Explore: March 2012

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16 posts from March 2012


Indiana Jones and the Antarctic Lake

DSC_0043Piles of papers and books with esoteric titles like Principles of Glacier Mechanics are strewn about both ends of the L-shaped desk. The middle portion of the lengthier appendage is cleared of debris for a laptop, and a map on screen depicts the warped contours of an ice sheet located on the Earth’s most mysterious land mass.

Seated behind the desk in his first-floor office on UC Santa Cruz’s wooded campus, glacier expert and native Pole Slawek Tulaczyk peers at the Antarctic image through a pair of wide-rimmed spectacles that resemble laboratory safety goggles. His dark brown hair is mussed at the peak and greying at the sides, and his belly bulges underneath a green plaid button down and fleece vest.

Tulaczyk could be cast simply as the brilliant academician that he is. But, as he explains the passion behind his research into Antarctica’s glaciers, it’s clear that there’s more lurking beneath the professorial archetype. 

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Experience Human Flight with Birdmen

"The dream of human flight is overpowering for some of us," says BASE jumper Matt Gerdes in the film Birdmen: The Original Dream of Flight, "And it's far more important than the fear of the unknown."

Thus sums up what many consider a total whack-job mentality of a total whack-job sport. However, seeing is believing in the exquisite short that is just the trailer for the first documentary devoted to wingsuit BASE jumping.  

FlightFor those of us that have dreamed of feeling untethered, watching the wingsuit flocks zip between mountains and float on thermals proves that there are some (well-trained) humans who have been able to capture that sensation and that it can be an addictive one.  

Birdmen writer-director Matt Sheridan doesn't make light of the fact that wingsuit jumping is dangerous. In fact, top-ranked Jeb Corliss is still recovering from two broken legs he suffered in January, after playing around off Cape Town's Table Mountain.  

But the filmmakers also emphasize how artful and scientific their and their predecessors' process is — how a respect for nature, the rules of gravity and aeronautics, and connecting with the animals that live within those parameters, are built into the experience.

We may not be lining up at a cliff any time soon, but the Birdmen trailer almost makes us want to.

--Benita Hussain / Image from Birdmen: The Original Dream of Flight


Year in Yosemite: On View

Yosemite 1Before we left Los Angeles to live in Yosemite National Park, we lived in a very nice neighborhood on a lovely tree-lined street. Our daughter was at a school we liked; our closest friends were just minutes away. It should have been perfect, but I had a problem. Every night I'd wake up gasping for breath, feeling as if the city were closing in on me.

That feeling left when we moved to Yosemite. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could breathe. It helped that we moved to quiet, laid-back Wawona and not to Yosemite Valley. The Valley is stunningly scenic but its towering granite walls, narrow valley floor and endless summer traffic jams leave me feeling hemmed in too. Living in a national park, I've come to realize that everyone has their own favorite type of scenery. Some love the deserts. Others prefer the prairies. What speaks to me are wide-open places.

Yosemite 2

Give me the rolling hills of Yellowstone over the narrow slot canyons of the Grand Canyon. I'll take meadows over forests and the sweeping pasturelands of the Sierra foothills over the mountains themselves. Even in parks defined by their valleys, I prefer the open views from on high. That's why we encourage all our friends to hike to Sentinel Dome with its 8,300-foot- high, 360-degree view of the valley and much of the rest of the park. And no visit to Zion is complete without leaving its exquisite valley to circle back through the town of Virgin to Kolob Reservoir Road for the ride to the crest of the park.

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Horror Filmmaker Takes His Camera to the Desert

Gavin Heffernan confessed to Sierra that he's addicted to time-lapse photography, and this dizzying video represents his latest fix. "It's like fishing - an escape from the madness," says the Los Angeles-based horror filmmaker. To get these shots of Joshua Tree National Park, he used a Canon EOS 7D with an EF-S18-135mm lens, and a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF 24mm f1.4/L lens.

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Steinbeck, Bikers, and Slimy Critters

Photo_credit-_Steve_WolfEric Morgan recalls guiding Interior Secretary Ken Salazar through the pastoral hills outside Fort Ord in Monterey, California. To the west, the maritime chaparral unfurled for miles beneath their feet before giving way to a peninsula, where the land crawls under the Pacific and great whites swim offshore.

 “He kept calling the place a crown jewel,” says Morgan, the project manager of habitat restoration at Fort Ord, which is under BLM jurisdiction.

Secretary Salazar is only the most recent "somebody" to pass through Fort Ord. In 1776, Juan Bautista de Anza slept beneath the hills on his journey from Tubac (now Tucson) to San Francisco, where he established the Presidio. John Steinbeck called the nearby Gabilan Range “beckoning mountains with brown grass love.” (Their westerly counterparts, the Santa Lucia’s, he said, were “brooding — unfriendly and dangerous”).  And from 1917 to 1994, the fort served as a military base. Unexploded shells still lurk behind Keep Out signs.

The fort is as worthy of exploration as it is rich in history. Hikers can search for threatened California tiger salamanders — amphibians known to slink through vernal pools and co-opt rodent burrows — and view Toro Manzanita, a fuzzy plant with 90 percent of its range on Fort Ord lands. Each year, 100,000 people travel Fort Ord’s 86 miles of trails, and half of them ride mountain bikes. Some say it’s the choice single-track on the Monterey Peninsula.

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Skiing the Sacred Headwaters of British Columbia

Nick, Julia, Ken, John, TrevorA team of five young skiers from Colorado have set out to explore a vast stretch of backcountry in British Columbia, a place where caribou, stone sheep, and grizzlies roam.

Friends since college, the group first explored the area during a post-graduation backpacking trek, but they soon became aware of the many environmental issues facing this wilderness. 

This is the ancestral land of the Tahltan First Nations people, home to the Sacred Headwaters, which feed three of Canada's most important salmon rivers — the Stikine, the Skeena and the Nass. This pristine wilderness has sustained the Tahltan for centuries and they have united to keep their land from being exploited.

Thus far proposals for a railway, an airstrip, and a dam have all failed, and they have managed to thwart a proposal by the Ministry of Forest to greatly increase the tree harvest. In 2005, when Fortune Minerals tried to move machinery in, the locals created a physical blockade to keep them out. Their battle against Royal Dutch Shell's coal bed methane project was ferocious, resulting in many arrests. A moratorium was put into place forbidding Shell to speak with the local community, one that is set to expire at the end of 2012.

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