Photo Of The Day: This Must Be The Place

White Sands National Monument
is one of America’s most stunning natural landmarks. With 275 miles of white sand dunes that stretch as far as the eye can see, White Sands is the world’s largest gypsum dune field, extending across the Tularosa Basin by the town of Alamogordo, New Mexico. Like any proper desert, it also contains oases, albeit more modern than those that we imagine in the Sahara. These picnic tables were captured by Flickr user il lele, who added a witty one-liner to emphasize the isolation of the set-up. It’s certainly one place I’d like to go.

Do you have any great natural wonder photography? Upload your shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

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]

Photo of the Day (9.14.10)

Today’s Photo of the Day is a reminder that you don’t have to cross the globe to find adventure; although this shot could be set in the dunes of the Sahara or Namibia, it comes straight out of America’s own White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Flickr user penton42 has a great series of landscape photographs from the National Monument, with plenty of evidence that shows where the park gets its name. I picked this photo in particular because it utilizes light, shadow, and rich color to give the landscape a life of it’s own, making the two explorers seem appropriately small and insignificant.

Do you have some snapshots that show off nature’s expansive beauty? Submit them to our Gadling Flickr Pool and it could be tomorrow’s Photo of the Day!

Top state parks in each state offer options for seeing native wildlife

If you want to find out which are the best state parks from the point of view of the director of each state park system, check out The Best of the Best State Parks at

Darren Smith sent out a request to each director for his or her top choice. Because many directors turned in more than one offering, Smith included all suggestions. As he points out, a park that’s best for birdwatching may not be best for skiing. What’s “best,” therefore, is subjective. In the case of a best of the best list, the more the merrier.

Subjective or not, what makes these state parks standouts, according to Smith, are their natural beauty and natural resources, as well as, in some cases, their cultural and historical significance. They are also perfect for spotting the wildlife that is native to each state.

What intrigued me about Smith’s list of state parks is that there are many that are often overshadowed by the national parks and monuments that happen to be in that state as well. New Mexico is one such state.

I lived in New Mexico for nine years and traveled to every corner more than once. Although I did take in a few state parks, other travel options kept me busy.

I vaguely remember going to Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park and the City of Rocks State Park— two parks on the Best of the Best list, years ago. Part of the reason for my fuzzy recollection is that New Mexico state parks have plenty of competition with national parks and monuments located there.

White Sands National Monument, Bandelier National Monument, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park are just a few of the wow factor locations I’ve been to more than once.

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, however, is where seeing wildlife native to New Mexico (and elsewhere) is a given. Prairie dogs, mule deer, bison and road runners are part of the critters who live in the Chihuahuan Desert where the park is located. The park is also involved with a program to ensure the survival of the Mexican Gray Wolf. These wolves are native to the southern part of the state.

What Smith was getting at when he compiled his list is that, although national parks often get more attention, state parks deserve notice too. Smith’s list is also a reminder that there are hidden gems worth discovering across the United States.

Sure, a national park is a fine destination, but while you’re on your way, add a state park to the itinerary. Because the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is near Carlsbad Caverns, for example, you can easily take in both on the same trip.

When planning a trip, use Smith’s list as a handy starting point. Each park has a link to its website, plus there are descriptions about why a particular park made the list and the wildlife you’ll see if you go there.

The photo of the fox was taken at Wildlife Prairie State Park near Peoria, Illinois. That park not on the Best of the Best list, but perhaps it should be. Wildlife Prairie State Park features 150 animals that are native to Illinois. The fox is one of them.

Top 10 national parks, thanks to TripAdvisor

More than 3,000 TripAdvisor readers in the United States have selected the top 10 national parks. Big shock: nine out of 10 are out west. Only Maine made it onto the list. But, let’s face it – if you want big, impressive national parks, you have leave the East Coast.

These readers are definitely interested in the national park scene. More than 70 percent plan to visit one this year, up from 62 percent in 2008. And, searches on TripAdvisor for “national park” and “national parks” are up 21 percent for the first five months of 2009 (relative to the same period last year).

So, what are the top spots?

  1. Zion National Park, Utah
  2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  3. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
  4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
  5. Redwood National and State Parks, California
  6. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
  7. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  8. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
  9. Yosemite National Park, California
  10. Acadia National Park, Maine

“As Americans look for inexpensive travel ideas this summer, many are seeking out the amazing natural beauty that lies in our country’s own back yard,” said Michele Perry, vice president of global communications for TripAdvisor. “National Parks can offer travelers an active, affordable and often awe-inspiring escape outdoors.”