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Archive for national parks

An Upgrade for White Sands

By Linda Tancs

New Mexico’s sea of glistening white sands known as White Sands National Monument got an upgrade in December, when it was officially designated the nation’s newest national park. Now known as White Sands National Park, it’s the 62nd such park in the country. In the spirit of the season, go sledding. Unlike snow, the sand is not slippery; you can buy a sled in the gift shop.

Wetlands in Spain’s Heartland

By Linda Tancs

Castilla-La Mancha is a region in central Spain particularly known as the setting of the 17th-century novel “Don Quixote.” But it’s also a bird watcher’s paradise, especially amid the wetlands in Tablas de Daimiel National Park on the La Mancha plain. Formed by the overflowing in the confluence of the Guadiana and Cigüela rivers, the wetlands are strategically situated on the migration routes of many bird species, including those that winter in the park. Its water birds are primary ambassadors, including the great crested grebe, little grebe and black-necked grebe, heron and cattle egret. The main access road to the park departs from the N-420 road from Ciudad Real to Puerto Lapice, which leads to the visitor center.

Sweden’s Wild Heart

By Linda Tancs

One of Europe’s oldest national parks, Sarek National Park in the Swedish Lapland is considered the continent’s last true wilderness. That’s probably true. Aside from the fact that there’s no road leading into it, it has an amazing variety of wildlife, including Europe’s largest moose, tons of reindeer, bears, wolverine, lynx and golden eagles. It’s remote, the ancestral land of the Sámi people. It contains six of Sweden’s highest mountains, almost 100 glaciers and dense vegetation in the Rapa Valley, the park’s largest valley. Enjoyable any time of year, it’s nearing on winter season, the longest. That means snow-illuminated tundra and Northern Lights. Hike in, ski in or take a helicopter drop.

Aspiring in New Zealand

By Linda Tancs

Named for Mount Aspiring, one of New Zealand’s highest peaks, Mount Aspiring National Park provides inspiring walks for trekkers eager to view its glaciers, waterfalls, braided rivers and acres of native beech forest. Short walks around one hour include the Devil’s Punchbowl and Wainui Falls, featuring native forests and waterfalls. If you’re interested in a more serious walk, consider treks such as the Gillespie Pass Circuit, the Wilkin Valley, Aspiring Hut, Liverpool Bivy and Cascade Saddle. Of course, the park is also easily accessible by plane, helicopter or jet-boat, and a glacier landing high in the mountains can’t be beat.

The Most Beautiful Place in America

By Linda Tancs

Miles of sand beach, bluffs that tower 450 feet above Lake Michigan, forests, clear inland lakes and unhindered night sky views are just some of the charms of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Reportedly named after a Native American legend of a mother bear who swims from Wisconsin to escape a forest fire, the locale was once voted “the most beautiful place in America” by Good Morning America. It certainly does offer spectacular views, like the ones from the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (named for the lumberman who initiated the road), a 7.4-mile loop with overlooks of the Glen Lakes, the dunes and Lake Michigan. The Lake Michigan Overlook (stop #9 on the drive) is a visitor favorite, where the sunset is particularly outstanding. Pick up an interpretive guide for the scenic drive at the Visitor Center in Empire.

Bodacious Trees in South Carolina

By Linda Tancs

South Carolina is not lacking in bodacious trees, even champions. Literally. A champion tree is the largest of its species according to a standard measuring formula based on trunk circumference, tree height and average crown spread. They’re the star attraction at Congaree National Park, where you’ll find two champions for every three square miles. In fact, the park represents one of the tallest temperate deciduous forests in the world, the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. A great way to experience it is by canoeing or kayaking on the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail. You’ll learn even more if you take one of the limited, reservation-only, ranger-guided canoe tours.

The End of the World Train

By Linda Tancs

There’s a certain finality to Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego National Park, the southernmost tip of the Andean-Patagonian forest, a place where a particular variety of red fox resides and birch forest predominates. It’s there that you’ll find the final part of the Andes. It’s also where you can catch the End of the World Train (Tren del Fin del Mundo), a historic, narrow-gauge steam railway journey between Ushuaia (commonly regarded as the southernmost city in the world) and the park. The hour-long journey (one way) presents stunning vistas accented by the Pipo River, Macarena cascade, a tree cemetery and the forest. An onboard audio tour is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese, and the train runs year-round.

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