Great Smokies: Just what is a Wildflower Pilgrimage?

Birding with nerds at Great Smoky National Park

The timing was just right for our week in the Great Smoky Mountains. It was the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, a Smokies tradition almost 70 years in the making. We assumed it would be mostly amateur outdoor enthusiasts giving ranger talks similar to what we have seen in other national parks, just focused on flowers.

Trilliums, the most popular of all the wildflowers in the park.

We vastly underestimated this Great Smoky Wildflower Extravaganza. The line to register was absurdly long, and people were nervous wrecks fretting over programs that filled up too fast (the Night Owl Prowl walk is the crowd favorite) and eager to snatch up the last few programs spots. I too, panicked and grabbed slots like a women possessed, if nothing else so as to keep pace with my fellow pilgrims.

Crested dwarf irises on the trail

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Big Bend: Big Walls?

Magical sunsets at the top of the Chiso Basin

Big Bend is massive. While not as large as Death Valley in acres, something about the variety of terrain (they claim it’s three parks in one), the 100+ miles of Rio Grande it borders, and the fact that the park contains one whole mountain range within it all make it a grand statement on nature and the beauties of West Texas.

View of the Rio Grande, and Mexico on the other side.

But one human-scale question looms all of the nature that is on display here. Big Bend, on the South border of Texas, is a national park that shares a 110-mile border along the Rio Grande River with Mexico. The political overtones of this border are hard to avoid. There are signs everywhere noting that it is illegal to cross the Rio Grande anywhere except the official border crossings.  In my mind, the Rio Grande was, well, Grand with a capital G, but in reality, much of the river here in the park is shallow and not more than 20-30 feet wide. Thus college boys on Spring Break seemed to take great pride violating the stated law by wading across the narrow strait to do a little dance on the Mexican shore. Continue reading “Big Bend: Big Walls?”

The Best First Hiking Trip for Canyon Newbies – Part I

As Teddy Roosevelt, one of the great champions of the National Parks said of the Grand Canyon – “This is the one great sight which every American should see.” And people all over the world, not just Americans, seem to have taken this to heart – in 2016 the Grand Canyon had over 6 million visitors. But did you know that 90% of people visiting the Grand Canyon only spend a half day there? And only 5% ever leave the rim to walk any distance into the canyon? An even smaller 1% make their way down to camp at the bottom.*

Plateau Point, in the middle of our Bright Angel ascent

Continue reading “The Best First Hiking Trip for Canyon Newbies – Part I”