The sun peeks out behind wispy clouds on a winter day at City of Rocks National Reserve in Idaho. With a warm coat and the promise of blue sky, you can enjoy an educational exploration of this fascinating park. Because of its complicated geologic history, City of Rocks is a perfect place to learn about the incredible forces that raised mountains, dropped valleys and stretched the Earth’s crust. Photo by Stephen King, National Park Service.
Frosty and noble, sled dogs are incredible athletes. Each March the Iditarod Sled Dog Race runs through a harsh and beautiful landscape to Nome, Alaska. The race uses the Iditarod National Historic Trail, a 2,300-mile system of winter routes that first connected ancient Native Alaskan villages. The trail cuts through tundra, spruce forest and across rivers serving up some truly tough conditions. Thinking of trying it out? The Bureau of Land Management recommends knowledge in extreme winter camping and travel by ski, dog team, snowmobile or fat tire bike. Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management.
Not far from the glitz and excitement of Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada offers a different kind of thrill. With scenic trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, it’s easy to find a quiet place to enjoy its natural beauty. Photographer Courtney Knaup – a frequent visitor – recently enjoyed a perfect moment of wonder and solitude. “Being out there alone, watching the first light hit the cliffs is always magical. Even more so with a fresh layer of snow.” Photo courtesy of Courtney Knaup.
For many public lands, one visit is never enough. Photographer Dawn Demaske made several summer trips to Badlands National Park in South Dakota, but hadn’t seen a winter sunrise until recently. Setting up near the park’s signature rock formations, Dawn watched the sky lighten. “The sunrise was spectacular and it was everything I wished it would be. I felt very fortunate to be there at that moment and I took it all in.” Photo courtesy of Dawn Demaske.
In the winter, waterfalls at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan freeze into amazing formations of natural art. Water seeping out of the porous sandstone cliffs can also freeze into curtains and columns of blue, white or yellow ice. The ice generally begins to form by mid-December and can remain until early April. Some skilled climbers travel to the park to ascend these formations using ice axes and crampons. It’s really something to see. Photo by National Park Service.
Sometimes things just work out. Photographer Rebecca Helen was planning for some awesome shots at Yosemite National Park in January, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. Finally, on her last day in the California park, “the sun pierced through the clouds. I fired off shots as quickly as I could, and as I was finishing up, the clouds rolled back over El Capitan and swallowed it in a gray haze. I jumped up and down with excitement, so pumped I finally got that wondrous shot I had envisioned. Yosemite, I will be dreaming of you for a long time yet.“ Photo courtesy of Rebecca Helen.
You don’t see bison flake because of a little snow. During a winter storm, bison face the cold and take the winter elements head on, conserving energy as they hunker down and wait for snowstorms to pass. Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is the only place where bison have lived continuously through American history, and they have a good handle on surviving tough winters. Photo by Jacob W. Frank, National Park Service.
On the Delaware coast, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge occupies a maze of waterways and wetlands. The area provides us with an appreciation of how people, land resources and wildlife have coexisted and collectively shaped the current surroundings. A nationally recognized birding spot, the refuge attracts people as well as hundreds of thousands of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. Photo by Gene Bailey (www.sharetheexperience.org).
One adorable barred owl. Check. The Great Backyard Bird Count runs from February 15 – 19 and encourages everyone to take 15 minutes in your backyard – or on public lands– and count the birds. Owls often get an early start on nesting each year and they’ll begin incubating their eggs in February. In a few short weeks we can be on the lookout for chicks like this one. Photo by Mark Danaher, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
America’s public lands offer a romantic setting for any love story. Every year thousands get engaged and married at national parks, wildlife refuges and scenic wildernesses. Love is meant to be shared, and as a tradition on Valentine’s Day, we’re sharing heartfelt moments sent to us by you. Happy Valentine’s Day!