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Archive for national parks

Painting the Sky

By Linda Tancs

Legend has it that the gods dipped their paint brushes into Costa Rica’s Rio Celeste (Blue River) while painting the sky. The river gets its amazing blue hue from sulfur emitted from volcanic activity courtesy of Tenorio Volcano, which lends its name to Tenorio Volcano National Park. Located in northern Costa Rica, it’s one of the country’s youngest national parks, prized not only for the volcano but also for Rio Celeste waterfall. You’ll find an abundance of natural hot springs, along with mud pots and a beautiful cloud forest at the summit of the volcano. A trek through the entire park will take four or five hours.

An African Amphitheatre

By Linda Tancs

A hikers’ paradise, Royal Natal National Park in South Africa is best known for its Amphitheatre. Park of the Drakensberg escarpment, it’s a massive cliff face that spans 3 miles and reaches nearly 1,700 feet. One of the world’s tallest waterfalls cascades from the clifftops, feeding the Tugela River below as it heads east to the Indian Ocean. You’ll find an abundance of trails to explore on foot and on horseback with a comprehensive guidebook available for visitors, so take your time. Accommodations include a lodge, cottages and chalets.

Where Prairies Meet Peaks

By Linda Tancs

There’s no such thing as a bad time to visit Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada. It just depends on your taste. This time of year the wildlife viewing is best, especially for black bear, elk, bighorn sheep and deer roaming around larch and aspen groves sporting brilliant shades of yellow and gold. If springtime color is your pleasure, then you’ll love the wildflowers exploding in the prairies, including Waterton’s signature beargrass. Summer brings the thickest crowds and recreational experiences, whereas winter promises more solitude framed by snowy backdrops of the Rocky Mountains. The park borders Montana’s Glacier National Park.

A Place of Spirits

By Linda Tancs

Fewer than 1,000 people visit Canada’s Torngat Mountains National Park each year. It’s the nation’s newest national park, but its freshman status isn’t the reason for the low numbers. Located on northern Labrador’s Atlantic coast between Northern Québec and the Labrador Sea, it’s quite remote. In fact, the park is accessible only by boat, charter plane or helicopter during the summer. This is the land of the Inuit, named for the Inuktitut “Tongait,” or “place of the spirits.” Most visitors stay within the bear-fence-enclosed Torngat Mountains Base Camp and Research Station located outside the park on Saglek Fjord, where Inuit guides lead excursions. Take advantage of that opportunity because there are are no roads, trails or signs in the park. There are, however, unmarked hiking routes and traditional Inuit travel routes. You’ll likely see polar bears, whales and caribou in their pristine natural environment, an untamed wilderness framed by towering peaks and glistening fjords.

To the Heights in Korea

By Linda Tancs

Near Chungju-si (where a martial arts festival takes place each year), Woraksan National Park in South Korea is a hiker’s paradise. The highest peak (at 3,600 feet) is Yeongbong, a steep ascent aided by stairs with railings bolted to boulders. Ma-aebong Peak is just below at 3,150 feet. It’s called a false summit because it’s commonly mistaken as the ultimate peak, but there’s nothing fake about its glorious vistas. While you’re in the park, keep an eye out for the nodding lily, an indigenous species with leaves like pine tree leaves.

The Gorge of Samaria

By Linda Tancs

Open for hiking from May to October, Crete’s Samaria Gorge is the focal point of Samaria National Park in Greece. Although strenuous and rugged, the 10-mile hike offers rewarding mountain views and 16 endemic species, most notably the feral goats (kri-kri, the park’s official icon). You’ll find plenty of like-minded adventurers on a bus from Hania to a region called Xyloskalo, where the trail begins.

The Dunes of Dorob

By Linda Tancs

Sea and sand meet at Sandwich Harbour along the Atlantic coast of Namibia. One of the area’s key attractions are the sand dunes backing the coastline, rising in many cases to over 300 feet. Historically a commercial fishing and trading port, legend has it that the name derives from an English whaler, the Sandwich, that operated in the area in the 1780s. The scenic locale is now part of Dorob National Park, a conservation area running from Walvis Bay to the Ugab River.

Eye of the Sea

By Linda Tancs

The Tatra Mountains form a natural border between Poland and Slovakia and are the focal point for Tatra National Park, so-named on both sides of the border. One of the most indelible images on the Polish side is Morskie Oko, which means “eye of the sea.” Legend has it that the name harks back to an ancient belief that the lake’s bottom has a hole connecting it to the sea. It may lack a hole, but it doesn’t lack a superb reflection of the surrounding Tatras. You’ll find the lake in the middle of the park in southern Poland near the resort town of Zakopane.

Kalahari Sands

By Linda Tancs

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a national park formed from the merger of South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park. It’s a vast wilderness area stretching for over 14,000 square miles in the Kalahari, boasting five sands ranging in color from red in the dunes to yellow-brown in the riverbeds along with fossil river valleys and grasslands. Wildlife is abundant, including over 170 species of birds, several species of antelope, the famous black-maned Kalahari lion, jackal, brown hyena and wild cats. The park is also completely unfenced, allowing for wildlife to move freely along the ancient migration routes so necessary for their survival in the desert. The main entry and departure point between South Africa and Botswana is at the Two Rivers/Twee Rivieren gate, which also has camping facilities, chalets, shops and a restaurant.

Crystal Clear in Malawi

By Linda Tancs

The crystal-clear waters of Lake Malawi are legendary. One of the deepest lakes in the world, its southern expanse is dominated by Lake Malawi National Park, the first freshwater national park to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Scientifically, it’s important for its fish diversity, with 1,000 species half occurring within the property and estimated as the largest number of fish species of any lake in the world. It also boasts more than 350 species of mbuna (rockfish) endemic to the region, a population considered of equal value to science as the finches of the Galapagos Islands or the honeycreepers of Hawaii. Boats are available for hire, and the fish will feed from the hand.

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