A Photographic Journey through America’s National Parks… Series Conclusion

Grand teton photo by Curtis Mekemson.

National Parks in the United States and throughout the world protect and preserve many of our most scenic natural areas. This photo is of the Grand Teton Mountains in Wyoming.

Peggy and I decided to take a year off from work in 1999 and travel around North America. I worked as a consultant/citizen advocate on health and environmental issues when I was behaving like a serious adult, and led wilderness treks when I wasn’t. Peggy was fully adult and served as an assistant principal at a middle school.

People were more or less resigned to the fact that I came and went. You might say I was self-employed and self-unemployed. The only person I really had to check with was myself. Peggy’s situation was different, but the school district really wanted to keep her. They offered her an unpaid sabbatical. We bought a travel van and off we went.

We left on July 1. Planning was close to zero. Our only obligations were to meet up with friends for backpacking and kayaking in Alaska and to join Peggy’s parents in Florida for Thanksgiving. Beyond that we could be wherever we wanted to be and do whatever we wanted to do.

Early on, we decided to visit National Parks, Seashores, Monuments and Historical sites whenever we had the opportunity. It was a goal we continued when Peggy retired from being an elementary school principal in 2007 and we wandered in our van for another three years. As a result, we have visited the majority of America’s National Parks as well as many in Canada.

Over the past three weeks I have blogged about a few of the parks we visited. I hope you have enjoyed the journey. Today, I will wrap up this series with photos from several more. I will return to the National Park theme from time to time in the future.

Volcano Natioanl park photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A view of Volcano National Park on the island of Hawaii. The white steam in the background is coming from an active volcano.

Big Bend National Park photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A view of the Rio Grande River as it winds through Big Bend National Park in Texas. Peggy and I spent Christmas at the park.

Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjord National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Exit Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park. I ended backpack treks I led across the Kenai Peninsula near here.

Sunset at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Sunset at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Niagara Falls photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Niagara Falls is not a National Park but it is a National Heritage Site.

Luna Moth on Natchez Trace.

We found this colorful Luna Moth on the Natchez Trace, a National Historic Highway that winds through Mississippi and Tennessee. No commercial traffic is allowed on the road, which makes it great for bicycling. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

This brick outhouse found on the Natchez Trace is included because it is my favorite brick outhouse in the world. I hid out in it with my bicycle as a tornado tore up the countryside nearby.

This brick outhouse found on the Natchez Trace is included because it is my favorite brick outhouse in the world. I hid out in it with my bicycle as a tornado tore up the countryside nearby.

Photograph of Rocky Mountains National Park by Curtis Mekemson.

Rocky Mountains National Park in Colorado.

Photograph from inside Mammoth Cave by Curtis Mekemson.

A view from inside of Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

Photograph of Newspaper Rock by Curtis Mekemson.

A small section of Newspaper Rock National Historic Site in Utah. Native Americans have been leaving messages on this rock for over a thousand years. Note the guy shooting the elk in the butt with an arrow.

Photo of Painted Desert National Park in Arizona.

Painted Desert National Park in Arizona.

I'll conclude for today with this photo Peggy took of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I’ll conclude for today with this photo Peggy took of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

NEXT BLOG: We are off to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and the beginning of a new series. First up will feature photographs of Pelicans diving for fish in Banderas Bay. We were fortunate to be close to the action and caught some great shots. You won’t want to miss this blog.

The Redwoods… A Photographic Journey through America’s National Parks

A giant of the forest.

A giant of the forest: “an ambassador from another time.”

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                         John Steinbeck

Like John Steinbeck, I am in awe of the Redwoods. These giants of the forest can live for two thousand years and grow to over 300 feet tall. The so-called Big Tree in Redwood National Park, for example, is 304 feet tall, has a circumference of 68 feet and an estimated age of 1500 years.

Our home in Southern Oregon is a short three-hour drive from the coastal redwoods of Northern California so Peggy and I have visited them three times in three years. My first visit to the Redwoods was as a child and it is still a clear memory. Our last two visits we had our grandkids with us. My hope is that their memory of the visit will be like mine– and pull them back, time and again.

Peggy provides a perspective on the actual size of a giant redwood.

Peggy provides a perspective on the actual size of a giant redwood.

California's rugged North Coast. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Redwoods National Park is located along California’s rugged North Coast. Stormy seas had left behind piles of driftwood.

Redwood tree root on Northern California coast. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Among the driftwood was this large redwood tree root.

Driftwood at Redwood National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Most of the driftwood was small but also quite attractive. It was easy to imagine the various shapes as creatures…

Driftwood shapes at Redwood National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I thought of this piece as a wood duck.

Downed tree root in Redwood National Park.

Back to the forest, my friend Ken Lake and I stand next to another massive root. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Moss coverend tree at Redwood National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The moss growing on this tree is a reminder that Redwood National Park receives 60-80 inches of rain per year, thus making it a rainforest.

Large clover leaf in Redwood National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The size of clover is another reminder that things grow big in Redwood National Park– as my favorite model demonstrates below…

Peggy Mekemson wears a Redwood National Park clover in her hair. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Foxglove growing at Redwoods National Park.

Beautiful Foxglove is also found growing among the redwoods. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Fern growing in Redwoods National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Another perspective on the rainforest look of Redwoods National Park.

Two final views of the magnificent redwoods.

Giant redwood tree at Redwoods National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Tops of redwoods at Redwoods National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

 

NEXT BLOG: Wrap up of park series (for the present) with photos from several different parks.

Bryce Canyon and the Hoodoos… A Photographic Journey through America’s National Parks

Bryce Canyon photograph by Curtis Mekemson.

Bright colors combine with interesting rock formations to make Bryce Canyon.

There is nowhere in the world quite like Bryce Canyon. This is a place where you can let your imagination run as wild as it wants to run. I am always struck first by the colors of the rocks and then immediately afterwards by their shapes.

Thousands of years of ice-driven erosion have created a fantasy world of amphitheaters filled with hoodoos and other rock formations climbing down the side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in Southern Utah.

The best way to experience the canyon is to hike down the trails but even a quick drive-through is rewarding. Early morning and evening are best times to catch the colors. Snow adds another dimension.

Bryce Canyon overlook. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

An overview of Bryce Canyon from one of the major overlooks.

Bryce Canyon Amphitheater. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Bryce Canyon is actually not a canyon created by a river but is a series of amphitheaters dropping on of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.

Walls, Fins and hoodoos at Bryce Canyon. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Hoodoos are stand alone rocks created by the process of erosion. A thick wall becomes a fin. Arches are created in the fin and then cave in, leaving hoodoo behind.

Hoodoo formation at Bryce Canyon. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A close-up of hoodoo formation. The rock in the foreground is showing cracks and a small arch that will eventually fall in and form a hoodoo.

A hoodoo at Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A ghostly hoodoo.

More views of Bryce Canyon:

Bryce Canyon photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Bryce Canyon photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Bryce Canyon photograph by Curtis Mekemson.

NEXT BLOG: A visit to the Redwoods.

 

Dinosaur National Monument… A Photographic Journey through America’s National Parks

Dinosaur National Monument is filled with quiet beauty.

Dinosaur National Monument is filled with quiet beauty.

Located on the border between Colorado and Utah, Dinosaur National Monument is known for it’s large deposit of Dinosaur Bones. The Park also features a quiet beauty and an interesting collection of Native American petroglyphs. The Yampa and Green Rivers snake their way through the canyons of the park and attract white-water rafting enthusiasts– including several of my friends.

So there is a little bit of something for everyone in this little known National Monument.  Hopefully, this blog will encourage some of my readers to visit. You won’t regret the decision.

Asters in Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Bright asters decorated the roadside on our way into camp.

Petroglyph at Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

This person with his/her large hands and dogs is one of my favorite petroglyphs.

Green River flowing through Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Shadows stretch across the Green River while the evening sun gently bathes the cliffs above in light. Not a bad view from our camp!

Dinosaur bone in cliff at Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

This large dinosaur bone was sticking out the edge of a cliff.

Lizard petroglyph in Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I thought this Native American petroglyph was particularly appropriate for the park.

Elephant Toes rock at Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Rock monuments are given names in Dinosaur National Monument, as they are throughout the West. What would you name this? The local answer is below.

Cliff of petroglyphs in Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Peggy sits beside a series of petroglyphs we found high above the road.

Petroglyph at Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

An alien petroglyph?

Dinosaur National Monument. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A final scene from our campsite.

The monument was named Elephant Toes. NEXT BLOG: The incredible rocks of Bryce Canyon National Park.

The Everglades… A Photographic Exploration of America’s National Parks

Photo of a Black Buzzard in Everglades National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I’ve blogged about Black Buzzards before, but these characters deserve a repeat visit.

Peggy, in her former life, which I refer to as BC, before Curt, bought some swampland in Port Charlotte, Florida with dreams of a handsome profit. Eventually, over a period of about 20 years, the land reached the value she and her ex-husband had paid for it. In the heady years of the early 2000s, the property shot up to triple the original investment. We were able to dump (oh, I mean sell) it before the 2006 housing crash to a land speculator. We split the profits between our kids, the realtor, and Uncle Sam.

I tell this story because the property provided an excuse to visit Florida. It was one of three. The second was that Peggy’s parents had retired to the state from Ohio, joining the relentless flood of people from the Midwest whose elderly bones had lost their sense of humor about freezing cold winters. My brother, Marshall, a homeless man with a bank account and a van, provided the third excuse. He included Florida on his migration route. Marshall, in fact, gave us advice on when to sell the property. In the days before he had decided being homeless was more fun, he had owned a successful real estate appraisal business.

Our regular trips to Florida gave us a chance to explore the state, which can be quite scenic if you can see around the billboards and like orange trees. It’s long sandy beaches are very attractive. Peggy loves them. As a general rule, the state is too flat for me. I can gain more elevation in the twenty-minute walk to our mailbox than I can from driving to the top of Florida’s highest hill.

The low elevation and flat land make for  extensive wetlands in Florida, however. And I find this quite attractive. The swamps are filled with fascinating wildlife such as Black Buzzards, Pink Flamingos and the lurking alligators. Everglades National Park provides an excellent opportunity to explore what Florida has to offer.

Photo of Flamingos by Curtis Mekemson.

You are much more likely to see photographs about Flamingos than Black Buzzards when reading about the Everglades. I suspect you have never seen a yard featuring plastic buzzards.

Anhinga in Everglades National Park.

This Anhinga was drying his feathers and presented another photo-op. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Alligator sunbathing in the Florida Everglades.

We came on this alligator sunbathing. It would be hard to appear more relaxed. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Alligator swimming through water in Florida Everglades. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I photographed this guy as he swam under a wooden bridge the park had built out above the wetlands.

Everglade deer photographed by Curtis Mekemson.

This buck, whose antlers were still in velvet, came by to visit our campsite.

Everglades lake photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The Everglades teem with life. Our binoculars showed that the trees across the lake were filled with birds.

Photo of Wood Stork in Everglades by Curtis Mekemson.

This fellow, with his definitive neck and bill, is a Wood Stork.

Everglades Black Buzzard. Photograph by Curtis Mekemson.

I’ll close this brief visit to the Everglades with two more photos of the Black Buzzards.

Florida Everglades Black Buzzard take a bow. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Taking a bow. The buzzard and I thank you for following this blog. (grin)

NEXT BLOG: Since we’ve been hanging out where it is really wet, let’s dry out and head for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona next to the Mexican Border.

Yosemite… A Photographic Journey through America’s National Parks

Yosemite's Half Dome captured on a hazy day. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Half Dome captured on a hazy day.

One of our goals over the past several years has been to visit all of America’s National Parks. We’ve been to all 50 states in pursuit of this objective. There are a couple in Alaska still on our “to do list.” Since Peggy and I are presently wandering in Mexico, I’ve recruited some of our favorite National Park photos to fill in while we are gone. Enjoy.

 My feet know a lot about Yosemite. For years I led backpack trips that included sections of the National Park as I wandered from Lake Tahoe in the north to Mt. Whitney in the south on journeys ranging from 70-360 miles. The latter I did to celebrate my 60th birthday.  This is the land of John Muir and Ansel Adams: towering granite mountains, sparkling lakes, snow-fed streams, forested slopes and vistas that go on forever.

Forest giant on northern edge of Yosemite National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I captured this forest giant on the Pacific Crest Trail, which along with the John Muir Trail, provided my major routes through Yosemite.

Pacific Crest Trial sign in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Trail signs are always welcome reminders that you are on the right route. This Pacific Crest Trial sign has been up long enough to be buried in the tree.

Pacific Crest trail downed tree displays beautiful grains of wood in its roots. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Downed tree along Pacific Crest Trail displaying beautiful grains of wood.

Falls on Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Falls along the Tuolumne River. Peggy, our daughter Tasha, and I had spent the night before below the falls chasing a mother bear and her two cubs out of our camp.

Tuolumne River flows through Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Fall photo of Tuolumne River flowing though Tuolumne Meadows.

Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Another fall photo of Tuolumne Meadows.

Granite in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Granite rules in Yosemite!

A Yosemite meadow at a lower elevation. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Black and white photo of Yosemite Valley. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A final view looking down into Yosemite Valley. I utilized black and white here to honor the great Yosemite photographer Ansel Adams.

NEXT BLOG: A trip into Death Valley.