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04/08/2014

Darren Bush's Favorite Canoe Trips

Canoe camping is a unique way to experience the outdoorsFrom drifting placidly along rivers or lakes to serious 500-mile trips, canoe camping provides the romantic scenery of backpacking without the load on your back. We talked to Darren Bush, the self-styled Chief Paddling Evangelist at Rutabaga Paddlesports and founder of the blog Canoelover.com about some beginner tips and epic trips.

"Some people assume that humans have a gene that allows them to paddle a canoe," said Bush. "But in reality it takes some time and training." Bush stresses dry bags as a pivotal piece of equipment for all canoers. "Anything that can be remotely affected by water needs to be bagged," he said. "Trash bags can be OK, but you really don't want to put your sleeping bag in one of those. You can never have too many dry bags."

Bush described the Lake Country in his home state of Wisconsin as his favorite place for canoe camping. Here are some of his favorite trips in other parts of the US and Canada.

The Willamette River stretches from Eugene to PortlandWillamette River Water Trail, Oregon

The Willamette River is one of the main tributaries of the Columbia River. Stretching from Eugene to Portand, Oregon, it's dotted by more than 40 campgrounds. Flowing through the parks and forests of Cascadia as well as cities and towns, the Willamette's current ranges from placid to dynamic, making it a challenge for beginners and experienced paddlers.

Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Northeast States

A network of 22 rivers and over 50 lakes and ponds, the 700-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail flows from the Adirondack Mountains of New York to the far north of Maine. The trail is accessible to less ambitious paddlers, as its route passes through a number of small towns and communities that can be used as take outs and put ins.

This moose could be your company on the Thelon RIverThelon River, Canada

Straddling Nunavut and Northwest Territories, The Thelon River is about as far off the grid as you can go in North America. Unlike the Willamette and Northern Forest Trail, it's possible to paddle the Thelon's entire length without seeing another person. Grizzly bears, moose, white wolves, and wolverines will be your company for this epic float.

--Images courtesy of iStockphoto/Wildnerdpix/llhoward/Warren_Price

Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. he recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.

READ MORE:

Tips from the Pros: Top 4 Paddling Excercises

The Two-Wheeled Adventure: Tips for Bike Camping

Across California: A 530-Mile Trek from the Colorado River to the Pacific

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04/04/2014

5 Action Film Locations in National Parks

National Parks As Action Film Locations

Spice up a vacation itinerary by visiting places you've already seen on the silver screen. The films on this list used national parks as backdrops to some unforgettable scenes. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to create your own adventure once you get there.

Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) For some of us there are still only three Star Wars films. Part of the reason we cling so heartily to the original trilogy is that they didn't use green screens/chroma keys for all of their locations. Parts of Death Valley National Park, where temperatures regularly soar to over 100 degrees, were used for some of the Tatooine sets.  Who wouldn't want to brave that weather for a chance to experience a galaxy not so far away?

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989): The final installment in the original Indiana Jones series took us toreclaim artifacts from far off places, but who could forget the iconic flashback at the start of the film? Young Indie leads his fellow scouts into an adventure that projects his eventual career path. You too can relive those harrowing moments by taking a trip to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, where the scenes were filmed. If you're a movie buff this park will really appeal to you. It served as the backdrop for many other films.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997): If hunting down graverobbers or Sith Lords isn't your style then maybe you'll enjoy running away from velociraptors, or at least pretending to. Parts of this sequel were filmed in Redwood National Forest, located in Northern California. Take a hike around Fern Canyon to feel immersed in the beauty of the outdoors and relive those nail-biting moments. (Tip: Stay away from the long grass.)

The Hunger Games (2012): While no one wants to be a citizen of Panem, some people might enjoy visiting a location used in the first film of the successful series. The Pisgah National Forest served as the backdrop for Katniss' hunting expeditions beyond the fences of her home district. Other locations in North Carolina were also used in this production, so the trip could easily become a tour. 

National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007): Mount Rushmore is an icon all its own, but when you add Nicolas Cage to the mix things are bound to get a little adventurous. Book of Secrets was filmed at various national memorials (including the ones for Lincoln and Washington) which makes it a good movie to base a tour off of. Step into America's history and maybe you too can stumble upon an unsolved mystery.

 

-- image courtesy of iStock/KovacsAlex

 

Bianca Hernandez is an editorial intern at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.

Read More:

Five Classic Films Shot in National Parks

Muir Slept Here: 5 Legendary Wilderness Treks

Indiana Jones and the Antarctic Lake

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03/31/2014

Next Week's Total Lunar Eclipse

April 2014 Lunar Eclipse Geoffroy

A total lunar eclipse is well positioned for all the United States in April, but most people will have to set their alarms for the middle of the night to see it. The moon passes into the shadow of Earth and takes on a reddish hue overnight from April 14 to 15. The far northeastern US will see the eclipse at moonset, but for the rest of the continental US, the whole eclipse is visible. The partial phase, as our shadow begins to cover up the brightness of the full moon and then gives it back, lasts for about an hour on either side of the total phase. Totality for the Central time zone begins at 2:07 a.m. CDT and ends at 3:25 a.m. CDT, and for Mountain time is from 1:07 a.m. to 2:25 a.m. Pacific time has to wait until just after midnight, from 12:07 a.m. to 1:25 a.m. The moon officially reaches full phase during the eclipse on April 15 at 2:42 a.m. CDT. 

An annular solar eclipse follows a few weeks later, on April 29; however, as it occurs over Antarctica, it will go largely unseen by humans. 

With the return of spring, constellations such as Virgo have taken center stage. Fortunately, Virgo has a lot of action for stargazers this month. The reddish planet Mars is close to Virgo’s brightest star, Spica. Mars shines more brightly at magnitude -1.5. The Red Planet reaches opposition on April 8, rising at sunset and setting at sunrise.

Continue reading "Next Week's Total Lunar Eclipse" »

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03/18/2014

3 Awe-Inspiring Glaciers

Alaska's Portage GlacierWith polar ice caps melting at an alarming rate, now's the time to visit some of the most awe-inspiring natural formations that Earth has to offer -- glaciers. From South America to northern Europe, glaciers rise like ice behemoths, carving out valleys and paving the way for fjords. Here are three of the most breathtaking.

 

 

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina

Perito Moreno's imposing ice wall is fed from the Andes and is one of Argentina's biggest tourist destinations. Viewing decks afford astonishing views of one of the most visually stunning glaciers in the world.

Grinnell Glacier, Montana

Grinnell Glacier and Mt

Like many of the glaciers in Montana's Glacier National Park, Grinnell continues to recede at a rapid rate because of climate change. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Grinnell Glacier has shrunk by 40 percent since 1966, and if climate change continues at this pace, Grinnell will be gone by 2030. All the more reason to see this majestic glacier before it disappears forever.

Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland

There's a volcano inside Eyjafjallajokull Glaier

Who says glaciers have to be cold? Eyjafjallajökull sits on top of a volcano! This is the same Icelandic volcano that wreaked havoc on European air travel in 2010. Nevertheless, visions of volcanic activity in a scene of glacial beauty more than make up for Eyjafjallajökull troublesome eruptions, in our opinion.

While these three glaciers are found on opposite corners of the planet, they're all vulnerable to the same melting fate. And if you want to visit these glaciers but don't want to contribute to climate change through air travel, why not go on a bike tour to your glacial paradise.

--Images by iStockphoto/Nikontiger, Zaharov, Bkamprath, OddStefan

Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. He recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz, where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.

READ MORE:

4 Must-See Alpine Lakes of the Western U.S.

6 of America's Most Dangerous Hiking Trails

5 Awesome Places to Skate in the U.S.

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03/16/2014

5 Dream Cabins Made of Repurposed Junk

Cabins made with repurposed materials

I've been known to peruse real estate websites in my free time, but these cabins alone may give me enough daydream material for the rest of my life. Each dwelling is almost entirely constructed out of repurposed materials, from the wooden frames to the chairs within. High-tech or old-fashioned, spacious or small, all have sustainability in mind. Which will be your next desktop background?

Dancing Fox Cabin
Image by Dancing Fox Cabin

 

 

1. A rustic retreat. Located in Bellevue, Ohio, Dancing Fox Cabin prides itself on being primitive. Made from at least 95% “reclaimed, repurposed, reimagined, and recycled” materials -- there are chalkboard kitchen counters, handmade cabinetry, and barn beam framing -- the cabin is the owner’s interpretation of what an early settler may have built, when one would have lived in a simple cabin before erecting a permanent home.

“We’re trying to show people what you can do using someone’s discarded waste to make something beautiful,” said owner Janell Davenport.

Hobbitat Spaces, cabin number 7
Image by Karlo Photography

 2. A teensy cabin. Hobbitat founders Bill and Sue Thomas have been making custom homes for years. In 2012, they partnered with Blue Moon Rising to build 13 cabins for an ecotourism retreat on Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. Each of the small “Hobs,” as they like to call their structures, uses reclaimed, recycled, and local materials. Hobbitat also equips buildings with modern, energy-efficient technologies.

Cabin #7 (left) features old German siding from a general store in Pennsylvania, metal from a barn roof, and an old pouncer (an English tool for laundry) upcycled into a light. Its door, like every Hob's, once belonged to a different structure. 

Cabin made of repurposed windows
Image by Jordan Long and Matt Glass

3. A glassy getaway. Photographer Nick Olson took designer Lilah Horwitz out to a spot in the West Virginia mountains for their first date, a spot that became one of the couple's favorites. While watching one of many sunsets here, they threw out the idea of building a cabin with a wall made entirely of glass, “because then you would never have to fit the sunset into a small space,” Horwitz said in a video made by Half Cut Tea. Less than a year later, in June 2012, they both quit their jobs to build the cabin.

The wall of glass is made of windows they found at second-hand stores and salvage yards. The mismatched front gives the structure a whimsical, simple feel. Just about everything else that Olson and Horwitz used in constructing and furnishing their cabin was upcycled too. Even the handles and hinges were found at yard sales and flea markets.

The Rock Bottom
Image by Derek Diedricksen

4. A mini abode. “The Rock Bottom” is a small cabin that Derek “Deek” Diedricksen of RelaxShacks built in northern Vermont. At only 8' by 8', with a building cost of about $300, the minimalist structure was built to be a “backwoods library of sorts.”

This small space was so cheap to build because it's made mostly from repurposed materials. The window in the front door is actually a dome made for pets to see outside of fenced-in yards. Diedricksen made a multicolored chair out of random boards of wood. The entire front deck came from a lumber company that was throwing it away.

“I just love the feel that vintage items can add -- a look, vibe, and attitude you wouldn't get with run of the mill store-bought items," Diedricksen said. One of his biggest reasons for repurposing items is “knowing that you're giving materials a second life, and keeping them from the already-overflowing waste stream.”

Sassafras Cottage
Image by Portland Garden Cottages

5. A creative cottage. The Sassafras Cottage, one of three small homes built by Portland Garden Cottages in Portland, Oregon, is truly a work of art in repurposing materials. Jeff Gantert and Brad Bloom, the self-taught builders behind the company, had to think creatively in building this 364-square-foot home.

A video tour of the exterior and interior of the cottage shows just how inspired the concept is. Gantert and Bloom used tomato sauce cans from a local pizza shop to create a fire-resistant wall. The porch swing (pictured) was fashioned out of an old Dairy Queen bench.

The inside features thoughtful pieces like a folding table and hidden wine cellar that maximize space in the small home. For wallpaper, the builders used sacks that once held pinto beans or flour, and Trader Joe’s bags.

--Top image by Nick Olson

Jessica ZischkeJessica Zischke is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is currently studying environmental studies at Dartmouth College, where she also works as a staff writer for The Dartmouth newspaper.

 

READ MORE:

5 Unbelievable Hotels Made of Natural Materials

4 of the World's Most Magical Treehouse Hotels

3 High Desert Havens for Fall Camping

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03/13/2014

Parks & Recreation: The Olmsted Family Business

FLOJR (2)As far as family businesses go, few have had such an effect on the American landscape as the Olmsteds’. While Frederick Law Olmsted Sr.’s projects are world renowned (Central Park, the U.S. Capitol, the Biltmore Estate, Niagara Falls, Boston’s Emerald Necklace), the influence of his son Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (1870-1957) is also far-reaching.

FLO Jr., known as Rick, learned from the best, working with architect Daniel Burnham on the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair while a zoology student at Harvard and as an apprentice to his father at George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore (the birthplace of U.S. forestry) after graduation. He was among the founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects, established the first university landscape architecture program in the country, and was the first president of the American City Planning Institute.

He and his stepbrother, John Olmsted, took over their father’s landscape architecture firm upon his retirement and went on to complete some 3,000 commissions. In the East, these include the Jefferson Memorial, the White House and National Cathedral grounds, and other aspects and updates to Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for Washington, D.C.

It is in the West, however, that FLO Jr. leaves perhaps his greatest legacy: his 1928 survey of potential state parklands in California. Most of the 125 sites he identified as scenic and recreational treasures have indeed been saved from development. (They are joined by the newest national monument as of March 11, Point Arena–Stornetta, on the state’s north coast.)

He also had a voice in the creation of the national park system, helping to write the statement of purpose for the nascent National Park Service: “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

FLO Jr. first visited what is now Yosemite National Park at age 16, while on a trip to California with his father to scout the site that Leland Stanford wanted to turn into a university. Forty years later, he became a long-serving member of Yosemite National Park’s advisory board while working to preserve California's redwoods and America's recreation spaces -- rural, urban, and suburban. In a full-circle turn of sorts, the relevance of FLO Jr.'s vision for parks and preservation today will be explored at the National Association for Olmsted Parks symposium “Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.: Inspirations for the 21st Century,” March 27–28, at Stanford University.  --M.P. Klier

Image001 (1)

 

 

 

--images courtesy of the National Association for Olmsted Parks

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03/12/2014

How'd That Get Here? Surprising Animals in Cities

Mountain Lions are found throughout the Santa Monica MountainsMountain Lions — Los Angeles, CA

Big cats mingle with the stars in Los Angeles. The Santa Monica Mountains, which transverse greater Los Angeles, are home to population of mountain lions that seem rather wild for LA's urban sprawl. The National Park Service monitors the movement and eating habits of more than 30 mountain lions with GPS collars in the Santa Monica Mountains. In 2012, one of the lions was filmed prowling through Griffith Park near downtown LA. That same mountain lion, known as P22, was also photographed by National Geographic photographer Steve Winter with the Hollywood sign in the background. While the LA mountain lion community is undeniably under threat because of habitat fragmentation, urban development, and low genetic diversity, two cubs were recently captured by motion-detecting cameras. Thankfully, they're described as "nice and fat."

Red Foxes number in the thousands in LondonFox — London, UK

In the last century, red foxes have colonized many urban areas throughout the United Kingdom. An estimated 33,000 urban foxes live throughout the country, with possibly 16 per square mile in London. While many Britons view the foxes as urban pests, others take to feeding their foxy friends. In 2011, one fox was found living on the top floor of the UK's tallest building, the Shard tower, while it was under construction. Described as a "resourceful little chap," he was captured and released back onto the streets of London.

Wild Boars wreak havoc on Berlin's parks

Boar — Berlin, Germany

Perhaps less cute but more menacing than the urban fox are the boars that roam Berlin's streets. In October 2012, four people were hurt when a 265-pound-boar attacked in the residential neighborhood of Charlottenburg. While boars are usually shy and remain out of sight, recent attacks on people and damage to municipal parks and gardens have led city officials to call for volunteer hunters to help cull the wild boar population of the city.

Sika Deer — Nara, Japan Sierra's Callum Beals and his deer friend

While spotting deer roaming through town isn't surprising to many of us, the Sika deer in Japan's Nara Park are particularly numerous. They are thought to be messengers of the gods and are closely tied to the Kasuga Shrine found in the park. Sika deer are also extremely friendly and regularly interact with humans, especially if you've got a snack for them to munch on.

Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. He recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz, where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.

-- images by iStockphoto/Musat, visionsofmaine, kyslynskyy

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Quiz: Which Endangered Big Cat Are You?

4 Ordinary Animals With Superhero Abilities

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03/04/2014

10 National Parks You've Never Heard Of

Undiscovered National Parks - Lake Kuzitrin at Bering Land Bridge National PreserveOf the 401 parks managed by the National Park Service, there are definitely some fan favorites -- the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite. Each year nearly 275 million visitors flock overwhelmingly to the big names on the NPS list. But what about the rest of its many magnificent monuments and landmarks? We found the 10 least visited parks in the system -- presented here from least to most popular. If none of these places is close to home, venture out find an undiscovered park in your town.

Aniakchak Caldera in Aniakchak National Monument and Park1. Aniakchak National Monument and PreserveLake and Peninsula, Alaska. Because of its remote location and unpredictable weather, Aniakchak is the least visited national park in the country. In 2012, only 19 people made the trek to this wild terrain, which includes a massive caldera (volcanic crater) that was formed 3,500 years ago. Weather and volcanic activity make it harder to plan a visit, but the adventurous shouldn't shy away from the opportunity to see one of the forgotten American park landscapes.

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial2. Port Chicago Naval Magazine National MemorialConcord, California. This memorial, which commemorates World War II's worst disaster on U.S. land, received a mere 533 visitors in 2012. On July 17, 1944, the sky over the San Francisco Bay Area lit up when two ammunition ships at Port Chicago Naval Magazine blew up, instantly killing 320 men. This site holds relics from the time of the explosion and will appeal to any WWII buff.

Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River3. Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River, Big Bend National Park, Texas. The Rio Grande has lived in the shadow of Big Bend for years (the latter received 420 times as many visitors as its less-appreciated counterpart in 2012). Yet, the Rio Grande, too, has beautiful canyons and thrilling rapids, while prehistoric and historic sites along the river corridor give a glimpse into lives long ago. Breathtaking rock formations, amazing wildlife, and surprises at every turn add to the allure of the Rio Grande.

Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve4. Yukon-Charley Rivers National PreserveSoutheastern Fairbanks, Alaska. Although these rivers are accessible only by water, air, or "adventurous options," as the website says, the vast vistas and lush wildlife more than make up for any difficult travel. If the trek is too complicated, you can still pretend you're there with the park's webcams. Fewer than 1,500 people ventured here in 2012, ensuring the land remains pristine and all journeys are peaceful.

Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial5. Thaddeus Kosciuszko National MemorialPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania. Thomas Jefferson called Kosciuszko "as pure a son of liberty, as I have ever known." The Polish freedom fighter was a key helper in fortifying the waterfront at Fort Mercer during the Revolutionary War, and he continued to help many other fortification projects. Kosciuszko was even chief engineer of the fortification at West Point, New York, now the esteemed military academy. Uncover a bit of unappreciated U.S. history at his home.

Bering Land Bridge National Preserve6. Bering Land Bridge National PreserveShishmaref, Alaska. Just over 2,500 visitors witnessed the beauty of this park in 2012. The rest of us missed the hot springs, ancient lava flows, and large array of wildlife in this wilderness. More than 10,000 years ago, this was where people crossed from East Asia into North America. While the landscape has changed, the land bridge holds an important place in the stories of America's past and beauty of its present.

Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site7. Eugene O'Neill National Historic SiteDanville, California. O'Neill was America's only Nobel Prize–winning playwright, and he moved to Northern California at the peak of his career. His most notable works -- The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey Into Night, A Moon for the Misbegotten -- were written in this home, which he called Tao House. Visitors (of which there were nearly 3,000 in 2012) can go on a ranger-led or self-guided tour. The grounds are also accessible by hiking and mountain biking trails, which feature some of the area's best bird-watching.

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument8. Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, Potter County, Texas. Texas's only national monument was once home to Native Americans who used the flint to fashion a variety of tools. Now, this area is primarily used for hiking, and the striking colors of the flint continue to amaze those who venture to this site. Visitors may enter only as part of the park's year-round guided tours, which take about two hours and climb 170 feet. For an ideal break from the busy day-to-day, take a breath here!

Nicodemus National Historic Site9. Nicodemus National Historic SiteBogue, Kansas. At the end of the post-Civil War reconstruction, some formerly enslaved African Americans left Kentucky to go to Kansas, which was considered a "promised land." Nicodemus is the oldest black settlement west of the Mississippi River, and the only one remaining. Currently the town and park are preparing for the 136th Homecoming Emancipation Celebration (pictured), which takes place near the end of July.

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site10. Sand Creek Massacre National Historic SiteEads, Colorado. This horrific battle in American history lasted only eight hours, but about 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho people were killed by nearly 700 U.S. volunteer soldiers. Visitors can learn more about the massacre from a ranger and pay respect to the dead at the repatriation burial area. The site also features rare birds, insects, and flora -- a reminder that the land has continued on despite this traumatic event. Many people now use this area for research in an attempt to learn more about the historic environment.

-- All images courtesy of the National Park Service

Jessica Zischke is an editorial intern at Jessica ZischkeSierra. She is currently studying environmental studies at Dartmouth College, where she also works as a staff writer for The Dartmouth newspaper.

 

READ MORE:

Where the Bears Are

The Subway, Zion National Park

What's Next for Yosemite and National Parks?

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5 Classic Films Shot in National Parks

Zion National ParkNot all movies use back lots and special effects to get that special outdoors look. National parks have served as a backdrop to Hollywood films since 1910. If you're a movie buff who hasn't explored the great outdoors yet, let this list of classic films shot on National Park Service lands be your gateway into the wider world of camping.

The Quick and the Dead (1987): Parts of this film were shot in Arizona's Wupatki National Monument. The land was originally home to the predecessors of the Hopi and Zuni people and has since been excavated and studied by archaeologists. The pueblos and canyons make for a beautiful landscape -- and it's easy to see why location scouts chose Wupatki as a backdrop for this Western. The film was also shot in the nearby Coconino National Forest and Kaibab National Forest.

North by Northwest (1959): The national memorial Mount Rushmore serves as a pivotal setting for this Alfred Hitchcock adventure. It's not hard to imagine Cary Grant running from spies in a death-and-death chase to freedom across this park. Just make sure you imagine it and don't act it out; Hitchcock himself ran into controversy for his action sequences.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969): For this classic Western, Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) -- the ultimate criminals on the run -- took advantage of the scenery in Utah's Zion National Park. Once you're there, you'll want to stay for the mind-blowing scenery. Besides the multitude of trails to lead you around the sandstone, there are many naturally occurring arches that are a wonder to behold in person.

The Grapes of Wrath (1940): This John Steinbeck classic novel-turned-film about the Dust Bowl exodus utilizes the Petrified Forest to re-create a journey many have taken through Arizona. The park has some great views and plenty of finds to keep paleontologists, archaeologists, and others -ists busy for a long time. But main attraction is really all the petrified wood, which is some otherworldly mix of logs and stone.

Spartacus (1960): Death Valley National Park has served as a location for multiple films, including Star Wars Episode IV -- A New Hope. In Spartacus, the first sequence in the quarries was filmed in the Nevada park. While it would be no fun to try to reenact labor-intensive scenes, taking advantage of the hiking, biking, and camping opportunities available in this 3-million-acre park could lead to a memorable vacation that becomes a family classic.

 

-- image courtesy of iStock/lightphoto

Bianca Hernandez is an editorial intern at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.

 

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10 Must-See Pedestrian Bridges

Muir Slept Here: 5 Legendary Wilderness Treks

 

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02/28/2014

Observing Highlights for March: Spring Galaxies

March 2014 Leo Triplet Scott Anttila WikicommonsIn North America, daylight saving time begins March 9, when we set our clocks forward one hour. Europe changes its clocks to summer time on the last Sunday in March. Much of North America has suffered through a long, cold winter and is ready for some warmer days and nights. Spring arrives with the equinox on March 20 at 9:57 a.m., which brings equal days and nights as we leave the darkness of winter and head toward the long days of summer.

Most stargazers haven’t seen much more than the brightest and easiest targets this winter, such as Jupiter, Venus, and the moon. Venus is currently in the morning sky in the constellation Sagittarius, leaving Jupiter to dominate the evening, shining from nearly overhead. Many bright stars surround Jupiter in the Winter Hexagon, including the brightest star in the sky, Sirius in the constellation Canis Major. Sirius can be found directly below Jupiter. Compare how much more brightly Jupiter shines at magnitude -2.4 than Sirius at magnitude -1.1. Although Sirius is an enormous roiling ball of fire, Jupiter’s closeness to us makes all the difference.

Look at Jupiter through a telescope to spot its brightest moons and the dark and light stripes upon its atmosphere. Watch for satellites to disappear and reappear from in front of and behind Jupiter, such as on the evening of March 5, when Ganymede reappears from behind Jupiter.

March will have two new moons, on the 1st and 30th. On March 2, look for the young crescent moon just above the western horizon at sunset. On March 7, the moon will be by the Hyades cluster in Taurus and the reddish star Aldebaran, and on March 9 and 10 the moon will sidle up to Jupiter and then pass it. The full moon for March occurs on the 16th in the constellation Virgo.

Virgo rising is a sure sign of spring. As Virgo enters the night sky, it brings with it its brightest star, Spica, along with a visitor, Mars. Mars is the brighter, redder object of the pair. March 18 will find the moon in close quarters with Spica and Mars.

Springtime is also known as galaxy season, and many island universes can be found in Virgo and its neighbor Leo. You can look at a star chart to see a huge smattering of galaxies sprinkled across spring constellations, but without some experience and dark skies, they can be a challenge to track down. Use a medium-size scope to spot some of these 8th and 9th magnitude galaxies. The Leo Triplet (NGC 3628, M65, and M66) is a popular target on the hind leg of Leo the Lion. For those with binoculars, try spotting the Coma Berenices star cluster just above the tail of Leo the Lion. These stars lie about 280 light-years away.

On March 20, the moon will rise about two degrees away from Saturn in the late evening. Saturn will rise earlier each night in spring as it makes way for the summer constellations and Milky Way nebulae that are strewn behind it. 

Image: The Leo Triplet is popular member of the spring galaxies. Credit: Scott Anttila/Wikicommons

HS_KellyWhittKelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

 

 

 
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