Top 7 National Parks You’ve Never Heard Of

1. Biscayne National Park – Homestead, Florida – When you travel to Miami, you probably have more on your mind that a national park, but if you can find a way to pull yourself out of bed after a wild night in South Beach, I suggest you venture out to Biscayne National Park to learn about and explore North America’s coral reef ecosystems.

2. Katmai National Park & Preserve – King Salmon, Alaska – Who says you have to go to Hawaii to see active volcanoes? Or perhaps you’ve already seen the ones in Hawaii and are ready for a new challenge? Katmai is home to 6 active volcanoes, and another 10 volcanoes that have not erupted in the last 250 years.

3. National Park of American Samoa – Pago Pago, American Samoa – While American Samoa isn’t exactly next door, it is a pristine area so far left pretty much untouched by Western civilization, particularly in the park. The sky is the limit in American Samoa, literally. To enjoy it, you have to fly there, and it’s well beyond Hawaii. Another plus is the opportunity to discover the wonders of the rich Samoan culture, which has fueled everything from the American tattoo culture to the National Football League!

4. Inyo National Forest – Bishop, California – While not technically a national park (being governed by the U.S. Forest Service, not the Natinoal Park Service), Inyo has something to share with all of us about Mother Nature that you may not have heard before unless you have taken a Botany class or two, like me. Believe it or not the oldest living on the planet is not a tortoise, its a tree, more specifically a bristlecone pine tree, even more specifically a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva). See, even their scientific name refers to them being really old. And the oldest of olds can be found in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest of Inyo National Forest.

5. Great Basin National Park – Baker, Nevada – Once again, not nearly as famous as Las Vegas or Reno, Nevada’s Great Basin National Park offers something a little more special than some gambling and a drunken shotgun wedding! Great Basin’s name comes from the Great Basin, the large, dry, desolate region between the Sierra Nevada in California/Nevada and the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. Interestingly, the park’s biggest attraction is found straight up. It’s the Milky Way in all its beauty, clearly visible without interference from any city lights!

6. Isle Royale National Park – Houghton, Michigan – Here’s a challenge: a national park accessible only by seaplane or boat. It’s not even actually located in Houghton, but that’s where the Ranger III, the NPS’s largest ferry boat to the park is located. Isle Royale is located closer to the Canadian shore than it is to the Michigan shore. And its remote location has only added to its pristine nature.

7. Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve – Gustavus, Alaska – How many of y’all have seen a glacier in person? Glacier Bay is home not only to a slew of scientific teams exploring climate change but also to a wilderness sanctuary (both on land and in the water). If a trip to Alaska isn’t exactly your style, you can try a cruise! Most Alaskan cruises hit their northern peak of the trip at Glacier Bay.

Thanks for stopping by, and come back again for the next installment of MotherNaturesPen!

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Atlanta Weather Update

For those of you wanting a weather update for Atlanta: its a white-ish Christmas!

There’s some snow that’s coming down with the rain, but its not sticking. It’ll have to get colder for it to stick because the snow is just melting in the rain puddles. It might freeze overnight though, so it might be a white day after Christmas.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen rain and snow come down at the same time. Another mystery of Mother Nature’s awesome power!

Just remember to stay safe out there!

Come back for another installment of MotherNaturesPen.

4:30pm Update:
The rain/snow had turned into snow. Still not sticking. It’ll have to get even colder for that!

5:15pm Update:
Its officially sticking!! Well just on the grass!

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Was this the best place for the Reindeer Crossing sign? (via Matt on Not-WordPress)

This is hilarious! And if you read my previous post, you’ll know that in Alaska, this might actually be reindeer meat!

Was this the best place for the Reindeer Crossing sign?

via Matt on Not-WordPress

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On Dasher, On Dancer…

In honor of the season, I thought it would be appropriate to do a piece on the animals that ride around with good ol’ Saint Nick.

Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, Class Mammalia, Order Artiodectyla, Family Cervidae, Genus Rangifer: Rangifer tarandus.

This is the reindeer, or as we call it in North America, the caribou, and while it can’t fly or make coffee, it is a pretty neat animal. The caribou is a medium to large-sized deer, not quite as big as an elk (Cervus canadensis) but much larger than the traditional white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) or even a mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). Caribou are relatively unique among the deer family because both the males and females grow antlers, although the males’ antlers are larger than the females’. There are many subspecies of caribou, as it is found in both tundra and taiga in North America, Scandinavia, and Russia. They can also be found dodging bullets from Sarah Palin.

Here are some caribou fun facts you might not know:

1. They’re tasty! New York City has hot dog vendors. Anchorage, Alaska has reindeer sausage vendors, which is basically just a hot dog made form caribou meat. In Alaska, caribou outnumber people, so each year, Alaskans fill their freezers with freshly-killed caribou.

2. They’re marathon runners … sort of. The subspecies we are familiar with in North America are famous for their long migrations. They often travel up to 50 miles per day and 3000 miles per year. For a size reference, it is only 2451 miles from Los Angeles to New York using the City Distance Tool.

3. Their most fierce predators are 5 and 30 times smaller than the caribou. The most prolific predator of caribou is the gray wolf (Canis lupus), which weighs in at about 80lb. The second most prolific predator is actually the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), which at its maximum is only about 15lb. Gray wolves use their speed and strength in numbers to attack caribou, while golden eagles prey on the caribou newborn calves. Caribou also have to deal with the traditionally pesky mosquitos (Family Culicidae), which in Alaska are HUGE!

Hope you like the facts, and come back again for the next installment of MotherNaturesPen.

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Across North Georgia

Today I have the pleasure of going to the North Georgia mountains, home of Brasstown Bald (the highest peak in Georgia), Stone Mountain (a ginormous granite outcrop that has a Confederate memorial carving and a killer laser light show), and Springer Mountain (the southern end of the Appalachian Trail). These parts are so beautiful. I recall a class trip in 4th grade to Rabun County, Ga. The mountains (really more like foothills) were covered with trees of every color. Looking out form the lodge, it was magnificently beautiful. As a lifelong vacationer of the Rocky Mountains, I understand the difference between the soaring peaks of the Rockies and the more rolling peaks of the Appalachians. But there is something to be said for mountains that are more foliage than freezing. In addition, the aesthetics of a mixture of the evergreens and the deciduous oaks, hickories, maples, etc. presents a unique aspect that lasts throughout the fall. If you’re looking for a beautiful scenic drive, consider North Georgia or the Smoky Mountains just north.

Here’s a list of places to visit in North Georgia:

1. Amicalola Falls – The tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi, and stunningly beautiful. There are several hiking trails around Amicalola as well, including a very popular 8.5 mile approach trail to Springer Mountain that begins at the Amicalola Falls Visitor Center. You can either walk the stairs to the top of the falls or walk a trail up to the top. Keep in mind the trail is definitely more challenging. If waterfalls are your thing, Tallulah Falls and Toccoa Falls are also worth checking out. Tallulah Falls is part of the Tallulah Gorge State Park, while Toccoa Falls is actually on the campus of a Christian college Toccoa Falls College. Don’t be nervous visiting, however. The falls is the college’s biggest attraction. Feel free to visit the gift shop in Gate Cottage as well.

2. Dahlonega – Home to Georgia’s gold rush. Dahlonega is filled with history and beauty at every turn. The dome of Georgia Capitol Building in Atlanta, Ga. is actually covered in Dahlonega gold. This is isn’t so much a nature visit as it is a historical visit, but there is still so much to be learned here. The feud between European settlers and Cherokees is at the heart of Dahlonega’s beginnings, and it was this feud that caused the famous Trail of Tears. Popular events include “Bear on the Square” in April and “Gold Rush Days” in October. If scenery is what you’re looking for, however, take a drive around Dahlonega and Lumpkin County. Not only is Dahlonega nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians, it is also the heart of Georgia’s wine industry, with 5 vineyards nearby.

3. Helen – Helen, Ga. is an old logging town that decided to up its tourist appeal by recreating themselves as a town from the Bavarian Alps with coordinating architecture and decor. It’s a tourist town, filled with tourist shops and a number of good eateries. My favorite activity in Helen, however, is something that gets a little more back to nature: float down the Chattahoochee. There are a number of different companies that let you tube down the Chattahoochee River, and all of them are pretty good. I’ve used Helen Tubing Co. in the past because they also have a small waterpark, and you can buy a joint ticket that is good for both tubing and the waterpark. Just remember to grab a pole to push off rocks! My friends and I forgot to grab poles, and I had to pull us off the rocks if we got stuck, acquiring several large bruises in the process. Popular events in Helen include Oktoberfest (what’s a Bavarian-looking town without Oktoberfest?) and the annual hot air balloon race in June.

4. The Wildlife Sanctuary – The Wildlife Sanctuary in Ellijay, Ga. is a non-profit wildlife rehabilitation center that has rescued and rehabilitated most of the major native species, including cougars, panthers, lynx, bobcats, black bears, and deer. The Wildlife Sanctuary offers both private and public tours at different times. It is a great way to see some of Georgia’s native wildlife without putting yourself in danger.

5. Blue Ridge Scenic Railway – What’s more scenic than something with scenic in the name? The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is a must-see for anyone looking to see the sights in North Georgia. It begins in Blue Ridge, Ga. and continues on a 26-mile journey, stopping at McCaysville, Ga. to allow passengers to rest and explore downtown McCaysville and its sister town of Copperhill, Tn. They even have a special Christmas train that runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas each year!

Thanks for stopping by, and come on back for the next installment of MotherNaturesPen.

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Go and Explore!

Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.

These are the 24 states I’ve been blessed to be able to visit so far in my life. We’ve all heard people talk about Rome and Paris and London and the experiences that come with visiting a foreign country. But with the economy the way it is, not everyone has the money to go explore distant lands. This is my challenge to you: go explore a land not so distant.

National and state parks are everywhere in addition to awesome places that aren’t organized as parks. Just be sure not to go on private lands without express permission of the owner.

Here’s 5 tips to make your next trip wonderful:

1. Take pictures! Don’t be afraid to look like a tourist. After all, that’s what you are! So sport your camera with pride, because honestly, who know when you’ll be back? And while your kids might hate being drug to every photo op in the state now, they’ll be thankful later! It may also be a good idea to keep a couple of disposable cameras on hand in case you run out of battery!

2. Turn off the DVD player, cell phone, and video games. Adults and children alike can’t begin to appreciate the world outside the window with their nose buried in a screen. Play “I Spy” while your driving. Try to see how many different license plates you can spot. Its a lot harder to pick the fruit when you can’t see the tree.

3. Research! Not all of us have all the time in the world to visit a location, parks like Yellowstone can be huge! By researching ahead of time, you can make sure to get the best bang for your buck! If this trip is on a whim, try stopping at the visitor’s center before heading into the park. Often, they will have similar information about the park, as well as important safety information. Remember: the park rangers are there to protect both you and the park!

4. Look at the calendar. If its January and you drive a 2WD sedan, you might not want to head north. Try heading south or renting a car with 4WD and snow tires. No one has any fun when the car is in the ditch, and as always, safety is very important.

5. Go camping! As much as we all love the Holiday Inn, its a lot harder to enjoy nature from inside a hotel. Just remember to properly secure all food items. Not all bears are as friendly as Yogi and Boo-Boo!

Hope yall enjoyed my tips, and come back next time for another installment of MotherNaturesPen!

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