Tag Archives: national park

USA Road Trip 2012 (4): Death Valley

We didn’t spend much time walking around Death Valley. Famous for being the hottest place on earth, this below-sea-level basin matched the expectations on our visit.
Stepping out of the car, the heat was instantly unbearable. A short walk to the top of one of the sand dunes was all we could handle. Our car dashboard indicated 100F degrees (that is almost 38C degrees!). And it was only spring. Can you imagine how hot summers are?!

The extreme weather patterns in Death Valley National Park create a really harsh environment. Yet, a large variety of plants and wildlife (some endemic to the area) have adapted to this. More than 1000 types of plants live within the park and show adaptations aimed at reducing evaporation and/or capturing as much groundwater as possible. Over 400 species of wildlife characterise the park area, and most of them survive mainly by living a nocturnal life. Such an interesting environment there!

Last fact: Father Crowley Vista Point, the first viewpoint entering Death Valley from the west, is a good stop and it overlooks an area characterised by dark lava flows and volcanic cinders. It takes its name after Father John J. Crowley, also known as the Padre of the desert.

Next: USA Road Trip 2012 (5): Rhyolite and Beatty

USA Road Trip 2012 (3): Discovering the Yosemite National Park

A park. A National Park. World-renowned and designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. The Yosemite National Park. That was the first destination of our USA road trip.

A few hours’ drive north-east of Los Angeles, the Yosemite National Park is well known for its giant sequoias, waterfalls, clear streams, granite formations and biodiversity.   95% of the park is designated as wilderness.

Driving in and out of the park at certain times of the year poses challenges: the long winters at high altitude prevent car access to many of the passes due to snow and ice on the roads. Visiting at the end of April we had to work around some of the access issues but the longer drives never became a problem.

Countless waterfalls are one of the main features of the Yosemite park, with  Yosemite Falls (the tallest in North America) and Bridalveil Falls the most popular and impressive ones. Late spring is the best time for a visit, and we witnessed some spectacular natural displays. Water then flows into streams and rivers, and through meadows into ponds and lakes.

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, a must-see at Yosemite, is located near the park’s south entrance. This area contains about 500 mature giant sequoias, some of which are over 3,000 years old! A hike through the woods will let you get close to some impressive trees.

Next: USA Road Trip 2012 (4): Death Valley

An afternoon between Killarney and Kenmare, Ireland

I didn’t expect to find the sun in Ireland. Ireland is green for a reason: the (very) frequent rain. I found the sun instead.

Based in southwestern Ireland for a few days, on a lovely Saturday afternoon I was taken for a drive around County Kerry to discover some of its towns and beautiful scenery. Main focus: the area around Killarney and Kenmare.

Killarney (or Cill Airne in Irish – all road signs and town names are in both English and Irish Gaelic) is a popular tourist destination in County Kerry. The Killarney National Park, with its  beautiful scenery and opportunities for cycling and hiking, together with the region’s history, is the main attractions for tourists here.

Panorama from Ladies View, Killarney
Irish scenery

Kenmare (or An Neidín), a lovely heritage town, is also very popular with tourists and is located about 32Km from Killarney.

House in Kenmare
House in Kenmare
Street in Kenmare, Ireland
One of the main streets in Kenmare
Pub in Kenmare, Ireland
Enjoying the sun
Pub sign in Kenmare, Ireland
Pub sign

Road N71 connects Killarney and Kenmare, is part of the Ring of Kerry, and is a very scenic drive through mountains and forests and past beautiful lakes. There is hardly any public transport here so the best way to visit the area – and the one that gives you the most freedom – is driving a car or a motorbike. I would not recommend cycling as the road is quite narrow and drivers speed up a lot. Said that, there were several cyclists when I visited…

View along the Ring of Kerry
View along the Ring of Kerry
Sheep and lakes in countryside Ireland
The Irish landscape is not complete without sheep…

There are several viewpoints along the N71, one of the best ones being the Ladies View: stop here for a coffee and enjoy a stroll with view over the Lakes of Killarney down in the valley!

Lakes of Killarney from Ladies View
Lakes of Killarney from Ladies View

Muckross House&Gardens is another nice stop along the route. Located 6Km from Killarney, this mansion was built in 1843 and is surrounded by beautiful gardens leading to a lake. It also has traditional farms, craft shops, and cafes. On a beautiful sunny day, there is no better place where to enjoy the weather!

Muckross House Gardens, Killarney, Ireland
Muckross House Gardens
Muckross House, Killarkey, Ireland
Muckross House

Birdwatching and crocodiles in Cat Tien National Park

“I am watching you” said the heron to the crocodile, while standing in the grass by the edge of the lake.
“I am going to get you” replied the crocodile to the heron, while swimming back and forth, slowly approaching the bird then moving further away as if studying what was the best approach.

Purple heron
Purple heron flying away from the croc

The “dance” between them kept us entertained for some time, as we were resting at the ranger station by Crocodile Lake. After an early start (6:30am), a lot of birdwatching and a 5Km walk, we had reached the lake by 10:30am and were now observing animal behaviour around us.

I am on a 3-day birdwatching tour in the Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam, with my Aussie travel buddies. Let’s be clear: I am not a birdwatcher and to the complete disappointment of our guide I can barely remember two-three names of birds even after seeing them dozens of times. But the tour is very interesting and a great opportunity to visit the National Park and get to know its varied fauna.

Black-shanked langur
Black-shanked douc

One of the best sightings of today (apart from the dance between heron and crocodile) was actually a monkey: the endangered black-shanked douc (Pygathrix nigripes). The individual we saw was on a watch, sitting high up on a tree for quite some time. Unfortunately the long lens on my camera is “only” 300mm, so taking decent photos proved challenging.
Only when birds were quite close, I managed to take some cool shots:

Stripe-throated bulbul
Stripe-throated bulbul (Pycnonotus finlaysoni)

But don’t ask me any birds’ names tomorrow morning as I will have probably forgotten them all!