Rare California Pitcher Plant Bog Smith River National Recreation Area

I love finding wonderful little gems in the National Park system. There is one of these hidden surprises at mile marker 17.9 along California highway 199 in Smith River National Recreation Area, but it’s extremely easy to miss. The entrance to a gravel parking area is only marked with a small, easy to miss, nondescript brown sign at the side of the road which says “Botanical Trail.”

To the left side of the parking area is the trail head to a path that leads on a short .2 miles flat loop. This gravel covered path takes you to a serpentine bog where rare California Pitcher Plants (Darlingtonia californica) grow. There is a box at the trailhead which has an informational sheet that gives an excellent explanation of the area, and it’s well worth reading.

Darlingtonia trail trailhead

As you hike along the trail, there are a number of informational signs that give information about the plants and animals that live near the Pitcher Plant bog:

Darlingtonia trail

Although the bog isn’t all that big, there are a large number of Pitcher Plants growing in the area:

darlingtonia bog

California dalingtonia

pitcher plants

California pitcher plant

insect eating plants

This is what the informational sheet has to say about the California Pitcher Plants:

Pictures Plants thrive in wetland environments where few other plants can survive. Most plants receive essential nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from the soil and not many can survive in wetlands. Wetlands typically have few nutrients available for plants. Darlingtonias receive their nitrogen and other nutrients from an unusual source — the insects and other small organisms that become trapped within the hood of the plant.

The hood and other appendages secrete a nectar that lures the insect into the hole on the underside of the hood. Light enters the transparent top of the hood and insect flies toward the light. But the hood’s slippery interior walls, with many downward-pointing hairs, impeded an escape and the invading insect falls into the “pitcher’s” water in the stem and drowns. Many minute organisms living in the water slowly consume the insect and, in the process, release essential nutrients that are absorbed by the Darlingtonia.

Do you see any Darlingtonia flowers? They almost appeared to be a separate plant, their reddish lily-like blossoms rising beside and often above the parent plant. The flower turns upright after pollination and you may see some of last year’s crop. Botanists are uncertain as to how exactly the flower is pollinated. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the Pitcher Plant’s source of pollination and food were the same insect? A real predicament!

Partition Arch Devils Garden Arches National Park

After reaching Landscape Arch along the Devils Garden trail at Arches National Park, the trail becomes a lot more difficult. It isn’t anything that a fit hiker can’t do, but those with mobility issues will have trouble as there is some scrambling necessary to get up parts of the trail. Despite the difficulty of the trail from this point, it’s well worth continuing to see some other magnificent arches along the trail. The first side trail you will reach after Landscape Arch will take you to Partition Arch and Navajo Arch.

The side trail to Partition Arch has a small pine tree that has inexplicably decided to grow in the middle of the trail. Those not wanting to see it trampled have placed rocks around it to help protect it:

partition arch trail pine

Not much further on you reach a rock wall to your left that you will follow until you reach Partition Arch:

partition arch trail

At the end of the rock wall you will reach Partition Arch which will make you stop in your tracks and gawk for a bit (it’s actually fun to sit on some rocks and watch the reaction people have when they reach the arch). Partition Arch gives a beautiful window view of the landscape below with a smaller window arch to the right:

partition arch

partition arch arches national park

Partition Arch Devils Garden trail

It’s a perfect place to stop for a short rest and simply bask in the beauty all around. It’s definitely one of the arches to make sure to visit if you decide to hike the entire Devils Garden trail.

South Downs Way at South Downs National Park (England)

Britain’s newest National Park, the South Downs National Park, was granted National Park Status in April 2011 and it wasn’t a minute too soon. So beautiful are the 1627 square kilometres within the park that people who live in the area have been wondering for years why it had not already been accorded the title and protections. The South Downs National Park reaches East to Eastbourne all the way through to Winchester to the West, and takes in the stunning southern counties of East Sussex, West Sussex and Hampshire. Within that area the landscape encompasses the long undulating forests of the Weald over sandstone and clay vales and hills, the world-famous and iconic white cliffs at Beachy Head and the gorgeous chalk ridge of the South Downs and the rolling South Downs Way. Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and packed with hundreds of archaeological sites as well as the endless beautiful villages and market towns and the Cathedral City of Winchester, South Downs National Park is a true highlight of southern England and one of my favourite walks.

south downs national park

The best way to experience the national park is along the South Downs Way. This traverses the length of the National Park, from the coastal town of Eastbourne all the way to stunning Winchester. It will take you into the heart of the very best of England’s green and pleasant countryside and you can travel the trail either on foot, mountain bike or by horse. There are some steep inclines along the way but for people with an average level of fitness there is nothing that should trouble you too much. And the rewards are worth it – on a clear day you can stand and look out over Hampshire and Sussex and further, over the English Channel. Stand at the top of one of the many hills and enjoy the green patchwork of fields, woods, rivers and forests, as well as the beautiful villages dotted around the landscape. Indeed as you walk along the trail you will pass through farms and farmland, woods and forests, gentle streams and flowing rivers, castles and forts, quaint English villages and bustling market towns. Stop en route for a pint (or three) of local ale in one of the hundreds of traditional pubs, or combine your walk with one of the many festivals in Brighton, Winchester, Arundel or Glyndebourne.

No matter when you go, or how you decide to do it, the South Downs Way is one of England’s most enjoyable and picturesque trails. It is the oldest bridleway in the United Kingdom and it is packed with beauty and history at every turn. If you have a choice, the best way to go (and my favourite route) is from Winchester to Eastbourne, meaning you start at the Cathedral and finish the walk amidst the stunning views of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.

Alex is a travel writer and blogger. He regularly writes about traveling and hiking around the UK and Europe. He also writes for a Kefalonia tourist information guide.

(Photo courtesy of Globalism Pictures)

Hiking in the Lake District National Park (England)

England’s Lake District National Park might be the most picturesque hiking destination in the UK. It’s got everything a hiker could hope to find in the great British outdoors- craggy mountain peaks, beautiful lakes stretching off into the distance, ancient stone circles, wild deer roaming the hillsides, ruined castles, and a scattering of excellent traditional pubs.

If you’re familiar with Wordsworth’s poem ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud…’ you’ve already heard about the Lake District. Wordsworth was inspired to write those lines after a walk near Ullswater (one of the bigger lakes) in 1802. Sir Walter Scott also wrote about this part of the world, and so did Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, and many of the great poets of the Romantic Movement.

It was also home to hiking pioneer Alfred Wainwright, a man who penned descriptions of no less than 214 hills and mountains — locally known as ‘fells’. That figure should give you some idea just how hilly the Lake District really is. There are easy day walks suitable for families, week-long expeditions for the more adventurous, and scrambles and full-blown rock climbs for those who like their terrain a little more vertical. Winter or summer, it’s a paradise for hikers.

windermere lake district national park

Scafell Pike is one of the most popular summits. At well over 3000ft it’s the highest in England. On a good day it offers views of peaks up to 100km distant and sometimes it’s even possible to catch a glimpse of the sharp peaks of North Wales or the Mourne Mountains in County Down far away across the Irish Sea.

Those who want to try scrambling should choose Helvellyn, a little further south. It’s not quite as high as Scafell Pike but still tops the 3000ft mark, and there are two classic ridge walks to the summit. Hikers can either go up Striding Edge and down Swirral Edge or vice-versa. The exposure is stunning and the views are spectacular, right beneath your feet. This is one for those with plenty of experience and a good head for heights. In winter conditions crampons and ice-axes are definitely recommended.

In the evenings it’s time to relax by the water’s edge. Sunset from Ambleside, just on the edge of Windermere, is often absolutely incredible:

ambleside at dusk lake district national park

If you happen to be driving along the edge of Ullswater on a still evening you’ll see the mountains reflected with almost unreal clarity:

ullswater in autumn lake district national park

Even if you come just to hike it’s worth taking a day off to hire a bike and wander by the waterside or hop on a boat tour.

Jess Spate is a UK-based hiker and a rock and ice climber. Understandably, the Lake District is one of her favourite places to be. When not out on the fells or clinging to the rocks she writes for Appalachian Outdoors (follow them on twitter @AppOutdoors), an American hiking and camping retailer.

Point Bonita Lighthouse New Bridge Photos Golden Gate National Recreation Area

After a two year wait, people can once again visit the Point Bonita lighthouse located in Golden Gate National Recreation Area via a newly built $1 million dollar, 132-foot-long bridge which spans rocky cliffs to the lighthouse. The old bridge became unsafe and the lighthouse was closed to the public until this new span could be built.

The sparkling white, narrow bridge is a much safer replica of the previous bridge and was built to withstand the high winds that frequent the area. The former bridge had a two-person limit before it became unsafe and was closed while the new bridge tops out at 50 people.

While the new bridge is built to last 50 years, it won’t be for everyone. For those that like their bridges solid and sturdy, this probably isn’t the bridge for you. When I visited the winds were in the mid to high teens and there was a sway and bounce as I crossed. With rocky cliffs below, it might also be a challenge for those with a great fear of heights. The national park volunteer who was monitoring the flow of people across the span said the bridge would remain open to visitors crossing as long as the wind remained under 27 miles per hour.

While the Coast Guard is in charge of operating and maintaining Point Bonita lighthouse, the National Park Service manages the lighthouse for visitors. The lighthouse is currently open to the public three days a week (Saturday, Sunday and Monday) from 12:30 PM to 3:30 PM (there is a tunnel that you must walk through before you reach the bridge and lighthouse — this door is closed promptly at 3:30 so you will miss seeing both completely if you are even a minute late)

Many of those who visit focus on the Golden Gate bridge and miss this incredible gem that is only a few miles away. It is one to definitely add to your list if you happen to be in the area visiting:

point bonita lighthouse bridge new

new point bonita lighthouse bridge

brand new point bonita lightouse bridge

Point Bonita lighthouse new bridge

point bonita lighthouse bridge visitors

Sipapu Bridge Natural Bridges National Monument

When people visit Utah, and the many national parks there, Natural Bridges National Monument often gets overlooked (I have to honestly admit that I have bypassed it a couple of times in the past in order to make my way to more famous national parks in the area). Now that I have gone, I know that I will be back to do what appears to be an absolutely breathtaking canyon hike which I didn’t have time to do this time around.

Natural Bridges National Monument offers a 9 mile loop drive that has overlook pullouts to view the three main bridges in the park. This makes it a destination for those who don’t want to (or can’t) hike, as well as those that love to hike. The first bridge view along the road is of Sipapu Bridge (220 feet high, 268 feet long, 31 feet wide and 53 feet thick) and gives a good indication of the beauty of the entire national monument (wouldn’t you just love to hike the winding canyon along with river under all the natural bridges?)

Sipapu Bridge

Sipapu Natural Bridges national monument

Sipapu natural bridge

Sipapu Bridge Natural Bridges National Monument

The information sign at the bridge view give the following information:

Several names have been given the the bridges over the years. Sipapu has had at least two other names — President and Augusta — but these were later changed. Cliff dwellings and rock art in the area reminded William Douglass, the leader of the 1908 government survey, of the Hopi culture he had studied extensively in Arizona. Charged with finding “appropriate Indian names” for the bridges, he chose Sipapu, meaning “place of emergence.”

Cedar Mesa, a million acre plateau encompassing the monument and surrounding are, is composed of nearly horizontal sedimentary rock layers. During the Permian Period, wind blown sands from the north and west were deposited here as dunes. Later sediments buried these dunes and with time, pressure and moisture, they became”petrified” sand, or sandstone. Today geologists label this layer Cedar Mesa Sandstone.

Buried, then tilted and uplifted, the sandstone was slowly exposed by meandering streams which carried away the overlying sediments. These streams helped carve Sipapu and other bridges.

Canyon Overlook Trail Zion National Park

One of my favorite (relatively) easy hikes (there is some steepness at the beginning and those really scared of heights won’t like the bridge — sections of the trail have rails to keep you from accidentally wandering too close to the steep edges) at Zion National Park is one that too many people miss due to its location. The Canyon Overlook trailhead is at the east end of the tunnel after leaving Zion Valley (there is a small parking lot at the end of the tunnel where you can park). Since it isn’t in Zion Valley where most people instinctively head and spend all their time, they miss this little gem which definitely is worth making the time to do.

The Canyon Overlook hike is only 1 mile round trip and gives a wonderful view of Zion Valley. For those who want to see a grand view of part of Zion Valley, but don’t want to (or can’t) tackle the more rigorous hikes like Observation Point, this will give a spectacular view. The trail winds along Pine Canyon Creek with the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel on the opposite side. The hike ends at a railed observation overlook with lower Zion Canyon below (with the famous Zion road switchbacks) and the Beehives, West Temple, East Temple, Towers of the Virgin and the Streaked Wall across the valley. Here are a few photo so you can judge for yourself:

canyon overlook trail

canyon overlook trail railing

canyon overlook trail bridge

canyon overlook trail cove

canyon overlook trail hike zion

canyon overlook trail hike

canyon overlook trail zion national park

canyon overlook trail zion valley

Landscape Arch Devils Garden Arches National Park

Probably the most famous arch along the Devils Garden trail at Arches National Park is Landscape Arch. Unlike Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch, Landscape Arch is on the main Devils Garden trail and there is no need to take a side trail to see it (although there is a short side trail to get a bit closer to it). It’s the longest natural bridge at Arches national park and also considered to be so in the world.

While it was once possible to hike under Landscape Arch, the park service has closed the trail that once passed under it because there have been three instances since 1991 when large slabs of stone have fallen from the thinnest section of the arch. This section can easily be identified as the color under the arch is much a brighter red than other areas of the arch.

landscape arch

land scape arch

landscape arch devils garden Arches National Park

landscape arch arches national park

Landscape Arch in Arches National Park

This is the goal of most people taking the Devils Garden trail. It’s 1.6 miles round trip from the trailhead to Landscape Arch and the trail is considered easy terrain. There are more (beautiful) arches beyond Landscape Arch that are definitely worth seeing, but the terrain does get significantly more difficult from this point and requires rock scrambling is some sections.

There’s an informational sign on the which says the following about the 1991 Landscape Arch rockfall:

September 1, 1991 — Hikers thought they heard cracks of thunder from distant clouds. Visitors resting under Landscape Arch noticed loud cracking and popping noises overhead. They fled as small rocks tumbled from the slender 306-foot-long span. Moments later, a 60-foot-long slab peeled away from the arch’s right side. When the dust settled, 180 tons of fresh rock debris lay scattered on the ground.

What caused this cataclysmic event? Water had been slowly shaping the arch for countless centuries, dissolving cement between sand grains, seeping into tiny cracks, freezing and expanding. What had finally upset the delicate balance?

Unseasonably heavy rains the preceding ten days may have filled pore spaces within the sandstone. The added weight may have finally overwhelmed the rock slab in its timeless struggle with gravity.

Immediately after the 1991 rockfall even, the National Park Service closed the trail which took visitors up and under the arch. The trail under the arch remains closed today.

It is a dilemma! The longer time passes without a rockfall, the more stable the rock formation may seem. On the other hand the passage of time takes Landscape Arch closer to ultimate collapse. So, in the interest of visitor safety and preservation of the landscape beneath this fabulous arch, the longer trail under the arch remains closed. Please respect this closure by staying on designated trails.

Berry Creek Falls Big Basin Redwoods California State Park

For anyone that visits Big Basin Redwoods state park (California) and has the time, the Berry Creek Falls trail is well worth the time and effort (approx. 10 miles round trip — the park signs estimate it at 6 hours and difficult, but I would say it’s more intermediate for anyone that does a decent amount of hiking and it should take less time. I was able to complete the hike in under 5 hours with a stop for lunch and a lot of photo taking along the way). It’s one of my favorite trails when I head back home to visit my parents, and I have the time to make the hour drive to the park. I recently was able to do the hike, and with all the recent rain in this area, Berry Creek Falls is running with more water than usual making it even more spectacular.

Berry Creek Falls

Big Basin waterfall

Berry Creek Falls top

Pine Tree Arch Devils Garden Arches National Park

Pine Tree Arch is an arch at the end of a side trail off the Devils Garden trail at Arches National Park. This side trail leads to both Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch. Pine Tree Arch is to the left where the side trail splits, and is around a bend so can’t be readily seen. It’s a relatively short and level walk to the arch from the split (the somewhat steep hill comes before the split) so it’s definitely worth going to if you have already made it to Tunnel Arch.

As would be expected, Pine Tree Arch has a pine tree in the middle of the arch as well as in various places around it. It’s a much larger arch than Tunnel Arch and you can walk under and through it unlike at Tunnel Arch:

pine tree arch

pinetree arch Arches National Park

pine tree arch devils garden Arches National Park

pine tree arch back

While it really doesn’t make sense not to visit both arches once you have visited one since they are so close together, I happen to think that Pine Tree Arch is the nicer of the two. Because of its size and location to the trail, it gives an opportunity for a wider variety of photos.