Category Archives: A Day In The Park

Joshua Tree


A section of the Southern California desert larger than Rhode Island, Joshua Tree is home to some of the most mind blowing and bewildering terrain anywhere in the country. Created as a National Monument in 1936, Joshua tree didn’t actually become a National Park until ’94, when the Desert Protection Act laid down the laws conserving this eight hundred thousand acre patch of California. Since then Joshua Tree has grown immensely in popularity, attracting almost one and a half million viewers a year, the park has gone from an anonymous clump of desert to some of America’s most beloved wilderness. The meeting place between the Mojave and Colorado deserts, Joshua tree houses a special blend of wildlife from both, most of which is found nowhere else on Earth.

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Death Valley

The largest National Park in the lower forty eight states, the hottest and driest place in the country, the second lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. Death Valley is all of this and infinitely more, it has unique species evolved to suit it’s extreme desert environment, golden mountains line it’s horizon, and gargantuan sand dunes fill the valleys. Above all though, Death Valley is dangerous. Previously claiming an average of three fatalities annually, in recent years it’s gotten as high as sixteen. Though the heat isn’t the primary cause for death in the valley (it’s actually single car accidents), it still definitely plays a factor. Anyone who attempts hiking in the valley will immediately understand how dangerous it really is, and how quickly the heat can destroy you.

That being said, like all of them, Death Valley is a National Park for a reason. It’s an amazing place, with some incredible scenery. The best times to come are fall and spring, the winter is better for hiking, but there can be snow on the mountains. Hiking is incredibly risky in the summer, when temperatures can get above one hundred and thirty degrees. Luckily, there are a good number of view points and vistas situated a ways off the road as you drive through the park. Each offers spectacular canyon landscapes, and roadside pull offs help you capture the rest. The first thing you’ll come to if you’re driving in from Vegas is Dante’s View, a lookout about thirteen miles down a side road with some mind blowing scenery. Overlooking the Badwater Basin from six thousand feet, the jagged peaks of the Amargosa mountain range rise up all around you as you climb fifteen degree grades up into the sky. At the peak, you can look down into the basin, almost three hundred feet below sea level, with the Panamint mountains towering behind it. A fifteen minute hike up a dirt path behind the parking lot will take you up the summit of the mountain to a death defying overlook which juts out into the canyon. After climbing the ledge of the peak, less than a foot of loose gravel away from a six thousand foot drop, you’ll come to a thin strip of land bridge which leads fifty feet out to a jagged crown of dirty brown rock. The view is amazing, well worth the short hike up, however be warned; you’ll no doubt see the signs warning of this phenomenon, but the area is infested with thousands of bees. Enough of them to be classified as a “hazard” by the local variety of road sign. 

Continuing on, you’ll pass the Golden Canyon, and some of the painted hills. The rock takes on a unique hue, metallic and reflective, it gleams golden bronze in the blistering sun. Mountains of shining gold jut out of the ground just off the road, the majority of their formidable size hidden underground, like a low floating iceberg. Further down the mountains begin to split into bands of brilliant color. Deep reds and bright oranges, yellow and turquoise, shades of blue and purple, as confusing as it is majestic. It’s like someone used the valley as a pallet, indecisively laying down swathes of color, trying to decide which would best suit the canyons. Stovepipe formations start to crop up, like lonely hoodoos they stick to the walls, cylindrical stacks of stone painted a sickly green, almost resembling patinated copper. Off in the distance the rolling sands of the valley’s many dunes can be seen lighting up on the horizon. Their glossy faces picking up the sun, throwing it back across the canyons and glinting a golden yellow. 

There’s tons to see out in Death Valley just from the road, but if you really want to experience it, hiking is a must. That being said, it’s incredibly dangerous, and even if you don’t die, the heat can still incur brain damage and other maladies that are basically just terrible. They recommend each person bring at least a gallon of water, and that’s if you’re not hiking. The other thing to keep in mind is that the physical exertion will also rob your body of electrolytes, which you need to keep balanced with the amount of water you’re drinking. This isn’t usually a problem if you’re not hiking, but if you are, that imbalance can get bad quick if water is all you have. The amount you need to drink just to stay cool is way over the norm, and you’ll end up in bad shape unless you bring something to replenish electrolytes too, Gatorade should do the trick.

Moving on we arrived at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and it was almost one hundred and twenty degrees out. Andrew didn’t think he could make the hike due to the unreal conditions, so at this point I struck out alone into the dunes. Intending to conquer the peak of the dunes, which was about one and three quarter miles out from the road, I geared up with two full canteens and set out towards my goal. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my entire life. After walking for about five minutes I made it to the first dune, and upon crossing it, realized exactly how large the desert I was facing really was. The dune sloped gently down for at least a hundred feet, and by the time I reached the bottom the outside world had disappeared completely. All I could see was sand, in every direction. No matter which way I looked I was surrounded by dunes, lifeless and desolate, they stretched off into the distance for miles, the road lost far behind me. Where it not for the mountains just off the horizon, I might as well have been in the Sahara. 

The journey to the central dune was amazing, the feeling of being lost in the desert, the grandeur of the shifting sand, it’s the stuff adventure is made of. Part of the reason I came out here at all was for this, some real high desert adventure, to be completely enveloped in the most intense landscapes North America has to offer, and boy did I get what I came for. No other hikers had dared attempt it, I was totally alone in the desert, and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Sweatier than I’ve ever been, I walked across the seemingly endless dunes with a solemn determination to reach my mark. The heat didn’t even seem so bad, I was lost in a sea of gold, guided by glimpses of sandy peaks towering hundreds of feet into the blue sky above me. The sand bunched up beneath my feet, each step disturbing it’s gleaming tranquil surface. The occasional shrub dotted the landscape, all of them about one strong gust away from becoming a tumbleweed, their dried husks clinging desperately to the boiling dunes. Finally, I made it to the central dune and began my ascent. 

(It looks way smaller than it really isn’t. That’s about 200 feet.)

It was grueling. The sand is much lighter and looser than any dunes I’ve encountered before. Each step up creates a miniature sand slide, a few feet of the wall falling away beneath you as you disturb it from its restful tanning session.  It’s like trying to climb a treadmill made of jello at more than sixty degrees of incline. The sand falls down over your feet, burying them in the side of the slope with each movement, holding them hostage with tremendous pressure. I was already exhausted halfway up, but the sand was at least three hundred degrees, if you stopped for more than a few seconds it would literally start to burn your skin. As I neared the top it got so steep I was forced to crawl the last fifty feet, burning my forearms as I went. Finally I made it to the peak, exhausted and overheating, I looked out onto the desert below, at the rolling sand and glistening valleys. Hiking along the ridge of the dune, I might as well have been leading a team of camels, the heat beating down on me as I deleriously snapped as many photos as I could, my hands still shaking from the climb. It was now that I realized the danger I was truly in. My core temperature had risen from the strenuous climb up, but now I couldn’t cool back down, and was essentially stuck in overdrive as I prepared for the journey back.


As I stepped back off the ridge I felt the ground give way beneath me, as my downward momentum triggered a massive sand slide which sent me gliding casually down the entire face of the dune. Reaching the bottom, I oriented myself, bracing for the journey ahead. At this point I still had an entire canteen left, but no matter how much I drank I couldn’t cool down, I could feel my body getting weaker as I trudged through the sand, following my foot prints back towards the relative safety of the road. It was on this, the return journey that I understood why so many die attempting to do just this, why I was the only hiker for miles around. About halfway back I started to feel chills, a sign of pending heat stroke, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I had made a mistake in attempting the hike. Realizing the danger I would be in if I didn’t find a way to cool down, I took a risk and poured half of the remaining canteen over my head, a move that might have saved my life, as it allowed me to shed some of the heat I’d built up during the climb. Even so, it got harder and harder to keep going, near the halfway point I could feel my extremities going numb, the chill in my arms and legs was constant, and I could sense nausea coming on as well. There was a single thought in my mind at that point, making it back. Though the beauty of the desert was far from lost on me, whatever innocence it may have had was long gone. Death Valley seemed an ever more appropriate monicker as I climbed through the dunes, drenched in sweat and reveling in the sense of the adventure. Perhaps it was delerium, but even though I never stopped focusing on making it back in one semi-hydrated piece, I couldn’t help but enjoy even this, the return trip. I’ve never been so close to collapsing in my entire life, never had to push myself so hard just to move, but the sense of accomplishment, the feeling of being alone in such a spectacular environment, it’s one of the greatest adventures I’ve ever been on. 

As is obvious, I made it back in one piece, safe, sound, and coated in really sweaty sand. Even though I played it safe, took plenty of water, made sure to stay in sightline of the road when possible, and paced myself accordingly, I still got lucky. Had I spent much more time out there, you could be reading a very different story right now. Under no circumstances should you underestimate Death Valley, the heat is no joke, and hiking in the dead of summer is incredibly risky. Make sure you take tons of water, protein, and something to replenish electrolytes. Make sure someone knows where you are and when you plan to be there. Know your route and your limits before even thinking about tackling these hikes, and be cautious what you take. Heavy gear can weigh you down and make any hike that much more strenuous, and out in the valley ten minutes can be the difference between life and death. Just recently a French couple died attempting to hike in the desert, they underestimated the heat and paid the ultimate price for it. This isn’t meant to dissuade you though, only to serve as a cautionary advisement. Death Valley is still a National Park, and it’s acquired such a prestigious designation for very good reasons. It’s a spectacular place, with gorgeous canyons of gold, miles of rippling dunes, brilliantly painted mountains, and unbelievable  salt flats. It’s one of the most raw places I’ve ever encountered, it’s pure and savage, the perfect place for a real adventure. 

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is the pinnacle of Southern Utah. Two hundred and twenty nine square miles of canyons, arches, mesas, slots, and formations, unlike anything else in the world. Resting on the point where the Mojave, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau slam together, Zion is the twisted byproduct of an all out tectonic war. Albeit a gradual one. The elements have carved through the Navajo Sandstone with a humbling force, and left in their wake one of the most majestic landscapes in the world. Over four hundred unique species of animal, countless plants and insects found only in the canyon, all the result of one hundred and fifty million years of sedimentation.
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Arches National Park

The Arches are about seventy seven thousand square acres of sandstone buried in the stomach of Southern Utah. These are however, the most majestic seventy seven thousand square acres anywhere in the western hemisphere. Relatively small in comparison to it’s brothers throughout the country, the park covers a compact area of highly condensed sandstone structures and arches, housing more than two thousand within park limits. The park is open all day every day, affording you access to some of the most magnificent sunsets and milky-way panoramas anywhere in the world. The mere concept of the place is staggering, much like the old growth forests of the pacific coast, Arches is a window through time, the remnants of an ancient world whose foundations predate the Jurassic.

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Ape Cave & The High Cascades

The Cascades are a mountain range which runs parallel to the Rockies through British Columbia and down to the northern sections of California. Known for their exceptionally high peaks and tremendous glaciers, the Cascades are some of the largest mountains in the country. Impressive enough already, they put it over the top by also housing a wide array of stratovolcanoes, some of the largest in the world. Most notable are Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier, the fourteen thousand foot tall giant which dominates the mountain range. Ancient lava tubes and ash formations pepper the landscape, as well as more recent damage from the 1980’s eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Old growth subalpine forests cover the valleys, and huge sheets of ice coat the tops of the volcanoes, hiding the devastating power safely out of mind. Hundreds of miles of backroads take you up into the mountains and down through the valleys, every so often catching a glimpse of one of the volcanoes, or the Cascade’s other towering summits.

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Olympic National Park

The most Northwesterly section of the United States, the Olympic peninsula is a totally different kind of world. The temperate rainforests around the central mountains are the wettest area in the continental states. The Pacific Coast is lined with sea stacks and the breeding grounds for thousand of seals each year. The eight thousand foot summit of Mt. Olympus and it’s surrounding range range rise literally up into the clouds, which normally hang at about the same elevation, obscuring the peaks and forests above from view. The Olympic Mountain range is home to some sixty active glaciers, the largest of which is over three miles wide, and as ancient as the mountains themselves. With almost a million acres of land to explore, this park dates back to 1938, when Mt. Olympus was just a National Monument. It’s temperate rainforests and glacial summits bring in almost three million visitors a year, and in 1981, it was designated as a World Heritage Site. The Olympic Mountains are in fact so ancient that much of them is comprised of ocean sediment, the seabed from millions of years back shoved up out of the water by a wedge between two tectonic plates.

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Banff, AB

Discovered in 1883 by a group of railway workers on the brink of completing the Trans Canadian railway, this isolated stretch of the Northern Rockies was marked for preservation literally within days of its modern discovery. One of four world heritage sites located in this part of the mountain chain, Banff is home to some of the most diverse mountain ecosystems anywhere in the world. With hot springs, plains biomes, towering mountains and lakes of every color, Banff draws over a million visitors each year from every corner of the world. It houses a massive population of grizzly bears, it has rare species such as wolverines and lynx, elk and long horn sheep call the valleys and towering peaks their home as well. Some of the grandest views anywhere can be found along its miles of trail and winding roads, and it’s even complete with a European style town, bustling in the center of the park.
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Glacier National

Buried in the Southern Rockies of Montana, Glacier National Park is so much more than just a park. Over a million acres of Rocky Mountain range, a three way continental divide, four forest biomes each with unique ecosystems, it’s a world heritage site, the first international peace park, it houses one of the largest populations of black and grizzly bears in the world, and of course it’s home to some of the few remaining glaciers in North America. The park itself is over one hundred years old, and sadly, only a fraction of it’s glaciers still remain. Global warming has taken a toll on this magnificent landscape, which, at the time of it’s founding, had almost one hundred and fifty active glaciers. Now it has only twenty five. Even so, travelling through Glacier National was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life, and it’s status as one of the top rated National Parks in America is beyond well deserved.

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After a disastrous journey to the world’s first national park on our last journey around the country, we decided that this year, we absolutely needed to find a way to make a it reality. The thirty five hundred square mile park nestled in the Tetons is a draw for over four million people every year, from all across the world, and for good reason. The diversity of the terrain alone is enough to peak the curiosity of anyone who has ever seen a photo of this magnificent landscape, but the park has so much more to offer than just a pretty backdrop. Home to an amazing array of wildlife, bacteria pools, hot springs, geysers, and lakes, Yellowstone is one place you literally have to visit if you have even an inkling of love for the outdoors. 
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Theodore Roosevelt National Park


The first National Park of this year’s adventure, we started off strong with Theodore Roosevelt. Founded in 1978, this seventy thousand square acre section of the North Dakota badlands was named of course for President “Teddy” Roosevelt; who traveled here in the 1880’s to hunt bison. After he caught his bison, he became hopelessly enamored with the rugged terrain and matching lifestyle found throughout the badlands. He invested heavily in the area, eventually building a home for himself out in the canyon which can still be seen out in the southern section. Today, the park draws thousands of visitors every year, and captures the hearts and minds of all of them in the same way it captured that of our 26th president. One of the lesser known and certainly less visited parks in the country, drawing only about five hundred thousand a year, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the very epitome of underrated. Perhaps one of the most amazing places I have ever visited in my entire life, the park is spectacular at face value, but can be life changing to those who are willing to employ just a little bit of patience.

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