Photo of the day: Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park, near the Texas/Mexico border, is a lot of things. It is beautiful, but it is harsh. It is expansive, but populated by sharp nooks and crannies. It is dusty, but the Rio Grande flows through it. It is a backpacker’s dream and simultaneous nightmare. And that is why I love this photo by Keith Pennington.

As his backpacking companion sits on a jagged cliff’s edge, undoubtedly contemplating the edgy beyond, many of these elements are caught in this still. The gorgeous landscape is captured, but the tumultuous path is also illustrated. The obligatory bright, hazy Texas sky illuminates a terrain that is, I am sure, just a little bit more daunting through the night. Kudos to the backpackers who brave Big Bend. I hope to one day join their ranks.

Ten Can’t Miss Hikes Courtesy of the National Parks Foundation and Merrell

Just in time for National Trails Day, the National Parks Foundation and outdoor gear company Merrell, have announced their ten “can’t miss” hikes for the summer ahead. As you can imagine, each of these trails can be found inside a national park, and each makes for a fantastic experience guaranteed to wow outdoor enthusiasts and casual trekkers alike.

The ten trails are located in a variety of places across the country, which means that there is likely to be one of these routes located in your region, no matter where you live in the U.S. They also cross through a wide variety of environments, including mountains, deserts, caves, and more. The shortest of the routes is a mere 650 yards in length, while the longest stretches for five miles through scenic California backcountry, ensuring there is something for everyone on the list.

The ten can’t miss hikes, according to the NPF and Merrell, are as follows:

1. Painted Desert Rim Trail (1 Mile)
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

2. Wapama Falls (5 Miles)
Yosemite National Park, California

3. Rim Rock Nature Trail (1 Mile)
Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado

4. Turtle Mound Trail (.3 Miles)
Canaveral National Seashore, Florida

5. General Bragg Trail (5 Miles)
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Georgia
6. Interdune Boardwalk (650 Yards)
White Sands National Park, New Mexico

7. Canyons Trail (3.5 Miles)
Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota

8. Dog Canyon Trail (4 Miles)
Big Bend National Park, Texas

9. Andrews Bald Trail (3.5 Miles)
Great Smokey Mountains, Tennessee

10. Ocean Path Trail (4 Miles)
Acadia National Park, Maine

There you have it! Ten great trails in ten great national parks locations. Any one of these hikes are a fantastic way to spend National Trails Day, or any other day this summer for that matter. So lace up your hiking boots and get a move on!

What is your favorite trail?

[Photo Credit: chensiyuan via WikiMedia]

National parks announce fee free days for 2011

Over the past few years, it has become a tradition for the National Park Service to waive entry fees into the national parks several times a year. Those fee free days have become extremely popular with frugal travelers, who take advantage of the lack of an entry fee to enjoy some of the best natural wonders that America has to offer.

Earlier this month the Park Service announced their fee free days for 2011, giving us all a number of great opportunities to enjoy “America’s Best Idea” on the cheap. Several of those days, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday weekend, have already slipped by, but here are the remaining fee free days for the year.

• April 16-24 (National Park Week)

• June 21 (First day of summer)

• September 24 (Public Lands Day)

• November 11-13 (Veterans Day weekend)

In all, there are 14 days remaining in 2011 during which you can gain entry into more than 100 national parks for free. To see a complete list of which parks will be waiving their entry fee on those days click here.

Knowing the available dates well in advance allows us to plan ahead and select which parks we would most like to visit during the fee free days. For example, in April many of the parks are still on the cool side, but it is an excellent time to visit Big Bend in Texas, before it becomes too hot. The first day of summer seems the perfect excuse to drop into Denali, located in Alaska, while September is great for visiting Yellowstone. As for November, how about stopping by the Everglades for one last tropical escape before the winter snows start to fly across much of the country.

Whether they’re free or not, the national parks are fantastic destinations all year round. But it never hurts to get something for free!

National parks are free again next weekend!

Next weekend, August 14-15, is the third, and final, fee free weekend in America’s national parks for 2010. For those two days, more than 100 of the parks will open their gates to the public at no cost, giving visitors a chance to experience “America’s best idea” for themselves.

The complete list of parks that will be waiving their entry fees can be found by clicking here. That list includes such spectacular icons as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Acadia, as well as lesser known, but no less amazing, parks like Big Bend, the Dry Tortugas, and Crater Lake. All told, more than 40 states are represented on the list, which means there is a national park or monument that will be free to visit next weekend near just about everyone in the U.S.

The fee free weekends have been very popular that past few years, and crowds in the parks will no doubt be high. But if you can’t make it out to your favorite national park on the 14th or 15th, never fear, as there are still two more fee free days to come in 2010. On Saturday, Sept. 25th, the parks will be free in celebration of Public Lands Day and then once again on Thursday, Nov. 11th, in honor of Veteran’s Day.

With summer quickly coming to a close, take advantage of this last fee free weekend of the year for some outdoor fun and adventure.

[Photo credit: National Park Service]

U.S. – Mexico to create peace park along border?

The U.S. and Mexico have announced plans to move ahead with the creation of a peace park along their shared border. Presidents Obama and Calderon met last month to sign an agreement that would protect the wild and untamed wilderness along both sides of the border near Big Bend National Park in West Texas, although concerns about security along that border do remain.

Big Bend has been a bit of a hidden gem in the U.S. national park system almost since it was established back in 1944. Located in a remote region of Texas, it attracts an average of just 300,000 visitors per year. That makes for a rather uncrowded experience considering its size, which is in excess of 1250 square miles. The park has miles of hiking and backpacking trail, and falls along the Rio Grande River, which offers up excellent rafting at certain times of the year. The park is an interesting combination of both harsh deserts and rugged mountains, and is home to a wide variety of wildlife including mountain lions, black bears, coyotes, golden eagles, and more.

Reportedly the wilderness on the Mexican side of the border is even more untamed and seldom visited by travelers, with herds of Big Horn sheep and even more bears roaming the area. That region is currently mostly unprotected however and the creation of the international peace park would change that, making both sides of the border an ecological refuge.

There are challenges to overcome to make the park a reality however. Opponents to the idea say that it will create security issues and could allow illegal immigrants and drug traffickers better access to the border. Supports of the plan point to the the Glacier-Waterton park which falls along the U.S.-Canadian border, as a model of success for this type of park. Of course, there aren’t a lot of Canadians trying to sneak into the States either.

For now, the plan is just a very basic idea, and the details on how the park will be organized and operated, remain to be worked out. But if, and when, it is completed, the park will be a new and amazing destination for adventure travelers looking to visit one of the lesser known and untrammeled regions in all of North America.

[Photo credit: Eleutherosmartin via WikiCommons]