Year of 2015

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Gapstow Bridge in Central Park, New York City

The original Gapstow Bridge was an ornate, High Victorian-style structure made of wood and iron. But the materials couldn’t hold up to the weather in New York’s Central Park and in 1896 the fieldstone arch bridge, seen here, was built to replace it. The water beneath the Gapstow Bridge is simply known as The Pond. And though it was designed and placed by human effort, The Pond is neatly integrated into Central Park’s urban wilderness, offering yet another moment of respite from the Big Apple’s buzzing pace.

A polar bear plunging

Welcome to 2016. If you need a bit of bracing trivia to shake off last night’s celebrating, we are here to help. A polar bear can stay submerged for up to three minutes, a nifty trick when sneaking up on prey perched on ice at the water’s edge. For a large bear, it’s also a remarkably skilled long-distance swimmer, able to swim for several days if necessary. As polar ice shrinks, scientists have had more opportunities to observe the polar bear’s swimming abilities.

And if you were one of the brave folks who ventured out this morning to take part in a polar bear plunge, we salute you! Hopefully, there were no actual polar bears in attendance.

Fireworks and fog in Salzburg, Austria

Above the fog, fireworks flash in celebration of New Year’s Eve. Salzburg, Austria, isn’t the only city having a party tonight, but enjoying the New Year revelry in the birthplace of Mozart, among the city’s Old Town baroque architecture, would surely make it a night to remember. Maybe you can bring a little touch of Salzburg to your soiree by putting some Mozart on the sound system, or if you’re daring, playing the soundtrack to ‘The Sound of Music,’ which is set in Salzburg. Individual results may vary for that last choice.

The Brocken Railway line, Harz Mountains, Germany

Three railways comprise the Harz Narrow Gauge system in the central German region that was once part of East Germany. The Brocken line winds through Harz National Park, a preserved wilderness in the Harz Mountains. Riders use the Harz Narrow Gauge system—which employs many 1950s-era steam engines—for conventional transportation needs, but the line is also a popular tourist attraction. And why not? How often do we get to ride a steam train through picturesque European mountains?

Mountain lion cubs in Utah’s Uinta National Forest

Call them cougars, mountain lions, panthers, or even pumas, these two will grow up to be fearsome predators in North America. Cougars are obligate carnivores, which means they feed exclusively on meat. To hunt, they usually hide under cover and lie in wait for unsuspecting prey—usually elk or mule deer—to wander close enough for a successful strike.

Kittens such as these two are born with spots, but by the time they’re two-and-a-half years old, the spots will be gone and they’ll sport the tawny fur of a fully grown cougar. By then, they’ll be on their own, prowling their territory. For now, we can just appreciate their extreme levels of cuteness.

Sagano Bamboo Forest, Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan

Just beyond the western edge of Kyoto, Japan, lies the district of Arashiyama. The area is well known for beautiful nature scenery and attractions, including the Sagano Bamboo Forest. A walk along the paths of the forest is not just a visual treat—with daylight filtering through the thousands of green bamboo trunks—but a delight for the ears as well. As the wind blows through the forest, it creates a distinctive sound that is often cited as one of the most memorable aspects of the forest.

Mercantour National Park, France

Established as a national park in 1979, France’s Mercantour has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country, and is home to many chamois (a European goat-antelope), marmots, stoats, and other animals. Much of the park features steep hills and valleys in both the Maritime Alps and the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. This nighttime shot was taken on the Col de la Bonette, a high mountain pass within Mercantour that’s popular with cyclists and motorcycle riders alike.

Knaresborough, England

With a blanket of snow, it seems like the winter holidays might be extra cozy in the northern English town of Knaresborough. As you settle in, though, be aware that the town has a bit of a mysterious history. Knaresborough is thought to be the birthplace of Ursula Southeil, aka Mother Shipton, a 16th-century seer of the Nostradamus variety. Mother Shipton’s Cave, alleged to be her birthplace, is one of the attractions of Knaresborough. The medieval town is also the place where a language scholar, Eugene Aram, may’ve murdered a man in 1744. For decades afterward, Aram’s story was a popular reference in English literature and song. But let’s just enjoy this scene of winter in Knaresborough and not dwell on such dark tales.

Reindeer near Oulu, Finland

In North America they’re called caribou. But here in Finland and across northern Europe, the same animals are called reindeer. They’re well adapted to handle the extreme cold of the Scandinavian winter. Spiral bones inside the reindeer’s nose increase surface area, so that icy air warms up as it travels into its lungs. And reindeer hooves actually tighten and toughen as winter comes on, for better traction on ice and snow. Those hardened hooves also help them dig through the hard snowpack to get at their winter diet: lichen. Maybe next year consider leaving some lichen out for Santa’s team.

Amalga Harbor near Juneau, Alaska

At Amalga Harbor, a few miles up Glacier Highway from Alaska’s capital, the waters lap the shores of Ernest Gruening State Historical Park. The park was established primarily to preserve the site of Gruening’s cabin, where the future senator wrote his 1953 manifesto on why Alaska should be a state. Of course, that story has a happy ending. And the story about the person who decorated a tree on a mini-barge set afloat here in Amalga Harbor? That we don’t know. But it makes for a delightful scene on Christmas Eve.

Hoar frost on geranium leaves

Happy Festivus! In observance of the holiday – a semi-fictional alternative to Christmas made famous by an episode of the television sitcom ‘Seinfeld’ – we offer this image of intricate frost formations on the leaves of a geranium. It might be easy to think of frost as little more than a winter nuisance to be scraped off the windshield. But as the water vapor cools and ice crystals begin to form, frost can build up some dazzling displays. And that’s about all the ornamentation that a Festivus celebration can withstand.

Eurasian red squirrel on Hokkaido Island, Japan

The red squirrel is a mostly solitary animal, though individuals will team up and share a nest during the snowy Hokkaido winters. The species is widely distributed on the British Isles and across Europe and Russia. But its presence on Hokkaido, the second largest island in Japan, is a rare location in its eastern distribution.

If you see one digging in the snow out in the forests of Hokkaido, it’s entirely possible the squirrel forgot where it buried food. Eurasian red squirrels aren’t as good as gray squirrels at remembering where they stashed chestnuts for later consumption.

VanDusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver, British Columbia

For the month of December, Vancouver’s VanDusen Botanical Garden becomes a holiday wonderland with the Festival of Lights. More than one million lights turn several acres of the garden into a glowing celebration that takes the edge off the darkness of winter. It’s probably pretty easy for Santa to spot this place as he cruises overhead on Christmas Eve.

Christmas market in Braunschweig, Germany

Make your way toward Brunswick Cathedral in Braunschweig during December and you’ll find yourself in the midst of the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). The market’s usually open during the four weeks of Advent and includes many activities and performances. Visitors can sample seasonal and regional food and drink while browsing craft stalls selling handmade or traditional gifts.

Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

While it’s easy to hibernate on the sofa during the winter, Jasper National Park might lure you from the pull of binge-watching TV while covered in blankets. With the aid of snowshoes, skis, or just a car with a good set of tire chains, there’s much to do and see in this Canadian gem during the cold months. And you don’t need to be an extreme athlete to enjoy Jasper — just taking in the scenery brings rich rewards, as the park’s landscape changes drastically with heavy coats of snow and ice.

A Christmas tree farm in Zionville, North Carolina

If you’ve ever purchased a Christmas tree, there’s a good chance it was a Fraser fir. The tree is native to the Appalachian Mountains, where it grows so well that Fraser fir tree farms, such as this one in Zionville, North Carolina, are a multimillion-dollar industry in the region. The community of Zionville sits at the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. That swath of white above the tree farm is the start of the frost line as the forest ascends into the peaks.

Wright brothers’ first airplane flight in 1903

When Orville and Wilbur Wright were ready to test their experimental heavier-than-air flying machine, they decided by coin toss who would have first crack at piloting the craft and who would remain on the ground. This photo of the first successful flight of the Wright Flyer shows Orville at the controls and Wilbur to the right of the airplane. On the windy morning of December 17, 1903, the two inventors got their Flyer off the ground four times altogether, with Wilbur piloting the longest flight of the day, lasting 59 seconds over a distance of 852 feet. And though the location is popularly thought to be Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the test flights took place at Kill Devil Hills, about four miles south of Kitty Hawk.

The brothers had enlisted John T. Daniels, a member of the Kill Devil Hills Life-Saving Station, to document the historic achievement with their camera. Despite never having seen a camera before, Daniels managed to capture the flight with a lyrical beauty.

Old Town in Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg may be best known as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but it’s got more to offer than classical music history. The Old Town portion of the city, seen here, survived World War II bombings intact. As a result, the medieval-era Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals and monasteries are still standing. Alongside these stand many Baroque and Renaissance churches, the result of a 17th-century effort to give Salzburg a serious upgrade. The Collegiate Church — the well-lit structure in the lower left of this photo — is one of the Baroque gems of Old Town. The columns of the building’s high altar represent the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

What’s the weather like in Yellowstone National Park today? Cold. But snow and ice can’t diminish the beauty of Norris Geyser Basin, one of the park’s most interesting regions, at least geologically. It’s home to some of Yellowstone’s oldest hot springs, with a few believed to be more than 100,000 years old. Steamboat Geyser, which also sits within Norris Basin, erupts unpredictably, but when it does blow, it blows with gusto: Steamboat is currently the world’s tallest geyser, shooting water more than 300 feet up into the air.

Mourning doves near Bear River, Nova Scotia, Canada

It’s the sad-sounding call that gives the mourning dove its name. But this bird – a relative of the now-extinct passenger pigeon – makes another notable sound. When the mourning dove takes flight, its wings produce a sort of whistle. The whistling wings may be a way to warn others of a nearby predator, but the sound is present during the entire flight, not just at takeoff and landing.

Found across the continental US, Mexico, and parts of southern Canada, mourning doves stand a good chance of being counted by many people during this year’s Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Beginning today and lasting through January 5, this will be the 116th year of the longest-running, “crowdsourced” bird census research project in the United States. Expert birders and amateurs alike participate in the Christmas Bird Count. The National Audubon Society and other organizations use data collected in the count to assess the health of bird populations and to help inform conservation efforts.

Lotus leaves, Shanghai, China

The leaves of Nelumbo nucifera, aka the lotus, can float on the water’s surface or rise above it on taller stalks, while the roots dig deep into the soil of the river or lakebed. The blooms figure prominently in artwork depicting the Buddha and are a crucial part of Hindu symbolism as well. But the lotus also has a gustatory appeal. The root is a common ingredient in many Asian cuisines, cooked and often pickled.

Village of Cemoro Lawang, East Java, Indonesia

If you lived in Cemoro Lawang, the village on the edge of that cliff, the dramatic fog isn’t the only amazing view you’d see each morning. The hamlet looks across the crater and sand sea of Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park in Indonesia. Many visitors use Cemoro Lawang as a last stop before venturing into the park to climb Mount Bromo, one of the active volcanoes in the area.

Echidna

The echidna is one of only two mammals in the world that lay eggs. (The other is the similarly strange platypus.) Sometimes called the “spiny anteater,” the echidna bears a striking resemblance to the hedgehog and the porcupine. The 2-inch spines all over its body are actually modified hairs; fur between the spines provides insulation. The echidna pokes its long, thin snout into anthills and rotting logs, then uses its sticky tongue to collect the ants and termites within. If your local zoo is fresh out of echidnas, you’ll have to travel far to see them in the wild: They’re native to woodlands in Australia and New Guinea.

Trees peek through the mist over the Pantanal in Brazil

This crucial and distinctive South American ecosystem covers a vast territory of around 54,000 to 75,000 square miles. During the rainy season, nearly 80 percent of the Pantanal is submerged under fresh water. The majority of the wetlands sits in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, but it pushes beyond the borders into Bolivia and Paraguay. From the sky, we get a glimpse of the treetops poking through fog that masks the abundant green below.

Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge, Newport Harbor Light, RI

Ah, the east passage of Narragansett Bay. As we gaze north past the Newport Harbor Light toward Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge, which connects Jamestown to Newport, we’re just a clambake short of all things New England in one shot. There are longer suspension bridges in the world (86 of them, in fact), but the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge is the longest in New England. And on a clear day in Aquinnah, Massachusetts (on Martha’s Vineyard) you may be able to see the Newport Bridge’s 400-foot towers in the distance.

'Fractal Flames'

You’re reading this on a computer or smartphone (which really is just a small computer). And though most of us don’t actively think about it, the reason your device is able to show you these words and images and do so many other amazing things is because someone has combined math and logic into a set of detailed instructions — or code — for the computer to function properly. Computer Science Education Week is a growing national effort to get students of all ages to learn the basics of computer science. We may not all need to learn to write complex computer code, but as we increasingly use technology to perform even the simplest of tasks, it helps to understand that the world inside our devices isn’t as esoteric as it seems.

To illustrate this point, we’re assuming some poetic license by showing you ‘Fractal Flames.’ This digital artwork was created by Scott Camazine, a physician and biologist, using functions invented by software artist Scott Draves. The computer-generated graphs reflect the unique properties of Draves’ code. And though we’re not going to pretend we fully grasp the math involved, we are happy to enjoy the aesthetic results.

Rose petals in Oceanside Harbor, California

Seventy-four years ago today, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii. At the time, the European theater of the war had been raging for more than two years, with the Soviet Union joining Great Britain and France in fighting Germany. But Japan and China had been in an all-out war since 1937, and the Japanese military was wary of an American intervention. With the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US was forced to respond in kind, joining the Allied Forces in both the Pacific and Atlantic combat zones.

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day helps generations recall not the military strike itself, but the loss of life and the sacrifices that so many enlisted personnel and civilians made during the attack. This photo shows rose petals cast into the Pacific at the harbor in Oceanside, California. Memorials such as this will take place all over the country today.

The Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop, Namibia

In the devastatingly harsh southern wilderness of Namibia, quiver trees grow to improbably great heights. The name “quiver tree” comes from the former tendency of the native San people to use the hollowed out branches of the plant to make quivers for their arrows. And despite its size and shape, it’s not really a tree at all. Instead, it’s a branching type of aloe plant that has adapted to withstand the dry, rocky conditions of the Namib desert.

Geladas in repose

You may hear these primates referred to as “gelada baboons” or “bleeding heart baboons.” And while they do share many physical traits with baboons, most scientists put these grass-eating monkeys in their own genus. But why “bleeding heart?” Both adult males and females have a bright-red, hourglass-shaped mark on their chests. They’re very social and gather on the grassy hills of Ethiopia’s Semien Mountains to munch on the grasses and groom each other.

Black sand beach on Ingólfshöfði, Iceland

It’s believed that the Norseman Ingólfur Arnarson landed on this beach, or close to it, when he left Norway and arrived on the shores of Iceland around 874 CE, becoming Iceland’s first known settler. The headland is now named for him: Ingólfshöfði.

Contemporary visitors marvel at the black sand of the beach, but their gaze is also drawn across the stretch of tidal flats to a steep 250-foot cliff. During spring and summer, the cliff grows crowded with nesting skuas and puffins. And it’s for the bird-watching, not to mention the incredible mountain scenery inland, that many nature lovers make the trek to Ingólfshöfði on Iceland’s southern shore.

Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan

The shell-like curves of the auditorium echo the larger, stretched out arcs and parabolas that form the exterior of the Heydar Aliyev Center, a multifunction cultural center in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Within the sprawling curves of the Aliyev Center are a museum, exhibition hall, café, and the concert hall seen here. Named for a former president of Azerbaijan, the center is part of the country’s reinvention after an oil boom boosted the former Soviet republic’s economy following the dissolution of the USSR.

Bear Glacier Lake in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

South of Seward on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Bear Glacier stretches for 13 miles, making it the largest glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. Over the centuries, the glacier has deposited enough silt to close itself off from its original terminus, the saltwater of Resurrection Bay. Now its receding ice has left a freshwater lake called – what else – Bear Glacier Lake. Kayakers paddle in between the large chunks of ice in the lake, and if conditions are just right, the waters that bounce off the longshore bar of deposited silt can create backwash waves big enough for surfers to ride across Bear Glacier Lake.

If all this wild beauty makes you glad that it’s been afforded special protection, thank the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), signed into law on this day 35 years ago, in 1980. ANILCA provides varying degrees of protection to 157 million acres of rugged Alaskan territory, including the vast area of Kenai Fjords National Park.

Kenroku-en, Kanazawa, Japan

Heavy snows change the landscape of Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s so-called Three Great Gardens. The white stuff doesn’t just add a bit of winter magic to the trees and paths here, it’s actually dangerous for some of the rare, tall trees. That’s where the technique of “yukitsuri” helps.

A bamboo pole with numerous ropes attached, the yukitsuri is raised along the line of the tree trunk, rising above like a tent. As snow falls, much of it collects on the ropes rather than on the branches. This reduces the overall weight of snow on the tree branches, which could cause them to break. Aside from its purely functional purpose, we like the transparent Christmas-tree effect yukitsuri lend the garden.

Modica, Sicily, Italy

In the Hyblaean Mountains of southern Sicily stands the ancient city of Modica. The city’s split into “Alta” (upper) and “Bassa” (lower) centers, and many travel guides suggest touring the town from the steep upper portion down to the lower neighborhoods. Along the way, visitors will find a wealth of baroque architecture. And no trip to the town is complete without sampling Modica chocolate, which uses an ancient method of preparation that results in a coarsely textured but highly aromatic chocolate.

West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona

Between Flagstaff and Sedona you’ll find Oak Creek Canyon, which draws more tourists to Arizona than any site other than the Grand Canyon. The steadily flowing creek is a rarity in the high desert region of northern Arizona, where few streams flow year round. As the water carved the canyon over millions of years, it exposed some of the brightly colored stone that now forms the canyon walls.

Rinpung Dzong, Paro, Bhutan

The Rinpung Dzong Buddhist monastery was built in 1644 on the foundation of an older dzong (fortress), high on a steep hillside in Paro, Bhutan. The massive walls of the monastery protect a complex of inner courtyards, 14 shrines and chapels, and administrative offices.

Portions of the Rinpung Dzong are open to the public, and the best time to visit is in March or April during the “tshechu” (religious festival), which starts after the 10th day of the second month of the Bhutanese lunar calendar. The four-day festival is marked by public performances of specific, ritualized dances staged by dancers in elaborate costumes and masks.

Govăjdia blast furnace, Ghelari, Romania

In the Transylvania region of Romania, the village of Govăjdia was once the home of one of Europe’s largest blast furnaces. Built at the dawn of the 19th century, the furnace was so efficient that it produced far more cast iron than there was demand for, and consequently sat idle for extended periods.

For the rest of the century, the furnace would go through periods of heavy use and then fall into decline. And though some of the iron produced here was used in the Eiffel Tower, the Govăjdia blast furnace closed for good in 1924. It’s now abandoned, a tangible and (we think) rather beautiful reminder of the industrial age.

Wild turkeys in Rio Grande, Texas

Though it’s the same species as the turkey you may have bought at the grocery store for today’s feast, the North American wild turkey has a reputation as a tough bird, and we’re not talking about the dark meat. It’s true: The tom will defend territory much like a rooster – kicking with the spurs on his legs and even using his large body to ram a predator.

Famously, Benjamin Franklin endorsed the wild turkey as our national bird over the bald eagle, writing in a letter to his daughter: “[It’s a] respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.” He was right on that count. Due to the bird’s wide range across North America, it was hugely important in both the diet and mythology of numerous Native American tribes.

Franklin went even further: “[The turkey] is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.” We always knew the turkey was a true patriot.

Fire lanterns in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The full moon tonight marks the observance of Loi Krathong, a celebration held in Thailand and other parts of southeast Asia. With fireworks and a parade, Loi Krathong has all the hallmarks of any modern holiday celebration. But the focus of the event is the releasing of “krathong,” floating lanterns sent along rivers in the region, or “khom loi,” the sky lanterns seen here. A lantern, when let go, takes with it bad habits, negative thoughts, and other feelings that have weighed you down in the past year.

Marine iguana at Fernandina Island, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

There are sea turtles and sea snakes, but there aren’t many sea-swimming lizards. Enter the marine iguanas of the Galápagos Islands. At 4- to 5-feet long, and bearing a row of sharp teeth, they look beastly, but these gentle reptiles feed on the algae and seaweed that grow on the rocky shores of Fernandina and other islands of the Galápagos. Their spiky, salt-encrusted heads and flat snouts prompted Charles Darwin to call them “hideous-looking … clumsy lizards.” Maybe our standards of cute have evolved – who couldn’t love that algae-munching face?

Pipe segments for the Fort Peck Dam in Montana

This image of massive pipe segments awaiting installation at the Fort Peck Dam building site in Montana was part of the cover story for the first issue of a re-launched Life magazine, published on this day in 1936. The earlier incarnation of Life was more of a humor and general interest publication. But after publisher Henry Luce bought the magazine, it became one of the most iconic publications in the United States during the 20th century.

Part of the refocus for Life was a greater emphasis on news, but what really stood out was its commitment to showcase great photography. This cover story fit the bill, with American photographer Margaret Bourke-White turning in shots that conveyed the scope of the Depression-era public works project that would result in the Fort Peck Dam.

Verreaux's sifaka in Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

The geographic isolation of Madagascar allowed many of the island’s wild inhabitants to evolve into unique species found nowhere else on the planet. Not least of these unusual animals is the Verreaux’s sifaka, a type of lemur. Its mainly white fur and dark face make it easy to distinguish. But one trait causes this small, endangered primate to stand out even more: Preferring to spend its time high in trees, the Verreaux’s sifaka doesn’t walk but instead hops on two feet when forced to cross the forest floor. In its usual habitat up among the tree branches, however, this pint-sized lemur can leap with incredible agility – sometimes clearing 30 feet in a single bound.

Kanas National Nature Reserve in Xinjiang, China

To the government officials of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China, this wilderness is the Kanas National Nature Reserve. In the language of the local Kazakh people, it’s Hanas. But in any language, this incredible alpine landscape is beautiful. Xinjiang is in the remote northwestern wilds of China, near the borders of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Russia. The reserve itself is in the foothills of the Altai Mountain range, where sundown means a rapid temperature drop.

View from the Cupola of the International Space Station

On this day in 1998, the Russian Federal Space Agency launched a rocket carrying a satellite that would become the cornerstone of the International Space Station (ISS). That orbiter, Zarya (meaning “Dawn” or “Sunrise” in Russian), is still part of the ISS. But it doesn’t get as much attention (or photos) as the Cupola, which was installed in 2010.

Built by the European Space Agency, the Cupola’s primary function is as an observatory, allowing astronauts aboard the ISS to see the robotic arm function and view other crucial work being performed outside the station. As you might guess, every one of the lucky space travelers who’ve been aboard the ISS says that the view from the Cupola’s seven windows is simply unbeatable.

Museum at Prairiefire in Overland Park, Kansas

The dichroic glass that decorates the exterior of the Museum at Prairiefire reflects colors that change when viewed from different angles and over the course of a day. And that’s all before even venturing into this recent addition to the town of Overland Park, Kansas. Along with smaller, changing exhibits, the Museum at Prairiefire displays two major traveling exhibits each year, as part of a collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Much of this park’s activity centers around Agawa Bay, which hosts numerous campsites and offers access to the famous pictographs on a cliff along the shore. But there are roughly 600 square miles of wilderness to explore in Lake Superior Provincial Park, one of Ontario’s largest. The park facilities are closed this time of year, but people can still visit to catch a glimpse of the vivid autumn foliage – a last gasp of the season before snow blankets the woods.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Like the wild variations of the landscape elsewhere in the country, Reykjavik is a city of contrasts. The population isn’t much more than 100,000, but the city has the feel of a bigger urban setting and is well known for its nightlife. Check any good travel guide and you’ll see that many music venues and bars in Reykjavik don’t fill up until midnight on weekends and then rage on into the early morning hours. But it’s not just a party town – museums, natural wonders, unique landmarks, and many stunning works of modern architecture all draw a steady stream of visitors to the world’s northernmost national capital.

Black grouse males, Bergslagen, Sweden

Just before the sun rises each morning in spring, male black grouse gather on open meadows in the wooded moors and bogs they call home. They puff up their feathers and march around in plain view of the female black grouse, in a competitive display called “lekking.” If the prancing doesn’t get the attention of the ladies, the mating call might. In the western European portion of their range, a black grouse lek may involve only a few dozen birds. But in the Russian reaches of their territory, more than 100 males may assemble to strut their stuff.

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero, Paris, France

During this dark hour, our hearts and minds are with the victims of the attacks, their families, and the people of France. Liberté. Égalité. Fraternité.

Rock formations in Kalbarri National Park, Australia

Many visitors to Australia’s Kalbarri National Park walk a short section of trail called The Loop that follows the Murchison River as it cuts through a deep gorge. The ribbons of brightly colored stone within the rock formations along the trail were deposited by the sea water that once covered the region. And those Swiss-cheese looking holes and whorls seen in the upper-right corner of the photo? Worms carved them as they burrowed through what was once soil. As the ground hardened into stone, the worm-pits remained. This phenomenon is echoed on the flat surfaces above, where fossilized animal tracks show where wildlife once strode across the tide flats.

Island of Janitzio in Lake Pátzcuaro, Mexico

In the southern portion of Lake Pátzcuaro in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, sits the little island of Janitzio. Visitors have long been drawn to the island’s many unique features, including its famous “butterfly fishermen” whose fishing nets and techniques are so iconic, they were once featured on the back of the 50-peso note. As the fog in our image might suggest, the name Janitzio means “where it rains.” Though, to be fair, the climate here is fairly dry most of the year.

Hanford Reach National Monument, Washington State

Hanford Reach National Monument covers a natural drainage landscape that stretches across southeastern Washington State. Visitors often come to the protected area to see the dramatic cliffs known as the White Bluffs. Formed from river and lake sediments deposited by the ancestral Columbia River and its tributaries, the White Bluffs overlook a sloping coulee (a kind of a ravine) where sandy soil creates pockets of cattail marshes and small ponds in between long stretches of dry earth. The White Bluffs themselves, which now form part of the eastern bank of the Columbia, contain fossils of ancient rhinoceroses, mastodons, camels, and other prehistoric mammals.

The federal government purchased the land here in 1943 to become the site of nuclear research facilities. The World War II-era project eventually led to the now mostly defunct Hanford Site, a nuclear production complex where plutonium was produced for the atom bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, the wilderness around here is protected by the Hanford Reach National Monument, which attracts hikers and nature lovers who take in the varied landscape.

World War II Memorial, Washington, DC

Sixteen million members of the United States Armed Forces served in World War II. This memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC, honors them all with a display that includes a fountain, seen here, as well as two arches. An arch on the north side of the memorial honors those who fought in the Atlantic theater; another arch on the south side honors those who served in the Pacific. The site is rich with detail and features numerous engravings, not least of which depicts the famous serviceman graffito, “Kilroy was here.”

Today on Veterans Day, this memorial, as well as other war monuments around the country, will be crowded, as veterans of the US Armed Forces, their relatives, and other visitors pay their respects.

Aerial view of Chinatown, Singapore

Though nearly three-quarters of Singapore’s population is ethnically Chinese, the city-state nevertheless has a district known as Chinatown. British colonialists first gave the neighborhood that name, which stuck and is still used by Singaporeans. Most tourists are drawn to a four-block-square section of Chinatown, where street markets and food stands nearly overwhelm the senses. But beyond that small corridor, Chinatown is simply another district in Singapore, where daily life continues at the buzzing pace this city is known for.

Catatumbo lightning over Zulia, Venezuela

If you make your way to the state of Zulia in northwestern Venezuela at the right time of year, you’re almost certain to see the legendary Catatumbo lightning. Nearly half the year, after sundown, the sky over the mouth of the Catatumbo River lights up with lightning so frequent there can be as many as 280 bolts per hour and storms can last up to 10 hours.

Why this happens isn’t entirely clear, but the lightning storms are likely the result of warm equatorial air flowing into a sort of trap over Lake Maracaibo, where the lake and river mouth meet the surrounding mountains. As the warm, moist air is forced up the mountain slopes, the atmosphere becomes destabilized at the ridges, and this may cause the incredible lightning storms. Scientists continue to study the Catatumbo lightning to determine if other natural phenomena are involved.

Pygmy goats butting heads

In their original West African habitat of Cameroon, pygmy goats are raised for milk production and other typical livestock uses. But in the US, where the breed was exported during the 1950s, pygmy goats have gained popularity as pets. The largest adult pygmy goats weigh between 75 and 85 pounds, and stand less than 2 feet tall, so they’re comparable to medium-size dogs. Those who keep them say that if you have a pygmy goat, it’s best to have another animal as well – which doesn’t have to be a goat – as these tiny ruminants are highly social.

Crown Point, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

On this day in 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition arrived near this spot. Believing they had finally reached the Pacific, William Clark wrote in his journal “Ocian [sic] in View! O the joy.” But this is the Columbia River Gorge and estuary, and it would be another 17 days before they made camp at the Pacific coast.

If you retrace the famous expedition’s steps along the Columbia, make sure to spend some time in the Crown Point Scenic Corridor, an Oregon state park, seen here on the right side of the photo. The park offers stunning views of the mighty Columbia, which marks the state border with Washington. And the Vista House (perched atop a bluff) offers a bit of shelter if the weather’s not cooperating. Built in 1917, the observatory came more than a century too late for the weary Lewis and Clark team.

Sea anemone off the coast of Thailand

Due to their mostly sedentary nature, it’s tough to think of sea anemones as predators. But the description is accurate. For creatures too big to be threatened, the flower-like, colorful anemone is simply a thing of beauty – just another one of nature’s engineering feats. But if you’re a small fish or a shrimp, the anemone is a deadly trap, best avoided. Swim close enough to touch a tentacle and a harpoon-like stinger launches, injecting a paralyzing toxin. Voila! You’ve become an anemone’s lunch.

Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland

With fewer than 5,000 inhabitants, Ilulissat is the third-largest city in Greenland. And this ice-clogged marine passage, Ilulissat Icefjord, cuts past the town as it reaches into the Atlantic. The ice comes from Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, one of the few glaciers in Greenland to meet the ocean. As the ice comes into contact with the waters of Disko Bay on Greenland’s southwest coast, it creates the icefjord, a natural feature that is exactly what the name suggests — a fjord filled with ice. The calving glacier drops 35 cubic kilometers (aka a LOT) of ice into the sea every year. The icefjord is one of Ilulissat’s biggest tourist attractions, and cruises through the fjord are popular with visitors hardy enough to brave the cold.

A great gray owl on the hunt

An adult great gray owl has an average wingspan of more than 4.5 feet, and from its head to its tail feathers, the owl is more than 2 feet long, making it the largest owl in the world in terms of length. Yet several other species outweigh it, because the great gray owl has such an abundance of feathers. The feathers give the great gray tremendous size, but not a lot of heft.

That generous plumage helps insulate the owl against the cooler climates of the Northern Hemisphere, where it’s widely distributed. It likely also aids the great gray owl’s nearly silent flight as it cruises over open fields hunting for mice and voles – tiny prey this massive owl can grasp with its comparatively small talons.

Archers at the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan

Since 1948, November 3 has been Culture Day in Japan, a nationwide celebration of traditional Japanese arts, cultural practices, and even scholarly pursuits. Here at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Culture Day overlaps with an older observance from the 19th century that happens to fall on the same date — the birthday of Emperor Meiji himself.

For years after his rule, November 3 was a public celebration of Meiji’s birthday. Now his birth is observed here at his Tokyo shrine under the name “The Autumn Festival,” and it coincides with Culture Day. Today’s events at Meiji Shrine include many traditional arts of Japan, including archery and other martial arts demonstrations.

Fishing docks on the Sado Estuary, Portugal

The Sado River is the only major river in Portugal to flow north. As it reaches the Atlantic coast in the Setúbal District, the Sado becomes an estuary that remains as important to the local economy as it is to the health of the broader ecosystem of the region. Larger fishing villages in the region, such as Alcácer do Sal and especially Comporta, have begun to reposition themselves as holiday resorts where tourists can take in the local scenery and view wildlife. There’s a lot to draw visitors – the Sado River Estuary is a bird-watcher’s haven. Here we see the hamlet called Carrasqueira, adjacent to Comporta, where the rustic docks and stilt houses called “palafitos” can make visitors feel as if they’ve traveled back to a simpler time.

Day of the Dead calaca figurines

The Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos) celebration actually spans three days in modern observances of this ancient tradition. With roots reaching as far back as 3,000 years, the Day of the Dead is not a gruesome fright-fest like modern Halloween, but rather a time to remember loved ones who’ve died, and to celebrate death as a natural part of life.

In central and southern Mexico, children pray at altars on October 31, welcoming the spirits of children who’ve passed on, but return to our world for a visit. During today’s celebration, which coincides with the Christian observance of All Saints’ Day, adults do the same: Invite the spirits of the departed back home. And tomorrow, families will visit cemeteries, placing marigolds, candles, incense, and even food offerings on the graves of their loved ones.

Calacas (meaning “skeletons” in Mexico), like the members of this ghostly mariachi band, are created expressly to decorate homes during the Day of the Dead festival. The figurines are usually clay, but some artisans decorate sugar skulls.

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Port Clyde, Maine

At the southernmost tip of the St. George Peninsula, the Marshall Point Light warns ships away from the rocky coast of Maine. It’s one of 23 lighthouses that keep boats and ships safe while navigating Penobscot Bay, but the Marshall Point Lighthouse may be the most famous. It has a cameo in the film ‘Forrest Gump.’ When the title character, played by Tom Hanks, is running across the United States, he uses the Marshall Point light as a turnaround point before heading west again.

A weeping willow tree

There are numerous species of tree with the common name “weeping willow” – so called because of the long, drooping branches and trailing leaves that flutter in the wind, lending the tree a moody aspect. But Salix babylonica is the original weeping willow. Originating in China, it spread to other parts of Asia and was eventually traded along the Silk Road, making its way to the Netherlands and England, and eventually to the United States. Over time, various mutations, hybrids, and other variants were developed, presumably by those who don’t find the weeping willow melancholy at all.

A male red deer in Richmond Park, London, England

The red deer population in the United Kingdom is most robust in the Highlands of Scotland. But in London, the walled-off nature preserve called Richmond Park boasts a few hundred red deer. This time of year is rutting season, when harts (males) compete for the affection of hinds (females). The harts will sometimes scoop up ferns and other low vegetation into their antlers to draw attention themselves. It’s not much different from getting dressed up to go out and mingle on a Friday night.

Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall/Chambers Street subway station

Though New York City had already established public transit via buses, trolleys, and elevated trains, the subway would revolutionize the way residents of the Big Apple travel around the city. On this day in 1904, the first underground train began operations, with a line running from City Hall on the south side of Manhattan, to 145th Street up north. Today, the New York City subway is as emblematic of the city as the Empire State Building.

As the subway system has evolved, certain aspects remain intact, such as the arched ceiling and tilework of the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall/Chambers Street station in Lower Manhattan. One of the oldest surviving stations in the subway system, this stop also features tilework that depicts the Brooklyn Bridge.

Xingping on the Li River in Guangxi, China

The Li River flows through the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China, winding past the rural village of Xingping. And while many visitors to the region go upstream to the larger town of Yangshuo to book a scenic cruise down the Li, some travelers have discovered Xingping’s idyllic charms. There are several hikes up into the karst mountains above the river, providing opportunities to snap photos such as this one, where the sleepy village rests as the water moves on by.

Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris, France

In 1612, Marie de’ Medici, the Queen of France and recent widow of Henry IV of France, commissioned the construction of a palace and grand gardens in Paris. Today, the Jardin du Luxembourg is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, featuring not just well-manicured lawns and gardens, but finely crafted sculpture, fountains, and even a puppet theater. The French Senate meets at the Luxembourg Palace within the gardens, but the politicians won’t bother you while you take in the beautiful landscapes.

South Nahanni River in Nahanni National Park Reserve, Canada

Nahanni National Park Reserve protects nearly 12,000 square miles of breathtaking wilderness in Canada’s Northwest Territories. It’s the kind of park that offers outdoor adventure for just about everyone. There are sulfur hot springs for a relaxing dip, mountains to hike (or climb depending on your skill level), and Virginia Falls, a cascade twice as high as Niagara. The river that fuels the falls, seen here in a much calmer stretch of its passage, is the mighty Nahanni.

Labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral, France

At least five cathedrals have stood on this site in Chartres, France, but the current one was completed nearly 800 years ago, in 1220. Aside from a world-renowned collection of well-preserved stained glass windows, the Chartres Cathedral’s labyrinth inlaid on the tile floor of the nave draws many modern visitors. The faithful sometimes walk the path of the labyrinth, heads bowed in prayer.

Skagsanden, Lofoten Islands, Norway

The archipelago called Lofoten sits within the Arctic Circle in the rugged northern coastal area of Norway. Even allowing for the incredible natural extremes of Norway, Lofoten offers up landscapes that are a study in contrasts, with deep-sea waters abruptly giving way to towering stone coastlines and gentle, boat-friendly harbors. Though rich with history, Lofoten’s ecosystem still holds surprises in the modern world. In 2002, divers in the waters off Lofoten discovered Røst Reef, possibly the world’s largest deep-water coral reef.

Flatiron Building, New York City

The Fuller Building or “Burnham’s Folly” – both were early names for the wedge-shaped tower now known as the Flatiron Building, which opened in 1902. The unusual shape prompted criticism from many architects, while New Yorkers gave it the “folly” nickname after wondering how long it would be before designer Daniel Burnham’s skyscraper would topple under a strong wind. But the Flatiron stayed put and has since become such a recognizable part of the Manhattan skyline, it’s often cited as one of the most photographed buildings in the world.

Crested pigeon in Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, Australia

The crested pigeon can be spotted just about anywhere in Australia, save for the tropical forests. This one just happens to have discerning taste: It’s resting within Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, where the famous Uluru sandstone monolith stands.

In addition to the crown of feathers atop its head, the crested pigeon puts on a little display when it takes flight: It makes a whistling sound as it flaps its wings to take off. The sound comes from air moving over its wings, rather than a vocal call.

‘Spark art’ photography

Give a creative person a camera and chances are something interesting will happen. “Spark art” photography is done by spinning burning steel wool attached to a length of cord or rope. When the camera shutter is left open, what looks like a few twirling sparks to the naked eye can become an arcing, sparking dome or halo of light. Digital alteration is probably safer, but with the know-how, you can create “spark art” photos that are quite striking.

Autumn aspens in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Though its length varies from year to year, fall-color time in Grand Teton National Park usually winds down by mid-October. Varying elevations in the park’s titular mountain range are responsible for the bursts of different colors that bedeck the trees. Aspens, seen here, and willows populate much of the lowlands, while cottonwoods and other deciduous plants are interspersed among the pines as the elevation up into the mountains climbs higher. Specific levels host different types of plants, making the scenery come alive with a variety of autumn hues.

Chigmit Mountains and Lake Clark National Park, Alaska

Among the innumerable mountains of Alaska, the Chigmits are a subrange of the Aleutians and farther inland than their peninsula cousins. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve takes up the western slopes of the Chigmits as they give way to alpine hills and valleys. The park, though not as heavily visited as some others, is known as one of the best sites to view brown and black bears in the United States.

Male gemsboks clash at Etosha National Park, Namibia

At a glance, it can be difficult to tell male gemsboks from females, as both have the nearly yard-long horns that are exactly as dangerous as they look. But female gemsboks have longer, thinner horns, used primarily to defend against predators. Males, by contrast, have thicker horns that they employ in “duels” such as this. The fight may be over territory or a show of dominance during mating season.

Rapa River delta in Sarek National Park, Sweden

Flying over the valley or, weather permitting, climbing to the peak of Skierfe, a mountain in northern Sweden’s Sarek National Park, nets an amazing view of the Rapa River delta. The Rapa flows for more than 40 miles before dipping into the Rapa Valley where the delta begins. Rock flour – finely ground stone carried by glacial melt – colors the water bright blue. In autumn, when the birch trees turn gold and the blueberry bushes red, the azure of the Rapa seems even more vivid.

Tarsier at rest, Bohol Island, Philippines

The tarsier is not only one of the world’s smallest primates, it’s also a creature full of unusual evolutionary developments. The animal’s name comes from the extremely long tarsus bones of its feet. Long feet and long hind legs help the tarsier jump around the tropical forests on the islands of Southeast Asia, where it feasts on insects, small lizards, and even bats and birds. That’s right, the tiny tarsier is entirely carnivorous – the only primate to hold that distinction. And those eyes? Each is bigger than the tarsier’s brain — all the better to see in the dark as it hunts for bugs after sundown.

Venetian Harbor and Old Town of Chania, Greece

The Old Town section of Chania, a city on the northern coast of Crete, has survived the rule of numerous empires. More recently, it shook off heavy bombardment during World War II and is now a big draw for tourists eager to stroll along the Venetian Harbor. The centuries-old seawall is crumbling, and for many that is part of the charm. To walk the stone streets on a mild evening is to walk through history.

Rock art in Sego Canyon, Utah

The canyons and caves of Utah’s wilderness boast many petroglyphs (carvings) and pictographs (paintings) made over millennia by various Native American tribes, but few approach the mysterious beauty of the Sego Canyon walls. The most recent rock carvings at Sego were made by the Ute people, who accurately depicted bison and hunters on horseback sometime after the Spanish reintroduced the horse to the region in the 16th century. But the Barrier Canyon-style pictographs, which date back 4,000 to 6,000 years, mystify visitors. Just what are these armless figures with large, staring eyes? And if that’s not enough for your brain to work in, a ghost town is just up the road.

Boardwalk of Cayeux-sur-Mer, France

On the north coast of France, in the Somme region, lies a stretch of boardwalk that at 1.25 miles may be the longest in Europe. The waters of the English Channel lap the beach at Cayeux-sur-Mer, a village so heavily associated with beach holidays, there were once at least 400 small cabins along the boardwalk. Though there aren’t quite as many cabins today, the boardwalk and beach of Cayeux-sur-Mer still draw in many visitors.

NASA's robotic rover Curiosity at Mount Sharp on Mars

As World Space Week draws to a close, we examine a self-portrait of the robotic rover called Curiosity. Curiosity rocketed off to Mars on an Atlas V rocket the morning of Nov 26, 2011, as part of the Mars Science Laboratory project, a joint effort of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and is now playing a crucial role in gathering data for a manned mission to Mars.

Since landing in Gale Crater after an eight-month voyage, Curiosity has been assessing the Martian environment’s ability to host life, rolling across the surface of the red planet collecting soil samples and sending selfies as well as live video of the terrain back to Earth. Recently, Curiosity has found definitive evidence of water occasionally flowing on Mars and also clear signs that the planet once had lakes and rivers for extended periods, perhaps even millions of years, suggesting that Mars could well have supported life. Curiosity is doing such a great job that its initial two-year mission has been extended indefinitely.

Water droplets on rough-stalked feather moss

Rough-stalked feather moss grows just about anywhere on Earth where there’s enough shade and moisture to keep it alive. It’s so common, few of us take the time to examine it closely. In this macro photo we can see the fine, hair-like stalks that rise up from the green, feathery branches, standing high enough (perhaps a few millimeters above the dense patch below) to catch a single drop of rain or dew on their spore caps.

Fall foliage in Hudson Valley, New York

The Hudson River Valley is one of the most recognizable landscapes in the country, particularly to those familiar with the famous mid-19th-century paintings created by members of the so-called Hudson River School of landscape painters.

Named after the river that Henry Hudson explored, the Hudson Valley was inhabited by the Lenape and Mahican peoples when Europeans first settled here in the 1610s. The population rapidly increased with the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, but even today the valley is distinguished by its pastoral, sparsely populated landscape. In autumn, the mix of native deciduous trees plays out in a riot of seasonal color.

Saturniid moth, Yasuni National Park, Ecuador

The Saturniid family of moths includes the largest moth species, like emperor moths, giant silkmoths, and royal moths. They’re mostly harmless creatures and can keep you company—if you’d like it. Among the thousands of named species, some of the larger ones, like those in the Antheraea genus, are sometimes raised by children as pets.

Many Saturniidae have eyespots on their wings, like the small white spots seen on this specimen. Other species may have more fully developed eyespots that resemble large pupils surrounded by colorful irises. Lepidopterists believe that these adaptations among butterflies and moths serve to distract would-be predators, like birds, away from more vital body parts.

Elephant Trunk Hill, Guilin, China

At the confluence of the Taohua and Lijiang Rivers outside Guilin, China, stands the stone arch known as Elephant Trunk Hill. The name comes from the cliff’s resemblance to an elephant with its trunk lowered into the water for a drink. At night, when the moon is positioned just so, visitors can see the moon right through the hole under the arch, hence its name: Water-Moon Cave.

A red fox, in the forest of Elfvik near Lidingö, Sweden

Red foxes frequently appear in mythology and folklore as symbols of trickery or cunning, likely due to their crafty hunting skills. They’ll eat just about anything they can catch, which tends to be rodents. Foxes hunt primarily by sound, using their acute sense of hearing to detect movement. It’s believed red foxes can hear a mouse squeak from more than 325 feet away.

The Carina Nebula

Each year beginning on October 4, World Space Week encourages education about the benefits of space exploration and aims to get young people excited about science, technology, engineering, and math.

What better way to celebrate World Space Week than to marvel at the beautiful colors of the Carina Nebula as captured in this image by the Hubble Space Telescope. During its 25 years orbiting the Earth, Hubble has proved an invaluable research tool, bringing us some of the most detailed images of space ever recorded.

If you can listen to the sound accompanying this image (on the homepage, click on the sound icon in the lower right corner), you’re hearing an extract from the Golden Record, a recording placed on both Voyagers 1 and 2, which launched in 1977. The gold-plated copper disk contains spoken greetings in 59 languages, numerous natural sounds from our planet, music from around the globe, and 115 images. The hope is that someday, intelligent life out in the universe may find one of the golden records and be able to hear and see some of the contents.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the world’s biggest festival of hot air balloons. Taking place every October in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the event fills the air with more than 500 colorful balloons, the smell of Albuquerque’s unique and delicious cuisine, and a sense of wonder.

Building façade in Little India, Singapore

During the 1800s, numerous Indians arrived in Singapore, many as convicts or servants. Most of these immigrants were Tamils from the southern regions of India. Singapore’s now-defunct policy of segregation forced the majority of the Indian population to settle in this region along the banks of the Serangoon River. Over time, that settlement became known as Singapore’s Little India.

Many still think of Little India as an ethnically Tamil district, but today the area is home to a variety of ethnicities, including a sizeable Chinese population. With colorful décor, heavily influenced by the Indian culture, Little India has become a must-see attraction for visitors to Singapore.

Yosemite National Park, California

Established 125 years ago today, Yosemite National Park is widely considered one of the most spectacular natural places in the United States. Over 3.7 million people visit Yosemite each year, and most spend the bulk of their time here in the Yosemite Valley, but the park extends well beyond to the surrounding mountains and forests. President Abraham Lincoln first authorized some protection for Yosemite in 1864. The establishment of the national park 26 years later offered broader protection for a much larger area and also provided a template for the very idea of a national park system.

Today, nearly 95 percent of Yosemite National Park’s 747,956 acres is designated wilderness, and is home to over a thousand plant species and hundreds of wildlife species. One famous—even infamous—park resident is the black bear. And when humans enter the bear’s habitat, trouble often ensues. Today, about 30 bears each year are captured and tagged so that rangers can track them and avoid potentially dangerous encounters.

Hoover Dam, between Arizona and Nevada

Happy birthday, Hoover Dam! President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated this engineering marvel 80 years ago today, and it still stands as a testament to the ingenuity, perseverance, and sheer hard work of the thousands who labored in harsh conditions for over five years to tame the flow of the mighty Colorado River and turn it into hydroelectric power.

When it was completed, Hoover Dam was the largest dam in the world. It required nearly 88 million cubic feet of concrete, which made it the first single structure to use more masonry than the Great Pyramid of Giza. All that concrete was poured into individual, rectangular-shaped sections that were then cured using over 582 miles of cooling pipes. If the concrete had been poured in a single, continuous pour—and left to cool naturally—it would still be settling today.

Volcanic crater off Santiago Island, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Rocas Baimbridgen (Bainbridge Rocks) is a small chain of volcanic islands on the southern coast of Santiago Island, one of the major Galápagos Islands of Ecuador. It’s so small, many maps don’t identify it. This brackish lagoon is sometimes called the Blue Lagoon. Flocks of flamingoes have been spotted in the water.

Santiago Island, still referred to as San Salvador Island in some sources, was noted by famous naturalist Charles Darwin for its immense population of land iguanas. Today the land iguana population on Santiago is gone, but the marine iguanas – yes, sea-swimming iguanas (watch out, Godzilla) – are still going strong.

Mauve stinger jellyfish, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico

Common names vary around the globe, but across most of Europe this species of jellyfish is called a “mauve stinger.” Like most other jellies, the mauve stinger captures prey – usually small fish – with stinging tentacles. And yes, in rare encounters with humans, the sting is painful, but not deadly.

While the overall health of our oceans has been generally declining for years, jellyfish tend to be doing just fine, thank you very much. Rising water temperatures, ocean acidification, and overfishing all help to create environments that are very harmful to most ocean species, but they ironically provide ideal conditions for jellyfish to thrive.

The United Nations has announced 17 Global Goals it has for our planet, and one of them focuses on marine life, marine conservation, sustainability, and maintenance of the world’s oceans. The Global Goals were derived from a mixture of input from world leaders, the private sector, and a large international survey called ‘The World We Want.’ Starting today, 193 global leaders, organizations, representatives from the private and public sector, and members of the public will come together to achieve these goals. We like to think that even the mauve stinger would approve.

The road up Mauna Kea, Big Island, Hawaii

This road leads to the highest point in the state of Hawaii. Mauna Kea, on Hawaii’s Big Island, isn’t quite a dormant volcano. But compared to some of the other peaks in the Hawaiian Islands, it’s a safe bet you won’t be dodging fast-flowing lava while on the mountain’s slopes.

In fact, astronomers consider Mauna Kea so stable, they’ve built multiple observatories at the summit. With its high altitude, dry atmosphere, and stable airflow, the summit is one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation. But despite their scientific value, the observatories have drawn opposition. Environmentalists are concerned about their impact on rare native bird populations, while Native Hawaiians believe development of the area will spoil a site they hold sacred. In Native Hawaiian religious beliefs, the peaks of the island of Hawaii are considered sacrosanct, and Mauna Kea is the most sacred peak of all. Some view the proposed building of a new observatory, the Thirty Meter Telescope, which would be among the largest telescopes in the world, as a violation of these sacred beliefs.

Whatever your beliefs, the immense, austere beauty of Mauna Kea is hard to deny. So if you miss out on a daytime trip up to the top of the mountain, don’t worry. You can head up after sunset and enjoy the view of the night sky – no telescope required.

Elakala Waterfall #1 in Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virgina

Blackwater Falls State Park is tucked high in the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia. While there are several falls throughout the park (including the four cascades that make up Elakala Falls), the park is named for its famous waterfall off the Blackwater River, which plunges 62 feet. The park is among the most photographed West Virginia attractions, appearing on calendars and even jigsaw puzzles.

Two snails atop a mushroom

Now that we’ve said a fond farewell to summer, the rains will inevitably return to most parts of the country, and they may bring with them some rather slimy interlopers to our yards and woods. The increase in moisture revives moss and mushrooms and draws snails and slugs out from their relative dormancy during dry summer spells.

But before you don work gloves and attempt to protect your garden from these slow-motion pests, take a moment to look at things from their perspective. There’s a whole microcosm of wild nature just beneath your feet.

Jaswant Thada in Jodhpur, India

Time of day greatly influences the appearance of Jaswant Thada, which stands on the far edge of the city of Jodhpur in India. The monument’s highly polished marble walls can look bright white midday, or give off a warm glow as the sun moves toward the horizon.

Jaswant Thada was built in 1899 at the request of Sardar Singh, the maharaja of Jodhpur State. It honors his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. Under his rule, Jodhpur experienced many positive changes, including construction of major railway and other infrastructure, as well as establishment of a court-of-justice system for the region.

Maroon Lake and Maroon Bells peaks, Colorado

The autumnal equinox is upon us, and fall has begun. To celebrate, let’s gaze across Colorado’s Maroon Lake at the cloud-shrouded peaks of the Maroon Bells. The two mountains comprising the Maroon Bells – Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak – are “fourteeners,” members of the class of mountains higher than 14,000 feet.

But don’t grab your climbing gear yet: The US Forest Service calls the Maroon Bells the “Deadly Bells.” For unlike other mountains in the Rockies, which are granite and limestone, both Maroon peaks are hardened mudstone. It’s less stable and can fracture easily, causing hazardous downsloping of loose rock. And it’s that mudstone that inspired the mountains’ colorful names.

Hobbiton, near Matamata, New Zealand

Happy Hobbit Day! Near the north coast of North Island, New Zealand, is the town called Matamata. Sitting under the inland shadow of the Kaimai mountain range, Matamata’s surrounded by farmland and when the filmmakers of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy needed a location for the Hobbits’ shire, this farm fit the bill. The sets were reused for the prequel films and and now comprise a tourist attraction called Hobbiton. Now you know where to go for Hobbit Day next year.

Wicker cultivation, Cañamares, Cuenca, Spain

Here in Cañamares, a small village in the province of Cuenca in central Spain, people still cultivate plants for making wicker, just as they’ve done since antiquity. If you visit the region, and basket weaving isn’t in your travel plans, don’t worry about not having enough to do. Cañamares is just 35 miles outside the regional capital of Cuenca, which is known for its 15th-century casas colgadas (hanging houses) and beautiful church architecture.

Grjótagjá, a cave near Lake Mývatn, Iceland

Not far off the northeast shore of Lake Mývatn, in northern Iceland, is the lava cave called Grjótagjá. For many years the cave’s geothermal-heated waters made it a popular (if remote) spot for bathing. But multiple nearby volcanic eruptions from 1975 to ’84 caused the water temperature in Grjótagjá to rise to above 122 degrees Fahrenheit. The water temp has been slowly dropping since then, but most people opt for a soak in the cooler waters of Stóragjá, another grotto nearby.

Interior of a beer tent at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

Prost! You don’t need to be in Munich to join the party today — many cities around the globe host Oktoberfest celebrations. But none can compare to the party happening in Munich, where Oktoberfest began as public festivities to celebrate a royal wedding in 1810. Beginning today and lasting until October 4th, millions will gather in the Theresienwiese, a massive public square that hosts the event every autumn.

This year, Oktoberfest happens to coincide with the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees from war-torn Syria and other troubled regions who have flooded into Munich in recent weeks seeking asylum. Some have expressed concerns that security issues could arise as the city tries to accommodate both refugees and Oktoberfest revelers, but city authorities have said they’re confident they can keep everyone safe, whether they’re looking for asylum or a frosty mug of German brew.

Charoite-bearing rock found in the Sakha Republic, Russia

This microphotograph of a thin slice of charoite-bearing rock shows how the silicate mineral swirls around feldspar crystals. Larger pieces of the stone display a range of purple hues, including pale lavender, often with stripes of black or peach contributed by other minerals. Charoite is used in jewelry and other gem crafts.

The only known source of this unusual mineral is near the Chara River, which flows between two mountains in the remote northern region of the Sakha Republic, a subnation in Siberia, Russia.

Segovia, Spain

Located in the heart of Spain, Segovia has been a crossroads for commerce and travel for centuries. And just about every major player in Western European history has touched the city in some way, not least of whom were the Romans, who built the aqueduct that still stands intact. Perhaps it’s all the variety of people and cultures passing through and settling here – Jews, Christians, and Muslims – that has helped bolster the various legends of Segovia. Stories claim that Segovia was founded by one of Noah’s sons, or possibly Hercules himself.

The Milky Way over Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

Bookending the horizon are the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, two sandstone monoliths in Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park. Decorating the night sky above is a glimpse of our own Milky Way galaxy. Sixteen photos were merged into one composite to create this image.

If you look closely in the lower left quarter of the picture, there’s a particularly bright “star” with a small halo. That’s the Andromeda galaxy, the galaxy closest to our own. Astronomers theorize that in less than 4 billion years, Andromeda and the Milky Way may collide.

Birch trees on the Bashang Plateau, China

Autumn splashes gold across the boughs of birches that grow in wind-breaking clusters on the Bashang Plateau of Inner Mongolia in the north of China. The area’s 6,200 square miles of hilly grassland is mainly used as grazing territory for cattle and sheep herded by the Mongolian people who’ve lived here for centuries.

A few military installations in the area meant Bashang was closed off to non-residents for years, but a loosening of that policy in the past few years has brought in visitors eager to get a glimpse of this unique landscape and the people who call it home.

Male black-naped monarch

Find the black-naped monarch throughout the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, perched and waiting for just the right moment to snatch a fly from the air. The female monarch has feathers of a paler blue and lacks the black cap and collar that give the bird its common name. She builds the cup-like nest while the male guards against predators. And if all goes as planned, they’ll hatch two or three chicks after just 12 days of incubating the eggs.

Grey seals at Heligoland, Germany

The shores of Heligoland, an archipelago off the coast of Germany, are often packed with grey seals this time of year. Why congregate here where the cold waters of the North Sea surge? It’s time for grey seal pups to arrive! Within a month after the babies are born, their silky white fur will give way to the thick gray pelt as seen on these adults and they’ll be ready to hunt for fish in the surf.

And forgive us for making this connection when talking about gray hair, but today is Grandparents Day. Perhaps these two are sharing stories about which one of them has the cutest grand-pup?

Lagoon of Uña, near Cuenca, Spain

A census in 2004 counted just 138 residents in the village of Uña, in the central Spanish province of Cuenca. If you find yourself in Cuenca, get directions to Uña’s lagoon, where you’ll be greeted by a large lake set in this heavily forested wilderness. There are larger towns and cities nearby, but who would bother with the noise of city life when this storybook scene awaits?

Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz County, California

Head west from the campus of the University of California-Santa Cruz and you’ll arrive at a state park that features more than the titular stone arch. The tide pools here are so rich with diverse Pacific marine life, they’re among the most beloved features of the park. Inland is a eucalyptus grove that, from October to February, is the wintertime home for tens of thousands of monarch butterflies, which roost until spring weather inspires them to migrate north.

A coal tit taking a break

There are several subspecies of Periparus ater, the small woodland bird known as the coal tit. For an amateur birder, that distinctive black cap and the off-white cheeks are easy clues to identify the bird at a glance, though some regional subspecies may sport grey or even yellow cheeks. Advanced birders might recognize these and other regional features of this common bird, which can be spotted throughout Europe, Asia, and even north Africa. Though you may see them in pine forests, where they feast on pine nuts, coal tits easily adapt to human settlements and will happily visit a bird feeder if sunflower seeds are available. * AUDIO MUTED for Your Convenience – Click on the Speaker Icon to Hear the Audio *

School buses parked in a lot

By now, most schoolchildren around the country are back in class and parents, perhaps, breathe a sigh of relief. (It’s okay to admit it.) And for kids who live too far from campus to walk, the iconic yellow school bus is an integral part of the daily routine. Recess and lunch may be the most popular times of the day, but the school bus is so important, it has its own song. Just try to convince us you don’t remember the words to ’The Wheels On the Bus.’

Leafcutter ants in Boca Tapada, Costa Rica

Happy Labor Day! But not you, leafcutter ants. No holiday for you! In the well-organized, caste-based system of Atta cephalotes, a species of ant native to Central and South America, every day is busy and a day off just isn’t in their DNA. These worker ants bring plant matter back to the colony, where it’s used to grow a fungus that they eat. If that sounds complicated, remember that we work to earn paper money that we exchange for food…

Manhattan’s Financial District, seen from Brooklyn Heights, New York

Ferries were running between Brooklyn and the island of Manhattan as early as 1642, shuttling farmers and their wares. Yes, once there were farms in Brooklyn, and settlements of the Lenape tribe as well.
Today, a mention of Brooklyn Heights may conjure thoughts of tony brownstones in an upscale neighborhood. For history and architecture buffs, a guided tour of the neighborhood offers a glimpse of important sites of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and other major episodes in American history — in what is now the most populous borough in New York City.

Heather growing in Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Scotland got into the national park business only recently, establishing Cairngorms in 2003 as the second park in its system. The park comprises its namesake mountain range up in the coarse, craggy Highlands of the northeast. The passes that cut between the peaks reveal beautiful alpine landscapes, such as this pine forest packed tightly with blooming heather.

‘Greeting to the Sun’ installation by Nikola Bašić, Zadar, Croatia

The Old Town district of Zadar, a city on the Adriatic coast of Croatia, is complemented by two public art installations by architect Nikola Bašić. ‘Greeting to the Sun’ is a series of solar-powered lights that activate as the sun sets, making a variety of patterns on the walkable surface at the top of the stairs that act as a sea wall and passage to the lapping tide of the Adriatic.
Some of the patterns are triggered by Bašić’s earlier installation, the ‘Sea Organ.’ It turns the marble stairs leading from the promenade to the water into a giant pipe organ. As water and wind pass through holes in the stairs, musical tones are produced. Visitors can often be seen dancing on the lighted floor as the sea plays a tune on the steps.

Galápagos sea lion mother and pup on Floreana Island, Ecuador

Though breeding season for Galápagos sea lions lasts from May through January, there are baby sea lions on the islands all year round. A female Galápagos sea lion gives birth to a single pup and spends three years taking care of the baby before the pup is big enough to care for itself. While their moms are out hunting, dozens of pups may be sunning themselves at any particular time in a crowded inlet here on Floreana Island (formerly known as Santa Maria Island), but a mother can still recognize her pup’s bark among the crowd.

Strokkur geyser near the Hvítá River in Iceland

Every few minutes, the Icelandic geyser called Strokkur erupts, sending a stream of heated water into the air. The water can shoot anywhere from 50 to 100 feet high, providing a glimpse of geothermal power in action. The name “Strokkur” actually means “churn” in Icelandic — given these eruptions, that seems an understatement. * AUDIO MUTED for Your Convenience – Click on the Speaker Icon to Hear the Audio *

Louis XIV statue at Place Bellecour, Lyons, France

Three hundred years ago today, Louis XIV died, a few days short of his 77th birthday, having ruled France for more than 72 years. His five-year-old great-grandson, the heir apparent, assumed the throne.
Here in Lyon, France, the Place Bellecour pedestrian square is anchored by a large bronze statue of Louis XIV. Behind him, the Ferris wheel spins, giving a sunburst backdrop to the scene, all the more appropriate in light of Louis XIV’s nickname: The Sun King.

Metropol Parasol in Seville, Spain

Though this 85-foot-tall birch structure is called the Metropol Parasol — a reference to the shade it provides to visitors in the street-level plaza — it has a nickname: “Encarnación’s mushrooms.” That’s a reference both to the name of the parking garage it replaced, and the fact that the six main parts of the structure – the “parasols” (canopies) — look a little like fungi to some residents.
Three above-ground levels include a restaurant, market, and a panoramic walkway where visitors can take in the Seville skyline. An unplanned underground level came about when construction was halted after the discovery of Roman and Moorish ruins buried at the site. Those discoveries are preserved and displayed in the “antiquarium” below the plaza.

A Nile crocodile soaks in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

A fully grown Nile crocodile — the second-largest croc in the world — ranges in weight from 500 to over 1,200 pounds. Some male specimens can tip the scales at 2,000 pounds, which helps cement humanity’s healthy fear of these fearsome reptiles. And though they are opportunistic hunters, happy to snap up any food that happens to wander within chomping range, they are known to be incredibly attentive parents. Both parents guard their nest of eggs, and carefully pick up their young in those same jaws that can snatch a wildebeest from the shore.

Sunset near Ely, Minnesota

Snuggled into the northern woodlands of Minnesota is the town of Ely. And if you lived there, you might see gorgeous pink sunsets reflected in the various bodies of water around town on a regular basis. Ely sits on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a network of creeks, lakes, and marshes that’s on the bucket list of many canoe and kayak enthusiasts.

The polder landscape near Jisp, Netherlands

Jutting out into the North Sea is North Holland, a province of the Netherlands. And like many other parts of this country, portions are below sea level, kept habitable by a series of dikes and levees to hold back the sea. This photo of meadows on reclaimed land separated by ditches was taken near the small town of Jisp, which hosts a cozy population of slightly more than 1,000 residents.

Palais Garnier in Paris, France

Architect Charles Garnier had a skimpy resumé in 1861 when he was selected to design a new opera house in Paris. Fourteen years of design and construction went into the opulent Palais Garnier, and the effort shows. Both the interior and exterior combine elements of Beaux-Arts and Baroque design, with marble friezes, gilded surfaces, and statues of Greek mythological characters.
Today the Palais Garnier hosts the Paris ballet and visiting musical acts, as well as tours of the building and historical exhibits. The Paris Opera, which still operates the space, stages its opera performances at the newer Opéra Bastille. Even if you aren’t up for a night of ballet in Paris, take a tour of the Palais Garnier to see the incredible work of art that is the building itself.

Cape gannet diving for fish off Port St. Johns, South Africa

Off the shores of southern Africa, cape gannets dive for fish in a way that seems positively death-defying. The 3-foot-long birds glide above the waters of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and then drop, suddenly, into the water – shooting into the surf like missiles.
Once underwater, a cape gannet can swim long enough to grab a sardine in its beak before surfacing and returning to the air with its prey. Among the many physical adaptations that allow the cape gannet to hunt underwater is its beak, which lacks external nostrils. This eliminates the possibility of water entering the bird’s airway, allowing it to stay longer underwater.

Lightning over Kowloon, Hong Kong

The skyline of Kowloon may be the most recognizable part of Hong Kong. Perhaps tonight lightning from Mother Nature will outdo the lights of the city. Still, Kowloon – a region of Hong Kong, but nearly a city of its own – will put up a good fight. Every night its skyscrapers are lit up in sync with music, as part of “A Symphony of Lights,” a spectacular multimedia light and sound show that illuminates the Hong Kong waterfront.

Spectacled bear cub, Maquipucuna Cloud Forest, Ecuador

What’s it like to be the only living species of bear native to South America? Ask the spectacled bear, a shaggy-furred, nocturnal bear that lives in and around the trees of the Andes Mountains.
While it’s also the largest carnivorous animal in South America, the bulk of its diet comes from fruit and cactus. Like the giant panda, the spectacled bear has strong jaws that are well suited to eating tough, fibrous vegetation. Scientists have seen spectacled bears in the wild peel and eat the inner bark from trees, which has a similar texture to the panda’s bamboo.

Long Pine Key in Everglades National Park, Florida

Pineland represents one of several different – some vastly different – ecosystems contained within Florida’s Everglades National Park. Long Pine Key typifies the pineland landscape: It’s higher and dryer than many of the other keys in the Everglades, making it a popular spot for hikers and cyclists who tour the trails in the Long Pine wilderness.
Many rare creatures call the Long Pine Key home, including the elusive Florida panther and several butterfly species that thrive in this unique environment.

'Wonderland' by Jaume Plensa, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

On the south plaza outside Calgary’s skyscraper known as the Bow, stands the public sculpture called ‘Wonderland.’ This photo captures the nearly 40-foot-tall artwork from an unusual angle—inside of it. Made of stainless steel, ‘Wonderland’ depicts, simply, a human head. White paint on the steel makes the sculpture easy to see in any light. The face, head, and body are common elements in Barcelona-born Jaume Plensa’s work. And from this viewpoint, ‘Wonderland’ offers a new perspective on Calgary’s skyline.

Gecko and insect

Among lizards, geckos stand out for various unique adaptations they display. Most species of gecko can’t blink because they have no eyelids. A thin, transparent membrane covers their eyes and they lick it clean as needed. Geckos also vocalize, a trait few lizards possess. Vocalizations range from simple chirps to more complex sounds made in response to specific stimuli.
And of course, all but the ground geckos have feet with gripping power to rival not just the best athletic shoes, but industrial glue. Scientists continue to study this Spider-Man-like ability of the gecko to scale vertical surfaces as smooth as glass without faltering. All this aside, does the gecko in this photo realize his lunch may be standing directly over his head?

A glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska

To celebrate National Aviation Day, we bring you a view from the skies above the largest wilderness in the United States: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Although there are traditional roads and trails into parts of the park and preserve, one of the fastest passages into this immense and rugged territory is via the bush planes that are the backbone of Alaskan travel.
Alaska’s bush pilots are a special breed. To succeed here, a pilot must be able to take off and land under less than ideal circumstances, load a plane quickly, and fly in weather that can turn dangerous in a matter of minutes. The next time your flight touches down on a well-lit landing strip in a metropolitan area, thank your pilot and think of the bush pilots who do the same task in much harsher conditions.

Mulbekh Monastery in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India

At the foot of the peak that hosts Mulbekh Monastery, the altitude is 10,839 feet. Climb up to visit the Tibetan Buddhist enclave and you’ll be brushing up against the clouds at 11,495 feet. Once there, visitors will find two gompas – sanctuaries for Buddhist study.
Aside from the draw of the Mulbekh Monastery, visitors also travel just a mile away to the outskirts of the village of Leh to see the Chamba statue, a towering carving in the side of the hill along the road. The statue depicts the Maitreya Buddha, a vision of the “future Buddha” that may’ve been carved during the 8th century CE.

American white pelican

Only the trumpeter swan can compete with the American white pelican for status as the longest, heaviest bird in North America. Some American white pelicans measure nearly 6 feet from beak to tail.
During summer months, the birds migrate up north to gorge on fish in spots like this, near the Lockport dam on the Red River of the North, just outside Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Macro picture of bristly haircap moss

Most mosses are non-vascular plants. That is, they don’t have the water- and nutrient-conducting tissues found in many other plants. But the approximately 70 different species of haircap mosses are rather unique, possessing cells specifically for conducting water throughout the plant. And if there’s no water available, haircaps can twist and curl in on themselves, exposing less of the plant to harsh elements, while the moss waits for conditions to improve. These adaptations allow haircap mosses to grow in a wide variety of environments—in fact, at least one haircap species can be found on every continent, including Antarctica.

Warwick Long Bay, Bermuda

About 650 miles east of the Carolina coast lies Bermuda, a tropical getaway where no frost or freeze has ever been recorded. Many visitors seeking sun and surf come to the Great Sound region of Bermuda’s western shores, where Warwick Parish provides some of the islands’ best beaches, including Warwick Long Bay Beach, seen here.

Purple-tipped sea anemones off Vancouver Island, Canada

Sea anemones may seem like the flowers of the ocean floor – gentle, stationary creatures with showy colors that catch our attention. But even anemones have enemies. Purple-tipped sea anemones can become prey for small fish called mosshead sculpins, sea slugs, or even sea stars with a taste for anemone.
Yet purple-tipped anemones are also threatened by other purple-tipped anemones. A colony of anemones is made up of individuals that are usually clones with identical genetic material. If one colony encroaches on another with a slightly different genetic makeup — watch out! When the tide moves just right, a colony may send out a scout, and if the scout is discovered by the other colony, warrior anemones will attack it, stinging it with their tentacles. So take a longer look at a tide pool — you may be witnessing slow, nearly silent combat.

African elephants

World Elephant Day began just three years ago, established by Michael Clark and Patricia Sims, filmmakers from Canada, and Sivaporn Dardarananda, secretary-general of the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand. Clark and Sims made a documentary about Asian elephants in Thailand and focused on the effort by the Reintroduction Foundation to preserve and perhaps expand the population of wild elephants in Thailand.
Their efforts aren’t limited to the elephants of Thailand; they extend to African elephants as well, like the small herd seen here. Poaching and habitat loss are two of the biggest threats to elephants. Their numbers are dwindling each year as the illegal ivory trade continues, despite efforts to increase awareness of the destructive impact of ivory. World Elephant Day is just a reminder that unless drastic changes are implemented, we face a near future without elephants.

Star trails over Mount Shasta in California

If you first catch sight of Mount Shasta while approaching from the north, it’s an unofficial reminder that you’ve crossed the Oregon border into California. The peak – technically still an active volcano – is one of the giants signaling the southern end of the Cascade Range.
Since Shasta stands in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, with other national forests nearby, it’s far enough from city lights to make great stargazing a fine way to spend the evening. This photo was made using 100 images of stars shifting position in the sky over the course of a night.

Marina Bay illuminated for Singapore's 50th National Day

Since humans first settled here nearly 2,000 years ago, the islands that comprise modern-day Singapore have experienced dramatic changes, particularly in recent history. After occupation by Great Britain in the 19th century, the Japanese during World War II, and a short merger with Malaysia in 1962, Singapore gained independence on August 9, 1965.
That date is celebrated as Singapore National Day, and since 2004, the fireworks over Marina Bay have been a big part of the festival. This year marks the nation’s 50th anniversary and many expect the show over Marina Bay to be bigger than ever. Happy birthday, Singapore!

Competitors in the Nehru Trophy Boat Race in Alappuzha, India

Six major rivers connect to Vembanad Lake in Alappuzha, India. The city, also known as Alleppey, is in the southern state of Kerala, and is practically defined by its numerous canals for easy transit around the region. So when India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, visited the region in 1952, he was given a ride in one of the “snake boats,” locally made canoes that range from 100 to 120 feet long and can carry around 100 passengers.
The snake boats charmed Nehru, and he gave a gift of a trophy to the people of Alappuzha, which marked the start of the city’s now-famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race, an annual competition that takes place today. Teams of rowers power their boats by stroking in unison to a rhythm set by musicians who ride along playing percussion instruments. Each boat also has a few key passengers who help steer the long craft. Together, they’ll all take to the waters of Vembanad Lake to see who will be first to get their craft across the finish line.

Cenote Samula near Valladolid, Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is home to numerous cenotes, sinkholes, and caves that hold large amounts of groundwater. And Samula, just west of the city of Valladolid, is one of the region’s more spectacular, and accessible, cenotes.
Stairs have been carved into the limestone leading down to the open cavern, where the sun often shines through gaps in the ground above. Tree roots stretch down from the ceiling as well, and visitors are allowed to take a dip in the cenote’s clear, cold waters.

A road to Arenal Volcano National Park in Costa Rica

Two volcanoes—the titular Arenal Volcano and an extinct crater peak called Cerro Chato—draw hikers to central Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano National Park. But the park hosts a few other amazing sights as well. La Fortuna waterfall is a popular swimming spot, and zip-lines through the jungle canopy add a little theme-park adventure to the place. But if you’re in it for the natural beauty, take a field guide and some binoculars: Arenal is home to hundreds of different bird species as well as other exotic flora and fauna.

Ship wreckage near Tromsø, Norway

The city center of Tromsø, Norway, sits on the island of Tromsøya. And the larger municipal region is intercut by four major fjords: Balsfjorden, Kaldfjorden, Malangen, and Ullsfjorden. So you might guess (correctly) that boat traffic is a major part of daily life in this city within the Arctic Circle.
Where there are ships, there are inevitably shipwrecks. Just as cars beget junkyards full of once-useful vehicles, boats can end up abandoned along the shores around Tromsø. This skeletal ship’s hull sits in the waters off Tisnes, a small peninsula just south of Tromsøya, where Malangen and Balsfjorden meet.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne, England

Several bridges allow passage across the River Tyne in Newcastle, England. But the tilting Gateshead Millennium Bridge does it with a wink and a smile. This pedestrian- and bicycle-only span opened in 2001. The curved shape of the span makes the trek across the river a little longer, but serves a functional purpose. When tall boats need to pass under the bridge, the Gateshead Bridge lifts up and the two arches – one a counterbalance, the other the actual bridge – leave enough room for boats to scoot underneath.

American bison near Fort Pierre, South Dakota

The American bison was once nearly extinct in North America, but this iconic symbol of the American West has recovered through the efforts of various public and private agencies. And while many herds thrive in national parks and preserves, some bison, like those in this photo, live on ranches and are raised as livestock.

Long a sacred animal to many Native American tribes, the bison’s sheer size and remarkable physical abilities likely inspired much of this respect and reverence. For example, a fully grown bison can weigh about a ton and still run at a speed of 40 miles per hour. We recommend admiring the stampeding herd from a distance.

Siesta the donkey greets Sudo the dog in Melbourne, Australia

Who better to embody the spirit of International Friendship Day than these two buddies of different species? Traditionally, we celebrate Friendship Day on the first Sunday in August. But the exact date varies in some regions. In India and parts of South America, Friendship Day is more widely celebrated than here in the United States. And how does one celebrate this day? It can be as simple as letting your pals know that you appreciate their friendship, no matter where they happen to be in the biological taxonomy.

Seaside resort on the Adriatic coast of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region

The sandy beaches on the Adriatic coast of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region did not start to attract significant tourism until the 1960s. Since then, However, the flood of visitors has turned quiet, historic villages such as Ravenna and Rimini into resort towns, where local businesses now cater to tourists eager to soak up the sun and surf.

Competing companies own tracts of beach property and rent spaces on the sand to sunbathers. During the busy season, vast stretches of the beaches are nearly covered by umbrellas and lounge chairs arranged in orderly rows These.

'Waterlicht' art installation, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Nearly all the land on which Amsterdam is built was reclaimed from natural canals and rivers, and the waters of the North Sea. A complex system of sea walls, dikes, and other engineering feats keeps the city dry. As a result, most of Amsterdam is at least 6.5 feet below sea level, and some locations, such as this one in Museumplein (Museum Square), are even lower.

It’s a delicate proposition to preserve dry land where once was water, and it’s this extraordinary endeavor that inspired artist Daan Roosegaarde’s ‘Waterlicht’ project. Using LED lights, lenses, and custom software, Roosegaarde created a blue-light “surface” to show where the water level would actually be in Amsterdam if dams and barriers weren’t in place to hold back the sea.

When the artwork was installed at the Museumplein in May, visitors were able to walk “underwater” and see, vividly, how much of the city would be lost to the sea without the elaborate interventions that make Amsterdam habitable for those of us who aren’t amphibious.

Wind and solar facility, Whiskey Dick Mountain, Washington

There are 149 turbines on the southwest rise of Whiskey Dick Mountain in the arid steppes of central Washington State. The Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility takes advantage of the region’s near-constant breezes to generate enough power to service 80,000 homes. Puget Sound Energy, which operates the facility, opens the wind farm for tours. And that’s not all there is to do and see on the mountain: Hiking is a popular choice, but be warned that the same wind that turns the blades of the turbines can make for a challenging trek.

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