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10/04/2013

What's Next for Yosemite & National Parks?

Pondering the future of national parksWe've all heard the news by now: Yosemite National Park, on its 123rd birthday, was closed indefinitely due to the government shutdown. But as the shutdown continues, what will come of the rest of the country's 401 national parks, monuments, and federally managed sites? Here's the skinny on what will change, what will remain the same, and what you can do to let your voice be heard. 

Tourists vanish. Across the nation, national parks welcome an estimated 750,000 tourists a day. And in Yosemite, tourists coming from around the world to witness Half Dome and El Capitan must first pass through gateway communities like Mariposa, Oakhurst, Mammoth, and Sonora, to name a few. These small towns, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, require a steady flow of tourists, which fuel 5,700 private-sector jobs and generate a $360-million-a-year industry. On any given day, the park hosts 15,000 tourists, and October is one of Yosemite's most popular months for weddings. A stoppage in tourist flow could be catastrophic to small businesses. 

Many of these small communities have already seen reduced numbers of tourists due to the Rim Fire that decimated the nearby Stanislaus Forest. The shuttering of Yosemite only compounds the financial and economic problems faced by these small towns — and other towns across the country that depend on tourists traveling to National Parks. 

Oil drilling continues.  Parks across the country may be closed to backpackers, climbers, sight-seers, and naturalists, but according to Climate Progress, oil and gas drilling will continue on public land, unchanged and — now that the EPA is vastly reduced — unchecked. Over ninety percent of the EPA's 16,204 employees will be furloughed as a result of the shutdown, severely limiting the scope of the agency's protection power.

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10/01/2013

Observing Highlights for October: A Penumbral Lunar Eclipse and the Approach of Comet ISON

October 2013 Orion and Winter Constellations ChumackA penumbral lunar eclipse can be a trick to see. Unlike a "regular" lunar eclipse, the moon never passes into the darkest part of Earth’s shadow, and therefore the dimming of the moon is slight and difficult to detect.

For those in the United States, a penumbral eclipse will already have begun on October 18 as the full moon rises. The farther east you are, the more likely it is that you’ll see a change in the Hunter’s Moon. The event will end soon after moonrise.

Observers are eagerly awaiting the appearance of Comet ISON, which will put on its best show in November and December. But for those who want to get an early peek, get up before sunlight in mid-October and look east-southeast. Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, and reddish Mars will be just one degree apart on October 14, with Mars about one degree above and to the left of Regulus. Use binoculars or a telescope to look the same distance and direction above Mars to find Comet ISON.

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09/27/2013

A Scientific Method to Barefoot Running

barefoot runningQuestion: "Is barefoot running for me?"

There's plenty of room for debate when it comes to running shod versus bare. Amidst the hype surrounding barefoot and minimalist running, most runners hesitate to forgo the convenience, comfort, safety and, well, hygienic benefits of good-old-fashioned running shoes. 

But who could resist running au naturel in Autumn? Fallen leaves from maples, poplars, or oaks cushion the trail with a forgiving crunch between your toes, and the ground underfoot doesn't cook your bare soles to medium-well, the way asphalt does on triple-digit summer days.

Not all of us can renounce our shoes and run like the Tarahumara. Conduct your own experiment and follow these tips to see whether or not barefoot running is the right fit for you. 

Hypothesis: Predict what results you will see in your running ability from running barefoot. A team of Harvard researchers led by Dr. Daniel Lieberman hypothesized that humans, before the advent of the running shoe, landed more frequently on the forefoot than the heel. "We suspect," states the research team's website, "that forefoot striking was most common." They conducted a wealth of experiments to test the merits of barefoot running over shod running — particularly the biomechanics of various runners' footstrike, from Harvard students to Kenyan school children. The evidence, though anecdotal, favors barefoot or minimalist running shoes as a means of low-impact and foot strength-building running.

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09/25/2013

Ultra-Couple Talks Tetons 100-Mile Race

Jay and Lisa Smith-BatchenSeasoned ultra-runners and co-owners of Dreamchasers Outdoor Adventures, husband-and-wife team Jay and Lisa Smith-Batchen are gearing up for their third-annual Yellowstone-Tetons 100-mile race, which begins on October 4th in West Yellowstone and traverses through Teton Valley, finishing in Driggs, Idaho. Lisa, a Badwater 135 Hall-of-Famer and Jay, a veteran ultra-runner in his own right, told us about the upcoming event, spiritual journeys, yearning for the desert, and the belt buckle everyone wants at the end of the race.

Your Yellowstone-Tetons race is only three years old. That's pretty young for an ultra-race, isn't it?

Lisa: It is. You know, we're bringing people here during the off-season, during a low time, which is really great. It'll build slowly, which is exactly what we want it to do.

I understand the finishers of the 100-mile race go home with a sweet belt buckle.

Jay: You get a belt buckle when you finish the hundred-miler, which is actually a big reason why so many people want to do these hundred-mile races. Western States has a silver belt buckle for the finishers under twenty-four hours, while Leadville gives out a huge belt buckle that looks like a WWF championship belt.

You also get the same feeling at the end of the race when you get to place a medal around someone's neck or give them a belt buckle. They finish the course and you really feel their elation as they've finished.

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John Muir Trail Hike Raises Funds for Student Aid

Trip organizer Alyssa Solis '13 at Silver PassAs the weary hikers rested under the trees after a long day on the John Muir Trail, Pitzer College philosophy professor Brian Keeley read from Jack Kerouac's account of climbing Matterhorn Peak: "In no time at all it was two o'clock in the afternoon and the sun was getting that later more golden look and a wind was rising and I began to think 'By gosh how we ever gonna climb that mountain, tonight?'" 

Like Kerouac, the hikers in Pitzer College's John Muir Trail hiking group faced a daunting challenge: to traverse 230 miles on the John Muir Trail in just 27 days. In July, college President Laura Skandera Trombley was joined by several current students, Professor Keeley, a parent of a Pitzer undergrad, and two alumnae in celebrating the school's 50th anniversary with a hike to raise funds for student aid. The hikers, who were chosen by lottery, raised nearly $55,000 for first generation scholars awarded the John Skandera Memorial Endowed Scholarship, established by Trombley last year in memory of her father. 

"My father had a great love of nature, and I thought, 'Well, I’ll hike to pay homage to him and raise funds for financial aid,'" said Trombley. "It seemed to make a great deal of sense."

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09/23/2013

3 High Desert Havens for Fall Camping

desert campingThe elusive endless summer can't always be found in that one, perfect wave. And though the summer is over and kids are back in school, backpacking season has only just begun. September through November are ideal times to trek through bucket-listed destinations like the Adirondacks, bursting with fall foliage on cool autumn days.

However, if you prefer lush cactus gardens to yellowing deciduous leaves and want to experience the Southwest in bloom after the summer monsoon, then head to these biologically diverse, arid, and isolated high deserts. Here, the taste of summer still lingers well into the months of November — and you might even get your last sunburn of the year.  

Joshua Tree California Between the months of June and August, temperatures at Joshua Tree National Park peak at a little over 100 degrees. But in the fall months, Joshua Tree's 790,000 acres of desert cool down to a breezy ballpark of 80 degrees. Fall is the perfect season for rock climbers to test their fingers against Joshua Tree's high-ball quartz monzonite rock formations, while birders can check off a few of the 239 different species the desert has to offer, notably Gambel's quail and great horned owls.

Where to Camp: Black Rock Canyon, $15 a night, primitive camping. Bring your own water, food, and fuel. Backcountry camping permitted.   

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09/16/2013

4 Action-Packed Green Jobs for the Adventurer

Monterey Bay Aquarium-Randy WilderWhen green jobs come to mind, you might immediately think of installing solar panels  on a triple-digit day or growing strains of plastic-eating bacteria in a petri dish. But if you're looking for a more adventurous career — one that incorporates a love of trekking, scuba diving, climbing, or spelunking — then by all means, prepare your resume. Here are some outside-the-box, pulse-pounding gigs for the sustainable-minded thrill seeker.  

Find That Happy Place

What's more satisfying than bagging a fourteener in the Rockies in a single weekend? For adventure therapists, it's all about seeing the patient reach the top. All over the country, adventure therapists trade the proverbial couch and scented candles for moraines and alpine air. By prescribing activities like rock climbing, whitewater kayaking or mountaineering, these outdoorsy shrinks help their clients overcome addiction or depression. They can also provide outlets to youngsters struggling with ADHD or Asperger's. 

Usual Requirements: B.S. or B.A. in Psychology, or B.A. in liberal arts; First-Aid/CPR certification; Strong outdoors skill set

Annual Pay: $30,000-$40,000

Clean The Big Tanks

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09/11/2013

The Adventures of a Professional Tree-Climber

Tim KovarTim Kovar is a master tree-climbing instructor and the founder of the Tree Climbing Planet. He has introduced over 10,000 people to treetops, including bestselling author Richard Preston. Kovar has climbed trees all over the world, including the remote areas of India, Central America, and the Amazon Basin. The canopy explorer recently told us how it feels to reach the top of a tall tree and why it won't help to call 911 if you get stuck.

What was the first tree you’ve ever climbed?

One of my earliest memories as a little boy was climbing the neighbor’s apple tree. I remember getting stuck up in the treetop. My friend’s father had to come and help me get out of the tree. I was maybe five years old at the time? And of course, I loved it. My mother and father did not enjoy that so much. And as a five-year-old, it felt like a hundred feet up. When in reality, I was only two feet up.

Why do people climb trees? 

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09/04/2013

The Best Places to See Fall Foliage

Lake George

Bundling up, starting school, shorter days: Some people anticipate fall's start and the quaint normality that accompanies it, while others dread the end of summer's carefree months. But most can agree on the beauty of leaves rapidly changing colors. Check out some of our favorite locations for fall foliage, before the trees are bare and surrounded by snow.

The Adirondack Mountains, New York

If you're trying to escape the Big Apple's hustle bustle, the Catskill Mountains are a great place to start. But the Adirondack Mountains are even further removed from New York City. They're often portrayed as a northern cousin to the Catskills, but the Adirondacks are actually pretty different: The mountains reside on the southernmost part of the Canadian Shield, a billion-year old geologic mass that comprises much of Canada and the northern United States. Because the Adirondacks only recently became exposed (geologically speaking) by uplift, their mountains are fairly dome shaped. Covered by boreal forests filled with unique wildlife, a hike through the Adirondacks could be just what the doctor ordered for a weary city dweller.

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08/28/2013

September's Observing Highlights: Elusive Mercury and the Harvest Moon

September 2013 MIMIBarbSuperMoonChumack

Fall's cooler evenings arrive with a cluster of planets in the west at twilight. Venus, Mercury, and Saturn are joined by the moon early in the month. Mercury was a morning object in August but has edged into the evening sky for September.

Venus is a brilliant magnitude -4.0 and looks like a plane with its landing lights on except that it doesn’t move. By September 5, Venus is a degree and a half above the star Spica. To Venus's upper left is the Ringed Planet Saturn, and to Venus's lower right lies Mercury. Because Mercury is so low and in the fading light of sunset, it may take a while before you can spot it. On September 7, a line consisting of Saturn, Venus, Spica, and Mercury spans 40 degrees from the southwest to the west. In addition, a thin crescent moon can be found below this line. The recently set sun will make it difficult to catch all the objects, however.

On September 8, catch a pretty photo-op when the crescent moon lies two degrees to the left of Venus, with Spica almost four degrees to Venus’s lower right. The next night the moon is wide left of Saturn. Saturn and Venus have been closing in on each other and will get to within three and a half degrees on September 17. Saturn is in the constellation Libra above Venus, while Venus lies in the constellation Virgo. On the next night, September 18, the planets keep their distance but Venus crosses the border to join Saturn in Libra. Following this date the planets start to drift apart.

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