Tag Archives: birding

Dry Tortugas National Park

Overview

Only accessible by boat or floatplane, Dry Tortugas National Park is a remote paradise 70 miles west of Key West and home to a diverse array of birds and sea life.  Fort Jefferson was built on Garden Key starting in 1846 and was never completed before it was abandoned in 1874.  Today birders come from all over to see the rookery of 100,000 sooty terns on Bush Key, and also get the joy of watching the acrobatic dives of brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants, and magnificent frigatebirds with their seven-foot wingspan.

Echo was bringing the CHAOS to Dry Tortugas National Park.

Highlights

Fort Jefferson, snorkeling, birding, overnight camping

Must-Do Activity

Turquoise blue water is home to amazing coral reefs right offshore from Garden Key, with some coral and sea fans growing on Fort Jefferson’s brick moat wall and old dock pylons.  Snorkeling among the historic debris feels like exploring an ancient shipwreck.  The daily ferry ship provides free snorkeling gear for day-trippers.

Best Trail

Walk the sea wall that circles Fort Jefferson for great views and a chance to see the endangered American crocodile that sometimes resides in the moat.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Walking the archways of Fort Jefferson in the rays of the rising sun or watching a sunset from atop its ramparts is a great reason to spend the night here.

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Peak Season

Weather permitting, the Yankee Freedom ferry boat runs daily all year, but you may want to be cautious during hurricane season.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/drto/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

A park entrance fee is collected by the Yankee Freedom ferry service when you purchase your tickets, but is refundable at check-in if you have an America The Beautiful Pass.  A nominal camping fee is charged to stay on Garden Key.

Road Conditions

A parking deck (fee) is located right near the docks and check-in for the Yankee Freedom ferry boat.

Camping

Primitive camping is allowed on Garden Key for a small fee.  Campers must bring all of their own water and the only way to cook is with charcoal since fires and stoves are prohibited.

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Scott walking on the moat

The lighthouse with Majestic Frigatebirds

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A view of the ferry boat from atop Fort Jefferson.
Yankee Freedom ferry boat docked outside Fort Jefferson.
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When snorkeling only ten feet from shore, this stingray swam right past us.
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Our original logo is for sale on a variety of products on Amazon and Cafe Press

Explore More – Why were the islands of the Tortugas labeled “Dry” on early maps?

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WONDON WAS HERE

Buffalo National River

Overview

Designated as the nation’s first National River by Congress in 1972, the free-flowing Buffalo River winds 135 miles across northern Arkansas.  It is noted for its sandstone bluffs and tall waterfalls, as well as its three designated wilderness areas.  Multiple concessionaires rent canoes and offer shuttle service for those who wish to float the river during the high spring flows.  There are many hiking trails to be found in this National Park Service site and in the adjoining Ozark National Forest.

Buffalo

Highlights

Boxley Valley Historic District, Hemmed-in Hollow, elk herd, Ponca Wilderness, canoeing

Must-Do Activity

Steel Creek to Pruitt Landing is a 22-mile float through Class I rapids on the Buffalo River through the Ponca Wilderness past rock bluffs up to 500 feet tall.  Wildflowers and birds abound in the spring, the only time the upper river is deep enough to float.  Numerous outfitters provide rental gear, guides, and car shuttles.

Best Trail

A short 1.5-mile roundtrip hike from a river pulloff, Hemmed-In-Hollow is a 210-foot tall waterfall, also accessible on a much more strenuous trek starting on top of the bluff in Compton, Arkansas.

Instagram-worthy Photo

While not technically within the National River boundaries, Hawksbill Crag is an image that shows up on many tourism advertisements for Arkansas.  Go in early November for fall colors.

Tiff on the edge of the famous point in the Buffalo National Forest

Peak Season

The water flows best in the spring and is often not deep enough for paddlers in the river’s upper reaches other times of year.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/buff/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Many of the dirt roads are steep due to the park’s rugged backcountry nature and may require high-clearance vehicles when muddy.

Camping

Twelve campgrounds accessible by car, with Tyler Bend and Buffalo Point Campgrounds offering showers.  Backcountry sites mostly reached by canoe or kayak.

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Scott by the waterfall
Hideout Hollow provides an easy hike to a waterfall near Compton, Arkansas.

There were nice fall colors

Explore More – Why is a river in the forests of northern Arkansas named for buffalo (or bison)?

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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Overview

“The green desert” is home to dense stands of saguaros, ocotillos, and its namesake organ pipe cacti.  The monument’s 330,689 acres sit on the Mexican border of Arizona and were recognized as a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1976.  The park has a reputation for being dangerous, which it can be for NPS Law Enforcement due to its border location, but tourists should encounter no problems while enjoying the beautiful landscape.

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Highlights

Ajo Mountain Loop, Alamo Canyon, birding, earn an “I Hike For Health” pin

Must-Do Activity

The namesake cactus is more common further south and shares this landscape with 27 other species of cacti, including the famous saguaro.  To see the cacti at their best, I recommend driving the 21-mile dirt road Ajo Mountain Loop in the evening before turning in for the night at the campground.

Best Trail

The National Park Service (NPS) runs a shuttle some mornings to Senita Basin from where you can hike back to the visitor center (with an optional side trip to the abandoned Victoria Mine).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The park’s Ajo Mountains are mostly volcanic rhyolite and their jagged outlines photograph well in the twilight hours with the famous saguaro cactus silhouetted in the foreground.

Saguaros and Diaz Peak

Peak Season

Anytime but summer when temperatures regularly soar above 100°F.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/orpi/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The highway is paved to Kris Eggle Visitor Center and Twin Peaks Campground, but most of the dirt roads are passable for all vehicles.

Camping

The park has the very nice Twin Peaks Campground (with solar showers) where you can pick up free hiker shuttles that allow for one-way trips back to your tent.  There are also a couple dry campsites (permit required) on Alamo Canyon Road.  A permit is required for backcountry camping.

Lots of organ pipes

A cristate formation on an organ pipe
An organ pipe cactus with a unique cristate formation.

Sunset on the Green Desert

Estes Canyon

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We saw unique bird species like this phainopepla, in addition to Scott’s orioles, Gila woodpeckers, black-throated sparrows, and, of course, ravens.

Explore More – Why is the Visitor Center named for Park Ranger Kris Eggle?

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WONDON WAS HERE