The Great Outdoors: My Nautilus #SparkofScience

It should be no surprise to anyone that my spark of science, a term coined by Nautilus Magazine, came from the great outdoors.

Nautilus was kind enough to accept my submission, wherein I talked about how my love for science, even though I’m not a scientist, came from spending time in wild places with my family.

I always thought my spark of science came from my Earth 100 class at Penn State with Dr. Laura Guertin, a kick-ass marine geologist and professor who introduced me to the connection between educational technology and Earth science. Who better to teach me about our changing planet than an American Geophysical Union blogger (and #SparkofScience blogger)?

But after a bit of introspective thought, I found that Dr. G’s class was just different path on my love for the Earth.

Read the whole post here. Thanks, Nautilus!

Outdoor Exploration: Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is everything I expected it to be — and more. There was snow! I traveled all the way from the snowy East Coast to hang out at the snowy Grand Canyon in January 2016.

Yup. I love National Parks.

We walked around the icy South Rim to take pictures, and then headed down the road to a few overlooks. Unfortunately, due to snow and time constraints, we were only able to walk around for a few hours and not take on many trails. But I still stood on the edge of it.


Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most visited National Parks in the U.S. (if not the most!) and has been a big driver of park traffic this year for the National Park Service’s Centennial celebration.


Seeing it in person is MIND-BLOWING. You’ll never know how majestic it is until you visit.

Alexa and I at the South Rim. Thanks for taking me!!!

Until next time, Grand Canyon!

National Parks See Record Visitation Numbers.. But Why?

Climate change, I say.

Sure — you could argue that everything these days could be tied to climate change. But there’s a really clear tie here — record heat.

The National Park service has recorded record numbers for 2015

The NPS’s Public Use Statistics Office estimated 272.5 million recreation visits to the parks through October. That compares to 262.7 million visits in the same period of 2014.

… while the world has recorded record high temperatures.

There is a 99.9% chance that 2015 will be the warmest year on record, according to Climate Central (full disclosure: my place of employment). Not only did 2015 break tons of heat records (see January/FebruaryMarchApril, May, June, July, August, September, October, November), but 2015 is literally running away with global temperatures.

Graphic courtesy of Climate Central

Think about it: why are there usually more people outside? Because it’s nice out. So why did more people visit Yellowstone (and other parks) this year? Because they were open longer (because it was nice out).

It’s not only that the globe is warming (see: global warming), but that humans are contributing to that warming. Climate Central’s World Weather Attribution program found that greenhouse gas emissions are driving 2015’s record heat.

Additionally, this has been the globe’s hottest five-year period on record.

Also, I’m not here to belittle the National Park Service’s efforts of the #FindYourPark campaign and events leading up to the centennial celebration. The Park Service has been doing an amazing job connecting the parks with the public.

A warm February 2015 snowshoeing in Glacier National Park (sure the lake is frozen, but there was no snow to snowshoe in on!)

But any way you slice it, it’s getting hot in here, which is great for playing outside. And if you’re hanging out in Glacier National Park in February with a tank top on, keep climate change in the back of your mind.

National Park Service wins big this week

The National Park Service had a great week.

Rocky Mountain National Park - Longs Peak
Rocky Mountain National Park – Longs Peak

They started off with the announcement of 2014 park visit numbers. A NPS press release stated:

In 2014, there were 292.8 million visits to national parks, breaking the previous record set in 1987 when parks saw just over 287.2 million visits.

Not only did 2014 break a visit record, but some parks broke records, too. On the heels of 2012 Superstorm Sandy and the 2013 government shutdown, Joshua Tree, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks saw a huge spike in visits. I’ve been to all of these parks since 2013 – and some more than once! Click on each park to see my blog posts from my visits.

The report lists the top 10 most visited places in the National Park System, which includes recreation areas and monuments, and the 10 most visited national parks. Golden Gate National Recreation Area clocked in at 15 million visitors in 2014, topping the park system side, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park topped the national parks list with 10 million visitors!

national park visitors 2014 parks system visitors 2014

After this announcement, we learned about the three new national monument designations President Obama penned, his 14th, 15th and 16th use of the Antiquities Act since taking office. OnEarth reports Obama has protected Chicago’s Pullman Park District, Hawaii’s Honouliuli Internment Camp, and 21,000 newly protected acres surrounding the Arkansas River in Colorado’s Browns Canyon.

These designations mean the land is protected under the federal government and are public lands for use to use and enjoy, much like the Washington Monument in Washington DC. The Wilderness Society does a great job of explaining what exactly these new monuments have to offer as our newest public lands:

Browns Canyon is a scenic 22,000-acre stretch of public lands along the Arkansas River in Chaffee County, between Buena Vista and Salida, Colorado. These lands are managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The Wilderness Society has been working to protect the natural values of the Browns Canyon landscape since the early 1970s.

The Honouliuli camp on the island of O’ahu was the last, largest and longest operating internment camp during World War II. By acknowledging past injustices, this site honors the experiences of those interned and allows us to enlighten future generations.

The historic Pullman district in Chicago honors a unique, shared legacy that is integrally connected to the push for fair labor conditions and civil rights. The community represents the first model industrial town in America.

Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument from my trip in June 2014
Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument from my trip in June 2014

Lastly, the White House announced the Every Kid in a Park Initiative on Thursday, which provides a free pass for 4th graders and their families to all public lands for a year!

Hopefully, this initiative will tie in with the Park Service’s centennial celebration in 2016, as well as help people understand what public lands are. If you need a refresher yourself, check out my blog post about national forests.

The National Park Service had a banner week, and it was all for good. We can send our 4th graders out into our newly designated public lands, or they can choose to enjoy the existing ones. Wherever they (and you!) decide to visit, lets all be sure to get outside!