translates to is this… I am not in shape. I also want to do a backpacking trip to Valhalla in Sequoia this year, but in my current condition, I’m not quite up for hiking 10 miles in a day, especially in the Sierra so my boyfriend and I are trying to do small but mighty hikes nearby to prepare for the trip.
First on the docket was Mt. Baldy. As the highest mountain in Los Angeles and Orange counties, it’s a fitting challenge, especially considering I’ve never hiked a peak before.
Thinking about it again, I guess I was wrong. That Civil Wars song begins with the line “Oh Lord, Oh Lord, what have I done?” and that’s exactly what was going through my head about half way up the first incline… less than half a mile into the hike. Between the rapid elevation change (sea level to 7,500 feet in an hour), my weak legs, and the steepness of the climb I was about ready to slide down that ski slope and call it a day. Happily, I did not choose to do that and instead was treated to the namesake of this hike, the Devil’s Backbone.
It’s one of those rare vistas that actually looks cooler in pictures than it does in person. While the sides are just as steep as they look, the trail seems wider when you’re on top of it. On a clear day, you can see the deserts to the south, the ocean to the west, and a sea of surrounding mountains. On our trip, it was a little overcast so we didn’t get the full experience, but we did get to see some pretty fantastic views, including misty mountains.
Somehow I was too busy motivating myself to keep going on the way up to take many pictures so I didn’t get a good shot of the trail climbing to the peak, but I did take one going back down.
Slowly, I made my way to the top, and once it sunk in that I had made it, the burning calves were worth it.
We sat on the top for a lunch of cheese and crackers and popcorn. I was amused to note that we were enjoying popcorn purchased at the Chicago airport and cheese from Amish country in Ohio. I’m sure the manufacturers didn’t imagine their wares being eaten on the top of a mountain in California.
The trip back down was faster, if not less work. I had a chance to pay more attention to my surroundings. Just above the treeline there were a crazy amount of grasshoppers in the rocks. I tried to tell them that there was no grass, but they just clicked at us.
Halfway down we could finally see the Top of the Notch restaurant in the distance and its promise of a ski lift down.
After such a sense of accomplishment who knows what I’ll take on next… Mt. San Jacinto? Whitney? Everest? Only time will tell.
~ April (in Autumn)
Just when you thought had a fix on my location I took a quick trip back to my hometown for a wedding.
It was a Pinterest perfect combination of sass and class.
My friend Kristina loves the yarn bombed trees in Cleveland Heights.
Elegant Lily pads at Cleveland Botanical Gardens.
We took a bike trip on the Canal Towpath in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This crazy structure is a lock for the old Ohio and Erie Canal. There is a really cool program in the summer where if you bring bikes onboard you can ride back on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for only $3.
Apparently I was really into taking pictures of bridges on this trip. This is the I-80 Bridge, it is home to a nesting pair of Peregrine Falcons.
This is the Route 82 Bridge.
Details on the Old Station Road Bridge.
I was ready to gloat that this picture didn’t have a bridge in it when I realized that the boardwalk technically bridges the Beaver Marsh.
I’m sure there’s also a bridge somewhere in this picture.
This is a total flyby post because I leave for a backpacking trip tomorrow morning and I haven’t started packing yet.
If you’re looking for Sew Mama Sew giveaway, go here.
In all the hullabaloo of Earth Day, I didn’t get a chance to talk about an awesome trip I took at the beginning of the month. Our new boss gave us a few extra days off before Easter and it was the perfect time of year for a trip to the desert.
When I was in elementary school, I was entranced by the idea of two national parks: Petrified Forest and Death Valley. For a kid growing up in Ohio where everything is either green or covered in snow, dry, desolate places captured my imagination. I was sadly disappointed when I visited Petrified Forest in my mid-twenties. My 10-year-old mind had imagined it to be a full-on forest, just made of stone. Instead, I was treated to a desert with some rocky looking things lying around. I haven’t been back since, so I in no way hold to that opinion. I hated Joshua Tree the first time I went, too (going in July will do that to you). Death Valley was a much more fulfilling experience.
So, first thing we should all know is that a scene or two in Star Wars was filmed in good old Death Valley. Remember Mos Eisley?
That’s Dante’s View – my first view of the valley.
There’s other canyons that we visited that feature in Star Wars as well, but I won’t get into that too far. If you’re into it, my boyfriend talks about it in his podcast. The Death Valley part starts at about 1 hour and 13 minutes. If you just want to see the Star Wars comparison shots, skip ahead to 1 hour and 22 minutes.
What surprised me most about Death Valley was its diversity. I was expecting long stretches of scrub brush and dirt broken up by the occasional cattle skulls and cacti. Unlike the Petrified Forest, my dashed exceptions were welcome. Among the gems of the park were an array of canyons with names like Golden, Mosaic, Desolation, and… Titus.
The aptly named Mosaic Canyon was my favorite. The walls are worn smooth from rushing water, revealing layers of rock compacted together, looking quite like a mosaic. There were even a few chuckwallas enjoying the shade from the canyon walls.
Death Valley is known for being “Hottest, Driest, Lowest” and rightly so. Even at the end of March, when it was still snowing in Ohio, temperatures were in the mid-nineties. The park doesn’t recommend visiting between April and October since temperatures rise even higher. In fact, the highest temperature on the planet was recorded in Furnace Creek – 134°.
Death Valley is also the lowest place in the United States. When you drive down to Badwater (or, if you’re adventurous, rent a bike), you’re descending to 282 feet below sea level.
Despite the heat, the landscape looks arctic. Although the stretch of white crystals is convincing enough to pass for snow, it’s actually salt leftover from evaporated water.
Back at elevation (of just about sea level), another area of the park leads you straight into the Sahara.
The only dunes I’d seen before this were the ones in North Carolina and at Pismo Beach. The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes were something entirely different. They just appear amongst the typical desert scrub, like someone just swept all the loose sand into one place.
If you want to stay in Death Valley and don’t have a camper, I’d suggest taking our route. We stayed up at Mesquite Springs campground. While it’s a bit out of the way (you’ll have to drive about 40 minutes or so to get into the Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek areas of the park), it’s also at 1800 feet, making it about 20° cooler than the valley floor. When you’re enjoying the pleasantly warm rather than unbearably hot evenings, the drive feels worth it. Besides, we got to share our campsite with some very enthusiastic bats.
As Death Valley is the largest National Park in the lower 48 states, it’s impossible to see everything in a few days. A lot of the park is only accessible by off-road vehicles. The dunes we saw were about 100 ft tall. If you have an off-road vehicle, you can see dunes that rise 700 ft, making them the tallest in California. Next visit will definitely involve some of the sites that are farther afoot.
A while ago my brother upgraded to a new fancy-pants DSLR camera. He gave me his old Canon Rebel with the instructions to go out and only shoot in manual mode until I got the hang of it. I did: once. After two hours of shooting and playing with the controls I had a million photos of Joshua Tree that looked like this:
I kind of gave up.
The camera sat in my room for months collecting dust. I would take it out occasionally (ie, when my other camera was dead,) and take a few shots in auto mode and stare at the little “M” on the dial with pangs of regret and guilt. Then Yosemite did something that provided the motivation I needed.
I made a little cheat sheet reminding me about F#s and their relationship with aperture, and what the heck ISO is. I grabbed the camera, borrowed a tripod, and hiked up the Four Mile Trail in the dark. I took over a hundred photos that night but one of them turned out like this:
The handful of shots that weren’t too dark, too blown out, or too blurry were totally worth it. I’m not the next Ansel Adams or Nancy Robbins, but I feel pretty successful. Of course, it would have still been worth it if all I had gotten out of the experience was a chance to see Yosemite out do itself by making a rainbow out of freakin’moonbeams!
P.S. Thanks to Derek Ferguson for convincing me to borrow the tripod. That was clutch.
P.P.S. There’s a Yosemite Nature Notes on Moonbows!
In thinking about reasons to live a more planet-friendly lifestyle I may have overlooked a glaringly obvious one: For the love of our planet itself.
For me this was always self evident: we should try to preserve nature because nature is awesome. But I grew up playing in the “woods” behind my house and going on birding expeditions with my grandfather. My parents were able to work past their comically horrible first camping trip together and often took me and my brother on weekend camping trips, and scouting offered us opportunities to visit the wilderness (or at least what felt like wilderness to us). Nature was never far away or remote in my childhood.
As I started working within parks I came to understand that it’s not like this for everyone. There are a number of things that can limit a person’s access to natural areas ranging from a lack of transportation to those places to inadequate funding to keep parks open. There are all sorts of benefits that come from getting outside and from having public parks.
Yet we are spending less time outdoors and more time with our electronics. This is manifesting in a number of health problems including rising obesity rates and increased anxiety and depression. This trend has had a particularly profound effect on children who now average over seven hours a day with a screen. Writer Richard Louv has called this phenomenon of decreasing exposure to nature “Nature Deficit Disorder.”
One other consequence of people not spending time in nature is a total disconnect from environmental issues. I can’t say I blame them. Why would someone who has never seen a forest care if one is cut down? If we want more people to care about the environment we need more green places and we need more people to visit them.
Although I have a tendency to focus almost exclusively on national parks there are tons of other places where people can connect with nature such as state and local parks and preserves. My earliest connections with nature were formed in a small thicket of grapevine and buckthorn next to my yard. While remote wilderness areas like Yosemite have a special place in my heart, I think green spaces that are accessible to urban populations are even more important. A natural place doesn’t need to have a superlative fixed to it to be of value.
There are a number of ways you can support parks and green spaces. You can make a donation or volunteer with your favorite park. You can vote for park measures on election day. But the most important thing you can do to show support for parks is to use them, take care of them, and share them with others. Ultimately it will make you healthier, happier, and you may discover a new reason to go green.
Check out these links for a sample of the great people who help parks and connect people with the outdoors:
For more reading check out these articles: