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Archive for the ‘National Park Photography’ Category

Arizona is dry. After parched Nevada, the second driest state. But it has a great river.

That river begins with freshets in the Colorado Rockies, is infused by New Mexico rivers, carves  great canyons in Utah, reluctantly accepts Glen Canyon Dam, then revived,  goes about its  great geological task, uncovering the incandescent  sandstone glories of the Grand Canyon.

Then there is the Santa Cruz. A puny sort of non-river in southeastern Arizona looking mostly like a road in the sand.

It wasn’t always so. Spanish missionaries, Mexican settlers, the Mormon Battalion, Anglo developers—they found a river flowing, small but life giving with cottonwoods,  riparian pools, grassy wilds, from its headwaters near Patagonia, dipping into Mexico, flowing free, meeting the Gila River as it  rolled on to join the Colorado at Yuma. The river flowed through early Tucson, watered the lands at Mission San Xavier, provided for irrigation.

The Colorado still glistens below the Grand Canyon. The Gila River still has some wild upstream stretches. But the little Santa Cruz is nearing extinction. Ground water pumping continues, the water table drops, the drought plagued watershed is filled with mines and houses and cattle. To use a watery analogy, the glass by now is far less than half full. But for optimists there’s a hopeful exception—a cottonwood shaded flowing stretch below Nogales that is replenished with clean effluent  from an international  waste treatment plant—technology for once in service of the environment.

The exceptions always give one hope. Here is a mesquite-cottonwood riparian refuge, an exceptional birding environment offering walks, photography and a semblance of the old Santa Cruz. One easy access point to all this is at Tumacacori National Historic Park.

Recently southern Arizona got its first rains since mid-December. After the rain, a good inch and a half, the Santa Cruz River bed at Green Valley was braided with silver meandering streams, under the eye of the rain drenched, snow touched sky Island peaks of the Santa Rita Mountains. For a moment, this river was flowing.The photography offered a few fleeting chances.  Maybe even an environmental pessimist can find hope.

The following photographs move back and forth between cottonwoods and placid river in the upper, semi-restored,  stretch at Tumacacori, and the evanescent apperance after early March rains of  a shinning but rushing and muddy stream near the Continental Road Bridge in Green Valley, taken mostly in black and white.   SRE

 

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Arizona has the most national parks and monuments of any state in the Union. This is one of the most delightful attractions of our other “home state”. At 21 total, Arizona beats out the second place California (eighteen) by three.

Of course California has ten National Parks to Arizona’s three, but those three are doozies: the Grand Canyon, Saguaro, and Petrified Forest. Among the National Park Service (NPS) managed National Monuments are: a Heritage Area (Yuma); a Historic Park (Tumacacori); two National Recreation Areas (Lake Mead and Glen Canyon); two National Historic Trails (the Old Spanish and the Juan Batista de Anza); a National Memorial (Coronado); two National Monuments which are also National Historic Sites (Hubbell Trading Post and Ft. Bowie); and one on the Gila River Indian Reservation (Hohokum Pima) which isn’t even open to the public. There are National Monuments which protect ancient cultural ruins, unique vegetation and habitat and a volcanic cinder cone. There’s one jointly managed by NPS and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Parashant Grand Canyon.

SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK WEST © SR Euston

There are also four BLM-managed Monuments created by Bill Clinton’s Presidential Proclamations in 2000 and 2001. With the addition of these units, virtually all of desert Arizona south of I-8 is protected in some way be it military, reservation, national wildlife refuge, NPS or BLM.

While this is good, as a visitor looks around many of these desert preserves, it appears there is little money and/or people power to protect them. Two threats are tantamount: illegal off-road vehicle use and illegal immigration and drug smuggling. For example, large segments of dirt road access in the northern section of Sonoran Desert National Monument have been closed due to damage caused by off-road vehicles leaving even these off-road routes where tracks or dust got too deep.

And although illegal immigration numbers have dropped in recent years, the realities of borderland living (which also must now embrace widespread drug smuggling) remain. Some of the worst effects are in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which abuts the US/Mexico border. Not only are many of the backroads now closed for safety reasons, Quitobaquito, an oasis of fresh water in the desert which we were lucky enough to visit in the 1980s, is no longer open because of water quality and trashing problems. The border fence has created its own problems in washes and arroyos. Sadly, visitation and back country permits at Organ Pipe have dropped since the 1990s.

SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK EAST © SR Euston

Still, for all its problems, I love this borderland place. And all its public lands inviting us to visit.

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On November 19, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln took the stage following a two hour keynote address at a dedication ceremony for the National Cemetery adjacent to the site of the Battle of Gettysburg. Fought over three days from July 1 – July 3, 1863, Gettysburg was considered the turning point for Union forces in the Civil War. Between 46.000 and 51,000 soldiers—blue and gray—lost their lives.

This is the only confirmed photo of the Gettysburg Address. It is called the "Bachrach" photo and is in the collection of the Library of Congress

This is the only confirmed photo of the Gettysburg Address. It is called the “Bachrach” photo and is in the collection of the Library of Congress

I greet with consternation and more than just a little horror what passes for “news” articles and commentaries flying around the blogosphere today about who came to the 150th anniversary commemoration, and more importantly, who didn’t.

On this anniversary of such a historic event, for one day could we could just pause together to celebrate Lincoln and his vision and to look forward, with hope, toward a brighter tomorrow?

(There are five versions of the Address; each one has minor differences. Below is a copy of the original Bancroft version, and a transcription, which is housed at Cornell University.)

Handwritten Bancroft Manuscript of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address from Cornell University

Handwritten Bancroft Manuscript of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address from Cornell University

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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Parc national Wood Buffalo

Wood Buffalo Park
Photo Courtesy of Parc National

In the Northeast corner of Alberta, in the great circumpolar boreal forest of muskeg, lakes, spruce and willow, sprawls Wood Buffalo National Park, 17,300 square miles of it, five Yellowstones in area, the 13th largest protected area on earth, a World Heritage Site.

The Park is the breeding ground of the last several hundred whooping cranes, home to the largest remaining free roaming herds of the threatened Wood Bison (a sub-species, larger than the plains bison), and caribou, moose, brown bear, wolf, lynx, beaver—all the boreal animals. The park includes the immense, ecologically rich inland delta of the  Athabascan and Peace Rivers.

Wood Buffalo Park Lake

Wood Buffalo Park Lake
Photo courtesy of Parc National

Wood Buffalo is the call of the wild country. Here is the deep silence, the wide sky, the northern lights, the fiery, silvery night sky. Around nighttime campfires—maybe the call of an owl, the howl of a wolf, the haunting loon laugher, then all’s quiet. Starlight shines. Sleep comes easily.

Tar Sands Map

Tar Sands Map

Only a few miles south of Wood Buffalo begins a realm of utter contrast. This is the domain of the Athabascan Oil Sands, aka Tar Sands Central, one of the great developing industrial regions of Canada, in total about the size of Florida. The Oil Sands Developer Group assures us that the maximum surface area of oil sands mining will obliterate an area equal to only one ninth the area of Wood Buffalo National Park. That equals a mere 900 square miles.

From the air, the gouges on the land suggest a devastated battlefield. The earth’s skin has been violated, beyond repair.  Industry and the Province of Alberta promise ecological restoration of the used up landscape. The very iidea is preposterous. It is difficult enough to restore a few acres of coastal wetland, much less thousands of acres of virgin forest, lake and muskeg in the far north.

And the great Athabascan River drainage and delta is threatened, no matter the assurances of industry and the province.

Importantly, Canada’s First Nations, most obviously impacted by all this industrialization, are alert and organized to publicize these dangers. (see www.raventrust.com).P1010811

Tar sands mining is energy intensive. From tar to oil, from oil to pipeline, from pipeline to refinery—tar sands oil is extravagant in its bequeathing of carbon dioxide. The immense tar sands reserves, if mined, processed and used, will effectively spell the end of the fragile hope of averting the worst of climate change impacts over the next 50 years.

In this sense, the ecological damage of mining pales in significance to its impact on global warming.

Protests against the pipeline have crystalized into history’s largest, best coordinated,  most crucial and broadly based environmental campaign ever, led largely by new groups like www.350.org.  64433_610876308940769_581445259_n

As fate would have it, the key to full exploitation of the tar sands depends on its transportation via pipeline to refineries and ports on the Gulf Coast. The last step, approval for trans-border pipeline construction, is in the hands of President Obama. He is the decider, as a former president might say. The buck stops at his doorstep, as another president once said.

This single act of approving or disapproving this pipeline is arguably the most historically significant decision Obama will face in his eight year presidency.

Denying the pipeline will immediately call into question the economic viability of full scale tar sands exploitation. The worldwide grassroots  movement toward sustainable energy will gain a new foothold.(Cheap oil is not consistent with green energy!)  A presidential decision to deny the pipeline—despite immense pressure from Canada, industry and the Republican Party might—will show the U.S. at last to be a full partner in international efforts to avert climate disaster.

The administration’s record—the “all of the above” energy policy, the approval of drilling on public lands and waters, the letdown at Copenhagen—is not encouraging.

Yet…we can hope.   SRE

Tar Sands Development

Tar Sands Development

PS   Read Naomi Klein’s eye opening story on systems analysis, climate change and  chances for averting catastrophic  ecological and economic  “melt-down”.   http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/10/29-4

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Of course desert wildflowers aren’t the only showy displays in the Mojave. There are the Joshua trees themselves.

Generally described in terms like bizarre, twisted, strange and gangly (the plant specialist in the park brochure even uses the term “grotesque”), we find vast Joshua tree forests along the loop trip through the park’s northern portion anything but. Different or unique for sure, but hardly worthy of John Fremont’s description, “the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom.”

Maybe the problem is that Joshua trees aren’t, in fact, trees at all. They’re members of the Lily family—a monocot and subspecies of flowering plants that include grasses and orchids, as well as Fan Palms which we discovered years ago at the end of the park’s Lost Oasis Trail.

Below is a slide show of Joshua trees and their environs so you can judge for yourself. We even unearthed a photo of Fan Palms taken in the early 90s. I guess if you’re looking for a sugar maple or a doug fir you might be disappointed. But if you’re looking for another desert denizen (like that other desert “tree” the Saguaro) then, like us, you may find these fibrous giants rare, fascinating, maybe even closer to something from a fairy tale than a horror story.

AMONG THE JOSHUA TREES

All Photos © SR Euston

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Entering off Interstate 10 last April, we took a brief byway tour of Joshua Tree National Park in hopes of seeing desert wildflowers. About 12 miles down a standard desert side road— narrow, winding and in some places almost washed-away—we got to Cottonwood Spring and its campground. Along the way and at the campground we saw wildflowers in abundance.

While not the sensational banks of color that California poppies or lupine present on grassy hillsides, desert wildflowers can be quite spectacular against the dun background of dirt, sand and rock. In the desert washes and canyon hillsides, flower colors from white to yellow to pink to red to blue stand out like banners announcing the arrival of spring. This year at the Park, the Joshua Trees themselves were especially prolific. Unlike most years when only a small percentage bloom, virtually all the trees were covered with blossoms in mid-April.

Joshua Tree Blooms

Joshua Tree Blooms

Scientists have a variety of theories as to the why—some think it’s because of “just right” weather conditions, others that it signals a desperate sign of drought and climate change. And the headlines bear these theories out. “Prolific Joshua Tree Bloom Could Signal Warming Climate” (KPBS, April 17, 2013) to  “Blooming Joshua Trees Wow Watchers, Surprise Scientists” (the California Report, April 19, 2013).

From the Huffington Post:

“Something mysterious is happening in the Mojave Desert’s Joshua Tree National Park. The reason may be grim but the effect is beautiful.

“It’s more than interesting, it’s probably unprecedented in anybody’s recent memory anyway,” Cameron Barrows, a research ecologist at the University of California, Riverside, told ABC…He’s talking about blooms on the Joshua trees that are larger than locals say they’ve ever seen.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/12/joshua-trees-bloom-video_n_3070822.html)

The theory is that with the past two years of significant drought (in the Mojave annual average rainfall ranges from two to five inches, with last year posting only 0.7 inches) Joshua Trees have gone into survival mode, prolifically producing seeds to insure long-term survival.

Will it work? Or will the icon of the Mojave disappear? With reports of little to no reproduction in the last 30 years for some areas in its range it’s hard to be optimistic.

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One of the most exciting denizens of the Sonoran Desert is the Saguaro—spiny, grey green sentinels towering above the palo verde, mesquite and cholla desert. Last week we took a stroll up the Bajada Wash Trail in Saguaro National Park’s Tucson Mountain West District, just north of the Red Hills Visitor Center.

Picturesque, statuesque, these saguaro are among the “old ones” of the desert forest. Up to 150 years old and weighing in at 16,000 pounds or more (that’s 8 tons!), they rise 50 feet above the dirt and broken rock. Here’s a slide show of some of the grandest:

IN A DESERT WASH

© SR Euston

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