Tag: Natural Wonders

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

We’ve spent 48 hours in the almost prehistoric wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park, camping for two nights at the Jumbo Rocks campsite.

The mesmerising Joshua trees are not really trees, but a species of yucca. They can grow up to 40 feet tall at the rate of an inch a year and live for hundreds of years. They seemed very characterful, each with a unique outline. We were too late for the blooming of their magnificent cream-coloured flowers, however, we had other flowers to enjoy…

Plant-wise we walked amongst Mojave yucca, pinyon pines, scrub oaks, creosotes, and jojoba. We glimpsed desert spiny lizards, jackrabbits, cactus wrens and American kestrels.

Our time here was a real highlight of our tour through the national parks of SE California.

In the cool of sunrise, we walked around the Cholla Cactus Garden
A woman saw us watching the sun set at Keys View, and offered to take our picture
Into Death Valley

Into Death Valley

At Stovepipe Wells we were told it was a cool day in Death Valley – by cool, only 106 degrees fahrenheit.

Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in the United States. A temperature of 134 degrees fahrenheit, the highest ever recorded in the world, occurred here, and annual rainfall is only two inches.

It’s the uncompromising severity of the desert, and the almost surreal landscapes that brings tourists here. Sand dunes, white salt flats, contoured rock badlands, and copper canyon walls.

Driving down into Death Valley towards Furnace Creek
Late afternoon – 106 degrees fahrenheit, our highest temperature
This is Badlands Basin, at 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America and encrusted with salt

Anthropologists estimate that roaming humans first settled in the valley roughly 10,000 years ago. But it was a group of gold rush pioneers, who barely survived the trek across the area, who named the spot Death Valley.

On the way we camped at Red Rock State Park. It was marvellously desolate, there were only two others in the remote campsite
Along Big Sur

Along Big Sur

Previously one of the most isolated stretches of coast in America, this mythical area was opened up to tourists in 1937 with the completion of Highway 1.

We drove from Carmel down to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Highlight was a beach walk at Garrapata State Park, often rated as the best beach in the area.

If you plan to do this Check before you head off for any closures on Highway 1. Right now bridge rebuilding in the north and a massive mud-slide in the south have closed much of the Big Sur area to traffic. And these problems are predicted to get worse with climate change bringing wetter winters.

Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake, Oregon

This was our third crater lake of the gap year (the other two were in Ecuador) and by far the best. And how lucky we were to see Oregon’s jewel on such a clear day with snow reflected in the deep blue water.

Formed around 7,700 years ago by the collapse of volcano Mount Manama, it was an amazing sight calling out for the panoramic feature on our ipad. With a depth of 594m, the six miles across lake is the deepest in the United States – in the world, it ranks ninth.

Unmissable; Hilary puts it into her top-ten experiences of the gap year so far.


Lake Louise

Lake Louise

Named after Queen Victoria’s daughter, Lake Louise is a stunning sight within Banff National Park. Mount Victoria (3,469m) with its glacier, provides the backdrop at the lake’s end.

It would be a wonderful place to go hiking in the summer, but right now the lake is frozen and most of the trails closed.

But we were able to walk 3km round the edge. 95% of the visitors don’t get beyond the first half km, so the rest of the route was one of total silence (as only thick snow can provide) and, with the sun now out, superb views.

We trekked as far as a waterfall – frozen in its journey down the rock cliff; some brave souls actually do ice climbing up this. Beyond here there is a danger of avalanches so we turned back.


Into the Rockies

Into the Rockies

We drove west on Highway 1, but didn’t get very far.

By the time we reached charming Canmore it was snowing hard. With low mist and hardly any mountains in view, there was little point heading further up the valley to Jasper.

Until the views get clearer, we’ll settle down for some well earned rest-time and do a few “winter” wonderland treks.

It’s the third time on this gap year we’ve walked on snow (the others were Mounts Etna and Cotopaxi) and what a contrast to the hot (38+ degrees) beaches of Costa Rica or the cities of Texas. As our travels approach six months, we are appreciating the importance of diverse and ever-changing experiences.

The Main Street in Canmore. Full of touristy shops and cafés; hard to believe this was one of Canada’s largest mining centres
Elks along the banks of the River Bow just outside Canmore
Old man river history

Old man river history

It’s been Hilary’s wish to see the mighty River Mississippi since the age of five. And now she gets to drive from New Orleans to Memphis.

Our first stop was St Francisville. The monument commemorates the 1810 rebellion that created the independent nation state of West Florida. 74 days later it was incorporated into the United States.

Roger stands where a ferry used to cross – until a new bridge opened in 2011.

Natchez gave us the best views of the River; the bluff was beautifully preserved by the local community with history and nature trails. Here the old port was known as “Natchez Improper” due to all the prostitution and gambling down there.

More history at Vicksburg and the 1863 epic story of the Civil War siege. After 47 days General Grant took the city, opened up the River to Union traffic and changed the momentum of the war.

If you plan to do this Simply take as long as you can. We took Highway 61 most of the way – it’s a very authentic drive compared to an Interstate – but the slower option is to navigate up the Great River Road scenic drive

Gardeners’ world

Gardeners’ world

Costa Rica would be a fun place to establish a new garden. Imagine having the pick of so many colourful flowers.

We love flowers, but find it hard to name any apart from the obvious. So can anyone name some or all of the ones we have photographed below? Your expertise would be appreciated – please use the feedback form at the bottom of the actual post.


Strangler trees in the forest

Strangler trees in the forest

It’s a battle for survival. Bird v bird. Insect v insect. And tree v tree. Hiking in primary cloud forest, we spotted this great example of a strangler tree.

Most commonly figs, banyans or vines, strangler trees share a common enveloping growth patten.

After germinating in the crevices of a host tree, they grow downward roots and upward branches to reach above the forest canopy into the life-giving sunlight.

The original support tree often dies, leaving the strangler tree to continue growing with a hollow central core. Sometimes the strangler merges with the original tree to create a sort of conjoined hybrid.

Whilst we are writing about trees….. we saw this “walking tree” in the Amazon Basin. If crowded out by another tree, it can move several metres each year by growing new roots and retracting/killing old ones; enabling it to move towards light
Heading to the hills

Heading to the hills

At Palmer Norte we debated our next bus journey. Back up the coast for more of the same or inland to visit the cloud forests. We decided after a week of pristine beaches and temperatures in the high 30’s we needed cool air and exercise.

From the tiny village of San Gerardo de Rivas the road leads up the valley to both the Chirripo National Park and the privately owned Cloudbridge reserve.

This is Cloud Forest landscape – where the humidity comes from the clouds drifting through the tree-tops rather than any rain. There were trails to walk, cold streams to swim in and beautiful forest-clad hills to photograph.

Roger on the trail up through the Chirripo National Park
Hilary cooling off at the private Cloudbridge reserve. 50,000 trees have been replanted here since it was established by Ian and Genevieve Giddy. They visited the area in 2002, spotted the de-forestation and decided to buy the land.