Year of 2016

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Fireworks above the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia

As you read this, the residents of Sydney, Australia, are already enjoying the first day of 2017. Australia’s not the first populated area on Earth to shout ‘Happy New Year!’ at the stroke of midnight, but they’re certainly close to the top of the list. And here in Sydney Harbour, fireworks explode over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to celebrate the passing of the old year and the entry into the new. How do you celebrate New Year’s Eve?

* AUDIO MUTED for Your Convenience – Click Play Button to Hear the Audio *

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a steel through arch bridge across Sydney Harbour that carries rail, vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic between the Sydney central business district and the North Shore. The dramatic view of the bridge, the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera House is an iconic image of Sydney, and Australia. The bridge is nicknamed “The Coathanger” because of its arch-based design

Address: Cumberland Street, Sydney New South Wales 2000
Phone: 02 9240 1100
Opened: Mar 19, 1932
Length: 3,770 feet (1,149 m)
Width: 161 feet (49 m)
Longest span: 1,650 feet (503 m)

Hohenzollern Castle near Stuttgart, Germany

That’s a long walk if you left your wallet at home. The hills outside Stuttgart, Germany, are home to numerous castles, many built and rebuilt over the centuries as financial ruin, war, and the ravages of time have forced the property owners to undertake maintenance on a scale that lets the rest of us feel a bit less burdened by our own home repairs. This is the third castle built on the mountain also called Hohenzollern, and was completed in 1867. Today it’s a museum open to the public.

Hohenzollern Castle is the ancestral seat of the imperial House of Hohenzollern. The third of three castles on the site, it is located atop Berg Hohenzollern, a 234-metre bluff rising above the towns of Hechingen and Bisingen in the foothills of the Swabian Alps of central Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

Phone: 07471 2428
Burials: Princess Magdalena Reuss of Köstritz

Athabasca River in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

The waters of the Athabasca River come from the Columbia Icefield here in Jasper National Park, so they’re already cold. In the winter months, everything turns colder still, as ice, snow, and plunging temperatures are visited on the Canadian Rockies. But that doesn’t mean the park is closed up. The whitewater rafters may have left the foamy rapids of the Athabasca, but Athabasca Falls still offers a dramatic scene, and for those with the right gear, snowshoeing, skiing, and ice climbing are world-class.

Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, spanning 10,878 km². It is located in the province of Alberta, north of Banff National Park and west of Edmonton. The park includes the glaciers of the Columbia Icefield, hot springs, lakes, waterfalls and mountains.

Established: 1907
Area: 4,200 sq miles (10,878 km²)
Annual visitors: 2.15 million (2014)
Managed by: Parks Canada

Red-crowned cranes in Akan National Park, Hokkaido, Japan

The global population of red-crowned cranes has been steadily declining, with 2013 population estimates at less than 3,000 and possibly fewer than 2,000. These three are in the air over Japan’s Akan National Park, where winter feeding helps keep the population intact and healthy. The red-crowned crane figures prominently in the mythology and culture of Japan, China, and Korea—it’s often seen as a symbol of luck and longevity.

The red-crowned crane, also called the Japanese crane or Manchurian crane, is a large East Asian crane and among the rarest cranes in the world. In some parts of its range, it is known as a symbol of luck, longevity and fidelity.

Scientific name: Grus japonensis
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Grus

Colorful houses in Tromsø, Norway

Our photo of Tromsø probably wasn’t taken in December. This time of year—from late November to late January—the city in northern Norway is plunged into the darkness of the polar night. Tromsø’s far enough north that as the winter solstice approaches, and for weeks afterward, the sun never rises fully above the horizon. Add to that the mountains that surround the city and you end up with just a few hours of blue twilight during what would normally be daylight hours.

Tromsø is a city and municipality in Troms county, Norway. The administrative centre of the municipality is the city of Tromsø. Outside of Norway, Tromso and Tromsö are alternative spellings of the city. Tromsø is considered the northernmost city in the world with a population above 50,000. The most populous town north of it is Alta, Norway, with a population of 14,272.

Travel tip: The fjords and mountain ranges of Tromso are simply magical. Here, the northern lights sparkle across the same navy blue sky that’s illuminated by the midnight sun. You’ll be spellbound by Tromso’s enchanting fishing villages, fragrant botanical gardens and crystalline waterfalls. Music is a major part of the … @tripadvisor
Area: 973.02 sq miles (2,520 km²)
Colleges and universities: University of Tromsø · Tromsø University College · Norwegian College of Fishery Science · Tromsø University Business School

Southampton Common, Southampton, England

This 326-acre greenspace is north of Southampton’s city center and a great place to see some of the local flora and fauna. A land-rights dispute in the 13th century led to the acquisition of the land as a common public space, but it wasn’t a designated public park until 1844. The Southampton Zoo was located here, but it’s since been transformed into an urban wildlife center, focusing on local species.

Snow globes for sale in Trentino-Alto Adige/South Tyrol, Italy

At Christmas time, public squares such as this one in the Trentino-Alto Adige/South Tyrol region of northern Italy, adopt the atmosphere of a holiday carnival. Revelers enjoy live music, nativity scenes, and seasonal foods while searching out traditional gifts, which are often hand-crafted or locally made. Antiques stalls may even have large displays of whimsical snow globes to tempt the holiday shopper.

Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol is an autonomous region in Northern Italy. Since the 1970s, most legislative and administrative powers have been transferred to the two self-governing provinces that make up the region: Trentino and South Tyrol.

A red deer in the snow

This isn’t one of Santa’s famous team of eight (or nine when foggy). Instead of a reindeer, this Christmas Eve we bring you a red deer, one of the largest deer species in the world. Red deer are common throughout the forests of Europe, Western and Central Asia, and the Caucasus. They’re even in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, making them Africa’s only deer species. The deer hold a high position in the folklore and mythology of cultures that relied on the herds as a food source. Cave drawings often depict red deer, and for medieval hunters, a stag was the most prized quarry.

The red deer is one of the largest deer species. The red deer inhabits most of Europe, the Caucasus Mountains region, Asia Minor, Iran, parts of western Asia, and central Asia. It also inhabits the Atlas Mountains region between Morocco and Tunisia in northwestern Africa, being the only species of deer to inhabit Africa. Red deer have been introduced to other areas, including Australia, New Zealand, United States, Canada, Peru, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina. In many parts of the world, the meat from red deer is used as a food source.

Scientific name: Cervus elaphus
Biological classification: Species
Subspecies: Barbary stag · Kashmir stag
Belongs to: Cervus

The Dome, a nightclub in Edinburgh, Scotland

The owners of the Dome saw classic Graeco-Roman architecture and thought: Needs more lights. Or at least they decided to go all out when putting up the holiday decorations. Built as a bank headquarters in 1847, the Dome is one of Edinburgh’s iconic buildings. These days it’s a restaurant and bar, and probably easy to spot if you’re navigating the crowded streets at Christmas time.

Address: The Dome, 14 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 2PF
Phone: +44 131 624 8624

Manhattan Beach Pier in California

The first pier at this location was built in 1901 but was destroyed by a storm in 1913. It was replaced in 1920 and went through several changes before a restoration to its 1920 design in 1992. This time of year, a walk on the pier to see the sun set over the Pacific includes a holiday light display. At the end of the pier is the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium, where visitors can see some of the types of fish that swim in the surf below. Maybe Santa will bring the fish something nice this year.

Manhattan Beach is a city in southwestern Los Angeles County, California, United States, on the Pacific coast south of El Segundo, and north of Hermosa Beach. Manhattan Beach is one of the three Beach Cities that make up the South Bay. Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach is ranked in the top 1% of high schools nationally.

Area: 3.94 sq miles (10.21 km²)
Population: 35,881 (2014)
Points of interest: Manhattan Beach Pier
Mayor: Mark Burton

A European crested tit lands on a pine tree in France

You’ll find this bird all over the coniferous and deciduous forests of continental Europe. The population in the UK is now confined to the Caledonian pine forests of Scotland. It eats insects and pine seeds, and has been known to store food for the winter. Here’s hoping the European crested tit has already begun stockpiling. Today is the winter solstice, which marks the start of winter.

The European crested tit, or simply crested tit, is a passerine bird in the tit family Paridae. It is a widespread and common resident breeder in coniferous forests throughout central and northern Europe and in deciduous woodland in France and the Iberian peninsula. In Great Britain, it is chiefly restricted to the ancient pinewoods of Inverness and Strathspey in Scotland, and seldom strays far from its haunts. A few vagrant crested tits have been seen in England. It is resident, and most individuals do not migrate.

Scientific name: Lophophanes cristatus
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Lophophanes

Winter solstice is an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight hours and the longest night of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere this is the December solstice and in the Southern Hemisphere this is the June solstice.

Welcome to the shortest day (and longest night) of the year—the winter solstice. We tend to experience the coming of winter just like our ancestors did. We notice that the sun hangs in the sky less and less with each passing day, its warmth and light gradually diminishing until the winter solstice is finally upon us. But when viewed from space, and with the added benefit of time-lapse photography, we can see that it’s not the sun that’s changing paths with the seasons. Instead, it’s the tilt of Earth’s axis, combined with Earth’s orbit around the sun, that causes this change in seasons and the arrival of the solstice.

It works like this: As Earth tracks its yearlong orbit around the sun, it does so at a jaunty tilt of about 23.5 degrees. This tilt means that Earth’s two polar hemispheres lean into or away from the warmth and light of the sun, depending on the position of Earth in its orbit. In 2016, the winter solstice for us in the Northern Hemisphere is on December 21, when we’re tilted farther away from the sun than we’ll be all year. Meanwhile, the Southern Hemisphere is leaning into the sun and is enjoying its longest day of the year—its summer solstice. But don’t be too jealous—we can take some comfort in knowing that in six months we’ll have traded positions with the Southern Hemisphere and will enjoy long, warm days once again.

A saguaro cactus decorated with lights in Arizona

Perhaps the locals in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert area were being eco-conscious when they opted to decorate this saguaro cactus instead of putting up a pine tree. The saguaro can grow more than 70 feet tall and is only found here in the Sonoran Desert, across the border in Sonora, Mexico, and in a small portion of southeastern California. Though the saguaro isn’t endangered, it’s heavily protected by state and federal laws, due to its relatively small natural habitat.

The saguaro is an arborescent cactus species in the monotypic genus Carnegiea, which can grow to be over 70 feet tall. It is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California. The saguaro blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona. Its scientific name is given in honor of Andrew Carnegie. In 1994 the Saguaro National Park, Arizona, was designated to help protect this species and its habitat. It is the only US national park devoted to a particular plant species.

Scientific name: Carnegiea gigantea
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Carnegiea
Symbol of: Arizona

A tree farm near Elmira, Idaho

Maybe the time will come next year for the remaining evergreens at this tree farm in Elmira, Idaho. In ancient Rome, the midwinter celebration called Saturnalia included decorating houses with evergreen wreaths. Fast-forward to Germany in the 1500s to find the roots (heh) of the present-day Christmas tree. Decorations of that era included candles and fruit. We like both of those things, but if we’re trimming a tree, we’ll stick with safe, modern lights.

A tree farm is a privately owned forest managed for timber production. The term, tree farm, also is used to refer to tree plantations, tree nurseries, and Christmas tree farms. The American Tree Farm System (ATFS) is the largest and oldest woodland certification system in America.

Necklace sea star on a magnificent sea anemone

The coloration of this necklace sea star reminds us a bit of the red and white of a candy cane. And we’re not alone in making that association—one of the lesser-used common names for the animal is the peppermint sea star. Found in the shallow waters of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans, the colors of the necklace sea star vary, with brilliant orange and pale-yellow combinations in place of the red and white seen here.

Fromia monilis, common name necklace starfish or tiled starfish, is a species of starfish belonging to the family Goniasteridae. Fromia monilis can reach a diameter of about 30 centimetres. Tips of the arms and the disc center of this starfish are bright red, while the remaining parts are paler, forming large plates.

Scientific name: Fromia monilis

Farolitos on an adobe building in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Every year as Christmas approaches, the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, hosts the Canyon Road Farolito Walk. What’s a farolito? A ‘little lantern,’ a votive candle in a paper bag weighted down with sand, seen here adorning a hotel in Santa Fe. Many homes in the Southwest are decorated for the holidays with farolitos, or luminarias, as they’re also called. Sometimes electric farolitos are displayed. No matter what you call them, the lights provide that cheery glow to keep winter gloom away.

A luminaria or farolito (see naming disagreement section below) is a small paper lantern (commonly a candle set in some sand inside a paper bag) which is of significance in New Mexico and in southwest United States at Christmas time, especially on Christmas Eve. These paper lanterns have to some extent replaced the older tradition of the vigil fire luminaria with which they became confused.

Sunset on a snowy field in Switzerland

Away from the big cities and towns of Switzerland, nature provides its own holiday decoration for the landscape, as sunset gives a brassy jolt of reflected light on the ice, while twilight turns the snowy field to a deep purple. We like to think the reflection lends an illusion of warmth.

Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, is a federal republic in Europe. It consists of 26 cantons, and the city of Bern is the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western-Central Europe, and is bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. Switzerland is a landlocked country geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning an area of 41,285 km². While the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately eight million people is concentrated mostly on the plateau, where the largest cities are to be found: among them are the two global cities and economic centres Zürich and Geneva.

Founded: 1291
Population: 8.29 million (2015)
GDP: $664.74 billion USD (2015)
Calling code: 41
Area: 15,937 sq miles (41,277 km²)
Official languages: Romansh language · German · French · Italian

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

This city on the banks of the Yantra River in northern Bulgaria stands as a reminder of the more than two-century rule of the Second Bulgarian Empire. From 1185 to 1396, Bulgaria was the most powerful nation in the Balkan region, going head-to-head with the Byzantine Empire farther west. Today, Veliko Tarnovo (Great Tarnovo in English) is a busy manufacturing center with architecture representing the region’s numerous historic periods, including the Second Empire-era fortress known as the Tsarevets.

Veliko Tarnovo is a city in north central Bulgaria and the administrative centre of Veliko Tarnovo Province. Often referred to as the “City of the Tsars”, Veliko Tarnovo is located on the Yantra River and is famously known as the historical capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, attracting many tourists with its unique architecture. The old part of the city is situated on the three hills Tsarevets, Trapezitsa, and Sveta Gora, rising amidst the meanders of the Yantra. On Tsarevets are the palaces of the Bulgarian emperors and the Patriarchate, the Patriarchal Cathedral, and also a number of administrative and residential edifices surrounded by thick walls.

Population: 68,783 (2011)
Area: 11.73 sq miles (30.38 km²)
Colleges and universities: Veliko Tarnovo University
Mayor: Daniel Panov

Black-headed night monkeys in Peru

Since black-headed night monkeys are nocturnal, it’s surprising to see them awake during daylight hours. Perhaps here in Peru’s Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, these tropical-forest dwellers felt comfortable enough to take a peek at the photographer while he worked. Night monkeys are the only nocturnal monkeys, and those large brown eyes gather enough light to let them see in the dark. Scientists have determined that night monkeys see in black and white. Color vision’s not necessary when you spend most of your waking hours in the dark.

The black-headed night monkey is a night monkey species from South America. It is found in Bolivia, Brazil and Peru.

Scientific name: Aotus nigriceps
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Aotus

Inside Fromme-Birney Round Barn in Mullinville, Kansas

The round barn design uses gravity and a central silo inside the barn to get hay from the loft to the livestock floor. Despite this work-reducing design, round barns never surpassed the traditional four-sided barn in popularity. Most round barns in the US were built between the mid-1800s and the 1930s, including the Fromme-Birney barn, seen here, built in 1912. Today, the Fromme-Birney Round Barn is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The Fromme-Birney Round Barn near Mullinville, Kansas, United States, is a round barn that was built in 1912. The barn is 50 feet tall and 70 feet in diameter and built with 16 sides to appear round. It was built to house draft horses but the horses were eventually replaced by tractors as the years went on. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Established: Jul 16, 1987

Composite infrared photo of fields in Kazakhstan

The Landsat Earth-imaging program is jointly managed by NASA and the US Geological Survey. Its mission is to capture a continuous visual record of the Earth’s surface, and it’s been doing this for longer than any similar endeavor. The first Landsat craft, known as the Earth Resources Technology Satellite, launched in 1972. Landsat 8 launched in 2013, and continues to orbit the Earth, taking photos such as this composite image of Kazakhstan’s topography. This photo combines infrared imaging with a more traditional full-spectrum photography. And because of its patchwork-like appearance—as if Picasso had made quilts—this image is included in the Landsat ‘Earth as Art’ collection of photos from the satellite.

Kazakhstan; Kazakh: Қазақстан, Qazaqstan IPA:, officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in northern Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country, and the ninth largest in the world, with an area of 2,724,900 square kilometres. Kazakhstan is the dominant nation of Central Asia economically, generating 60% of the region’s GDP, primarily through its oil/gas industry. Kazakhstan has vast mineral resources.

Founded: Dec 16, 1991
Population: 17.54 million (2015)
Area: 1.05 million sq miles (2.72 million km²)
GDP: $184.36 billion USD (2015)
Calling code: 7
Capital: Astana

A rural portion of Gmina Barczewo, Poland

In northeast Poland, in Olsztyn County, Gmina Barczewo is a mostly rural district with dozens of small towns and villages. Perhaps the most prominent of these is Barczewo, a town that voted to remain part of Germany after World War I, but reverted to Polish control after the Second World War. More than half of the population lives in rural areas, and based on this photo, we can understand the draw.

Gmina Barczewo is an urban-rural gmina in Olsztyn County, Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, in northern Poland. Its seat is the town of Barczewo, which lies approximately 14 kilometres north-east of the regional capital Olsztyn.

Area: 123.49 sq miles (319.85 km²)
Population: 16,525 (2006)

Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Time and human interference had taken its toll on Cliff Palace. The Ancestral Puebloan city, abandoned by the tribe around 1300 CE, was carefully cleaned up and even partially rebuilt recently. So when US national park rangers reopened the site to the public in 2015, they celebrated with a luminaria display in Cliff Palace. The paper lanterns—a Christmas tradition started by Spanish explorers here who’d seen Chinese paper lanterns and adopted the idea—perhaps give Cliff Palace a bit of the firelight charm it had during the era of the Ancestral Pueblo people.

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. The structure built by the Ancestral Puebloans is located in Mesa Verde National Park in their former homeland region. The cliff dwelling and park are in the southwestern corner of Colorado, in the Southwestern United States.

Address: Ruins Rd, Uninc Montezuma County, CO 81330
Website: Cliff Palace – Mesa Verde National Park (U.S. National Park Service)
Phone: (970) 529-4461

Climbers ascending the Jungfrau, Bernese Alps, Switzerland

Imagine the breathtaking view these climbers will get when they summit the Jungfrau. As one of the most prominent peaks in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps, the Jungfrau sees its fair share of brave climbers making their way to the top each year. If the weather’s not right, it can take three hours to make the final 725-foot ascent from the last campsite up to the summit.

The Jungfrau at 4,158 metres is one of the main summits of the Bernese Alps, located between the northern canton of Bern and the southern canton of Valais, halfway between Interlaken and Fiesch. Together with the Eiger and Mönch, the Jungfrau forms a massive wall overlooking the Bernese Oberland and the Swiss Plateau, one of the most distinctive sights of the Swiss Alps.

Elevation: 13,642 feet (4,158 m)
First ascent: Aug 03, 1811
Prominence: 2,254 feet (687 m)
Mountain ranges: Bernese Alps · Alps
First ascenders: Alois Volken · Hieronymus Meyer · Johann-Rudolf Meyer · Joseph Bortis

A pedestrian skyway in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai District, China

With roughly 1.3 million people living on Hong Kong Island’s 30 square miles of land, getting around means navigating busy streets. Walkways and skyways—including this roundabout-style skyway at an intersection in the Wan Chai District—keep pedestrians safe. While trains, buses, cars, and cycles wheel by below, foot traffic moves along above.

Wan Chai District is one of the 18 districts of Hong Kong. The district is located at the north shore of Hong Kong Island with a population of 167,146 in 2001. The district has the second most educated residents with the highest income, the second lowest population and the third oldest residents, and is also the only district without the presence of public housing estates. It is a relatively affluent district, with one in five persons having liquid assets of more than HKD 1 million.

Area: 3.94 sq miles (10.20 km²)
Population: 152,608 (2011)

Pearl Harbor Remembrance in 1942, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii

This photo was taken one year after the 1941 Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor that killed about 2,400 Americans. With the volcanic cone of Diamond Head in the background, Navy personnel place leis on the gravestones of their comrades who died during the attack on the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay, which occurred just minutes before the Pearl Harbor attacks. Twenty were killed in the Kaneohe Bay attack, including two civilians. The enlisted personnel were buried at this beach near the community of Kaneohe. The Naval air station has since been converted to Marine Corps Base Hawaii. The Pearl Harbor memorial, called the USS Arizona Memorial, is west of here, at the site of the final resting place of the 1,177 sailors and Marines who died in the attacks while aboard the USS Arizona.

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, also referred to as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day or Pearl Harbor Day, is observed annually in the United States on December 7, to remember and honor the 2,403 citizens of the United States who were killed in the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.

A frozen waterfall in the Korouoma Gorge, Finland

To celebrate Finland’s 99 years of independence, we’re marveling at one of the many frozen falls in the Korouoma Gorge, a 20-mile-long canyon near the city of Posio. In summer, the waters flow over the sides of the gorge, but as winter temps freeze the water in place, the gorge walls become sheets of ice. Korouoma doesn’t close down for winter, though. Ice climbers from around the world journey here to conquer this formidable challenge.

Korouoma is about 30 kilometres (20 mi) long, few hundred metres wide and up to 130 m (430 ft) deep canyon at Posio, Finland. The entire area is a natural reserve. At the bottom of the canyon there’s Korojoki River, which ends up to Kemijoki River. There are plenty of species in varied nature of Korouoma. Some of species found are rare. Korouoma offers great opportunities for hiking, watching the nature, fishing and reviewing the cultural history of usage of nature at the area.

Korouoma is fairly popular hiking area. There is a marked hiking path at the bottom of the Korouoma and several fireplaces, huts and cabins. Finnish Administration of Forests takes care of the routes and hiking related infrastructure there.

Part of Korouoma’s distinctive nature are the clifs both sides of it, where several streams freeze during the winter forming huge ice formations. Because of these ice formations Korouoma is known as the best ice climbing location in Finland. There are some climbing routes that can be used during the summer time as well.

There are signs pointing to Korouoma from Rovaniemi–Posio road (main road 81).

Semiconductor manufacturing at Infineon Technologies

These semiconductors make up the kind of microchip that carries out the computing functions of numerous everyday electronics. In this case, ultrathin sheets of silicon, a semiconducting element, go through a weeks-long process that results in an integrated circuit that will be the ‘brain’ of a computer device.

Semiconductor devices are electronic components that exploit the electronic properties of semiconductor materials, principally silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide, as well as organic semiconductors. Semiconductor devices have replaced thermionic devices (vacuum tubes) in most applications.

Quinoa plants in Peru

The indigenous farmers of the Andes have grown quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) for at least 3,000 years. The Incas considered this plant sacred, which may have factored into the Spanish conquistadors forbidding the crop, forcing the tribes of the Andes to grow wheat instead. But quinoa returned as a dietary staple in the region and its popularity eventually spread to the US, Canada, and Europe. Have you tried quinoa yet?

Quinoa is the common name for Chenopodium quinoa of the flowering plant family Amaranthaceae. It is grown as a grain crop primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal, rather than a true cereal, as it is not a grass. Quinoa is closely related to species such as beetroots and spinach and to amaranth, another pseudocereal which it closely resembles. After harvest, the seeds are processed to remove the coating containing the bitter-tasting saponins. The seeds are in general cooked in the same way as rice and can be used in a wide range of dishes. The leaves are eaten as a leaf vegetable, much like amaranth, but commercial availability of quinoa greens is limited.

Scientific name: Chenopodium quinoa
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Chenopodium

Red grouse in the Scottish Highlands

Snowfall in the Scottish Highlands shouldn’t make the feet of the red grouse too cold: Its legs and toes are covered with pale feathers. That’s the inspiration for this ground bird’s scientific name: ‘lagopus scoticus,’ which translates from Greek to English as ‘hare foot of Scotland.’ You can find this cold-tolerant grouse on most of the British Isles, where it feeds on the heather in the English, Irish, and Scottish moors.

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The red grouse, Lagopus lagopus scotica, is a medium-sized bird of the grouse family which is found in heather moorland in Great Britain and Ireland. It is usually classified as a subspecies of the willow ptarmigan but is sometimes considered to be a separate species, Lagopus scotica. It is also known as the moorcock, moorfowl or moorbird. Lagopus is derived from Ancient Greek lagos, meaning “hare”, + pous, “foot”, in reference to the feathered feet and toes typical of this cold-adapted genus, and scoticus is “of Scotland”.

Scientific name: Lagopus lagopus scotica
Biological classification: Subspecies
Belongs to: Willow ptarmigan

Resurrection Bay at Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

From 1733 to 1867, Russia laid claim to the land that is now Alaska, our 49th state. And it was Alexander Baranov, the first governor of Russian America, who named Resurrection Bay. A terrible storm beset Baranov and his crew along the coast of what is now called Kenai Fjords. They waited out the storm at this spot, and when the weather finally turned for the better, it was Easter Sunday, prompting Baranov to name this spot Resurrection Bay. Today it’s part of Kenai Fjords National Park.

Resurrection Bay is a bay on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska, United States. Its main settlement is Seward, located at the head of the bay. It received its name from Alexandr Baranov, who was forced to retreat into the bay during a bad storm in the Gulf of Alaska. When the storm settled it was Easter Sunday, so the bay and nearby Resurrection River were named in honor of it.

Cierva Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula

Just looking at this photo makes us cold. However, the Antarctic Peninsula is the warmest part of the frozen south. Summer is fast approaching, and the temperature should regularly climb above 32 degrees Fahrenheit, at least by a few degrees. Come June, when the Southern Hemisphere is plunged into winter, the daily high here in Cierva Cove averages around 14.

Cierva Cove is a cove lying 6 nautical miles southeast of Cape Sterneck in Hughes Bay, just south of Chavdar Peninsula along the west coast of Graham Land, Antarctica. Shown on an Argentine government chart of 1950. It was named by the UK Antarctic Place-Names Committee in 1960 for Juan de la Cierva, Spanish designer of the autogiro, the first successful rotating wing aircraft in 1923.

Cattle egrets atop a Burchell's zebra

If these two cattle egrets really are having a spat, it’s likely over which one has the best insect-eating spot on the zebra’s back. The common name for these birds comes from their penchant for standing atop cattle, zebras, antelope, and even rhinoceroses, so they can gobble up the flies, ticks, and other pests the larger animal attracts. This Burchell’s zebra may not be delighted about the squabble on its back, but it’s a small price to pay for steady pest control.

The cattle egret is a cosmopolitan species of heron found in the tropics, subtropics and warm temperate zones. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Bubulcus, although some authorities regard its two subspecies as full species, the western cattle egret and the eastern cattle egret. Despite the similarities in plumage to the egrets of the genus Egretta, it is more closely related to the herons of Ardea. Originally native to parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, it has undergone a rapid expansion in its distribution and successfully colonised much of the rest of the world in the last century.

Scientific name: Bubulcus ibis
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Bubulcus

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in California

Though the Golden Gate Bridge has become an icon of the San Francisco skyline, the Bay Bridge—officially the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge—is just as much a part of the City by the Bay’s daily churn. Nearly 250,000 commuters cross this multi-span bridge system each day, making their way between Frisco and the East Bay. And if you travel to Grizzly Peak in the Berkeley Hills above the UC Berkeley campus, you’ll enjoy the view shown in our image today: San Francisco, pulsing with nightlife, and the Bay Bridge, a glowing artery pumping passengers into and out of the city.

The San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge is a complex of bridges spanning San Francisco Bay in California. As part of Interstate 80 and the direct road between San Francisco and Oakland, it carries about 240,000 vehicles a day on its two decks. It has one of the longest spans in the United States.

Opened: Nov 12, 1936
Length: 23,556 feet (7,180 m)
Width: 65′ 7″ (20 m)
Longest span: 2,297 feet (700 m)
Clearance below: 190 feet (58 m)
Height: 526 feet (160.32 m) (Architectural)

The Crookes radiometer, also known as a light mill, consists of an airtight glass bulb, containing a partial vacuum. Inside are a set of vanes which are mounted on a spindle. The vanes rotate when exposed to light, with faster rotation for more intense light, providing a quantitative measurement of electromagnetic radiation intensity.

The UK’s Royal Society is going strong after 356 years of work helping to encourage, fund, and promote ‘scientific excellence.’ At the group’s headquarters in London, a collection of papers and devices are on display for free to the public. These radiometers—early electromagnetic detection devices—represent but a small sampling of the varied disciplines and works the Royal Society exhibits, which are intended to be both educational and inspirational. The organization held its first ‘learned society’ meeting in London on November 28, 1660.

The Crookes radiometer, also known as a light mill, consists of an airtight glass bulb, containing a partial vacuum. Inside are a set of vanes which are mounted on a spindle. The vanes rotate when exposed to light, with faster rotation for more intense light, providing a quantitative measurement of electromagnetic radiation intensity.

The tower at Victoria Beach, Laguna Beach, California

In 1926, California senator William E. Brown built a French-style beach bungalow and private-access stairwell on Victoria Beach. The politician used the wooden spiral staircase in the tower to get from his home on top of the cliff down to the beach below. The home’s second owner, a retired naval captain, Harold Kendrick, helped build the tower’s legend here in Laguna Beach. Kendrick loved pirate lore, and, according to local historians, often dressed as a pirate while at the home. He even hid coins between the stones of the tower, so that curious kids might find ‘hidden treasure’ there. The bungalow and tower have been sold and resold since, but the pirate idea remained. Though it’s officially the Victoria Beach Tower, many call the privately owned structure the Pirate Tower.

Address: Victoria Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92652

Fire urchins in Lembeh Strait, Indonesia

Fire urchins, also known as red urchins, display other colors besides the crimson and orange seen in this photo. Some have black or blue coloring with bright gold, and in rare cases, white. The colors act as a warning to potential predators, as those spines are venomous. Being poked by one would be painful, but not deadly to humans. At least those colors make the urchins easy to spot. As does their size—the fire urchin’s shell can be as big as 8 inches in diameter, and the spines about 1.5 inches long.

As the spiny animals graze on algae along the sea floor, they can discern changes in the light, which tells when a larger animal is nearby. They often react to passing shadows by pointing the sharp quills toward the potential predator. Don’t get too close!

Astropyga radiata, the red urchin, fire urchin, false fire urchin or blue-spotted urchin, is a species of sea urchin in the family Diadematidae. It is a large species with long spines and is found in the tropical Indo-Pacific region. It was first described in 1778 by the German naturalist Nathaniel Gottfried Leske.

Scientific name: Astropyga radiata

Black-legged kittiwake colony on cliffs, Ireland

Every Friday is Black Friday on the seaside cliffs of Ireland, though the black-legged kittiwake soaring past probably doesn’t care about those holiday sales. At a glance, this seabird looks like your average seagull, but the kittiwake can hold this over its fellow gulls: There are just two birds in the genus Rissa. Find the black-legged kittiwake across the northern Atlantic and Pacific, then head over to the Bering Sea, where the comparatively rare red-legged kittiwake lives.

The black-legged kittiwake is a seabird species in the gull family Laridae. This species was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758 as Larus tridactylus. The English name is derived from its call, a shrill ‘kittee-wa-aaake, kitte-wa-aaake’. The genus name Rissa is from the Icelandic name Rita for this bird, and the specific tridactyla is from Ancient Greek tridaktulos, “three-toed”, from tri-, “three-” and daktulos, “toe”.

Scientific name: Rissa tridactyla
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Kittiwake

An ocellated turkey in Guatemala

The North American wild turkey has a cousin from south of the border. The ocellated turkey lives primarily in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, though you can find it just across the border in Petén, Guatemala as well. Like its Yankee cousin, the ocellated turkey usually runs—fast—from predators, though it’s also capable of short bursts of flight. It’ll also fight by pecking and kicking if necessary. And another trait it shares with its northern cousin? The wild ocellated turkey does not accept the stuffing and cranberry sauce readily.

The ocellated turkey is a species of turkey residing primarily in the Yucatán Peninsula. A relative of the wild turkey, it was sometimes previously treated in a genus of its own, but the differences between the two turkeys are currently considered too small to justify generic segregation. It is a relatively large bird, at around 70–122 cm long and an average weight of 3 kg in females and 5 kg in males.

Scientific name: Meleagris ocellata
Clutch size: 8 – 15
Length: 27.56 inch (70 cm) – 48.03 inch (122 cm)
Weight: 8.82 pound (4 kg) (Before laying eggs, Female) · 11.02 pound (5 kg) on average (Male) · 6.61 pound (3 kg) on average (Female) · 11.02 pound (5 kg) – 13.23 pound (6 kg) (During breeding season, Male)
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Turkey

Chile's Calbuco volcano erupting in April 2015

On April 22 and 23, 2015, Calbuco erupted twice, sending pillars of ash, debris, and smoke into the sky above the volcano in Chile’s Los Lagos region. This dramatic shot captures the phenomenon known as a ‘dirty thunderstorm.’ When a volcano erupts, the sudden burst of energy can cause small particles and larger pieces of the volcano to violently collide. The resulting discharge of static electricity creates volcanic lightning, otherwise known as a dirty thunderstorm.

Calbuco is a stratovolcano in southern Chile, located southeast of Llanquihue Lake and northwest of Chapo Lake, in the Los Lagos Region, and close to the cities of Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt. With an elevation of 2,015 meters above sea level, the volcano and the surrounding area are protected within the Llanquihue National Reserve.

Last eruption: 2015
Elevation: 6,611 feet (2,015 m)
Prominence: 6,385 feet (1,946 m)

Erawan National Park, Thailand

That’s tier five of the seven-tiered Erawan Falls in Thailand’s Erawan National Park. The park covers more than 200 square miles of forests, caves, and the famous falls. Away from the falls you’ll be in true Thai wilderness, where tigers, elephants, and other formidable creatures live—including the red giant flying squirrel.

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Erawan National Park is a 550 km² park in western Thailand in the Tenasserim Hills of Kanchanaburi Province, Amphoe Si Sawat in tambon Tha Kradan. Founded in 1975, it was Thailand’s 12th national park.

Established: 1975

Salina Turda salt mine in Turda, Romania

From this angle, it looks like it could be part of a science fiction film, but Salina Turda is plain old science fact. Salt mining in this part of Romania dates back at least 1,000 years, though there’s evidence that salt was mined at this location as early as the Roman occupation of the area nearly 2,000 years ago. Today Salina Turda is an unusual tourist attraction. Visitors can see the old mine shafts, with salt pillars still standing off to the side, and book a session of halotherapy—spa treatments using salt.

Salina Turda is a salt mine located in the Durgău-Valea Sărată area of Turda, the second largest city in Cluj County, Romania. Since its opening to tourists in 1992, Salina Turda has been visited by about 2 million Romanian and foreign tourists.

Mural in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Well, that’s one way to remember where you parked your bicycle. This fun mural was painted on a wall in George Town, a city in Penang, Malaysia. It’s a cute reminder of the younger citizens of the world on Universal Children’s Day, an observance created by the United Nations to celebrate kids everywhere and to promote their welfare. Perhaps you can recall the joy that something as simple as a bike ride offered when you were young. Why not turn that good feeling into action and find out what you can do to make a child’s life better?

George Town, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Penang, is situated at the north-eastern tip of Penang Island. Its urban population is estimated at 708,000, while the Greater Penang conurbation has a population of 2.5 million, making George Town and Greater Penang the second largest city and the second most populated metropolitan area in Malaysia respectively. One of the oldest cities in Malaysia, George Town was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Malacca City in 2008.

Population: 740,200 (2010)
Area: 46.72 sq miles (121 km²)
Travel tip: The beauty and rich history of George Town keeps tourists flocking all year round. George Town offers views of the famous Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Kapitan Keling Mosque and many of the capital’s golden crowned Buddhist temples. With museums showcasing the country’s rich-historical treasures, @tripadvisor
Colleges and universities: Han Chiang College · Penang Medical College · Lam Wah Ee Nursing College
Mayor: Patahiyah Ismail

The Virgin River in Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park’s striking topography is largely formed by the Virgin River, which has cut and shaped the landscape for millennia as it courses through the park. Stretches of the Virgin River flow gently, but when the current gets rough, look out.

At the famous Narrows portion of Zion Canyon, the canyon itself shrinks to just 20 to 30 feet wide, while the stone cliffs rise thousands of feet on either side. Hiking this portion means, literally, walking upstream in the river. It’s normally shallow, but during the rainy season, flash floods are a real danger. These floods are also when the river does most of its sculpting of the canyon, carrying away roughly 3 million tons of rock and sediment each year.

Zion National Park is located in the Southwestern United States, near Springdale, Utah. A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. The lowest elevation is 3,666 ft at Coalpits Wash and the highest elevation is 8,726 ft at Horse Ranch Mountain. Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions, the park’s unique geography and variety of life zones allow for unusual plant and animal diversity. Numerous plant species as well as 289 species of birds, 75 mammals, and 32 reptiles inhabit the park’s four life zones: desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest. Zion National Park includes mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons, and natural arches.

Address: 1 Zion Park Blvd State Route 9, Springdale, UT 84767
Phone: (435) 772-3256
Established: Nov 19, 1919
Annual visitors: 3.66 million (2015)
Travel tip: One of America’s most beautiful parks, known for its red rocks and stunning western scenery. @tripadvisor

Mushrooms in Den Helder, Netherlands

We hope you enjoy this flash of autumn magic courtesy of a long exposure and some strategically placed red LED lights. The delicate mushroom caps are thin enough that light passes through easily. So as twilight engulfs the wooded Dark Dunes nature park outside Den Helder in the Netherlands, the mushrooms appear to give off a cozy glow.

Den Helder is a municipality and a city in the Netherlands, in the province of North Holland. Den Helder occupies the northernmost point of the North Holland peninsula. It is home to the country’s main naval base. From here the Royal TESO ferryboat service operates the transportation link between Den Helder and the nearby Dutch Wadden island of Texel to the north.

Population: 56,308 (2016)
Area: 69.05 sq miles (178.83 km²)

Vineyards near Beaujeu, France

Perhaps a guest at your Thanksgiving table will offer a bottle of Beaujolais nouveau wine as a gift. Don’t stash it in the pantry for next year—instead, pour and share. Ancient Romans first cultivated grapes for wine in the region now known as Beaujeu, and locals have long enjoyed Beaujolais nouveau as a way to celebrate the harvest. Word of the seasonal festivities spread after World War II, and by the 1980s and ‘90s the annual release of Beaujolais nouveau had become a global phenomenon. The ‘nouveau’ part of the wine’s name means it was harvested, fermented, and sold in the same year—in the case of Beaujolais, that means just a few weeks. Today the 2016 Beaujolais is finally available. What took so long?

Beaujeu is a commune of the Rhône department in eastern France. It lies between Mâcon and Lyon. Beaujeu gives its name to the famous wine region of Beaujolais, a former province of France of which it is the historical capital. However it was overtaken in the 14th century by Villefranche-sur-Saône, which remains the main commercial centre of the region.

Area: 6.89 sq miles (17.85 km²)
Population: 2,048 (2012)
Mayor: Sylvain Sotton

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma

Oklahoma may not be high on the list of places where you’d expect to see sweeping vistas of hills and valleys below a towering peak, but the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, seen here from Mount Scott, offers just that. And what a scene it is, as Oklahomans celebrate 109 years of statehood today—one of just five states to join the Union in the 20th century. Can you name the other four?

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, located in southwestern Oklahoma near Lawton, has protected unique wildlife habitats since 1901 and is the oldest managed wildlife facility in the United States Fish and Wildlife Service system. Measuring about 59,020 acres, the refuge hosts a great diversity of species: 806 plant species, 240 species of birds, 36 fish, and 64 reptiles and amphibians are present. The refuge’s location in the geologically unique Wichita Mountains and its areas of undisturbed mixed grass prairie make it an important conservation area. The Wichitas are approximately 500 million years old.

Established: 1901
Area: 92.22 sq miles (238.85 km²)
Managed by: United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Silhouette of a heron

Travel anywhere on the globe—well, anywhere besides Antarctica, high mountain altitudes, or hot, dry deserts such as the Sahara—and you can find at least one of the 64 species of herons. Qualifying statements aside, that’s a broad distribution for any animal, even a bird. Most herons, including egrets and bitterns, live near water, as they usually feed by wading in the shallows, catching fish, frogs, small shellfish, and other aquatic critters.

The herons are the long-legged freshwater and coastal birds in the family Ardeidae, with 64 recognised species, some of which are referred to as “egrets” or “bitterns” rather than herons. Members of the genera Botaurus and Ixobrychus are referred to as “bitterns”, and, together with the zigzag heron or zigzag bittern in the monotypic genus Zebrilus, form a monophyletic group within the Ardeidae. Egrets are not a biologically distinct group from the herons, and tend to be named differently because they are mainly white or have decorative plumes. Although egrets have the same build as herons, they tend to be smaller. Herons, by evolutionary adaptation, have long beaks.

Scientific name: Ardeidae
Height: 47.24 inch (120 cm) – 59.84 inch (152 cm) (Goliath heron)
Weight: 2.20 pound (1 kg) – 4.63 pound (2.10 kg) (Grey heron)
Clutch size: 4 – 8 (Little bittern)
Length: 33.07 inch (84 cm) – 40.16 inch (102 cm) (Grey heron)
Wingspan: 61.02 inch (155 cm) – 76.77 inch (195 cm) (Grey heron)

Hungerburgbahn funicular railway station, Innsbruck, Austria

Why climb from the city center of Innsbruck, Austria, up to the Hungerburg district (aka Upper Innsbruck) in the Nordkette Mountains when you can instead board the hybrid funicular railway that does the climbing for you? The updated rail opened in 2007 and features the Hungerburg station designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid. Her concept for the station was to emulate the snow and glaciers of the surrounding peaks.

Hungerburgbahn is a hybrid funicular railway in Innsbruck, Austria, connecting the city district of Hungerburg with the city centre. The stations were designed by Zaha Hadid. The current Hungerburgbahn has replaced a funicular of the same name, but rather different routing, which was in operation between 1906 and 2005. The length of the track was 839 m and the rise was 287 m. The lower station was in the city district of Saggen.

Granite rocks near Flinders Island, Tasmania, Australia

Flinders Island is the largest of the Furneaux Group, a small chain of islands in the Bass Strait between Tasmania and the Australian mainland. These smooth, partially submerged granite rocks typify the distinctive natural features of the island. Much of the coastal and mountain landscape is preserved within Strzelecki National Park. And with relatively few permanent human residents, the island as a whole is home to numerous small mammal colonies unique to this part of the world, including wallabies, potoroos, and pademelons. If you plan to visit, be sure to bring some warm clothing because the Furneaux Group is right in the path of the strong westerly wind pattern known as the Roaring Forties. Brrrrr!

The Flinders Island, the largest island in the Furneaux Group, is a 1,367-square-kilometre island located in the Bass Strait, northeast of Tasmania, Australia. Flinders Island is situated 54 kilometres from Cape Portland and it is located on 40° south, a place known as the Roaring Forties.

Max length: 39 miles (62 km)
Max width: 23 miles (37 km)
Area: 527.80 sq miles (1,367 km²)
Population: 700 (2011)

European hedgehog in Emsland, Germany

This hedgehog contemplates its weekend options in Emsland, a district in northwest Germany. But you can find these spiny mammals—usually less than a foot long, fully grown—patrolling gardens and woodlands throughout Europe. They’re highly valued in most of their native habitats, as European hedgehogs favor a varied diet full of pest insects, worms, and slugs. But in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides and parts of New Zealand, where the hedgehog was introduced as a nonnative species, they’re considered pests, feeding on valued native species including bird eggs.

The European hedgehog, also known as the West European hedgehog or common hedgehog, is a hedgehog species found in Europe, from Iberia and Italy northwards into Scandinavia. It is a generally common and widely distributed species that can survive across a wide range of habitat types. It is a well-known species, and a favourite in European gardens, both for its endearing appearance and its preference for eating a range of garden pests. While populations are currently stable across much of its range, it is thought to be declining severely in Great Britain.

Scientific name: Erinaceus europaeus
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Erinaceus

The Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington, DC

The mural wall of the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, features images of the combat troops and others who supported them during the war, sandblasted into the marble façade. And when the light is right, visitors can see reflected in the marble, the 19 stainless steel statues of soldiers that stand in the open space opposite the mural wall. You don’t have to wait for Veterans Day every year to thank those who have served in combat or in times of peace, but it’s a good reminder to do so. Not all of us have served, but each of us can thank someone we know who has.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is located in Washington, D.C.’s West Potomac Park, southeast of the Lincoln Memorial and just south of the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall. It commemorates those who served in the Korean War.

Address: 10 Daniel French Dr SW, Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 426-6841
Established: Jul 27, 1995
Annual visitors: 3.21 million (2005)
Artists: Frank Gaylord · Louis Nelson

Kintamani, Bali, Indonesia

Mount Batur dominates the landscape up in the northeast corner of Bali, Indonesia. And in the valley around the volcano, as well as in the caldera of the volcano itself, numerous villages dot the landscape. In recent years, tourism has grown in Kintamani, which is the name of one of the villages here, but is also often used as an umbrella name for the region around Mount Batur.

Kintamani is a village on the western edge of the larger caldera wall of Gunung Batur in Bali, Indonesia. It is on the same north-south road as Penelokan and has been used as a stopping place to view the Gunung Batur region. Kintamani is also known for Pura Tuluk Biyu’s 1,000-year-old “Rites of Peace” stone tablets and the Kintamani dog. It is situated next to Mount Batur.

Aurora borealis at Arctic Henge in Raufarhöfn, Iceland

The shimmering colors of the northern lights add yet another level of mystic mystery to the Arctic Henge. This work in progress stands on a hill over Raufarhöfn, a village in the far north of Iceland. Similar to Stonehenge and other henges around the globe, the Arctic Henge is compass and calendar, with the sun at the solstice and equinoxes visible through various arches in the structure.

Unlike Stonehenge, comparatively small slabs of stone were used to make the arches here. On each stone is engraved the name of a dwarf referenced in a poem of Norse mythology called the Völuspá. If this gives you a Tolkien vibe, know that the writer borrowed heavily from the Völuspá when writing ‘The Hobbit.’

Raufarhöfn is a village located on the northeastern tip of the Melrakkaslétta peninsula in Iceland. As of January 2011, it has 194 inhabitants. It was a major fish processing station during the large herring catches in the mid 20th century.

Population: 194 (2011)

The National Mall in Washington, DC

On this election day, we take you to our nation’s capital. Specifically, the view from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial all the way across to the Capitol Building, with the Washington Monument in the middle. The National Park Service maintains this portion of the capital as the National Mall and Memorial Parks unit—providing welcome greenspace to offset the thrum of the city around it.

The National Mall is a national park in downtown Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. The National Park Service administers the National Mall, which is part of its National Mall and Memorial Parks unit. The term National Mall commonly includes areas that are officially part of West Potomac Park and Constitution Gardens to the west, and often is taken to refer to the entire area between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol, with the Washington Monument dividing the area slightly west of its midpoint. The National Mall contains a number of museums and memorials and receives approximately 24 million visitors each year.

Phone: (202) 426-6841
Established: Oct 15, 1966
Managed by: National Park Service

Early snowfall near Fairbanks, Alaska

Snow? Sure. Anyone from Fairbanks can deal with snow, even this early in the season. What would make or break many of us is that by this time of year in Fairbanks, the sun doesn’t rise until 9 AM or so, and it sets around 4 PM. That’s just seven hours of daylight. In a few weeks, as solstice approaches, that daylight lasts less than four hours. Think you could handle it?

Fairbanks is a home rule city and the borough seat of the Fairbanks North Star Borough in the U.S. state of Alaska. Fairbanks is the largest city in the Interior region of Alaska. 2014 estimates put the population of the city proper at 32,469, and the population of the Fairbanks North Star Borough at 99,357, making it the second most populous metropolitan area in Alaska. The Metropolitan Statistical Area encompasses all of the Fairbanks North Star Borough and is the northernmost Metropolitan Statistical Area in the United States, located less than 120 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Fairbanks is home to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the oldest of Alaska’s current universities.

Population: 32,469 (2014)
Area: 32.70 sq miles (84.69 km²)
Travel tip: Don’t be fooled by the initial appearance of this sprawling city with the typical fast-food places, malls and hotels; this region in the heart of Alaska’s interior has a lot to offer. If you’re lucky enough to be here between late September and early April, you can view the spectacular Northern Lights, or aurora … @tripadvisor
Colleges and universities: University of Alaska Fairbanks

Clock in Union Station, Toronto, Canada

If you didn’t ‘fall back’ and set your clocks back an hour this morning, you won’t miss your train here at Union Station in Toronto, Ontario. You’ll instead have an extra hour to enjoy a cup of tea and maybe a snack before boarding. Canada, like the United States, observes the daylight saving and standard time rule of setting clocks back an hour the first Sunday in November, and setting them an hour ahead the second Sunday in March. The groggy feeling that results from these time changes is universal.

Union Station is the primary railway station and intercity transportation facility in Toronto, Canada. It is located on Front Street West, on the south side of the block bounded by Bay Street and York Street in downtown Toronto. The station building is owned by the City of Toronto, while the train shed and trackage is owned by the commuter rail operator GO Transit. Union Station has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada since 1975, and a Heritage Railway Station since 1989.

Opened: 1927
Architectural style: Beaux-Arts architecture

Q’iswa Chaka rope bridge over the Apurímac River, Peru

Okay, this rope bridge isn’t nearly as terrifying as it looks. Brave travelers and locals alike say that this ancient suspension construction can hold a surprising amount of weight. We say ‘ancient’ because a rope bridge has been at this location for centuries. The structure itself is replaced annually during a three-day community work project that goes from harvesting a particularly tough local grass, to rope braiding, to actually weaving the bridge itself. And if you fall, the waters of the Apurímac River flow below. Hey, that’s better than pointy rocks and sticks, isn’t it?

Inca rope bridges were simple suspension bridges over canyons and gorges and rivers to provide access for the Inca Empire. Bridges of this type were useful since the Inca people did not use wheeled transport—traffic was limited to pedestrians and livestock. The bridges were an integral part on the Inca road system and are an example of Inca innovation in engineering. They were frequently used by Chasqui runners delivering messages throughout the Inca Empire.

Houten, Netherlands

The Netherlands is already a progressive country when it comes to reducing car traffic and providing ample park and recreation space in its city planning. Houten may just be the gold standard for the Dutch, though. This municipality in the Utrecht province has been recognized for its well-organized and easily accessed bike paths and having more soothing green space then most city dwellers would expect.

Houten is a municipality in the Netherlands, in the province of Utrecht.

Area: 22.77 sq miles (58.98 km²)

Monk’s Dale, Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve, England

You’ll find a variety of woodlands in the White Peak portion of England’s Peak District National Park. Here in Monk’s Dale, one of the five dales in the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve, the valley woodland could just as easily be called the valley mossland. A government website warns that trails through the reserve are inclined to be uneven and slippery in wet conditions, particularly here in Monk’s Dale. Judging from this vantage point, we’ll be packing our rainboots.

The Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve is a series of unconnected limestone dales in the Peak District National Park. It is managed by Natural England and has a permanent staff of wardens who carry out conservation works and ensure the dales are usable for recreation.

The Church of Saints Primus and Felician in Jamnik, Slovenia

Foggy days and nights are not uncommon on the Jelovica Plateau in the foothills of the Julian Alps in Slovenia. The village of Jamnik is snoozing under all that fog. The building with the lights is the Church of Saints Primus and Felician, which rewards its attendees with incredible views of the surrounding hills and mountains—at least when the fog has cleared.

Jamnik is a settlement on the eastern slopes of the Jelovica Plateau in the Municipality of Kranj in the Upper Carniola region of Slovenia. The local church just outside the village, dedicated to Saints Primus and Felician, is built at an impressive location on a hill overlooking most of the northern part of the Ljubljana Basin with the Julian Alps as a backdrop towards the northwest and the Kamnik–Savinja Alps towards the east.

Area: 1.84 sq miles (4.76 km²)
Population: 42 (2002)
Alternate searches: Planica, Kranj · Zgornja Besnica, Kranj · Čadovlje, Kranj · Trstenik, Kranj · Žabnica, Kranj · Zgornje Bitnje · Babni Vrt · Srednje Bitnje · Mlaka pri Kranju · Dražgoše · Orehovlje, Kranj · Zalog, Kranj

Wall mural of sugar skull (calavera) in Oaxaca, Mexico

Sugar skulls may be to the Day of the Dead what jack-o’-lanterns are to Halloween, but the similarity ends there. The decorated skulls, or calaveras, are traditionally made of sugar, as the name implies, but clay, wood, and other materials are also used. The elaborate embellishments to the skulls are meant to represent the transformation and rebirth into the next stage of life. More recently, tattoos, street art, and other modern mediums have been used to create calaveras, such as this mural art in Oaxaca, Mexico.

A calavera is a representation of a human skull. The term is most often applied to decorative or edible skulls made from either sugar or clay which are used in the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead and the Roman Catholic holiday All Souls’ Day. Calavera can also refer to any artistic representations of skulls, such as the lithographs of José Guadalupe Posada. The most widely known calaveras are created with cane sugar and are decorated with items such as colored foil, icing, beads, and feathers.

Happy Halloween from our haunted graveyard!

One night each year we’re given free license to dress up in costumes, wear masks and makeup that hide our identity, and go door-to-door asking for candy. And if that wasn’t enough, we’re encouraged to embrace the shadows and let our imaginations wander into dark places where cemetery gates creak and a solitary crow on a bare branch feels somehow more sinister than on other nights. Did you see that? What was that sound? Is all this fright worth it just to harvest a surplus of candy? Yes, of course it is. Still, we’re going to keep the lights on… for now.

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Halloween or Hallowe’en, also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs, and all the faithful departed.

Phyllidia coelestis, a sea slug

This sea slug, usually less than 2.5 inches long, crawls along the sea floor of the Pacific and Indian Oceans at depths of nearly 100 feet. The strange color and markings have a purpose: It’s a warning to predators. Aposematic coloring, as this is called, usually indicates that an animal is either poisonous or doesn’t taste good. It’s an easy way to avoid becoming prey. Honestly, we aren’t hungry. We just like that this sea slug’s markings make it look like a rubber monster mask, cast off after a long night of Halloween fun.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Gastropoda
Superfamily: Phyllidioidea
Family: Phyllidiidae
Genus: Phyllidia
Species: Phyllidia coelestis
Binomial name: Phyllidia coelestis

African leopard, South Africa

Nighttime is the right time to see the African leopard out and about, hunting and maybe stopping by the watering hole for a drink. These powerful cats also spend time up in trees, where it’s safe for sleeping during daylight hours as well as a good spot to take a meal. Some observers have reported seeing these leopards drag a carcass twice their own body weight up into a tree—imagine that kind of strength, and be glad you don’t have leopards in your backyard.

The African leopard is a leopard subspecies native to Africa. It is widely distributed in most of sub-Saharan Africa, but the historical range has been fragmented in the course of habitat conversion.

Scientific name: Panthera pardus pardus
Weight: 132.28 pound (60 kg) on average (Male) · 77.16 pound (35 kg) – 88.18 pound (40 kg) on average (Female)
Biological classification: Subspecies
Belongs to: Leopard

Grey-headed flying fox

Is a bat with a 3-foot wingspan made less intimidating if we call it a flying fox? We think so. Besides, the grey-headed flying fox is an important pollinator and seed distributor, feeding on fruit, nectar, and pollen as it flies around the east coast of Australia. As of this writing, not a single one of them has reverted to human form and purchased a dilapidated estate in the Carpathian Mountains.

The grey-headed flying fox is a megabat native to Australia. The species shares mainland Australia with three other members of the genus Pteropus: the little red flying fox, the spectacled flying fox, and the black flying fox.

Scientific name: Pteropus poliocephalus
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Pteropus

Mist across rural Transylvania, in Romania

Sure we’re visiting Transylvania—a region in central Romania probably best known to many of us from Bram Stoker’s book ‘Dracula’ or the many film adaptations of the story. And sure, it’s a few days before Halloween to boot. But let’s take this opportunity to clarify that there’s much more to ‘The Land Beyond the Forest’ than all those vampire movies have shown.

Transylvanian culture and customs reflect influences from Hungary, Austria, and historically, Celtic and Roman cultures, among others. And if the Gothic architecture preserved in many of the cities and villages doesn’t draw you in, the lush mountain wilderness of the Carpathian range is a beacon for nature lovers.

Transylvania is a historical region located in what is today the central part of Romania. Bound on the east and south by its natural borders, the Carpathian mountain range, historical Transylvania extended westward to the Apuseni Mountains. The term sometimes encompasses not only Transylvania proper, but also the historical regions of Crișana, Maramureș and the Romanian part of Banat.

Population: 7.31 million (2011)
Area: 40,000 sq miles (103,600 km²)
Colleges and universities: Babeș-Bolyai University · Iuliu Hațieganu University of Medicine and Pharmacy · Transilvania University of Brașov · University of Medicine and Pharmacy of Târgu Mureș · University of Oradea · Technical University of Cluj-Napoca · Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu · Emanuel University

A kudu in Chobe National Park, Botswana

The female kudu lacks the spiraling horns of the male, but shares the brown coat with thin, white stripes. The coloration and pattern work well as a defense mechanism for these ungulates: If they sense a predator nearby, kudu often stand still, and in doing so, they become difficult to see in the African bushland and woods they call home. Though kudu are widely dispersed in the sub-Saharan regions along the eastern coast and southern portions of Africa, their total population is in decline due to habitat loss.

The greater kudu is a woodland antelope found throughout eastern and southern Africa. Despite occupying such widespread territory, they are sparsely populated in most areas, due to a declining habitat, deforestation and poaching. The greater kudu is one of two species commonly known as kudu, the other being the lesser kudu, T. imberbis.

Scientific name: Tragelaphus strepsiceros
Weight: 264.55 pound (120 kg) – 462.97 pound (210 kg) (Female) · 418.88 pound (190 kg) – 595.25 pound (270 kg) (Male)
Horn length: 47.24 inch (120 cm) on average (If straightened, Male)
Territory size: 1.24 sq miles (3.20 km²) – 2.36 sq miles (6.10 km²) (Herd territory)
Body length: 72.83 inch (185 cm) – 96.46 inch (245 cm) (Head and body, Without tail)
Tail length: 11.81 inch (30 cm) – 21.65 inch (55 cm)

The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland

Seismic activity that started at the end of 2009 was the first indicator that the volcano below Iceland’s famous Eyjafjallajökull glacier may be close to erupting. Then on March 20, 2010, at the north section of Fimmvörðuháls, the 14-mile-long hiking trail near the glacier, the eruptions began. A fissure vent opened and lava bubbled up to the surface. A larger eruption in April 2010 centered around the glacier itself, throwing a gigantic cloud of smoke and ash into the air that disrupted air travel across Europe for six full days.

Eyjafjallajökull, English Eyjafjalla Glacier, is one of the smaller ice caps of Iceland, north of Skógar and west of Mýrdalsjökull. The ice cap covers the caldera of a volcano with a summit elevation of 1,651 metres. The volcano has erupted relatively frequently since the last glacial period, most recently in 2010.

Last eruption: Apr 2010
Elevation: 5,417 feet (1,651 m)
Prominence: 3,448 feet (1,051 m)
First ascender: Sveinn Pálsson

King River tidal flats near Wyndham, Australia

There are at least five different rivers in Australia called King River. The waters in our photo flow in the northern portion of Western Australia, a region known as the Kimberley. Here at its mouth, the King empties into the Timor Sea at Cambridge Gulf. The tidal marsh provides an ideal habitat for the huge saltwater crocodiles that are a sort of mascot for the nearby town of Wyndham.

The King River is a river in the Kimberley of Western Australia. The headwaters of the river rise between the Durack Range and the Saw Range. It flows southwards before turning north and continuing until it discharges into the West Arm of the Cambridge Gulf just South of Wyndham.

Length: 82 miles (132 km)
Source elevation: 1,270 feet (387 m)

Schönbrunn Palace gardens in Vienna, Austria

Autumn brings all sorts of new colors to the vast greenspaces in the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. If the gardens, hedge maze, Neptune Fountain, and Roman ruins aren’t enough for you, or perhaps if it’s begun to rain, you can always duck into the Baroque palace itself, with its 1,441 rooms.

Schönbrunn Palace is a former imperial summer residence located in Vienna, Austria. The 1,441-room Baroque palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historical monuments in the country. Since the mid-1950s it has been a major tourist attraction. The history of the palace and its vast gardens spans over 300 years, reflecting the changing tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs.

Opened: 1699
Architects: Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach · Nicolò Pacassi
Points of interest: Tiergarten Schönbrunn · Palmenhaus Schönbrunn
Architectural style: Rococo

Mount Tarawera on the North Island, New Zealand

The landscape around Mount Tarawera has been shaped by the peak’s volcanic activity. Prior to Tarawera’s violent eruption in 1886, a popular attraction here was the Pink and White Terraces, mineral hot springs that were obliterated by the explosion. A Māori village called Te Wairoa was mostly buried by ash and mud, but is now open to the public as The Buried Village. The eruption also changed the shape of some existing lakes and created new lakes.

Mount Tarawera is the volcano responsible for one of New Zealand’s largest historic eruptions. Located 24 kilometres southeast of Rotorua in the North Island, it consists of a series of rhyolitic lava domes that were fissured down the middle by an explosive basaltic eruption in 1886, which killed an estimated 120 people. These fissures run for about 17 kilometres northeast-southwest.

Last eruption: Jun 10, 1886
Elevation: 3,645 feet (1,111 m)
Prominence: 2,178 feet (664 m)

Messner Mountain Museum on Monte Rite, Italy

The Museum in the Clouds is one of the six Messner Mountain Museums in Italy. Built in a renovated World War I-era fort, the collection here focuses on the early history of climbers ascending the peaks of the Dolomites mountain range. Reinhold Messner, the still-active climber for whom these museums are named, favors the alpine style of mountaineering—using as little gear and as little assistance as possible.

The Messner Mountain Museum or MMM is a museum project created by Italian mountaineer and extreme climber Reinhold Messner in South Tyrol in northern Italy. Messner’s museum project is designed to educate visitors on “man’s encounter with mountains” and deals with the science of mountains and glaciers, the history of mountaineering and rock climbing, the history of mythical mountains, and the history of mountain-dwelling people.

Established: Jun 11, 2006

Ashland Bridge in New Castle County, Delaware

More than a century after it was built, the Ashland Covered Bridge was recorded, in 1965, as one of the last three intact covered bridges in Delaware. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and was restored in 2008. On a crisp autumn day, like the one pictured here, crossing the bridge over Red Clay Creek must feel like a small trip back in time.

Ashland Covered Bridge, also known as Ashland Bridge or Barley Mill Road Covered Bridge, is a covered bridge over Red Clay Creek on Barley Mill Road in Ashland in New Castle County, Delaware.

Established: Mar 20, 1973

Sunset on Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam

The tourist industry has brought many modern touches to the villages and cities along Hạ Long Bay. But thanks to the unusual landscape, plenty of stops along this jagged coast retain the charm of centuries ago. Local legend holds that a mountain dragon created Hạ Long Bay as it thrashed around on its descent, breaking up the coastline with its tail and eventually, tumbling into the sea, creating the bay. That’s more compelling than the geology lesson we had planned.

Hạ Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination in Quảng Ninh Province, Vietnam. Administratively, the bay belongs to Hạ Long City, Cẩm Phả town, and is a part of Vân Đồn District. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various shapes and sizes. Hạ Long Bay is a center of a larger zone which includes Bái Tử Long Bay to the northeast, and Cát Bà Island to the southwest. These larger zones share a similar geological, geographical, geomorphological, climate and cultural characters.

Area: 599.62 sq miles (1,553 km²)
Travel tip: Travelers visit Halong Bay for an up-close look at its amazing limestone islands, rock formations and caves. Whittled away over centuries by wind and water, they’re breathtaking. Rent a kayak or a junk boat, or take a tour to explore. – tripadvisor
Bridges: Bãi Cháy Bridge

The Caño Cristales River in Colombia

From July through November, visitors to the Serranía de la Macarena National Natural Park are likely there to see the riverweed bloom in the rushing waters of the Caño Cristales. When the water level is just right, the normally dull green plant that grows on the riverbed blooms in a fantastic burst of red, purple, orange, and gold. The park is an unusual meeting of three distinct ecosystems: the Andes Mountains, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Eastern Llanos. Recently, the Colombian government has limited access to the river, and now visitors must book guided tours—it’s an effort to preserve this strange scene for generations to come.

Caño Cristales is a Colombian river located in the Serrania de la Macarena province of Meta. It’s a tributary of the Guayabero River. The river is commonly called the “River of Five Colors” or the “Liquid Rainbow”, and is even referred to as the most beautiful river in the world due to its striking colors. The bed of river in the end of July through November is variously colored yellow, green, blue, black, and especially red, the last caused by the Macarenia clavigera on the bottom of the river.

Length: 62 miles (100 km)
Location: Colombia
Source: Serranía de la Macarena

Greater flamingos in Tanzania

It’s called ‘greater flamingo’ for good reason: This marsh-wading bird is the largest of the flamingos and also the most widely distributed across the globe. This particular group has taken wing in Tanzania on Africa’s east coast, but the large, pink birds make a home on nearly every part of Africa’s coasts, into the Indian subcontinent, and around the Caribbean. One of the largest male greater flamingos observed was more than 6 feet tall. That’s no lawn ornament.

The greater flamingo is the most widespread species of the flamingo family. It is found in Africa, on the Indian subcontinent, in the Middle East and southern Europe. This is the largest species of flamingo, averaging 110–150 cm tall and weighing 2–4 kg. The largest male flamingos have been recorded at up to 187 cm tall and 4.5 kg. It is closely related to the American flamingo and Chilean flamingo, with which it has sometimes been considered conspecific.

Scientific name: Phoenicopterus roseus
Weight: 4.41 pound (2 kg) – 8.82 pound (4 kg)
Height: 43.31 inch (110 cm) – 59.06 inch (150 cm) on average
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Flamingo
Notables: Greater (flamingo)

A boat in the Ganges River at Varanasi, India

In North India, the city of Varanasi sits right on—nearly on top of—the Ganges River. Varanasi is the holiest of the seven sacred cities for Hindus and Jains. And if that’s not enough to prepare you for the ‘Eastern Faiths’ category in ‘Jeopardy!,’ you might want to know that a small village near Varanasi is said to be where Buddha gave his first sermon, outlining the tenets of Buddhism. The Ganges plays a big role in all three faiths, with millions of Hindus bathing in the river’s water as an act of spiritual purification.

Varanasi, also known as Benares, Banaras, or Kashi, is a city on the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, North India, 320 kilometres south-east of the state capital, Lucknow, and 121 kilometres east of Allahabad. The spiritual capital of India, it is the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism and Jainism, and played an important role in the development of Buddhism. Varanasi lies along National Highway 2, which connects it to Kolkata, Kanpur, Agra, and Delhi, and is served by Varanasi Junction and Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport.

Population: 1.20 million (2011)
Area: 1,209 sq miles (3,131 km²)
Travel tip: The north Indian city of Varanasi, or Benares, is regarded as sacred by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Situated in the fertile Ganga valley and on the banks of the Ganges, Varanasi is a place of pilgrimage for Hindus, who come to bathe in the holy river. Known as the City of Temples and a beacon of culture …
Colleges and universities: Banaras Hindu University · Sampurnanand Sanskrit University · Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith · Government Sanskrit College, Varanasi · Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) Varanasi · Central University for Tibetan Studies · Udai Pratap Autonomous College · School of Management Sciences, Varanasi
Nearby airport: Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport

The Aiguilles Rouges near the village of Chamonix, France

The Aiguilles Rouges (Red Peaks) mountain range dominates this scenic view of the Chamonix region of southeastern France. Chamonix is a popular destination for skiers, and its reputation as one of the world’s premier winter playgrounds was assured when it became the first location of the Winter Olympic Games in 1924.

It’s also home to what is currently the highest vertical-ascent cable car in the world. The cable car takes visitors from a starting elevation of 3,396 feet in Chamonix up to 12,605 feet at the summit of Aiguille du Midi. Some passengers were recently stranded overnight in the gondolas at an altitude of nearly 12,500 feet, but no one was hurt following a daring helicopter rescue. We’ll just admire the view from here.

Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, more commonly known simply as Chamonix, is a commune in the Haute-Savoie département in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. It was the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924. The commune’s population of around 8,900 ranks 1,089th within the country of France.

Population: 8,897 (2013)
Area: 94.77 sq miles (245.46 km²)
Travel tip: As host of the first Winter Olympics in 1924, Chamonix will always have a place in the history books. Its main attractions are Mont-Blanc (Western Europe’s tallest mountain) and the many ski areas that face the Chamonix Valley. …
Host of: 1924 Winter Olympics
Mayor: Éric Fournier

Cherry orchards in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon

Let springtime have its fields of pink cherry blossoms! Here in the orchards of the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, autumn’s rejoinder to spring’s colors is a correspondingly bright splash of orange and gold. A trip to the Gorge nets some spectacular color in a region not often thought of as a fall foliage destination.

The Columbia River Gorge is a canyon of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Up to 4,000 feet deep, the canyon stretches for over 80 miles as the river winds westward through the Cascade Range forming the boundary between the State of Washington to the north and Oregon to the south. Extending roughly from the confluence of the Columbia with the Deschutes River down to eastern reaches of the Portland metropolitan area, the water gap furnishes the only navigable route through the Cascades and the only water connection between the Columbia River Plateau and the Pacific Ocean.

Zuiderduintjes in the West Frisian Islands, Netherlands

Fourteen islands make up the West Frisians, a chain in the Wadden Sea, which is an intertidal zone in the North Sea near the coast of the Netherlands. Some are occupied by humans, but several of the islands have protected status to benefit migrating and native bird populations. Zuiderduintjes is one of those protected islands, with around 180 acres of land that not only draws in birds, but seals as well. We bipeds are prohibited, so we’ll have to simply enjoy it via photos such as this one.

Zuiderduintjes is an uninhabited island in the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands. It is situated south of Rottumeroog, east of Rottumerplaat, and west of Borkum. The island is one of the three West Frisian Islands in the municipality of Eemsmond and in the province of Groningen.

Island group: West Frisian Islands

Mountain trail in Madeira, Portugal

Beyond the biodiverse forests on the outer edges of Madeira Island, the land rises, reminding hikers that this Portuguese island is the tip of a shield volcano. Trails allow passage up into these higher elevations, including paths created from the island’s old (and still functioning) aqueduct system. Some of the decommissioned channels, called levadas, have been repurposed as hiking trails.

Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago situated in the north Atlantic Ocean, southwest of Portugal. Its total population was estimated in 2011 at 267,785. The capital of Madeira is Funchal on the main island’s south coast.

Founded: 1420
Population: 289,000 (2016)
Travel tip: Madeira is a Portuguese island in the Atlantic, west of the Mediterranean. Madeira has many visitors each year, and has some great landscapes, gardens, flowers, and sublime tropical climate. Madeira has a number of beaches scattered around its coastline.
Area: 309.27 sq miles (801 km²)
Colleges and universities: University of Madeira

A yellow-fronted woodpecker in Brazil

Though it may seem like woodpeckers are out to kill trees by boring holes in them with their namesake behavior, these birds are actually crucial to the survival of forests. While many species drill into dead, decaying trees as they search for grubs and small insects within, those that peck at living trees are helping to prevent pest infestations that might otherwise destroy trees. A tree can survive the holes drilled by woodpeckers’ beaks, and the birds gobble up termites and other insects that are a bane to the tree’s health.

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The yellow-fronted woodpecker is a species of bird in the Picidae family. It is found in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and heavily degraded former forest.

Scientific name: Melanerpes flavifrons
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Melanerpes

Mirror segments for the James Webb Space Telescope

World Space Week draws to a close today. If you missed it, know that this image of a technician preparing a cryogenic test of mirrors for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) should give you ample fodder for Space Week joys in the near future. The orbiting satellite is set to launch in October 2018, and will beam back detailed images from space, much like the Hubble Telescope, but with greater resolution and an ability to observe some of the most distant objects in the universe. And hey, just because World Space Week is over doesn’t mean you can’t keep celebrating. What’s your favorite space-travel project?

The James Webb Space Telescope, previously known as Next Generation Space Telescope, is a Flagship-class space observatory under construction and scheduled to launch in October 2018. The JWST will offer unprecedented resolution and sensitivity from long-wavelength visible light, through near-infrared to the mid-infrared, and is a successor instrument to the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. While Hubble has a 2.4-meter mirror, the JWST features a larger and segmented 6.5-meter diameter primary mirror and will be located near the Earth–Sun L2 point. A large sunshield will keep its mirror and four science instruments below 50 K.

Date: Oct 2018

Autumn in the East Siberian taiga, Russia

Circling the upper region of the Northern Hemisphere like a wreath is the boreal forest, sometimes called the taiga. From Canada eastward across Scandinavia, Europe, Russia, and even Japan, the taiga ecosystem is second in size only to the world’s oceans. Here in the East Siberian taiga, autumn turns the green and brown landscape into a sherbet-hued wilderness. Though many animals live in the boreal forest year-round, the population drops significantly in autumn, as birds that summer here head for warmer locales.

The East Siberian taiga ecoregion, in the Taiga and Boreal forests Biome, is a very large biogeographic region in eastern Russia. This vast ecoregion is located in the heart of Siberia, stretching over 20° of latitude and 50° of longitude. The climate in the East Siberian taiga is subarctic and displays high continentality, with extremes ranging from 40 °C to −62 °C. Winters are long and very cold, but dry, with little snowfall due to the effects of the Siberian anticyclone. Summers are short, but can be quite warm for the northerly location.

The Berlin Cathedral during the Festival of Lights, Germany

The domes of the Berlin Cathedral are already worth a photo during a visit to the German capital. But every year since 2004, October brings the Festival of Lights to Berlin and many iconic structures in the city become canvases for artists using light as a medium. From digital projections like those on the cathedral, to lasers, neon, and other light-generating devices, Berlin will be aglow for the next 10 nights. Best of all, the show is free—simply grab a map of all the light shows and start walking.

The Berlin Festival of Lights is an event that occurs annually in October. For one or two weeks, well-known sights like Brandenburg Gate, Fernsehturm, Berlin Cathedral or Berlin Victory Column are scenes of illumination and Light art. The first event was held in 2004, and celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2014.

A harbor seal near Islay, Scotland

With any luck, this snoozing harbor seal off Islay, Scotland, put a grin on your face for World Smile Day. And yes, the seal is taking a nap. When harbor seals are tired, they usually sprawl out on the beach. But if it’s too far to dry land, harbor seals will anchor themselves with seaweed and keep just their faces above the water’s surface. Scientists call it ‘bottling’ but we call it adorable.

The harbor seal, also known as the common seal, is a true seal found along temperate and Arctic marine coastlines of the Northern Hemisphere. The most widely distributed species of pinniped, they are found in coastal waters of the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Baltic and North Seas.

Scientific name: Phoca vitulina
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Phoca

Hong Kong, China

Nice view, eh? This image captures the sun setting over Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. With a population of more than 7 million, Hong Kong boasts more skyscrapers than any other city, the ninth-longest suspension bridge in the world, a thriving and busy port, the biggest permanent laser light show ever, and more! For such a small region, Hong Kong does things big.

Hong Kong, officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, is an autonomous territory on the Pearl River Delta in East Asia. The mainland Chinese province of Guangdong borders the territory to the north. With a total land area of 1,106 square kilometres and a population of over 7.3 million of various nationalities, it ranks as the world’s fourth most densely populated sovereign state or territory.

Local time: 2:00 AM 10/7/2016
Calling code: 852
Population: 7.31 million (2015)
Area: 426.26 sq miles (1,104 km²)
GDP: $309.93 billion USD (2015)
Travel tip: Hong Kong’s a great city for an adventurous eater. Stop at a street vendor for fish balls on a stick or stinky tofu. Bakeries offer wife cake, pineapple buns and egg tarts. Or opt for as much dim sum as you can eat. ~tripadvisor

Emperor penguins, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica

For World Teachers’ Day, we offer this photo of emperor penguin chicks getting a lesson from a wise and tolerant adult—at least that’s how it looks to us. The tallest and heaviest of the penguins, emperors lay their eggs during the bone-splitting Antarctic winter. This particular image was taken at the emperor breeding colony on Snow Hill Island.

The emperor penguin is the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species and is endemic to Antarctica. The male and female are similar in plumage and size, reaching 122 cm in height and weighing from 22 to 45 kg. The dorsal side and head are black and sharply delineated from the white belly, pale-yellow breast and bright-yellow ear patches. Like all penguins it is flightless, with a streamlined body, and wings stiffened and flattened into flippers for a marine habitat.

Height: 43.31 inch (110 cm) – 51.18 inch (130 cm)
Lifespan: 20 years on average
Scientific name: Aptenodytes forsteri
Weight: 0.66 pound (0.30 kg) (Newborn) · 50.71 pound (23 kg) on average (After the breeding season, Male) · 50.71 pound (23 kg) on average (After the breeding season, Female) · 83.78 pound (38 kg) on average (At the start of the breeding season, Male) · 50.71 pound (23 kg) – 99.21 pound (45 kg) · 66.14 pound (30 kg) on average (At the start of the breeding season, Female)
Speed: 3.73 mph (6 km/h) – 5.59 mph (9 km/h) on average (In the water)
Clutch size: 1

Limestone cliffs in Cantonigròs, Catalonia, Spain

The Cantonigròs waterfall and natural pool are sometimes called La Foradada Falls, a name shared with the local area, and a mountain a little further east, toward the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Though the light and shadow of this photo make it look as though we’re in a cave, the limestone walls are open at the top, allowing easy access to the falls for locals and tourists alike.

Catalonia is an autonomous community of the Kingdom of Spain, located on the northeastern extremity of the Iberian Peninsula. It is designated as a nationality by its Statute of Autonomy. Catalonia consists of four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. The capital and largest city is Barcelona, the second-largest city in Spain and the seventh-most populous urban area in the European Union.

Population: 7.57 million (2012)
Area: 12,399 sq miles (32,114 km²)

Cliff dwelling at Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

The Canyon de Chelly National Monument, one of the most visited national monuments in the US, is located within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation. The park protects ancient ruins of indigenous tribes that once lived in the area and still serves as home to about 40 Navajo families. The 84,000-acre national monument is owned by the Navajo Nation but is managed in cooperation with the National Park Service.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument was established on April 1, 1931 as a unit of the National Park Service. It is located in northeastern Arizona within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation. Reflecting one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes of North America, it preserves ruins of the early indigenous tribes that lived in the area, including the Ancient Pueblo Peoples and Navajo. The monument covers 83,840 acres and encompasses the floors and rims of the three major canyons: de Chelly, del Muerto, and Monument. These canyons were cut by streams with headwaters in the Chuska mountains just to the east of the monument. None of the land is federally owned. In 2009 Canyon de Chelly National Monument was recognized as one of the most-visited national monuments in the United States.

Established: Apr 01, 1931
Area: 132.82 sq miles (343.99 km²)
Managed by: National Park Service

Ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall, London

You’re looking at acoustic tiles on the ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall in London, one of the most famous buildings in the world. Opened in 1871, Queen Victoria dedicated the hall to the memory of her husband, Albert, who died in 1861. The building was intended as a ‘Hall of Arts and Sciences,’ not a concert venue, so acoustics weren’t a primary consideration in its design. Nevertheless, a concert was performed immediately after the hall’s inauguration, and a strong echo of the music so tormented audience members that problems with the building’s acoustics soon became infamous. It was often said that the Royal Albert Hall was ‘the only place where a British composer could be sure of hearing his work twice.’

The earliest attempt to remedy the hall’s acoustics involved a large canvas awning suspended below the dome, which helped, but was still deemed inadequate. The awning was replaced by fluted aluminum panels in 1949, but they too did little to stanch the echo. Finally, in 1969, these blue acoustic diffusing discs were installed below the aluminum panels. The ‘mushrooms’ or ‘flying saucers,’ as they’re commonly called, improved the hall’s acoustics dramatically and—we think—added a stylish modern flair to the Victorian landmark.

The Royal Albert Hall is a concert hall on the northern edge of South Kensington, London, which holds the Proms concerts annually each summer since 1941. It has a capacity of up to 5,272 seats. The Hall is a registered charity held in trust for the nation and receives no public or government funding.

Address: Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP
Phone: 020 7589 8212
Opened: Mar 29, 1871
Height: 135 feet (41.15 m) (Architectural)
Architects: Francis Fowke · Henry Young Darracott Scott

Iron Canyon Trail near Park City, Utah

The 2.2-mile Iron Canyon Trail takes you through aspen groves and pine forests up to an overlook with sweeping views of Park City, Utah, and the surrounding valley. Park City is a mecca for outdoorsy types, but it’s also home to Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival, which has launched many an independent film into the mainstream.

Iron Canyon Trail is a 2.2 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Park City, UT that features a great forest setting and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking and nature trips and is accessible from May until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

Directions: Trailhead is at the top of Iron Canyon Drive, road turns into deadend and trailhead is right in the middle of it.
Facilities: Parking available on roadside

Rakotzbrücke, Rhododendron Park, Kromlau, Germany

The Rakotzbrücke (Rakotz Bridge), aka the Devil’s Bridge, stretches across the Rakotzsee River in Rhododendron Park, in Kromlau, Saxony, Germany. That’s a mouthful of an address, but the 160-acre park is worth a visit. Gothic architecture can be found within its boundaries, but the big draw is the bridge. Just follow the well-worn paths of the many photographers who have preceded you. A pic of the bridge at sunset is guaranteed to generate likes.

The Azalea and Rhododendron Park Kromlau is a 200 acres landscaped park in the municipality of Gablenz, Saxony. It was built in the 19th century. The park has no entry fee and can be accessed any time. The famous Rakotzbrücke is a short walk from the free car parking area.

Whooper swans on Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido, Japan

The cold winter months on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, bring migrating whooper swans to the frozen lakes of Akan National Park. Despite having fairly weak legs, whoopers make pretty graceful landings on the ice. They’re among the heaviest flying birds and those feeble limbs have a hard time supporting their body weight, so whooper swans spend most of their lives in the water or airborne on their powerful wings.

The whooper swan, pronounced hooper swan, is a large Northern Hemisphere swan. It is the Eurasian counterpart of the North American trumpeter swan, and the type species for the Cygnus genus. Francis Willughby and John Ray’s Ornithology of 1676 referred to this swan as “the Elk, Hooper, or wild Swan”. The scientific name is from cygnus, the Latin for “swan”.

Wingspan: 80.71 inch (205 cm) – 108.27 inch (275 cm)
Clutch size: 4 – 7
Scientific name: Cygnus cygnus
Length: 55.12 inch (140 cm) – 64.96 inch (165 cm)
Weight: 18.08 pound (8.20 kg) – 20.28 pound (9.20 kg) (Female) · 21.61 pound (9.80 kg) – 24.25 pound (11 kg) (Male)
Biological classification: Species

Clouds over Mont Ventoux, France

In the 12th century, and for several centuries after, the demand for timber used in ship building was so strong that Mont Ventoux in southeastern France was deforested. The lack of trees gave rise to one of its nicknames: ‘Bald Mountain.’ Ask any cycle racing enthusiast, and they’ll probably tell you Ventoux’s other nickname: ‘The Beast of Provence.’ The mountain pass on this windy peak has been part of the Tour de France course 15 times in the past 65 years. Aside from all that uphill pedaling, a large part of the challenge is the winds that whip over the peak and down the mountainside.

Mont Ventoux is a mountain in the Provence region of southern France, located some 20 km northeast of Carpentras, Vaucluse. On the north side, the mountain borders the Drôme département. At 1,912m, it is the highest mountain in the region and has been nicknamed the “Beast of Provence”, the “Giant of Provence”, or “The Bald Mountain”. It has gained fame through its inclusion in the Tour de France cycling race.

Elevation: 6,273 feet (1,912 m)
Prominence: 3,766 feet (1,148 m)
First ascender: Petrarch
Mountain range: Alps

Island in Fenton Lake, Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Fenton Lake is one of several smaller lakes in Ontario’s Lake Superior Provincial Park. The busy season here has slowed, but the park doesn’t close for winter. While none of the summer services are available in the park, most of the park remains open even after heavy snows begin—ice skating and snowshoeing take the place of hiking and canoeing.

Lake Superior Provincial Park is one of the largest provincial parks in Ontario, covering about 1,550 square kilometres along the northeastern shores of Lake Superior between Sault Ste. Marie in Algoma District, and Wawa in Northeastern Ontario, Canada. Ontario Highway 17 now runs through the park. When the park was established by Ontario in 1944, there was no road access.

Established: 1944
Area: 600.95 sq miles (1,556 km²)
Managed by: Ontario Parks

Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavík, Iceland

Give the city planners in Reykjavík credit. When they set out to build the city’s first official concert hall and performance center, they embraced modern design in a big way. Harpa’s exterior features this honeycomb-like façade of glass panels. Some of the glass is colored, or lit from within. The result is a stained-glass effect that can change over the course of a day as sunlight and artificial light accentuate different aspects of the glass patterns.

Harpa is a concert hall and conference centre in Reykjavík, Iceland. The opening concert was held on May 4, 2011. Harpa was designed by the Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects in co-operation with Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. The structure consists of a steel framework clad with geometric shaped glass panels of different colours. The building was originally part of a redevelopment of the Austurhöfn area dubbed World Trade Center Reykjavík, which was partially abandoned when the financial crisis took hold. The development was intended to include a 400-room hotel, luxury apartments, retail units, restaurants, a car park and the new headquarters of Icelandic bank Landsbanki.

Opened: May 13, 2011
Height: 141 feet (43 m) (Architectural)

Wicker fields in the province of Cuenca, Spain

Here in the province of Cuenca, in central Spain, local craftspeople create wicker baskets and other household goods with plant stalks from fields like this one. The vibrant shades of red and gold make for a colorful harvest. Perhaps, off in the woods, another fall harvest is underway: wild mushrooms that the region is also known for.

Cuenca is a province of central Spain, in the eastern part of the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha. The province is bordered by the provinces of Valencia, Albacete, Ciudad Real, Toledo, Madrid, Guadalajara, and Teruel. The northeastern side of the province is in the mountainous Sistema Ibérico area.

Population: 218,036 (2012)
Capital: Cuenca

European hares

Hares and rabbits are not interchangeable. These two European hares, sometimes simply called brown hares, are larger than rabbits. All hares are. They’ve longer legs, ears, and a rangier build, which is better suited to their life above ground. For while rabbits gather in social groups called ‘herds’ and nest underground in warrens, adult hares are solitary for most of their lives, sleeping above ground in their grassland and prairie habitats. Hares are also quite fast: European hares can sprint at 43 miles an hour.

The European hare, also known as the brown hare, is a species of hare native to Europe and parts of Western and Central Asia. It is among the largest hare species and is adapted to temperate, open country. Hares are herbivorous and feed mainly on grasses and herbs, supplementing these with twigs, buds, bark and field crops, particularly in winter. Their natural predators include large birds of prey, canids and felids. They rely on high-speed endurance running to escape from their enemies; having long, powerful limbs and large nostrils.

Scientific name: Lepus europaeus
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Hare

Pinnacles National Park, California

Pinnacles was established as a national park just three years ago, in 2013. That makes it the newest national park in the United States, but its namesake features—these rock spires—were millions of years in the making. Roughly 23 million years ago, volcanos erupted to form a 30-mile-wide volcanic field, which was then split in two by a shift in the San Andreas fault. The western side of the field gradually moved nearly 200 miles north, all the while being eroded by water, ice, and wind.

The rock that’s left behind is now shaped into these pinnacles. The towering spires attract rock climbers, to be sure, but they also provide homes for many species of animals, including the California condor. In fact, this is just one of four places where captive-bred condors are released into the wild. And the pinnacles aren’t the only amazing rock formations in this park—it’s also distinguished by unusual talus caves, which were formed when massive boulders were wedged into narrow ravines. So when the searing heat of Pinnacles National Park gets to be too much for you, catch a little shade beneath these house-sized boulders.

Pinnacles National Park is a U.S. National Park protecting a mountainous area located east of the Salinas Valley in Central California, about 5 miles east of Soledad and 80 miles southeast of San Jose. The park’s namesakes are the eroded leftovers of the western half of an extinct volcano that has moved 200 miles from its original location on the San Andreas Fault, embedded in a portion of the California Pacific Coast Ranges. Pinnacles is managed by the National Park Service and the majority of the park is protected as wilderness.

Address: 5000 Hwy 146, Paicines, CA 95043
Phone: (831) 389-4485
Managed by: National Park Service

Autumn in Cheshire, England

The autumnal equinox is here, and thus, we welcome the start of fall. This year, we’re taking a trip across the Atlantic, to wander the wooded countryside of Cheshire, England. The county, in the northwest part of England, hosts plenty of open meadows and small forests where the fall color may make you want to pretend you’re in some charming period drama on PBS. You do that too, right?

Cheshire is a county in North West England, bordering Merseyside and Greater Manchester to the north, Derbyshire to the east, Staffordshire and Shropshire to the south and Wales to the west. Cheshire’s county town is Chester; the largest town is Warrington.

Population: 1 million (2007)
Area: 904.64 sq miles (2,343 km²)
Capital: Chester
Colleges and universities: University of Chester · Reaseheath College · South Cheshire College · Stockport College · Macclesfield College · West Cheshire College · Mid Cheshire College

Castelmezzano, Italy

At night, the golden glow of Castelmezzano makes the southern Italian village look like a river of light, coursing through the countryside. Historians think the specific variant of Italian unique to this village was once widely spoken across southern Italy. Today, the local tongue just adds to the charm of Castelmezzano.

Castelmezzano is a town and comune in the province of Potenza, in the Southern Italian region of Basilicata. It is bounded by the comuni of Albano di Lucania, Anzi, Laurenzana, Pietrapertosa, Trivigno.

Area: 12.74 sq miles (33 km²)

Ladakh, India

Glacial runoff and human-crafted irrigation in the deep valleys of Ladakh, India, are crucial to survival in this high-elevation region in northern India. The plateau that links the Kunlun and Himalayan mountain ranges is technically a desert. But indigenous peoples have been farming barley and wheat here for centuries. Travelers from around the globe have discovered Ladakh, and now 50 percent of the region’s GNP comes from tourism.

Ladakh is a region in Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir that currently extends from the Kunlun mountain range to the main Great Himalayas to the south, inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent. It is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Jammu and Kashmir and its culture and history are closely related to that of Tibet.

Area: 33,554 sq miles (86,904 km²)
Population: 270,126 (2001)

Red-lored amazons in Equador

It’s possible that during the Golden Age of Piracy—broadly from 1650 to 1730—parrots such as these red-lored amazons were seen on pirate ships. Exotic birds, especially parrots who could imitate human speech, were worth a lot of money in Europe. There’s no evidence that pirate captains walked around with parrots on their shoulders though.

Why all this pirate talk instead of bird trivia? It’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day, me hearties! It’s much easier to show you two parrots instead of an 18th-century raider from the high seas. Have you heard our pirate-talk tutorial?

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The red-lored amazon or red-lored parrot is a species of amazon parrot, native to tropical regions of the Americas, from eastern Mexico south to Ecuador where it occurs in humid evergreen to semi-deciduous forests up to 1,100 m altitude. It is absent from the Pacific side of Central America north of Costa Rica. Not originally known from El Salvador, a pair – perhaps escaped from captivity – nested successfully in 1995 and 1996 in the outskirts of San Salvador and the species might expand its range permanently into that country in the future. This species has also established feral populations in several California cities.

Scientific name: Amazona autumnalis
Biological classification: Species
Subspecies: Lilacine amazon
Belongs to: Amazon parrot

Blue Hen Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Ohio has but one national park, so they went all out with Cuyahoga Valley. It’s unique among the 59 national parks in the US for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that Cuyahoga Valley includes working farms within the park’s boundaries. Much of the area’s land had been, or was in danger of, becoming urbanized, with historic farms lost to development. As the National Park Service and groups within Ohio began identifying potential park land, they found that farms were some of the least developed parcels in the region. How to get around that? Include them in the park’s boundaries.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a United States national park that preserves and reclaims the rural landscape along the Cuyahoga River between Akron and Cleveland in Northeast Ohio. The 32,950-acre park is administered by the National Park Service and is the only national park in Ohio. It was established in 1974 as the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area and was designated as a national park in 2000.

Address: 6569 Latta Ln, Peninsula, OH 44264
Phone: (330) 657-2375
Established: Oct 11, 2000
Annual visitors: 2.47 million (2006)
Area: 51.30 sq miles (132.87 km²)

Amusement ride at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

Once these riders disembark from the swing ride, they’ll have plenty of other entertainment options on this first day of the Oktoberfest in Munich. The beer-soaked celebration began in 1810 as a royal wedding reception. But the fete was so fun, the Bavarian royals continued to hold the party year after year, and now 6 million people take part in the festival in Munich. Of course, many cities beyond Munich, and beyond Bavaria and Germany, host Oktoberfest celebrations. Maybe there’s one near you?

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Oktoberfest is the world’s largest Volksfest. Held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, it is a 16- to 18-day folk festival running from mid or late September to the first weekend in October, with more than 6 million people from around the world attending the event every year. Locally, it is often called the Wiesn, after the colloquial name for the fairgrounds. The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since 1810. Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations that are modeled after the original Munich event.

First occurred: 1810

Interior view of Webb Chapel Park Pavilion, Dallas, Texas

If you can see this view in person, then welcome to Dallas! In 2012, officials were upgrading city parks, and in doing so, commissioned the clever design of a pavilion for shade and seating in Webb Chapel Park. This photo shows two of the four vaulted ceilings within. The steep, pyramid-like angles help draw air into the pavilion, providing a sort of natural air conditioning that’s welcome in the Texas heat. The pavilion, which appears to be an unassuming concrete block, blends into the landscape, maximizing green space and providing a nearly 360-degree view, thanks to carefully placed supports.

Dallas is a major city in the state of Texas and is the largest urban center of the fourth most populous metropolitan area in the United States. The city proper ranks ninth in the U.S. and third in Texas after Houston and San Antonio. The city’s prominence arose from its historical importance as a center for the oil and cotton industries, and its position along numerous railroad lines. The bulk of the city is in Dallas County, of which it is the county seat; however, sections of the city are located in Collin, Denton, Kaufman, and Rockwall counties. According to the 2010 United States Census, the city had a population of 1,197,816. The United States Census Bureau’s estimate for the city’s population increased to 1,300,092 as of July 1, 2015.

Population: 1.30 million (2016)
Area: 385.83 sq miles (999.30 km²)
Nearby airports: Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport · Dallas Love Field
Mayor: Mike Rawlings

Fog over Sofia, Bulgaria

The view of Sofia from the surrounding hills often shows the city enshrouded in fog. The Bulgarian capital sits at the foot of Vitosha Mountain and numerous other foothills that affect the local climate. But below the blanket of fog is a metropolis brimming with art and history—where the 2,000-year-old Roman ruins of the city’s past stand among modern developments in this center of Balkan culture and commerce.

Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria. The city has a population of 1.26 million, while over 1.5 million people live in its functional urban area. The city is located at the foot of Vitosha Mountain in the western part of the country, within less than 50 kilometres drive from the Serbian border. Its location in the centre of the Balkan peninsula means that it is the midway between the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea, whereas the Aegean Sea is the closest to it.

Population: 1.26 million (2015)
Area: 189.96 sq miles (492 km²)

Umpqua National Forest, Oregon

Of course there are countless trees in the nearly 1 million acres composing Oregon’s Umpqua National Forest. But the topography here reveals the volcanic history of the region near the southern end of the Cascade Mountain Range. When Cascade volcanoes erupted, some of their lava flows cooled in particular conditions that caused vertical fissures in the rock, forming these tightly packed pillars of stone. You’ll find these columns of basalt throughout the forest, usually along steep hillsides where the landscape shifts dramatically.

Umpqua National Forest, in southern Oregon’s Cascade Range, covers an area of 983,129 acres in Douglas, Lane, and Jackson counties, and borders Crater Lake National Park. The four ranger districts for the forest are the Cottage Grove, Diamond Lake, North Umpqua, and Tiller ranger districts. The forest is managed by the United States Forest Service, headquartered in Roseburg.

Established: Jul 01, 1908
Area: 1,536 sq miles (3,979 km²)
Managed by: United States Forest Service

Roussanou and other monasteries in Metéora, Greece

Roussanou is one of six Greek Orthodox monasteries perched atop the sandstone pillars in Metéora, Greece. The name ‘Metéora’ translates loosely to English as ‘middle of the sky’ or ‘in the heavens.’ The hermitages are now accessible by stairs cut into, or added, to the steep stone walls. But prior to the addition of the stairs in the 20th century, the only way up or down was to climb a series of ladders, or to be hauled up and lowered down by nets and ropes, the same way food and other necessities were delivered to the monasteries.

Literally “middle of the sky”, “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above” — etymologically related to meteorology) – The Metéora – is a formation of immense monolithic pillars and hills like huge rounded boulders which dominate the local area.

It is also associated with one of the largest and most precipitously built complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second in importance only to Mount Athos. The six monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars, at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly near the Pineios river and Pindus Mountains, in central Greece.

Metéora is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Razorfish, Papua New Guinea

Around coral reefs in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, divers may come across schools of razorfish, swimming nose-down in the current. Why do these small fish swim in this position? It’s a form of camouflage. Aside from finning about coral reefs in a pose that doesn’t make them immediately look like fish, razorfish can also easily hide in the spines of a nearby sea urchin. And in doing so, they’re more likely to be passed by when predators swim past, looking for a meal.

Aeoliscus strigatus, also known as the razorfish, is a member of the family Centriscidae of the order Syngnathiformes. This unique fish adopts a head-down tail-up position as an adaptation for hiding among sea urchin spines. The razorfish is found in coastal waters in the Indo-West Pacific. Its natural habitat includes beds of sea grass and coral reefs, where sea urchins are found.

Scientific name: Aeoliscus strigatus
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Aeoliscus

‘Postcards’–The Staten Island September 11 Memorial, New York

Not far from the Staten Island Ferry terminal, ‘Postcards’ is this New York borough’s memorial to the 274 Staten Island residents who died in, or as a result of, the September 11 attacks of 2001 and in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. (Some of those memorialized here worked as firefighters, police officers, or other rescue workers.) Gaze between the two wing-like panels, as seen here, and you can see the spot on Manhattan where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood. Seen from the side, the panels resemble the postcards of the memorial’s title. Their walls contain granite plaques, one for each victim, that provide information about that person, and are carved with their profile.

Postcards is an outdoor sculpture in the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island, New York City, United States of America. Built in 2004, it is a permanent memorial honoring the 274 Staten Island residents killed in the September 11 attacks of 2001 and in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The dead include many who worked at the World Trade Center, police and firefighters who joined the rescue effort and were killed when the towers collapsed, and one passenger on United Airlines Flight 93, who died in the crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. One individual who was killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing is also represented.

A puma in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

What we call the species Puma concolor depends on where we live. In North America, we tend to call this cat a cougar or a mountain lion. Here in Torres del Paine National Park, it’s a puma. This Chilean national park provides a great habitat for pumas, which hunt guanacos and the other deer-like ruminants that munch on the grassy plains of the park. Scientists frequent Torres del Paine in order to study the pumas, as the large population presents a good opportunity for easy observation. They’re so familiar with some of the pumas here, they’ve given them names. This one’s called Mocho.

Torres del Paine National Park is a national park encompassing mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers in southern Chilean Patagonia. The Cordillera del Paine is the centerpiece of the park. It lies in a transition area between the Magellanic subpolar forests and the Patagonian Steppes. The park is located 112 km north of Puerto Natales and 312 km north of Punta Arenas. The park borders Bernardo O’Higgins National Park to the west and the Los Glaciares National Park to the north in Argentine territory. Paine means “blue” in the native Tehuelche language and is pronounced PIE-nay.

Established: 1959

Sula Island, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway

Numerous islands dot the west coast of Norway, many of them uninhabited. But Sula has a few residents, most of them in the village called Hardbakke, which has a population of approximately 300. Should any Hardbakkeans need to get away from the hustle and bustle of village life, they can hike up into the towering hills above the hamlet and stroll among the Scots pine trees that grow in this rugged, chilly landscape.

Sula is an island in the municipality of Solund in Sogn og Fjordane county, Norway. The 116-square-kilometre island is the main island of the municipality. The island is located at the mouth of the Sognefjorden on the north side of the Sognesjøen, about 18 kilometres east of Holmebåen, the westernmost point in Norway. The largest village on the island is Hardbakke. The other main village area is Hersvikbygda on the northern part of the island.

Area: 44.79 sq miles (116 km²)
Max length: 11 miles (18 km)
Max width: 6.80 miles (11 km)
Population: 525 (2001)

Stockholm Public Library, Sweden

Established in 1928, the Stockholm Public Library boasts a collection of more than 2 million volumes. The open shelves of the rotunda, seen here, was a novel concept in Sweden at the time. Architect Gunnar Asplund borrowed the idea from libraries in the US. This innovation allowed patrons to examine the collection on their own, rather than having to ask library staff to retrieve books from a staff-only area. Since today is International Literacy Day, maybe it’s time to visit your local library and find a new read for fall.

Stockholm Public Library is a library building in Stockholm, Sweden, designed by Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund, and one of the city’s most notable structures. The name is today used for both the main library itself as well as the municipal library system of Stockholm.

Opened: Mar 31, 1928
Architect: Gunnar Asplund
Architectural style: Nordic Classicism

Coastal Spain seen from the International Space Station

Astronaut Scott Kelly retired from space travel recently. But when he was still astronauting, he took countless photos of the view from the International Space Station. This shot of coastal Spain shows off how much detail he could see while orbiting the Earth. He took plenty of traditional ‘space’ photos as well, and selfies too (can you blame him?) but many of his photos turn the camera back toward Earth, showing off the amazing color palette presented by both nature and human settlements.

The International Space Station is a space station, or a habitable artificial satellite, in low Earth orbit. Its first component launched into orbit in 1998, and the ISS is now the largest artificial body in orbit and can often be seen with the naked eye from Earth. The ISS consists of pressurised modules, external trusses, solar arrays, and other components. ISS components have been launched by Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets, and American Space Shuttles.

Orbital height: 205 miles (330 km)
Orbital speed: 4.79 miles/s (7.71 km/s)
Launched: Nov 20, 1998
Missions: Soyuz TMA-13M · Expedition 44 · Expedition 45

Waterfalls in Phnom Kulen National Park, Cambodia

Sure you could just enjoy the abundant tropical nature of Phnom Kulen National Park, a mountain retreat in northern Cambodia. But the park sits atop a number of historic wonders, with numerous Hindu artifacts throughout—including the amazing carved riverbed of the Stung Kbal Spean River. In 2012, excavation of the 1,200-year-old city of Mahendraparvata began. It’s an abandoned settlement beneath the jungle vegetation within the park. Time to add a new entry on your bucket list?

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Phnom Kulen National Park is a National park in Cambodia. It is located in the Phnom Kulen mountain massif in Siem Reap Province. During Angkorian era the relief was known as Mahendraparvata and was the place where Jayavarman II had himself declared chakravartin, an act which is considered the foundation of Khmer Empire.

Established: 1993

Workers applying stucco to a wall of a new building

The unofficial end of summer has arrived. (Don’t break out the pumpkin spice coffee yet. Science says we have a couple more weeks.) Labor Day in the US traces back to the late 1800s, when unions began to form in an effort to protect workers’ rights. As the idea of a day set aside to celebrate working men and women caught hold, states began to declare it an official holiday. By 1894, appealing to workers’ votes in his bid for reelection, President Grover Cleveland made it a federal holiday. He lost. So if you have the day off, thank those 19th-century activists who made it possible.

Labor Day in the United States is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend and it is considered the unofficial end of summer. The holiday is also a federal holiday.

A flock of sheep grazing in Tuscany, Italy

The Tuscany region in central Italy has been romanticized, and rightly so, for its rich history of art, music, literature, and cuisine. And central to the cuisine of Tuscany is its farming tradition. Sheep provide the milk for pecorino cheese, one of the most iconic food products of Tuscany and a highly regarded artisanal export. A visit to the countryside in Tuscany will probably net you sightings of local flocks.

Tuscany is a region in central Italy with an area of about 23,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3.8 million inhabitants. The regional capital is Florence.

Population: 3.71 million (2013)
Area: 8,878 sq miles (22,994 km²)
Capital: Florence

Moscow International Business Center, Russia

To celebrate Skyscraper Day (it’s a thing!) we take you to Moscow, Russia. Just a few miles west of the iconic, and often photographed, Red Square, and on the bank of the Moscow River, is the ultra-modern Moscow International Business Center. You won’t find the onion-domed towers of any orthodox cathedrals here. But you will see gleaming pillars of modern commerce—a reflection of the Russian capital’s changing skyline.

Moscow is the capital and most populous city of the Russian Federation, with 12.2 million residents within the city limits and 16.8 million within the urban area. Moscow has the status of a Russian federal city.
Population: 11.98 million (2013)
Area: 969.12 sq miles (2,510 km²)

Afon Ogwen, a river in Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Below the burbling surface of the Ogwen River—or Afon Ogwen, if you speak Welsh—the river rock, covered with an array of aquatic plants, echoes the terrain of Snowdonia National Park itself. Here in the northwest of Wales, some of the UK’s highest peaks nearly burst from the landscape, creating an ecosystem varied and rare enough to earn Snowdonia significant protected status.

Snowdonia is a region in north Wales and a national park of 823 square miles in area. It was the first to be designated of the three national parks in Wales, in 1951. The English name for the area derives from Snowdon, which is the highest mountain in Wales at 3,560 ft. In Welsh, the area is named Eryri. A commonly held belief is that the name is derived from eryr, and thus means ‘the abode/land of eagles’, but recent evidence is that it means quite simply Highlands, and is derived from the Latin oriri as leading Welsh scholar Sir Ifor Williams proved. In the Middle Ages the title Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia was used by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd; his grandfather Llywelyn Fawr used the title Prince of north Wales and Lord of Snowdonia.
Area: 837.84 sq miles (2,170 km²)

Northern gannets on the Saltee Islands, Ireland

From North America to Western Europe, northern gannets live all along the North Atlantic coasts. The birds spend a majority of their lives at sea, following schools of sardines, herring, and other small fish that they feed on. During breeding and hatching season, northern gannets often return to the same colony locations, where thousands of birds may gather to nest and rear their young. These two, shown in a greeting pose, are on the shores of Ireland’s Saltee Islands, a protected bird habitat.

The Northern gannet is a seabird and the largest member of the gannet family, Sulidae. “Gannet” is derived from Old English ganot “strong or masculine”, ultimately from the same Old Germanic root as “gander”. Morus is derived from Ancient Greek moros, “foolish” due to the lack of fear shown by breeding gannets and boobies allowing them to be easily killed. The specific bassanus is from the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth, which holds the world’s largest colony of northern gannets.
Scientific name: Morus bassanus
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Gannet

Bonifacio, Corsica, France

At the southern tip of Corsica, a Mediterranean island belonging to France, the heavily eroded stone cliffs rise up out of the water, topped by the small village of Bonifacio. With a medieval old town enclosed within a citadel, a busy marina, fewer than 3,000 year-round residents, and sunsets that turn the village skyline into an oil painting, it’s no surprise that many mainland French residents vacation in Bonifacio.

Bonifacio is a commune at the southern tip of the island of Corsica, in the Corse-du-Sud department of France. Its inhabitants are called Bonifaciens, feminine Bonifaciennes. The commune in this case is identical to the canton and is the largest commune of Corsica.
Population: 2,872 (1999)
Area: 53.42 sq miles (138.36 km²)
Nearby airport: Figari–Sud Corse Airport
Travel tip: Corsica is a weird and wonderful island, replete with gorgeous beaches and breathtaking mountains. Bonifacio, a harbour city on the southern tip, is rich with history. Check out the prehistoric Araguina-Sennola caves and the Genoese towers, and be sure to take the train through the mountains to the beach

Moray Inca ruins near Maras, Peru

In the hills near Maras, Peru, deep depressions in the land were terraced by the ancient Inca civilization that once ruled this region. Modern scholars agree that the hillsides were engineered to serve as agricultural experiment stations. Air temperatures from the rim to the bottom of each basin can differ by more than 20 degrees, suggesting crops were planted on each level to see how temperatures affected growth. A complex irrigation system backs up this theory. In 2009 and 2010, unusually heavy rains caused significant damage to the Moray ruins.

Moray or Muray is an archaeological site in Peru approximately 50 km northwest of Cuzco on a high plateau at about 3,500 m and just west of the village of Maras. The site contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is approximately 30 m deep. As with many other Inca sites, it also has a sophisticated irrigation system.

Burchell's zebras on the Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana

Who knew there were different kinds of zebras? The Burchell’s zebra is named for William John Burchell, an English naturalist and explorer who traveled extensively in South Africa, where he studied these and many other animals. The Burchell’s zebra has fewer stripes on its legs than other plains zebras, but otherwise strongly resembles its relatives. As these zebras migrate across the plains of southern Africa, they cross the Makgadikgadi Pan, a dry lake bed, in Botswana. Seen from above in this photo, the zebras cast long shadows across the harsh landscape of the salt pan.

Burchell’s zebra is a southern subspecies of the plains zebra. It is named after the British explorer and naturalist William John Burchell. Common names include bontequagga, Burchell’s zebra, Damara zebra, and Zululand zebra. Burchell’s zebra is the only subspecies of zebra which may be legally farmed for human consumption in the UK.
Scientific name: Equus quagga burchellii

The Tree River in Nunavut, Canada

For fly fishing fans, the Tree River is probably a bucket-list item. Just getting to this region of Nunavut, a recently designated territory in Canada, is an undertaking, as the whole area is in the remote Canadian Arctic. But every summer, for a few short weeks, the fishing lodges here fill up with visitors hoping to hike out to the banks of the Tree and cast a line.

Kitikmeot Region is an administrative region of Nunavut, Canada. It consists of the southern and eastern parts of Victoria Island with the adjacent part of the mainland as far as the Boothia Peninsula, together with King William Island and the southern portion of Prince of Wales Island. The regional seat is Cambridge Bay.

Portage Lake in Chugach National Forest, Alaska

Portage Lake is the result of Portage Glacier’s retreat. The massive body of ice has been shrinking for some time, and in 1914, the result of that shrinkage was a new body of water. As you might guess, these glacial waters are extremely cold, so don’t visit expecting a bracing summer dip. However, skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking on and near the lake, depending on the time of year, are all popular pastimes for those who make their way to this part of the Chugach National Forest.

Portage Lake is a glacial lake in the Chugach National Forest of Alaska. It sits in a long, heavily glaciated valley, and abuts the calving face of Portage Glacier at its southern end. The lake has only become visible since approximately 1914, with the rapid retreat of Portage Glacier.
Length: 3 miles (4.83 km)
Mean depth: 591 feet (180 m)
Width: 0.90 miles (1.43 km)

Sand pattern made by a pufferfish

Sand patterns like this were first widely documented in 1995, when divers near Amami Ōshima, Japan, where this photo was taken, spotted a strange circular design on the seabed. Other divers in the Pacific and Indian Oceans reported seeing similar ‘mystery circles’ in the seabed. And in 2011, humans witnessed firsthand just what created them: white-spotted pufferfish. Males of the species work all day for a full week to create the unique patterns, some as wide as 6.5 feet, in an effort to attract the attention of female white-spotted pufferfish. When was the last time your sweetie made sand art for you?

Torquigener albomaculosus, or the White-spotted pufferfish, is the twentieth discovered species of the genus Torquigener. The species was discovered in the ocean waters around the Ryukyu Islands in Japan off the south coast of Amamioshima Island. Observed depths of the species range between 10 to 27 m. The fish’s head and body are colored brown with white spots at the back. Its abdomen is silvery-white with white spots.
Scientific name: Torquigener albomaculosus

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

What a long, magnificent trip it’s been! We started our summer road trip in the oldest of our national parks, Yellowstone, and now we’re ending it in one of the newest: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, established in 2004. It’s the national park that ends our road trip, and it’s a fitting place to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, which was founded on this day in 1916. Congratulations, NPS, and here’s to the next 100 years!

In all, we visited 13 national parks this summer, each one uniquely beautiful, inspiring, and full of surprises. But we can’t help thinking about all the places we didn’t get to. After all, the US National Park Service oversees 59 national parks, as well as hundreds of other ‘units’ like historical parks, national monuments, and national memorials.

The 750-foot (and higher) sand dunes here are an awe-inspiring and unexpected feature of Colorado’s topography. And yet the towering hills of sand are just one feature of a patchwork landscape that also includes conifer forests, alpine lakes, and wetlands. The 85,000-acre park and preserve even encompasses stretches of tundra at the higher elevations, where it edges up against the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s a magnificent setting for the final leg of our road trip as we consider the bittersweet reality that all things—even national parks road trips—come to an end. For now.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a United States National Park located in the San Luis Valley, in the easternmost parts of Alamosa County and Saguache County, Colorado, United States. Originally created as Great Sand Dunes National Monument on March 17, 1932, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve was established by an act of the United States Congress on September 13, 2004. The park includes 44,246 acres, and the preserve protects an additional 41,686 acres.
Address: 11999 State Hwy 50, Mosca, CO 81146
Established: Sep 13, 2004
Area: 132.43 sq miles (343 km²)
Annual visitors: 258,660 (2006)

The Temple of Jupiter and Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii, Italy

Many cities and villages in the Roman Empire built Temples of Jupiter to honor the Roman god. Pompeii’s Temple of Jupiter was built during the 2nd century BCE, at a time when Roman influence over the city was strong, supplanting the original Greek influences on Pompeii. An earthquake in 62 CE reduced the temple to just the ruins seen in this photo. Seventeen years after the earthquake, Mount Vesuvius erupted and devastated Pompeii.

The Temple of Jupiter, Capitolium, or Temple of the Capitoline Triad was a temple in Roman Pompeii, at the north end of its forum. Initially dedicated to Jupiter alone, it was built in the mid-2nd century BC at the same time as the temple of Apollo was being renovated – this was the era at which Roman influence over Pompeii increased and so Roman Jupiter superseded the Greek Apollo as the town’s highest god. Jupiter was the ruler of the gods and the protector of Rome, where his temple was the center of Roman Religion and of the cult of state.

A coral reef in the Red Sea near Egypt

The Red Sea’s Gulf of Suez and Gulf of Aqaba are well known for their many coral reefs. In fact, the Red Sea is home to around 300 different coral species, with the most developed colonies of coral off the coast of Egypt, where this photo was taken. The coral here is considered fairly healthy too, compared to the plight of coral bleaching in other parts of the world. In some of the resort areas, divers have reported obvious deterioration of reefs, but that’s why Egypt’s government has been establishing protected reef areas, including the famous Ras Muhammad National Park, which is primarily a marine park.

Coral reefs are diverse underwater ecosystems held together by calcium carbonate structures secreted by corals. Coral reefs are built by colonies of tiny animals found in marine waters that contain few nutrients. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals, which in turn consist of polyps that cluster in groups.

Owlman of the Nazca Lines in Peru

If you can see the Owlman geoglyph here in the coastal foothills of the Peruvian Andes, you’re probably taking an aerial tour of the Nazca Lines or are looking down from one of the surrounding hills. There are hundreds of geometric patterns and representational figures (including spiders, birds, and monkeys) carved by the ancient Nazca people into the hillsides here. Some of the abstract lines span miles. The Owlman is 98 feet tall, while other figures are as long as football fields, and not easily noticeable from the ground. Scientists have offered numerous theories for why the Nazca drew these massive pictures, but no theory has really caught on. Some observers call this humanoid figure ‘The Astronaut.’ [Insert ‘Twilight Zone’ theme here.]

The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Sechura Desert in southern Peru. They were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The high, arid plateau stretches more than 80 km between the towns of Nazca and Palpa on the Pampas de Jumana about 400 km south of Lima. Although some local geoglyphs resemble Paracas motifs, scholars believe the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca culture between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D. The individual figures vary in complexity. Hundreds are simple lines or geometric shapes; more than 70 are zoomorphic designs of animals such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, and monkeys, or human figures. Other designs include phytomorphic shapes such as trees and flowers.

Rio de Janeiro, seen from Sugarloaf Mountain, Brazil

The bubble-like cable cars that take visitors from the streets of Rio to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain offer 360-degree views of the city and Guanabara Bay as they make the three-minute climb. The first cableway opened in 1912 with wooden trams that traveled up from Rio’s Praia Vermelha (Red Beach) to Morro da Urca, the smaller peak seen in this image. The current system opened in 1972 with updated cars and a new, second leg that takes visitors all the way to the top of Sugarloaf.

The Sugarloaf Cable Car; Portuguese: Bondinho do Pão de Açúcar is a cableway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Moving between Praia Vermelha and the Sugarloaf Mountain, it stops at Morro da Urca on its way up and down, and reaches the summit of the 1,299-foot mountain.

Playa de Las Teresitas at San Andrés, Canary Islands, Spain

When officials wanted to draw more tourists to Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, they decided to improve the beach known as Playa de Las Teresitas, near the village of San Andrés. The rocky coast, with but a small stretch of black, volcanic sand, was covered with 270,000 tons of sand imported from the Sahara Desert. With the addition of a breakwater to make the waters more inviting, this beach became a hotspot for visitors.

The Playa de Las Teresitas is a beach north of the village of San Andrés municipality of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Tenerife, Spain. Originally the beach consisted of mostly rocks and a small strip of black sand. It was divided into three distinct parts that had different names: Tras la Arena which was the original, Los Moros in the middle, and finally the area bounded by the ravine of Las Teresas. In 1973, 270,000 tons of white sand was shipped from Spanish Sahara to create an artificial beach of white sand. Two piers and a kilometer long breakwater located 150 meters from the beach was constructed to prevent waves from carrying the sand out to the sea. The project cost 50 million pesetas and an addition 400 million pesetas in 1998 when another 2,800 tonnes sand from Sahara was added to replenish the sand lost in the beach’s 25 first years of existence.

Common kingfishers perched on a camera lens

Perhaps these common kingfishers wanted to celebrate World Photo Day by investigating what it takes to be a wildlife photographer. Of course, you don’t need National Geographic-level skills these days to take a decent photo. Phone cameras have made shutterbugs of us all. Skip the selfies and food portraits and get creative for World Photo Day. Who knows? In a few years, you might end up on the Bing homepage.

The common kingfisher also known as the Eurasian kingfisher, and river kingfisher, is a small kingfisher with seven subspecies recognized within its wide distribution across Eurasia and North Africa. It is resident in much of its range, but migrates from areas where rivers freeze in winter.
Scientific name: Alcedo atthis
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Alcedo

Dry Tortugas National Park

Our national parks ‘road trip’ sets sail again, this time for seven small islands in the lower Florida Keys, 70 miles west of Key West. Spectacular blue waters, coral reefs, and miles of white sandy beaches are all serious draws, but what really sets the Dry Tortugas apart is the huge relic of Fort Jefferson. Built in the mid-1800s as an outpost for a naval defense of the US Gulf Coast, the fort was never fully completed and was abandoned by the Army in 1874. In the end, more than 16 million bricks were laid, making it one of the largest forts ever built. Today, Fort Jefferson is preserved by the National Park Service and stands as a reminder of the extraordinary measures the young nation took to protect its borders. Our national parks have preserved some of America’s most beautiful places, of course, but by also preserving cultural sites like Fort Jefferson, they protect our national heritage as well. Which American places do you think have such historical and cultural importance that they should be preserved for future generations?

Dry Tortugas National Park is a national park in the United States about 68 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The park preserves Fort Jefferson and the seven Dry Tortugas islands, the westernmost and most isolated of the Florida Keys. The archipelago’s coral reefs are the least disturbed of the Florida Keys reefs.
Address: 240 Margaret St, Key West, FL 33040
Phone: (305) 294-7009
Established: Jan 04, 1935
Annual visitors: 64,122 (2006)
Managed by: U.S. National Park Service

A red pincushion bloom

The red pincushion flower comes in more shades and colors than its name implies, as do the many other blooms in the larger protea family. Thanks to the southern African plant’s ability to easily adapt to a variety of soils and climates, it’s been a very popular export to Europe and beyond.

Leucospermum cordifolium, called red pincushion protea, is a shrub native to South Africa.
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Proteales
Family: Proteaceae
Genus: Leucospermum
Species: L. cordifolium
Binomial name: Leucospermum cordifolium (Salisb. ex Knight) Fourc.
Other names: Leucospermum bolusii E. Phillips, Leucospermum mixtum E. Phillips, Leucospermum nutans R. Br.

Maria Lenk Aquatics Center, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Recreational diving dates back to ancient times, but modern organized competitions began in the 1880s in England. Diving was introduced to the Olympics in 1904 and has been a popular part of the Games ever since. This photo shows Canadian diver Maxim Bouchard moments after a practice plunge in Rio this past February.

The Maria Lenk Aquatics Center is an aquatics centre that is part of the City of Sports Complex, in Barra da Tijuca. It is part of the investments made by the city Rio de Janeiro to host the swimming, synchronized swimming and diving competitions of the 2007 Pan American Games. During the 2016 Summer Olympics it will host group matches of water polo and the synchronised swimming and diving competitions. The name of the water park is a tribute to the Brazilian swimmer Maria Lenk, who died less than three months before its inauguration.

Eurasian lynx in Šumava National Park, Czech Republic

Shh. August 15 is National Relaxation Day and this Eurasian lynx is taking that directive seriously. In the European portion of this big cat’s range, it’s the third-largest predator—grey wolves and brown bears get the second and first spots, respectively. Here in the forests of Šumava National Park in Czechia (aka the Czech Republic), the lynx population is healthy, with plenty of protected wilderness for the lynx to hunt and maybe catch a snooze in the midday sun.

The Eurasian lynx is a medium-sized cat native to Siberia, Central, East, and Southern Asia, North, Central and Eastern Europe. It has been listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List since 2008 as it is widely distributed, and most populations are considered stable. Eurasian lynx have been re-introduced to several forested mountainous areas in Central and Southeastern Europe; these re-introduced subpopulations are small, less than 200 animals.
Scientific name: Lynx lynx
Weight: 39.68 pound (18 kg) – 66.14 pound (30 kg) (Male) · 17.64 pound (8 kg) – 46.30 pound (21 kg) (Female) · 0.44 pound (0.20 kg) – 0.88 pound (0.40 kg) (Newborn)
Territory size: 7.72 sq miles (20 km²) – 173.75 sq miles (450 km²) (Hunting range)
Length: 31.50 inch (80 cm) – 51.18 inch (130 cm)
Height: 27.56 inch (70 cm)
Tail length: 4.33 inch (11 cm) – 9.84 inch (25 cm)

Tea plantation in Kericho County, Kenya

In the hills of Kericho County, Kenya, tea plantations are a common sight. Kenya is the world’s third-largest producer of tea, even though tea farming only started there about 100 years ago. Some of the larger, corporate farms harvest the leaves mechanically, but many of the smaller farms and co-ops in Kenya still harvest by hand.

Kericho County is a county of Kenya. It has a population of 752,396 and an area of 2,111 km². Its capital and largest town is Kericho. The current governor is Professor Paul Kiprono Chepkwony also known as “Timbilwet”.
Country: Kenya
Formed: March 4th 2013
Capital: Kericho
Area: Total 2,454.5 km2 (947.7 sq mi)
Population: (2009) Total 752,396
Time zone: EAT (UTC+3)

Matterhorn, Switzerland

Here in the Alps, with the pyramid-like Matterhorn looming in the background, visitors who linger after sundown can see a host of stars and planets. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere tonight, make an attempt to get away from the light pollution caused by artificial light—though you don’t have to trek to the Matterhorn—and gaze skyward. The Perseid meteor shower will graze the Earth’s atmosphere for one final night, putting on a spectacular show.

The Matterhorn or Monte Cervino, also known in French as Mont Cervin is a mountain of the Alps, straddling the main watershed and border between Switzerland and Italy. It is a huge and near-symmetrical pyramidal peak in the Monte Rosa area of the Pennine Alps, whose summit is 4,478 metres high, making it one of the highest summits in the Alps and Europe. The four steep faces, rising above the surrounding glaciers, face the four compass points and are split by the Hörnli, Furggen, Leone and Zmutt ridges. The mountain overlooks the Swiss town of Zermatt in the canton of Valais to the north-east and the Italian town of Breuil-Cervinia in the Aosta Valley to the south. Just east of the Matterhorn is Theodul Pass, the main passage between the two valleys on its north and south sides and a trade route since the Roman Era.
Elevation: 14,692 feet (4,478 m)
First ascent: Jul 14, 1865
Prominence: 3,412 feet (1,040 m)
Mountain ranges: Alps · Pennine Alps
First ascenders: Edward Whymper · Lord Francis Douglas · Douglas Robert Hadow · Michel Croz · Charles Hudson · Peter Taugwalder, Sr. · Peter Taugwalder, Jr.

Elephants in Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa

Here in South Africa’s Addo Elephant National Park, the once nearly decimated African elephant population is healthy and safe, at least within the park’s boundaries. But not all elephants live in protected areas, and poaching continues to be a major cause of the decline in wild elephant numbers across the continent. World Elephant Day is an effort to raise awareness and inspire action on behalf of these incredible animals.

African elephants are elephants of the genus Loxodonta, from Greek λοξός + ὀδούς. The genus consists of two extant species: the African bush elephant and the smaller African forest elephant. Loxodonta is one of two existing genera of the family, Elephantidae. Fossil remains of Loxodonta have been found only in Africa, in strata as old as the middle Pliocene.
Weight: 5,000 pound (2,268 kg) – 13,999 pound (6,350 kg)
Scientific name: Loxodonta
Lifespan: 60 years – 70 years
Height: 98.43 inch (250 cm) – 157.48 inch (400 cm) · 118.11 inch (300 cm) (Newborn)
Gestation period: 670 days (African bush elephant)
Biological classification: Genus

Virgin Islands National Park

Yes, the United States has a national park in the Virgin Islands, and even though we can’t technically drive there, we figured our national parks road trip can’t pass this one by. We’ll sail out to the Virgin Islands National Park, which was established 60 years ago this month. It covers most of the island of Saint John and nearly all of Hassel Island—a beautiful spread of tropical forests and sandy beaches, all surrounded by pristine coral reefs and ocean. The National Park Service calls this an ‘American paradise,’ and we couldn’t agree more.

The Virgin Islands National Park is a United States National Park, covering approximately 60% of the island of Saint John in the United States Virgin Islands, plus nearly all of Hassel Island, just off the Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas harbor.
Established: Aug 02, 1956
Annual Visitors: 677,289 (2006)
Managed by: National Park Service

Smithsonian exhibition, 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair

Today, the Smithsonian Institution celebrates 170 years of bringing an ‘increase & diffusion of knowledge’ to citizens of the United States and visitors from around the world. Though based in Washington, DC, the Smithsonian organizes touring exhibits from time to time. This image is from the Smithsonian display at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. In addition to the triceratops skeleton seen up front, the exhibition also featured the world’s first full cast of a blue whale. The Smithsonian’s collection of art, artifacts, and scientific specimens continues to grow, and now totals roughly 138 million items.

The Smithsonian Institution, established in 1846 “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge,” is a group of museums and research centers administered by the Government of the United States. Originally organized as the “United States National Museum,” that name ceased to exist as an administrative entity in 1967. Termed “the nation’s attic” for its eclectic holdings of 138 million items, the Institution’s nineteen museums, nine research centers, and zoo include historical and architectural landmarks, mostly located in the District of Columbia. Additional facilities are located in Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York City, Virginia, and Panama. A further 170 museums are Smithsonian Affiliates. The Institution’s thirty million annual visitors are admitted without charge. Funding comes from the Institution’s endowment, private and corporate contributions, membership dues, government support, as well as retail, concession, and licensing revenues. Institution publications include Smithsonian and Air & Space magazines.
Website: Smithsonian Institution
Address: 750 9th St SE, Washington, DC 20003
Phone: (202) 633-1000
Established: Aug 10, 1846
Founders: James Smithson · Joseph Henry · Joel Roberts Poinsett
Architects: James Polshek · Norman Foster · James Renwick, Jr. · Charles A. Platt · Gordon Bunshaft · George Keister · Almus Pratt Evans · Lewis Shulman · Paul L. Wood

Rio de Janeiro including Maracanã Stadium, Brazil

Many photographs of Rio de Janeiro include landmarks such as Sugarloaf Mountain, or the nearly 100-foot-tall statue, Cristo Redentor, that overlooks the city from Corcovado, the peak opposite Sugarloaf. This twilight shot of Rio shows the city bathed in blue light, and makes the bustling urban titan seem a little quieter, even placid. Of course, with the Summer Games going on, even at this distance, you might be able to hear the crowds cheering on athletes from around the world.

Rio de Janeiro, or simply Rio, is the second-most populous municipality in Brazil and the sixth-most populous in the Americas. The metropolis is anchor to the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area, the second-most populous metropolitan area in Brazil and sixth-most populous in the Americas. Rio de Janeiro is the capital of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s third-most populous state. Part of the city has been designated as a World Heritage Site, named “Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea”, by UNESCO on 1 July 2012 as a Cultural Landscape.
Population: 6.45 million (2014)
Travel Tip:

Whether your curiosity is piqued by the International Olympic Committee’s selection for the 2016 Games, or you’re heeding the call of the famous twin beaches Copacabana and Ipanema, Rio offers more than you can imagine, and offers it at all hours. With breathtaking views from Corcovado Mountain – TripAdvisor

Area: 486.50 sq miles (1,260 km²)
Host of: 2016 Summer Olympics
Nearby airports: Rio de Janeiro–Galeão International Airport · Santos Dumont Airport

Mar Saba monastery, Jerusalem

Above the Kidron Valley, not far from the shores of the Dead Sea, Mar Saba embodies the diverse cultural and religious history of Jerusalem. Believed to have been founded in the year 483, the Greek Orthodox hermitage is home to approximately 20 monks today. The modern Orthodox liturgy is thought to have been developed here.

The Holy Lavra of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified, known in Arabic as Mar Saba, is a Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley at a point halfway between the Old City of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, within the Bethlehem Governorate of the West Bank.

Chicago Harbor Light on Lake Michigan

Happy National Lighthouse Day! The observance commemorates the Congressional Act in 1789 that helped establish our national system of beacons, buoys, and lighthouses. In Chicago Harbor, where the Chicago River empties into Lake Michigan, and Navy Pier juts out into the water, the Chicago Harbor Light is an iconic feature of the city’s landscape. Used for decades by the US Coast Guard, the Chicago Harbor Light is now the property of the city of Chicago.

The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse is an automated active lighthouse, and stands at the end of the northern breakwater protecting the Chicago Harbor, to the east of Navy Pier and the mouth of the Chicago River.
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Year first constructed: 1893, moved 1919
Year first lit: 1893
Automated: 1979
Foundation: Rubble stone with concrete pier
Construction: Brick, cast iron and glass
Tower shape: Cylindrical base/Frustum of a cone tower, with attached buildings
Markings / pattern: White, red on roofs
Height: 66 ft (20 m) tower
Focal height: Focal plane – 82 feet (25 m)
Original lens: Third-order Fresnel
Range: 24 miles (39 km)

Saxon Switzerland National Park, Germany

This national park protects land that joins with protected wilderness on the other side of the German border in Czechia (aka Czech Republic). Here in Germany, where this photo was taken, it’s called the Saxon Switzerland National Park. Across the border, it’s the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. Both feature immense sandstone cliffs and deep, forested gorges. Hikers can trek from one park to the other via a pedestrian border crossing. And yes, neither park is in Switzerland.

Saxon Switzerland National Park, is a National Park in the German Free State of Saxony near the capital city of Dresden.It covers two areas of 93.5 km² in the heart of the German part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains which is called the Saxon Switzerland.
Established: 1990

Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It’s been a wild ride for Rio de Janeiro this year, and for Brazil in general. And although it’s technically winter in the Southern Hemisphere, Rio’s tropical climate makes it an ideal place for the summer Games. Opening and closing ceremonies for the competition will take place here at Maracanã Stadium, originally built for the 1950 FIFA World Cup. This photo depicts a pyrotechnics rehearsal at Maracanã for today’s celebration.

The Maracanã Stadium, also known as Maracanã, officially Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho, is a football stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The stadium is part of a complex that includes an arena known by the name of Maracanãzinho, which means “The Little Maracanã” in Portuguese.
Address: Rua Prof. Eurico Rabelo S/N, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 20271-150
Phone: 0800 062-7222
Opened: Jun 16, 1950
Capacity: 78,639
Teams: Brazil national football team · Clube de Regatas do Flamengo

Jesup Path in Acadia National Park, Maine

The National Park Service isn’t alone in celebrating its first 100 years in 2016—Acadia National Park is, too! A century ago, a group of visionary individuals donated the land and worked tirelessly to create the first eastern national park. Here’s to the remarkable men and women whose foresight and generosity have preserved this ruggedly beautiful coast for generations.

Acadia National Park is a national park located in the U.S. state of Maine. It reserves much of Mount Desert Island, and associated smaller islands, off the Atlantic coast. Initially created as the Sieur de Monts National Monument in 1916, the park was renamed Lafayette National Park in 1919, and was given its current name of Acadia in 1929. It is the oldest American national park east of the Mississippi River.
Address: 20 McFarland Hill Dr, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
Phone: (207) 288-4988
Established: Jul 08, 1916
Annual visitors: 2.20 million (2007)
Travel tip: A major national park in Maine where the attractions and sights are well known along the 20-mile Park Loop Road.

Dartmoor National Park, Devon, England

These are the high moorlands of Dartmoor National Park in the Devon region of southwestern England. Geologic evidence indicates that Dartmoor was once heavily forested, but early human occupants began harvesting the trees and the present-day treeless landscape is the result. Because of its centuries-long occupation by humans, Dartmoor is a treasure trove of Neolithic and Bronze Age artifacts, many of them well preserved by the moor’s deep layer of peat.

Dartmoor is an area of moorland in southern Devon, England. Protected by National Park status as Dartmoor National Park, it covers 954 square kilometres. The granite which forms the uplands dates from the Carboniferous Period of geological history. The moorland is capped with many exposed granite hilltops known as tors, providing habitats for Dartmoor wildlife. The highest point is High Willhays, 621 m above sea level. The entire area is rich in antiquities and archaeology.
Area: 368.34 sq miles (954 km²)

Harbin Opera House in Harbin, China

The up-and-coming Beijing-based MAD architectural design company created the Harbin Opera House, in northeastern China. Situated on a small island surrounded by wetlands of the Songhua River, the building’s exterior, like its interior, features sinuous curves that seem to have been shaped by the wind and water of its surroundings. From a viewing platform outside the performance space, visitors are afforded dramatic views of the Harbin skyline in the distance, with the natural wetlands below.

African lionesses in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Happy National Girlfriends Day! (Relax, lazy boyfriends. It’s for girls who are friends. You don’t need to run out and buy flowers. Actually, go ahead and do that anyway.) Lionesses make terrific girlfriends. They form the foundation of the pride. They help rear each other’s cubs, they protect the pride, and they do the majority of the hunting. These three are sticking close together in the grasslands of Kenya’s protected Masai Mara Reserve. The males? Probably sleeping in the shade somewhere.

The lion is one of the big cats in the genus Panthera and a member of the family Felidae. The commonly used term African lion collectively denotes the several subspecies in Africa. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger. Wild lions currently exist in sub-Saharan Africa and in India. In ancient historic times, their range was in most of Africa, including North Africa, and across Eurasia from Greece and southeastern Europe to India. In the late Pleistocene, about 10,000 years ago, the lion was the most widespread large land mammal after humans: Panthera leo spelaea lived in northern and western Europe and Panthera leo atrox lived in the Americas from the Yukon to Peru. The lion is classified as a vulnerable species by the IUCN, having seen a major population decline in its African range of 30–50% per two decades during the second half of the twentieth century. Lion populations are untenable outside designated reserves and national parks. Although the cause of the decline is not fully understood, habitat loss and conflicts with humans are the greatest causes of concern. Within Africa, the West African lion population is particularly endangered.
Weight: 2.65 pound (1.20 kg) – 4.63 pound (2.10 kg) (Newborn)
Scientific name: Panthera leo
Lifespan: 10 years – 14 years (In wild)
Gestation period: 110 days on average
Body length: 55.12 inch (140 cm) – 68.90 inch (175 cm) (Female, Head and body) · 66.93 inch (170 cm) – 98.43 inch (250 cm) (Head and body, Male)
Tail length: 35.43 inch (90 cm) – 41.34 inch (105 cm) (Male) · 27.56 inch (70 cm) – 39.37 inch (100 cm) (Female)

Village of Ko Panyi, Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

In the late 1700s, at least two Malay fishing families made their way up into Phang Nga Bay in what is present-day Thailand. Despite their nomadic lifestyle, they stayed docked on this small karst outcropping and created the floating village called Ko Panyi. Tourism brings outsiders to the village, but fishing remains the main focus of the economy.

Ko Panyi is a fishing village in Phang Nga Province, Thailand, notable for being built on stilts by Indonesian fishermen. The population consists of 360 families or 1,685 people descended from 2 seafaring Muslim families from Java.

A European roller preening

Most birds in the roller family—so named for their acrobatic flying—live in the warm climates of Africa and the Middle East. But the European roller, seen cleaning its wing feathers here, spends half of its time in Europe. The bird migrates from as far as South Africa up into the Northern Hemisphere to places such as Bulgaria and other eastern and southern European locales, where it spends the mating season. Can you blame this colorful flier for choosing a romantic European vacation? If we had wings, we’d travel a lot more too.

The European roller is the only member of the roller family of birds to breed in Europe. Its overall range extends into the Middle East and Central Asia and Morocco. There are two subspecies: the nominate garrulus, which breeds from in north Africa from Morocco east to Tunisia, southwest and south-central Europe and Asia Minor east through northwest Iran to southwest Siberia; and semenowi, which breeds in Iraq and Iran east to Kashmir and north to Turkmenistan, south Kazakhstan and northwest China. The European roller is a long-distance migrant, wintering in southern Africa in two distinct regions, from Senegal east to Cameroon and from Ethiopia west to Congo and south to South Africa.
Scientific name: Coracias garrulus
Biological classification: Species
Belongs to: Coracias

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Explore the quiet isolation of Isle Royale, one of the least visited of our parks, in an entire year Isle Royale gets fewer people than Yellowstone sees in a day. But after a rest on the peaceful isle, we’ll head back south to Detroit, home of Motown. At this point in the road trip, our playlist is getting a little stale, and we’ll be looking for inspiration.

Isle Royale National Park is a U.S. National Park on Isle Royale and adjacent islands in Lake Superior, in the state of Michigan. Isle Royale National Park was established on April 3, 1940; designated as a National Wilderness Area in 1976; and made an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980. The park covers 894 square miles, with 209 square miles above water. At the Canada–US border, it meets the borders of the Canadian Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area.
Established: Apr 03, 1940
Area: 893.42 sq miles (2,314 km²)

Castelluccio in Monti Sibillini National Park, Italy

The Apennine Mountains cross through the Umbrian region of central Italy, and there, in the high elevation of Monti Sibillini National Park, is a tiny village called Castelluccio. The farming community dates back at least to the 13th century, and attracts skiers and hikers. This time of year, the lentil harvest is in full swing. Castelluccio lentils are considered an epicurean treat and can be a little more expensive than the typical bag you buy at the grocery store.

Castelluccio is a village in Umbria, in the Apennine Mountains of central Italy. Administratively, it is a frazione of the ca. 28 km distant town Norcia. According to the 2001 census, it had close to 150 inhabitants.
Region: Umbria
Province: Perugia
Comune: Norcia
Elevation: 1,452 m (4,764 ft)

A Eurasian coot resting on one leg in Derbyshire, England

This photo captures a Eurasian coot in the wilds of Derbyshire, a county in England. The bird, standing on one leg, has turned its head just right, so that at this angle it’s difficult to identify the coot at a glance. Eurasian coots have a natural distribution across Europe, Asia, North Africa, and even Australia.

The Eurasian coot, also known as coot, is a member of the rail and crake bird family, the Rallidae. The scientific name is from Latin; Fulica is “coot”, and atra is “black”. It is found in Europe, Asia, Australia and parts of Africa. The Australian subspecies is known as the Australian coot.

Tower Bridge in London

London’s Tower Bridge employs suspension-bridge technology on the outer spans that connect the north and south banks of the Thames and uses bascule-bridge design for the center span. Bascule bridges, also referred to as drawbridges, allow for one or two portions of the center span to lift up, so that tall boats can pass underneath. The original mechanisms that achieved this function reveal Tower Bridge’s Victorian origins: Coal furnaces powered steam engines that lifted the spans. The steam works were replaced with electric technology in the early 1970s, but the original machinery is preserved, and can be viewed on a tour of Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge is a combined bascule and suspension bridge in London built in 1886–1894. The bridge crosses the River Thames close to the Tower of London and has become an iconic symbol of London. Tower Bridge is one of five London bridges now owned and maintained by the Bridge House Estates, a charitable trust overseen by the City of London Corporation. It is the only one of the Trust’s bridges not to connect the City of London directly to the Southwark bank, as its northern landfall is in Tower Hamlets.
Address: Tower Bridge Road Se1 2Up London, United Kingdom, London SE1 2UP
Opened: Jun 30, 1894
Length: 801 feet (244 m)
Longest Span: 197 feet (60 m)

Detail of the inside of a sunflower

There’s a minor myth about sunflowers: It’s said that during the course of the day, a sunflower turns to follow the sun, so that the plant’s open petals are always exposed to maximum sunlight. That phenomenon is called ‘heliotropism’ and it is common in many plants. Immature sunflowers do exhibit heliotropism, but by the time the plant is in full bloom, as seen in this photo, that behavior stops. But let’s cast that aside for a more important question: Do you eat roasted sunflower seeds whole (shell and all) or do you spit out the shell?

Helianthus or sunflowers L. is a genus of plants comprising about 70 species in the family Compositae. The genus is one of many in the Asteraceae that are known as sunflowers. Except for three species in South America, all Helianthus species are native to North America. The common name, “sunflower,” typically refers to the popular annual species Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower. This and other species, notably Jerusalem artichoke, are cultivated in temperate regions as food crops and ornamental plants.

Zanzibar red colobus monkeys in Zanzibar, Tanzania

Want to see this rare monkey in the wild? Head to Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous island off the coast of Tanzania on the central eastern coast of Africa. This pair of parents and their baby were photographed in the island’s Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park. Because of their isolated and shrinking habitat, Zanzibar red colobuses are endangered. Numerous conservation groups are working to help preserve many of Zanzibar’s rare species.

The Zanzibar red colobus is a species of red colobus monkey endemic to Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago, off the coast of Tanzania. It is also known as Kirk’s red colobus after Sir John Kirk, the British Resident of Zanzibar who first brought it to the attention of zoological science. It is now classified as an endangered species and in the mid-1990s was adopted as the flagship species for conservation in Zanzibar. The population trend is still decreasing, and because this species is only located in the archipelago, conservationists are attempting to work with the local government to devise a proper, effective strategy to protect the population and habitat. The species has been reclassified twice; it was previously in the genus Colobus, and more recently in the genus Procolobus.

Blue Pond in Biei, Hokkaido, Japan

Scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes the vibrant color in Hokkaido’s Blue Pond. The water itself is not unusual, and appears clear. But at different angles, times of day, and depending on the light and distance, the water of this small pond near Daisetsuzan National Park can look electric blue or turquoise. The current theory centers on the relatively high concentration of aluminum hydroxide in the sediment at the bottom of the pond, which can reflect light in a bright blue color.

Biei is a town located in Kamikawa District, Kamikawa Subprefecture, Hokkaido, Japan. As of 2007, the town has an estimated population of 11,313 and a density of 16.7 persons per km². The total area is 677.16 km².
Population: 11,313 (2007)
Area: 261.45 sq miles (677.16 km²)
Travel Tip: Biei-cho is an artist’s canvas of snow-capped mountains and fields swaying with lavender, poppies and bright seasonal blossoms. Art galleries feature the beautiful handiwork of local artists inspired by their surroundings, and the Panorama Road is an aptly-named path to all kinds of sites, particularly local farms.
Nearby Airport: Asahikawa Airport

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Beneath the rugged beauty of Badlands’ buttes, pinnacles, and spires lies buried treasure: This is one of the richest fossil beds in the world. Scientists have uncovered the remains of saber-toothed cats, three-toed horses, and hornless rhinoceroses. We’ll leave the actual digging to paleontologists (as should you!), but we figure there are treasures of all kinds waiting to be discovered here at Badlands National Park.

Sinkhole in Xuan’en County, Hubei, China

This sinkhole is near the village of Luoquanyan, in China’s Hubei Province. It’s about 950 feet deep, and thanks to the humid climate and the sunlight beaming into the cavernous hole, plants have sprung up within. Humans can take a tour of the sinkhole and the cave system it connects to, but the only way in is a rope-assisted descent from the opening seen in this photo. Feel like exploring?

Xuan’en County is a county of southwestern Hubei province, People’s Republic of China. It is under the administration of the Enshi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture. A remarkable topographic feature found in Xuan’en County is a 290-meter deep karst sinkhole, located near the village of Luoquanyan. According to news reports, the sinkhole, which occupies around 100 mu, has its own unique ecosystem.

Eclipse of the moon

There are at least two lunar eclipses every year, one in spring and another in autumn. An eclipse requires syzygy—the alignment of the sun, Earth, and moon. With the sun behind the Earth, our planet’s shadow, the umbra, falls onto the moon’s surface, giving it a reddish appearance. That’s why a total lunar eclipse is sometimes called a blood moon.

The Moon is Earth’s only permanent natural satellite. It is one of the largest natural satellites in the Solar System, and the largest among planetary satellites relative to the size of the planet that it orbits. It is the second-densest satellite among those whose densities are known.
Radius: 1,079 miles (1,737 km)
Orbital distance: 238,855 miles (384,400 km)
Orbital period: 27.32 days
Gravity: 5.32 feet/s² (1.62 m/s²)
Age: 4.53 billion years
Circumference: 6,784 miles (10,917 km)

Neon Museum, Las Vegas, Nevada

Sin City may be the best-known nickname for Las Vegas, but it’s sometimes called the City of Lights. And a visit to the city’s Neon Museum may make clear how the ‘lights’ name arose. The gallery of glitz-gone-by offers visitors a literal walk through the city’s history: The old casino, hotel, and club signs that once cast a multicolored glow on the Vegas strip are preserved as significant cultural relics of the city’s history.

The Neon Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States, features signs from old casinos and other businesses displayed outdoors on over 6 acres. The museum features a restored lobby shell from the defunct La Concha Motel as its visitor center, which officially opened on October 27, 2012.
Established: 1996 [ Website ]

Diamond Head, O’ahu, Hawaii

Geologists estimate that the volcanic tuff cone on the south shore of O’ahu formed about 300,000 years ago in a relatively short, explosive eruption. A few years after the United States annexed Hawaii in 1898, the US Army established Fort Ruger in, on, and around Diamond Head to protect the region. Today, only a few remnants of the fort survive, but the Hawaii National Guard uses parts of the site for training purposes. Diamond Head is now a state monument and a national natural landmark that is popular among visitors who can hike up to the summit to catch spectacular views of the rest of O’ahu and the Pacific Ocean.

Diamond Head is the name of a volcanic tuff cone on the Hawaiian island of Oʻahu and known to Hawaiians as Lēʻahi, most likely from lae ‘browridge, promontory’ plus ʻahi ‘tuna’ because the shape of the ridgeline resembles the shape of a tuna’s dorsal fin. Its English name was given by British sailors in the 19th century, who mistook calcite crystals on the adjacent beach for diamonds.
Elevation: 762 feet (232.26 m)
Prominence: 560 feet (170.69 m)
Mountain Range: Hawaiian Islands

Beach huts in Muizenberg, South Africa

Want to grab your board and ride a wave in Cape Town, South Africa? Head to Muizenberg, the suburb that has beckoned surfers since at least 1919. The colorful beach huts may hide the surf, but the surf itself hides something else: great white sharks. Before you take your water wings and run back to the safety of the huts, rest assured that there’s a shark-watch service in Muizenberg. Since 1960, there have been 30 shark attacks in the waters around the greater Cape Town area, or only one attack on average every other year. So feel free to splash around or hang ten. Just keep an ear out for the warning that a shark is nearby and you should be fine. Wait! Where are you going?

Muizenberg is a beach-side suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. It is situated where the shore of the Cape Peninsula curves round to the east on the False Bay coast. It is considered to be the birthplace of surfing in South Africa and is currently home to a surfing community, centered on the popular ‘Surfer’s Corner’.

Yser River in West Flanders, Belgium

Before flowing into the North Sea, the Yser River crosses the northern border of France into Belgium’s West Flanders region. During World War I, Belgian forces successfully defeated invading German troops during a months-long battle on the Yser. Both sides took heavy losses, but a Belgian victory kept the entire nation from falling under German control. Aside from the North Sea coast, most of the inland region around the Yser includes marshes and floodplains.

The Yser is a river that rises in French Flanders, enters the Belgian province of West Flanders and flows into the North Sea at the town of Nieuwpoort.
Source elevation: 98′ 5″ (30 m)
Discharge: 105.95 ft³/s (3 m³/s)
Length: 48 miles (78 km)
Locations: Belgium · France
Mouth: North Sea
Source: Nord

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

From Washington State’s Olympic National Park, where we were last week, it’s a looooooong drive up to Kenai Fjords in Alaska—more than 2,400 miles. The humpback whales up in Kenai Fjords could tell us a thing or two about epic journeys. After wintering in Hawaii and Mexico, thousands of humpbacks migrate all the way up to Alaska for the summer. And one of the best places to see them? The waters surrounding Kenai Fjords National Park. What’s your greatest epic journey?

Kenai Fjords National Park is a United States National Park established in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The park covers an area of 669,984 acres on the Kenai Peninsula in southcentral Alaska, near the town of Seward. The park contains the Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in the United States. The park is named for the numerous fjords carved by glaciers moving down the mountains from the ice field. The field is the source of at least 38 glaciers, the largest of which is Bear Glacier. The park lies just to the west of Seward, a popular port for cruise ships. Exit Glacier is reachable by road and is a popular tour destination. The remainder of the park is primarily accessible by boat. The fjords are glacial valleys that have been submerged below sea level by a combination of rising sea levels and land subsidence.

Spot-fin porcupinefish near Hawai

Uninflated, the spot-fin porcupinefish has a bulbous head and bulging eyes, giving it a sort of cartoonish look. But it’s no laughing matter when a predator approaches: The porcupinefish inflates itself by drawing in water, which makes the spines that cover its skin stick out. This warning is often enough to startle any attacker. But woe to the sharks and other large fish that decide to take a bite anyhow, spines and all. A powerful toxin collects in various organs of the porcupinefish’s body, so if the spines don’t get you, the poison will. Who’s cute now?

The spot-fin porcupinefish, also known as spotted porcupinefish, black-spotted porcupinefish or simply porcupinefish, is a member of the family Diodontidae. The spot-fin porcupinefish is a medium-sized fish which grows up to 91 cm, but the average size mostly observed is 40 cm. Its body is elongated with a spherical head with big round protruding eyes, a large mouth rarely closed. The pectoral fins are large, the pelvic fins are absent, the anal and dorsal fins are close to the caudal peduncle. The latter move simultaneously during swimming. The skin is smooth and firm, the scales are modified into spines. The body coloration is beige to sandy-yellow marbled with dark blotches and dotted with numerous small black spots.

Train Night Market in Ratchada, Bangkok, Thailand

Night markets are a common sight in many districts of Bangkok, Thailand. The Train Night Market in Ratchada starts up around 5 PM most nights. It’s jam-packed with flea market-style booths for clothing and other goods as well as numerous street-food vending carts and small, pop-up restaurants and bars. Situated conveniently next to a train station, the Ratchada night market has been so popular that a more permanent shopping center may replace it. But will that go against the very spirit of the night market?

Bangkok is the capital and most populous city of Thailand. It is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or simply Krung Thep. The city occupies 1,568.7 square kilometres in the Chao Phraya River delta in Central Thailand, and has a population of over 8 million, or 12.6 percent of the country’s population. Over 14 million people live within the surrounding Bangkok Metropolitan Region, making Bangkok an extreme primate city, significantly dwarfing Thailand’s other urban centres in terms of importance.

Cathedral Cove on North Island, New Zealand

Many of the rock formations jutting up out of the surf in Cathedral Cove are gradually eroding away. But for now, they provide unique features to this already stunning beach on New Zealand’s North Island. The cove sits within Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve, and is often photographed framed by the stone arch on the beach, giving visitors the impression they’re looking through the arched window of a cathedral.

Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve is on the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand covering an area of 840 hectares. Cathedral Cove is named after the cave located there, linking Mare’s Leg Cove to Cathedral Cove. Gemstone Bay and Stingray Bay are also located within the reserve. A walking track exists from the northern end of Hahei Beach, and it is also possible to walk from the local authority car park at the top of the headland between Hahei and Gemstone Bay. The area is very popular with tourists, and receives around 150,000 visitors per year.

London as photographed from space

Greetings, Earthlings! It’s World Population Day. And to get you thinking about just how many of us there are walking around on this planet, take a look at this photo of London, England. Taken by the International Space Station as it passed over the urban center all lit up during the night, it shows how thoroughly we humans have transformed the space around us. Our current population is more than 7.4 billion and counting. The United Nations, founding organization of World Population Day, hopes that the observance prompts conversations about how to keep life on Earth sustainable as our numbers increase.

London is the capital and most populous city of England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom. On the River Thames in the south east of the island of Great Britain, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. It was founded by the Romans, who named it Londinium. London’s ancient core, the City of London, largely retains its 1.12-square-mile medieval boundaries. Since at least the 19th century, “London” has also referred to the metropolis around this core, which now forms the county of Greater London governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly, historically split between Middlesex, Essex, Surrey, Kent, and Hertfordshire.

The Lincoln Memorial

Inscribed on the interior walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, is the complete text of both the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s second inaugural speech. The end of the inaugural address is just as potent and relevant today as it was in 1865:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan–to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
The Lincoln Memorial is an American national monument built to honor the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. It is located on the western end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., across from the Washington Monument. The architect was Henry Bacon; the designer of the primary statue – Abraham Lincoln, 1920 – was Daniel Chester French; the Lincoln statue was carved by the Piccirilli Brothers; and the painter of the interior murals was Jules Guerin. Dedicated in 1922, it is one of several monuments built to honor an American president. It has always been a major tourist attraction and since the 1930s has been a symbolic center focused on race relations.

The Osterseen in Upper Bavaria, Germany

Upper Bavaria, located in the south of Bavaria, itself a southern state of Germany, is dotted with lakes. The designation ‘upper’ has nothing to do with its latitude, but refers to the fact that the region is higher in elevation than the rest of Bavaria. The lakes that compose the Osterseen live up to the region’s reputation for Alpine beauty, and aren’t far from the shores of the much larger Starnberg Lake.

Osterseen is a group of lakes in Bavaria, Germany. At an elevation of 588 m, its surface area is 223.55 ha.

Olympic National Park, Washington

We’ve made it to the northwest corner of the contiguous United States for this week of national parks summer road trip. Olympic National Park, located on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, boasts a temperate rainforest, rocky coastline, alpine meadows, and Hurricane Ridge, a steep slope just 15 miles from the nearby town of Port Angeles.

During the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s, prospectors would stop here in Washington to load up on provisions before heading north to the Yukon. The thought of them packing their saddle bags and wagons puts us in mind of packing for our own road trip. We’re trying to keep it light, but it can be a losing battle. How do you pack for a road trip? What would we need if we decided to head north from here in 2016?

Olympic National Park is a United States national park located in the state of Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. The park has four basic regions: the Pacific coastline, alpine areas, the west side temperate rainforest and the forests of the drier east side. Within the park there are three distinct ecosystems which are sub-alpine forest and wildflower meadow, temperate forest, and the rugged Pacific Shore. These three different ecosystems are in pristine condition and have outstanding scenery.

Reichstag Dome in Berlin, Germany

Perched above the debating chamber of the Bundestag, the German parliament, the dome of the Reichstag in Berlin was completed in 1999 to symbolize Germany’s reunification. Architect Norman Foster’s glass dome design for the new cupola harkens back to the glass and steel dome that once topped the German parliamentary building. Modern construction adds a few innovative features to the new Reichstag dome, including ramps that allow visitors to safely walk the entirety of the dome, and a shade that moves with the sun, to prevent dangerous glare from the glass and intense heat inside the building. Stroll around within the dome to enjoy views of the reunified Berlin’s cityscape.

The current Reichstag dome is a glass dome, constructed on top of the rebuilt Reichstag building in Berlin. It was designed by architect Norman Foster and built to symbolize the reunification of Germany. The distinctive appearance of the dome has made it a prominent landmark in Berlin.

Burrowing owl chicks

We’re not exactly sure what these burrowing owl chicks are doing, but it looks enough like a smooch that we’re using this image to celebrate International Kissing Day. Burrowing owls, as their name implies, live underground, often in empty prairie dog tunnels, though some owls will dig their own living spaces. And if you want to impress your friends, let them know that the proper term for a baby owl is ‘owlet.’ As in, ‘Hold on, I’ll give you a kiss after you look at these owlets. They’re so cute!’

The burrowing owl is a small, long-legged owl found throughout open landscapes of North and South America. Burrowing owls can be found in grasslands, rangelands, agricultural areas, deserts, or any other open dry area with low vegetation. They nest and roost in burrows, such as those excavated by prairie dogs. Unlike most owls, Burrowing Owls are often active during the day, although they tend to avoid the midday heat. But like many other kinds of owls, burrowing owls do most of their hunting from dusk until dawn, when they can use their night vision and hearing to their advantage. Living in open grasslands as opposed to the forest, the burrowing owl has developed longer legs, which enables it to sprint as well as fly when hunting.

The Musée du quai Branly in Paris

Should you grow weary of the Louvre’s collection of mostly Western European fine art, head across the Seine to the Left Bank in Paris and step into the Musée du quai Branly. The Branly opened its doors in 2006, displaying a vast collection of indigenous, historic, and folk art from regions beyond Western Europe. The exhibits include pieces from the Americas, Africa, and other locales. It’s almost as much an anthropological experience as it is an artistic one.

The Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, in Paris, France, features the indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. The museum collection has 450,000 objects, of which 3,500 are on display at any given time, in both permanent and temporary thematic exhibits. A selection of objects from the museum is also displayed in the Pavillon des Sessions of the Louvre Museum.

Lummus Park in South Beach, Miami, Florida

One way to make the lifeguard station easy to spot on a crowded beach: Paint it in the style of the US flag. Well, it’ll stand out unless it’s July 4 and the beach is clogged with people sporting patriotic gear of their own. How are you celebrating Independence Day?

Lummus Park Beach
Ocean Dr, Miami Beach, FL 33139
(305) 673-7779

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria

The main palace at Schönbrunn, seen here, contains 1,441 rooms. It originally served as a summer home for the emperors of Austria. Built on a floodplain, the palace is a baroque masterpiece, open for public tours. Beyond the palace are numerous public attractions, including a zoo, botanical gardens, sculpture gardens, a maze, and a fake Roman ruins. Because, why not? This image peers at the palace through the cascading waters of the Neptune Fountain.

Schönbrunn Palace is a former imperial summer residence located in Vienna, Austria. The 1,441-room Baroque palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historical monuments in the country. Since the mid-1950s it has been a major tourist attraction. The history of the palace and its vast gardens spans over 300 years, reflecting the changing tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs.

Bylot Island, Nunavut, Canada

The coastal waters of Bylot Island are frequently ribboned with glacial melt from inland. Up in the frigid northern territory of Nunavut, Bylot is one of the world’s largest uninhabited islands, and most of it falls within the borders of Sirmilik National Park, while the eastern portion has been designated as a migratory bird sanctuary. Though the indigenous people of the region come to Bylot during hunting season, there are no permanent human settlements here.

Bylot Island lies off the northern end of Baffin Island in Nunavut Territory, Canada. Eclipse Sound to the southeast and Navy Board Inlet to the southwest separate it from Baffin Island. Parry Channel lies to its northwest. At 11,067 km² it is ranked 71st largest island in the world and Canada’s 17th largest island. The island measures 180 km east to west and 110 km north to south and is one of the largest uninhabited islands in the world. While there are no permanent settlements on this Canadian Arctic island, Inuit from Pond Inlet and elsewhere regularly travel to Bylot Island. An Inuit seasonal hunting camp is located southwest of Cape Graham Moore.

Crater Lake National Park

After the scorching heat of Death Valley last week, we’re cooling off here at southern Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park. That tallest peak, on the western shore of Crater Lake, is known as the Watchman. A trail less than a mile long leads up to the peak, where a lookout station acts as a wildfire observation deck for park rangers. Since civilian visitors to the park can also visit the Watchman Lookout Station, we’re planning to take in the stunning views it offers of the park and the still waters of Crater Lake.

We’re thinking we should take a boat out to Wizard Island, the volcanic cinder cone that rises up out of the lake and get a peek at Witch’s Cauldron, the volcano’s crater. Is this place as weird and mysterious as it sounds? And who is this Old Man of the Lake, supposedly bobbing out in the water for more than a century?

Crater Lake National Park is a United States National Park located in southern Oregon. Established in 1902, Crater Lake National Park is the fifth oldest national park in the United States and the only national park in Oregon. The park encompasses the caldera of Crater Lake, a remnant of a destroyed volcano, Mount Mazama, and the surrounding hills and forests.

Japanese dwarf flying squirrel

All day long, this small squirrel sleeps in the cavity of a conifer tree. But as the sun sets, the nocturnal glider will emerge to begin foraging for fruit and seeds. And, should it need to get from a high branch to a lower spot quickly, it spreads its arms and legs and leaps. A thin membrane of skin stretched between its front and back paws, called the patagium, helps the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel descend in a graceful glide.

The Japanese dwarf flying squirrel is one of two species of Old World flying squirrels. It is native to Japan where is inhabits sub-alpine forests and boreal evergreen forests on Honshu and Kyushu islands. It grows to a length of 20 cm and has a membrane connecting its wrists and ankles which enables it to glide from tree to tree. During the day this squirrel hides in a hole, usually in a coniferous tree, emerging at night to feed on buds, leaves, bark, fruits and seeds. This squirrel faces no particular threats, has a wide range and is relatively common, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists it as a “least-concern species”.

Farm plots in southwestern Kansas

The ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) sensor is one of five imaging devices on NASA’s Terra satellite. ASTER captured this image of agricultural land in Finney County, Kansas, which shows corn, sorghum, and wheat crops in various states of growth. Based on the time the photo was taken (June 2001) the dark plots are probably corn, ripening faster than the lighter green sorghum fields. The gold spots are wheat, just about ready for harvest.

Kansas is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe’s name is often said to mean “people of the wind” or “people of the south wind”, although this was probably not the term’s original meaning. For thousands of years, what is now Kansas was home to numerous and diverse Native American tribes. Tribes in the eastern part of the state generally lived in villages along the river valleys. Tribes in the western part of the state were semi-nomadic and hunted large herds of bison.

Licancabur volcano on the border of Bolivia and Chile

The Atacama Desert region of Chile possesses a rare, alien beauty. Licancabur is the stratovolcano that dominates the horizon here, rising to more than 19,000 feet in elevation. The clear skies of the high plain offer stunning views of the Milky Way to the naked eye, not to mention what can be seen from the many astronomical observatories in the area. And because of the cold, dry air, the rare instances of snow and ice collect, as seen here in the foreground, into many blade-like formations called penitentes, for their resemblance to hooded monks kneeling in penance.

Licancabur is a highly symmetrical stratovolcano on the southernmost part of the border between Chile and Bolivia. It is located just southwest of Laguna Verde in Bolivia. The volcano dominates the landscape of the Salar de Atacama area. The lower two thirds of the northeastern slope of the volcano belong to Bolivia, 5,400 m from the foot at 4,360 m, while the rest and biggest part, including the higher third of the northeastern slope, the crater and summit, belong to Chile.

Flowering heather in The Netherlands

Common heather is the only species in the genus Calluna. The plant was once considered a vulgar symbol of poverty, perhaps because it grows in the rugged heaths and moors of Europe, where the acidic soil makes farming difficult. But at some point during the 19th century, heather became a fashionable ornamental flowering shrub and was no longer considered the lowly bloom of the moorland. And though the thistle is the national flower of Scotland, heather blooms are a major cultural symbol in Scottish lore.

Calluna vulgaris is the sole species in the genus Calluna in the family Ericaceae. It is a low-growing perennial shrub growing to 20 to 50 centimetres tall, or rarely to 1 metre and taller, and is found widely in Europe and Asia Minor on acidic soils in open sunny situations and in moderate shade. It is the dominant plant in most heathland and moorland in Europe, and in some bog vegetation and acidic pine and oak woodland. It is tolerant of grazing and regenerates following occasional burning, and is often managed in nature reserves and grouse moors by sheep or cattle grazing, and also by light burning.

Ankarafantsika National Park, Madagascar

Home to numerous rare and unique species of plants and animals, Madagascar presents a dramatic landscape most everywhere you turn. Today, the island nation celebrates 56 years of independence from French colonial rule. The rugged terrain seen here is in the northwestern region of the island—Ankarafantsika National Park. The park predates Madagascar’s independence, having been established in 1927.

Ankarafantsika National Park is a national park in the Boeny Region of Madagascar. The closest city is Majunga 115 km north of the park. Ankarafantsika is mostly tropical in climate type. The Sakalava people are the predominant ethnic group living and farming here. The greater big-footed mouse lives in the park and is not known anywhere else.

Takachiho Gorge on Kyushu, Japan

The subtropical climate of Miyazaki Prefecture on Kyushu Island just adds to the exotic, unexpected beauty of the gorge in the center of Takachiho. A path for visitors winds down through the ravine, providing plenty of opportunities to view the many waterfalls cascading down the stone walls of the gorge.

Takachiho is a town located in Nishiusuki District, Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan. Takachiho is located in the northernmost part of Miyazaki Prefecture, bordering Kumamoto Prefecture on its north and northwest sides and Oita Prefecture on its north and northeast sides. The Gokase River flows from the west to the southeast part of town. The heart of the town is at its center, around the now defunct Takachiho Station and the business office of Takachiho Kotsu, the town public transportation company. Takachiho Gorge, located in the southern part of town, is fairly famous as a tourist attraction.

Death Valley National Park, California

This week in Death Valley National Park, stopping first here at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, the most easily accessed dunes in the park.

Are we insane to explore Death Valley in summertime? After all, this is the place with the highest recorded temperature of anywhere on the planet. And recently, high temps have been hovering around 120 degrees. How should we prepare? Sure, we’ll bring plenty of water. But right now, we’re thinking a sweet frozen treat might be just the thing.

What’s your favorite iced delight? Are you a soft serve partisan? Prefer ice cream sandwiches? Mexican paletas? Next up: North to Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park.

Death Valley National Park is a national park in the United States in California and Nevada and is located east of the Sierra Nevada, occupying an interface zone between the arid Great Basin and Mojave deserts in the United States. The park protects the northwest corner of the Mojave Desert and contains a diverse desert environment of salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains. It is the largest national park in the lower 48 states and has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve. Approximately 95% of the park is a designated wilderness area. It is the hottest and driest of the national parks in the United States. The second-lowest point in the Western Hemisphere is in Badwater Basin, which is 282 feet below sea level. The park is home to many species of plants and animals that have adapted to this harsh desert environment. Some examples include creosote bush, bighorn sheep, coyote, and the Death Valley pupfish, a survivor of much wetter times.

Matera, Italy

Believed to date further back than recorded history, Matera, Italy, still seems like a village from another time. The town has been used as a location stand-in for biblical-era Jerusalem in many film and television productions. The city’s old town, Sassi di Matera, even retains some of the cave dwellings that housed the people who originally settled the area millennia ago.

Matera is a city and a province in the region of Basilicata, in Southern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Matera and the capital of Basilicata from 1663 to 1806. The town lies in a small canyon carved out by the Gravina.

Kobbvatnet Lake in Sørfold, Norway

Sørfold, Norway, is already within the Arctic Circle, which may conjure mental images of ice and polar bears. But this mountainous region is covered in forest terrain. Kobbvatnet is one of many lakes in the region, and if you wanted to make a memorable backpacking tour of the lakes, nearby Rago National Park is a nice base of operations.

Kobbvatnet is a lake that lies in the municipality of Sørfold in Nordland county, Norway. The 5.07-square-kilometre lake lies about 10 kilometres southeast of the village of Mørsvikbotn, along the European route E06 highway.

Giraffe, South Africa

Have you hugged your giraffe today? If not, World Giraffe Day is certainly a good day to start. Though giraffes are not considered an endangered species, populations are in decline in some of their native habitats across the savannahs and grasslands of Africa. Think of today’s observance as a sort of preemptive conservation effort to keep giraffes around for generations to come.

The giraffe is an African even-toed ungulate mammal, the tallest living terrestrial animal and the largest ruminant. Its species name refers to its camel-like shape and its leopard-like colouring. Its chief distinguishing characteristics are its extremely long neck and legs, its horn-like ossicones, and its distinctive coat patterns. It is classified under the family Giraffidae, along with its closest extant relative, the okapi. The nine subspecies are distinguished by their coat patterns.

'Sun Tunnels' artwork near Lucin, Utah

Multimedia artist Nancy Holt created this large installation northwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. The ‘Sun Tunnels’ are four concrete tubes, 18 feet long and 9 feet in diameter. Arranged in an X formation, the sun tunnels are oriented so that on the winter solstice and summer solstice (today), the rising and setting sun will appear in the middle of the circular openings. Who says Stonehenge gets all the celestial calendar fun?

Nancy Holt was an American artist most known for her public sculpture, installation art and land art. Throughout her career, Holt also produced works in other media, including film, photography, and writing books and articles about art.
Born : Apr 05, 1938 · Worcester, MA
Died : Feb 08, 2014 · New York, NY
  • 1963 : Three years after graduating, she married fellow environmental artist Robert Smithson in 1963.
  • 1978 : In 1978, she produced a 16mm color film documenting the seminal work Sun Tunnels.
  • 1979 : In 1979, Nancy Holt was commissioned to do two works on the grounds of Miami University in Ohio, Polar Circle and Star-Crossed.
  • 1979 : The Writings of Robert Smithson written by Nancy Holt was first published in 1979.
  • 1984 : Holt’s Solar Web (1984–89) was one of three projects chosen by the Arts Commission of Santa Monica, California after receiving proposals from 29 artists in 1984.
  • 2008 : In 2008 Holt helped rally opposition to a plan for exploratory drilling near the site of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty at the Great Salt Lake in rural Utah.
  • 2014 : Holt died in New York City on February 8, 2014 at the age of 75.

A gold-and-white marmoset with his young

If you ever hassled your dad like this, at least he got the benefit of an (alleged) day off on Father’s Day. Not so much for the male golden-white tassel-ear marmoset, also known as the gold-and-white marmoset. Family groups of this small Amazonian monkey can have just four members, but many boast a dozen or more extended relatives all living together in the rainforest canopy, looking out for each other and, yes, climbing on dad when the need for a little safety or reassurance is required.

The gold-and-white marmoset is a marmoset species endemic to Brazil. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

Caroline Atoll, Kiribati

Though the island nation of Kiribati totals just 312 square miles of land, the reef island and 33 atolls that compose the country are sprinkled across 1.3 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean. A former protectorate of the British Empire, Kiribati was called the Gilbert Islands during the 19th century and most of the 20th century, after British explorer Thomas Gilbert who first saw the islands in 1788. During World War II, one of the atolls here, Tarawa Atoll, saw some of the most brutal combat in the Pacific Theater. In 1979, the Gilbert Islands became the independent nation known as the Republic of Kiribati.

Caroline Island or Caroline Atoll, is the easternmost of the uninhabited coral atolls which comprise the southern Line Islands in the central Pacific Ocean.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Author and environmentalist Edward Abbey wrote that Canyonlands is “the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth—there is nothing else like it anywhere.” Sounds like our kind of place. We’ve rolled in to Canyonlands for Week 3 of national parks road trip, ready for the weird, wonderful magic.

We’re steeling ourselves for the drive down Shafer Trail, shown here. The rough, unpaved road cuts a twisting path of switchbacks, steep inclines, and sheer drops of several hundred feet off the side of the road. In a four-wheel-drive vehicle with plenty of ground clearance, it can take 24 hours to navigate the trail below the Island in the Sky mesa. It then connects with White Rim Road, which winds another 100 miles of rough road through Canyonlands. This road trip’s getting hardcore.

Next up: Death Valley National Park. It’s going to be hot!

Canyonlands National Park is a U.S. National Park located in southeastern Utah near the town of Moab. It preserves a colorful landscape eroded into countless canyons, mesas, and buttes by the Colorado River, the Green River, and their respective tributaries. Legislation creating the park was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on September 12, 1964.

Percé Rock on Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec, Canada

A major attraction in Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé National Park, Percé Rock is an oft-photographed limestone island that rises up from the surf like a ghostly ship. There are several local legends that feature the rock, all of them variations on a romantic tale of young lovers separated by distance and duty. Most of the tales feature a villainous group of pirates who meet their doom when their ship crashes into the fog-shrouded sheer walls of the island. We heartily approve of geographic features made exciting by adding pirates and lost love.

Percé Rock is a huge sheer rock formation in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence on the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, Canada, off Percé Bay. Percé Rock appears from a distance like a ship under sail. It is one of the world’s largest natural arches located in water and is considered a geologically and historically rich natural icon of Quebec. It is a major attraction in the Gaspesie region.

Gare do Oriente in Lisbon, Portugal

A major new train station in Lisbon, Portugal, was first proposed in 1994. And just in time for Expo ’98, the Gare do Oriente (Lisbon Oriente Station) was finally complete. Designed by the famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the station features sweeping arches influenced by Gothic architecture. Aside from its main function as a rail hub, the station itself links directly to a commercial shopping center. How convenient!

Gare do Oriente, or alternately, the Lisbon Oriente Station is one of the main Portuguese intermodal transport hubs, and is situated in the civil parish of Parque das Nações, municipality of Lisbon.

American flags over Middletown, Ohio

We celebrate the adoption of the now-iconic Stars and Stripes with this image of skydivers in the air over Middletown, Ohio. The skydivers were part of a 2011 commemoration of the September 11 attacks, their US flags rippling as they slowly descended. Flag Day pays homage to the day the Second Continental Congress gave an official resolution to adopt the Red, White, and Blue—with just 13 stars at the time—as our nation’s flag.

In the United States, Flag Day is celebrated on June 14. It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States, which happened on June 14th in 1777 by resolution of the Second Continental Congress. The United States Army also celebrates the Army Birthday on this date; Congress adopted “the American continental army” after reaching a consensus position in the Committee of the Whole on June 14, 1775.

Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Malaysia

If that blue surf looks good enough to dive into, many share that sentiment. It’s a popular spot for scuba diving and snorkeling. Off the coast of Borneo Island in Malaysia, the area was established as a forest reserve in 1933 and many efforts were made in the following decades to provide further protection for this rare environment. In 2004 it became an official state park. The world’s a better place for the protection that it provides: Scientists say Tun Sakaran Marine Park is as diverse an ecosystem as the Great Barrier Reef.

Tun Sakaran Marine Park, also known as Semporna Islands Park, is a marine park located off the east coast of the state of Sabah in Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. It consists of the islands of Bodgaya, Boheydulang, Sabangkat, and Salakan, the sand cays of Maiga, Sibuan, and Mantabuan, and the patch reefs of Church and Kapikan. In 2004, the park became the seventh gazetted area under Sabah Parks with a total area of 350 km². There are approximately 2,000 people living within the park, most of whom consist of the nomadic Bajau Laut people, who live in stilt houses and houseboats in and around the marine park.

Butterflies in the Regional Park of Castelli Romani, Italy

Absolutely take a moment to gaze at the butterflies flitting about the wildflowers at the foot of the Alban Hills. Here in the Regional Park of Castelli Romani outside Rome, Italy, there are many distractions from the abundant natural wonders. This park is home to 16 municipalities centered around historic castles that typify various architectural styles of centuries past.

The so-called Roman Castles is a group of comunes in the province of Rome. They are located at short distance south-east of the city of Rome, at the feet of the Alban Hills, in the territory corresponding to the Old Latium.

Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, India

Calling Mehrangarh a ‘fort’ is like calling Buckingham Palace a manor house. There are palaces within the cannon ball-scarred walls of the massive fort, with detailed carvings, artwork, and open courtyards. Rao Jodha, founder of the city of Jodhpur, commissioned the construction of Mehrangarh Fort in 1460. It stands atop a 410-foot hill above Jodhpur and today functions as a history museum about the city and the fort itself.

Mehrangarh Fort, located in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, is one of the largest forts in India. Built around 1460 by Rao Jodha, the fort is situated 410 feet above the city and is enclosed by imposing thick walls. Inside its boundaries there are several palaces known for their intricate carvings and expansive courtyards. A winding road leads to and from the city below. The imprints of cannonball hits by attacking armies of Jaipur can still be seen on the second gate. To the left of the fort is the chhatri of Kirat Singh Soda, a soldier who fell on the spot defending the Mehrangarh fort.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

From the vast, colorful expanse of Yellowstone, our national parks road trip heads to the deep, dark gorge called Black Canyon of the Gunnison that this handsome coyote calls home. It seems a mysterious, off-the-beaten-track kind of place. In fact, it’s called the ‘Black Canyon’ because its walls are so steep and cavernous that parts of the canyon get less than an hour of sunlight each day, even in summer.

It wouldn’t be unusual to hear a coyote’s lonely howl here in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which is among the least visited of our national parks. Sure, those steep canyon walls call out to skilled rock climbers and hikers looking for a serious challenge. But relatively few make it to the bottom of the gorge—the rest of us may be perfectly content to hike the gentle trails along the canyon rims.

Some of the hardest and oldest rocks on earth form the sheer walls of 2,000-foot-deep Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the deepest and most impressive gorge in the state. The river cutting through the canyon falls faster than any other in North America—dropping 2,150 feet in under 50 miles—and the canyon bottom is so rugged that there are no trails along it. Unless you’re a serious mountaineer, you’ll have to content yourself with looking down into it from the rim, which is accessible on the north side via Hwy-92 and from US-50 on the south via Hwy-347. The visitors center (970/249-1914 or 970/641-2337) on the south rim provides details on hiking trails and camping and can tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the canyon’s unique geology: For instance, unlike the Grand Canyon with its layers of exposed rock, the Black Canyon is basically one solid hunk of stone, a half-mile-thick chunk of two-billion-year-old Precambrian gneiss (pronounced “nice”). Upstream from the Black Canyon, US-50 parallels the Gunnison River, renowned for its excellent trout and landlocked salmon fishing, though sadly the once-raging waters have been backed up behind dams to form a series of reservoirs, jointly managed as the Curecanti National Recreation Area.

A cave at Durmitor, Montenegro

Durmitor National Park features numerous extremes of nature, with four dozen peaks in the Durmitor Massif rising 2,000 feet or more. Caves up in these mountains can contain various ice formations, including the pillars seen here. At a glance, they can look like odd mineral deposits, but the chill in the air would likely cure us of that misconception.

The Durmitor is a massif and the name of a national park in northwestern Montenegro. The highest peak, Bobotov Kuk, reaches a height of 2,522 meters. The massif is limited by the Tara River Canyon on the north, the Piva River Canyon on the west, and by the Komarnica River Canyon on the south. To the east, the Durmitor opens to a 1,500 m high plateau, called Jezerska Površ. The Sinjavina mountain is located to the east of Jezerska Površ plateau.

Humpback whale in Cierva Cove, Antarctica

An adult humpback whale is roughly the size of a standard school bus. The tail fin, called a fluke, can be as wide as 18 feet. Most of the time, surfacing humpbacks crest above the water simply to take a breath—they are mammals and can’t breathe underwater, so they emerge to breathe deeply through their blow holes before diving again. But from time to time, humpbacks breach. That is, they propel themselves almost entirely out of the water and belly-flop back in. Scientists still aren’t sure exactly why humpbacks do this. It could be a hunting method, a way to clean themselves, or (our favorite hypothesis) simply for the fun of it.

Sometimes while breaching, a humpback will position itself downwards into the water and then slap the surface with its tail, a behavior called lobtailing. It’s likely to perform several lobtails at once, sending sounds of the slaps several hundred meters away. Like breaching, lobtailing may be a hunting technique used to frighten small fish into tighter schools that are easier to feed upon. It may also be a form of nonverbal communication with other humpbacks. Or, it could just be a way to show off for visiting photographers.

We suspect this humpback may be lobtailing in celebration of World Oceans Day today. Let’s join in by paying respect to the 70 percent of the Earth’s surface that isn’t dry land. If the oceans are healthy, so are we.

The humpback whale is a species of baleen whale. One of the larger rorqual species, adults range in length from 12–16 m and weigh about 36,000 kg. The humpback has a distinctive body shape, with long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. It is known for breaching and other distinctive surface behaviors, making it popular with whale watchers. Males produce a complex song lasting 10 to 20 minutes, which they repeat for hours at a time. Its purpose is not clear, though it may have a role in mating.

The Hoba meteorite in Namibia

At more than 66 tons, this is the largest known meteorite on Earth. Stories vary about the discovery, but we know that in 1920, a farmer named Jacobus Hermanus Brits found the massive space stone on his property in northern Namibia. Scientists examined a sample he sent them and determined that this mostly iron behemoth crashed to the ground approximately 80,000 years ago. The Hoba meteorite is protected now as a national monument, and the grounds around it get the same protection, so that visitors can see in person this unusual alien visitor.

The Hoba or Hoba West meteorite lies on the farm “Hoba West”, not far from Grootfontein, in the Otjozondjupa Region of Namibia. It has been uncovered but, because of its large mass, has never been moved from where it fell. The main mass is estimated at more than 60 tonnes, making it the largest known meteorite and the most massive naturally occurring piece of iron known at the Earth’s surface.

Pointe du Hoc, Cricqueville-en-Bessin, France

Any day in which a combat operation is launched can be called D-Day, but for most Americans ‘D-Day’ is shorthand for the seaborne invasion that took place here, at the Normandy beaches on either side of Pointe du Hoc, France, on this day in 1944. The operation took 13 Allied nations roughly a year to plan, with Britain, Canada, and the US joining together in an amphibious assault on a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coastline. The immediate goal was to take out the German battlements constructed here on the clifftop of Pointe du Hoc. Allied casualties surpassed 10,000 in the brutal combat of D-Day. But this decisive Allied victory turned the tide of the battle on the Western Front, helping to drive back Nazi occupation.

Pointe du Hoc is a promontory with a 100 ft cliff overlooking the English Channel on the coast of Normandy in northern France. During World War II it was the highest point between Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east. The German army fortified the area with concrete casemates and gun pits. On D-Day the United States Army Ranger Assault Group assaulted and captured Pointe du Hoc after scaling the cliffs.

Cathedral and Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany

The largest Gothic church in northern Europe is here in Cologne, Germany. After more than 200 years of labor, construction of the Cologne Cathedral stopped in 1473, and it would be another 400 years before the project was completed. In 1986, the Museum Ludwig opened in the cathedral’s shadow, home to a large collection of modern art.

Cologne Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Cologne, Germany. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne and of the administration of the Archdiocese of Cologne. It is a renowned monument of German Catholicism and Gothic architecture and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1996. It is Germany’s most visited landmark, attracting an average of 20,000 people a day, currently the tallest twin spired church at 157 m tall.

Giant kelp forest near San Clemente Island, California

Just as terrestrial forests can support a wide range of species, kelp forests provide habitats for various marine life. Giant kelp, seen here, thrives along the West Coast of North America, and is found along coastlines in South America, Australia, and South Africa as well. Individual giant kelp plants can grow as much as 2 feet per day, so when a few plants get hold on the coastline, a forest can spring up quickly. Here off the shore of San Clemente Island, California, snorkelers may join the marine creatures weaving in and out of the thick stalks of giant kelp, enjoying the view of this unique ecosystem.

Macrocystis pyrifera, commonly known as giant kelp or giant bladder kelp, is a species of kelp, and one of four species in the genus Macrocystis. Giant kelp is common along the coast of the eastern Pacific Ocean, from Baja California north to southeast Alaska, and is also found in the southern oceans near South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Individual algae may grow to more than 45 metres long at a rate of as much as 60 cm per day. Giant kelp grows in dense stands known as kelp forests, which are home to many marine animals that depend on the algae for food or shelter. The primary commercial product obtained from giant kelp is alginate, but humans also harvest this species on a limited basis for use directly as food, as it is rich in iodine, potassium, and other minerals. It can be used in cooking in many of the ways other sea vegetables are used, and particularly serves to add flavor to bean dishes.

Yellowstone National Park

This summer, to celebrate the first 100 years of the National Park Service, each Friday is National Park Day. Every week a different US national park. Yellowstone was the world’s first national park and the foundation for what became ‘America’s best idea,’ the US national parks.

Justly famed for its dramatic geysers, colorful hot springs, and majestic wildlife, it’s no wonder that Yellowstone is one of the most visited national parks in the country. Yellowstone also gets dry in the summer, which means it’s vulnerable to forest fires. While devastating in the short term, fire can be part of a healthy growth cycle in the wilderness. Most large nature areas actually benefit in the long run from wildfires that aren’t caused by human error. Not all of the trees in this section of Yellowstone will survive the fire that ripped through this forest, but rangers and visiting scientists will monitor the aftermath, studying how quickly the forest recovers, and investigating how the fire moved through the region.

Yellowstone National Park is a national park located primarily in the U.S. state of Wyoming, although it also extends into Montana and Idaho. It was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. Yellowstone, the first National Park in the U.S. and widely held to be the first national park in the world, is known for its wildlife and its many geothermal features, especially Old Faithful Geyser, one of the most popular features in the park. It has many types of ecosystems, but the subalpine forest is the most abundant. It is part of the South Central Rockies forests ecoregion.

Cornwall, England

Jutting out into the Atlantic, Cornwall is exposed to the climatic whims of the ocean. The north coast, on the Celtic Sea, has the rough cliffs that drop straight into the drink, while the southern side, on the English Channel, boasts gentler estuaries and beaches. You don’t have to choose, though—visit both!

Cornwall is a ceremonial county and unitary authority area of England within the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Cornwall has a population of 536,000 and covers an area of 3,563 km². The administrative centre, and only city in Cornwall, is Truro, although the town of Falmouth has the largest population for a civil parish and the conurbation of Camborne, Pool and Redruth has the highest total population.

Superb lyrebird

Venture into the forests of southeastern Australia and you may hear the calls of numerous birds, perhaps the clicking of camera shutters, or maybe the bleating of electronic devices. They may be the real deal, but in fact, any of these sounds could be the voice of a superb lyrebird, one of nature’s greatest mimics. The male’s framing tail feathers give the bird its name, for a supposed resemblance to the ancient Greek musical instrument. However, you’re forgiven for thinking it may be called a liar bird.

The superb lyrebird is a pheasant-sized Australian songbird, measuring approximately 100 cm long and weighing around 1 kg, with brown upper body plumage, greyish-brown below, rounded wings and strong legs. Among all extant songbirds only the common and thick-billed ravens regularly outweigh it and only the much more slender black sicklebill can rival its length.

To Sua Ocean Trench in Lotofaga, Upolu, Samoa

“To Sua” literally translates to English as “big hole.” While accurate, it feels like an understatement in this context. For adventurous visitors to Lotofaga, on Samoa’s Upolu island, To Sua Ocean Trench can feel like a trip to another world. From the natural saltwater pool, squeeze through a small lava-tube cave in the rock wall to find yourself on a short, sandy beach. Otherwise, the only way in and out of the swimming hole is that wooden ladder.

Lotofaga is a village on the south coast of Upolu island in Samoa. Lotofaga is also the name of the larger Lotofaga Electoral Constituency which includes Lotofaga village and two other villages, Vavau and Matatufu.

Tomb of the Unknowns, Virginia

The Tomb of the Unknowns honors US service members who died in combat, but whose remains cannot be identified. When Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia is open to the public, anyone is welcome to visit the tomb and watch the somber changing of the guard. During the changing ceremony, officials ask only that those viewing the event remain “silent and standing” during the exchange.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is a monument dedicated to American service members who have died without their remains being identified. It is also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but it has never been officially named so. It is located in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, United States of America. The World War I “Unknown” is a recipient of the Medal of Honor, the Victoria Cross, and several other foreign nations’ highest service awards. The U.S. Unknowns who were interred are also recipients of the Medal of Honor, presented by U.S. Presidents who presided over their funerals.

Dyed silk hanging in Marrakech, Morocco

Here in Morocco’s fourth-largest city, there’s a souk for nearly everything. At the dyer’s souk, skeins of crimson silk air-dry before they’re put up for sale at the market. If you come to Marrakech, prepare to shop, and if you shop, prepare to haggle. It’s not only encouraged at the souks, but expected.

Marrakesh also known by the French spelling Marrakech is a major city of Morocco. It is the fourth largest city in the country, after Casablanca, Fes and Tangier. It is the capital city of the mid-southwestern region of Marrakesh-Safi. Located to the north of the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, Marrakesh is located 580 km southwest of Tangier, 327 km southwest of the Moroccan capital of Rabat, 239 km south of Casablanca, and 246 km northeast of Agadir.

Desert View Watchtower at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Look up from the floor of the stone tower and the Hopi mural by artist Fred Kabotie looks back. Built in 1932, the 70-foot Desert View Watchtower recreates the look and feel of similar structures built by the Ancient Pueblo People. Architect Mary Colter studied archaeological examples of similar towers for six months before designing this one. On this day in 1987, the tower received National Historic Landmark status.

Desert View Watchtower, also known as the Indian Watchtower at Desert View, is a 70-foot-high stone building located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon within Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, United States. The tower is located at Desert View, more than 20 miles to the east of the main developed area at Grand Canyon Village, toward the east entrance to the park. The four-story structure, completed in 1932, was designed by American architect Mary Colter, an employee of the Fred Harvey Company who also created and designed many other buildings in the Grand Canyon vicinity including Hermit’s Rest and the Lookout Studio. The interior contains murals by Fred Kabotie.

Namib Desert at the Atlantic Ocean in Africa

Stretching north to south for 1,243 miles, the Namib Desert starts in Angola, covers the entire west coast of Namibia, and reaches down into South Africa. It’s primarily a sand sea, but hosts some gravel terrain farther inland. The western edge of the Namib runs smack into the Atlantic Ocean. Though fogs often shroud the coast of the desert, the Namib as a whole gets less than a half an inch of rain annually.

The Namib is a coastal desert in southern Africa. The name Namib is of Nama origin and means “vast place”. According to the broadest definition, the Namib stretches for more than 2,000 kilometres along the Atlantic coasts of Angola, Namibia, and South Africa, extending southward from the Carunjamba River in Angola, through Namibia and to the Olifants River in Western Cape, South Africa. The Namib’s northernmost portion, which extends 450 kilometres from the Angola-Namibia border, is known as Moçâmedes Desert, while its southern portion approaches the neighboring Kalahari Desert. From the Atlantic coast eastward, the Namib gradually ascends in elevation, reaching up to 200 kilometres inland to the foot of the Great Escarpment. Annual precipitation ranges from 2 millimetres in the most arid regions to 200 millimetres at the escarpment, making the Namib the only true desert in southern Africa. Having endured arid or semi-arid conditions for roughly 55–80 million years, the Namib may be the oldest desert in the world and contains some of the world’s driest regions.

Paraglider over Lake Thun, Switzerland

In the 1950s and ‘60s, major developments in parachute design made possible the sport of paragliding. An aviation writer even predicted, in 1954, that in the future, humans would be able to launch themselves from cliffs and hillsides, steering a modified parachute as they sailed toward the ground. Paragliders were able to do just that by the late ‘70s, after technology had caught up, and modern paragliding quickly gained in popularity. This paraglider is suspended over Lake Thun in Switzerland, a popular spot for paragliding and hang gliding, as the lake is surrounded by the Alps.

Paragliding is the recreational and competitive adventure sport of flying paragliders: lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched glider aircraft with no rigid primary structure. The pilot sits in a harness suspended below a fabric wing comprising a large number of interconnected baffled cells. Wing shape is maintained by the suspension lines, the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing, and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over the outside.

Lake Siskiyou and Mount Shasta in California

The Box Canyon Dam on the Sacramento River created the reservoir known as Lake Siskiyou. East of the lake stands Mount Shasta in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. A trail loops the entire lake, thanks to a footbridge over the inlet. Of course, beyond the lake shore are numerous trailheads leading into the Mount Shasta Wilderness. But this peaceful scene is mighty tempting. Go on without us, we’ll stay here and enjoy the view.

Mount Shasta is a potentially active volcano located at the southern end of the Cascade Range in Siskiyou County, California. At an elevation of 14,179 feet, it is the second highest peak in the Cascades and the fifth highest in California. Mount Shasta has an estimated volume of 85 cubic miles, which makes it the most voluminous stratovolcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc.

Lujiazui district of Shanghai, China

This circular walkway elevates pedestrians off the busy streets of the Lujiazui district in Shanghai. Located on a peninsula framed by the Huangpu River, Lujiazui has become the city’s major business center, with global corporations building or occupying many of the district’s skyscrapers. This photo was taken from the Shanghai Tower, currently the second-tallest building in the world.

Lujiazui, formerly known as Lokatse from its pronunciation in Shanghainese, is a locality in Shanghai, a peninsula formed by a bend in the Huangpu River. Since the early 1990s, Lujiazui has been developed specifically as a new financial district of Shanghai. The decision to earmark Lujiazui for this purpose reflects its location: it is located on the east side of the Huangpu River in Pudong, and sits directly across the river from the old financial and business district of the Bund.

A green sea turtle shows off its shell

Healthy turtles and tortoises are a crucial part of healthy ecosystems. Disappearing habitat and pollution mean trouble for many turtles, and certainly for the green sea turtle, which has been considered endangered for years. World Turtle Day, celebrated every May 23 since 2000, helps to raise awareness and increase education and understanding of turtles and tortoises, and the role they play in the vast web of life on Earth.

The green sea turtle, also known as the green turtle, black turtle, or Pacific green turtle, is a large sea turtle of the family Cheloniidae. This species is named for the green color of its fat, rather than the color of its skin or shell as most people think. These turtles shells are in fact olive to black. It is the only species in the genus Chelonia. Its range extends throughout tropical and subtropical seas around the world, with two distinct populations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The common name comes from the usually green fat found beneath its carapace.

Burano, in the Venetian Lagoon, Italy

If nearby Venice is too crowded and drab, make your way to Burano, a tightly packed collection of small islands in the Venetian Lagoon. Legend holds that all the houses were painted in varying, bright colors so that fishermen could pick out their homes even while out casting nets. Today, if you want to paint your villa in Burano, you send a request to the local government, which will reply with the color options available to you.

Burano is an island in the Venetian Lagoon, northern Italy; like Venice itself, it could more correctly be called an archipelago of four islands linked by bridges. It is situated near Torcello at the northern end of the Lagoon, and is known for its work and brightly coloured homes.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Some of the tallest trees in the southeastern US grow in the bottomland ecosystem of Congaree National Park. That tree with the grooved trunk in the center of this image is a bald cypress, a resilient hardwood valued for its water resistance when used as lumber. The Congaree River, the park’s centerpiece, can crest its banks during the year, turning some of the park trails into temporary waterways. Throughout spring, the butterweed blooms in the water-soaked soil, covering the forest floor with a spray of green and gold.

Congaree National Park preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. Located in South Carolina, the 26,546-acre national park received that designation in 2003 as the culmination of a grassroots campaign which had started in 1969. The lush trees growing in this floodplain forest are some of the tallest in the Eastern U.S., forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies remaining in the world. The Congaree River flows through the park. About 57 percent of the park is designated wilderness area.

Striped skunk kit smelling a wildflower

Pop culture has a long history of ironic portrayals of skunks, including Flower, the sweet-natured friend of Bambi, and the clueless lothario Pepe Le Pew. The comedic angle for most of these renditions leans on our collective fear of the skunk’s musk, which not only smells terrible and is difficult to wash off, but can burn the eyes of any predator who gets too close. Striped skunks can spray their musk effectively as far as 12 feet.

The striped skunk is a skunk of the genus Mephitis that is native to southern Canada, the United States and northern Mexico. It is currently listed as least concern by the IUCN on account of its wide range and ability to adapt to human-modified environments.

Land art in De Biesbosch National Park, Netherlands

Land artist Paul de Kort created this installation in the central Noordwaard region of the Netherlands’ De Biesbosch National Park. The spiral of earth interlaces with the freshwater tidal flow of the waterways inside the park. As the tide comes in, the spiral becomes submerged; when the tide recedes, the spiral re-emerges. In this way, the changing visibility of the sculpted earth mimics the waxing and waning of Earth’s moon, from full circle to slim crescent. Of course, the land artwork’s phases also illustrate the moon’s effect on Earth’s tides.

De Biesbosch National Park, is one of the largest national parks of the Netherlands and one of the last extensive areas of freshwater tidal wetlands in Northwestern Europe. The Biesbosch consists of a rather large network of rivers and smaller and larger creeks with islands. The vegetation is mostly willow forests, although wet grasslands and fields of reed are common as well. The Biesbosch is an important wetland area for waterfowl and has a rich flora and fauna. It is especially important for migrating geese.

The Biosphere museum in Montreal, Canada

When Montreal, Quebec, hosted the World’s Fair in 1967, this geodesic dome was one of the main attractions. Designed by futurist and inventor Buckminster Fuller, the dome was a glimpse at humanity’s potential future. Nearly a decade after the dome was built, fire ravaged the exterior and the site was unused until Environment Canada, a federal government environmental agency, bought it in 1990. Together with the city of Montreal, Environment Canada eventually turned the dome into Biosphere, a museum dedicated to environmental science and education about climate change. It’s just one of countless museums that you might visit today, on International Museum Day.

The Biosphere is a museum in Montreal dedicated to the environment. It is located at Parc Jean-Drapeau, on Saint Helen’s Island in the former pavilion of the United States for the 1967 World Fair, Expo 67.

Glacier cave in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness

In central Oregon, three volcanic peaks in the Cascade Range are the central feature of the Three Sisters Wilderness area. Fourteen glaciers cover various parts of the wilderness area’s 286,708 mountainous acres, and caves form below the ice of some of them. Some hikers may miss the cave entrances completely. But an experienced guide might be just the thing if you’re interested in safely viewing these seasonal caverns and grottos. This time of year, prepare to get wet if you do.

The Three Sisters Wilderness is a wilderness area in the Cascade Range, within the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests in Oregon. It comprises 286,708 acres, making it the second largest wilderness area in Oregon, after the Eagle Cap Wilderness. It was established by the United States Congress in 1964 and is named for the Three Sisters, three volcanoes. The wilderness boundary encloses the Three Sisters as well as Broken Top, which is southeast of South Sister.

Seven-spot ladybird in flight

With color enhancement of an image made using a scanning electron microscope (SEM), we get a rare glimpse of the moment when a ladybug has fully extended its wings to take flight. The seven-spot ladybird is found all over Europe and was imported to North America as a form of natural pest control. The bright red beetle’s favorite meal is aphids, small insects also called plant lice that are highly destructive to crops. So when you see a seven-spot ladybird in your garden, say “thank you” to the little pest killer.

Coccinella septempunctata, the seven-spot ladybug, is the most common ladybug in Europe. Its elytra are of a red colour, but punctuated with three black spots each, with one further spot being spread over the junction of the two, making a total of seven spots, from which the species derives both its common and scientific names.

Fox kits playing near Cascade, Montana

These two red fox kits wrestle both for fun and as a way to rehearse for their future lives as adult foxes. Eventually they’ll put their agility and sharp sense of smell to work hunting rodents. In the meantime, it’s a joyful recess while the massive Rockies stand watch in the background.

The red fox is the largest of the true foxes and the most abundant wild member of the Carnivora, being present across the entire Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to North Africa, North America and Eurasia. It is listed as least concern by the IUCN. Its range has increased alongside human expansion, having been introduced to Australia, where it is considered harmful to native mammals and bird populations. Due to its presence in Australia, it is included among the list of the “world’s 100 worst invasive species”.

Mount Rainier in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Happy Astronomy Day! There are many places to go stargazing tonight, as long as you can get away from city lights and cloud cover. When the notoriously gray skies of the Pacific Northwest part during warmer months, visitors to Mount Rainier National Park might catch a glimpse of the Milky Way, as our galaxy spirals in a light show that’s hard to beat. Look closely at the snow-covered ridges of Mount Rainier on the right: Those glowing spots are headlamps and campsites from climbers hoping to summit the peak before sunrise. Let’s hope that they braved the cold night air to look up at the sky.

Mount Rainier National Park is a United States National Park located in southeast Pierce County and northeast Lewis County in Washington state. It was established on March 2, 1899 as the fifth national park in the United States. The park encompasses 236,381 acres including all of Mount Rainier, a 14,411-foot stratovolcano. The mountain rises abruptly from the surrounding land with elevations in the park ranging from 1,600 feet to over 14,000 feet. The highest point in the Cascade Range, around it are valleys, waterfalls, subalpine meadows, old-growth forest and more than 25 glaciers. The volcano is often shrouded in clouds that dump enormous amounts of rain and snow on the peak every year and hide it from the crowds that head to the park on weekends.

The Gardens of Bomarzo in Italy

Officially, this garden and sculpture park is called Sacro Bosco—the “Sacred Grove.” But travelers may hear it referred to as the Gardens of Bomarzo, while the residents of the town of Bomarzo have nicknamed it the Park of the Monsters.

A 16th-century Italian nobleman, Pier Francesco Orsini, commissioned the construction of the gardens, and expressly the numerous statues depicting mythic monsters and surreal scenes of war. The Gardens of Bomarzo are dedicated to his wife, who had died shortly after Orsini returned from military duty. In the succeeding centuries, the wild landscape would inspire numerous artists, including Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dalí.

The Sacro Bosco, colloquially called Park of the Monsters, also named Garden of Bomarzo, is a Manieristic monumental complex located in Bomarzo, in the province of Viterbo, in northern Lazio, Italy.

Lavender blooming in northern Thailand

Lavender generally thrives in temperate climates and does especially well in the Mediterranean region, where most strains of the plant originate. It’s not often seen in the humid tropical warmth of Thailand. But go far enough north toward Thailand’s border with Myanmar and the weather up in the hills is cool enough to support lavender. There’s even a government-sanctioned space, Angkhang Royal Agricultural Station, where farmers tend to crops not generally found in Southeast Asia, including lavender, but also fruits like apples and pears.

Lavandula stoechas is a species of flowering plant in the family Lamiaceae, occurring naturally in Mediterranean countries. An evergreen shrub, it usually grows to 30–100 cm tall and occasionally up to 2 m high in the subspecies luisieri. The leaves are 1–4 cm long, greyish and tomentose.

Dolwyddelan Castle in Wales

A visit to Conwy County in northern Wales would be incomplete without a visit to the remote site of Dolwyddelan Castle. Today it’s mostly in ruins, even after apparent additions and reinforcements made in the late 15th century. Welsh ruler Llywelyn the Great is believed to have commanded construction of Dolwyddelan Castle back in the early 1200s. Standing on a high hill above the surrounding farmlands, it still makes for a dramatic landmark and fascinating glimpse into the past.

Dolwyddelan Castle is a Welsh castle located near Dolwyddelan in Conwy County Borough in North Wales. It is thought to have been built in the early 13th century by Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd and North Wales. Though the castle was then only one tower with two floors, a second tower was built in the late 13th century and a third floor was added to the first during the late 15th century repairs.

Wreckage of the SS Thistlegorm in the Red Sea

On its fourth voyage, ostensibly from Glasgow, Scotland, to Alexandria, Egypt, the SS Thistlegorm sank in the Red Sea when German fighter planes bombed the armed British merchant ship on October 6, 1941. The craft and most of its cargo—including the trucks seen here—rest off the coast of Egypt, not far from the Ras Muhammed National Park. Four sailors and five members of the Royal Navy gun crew died as a result of the attack. A decade later, renowned marine explorer Jacques Cousteau found the wreckage and eventually the site became a popular scuba diving spot.

The SS Thistlegorm was a British armed Merchant Navy ship built in 1940 by Joseph Thompson & Son in Sunderland, England. She was sunk on 6 October 1941 near Ras Muhammad in the Red Sea and is now a well known diving site.

Xinyuan County, China

Up in the northwest corner of China, where the Xinjiang Region wedges in along the borders of Mongolia, Russia, and Kazakhstan, the landscape may challenge many Westerners’ mental picture of this vast country. The green hills of Xinyuan County recall the Great Smoky Mountains of the US or the Cumbrian countryside in England. And in spring, the wild red apricot trees cover the slopes with bursts of pink blossoms.

Xinyuan County is a county situated within the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and is under the administration of the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture. It contains an area of 7,581 km². According to the 2002 census, it has a population of 290,000.

Galápagos sea lion and pup, Galápagos Islands

If you’ve not yet called or visited your mom today, let this sweet picture of a Galápagos sea lion and her pup be a reminder. The female sea lion carries her pup for a year before giving birth, but–perhaps in exchange for that lengthy gestation period–she weans the young sea lion by the time it’s 11 months old. Soon after that, the pup begins hunting for food on its own.

The Galápagos sea lion is a species of sea lion that exclusively breeds on the Galápagos Islands and – in smaller numbers – on Isla de la Plata. Being fairly social, and one of the most numerous species in the Galápagos archipelago, they are often spotted sun-bathing on sandy shores or rock groups or gliding gracefully through the surf. Their loud bark, playful nature, and graceful agility in water make them the “welcoming party” of the islands.

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska

There are no roads or trails of any kind in this, the northernmost of the US national parks. To get into Gates of the Arctic, visitors must either hike or book a flight on one of the small “air taxis” that can land in some of the small villages that act as gateways into this isolated park. The park itself is slightly bigger than Belgium, in terms of area, and much of the land is rugged mountain landscape. But for those who come prepared to tackle this arctic wonder, the park rewards with scenery few will ever see in person.

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is a U.S. National Park in Alaska. It is the northernmost national park in the U.S. and the second largest at 8,472,506 acres, slightly larger in area than Belgium. The park consists primarily of portions of the Brooks Range of mountains. It was first protected as a U.S. National Monument on December 1, 1978, before becoming a national park and preserve two years later in 1980 upon passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. A large part of the park is protected in the Gates of the Arctic Wilderness which covers 7,167,192 acres. The wilderness area adjoins the Noatak Wilderness Area and together they form the largest contiguous wilderness in the United States.

A Cape white-eye perched

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, there are many species of birds in the “white-eye” family. The Cape white-eye, named for the southernmost region of the African continent, is easy to spot thanks to its gold and green coat, and of course, those white rings around the eyes. It’s found in a range of wooded habitats, from suburban gardens to dense forests, and tends to gather with others of its ilk in large flocks, frequently vocalizing.

The Cape white-eye is a small passerine bird in the white-eye family. It is native to southern Africa. There are two subspecies. The western nominate group is now treated as separate species; the Orange River white-eye and the Cape white-eye. The latter can be further divided into two subgroups, the south-western capensis subgroup and the eastern virens subgroup. All subspecies interbreed where they come into contact.

Giant mural in Pachuca, Mexico

Pachuca, Mexico, is nicknamed “la bella airosa,” which translates roughly as “the beautiful breezy city.” Here in the neighborhood of Las Palmitas, a blocks-long mural painted across the facades of scores of buildings is an homage to the wind. Although to be fair, it looks as if the wind knocked a rainbow over onto the neighborhood. The mural was an effort to help unite the working-class residents of Las Palmitas and help rehabilitate the neighborhood’s reputation as a tough part of town. Local artists worked on the project and report success: Neighbors have begun talking to each other and visitors to the city now make special trips to Las Palmitas to see the bright, cheery colors on the buildings.

About 120 miles southeast of Pachuca is Puebla, Mexico, the city that held off invading French troops on this day in 1862. The improbable and heroic defense is commemorated with the Cinco de Mayo celebration. While the streets of Pachuca may not be clogged with celebrations tonight, expect parades and battle re-enactments in Puebla.

Pachuca, formally known as Pachuca de Soto, is the capital and largest city of the Mexican state of Hidalgo. It is located in the south-central part of the state. Pachuca de Soto is also the name of the municipality of which the city serves as municipal seat. Pachuca is located about 90 kilometres from Mexico City via Mexican Federal Highway 85. There is no consensus about the origin of the name Pachuca. It has been traced to the word pachoa, Pachoacan, and patlachuican. The official name of Pachuca is Pachuca de Soto in honor of congressman Manuel Fernando Soto, who is given credit for the creation of Hidalgo state. Its nickname of “La bella airosa” comes from the strong winds that blow into the valley through the canyons to the north of the city. In the indigenous Otomi language, Pachuca is known as Nju̱nthe. The area had been long inhabited but except for some green obsidian, but the mining that Pachuca is famous for began in the mid-16th century, during Spanish colonial rule. Pachuca remained a major mining center until the mid-20th century, with the city’s fortunes going up and down with the health of the mining sector. In the mid-20th century a major downturn in mining pushed Pachuca to change the basis of its economy to industry, resulting in the revamping of the Universidad Autónoma de Hidalgo. Today mining forms only a fraction of the municipality’s economy. One cultural aspect that makes Pachuca stand out is the influence that Cornish miners who immigrated here in the 19th century have had. Many of their descendents remain in Pachuca and nearby Real del Monte, as well as two heritages that define the city, soccer and a dish called “pastes.”

Young baboon, Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana

This adolescent chacma baboon will grow big enough to be considered a member of one of the largest monkey species on Earth. Like many other primates, the chacma baboon is a highly social animal. One unusual social trait scientists have observed in the species is adoption behavior. If a baby’s mother dies, and her young baboon is unable to care for itself, a male-female couple are likely to adopt the orphan, providing care for the baby until it’s old enough to feed itself.

The chacma baboon, also known as the Cape baboon, is, like all other baboons, from the Old World monkey family. It is one of the largest of all monkeys. Located primarily in southern Africa, the chacma baboon has a wide variety of social behaviors, including a dominance hierarchy, collective foraging, adoption of young by females, and friendship pairings. These behaviors form parts of a complex evolutionary ecology.

Hot springs on Mount Roraima, Venezuela

Mount Roraima sits mainly in Venezuela, but the wedge-shaped plateau acts as a border between Brazil and Guyana as well. Most who make the ascent approach from the ramp-like route on the Venezuelan side, though a few brave climbers have scaled the sheer, 1,300-foot cliffs that dominate the Brazilian and Guyanese faces of the peak. No matter how you get to the tabletop summit, bring a swimsuit, because natural Jacuzzi-like pools top Roraima amid dramatic rock formations. Social-media bragging about your achievement is strongly encouraged.

Mount Roraima is the highest of the Pakaraima chain of tepui plateaus in South America. First described by the English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh in 1596, its 31 km² summit area is bounded on all sides by cliffs rising 400 metres. The mountain also serves as the triple border point of Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil.

Anechoic chamber, Copenhagen, Denmark

Anechoic chambers are most commonly used to test the noise levels made by electronic and mechanical devices during normal operation. The pyramid-like foam protrusions on the walls and ceiling are designed to reduce the reflection of sound waves so that when the chamber is closed, any sound occurring within the chamber can be recorded and measured as accurately as possible.

But these chambers aren’t ideal spots for a quick nap or a moment of “me time.” Humans who have spent more than a few minutes inside a closed anechoic chamber report that once their brains adjusted to the total silence, they were soon able to hear the blood flowing through their own veins.

An anechoic chamber (“an-echoic” meaning non-reflective, non-echoing or echo-free) is a room designed to completely absorb reflections of either sound or electromagnetic waves. They are also insulated from exterior sources of noise.

Plumeria flowers in Hawaii

Though it’s a popular flower to include in garlands for leis in Hawaii, the plumeria bloom is not native to the islands. Nevertheless, the big petals and pleasant fragrance make plumerias hard to resist if you’re making a lei for Lei Day, Hawaii’s island-specific version of May Day. Since the 1920s, Lei Day has been a flower-centered celebration of Hawaiian culture.

Plumeria is a genus of flowering plants in the dogbane family, Apocynaceae. It contains primarily deciduous shrubs and small trees. They are native to Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America as far south as Brazil but can be grown in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

The southern portion of the Guadalupe Mountain Range stretches down from New Mexico into West Texas, and is preserved as a national park. For paleontologists, it’s considered one of the best places in the United States to see fossil history of the Permian Period (roughly 250 to 300 million years ago), when this area was not a mountain desert, but a coastal reef, submerged under sea water.

For the rest of us, it’s a stunning vista of unexpected altitude amidst the harsh desert environment. This “hidden gem” of our national parks system may look barren, yet for those who take the time, it reveals a bounty of life and glimpses of ancient history.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is in the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas and contains Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet in elevation. Located east of El Paso, it also contains El Capitan, long used as a landmark by people traveling along the old route later followed by the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach line. Visitors can see the ruins of an old stagecoach station near the Pine Springs Visitor Center. Camping is available at the Pine Springs Campground and Dog Canyon. The restored Frijole Ranch House is now a small museum of local ranching history and is the trailhead for Smith Spring. The park covers 86,367 acres and is in the same mountain range as Carlsbad Caverns National Park which is located about 25 miles to the north in New Mexico. Numerous well-established trails exist in the park for hiking and horse-riding. The Guadalupe Peak Trail offers perhaps the most outstanding views in the park. Climbing over 3,000 feet to the summit of Guadalupe Peak, the trail winds through pinyon pine and Douglas-fir forests and offers spectacular views of El Capitan and the vast Chihuahuan Desert.

Oak tree canopy in Roudsea Wood, England

Roudsea Wood and Mosses may be one of the more obscure nature reserves among the 25 national nature reserves in the Cumbrian wilderness that stretches across northwest England. Though there are four distinct ecosystems in Roudsea, the woodlands dominate. Access to the reserve is by permit only, but for those who get a pass, views of the oak canopy and a variety of local species await.

An oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus of the beech family, Fagaceae. There are approximately 600 extant species of oaks. The common name “oak” may also appear in the names of species in related genera, notably Lithocarpus. The genus is native to the Northern Hemisphere, and includes deciduous and evergreen species extending from cool temperate to tropical latitudes in the Americas, Asia, Europe, and North Africa. North America contains the largest number of oak species, with approximately 90 occurring in the United States. Mexico has 160 species, of which 109 are endemic. The second greatest center of oak diversity is China, which contains approximately 100 species.

Prairie smoke blossoms

The resilient perennial known as prairie smoke was so named because of the wispy, plume-like seed heads that emerge when the plant blooms in spring. Prairie smoke has been ousted by invasive plants in some areas, but can still be found across southern Canada, and in temperate and sub-arctic locations in the United States. Some gardeners use prairie smoke plants as a ground cover, since the plant is tolerant of a variety of soil types. Besides, who wouldn’t love that feathery, pink flyaway bloom in their garden?

Geum triflorum, is a spring-blooming perennial herbaceous plant of North America from northern Canada to California and east to New York. The flowers bloom from mid-spring to early summer.

Common kestrel hunting for rodents

When hunting, common kestrels often use the wind to aid them in their search for prey. Using their wings and tail to control their flight, kestrels will fly into the wind, which allows them to hover like a kite, staying aloft in one place while they scan the landscape for voles, mice, or in coastal areas, crustaceans crawling along the beach. In those coastal areas, the ridge-lift phenomenon has the same effect: Wind comes off the shore and turns up against the cliff. The kestrels will launch above the cliff and ride the upward thrust of wind, thus saving energy that continuous flight would require, and affording them a fixed vantage point from which to espy their prey.

The common kestrel is a bird of prey species belonging to the kestrel group of the falcon family Falconidae. It is also known as the European kestrel, Eurasian kestrel, or Old World kestrel. In Britain, where no other kestrel species occurs, it is generally just called “the kestrel”.

Rice paddy terraces, Yuanyang County, China

Yuanyang County in southern China attracts a fair amount of tourists interested in seeing the region’s terraced rice fields. Constructed by the Hani and Yi ethnic groups some 1,300 years ago, the paddies are a source of food, income, and local pride. From vantage points in the nearby Ailao Mountains, a patient photographer can capture stunning images of sunlight reflecting off the flooded fields, often resulting in photos that look like stained glass or mosaic artwork.

Yuanyang County is located in Honghe Prefecture in southeastern Yunnan province, China, along the Red River. It is well known for its spectacular rice-paddy terracing. Part of the area now forms the 45th World Heritage Site in China.

Taghit, Algeria

With harsh rocky terrain to the west and a massive sea of sand to the east, Taghit, Algeria, is a true desert oasis. The Oued Zouzfana, a small river, flows nearby and is key to the village’s sustainability, allowing residents to develop tracts for agriculture (especially date palms) and livestock.

Taghit is a town and commune in Taghit District, Béchar Province, in western Algeria. The town is an oasis watered by the underground Oued Zousfana, which runs along beside the dunes of the Grand Erg Occidental. According to the 2008 census its population is 6,317, up from 6,047 in 1998, with an annual growth rate of 0.4%. The commune covers an area of 8,080 square kilometres.

American bison, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND

Though it was not the first national park established in the US, this landscape inspired the president who is largely responsible for our national parks program. Grieving two deaths—those of his mother and his wife—future president Teddy Roosevelt retreated to the badlands of North Dakota in 1884. His visit to this seemingly desolate land sent Roosevelt on a lifelong dedication to preserving America’s wild landscapes for future generations. Much later, in 1978, this region was granted national park status, giving the buffalo a place to roam free, and humanity a chance to appreciate the rugged beauty of this unique terrain.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a United States National Park comprising three geographically separated areas of badlands in western North Dakota. The park was named for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. The park covers 70,446 acres of land in three sections: the North Unit, the South Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

When a park’s main feature is frequent spews of ash, smoke, and lava from two active volcanoes, you may want to leave the flip-flops at home. However, don’t let that scare you away from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park—you’ll miss out on the dramatic beauty of this “big island” gem. Properly prepared, and with a skilled guide, hikes into the lava flow zones of Mauna Loa and Kilauea are a journey into geologic history in the making, as the landscape is frequently changing and evolving with eruptions from the volcanoes.

Away from the lava fields are more traditional landscapes with distinctly Hawaiian flora and fauna. Rise before the sun and hike into Kīpuka Kī rainforest, where a chorus of songbirds greets the dawn. If there’s a place in Volcanoes National Park for barefoot frolicking, Kīpuka Kī might be the ideal spot.

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, established in 1916, is a United States National Park located in the U.S. State of Hawaii on the island of Hawaii. It encompasses two active volcanoes: Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world’s most massive subaerial volcano. The park gives scientists insight into the birth of the Hawaiian Islands and ongoing studies into the processes of vulcanism. For visitors, the park offers dramatic volcanic landscapes as well as glimpses of rare flora and fauna.

Aerial view of Everglades National Park in Florida

To understand just how vast are the tropical wetlands known as the Everglades, consider this: Everglades National Park comprises more than 1.5 million acres, yet it accounts for just 20 percent of the original Everglades wilderness. The park in south Florida is one of just three locations on Earth to receive status as an International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a World Heritage Site. In all its diversity, we could put images of the Everglades on the Bing homepage every day for a year and not run out of material. This aerial view of the coastal estuaries in the Everglades reflects the topography of Earth itself, a winding, interlocking patchwork of green and blue, thriving and surviving. Happy Earth Day, Everglades!

Everglades National Park is a U.S. National Park in Florida that protects the southern 20 percent of the original Everglades. In the United States, it is the largest tropical wilderness, the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippi River, and is visited on average by one million people each year. It is the third-largest national park in the lower 48 states after Death Valley and Yellowstone. It has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance, one of only three locations in the world to appear on all three lists.

North Window Arch in Arches National Park, Utah

In Utah’s Arches National Park, three unusually large sandstone arches—nicknamed “The Windows” for the views they frame—attract many visitors. The hike up to the North Window, seen here, is one of the easier hikes in the park, so during daytime, the trail can get busy. But after sunset, the arch, draped in shadows, captures the clear night sky like a picture frame. And beyond the top of the arch, the Milky Way puts on a show for all the park’s nocturnal creatures—including patient photographers like Clarence Spencer, who took this beautiful image.

Clarence is the winner of the #FindYourPark photo contest, sponsored by Bing and the US National Park Service to celebrate 100 years of recreation and conservation. Thousands of photographers submitted photos of national parks and monuments during the contest, and Bing fans voted for their favorites. Among many outstanding finalists, Clarence Spencer’s photo of Arches National Park earned the most votes.

Arches National Park is a US National Park in eastern Utah. The park is located on the Colorado River 4 miles north of Moab, Utah. It is known for containing over 2,000 natural sandstone arches, including the world-famous Delicate Arch, in addition to a variety of unique geological resources and formations.

Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Up until the late 1800s, a trail called Indian Gap Road was thought to be the lowest mountain pass through the Great Smoky Mountains between North Carolina and Tennessee. But surveys conducted by geographer Arnold Henry Guyot showed that another pass two miles east of Indian Gap would make an easier path across the Smokies. And with that, a newly found gap in the range became Newfound Gap.

Today, Newfound Gap overlaps US Route 441, allowing not just easy passage across the range and through the national park, but also some breathtaking views of the hardwood forests in this portion of the Great Smoky Mountains. Even in winter Newfound Gap only closes during and just after heavy snow. And if the weather cooperates, visitors taking advantage of the free admission to all US national parks this week will see the spring thaw and early blooms in the Great Smoky Mountains as nature wakes up from a long hibernation.

Newfound Gap is a mountain pass located near the center of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park of the southern Appalachian Mountains in the United States of America. Situated along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the state line crosses the gap, as does Newfound Gap Road. The Appalachian Trail also traverses the gap, as do a small number of other hiking trails.

Western gull chick, Channel Islands National Park, CA

Not all of our 59 national parks in the US are accessible by car. The Channel Islands off the coast of southern California comprise eight islands, five of which are designated a national park, including portions of the marine environment below the ocean’s surface. The baby western gull seen here represents just one of the 387 species of birds that have been observed to date on the Channel Islands. Some 145 of those species are unique to the islands—found nowhere else on Earth. Any time is a good time to go bird watching at Channel Islands National Park, but National Park Week means free admission to all the parks. So now could be the best time of all to pay a visit.

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Channel Islands National Park is a United States national park that consists of five of the eight Channel Islands off the coast of the U.S. state of California, in the Pacific Ocean. Although the islands are close to the shore of densely populated Southern California, their isolation has left them relatively undeveloped. The park covers 249,561 acres of which 79,019 acres are owned by the federal government. The Nature Conservancy owns and manages 76% of Santa Cruz Island, the largest island in the park.

Tepees area, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

As if a “forest” of long-dead timber that has gradually turned to quartz wasn’t incredible enough, the Petrified Forest National Park is also home to striking geologic formations. Erosion carved away at the layers of stone, which exposed through the resulting hills and valleys the colorful striations that, to many viewers, appear as if they were painted to mimic the setting sun. Can you imagine what these bright hills look like at sunrise and sunset? Celebrate National Park Week, which lasts through this weekend, and get free admission to any US national park. Maybe you can see the Petrified Forest in person.

Petrified Forest National Park is a United States national park in Navajo and Apache counties in northeastern Arizona. Named for its large deposits of petrified wood, the fee area of the park covers about 170 square miles, encompassing semi-desert shrub steppe as well as highly eroded and colorful badlands. The park’s headquarters is about 26 miles east of Holbrook along Interstate 40, which parallels the BNSF Railway’s Southern Transcon, the Puerco River, and historic U.S. Route 66, all crossing the park roughly east–west. The site, the northern part of which extends into the Painted Desert, was declared a national monument in 1906 and a national park in 1962. About 800,000 people visit the park each year and take part in activities including sightseeing, photography, hiking, and backpacking.

Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana

The dense forests, towering Rocky Mountains, and alpine lakes of Glacier National Park show the stark ecological distinction of western Montana when compared to the open vistas of the eastern half of the state. Swiftcurrent Lake, seen here under unusually dark cloud cover, is one of 130 lakes dotting the expanse of the park’s 1 million acres. A day hike here is just scratching the surface of all that Glacier National Park has to offer. But if you’re nearby and want to get a taste of the “crown of the continent,” all US national parks are offering free admission this week. So, really, there’s no better time to get out and discover your national park.

Swiftcurrent Lake is located in the Many Glacier region of Glacier National Park, in the U.S. state of Montana. The Many Glacier Hotel, the largest hotel in the park, is along the east shore of the lake. Many hiking trails originate from the area and scenic tour boats provide access to the lake for visitors.

Waterfall and moss, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

A few spots in this national park in the Blue Ridge Mountains hold traces of the farmland that once dotted the region. But today, Shenandoah National Park’s nearly 200,000 acres have been reforested and preserved. Along the way, many of the people who worked the abandoned farms were relocated by the government, but a select few were allowed to remain on the land, living out their years as the National Park Service gradually restored Shenandoah to its original state.

Today is the start of National Park Week, a time to explore some of the nation’s most extraordinary places, discover spectacular natural beauty, and celebrate what’s been called “America’s best idea,” its national parks. This year during National Park Week, in recognition of the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, admission to all of our national parks is free, and it will remain free through next Sunday, April 24. With Shenandoah just 75 miles from Washington, DC, it’s a stunning—and affordable—change from beltway to greenway.

Shenandoah National Park encompasses part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the U.S. state of Virginia. This national park is long and narrow, with the broad Shenandoah River and Valley on the west side, and the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont on the east. Although the scenic Skyline Drive is likely the most prominent feature of the park, almost 40% of the land area 79,579 acres has been designated as wilderness and is protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The highest peak is Hawksbill Mountain at 4,051 feet.

Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, Spain

After exploring the sprawling 177 square miles of protected desert landscape, a dip in the Mediterranean might be just the thing to revive a weary traveler. Welcome to Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, the largest protected coastal wilderness in Andalusia, in southern Spain. A few small villages lie within Cabo de Gata, offering visitors a chance to get brief glimpses of civilization before venturing off into the park’s various protected natural regions. And once you’ve exhausted all the terrestrial treasures here, the Mediterranean coastal reefs offer new levels of wild exploration.

Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park in the south-eastern corner of Spain, is Andalucia’s largest coastal protected area, a wild and isolated landscape with some of Europe’s most original geological features. It is the only region in Europe with a true hot desert climate.

Gare Saint-Lazare train station, Paris, France

When this Paris railway terminal opened in 1837, commuters could only ride from here to Le Pecq, a suburb of the French capital. Today Gare Saint-Lazare hosts 27 platforms and serves as an important nexus in the Paris Metro system. During the late 19th century, many famous French painters lived here in the 8th arrondissement, and the appeal of Gare Saint-Lazare proved irresistible to them, inspiring the brushes of Monet, Manet, and Caillebotte, to name three. As if Nature responds in kind, those clouds in this image certainly have a brushstroke quality.

Paris Saint-Lazare is one of the six large terminus railway stations of Paris. It is the second busiest station in Paris, after the Gare du Nord. It handles 275,000 passengers each day. The station was designed by architect Juste Lisch, and the maître de l’oeuvre was Eugene Flachat.

The Singing Ringing Tree over Burnley, England

One thing a visitor can be sure to find in the hills of east Lancashire, England, is wind. So the East Lancashire Environmental Arts Network commissioned and constructed the Singing Ringing Tree, overlooking the town of Burnley. The tornado-shaped sculpture stands nearly 10 feet tall, made of galvanized steel pipes. Various pipes within the Singing Ringing Tree are cut in a way that, when the wind passes over the open end of the pipe, a tone is produced. Stand at the sculpture for a panoramic view of the countryside and you’ll be serenaded by the ghostly whistles and drones of the “tree.”

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The ””Singing Ringing Tree”” is a wind powered sound sculpture resembling a tree set in the landscape of the Pennine hill range overlooking Burnley, in Lancashire, England. Completed in 2006, it is part of the series of four sculptures within the Panopticons arts and regeneration project created by the East Lancashire Environmental Arts Network. The project was set up to erect a series of 21st-century landmarks, or Panopticons, across East Lancashire as symbols of the renaissance of the area.

Composite satellite image of the Ugab River, Namibia

Namibia is a land of contrasts, where the towering dunes of the Namib Desert meet the unending waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Namibia’s Ugab River, seen here in a color-enhanced satellite photo, flows primarily underground. For most of the year, the riverbed is dry, with small portions of the river bubbling up temporarily to offer sweet relief to the wildlife. But for a few days each year, the river flows above ground and its shores spring to life.

The Ugab River is an ephemeral river that only flows above the surface of its sandy bed a few days each year, but even during much of the dry season its subterranean water surfaces as pools in places, and provides an important resource for species in the Damaraland region of northern Namibia. The Ugab’s mean run-off is roughly 20 million cubic metres per annum.

Dead Sea near Zara Spring, Jordan

Recorded history of the Dead Sea reaches all the way back to the era of King David, and the “Sea of Salt” has strong historical ties to Jewish and Christian cultures. Even Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about the Dead Sea’s strange properties. The lake’s high salinity makes it easy to float in the water, which has been a big draw for Dead Sea tourism. And many locals and visitors claim the mineral-rich mud from the salt lake helps relieve symptoms of a various ailments like psoriasis, sinus infections, and arthritis.

Parts of the shore along both the Israeli side and the Jordanian (seen here near Zara Spring) feature large salt caves. Throughout history, humans have inhabited these caves, though today the crystalline caverns are mostly seen as a part of the unique charm of the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea, also called the Salt Sea, is a salt lake bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. Its surface and shores are 429 metres below sea level, Earth’s lowest elevation on land. The Dead Sea is 304 m deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. With 34.2% salinity, it is also one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water, though Lake Vanda in Antarctica, Lake Assal in Djibouti, Lagoon Garabogazköl in the Caspian Sea and some hypersaline ponds and lakes of the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica have reported higher salinities. It is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean. This salinity makes for a harsh environment in which animals cannot flourish, hence its name. The Dead Sea is 50 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide at its widest point. It lies in the Jordan Rift Valley and its main tributary is the Jordan River.

Coffee sprouts in Costa Rica

When the cherry-like berries of the coffea plant drop to the ground, the fruit decomposes, enriching the soil. The seed, which had been at the center of the fruit, finds itself surrounded by the newly fertilized soil, and with any luck it will sprout and grow into a big, healthy plant.

Here, on a coffee plantation near Heredia, Costa Rica, the plantings are carefully controlled. These sprouts are likely the arabica variety, known for having a richer flavor than the other widely grown species, robusta, which is heartier, but also more bitter. Costa Rican coffee beans are frequently rated as some of the best in the world.

Coffea is a genus of flowering plants whose seeds, called coffee beans, are used to make coffee. It is a member of the family Rubiaceae. They are shrubs or small trees native to tropical and southern Africa and tropical Asia. Coffee ranks as one of the world’s most valuable and widely traded commodity crops and is an important export product of several countries, including those in Central and South America, the Caribbean and Africa.

Friendship Square in Dalian, China

The coastal city of Dalian, in northeastern China, was at various times occupied by Britain, Russia, and Japan, all during a relatively short span from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th. As a result, it’s a unique cultural melting pot in China. That blend of cultures is acknowledged and even celebrated in Friendship Square, a business and entertainment district. In the middle of Friendship Square is a globe held aloft by five hands representing the world’s continents. At night, the globe lights up, becoming the subject of countless tourist photos. Of course, we took that up a notch by getting an aerial shot of Friendship Square to show off the colorful urban light show that surrounds the globe as well.

Dalian is a major city and seaport in the south of Liaoning Province, China. It is the southernmost city of Northeast China and China’s northernmost warm water port, at the tip of the Liaodong Peninsula. Dalian is the province’s second largest city and has sub-provincial administrative status; only the provincial capital is larger. The Shandong Peninsula lies southwest across the Bohai Sea; Korea lies across the Yellow Sea to the east.

Long-tailed glossy starlings

Many of the various birds known as starlings have iridescent feathers. Perhaps one of the boldest examples of this shimmery coloration is the long-tailed glossy starling, found throughout the tropical woodlands of central Africa. The adult birds, both male and female, have a green/teal/blue top coat and long tail feathers with a deep purple hue. If only their vocalizations matched the beauty of their feathers: The long-tailed glossy starling’s call is generously described as “grating.”

The long-tailed glossy starling is a member of the starling family of birds. It is a resident breeder in tropical Africa from Senegal east to Sudan. This common passerine is typically found in open woodland and cultivation. The long-tailed glossy starling builds a nest in hole. The normal clutch is two to four eggs.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan temple in Bali, Indonesia

Most people in Bali, Indonesia, have traditionally followed Balinese Hinduism, a local variant of the Hinduism practiced in mainland Southeast Asia and South Asia. In 1663, they created a Hindu water temple, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, on Lake Bratan in the mountainous northern region of the island. The temple, sometimes called simply Pura Bratan, is a shrine to the water goddess Dewi Danu. Locals have long had practical reasons to hold this water in high regard, since the mountain lake irrigates fields at lower elevations.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, or Pura Bratan, is a major Shivaite and water temple on Bali, Indonesia. The temple complex is located on the shores of Lake Bratan in the mountains near Bedugul. Water temples serve the entire region in the outflow area; downstream there are many smaller water temples that are specific to each irrigation association.

The 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece

Several European sporting events in the 1800s claimed to be revivals of the Olympic Games of ancient Greece. But it was the multisport, multinational 1896 games in Athens that are now recognized as the first Olympiad of the modern era. This photo shows the opening ceremonies at Panathinaiko (Panathenaic) Stadium on this day, 120 years ago. Many of the competitions at the 1896 games are still part of the Summer Olympics today, and when the Olympics returned to Athens for the 2004 Summer Games, the athletes ran on this same track at Panathinaiko Stadium.

The 1896 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the I Olympiad, was a multi-sport event held in Athens, Greece, from 6 to 15 April 1896. It was the first international Olympic Games held in the modern era. Because Ancient Greece was the birthplace of the Olympic Games, Athens was considered to be an appropriate choice to stage the inaugural modern Games. It was unanimously chosen as the host city during a congress organised by Pierre de Coubertin, a French pedagogue and historian, in Paris, on 23 June 1894. The International Olympic Committee was also instituted during this congress.

The Cave of the Crystals in Naica, Mexico

Yes, that spot of orange is a suit worn by a full-sized human being. The crystals are made of selenite, aka gypsum, and some are as long as 39 feet and weigh more than 50 tons. With 99 percent humidity and temperatures as high as 136 degrees Fahrenheit, anyone entering the cave must wear a specially designed refrigerated suit, seen on our visitor here. Though a similar cave with relatively smaller selenite crystals was discovered nearby in 1910, the Cave of the Crystals, with its massive formations, wasn’t discovered until 2000 in Naica, Mexico.

Cave of the Crystals or Giant Crystal Cave is a cave connected to the Naica Mine 300 metres below the surface in Naica, Chihuahua, Mexico. The main chamber contains giant selenite crystals, some of the largest natural crystals ever found. The cave’s largest crystal found to date is 12 m in length, 4 m in diameter and 55 tons in weight. The cave is extremely hot, with air temperatures reaching up to 58 °C with 90 to 99 percent humidity. The cave is relatively unexplored due to these factors. Without proper protection, people can only endure approximately ten minutes of exposure at a time.

Lake at Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe in Kassel, Germany

Construction of Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe began in 1696 and took roughly 150 years to complete. A visit to the mountainside park, overlooking the central German city of Kassel, confirms that it was time well spent. At the park’s highest point, a copper statue of the Greek demigod Heracles stands atop the pyramid tower of a castle made to look as though it were ruins. Rainwater collects in the ruins until a worker releases it by using hand-controlled machinery that was installed in the early 1700s. Once released, the water cascades down more than 200 stone steps, filling a manmade lake, seen in this image.

Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe is a unique landscape park in Kassel, Germany. Art historian Georg Dehio, inspirator of the modern discipline of historic preservation, described the park as “possibly the most grandiose combination of landscape and architecture that the Baroque dared anywhere”.

Scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of vaterite

Calcium carbonate (CaCO3) can form in a variety of crystalline shapes called polymorphs. One of the most common forms of the compound is limestone. This spherical arrangement of the crystals, however, is called vaterite and is one of the most highly soluble forms of calcium carbonate. Thanks to a scanning electron microscope, we can see the individual crystals, though everything in this image takes up less than 69 microns across. That’s less than .003 inches.
Humans have been extracting different forms of calcium carbonate for centuries, repurposing the compound for concrete, building materials, chalk, and in other industrial applications. It’s even the active ingredient in some brands of antacid.

Vaterite (CaCO3) is a mineral, a polymorph of calcium carbonate. It was named after the German mineralogist Heinrich Vater. It is also known as mu-calcium carbonate (μ-CaCO3) and has a JCPDS number of 13-192. Vaterite, like aragonite, is a metastable phase of calcium carbonate at ambient conditions at the surface of the earth.

Bacon Creek, Washington State

Innumerable creeks ripple down the slopes of the Cascade Mountains within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in northwest Washington State. Bacon Creek spills out from the glacial ice atop Bacon Peak, up in the northern reaches of the forest. Alongside the creek, an old logging road has been repurposed as a 9-mile hiking trail called (surprise) Bacon Creek Trail. It’s one of many hiking trails in the area. And though we had visions of a magical mountain of tasty breakfast meat, it turns out Bacon Peak and its titular creek were named after a prospector.

Bacon Peak is a mountain in the Cascade range in the U.S. state of Washington. Its glaciers cover 1.2 square miles; the three main glaciers are Diobsud Creek Glacier, Green Lake Glacier and Noisy Creek Glacier.
Elevation: 7,070 feet (2,155 m)
First ascent: 1905
Prominence: 2,505 feet (763.52 m)
First ascenders: R.B. Robertson · Eugene Logan


We’ve all known a marine bird who just couldn’t get enough attention. And with those bright, beautiful colors? Puffins, give it a rest already! Sometimes they dance when you’re not looking. Sometimes, we suspect, they just waddle around rocky cliffs in springtime, posing for nature photographers. Happy April Fools’ Day!

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Puffins are any of three small species of alcids in the bird genus Fratercula with a brightly coloured beak during the breeding season. These are pelagic seabirds that feed primarily by diving in the water. They breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs or offshore islands, nesting in crevices among rocks or in burrows in the soil. Two species, the tufted puffin and horned puffin, are found in the North Pacific Ocean, while the Atlantic puffin is found in the North Atlantic Ocean.

White Pocket, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, AZ

We’re off the beaten track here. The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is already in a remote part of northern Arizona, just below the border with Utah. And in an even more remote part of that wilderness is the section called White Pocket. The Vermilion Cliffs show off a dazzling array of geologic oddities, with varying types of stone exposed by centuries of erosion. Much of that rock has the reddish tint that lends the national monument its name. Just as aptly named is White Pocket, a stark section of ivory-colored rock amidst all the red. In photos it can look like the ruddy sandstone has been dusted with snow.

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is located in Arizona, immediately south of the Utah state line. This National Monument, 293,689 acres in area, protects the Paria Plateau, Vermilion Cliffs, Coyote Buttes, and Paria Canyon. Elevations in the Monument range from 3,100 feet to 6,500 feet above sea level.

West Bow, a street in Edinburgh, Scotland

West Bow marks, oddly enough, the east side of the historic shopping district known as Grassmarket in Edinburgh’s Old Town. The Grassmarket square still functions as a public marketplace, just as it has for centuries. Shops line the sidewalks and mobile vendors offer their wares in the greenspace between the streets. Narrow alleys called “closes” offer easy passage in and out of Grassmarket. But beware. Edinburgh’s closes are part of both its charm and its haunted reputation. After dark, the city’s many legendary spirits are said to haunt some of the darkest closes, even those near West Bow.

Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, located in Lothian on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. It is the second most populous city in Scotland and the seventh most populous in the United Kingdom. The most recent official population estimates are 464,990 for the city of Edinburgh itself and 492,680 for the local authority area. Edinburgh lies at the heart of the Edinburgh & South East Scotland City region with a population in 2014 of 1,339,380. Recognised as the capital of Scotland since at least the 15th century, Edinburgh is home to the Scottish Parliament and the seat of the monarchy in Scotland. The city is also the annual venue of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and home to national institutions such as the National Museum of Scotland, the National Library of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery. It is the largest financial centre in the UK after London.

Messe Basel Exhibition Hall in Basel, Switzerland

Many cities have exhibition halls that attract both local and outside events, and Basel, Switzerland, is no exception. But Basel has the advantage of being home to one of the architectural world’s most innovative design groups, Herzog & de Meuron. In 2013, the construction of the Messe Basel Exhibition Hall revealed just how far the designers took their effort to construct a series of buildings that would look and feel like a glimpse into the future. In this image, we’re looking up from a transit area between buildings, where the scale-like texture of the aluminum façade opens up, directing visitors’ eyes to catch a glimpse of the sky—a splash of nature before boarding a train or taxi to their next destination.

Hot springs in Dallol, Ethiopia

The Danakil Depression in northeast Africa, straddling the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia, sits as low as 430 feet below sea level. The severe landscape flaunts its unearthly desolation in especially vivid displays here in Dallol, Ethiopia. Dallol’s hissing sulfur hot springs combine with daytime temperatures that regularly reach past the 100 degrees Fahrenheit mark to create an environment that’s among the most inhospitable on the planet. Yet it still attracts visitors eager to test themselves against the harsh environment. And locals still painstakingly harvest by hand the immense salt deposits, while others act as guides and security for tourists and various scientific expeditions. Dallol seems to be a “do not enter” sign from Mother Nature, but human curiosity can’t be denied a peek at the beautiful and bizarre.

Dallol was a settlement in the Dallol woreda of northern Ethiopia. Located in Administrative Zone 2 of the Afar Region in the Afar Depression, it has a latitude and longitude of 14°14′19″N 40°17′38″E / 14.23861°N 40.29389°E with an elevation of about 130 metres below sea level. The Central Statistical Agency has not published an estimate for this settlement’s 2005 population; it has been described as a ghost town.

Baby rabbit, Ōkunoshima Island, Hiroshima, Japan

Welcome to Rabbit Island. No, it’s not where the Easter Bunny lives, it’s a Japanese island that is officially named Ōkunoshima. But the huge population of feral European rabbits living on Ōkunoshima prompted the nickname. No one is quite sure how the bunnies ended up here, but they’ve certainly thrived. They’re not a native species, and have no predators on the island. Calling them “feral” is merely a courtesy. These fluffballs won’t attack—instead, they’re looking for a free meal from the many visitors who come to the island to see hundreds of rabbits walking around without a care in the world. This sounds like the ideal place for an egg hunt.

Ōkunoshima is a small island located in the Inland Sea of Japan in the city of Takehara, Hiroshima Prefecture. It is accessible by ferry from Tadanoumi and Ōmishima. There are campsites, walking trails and places of historical interest on the island. It is often called Usagi Jima because of the numerous feral rabbits that roam the island; they are rather tame and will approach humans.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Bermeo, Basque Country, Spain

The name Gaztelugatxe is a Basque word, roughly translating to “crag of the castle” in English. That matter-of-fact description undersells the rough, rocky appeal of this small island on the north coast of Spain. The island’s church and hermitage, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, are open to visitors, as long as they’re willing to make the trek across the long stone footbridge and up the staircase. The original church on Gaztelugatxe dated back more than 1,000 years. Despite surviving various wars, the church was largely destroyed in a fire in 1978, but it was rebuilt and reopened two years later.

Gaztelugatxe is an islet on the coast of Biscay belonging to the municipality of Bermeo, Basque Country. It is connected to the mainland by a man-made bridge. On top of the island stands a hermitage, dedicated to John the Baptist, that dates from the 10th century, although discoveries indicate that the date might be the 9th century. With another small neighboring island, Aketze, they form a protected biotope that extends from the town of Bakio until Cape Matxitxako, on the Bay of Biscay.

Walrus swimming in the Arctic Ocean

Both male and female walruses sport the bushy moustaches and long tusks that differentiate them from similar marine mammals, such as sea lions and seals. Male walruses use their tusks, which are longer and thicker than females’ tusks, when fighting for dominance in social groups. But both males and females employ their powerful tusks to dig holes in the Arctic ice. Once the hole is large enough, a walrus will dive into the Arctic Ocean to hunt for shellfish on the sea floor. And, should the walrus need to come up for air, the tusks come in handy as a brace to pull its snout up out of the water for a quick refresh before diving again.

The walrus is a large flippered marine mammal with a discontinuous distribution about the North Pole in the Arctic Ocean and subarctic seas of the Northern Hemisphere. The walrus is the only living species in the family Odobenidae and genus Odobenus. This species is subdivided into three subspecies: the Atlantic walrus which lives in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific walrus which lives in the Pacific Ocean, and O. r. laptevi, which lives in the Laptev Sea of the Arctic Ocean.

Fox River at De Pere, Wisconsin

Though technically a suburb of Green Bay, De Pere has its own distinct identity. Much of what sets it apart is the beautiful stretch of the Fox River and the Fox River State Recreational Trail. When French explorers and fur traders first arrived in the area, several thousand native people had already settled along the banks of the Fox, drawn by the abundant supply of fish in the river. The Europeans followed suit, establishing De Pere as a fishing village on the east bank of the river. But with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, De Pere spread to both sides of the river and joined several other cities along the Fox to build the region’s robust paper mill industry, all powered by the river’s churn as it flows toward Green Bay.

The Fox River is a river in eastern and central Wisconsin in the United States. Along the banks is a chain of cities and villages, including Oshkosh, Neenah, Menasha, Appleton, Little Chute, Kimberly, Combined Locks, and Kaukauna. Except for Oshkosh, located on the Upper Fox River near Lake Winnebago, these cities and villages identify as the Fox Cities. Further north along the Lower Fox River, from its outlet from Lake Winnebago and before its mouth at Lake Michigan, are the cities of De Pere and Green Bay, and the villages of Ashwaubenon and Allouez; although they are in the Fox River Valley, this grouping of cities and villages does not refer to themselves as Fox Cities.

Epupa Falls between Angola and Namibia

After flowing south through the Angola highlands of southwest Africa, the Kunene River (also spelled Cunene River) makes a right turn and becomes the border with Namibia. On its way to the Atlantic, the river tumbles over nearly a mile of jagged hills, forming the waterfall known as Epupa in Namibia and called Quedas do Monte Negro in Angola. Seeing the falls requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle, as the surrounding terrain is steep. Despite the difficult access, it’s a popular attraction for locals and visitors alike.

The Epupa Falls are created by the Kunene River on the border of Angola and Namibia, in the Kaokoland area of the Kunene Region. The river is 0.5 km wide and drops in a series of waterfalls spread over 1.5 km, with the greatest single drop being 37 m. The name “Epupa” is a Herero word for “foam”, in reference to the foam created by the falling water.

Dynjandi Falls, Iceland

As the Dynjandisá River winds through the Westfjords of Iceland, it puts on a spectacular show. The main falls, Dynjandi, tumbles down roughly 328 feet over a wide expanse of stone. From there it feeds six smaller falls before reaching Dynjandivogur Bay.

With scenes of glorious flowing water like this, it’s hard to imagine that fresh water makes up less than 3 percent of the water on Earth, and most of that is tied up in polar ice caps and glaciers. Only about 0.3 percent of Earth’s fresh water is surface water, in rivers, streams, and lakes. Recognizing the vital role water plays in supporting life on Earth, and the scarcity of the resource, is why we’re commemorating World Water Day today. And with one in 10 people lacking access to safe drinking water, maybe every day should be World Water Day.

Dynjandi is a seriesof waterfalls located in the Westfjords, Iceland. The waterfalls have a cumulative height of 100 metres.

Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

In the Malaysian state of Sabah, on the northeastern tip of the island of Borneo, the Danum Valley buzzes beneath the clouds—a hidden treasure of a rainforest. And today, on the International Day of Forests, we can’t think of a better place that illustrates the importance of forest preservation than the Danum Valley.

The organization that manages the protected zone offers canopy walks, educational hikes, and other opportunities to experience the Danum Valley. But the main goal in designating this a conservation area is to show how the forest’s natural collection of rare flora and fauna is not just worth seeing, but is also worth preserving for future generations.

Danum Valley Conservation Area is a 438 square kilometres tract of relatively undisturbed lowland dipterocarp forest in Sabah, Malaysia. It has an extensive diversity of tropical flora and fauna, including such species as the rare East Sumatran rhinoceros, Bornean orangutans, gibbons, mousedeer, clouded leopards and over 270 bird species. Activities offered are jungle treks, river swimming, bird watching, night jungle tours and excursions to nearby logging sites and timber mills.

Early blooming crocus

Some of the first blooms you’ll see in spring may be crocuses. These hardy bulbs are so well known for blooming before the snow has melted, there’s even a variety called the “snow crocus.” Other varieties, including the saffron crocus (the source of the prized spice), bloom in autumn. But let’s put thoughts of fall aside today. Spring has officially arrived!

Crocus is a genus of flowering plants in the iris family comprising 90 species of perennials growing from corms. Many are cultivated for their flowers appearing in autumn, winter, or spring. Crocuses are native to woodland, scrub, and meadows from sea level to alpine tundra in central and southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, on the islands of the Aegean, and across Central Asia to Xinjiang Province in western China.

Bridge over the Wenatchee River, Washington State

More than 100 years ago, this bridge carried a water pipeline over the raging Wenatchee River on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains. The pipeline brought water from the Wenatchee’s Tumwater Dam two miles upstream to supply water to turbines that were used to power trains through the nearby Cascade Tunnel. Today, the bridge has been repurposed as a walking trail, allowing hikers a scenic glimpse of the river and the wilderness beyond.

The Wenatchee River is a river in the U.S. state of Washington, originating at Lake Wenatchee and flowing southeast for 53 miles, emptying into the Columbia River immediately north of Wenatchee, Washington. On its way it passes the towns of Plain, Leavenworth, Peshastin, Dryden, Cashmere, Monitor, and Wenatchee, all within Chelan County.

Adolescent frog in a pool of water on a giant lily pad

Though there are some exceptions, most frogs (and toads) go through the life cycle glimpsed in progress here. When a frog’s eggs hatch, the juveniles emerge as tadpoles, looking nothing like their parents. But in time, the tadpoles will metamorphose—their tails will shrink as fins become legs and they begin to take on adult frog characteristics. We’re witnessing here the braces-and-acne stage of the amphibian world.

A tadpole is the larval stage in the life cycle of an amphibian, particularly that of a frog or toad. They are usually wholly aquatic, though some species have tadpoles that are terrestrial. When first hatched from the egg they have a more or less globular body, a laterally compressed tail and internal or external gills. As they grow they undergo metamorphosis, during which process they grow limbs, develop lungs and reabsorb the tail. Most tadpoles are herbivorous and during metamorphosis the mouth and internal organs are rearranged to prepare for an adult carnivorous lifestyle.

The Reading Room of the National Library of Ireland

The horseshoe-shaped dome of the Reading Room gives visitors this soothing view—a break from careful examination of the various historical publications and periodicals available in the National Library of Ireland. The shades of minty green and blue are a big contrast to the polished wood floors, shelves, and desks of the Reading Room.

Like the US Library of Congress, Ireland’s National Library is as much museum as it is a research facility. The library’s collection is the most comprehensive documented record of the history of Ireland. But beyond these studious walls in Dublin today, there will be a more active history taking shape in the streets, as the city celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day with a parade and various other festivities. Don’t linger too long in the stacks—you’ll miss the party.

The National Library of Ireland (Irish: Leabharlann Náisiúnta na hÉireann) is Ireland’s national library located in Dublin, in a building designed by Thomas Newenham Deane. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is the member of the Irish Government responsible for the library.

The mission of the National Library of Ireland is ‘To collect, preserve, promote and make accessible the documentary and intellectual record of the life of Ireland and to contribute to the provision of access to the larger universe of recorded knowledge’

The library is a reference library and, as such, does not lend. It has a large quantity of Irish and Irish-related material which can be consulted without charge; this includes books, maps, manuscripts, music, newspapers, periodicals and photographs. Included in their collections is material issued by private as well as government publishers.

The Chief Herald of Ireland and National Photographic Archive are attached to the library. The library holds exhibitions and holds an archive of Irish newspapers. It is also ISSN National Centre for Ireland. The library also provides a number of other services including genealogy.

The main library building is on Kildare Street, adjacent to Leinster House and the archaeology section of the National Museum of Ireland.

The Azure Window natural stone arch, Gozo, Malta

Limestone covers most of Gozo, one of the three populated islands in the Maltese archipelago. Mediterranean waves relentlessly pound against the shore, carving dramatic cliffs—none more striking than those that form the Azure Window. The natural arch was created when two sea caves collapsed, leaving a relatively thin horizontal ledge as a bridge between the mainland and a tall stone outcropping.

Rock continues to fall from the underside of the arch at a rate that suggests it will collapse completely within just a few years. Given the unstable conditions, posted signs warn visitors not to walk over the top of the arch, but most any day will find thrill seekers catching the dramatic view up close—while they still can.

The Azure Window is a limestone natural arch on the Maltese island of Gozo. It is situated near Dwejra Bay on the Inland Sea. The formation, which was created after two limestone sea caves collapsed, is popular with scuba divers.

The Caldeirão on Corvo Island, Portugal

Portuguese sailors first documented Corvo Island in the mid-1300s. It’s the northernmost island in the Azores, a mid-Atlantic archipelago governed by Portugal. But the small island had likely burst up from the brine some 730,000 years ago, when the submarine volcano Monte Gorde erupted, causing the mountain’s cone to climb up above the water’s surface. Roughly 300,000 years later, another eruption created the caldera seen here. Known simply as the Caldeirão, the crater eventually developed into a peat bog with two small lakes and tiny islets. Scientists trek to Corvo Island regularly to study its unique ecology and volcanic structure.

Corvo Island, literally the Island of the Crow, is the smallest and the northernmost island of the Azores archipelago and the northernmost in Macaronesia, with a population of approximately 468 inhabitants constituting the smallest single municipality in Azores and in Portugal. If considered part of insular North America, for it sits in the North American Plate, it would have one of the easternmost points of the continent.

Slate sculpture in Knockan Crag Nature Reserve, Scotland

‘The Globe,’ a spherical sculpture made from thin pieces of slate, is far more uniformly constructed than the wild surrounding landscape of Knockan Crag, a nature reserve in the Highlands of Scotland. The strange layering of exposed stone in the hills of Knockan Crag perplexed scientists until the 19th century. Several scholars eventually concluded that older stone had moved up over younger, sedimentary rock through movements of the Earth’s crust. Geologists still visit Knockan Crag to see this plain evidence of what is now understood as tectonic movement, while nature lovers come for the rolling vistas and hikes among the Scottish Highlands.

Knockan Crag is a line of cliffs on the Ross-Shire and Sutherland border area of Scotland 21 kilometres north of Ullapool. The name is an anglicisation of the Gaelic Creag a’ Chnocain meaning ‘crag of the small hill’.

A grizzly in the Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada

Is this grizzly wearing a happy face? It’s hard to tell, and even harder to convey to the bear why it should be elated. In early February 2016, the Canadian government agreed to permanently protect 85 percent of the 12,000 square miles known as the Great Bear Rainforest. This stretch of temperate forest was named by environmental preservation groups in the 1990s as a way to make clear the importance of this ecosystem that starts on the edge of Vancouver Island and reaches up to the border of Alaska. Now this bear and all its kin have something to smile about.

The Great Bear Rainforest is a temperate rain forest on the Pacific coast of British Columbia, Canada. Originally a name coined by environmental groups in the mid-1990s, it is a 6.4 million hectare area along British Columbia’s north and central coast. It is part of the larger Pacific temperate rain forest ecoregion, which is the largest coastal temperate rainforest in the world.

Beech forest in Tokamachi, Japan

Travel guides say the best time to walk in the beech forests that lie on the outer edges of Tokamachi, Japan, is April through November. Right now, during the late winter, the forest may well be under snow, since the region gets more snow than other parts of Japan. But like so many cities and towns around the world, Tokamachi embraces the local climate by hosting a snow festival every February. Since we missed the 2016 fest, we’ll put it on the calendar for next year.

Tōkamachi is a city in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. As of April 30, 2011, the city has an estimated population of 59,649 and a population density of 101.11 persons per km². The total area is 589.92 km², including the post-creation undefined boundary areas.

A male pine warbler perched on an icy branch

You may hear the trilling call of the pine warbler before you see it. As its name indicates, this bird spends most of its time up in pine boughs, primarily in forests of the eastern United States and, in spring, up around the Great Lakes. If you live in the pine warbler’s habitat range, look for it at your bird feeder. As one of the few warblers to eat seeds, it sometimes supplements its pine nut diet with visits to backyard feeders.

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Rolling hills and red earth in Dongchuan, China

Below the hills and valleys of the rural areas in China’s Dongchuan District lie rich mineral deposits. It’s the high concentration of these elements, including a lot of copper, that gives the soil here a reddish hue. Photos of the region, especially those taken in bright sunlight, show incredible color contrasts in the landscape. Because it’s so remote, visiting photographers didn’t really discover Dongchuan’s unique appeal until photos of the region started to circulate in the 1990s. Now photographers share mile markers—in lieu of place names—where spots along the roads provide scenic vistas just waiting for the click of a camera’s shutter.

A mangrove forest near Palau

Mangroves are the amphibians of the plant world. They’ve adapted to thrive in the brackish water of tidal estuaries in tropical and subtropical coastlines around the world. The labyrinthine root systems of a mangrove forest are usually submerged in salt water, making a safe habitat for small fish and shellfish. The canopy above the water is home to insects, birds, and a variety of mammals.

Humans need mangrove forests, too. When the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami struck, coastline areas that harbored mangrove forests faced little damage compared to the devastation sustained by regions where the mangroves had been removed for development. As we’ve come to understand their value in natural erosion control and wildlife support, considerable efforts have been undertaken to preserve and re-establish these amazing forests.

A memorial wall to women in Konak, Izmir, Turkey

Last year a group of women built this wall near the pedestrian path along the Gulf of Izmir in Konak, Turkey. It was part of their regional observance of International Women’s Day. Though the specific focus of International Women’s Day varies around the globe, observances in many places draw attention to the social and economic issues that affect women the world over.

Cape Sebastian State Scenic Corridor, Oregon

Day or night, Cape Sebastian State Scenic Corridor, a state park along the coast of southern Oregon, offers striking panoramic views. Pull off Highway 101 and even the views from the parking lots will make you glad you stopped. Cast your gaze north for a view of Humbug Mountain. On a clear day, a look south may net a glimpse of the St. George Reef Light on the California coast. Or, as in this image, you can wait until sundown to gaze at the Milky Way giving a light show above the cape, and below, when ocean conditions are right, bioluminescent sea sparkle—microorganisms that give off a blue glow as the tide churns.

Buildings on First Avenue in Manhattan, New York City

It’s hard to imagine the urban American landscape without the fire escape. In places such as New York (seen here in a glimpse of First Avenue), Chicago, Boston, and other big cities, the fire escape not only saves lives but has become part of daily life, as high-rise residents use them for laundry drying, a place to catch a breath of fresh air, and sometimes, a place to sleep during hot summer nights.

The laurel trees of Madeira Natural Park, Portugal

In 1982, the regional government of the island of Madeira designated two-thirds of this Portuguese archipelago a protected natural reserve. Within that preserve is the Laurissilva, a laurel forest that gives visitors a glimpse back in time. Millions of years ago, laurel forests such as this covered a good portion of the Mediterranean basin, both in southern Europe and northern Africa. Madeira’s laurel forest is the largest surviving one, covering nearly 37,000 acres that are home not only to these old-growth trees, but to a variety of other rare plants as well.

Hot air balloon at the Winthrop Balloon Festival

This weekend, the skies above Winthrop, Washington, will fill with colorful hot air balloons. For the past 18 years, balloon pilots, passengers, and photographers have swarmed this small town in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains during the first weekend of March. And for a couple of glorious hours in the morning, spectators can watch the balloons inflate and take to the air. The spectacle continues into the evening, when a few balloons light up after dark, adding extra glimmers to the night sky.

Saffrondrop bonnet mushrooms in Meerdaal, Belgium

The fallen branches and trees on the floor of Meerdaal, a woodland in central Belgium, provide an ideal habitat for Mycena crocata. The mushroom’s common name, saffrondrop bonnet, is derived from the color of the stalk. There’s a naturally occurring orange-red latex within that gives this fungus its vibrant hue.

Meerdaal, sometimes called Meerdaalbos or Meerdaalwoud, has been treasured by humans at least as far back as the Middle Ages. The oak timber from Meerdaal is noted for its high quality.

The Bernese Alps from Jungfraujoch station, Switzerland

Take the Jungfrau rail line up to the Jungfraujoch station and you’ll get to see this spectacular view of Switzerland’s Bernese Alps firsthand. From the station, visitors can make their way into the Top of Europe building, where the “highest train station in Europe” designation is made breathtakingly clear. From this perspective, we’re looking north to the twinkling lights of Interlaken, a village that’s less than 10 miles away, but sits at an elevation that’s nearly 9,500 feet below our current vantage point.

Wild boar and piglet, Gloucestershire, England

To celebrate National Pig Day—yes, really—we bring you this photo of a wild boar piglet, who seems to enjoy posing for the camera. Wild boar was a native species here in the Forest of Dean up until the 13th century, when most of England’s wild boar population was hunted into extinction. But sometime between 1999 and 2004, the species was illegally reintroduced into the 42.5-square-mile ancient woodland in the county of Gloucestershire. And as cute as the piglets are, that reintroduction has caused some problems for the humans who want to use the forest for recreation. Though run-ins with people are unusual, the wild boars and feral domestic pigs that have taken up residence here invade gardens and will happily root through trashcans. But all that notwithstanding, who can stay mad at that face?

A Henkel's leaf-tailed gecko, mid-leap

Leapin’ lizards! Take a tip from our reptilian friend here and make the most of this day, as the next February 29 won’t happen until 2020.

Like many other species in its genus, the Henkel’s leaf-tailed gecko lives on the island of Madagascar and nearby Nosy Be Island. Due to deforestation and other habitat destruction, as well as the pet trade, leaf-tailed geckos are becoming as rare as Leap Day. For now, this specimen makes the daring jump from branch to branch on a continuing search for tasty insects.

A crater in Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Þingvellir National Park is such a part of Iceland’s identity, it’s often simply called “Þingvellir” (transliterated as “Thingvellir” for those of us not fluent in Icelandic). In 930 CE, Iceland’s first democratic parliament, the Alþingi, convened here. Þingvellir, which means “Parliament Plain,” was used for this function for more than 800 years. Today, as a national park, Þingvellir stands as a protected national shrine. The volcanic terrain, dotted with craters like these, supports a birch forest landscape that is home to 50 bird species, and is a popular stop for many migratory birds as well.

Polar bear cubs playing, Hudson Bay, Canada

In March and April, polar bear cubs—most commonly born as twins—emerge with mom from the den where they were born and where they’ve spent the first few months of their lives. This time out of the den is crucial to the cubs’ development. Exploring, learning what to eat, watching their mother hunt, and even playing tag will all help them to survive.

And polar bear survival is at the heart of International Polar Bear Day, an observance celebrated today. It was created to help raise awareness about the Arctic environment that polar bears call home. Some may try the “polar bear challenge” today: Lower the thermostat by two degrees. Doing so reduces carbon emissions and will save you a little money. That’s a win for you and the bears.

Casa Milà in Barcelona, Spain

Businessman Pere Milà i Camps and his wife Roser Segimon i Artells commissioned this building in 1906 as family home, but the structure would also contain rental apartments. The architect, Antoni Gaudí, was already known for his unusual style in the Catalan Modernism vein, which emphasized curves over straight lines and rich ornamentation. With Casa Milà, Gaudí took these design principles into adventurous new territory, particularly in the building’s undulating, self-supporting façade and underground parking garage—an unusual feature at the time. Citizens of Barcelona quickly gave the building a nickname: La Pedrera, or “The Quarry,” due to its resemblance to an open stone quarry. Today Casa Milà acts as a cultural center, both to itself and some of Gaudí’s work, as well as the administrative center for various artistic endeavors around the city.

Aurora borealis over the coast of Iceland

If you can get away from the light pollution of Reykjavik, Iceland is a great place to see the aurora borealis. Scientists still don’t fully understand the exact mechanics of this spectacle. But in a nutshell, when solar winds (powerful discharges of the Sun’s energy) reach Earth’s atmosphere, the interaction between the solar burst and magnetically charged particles in the atmosphere causes a release of all sorts of energy, including visible light. That’s the part that humans can see, at least, and what a show it is!

A pygmy seahorse hiding in a sea fan

Pygmy seahorses are so small and so good at camouflaging themselves, they were only discovered when scientists closely examined the gorgonian coral growth that most pygmy seahorses use as a safe habitat. Not quite an inch long, these tiny seahorses may actually be able to change their color to match the coral—the science on that is still being collected. But their bumpy skin and coloration help them blend in so well that surveys of the pygmy seahorse population have proven difficult.

Mount Hua in Shaanxi Province, China

Photos prove the views from China’s Mount Hua are incredible. Getting up to see them is the tough part. The mountain inspired many Buddhists and Taoists to visit over the centuries, resulting in numerous temples at the foot of Hua and on its various summits. And prior to the late 20th century, the climb was only for the hardiest seekers of enlightenment. Today, cable cars do a lot of the hard work by covering some of the ascent. Still, some opt to climb the challenging South Peak of Hua. That path includes the Plank Road—narrow wooden planks bolted into a cliffside. Unsurprisingly, it’s considered one of the most dangerous hikes in the world. How badly do you want bragging rights?

Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

It’s far less romantic to call them Arachnocampa luminosa, or fungus gnats. So let’s go with the common name: New Zealand glowworms. It’s those luminescent insects that make the ceiling of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves shine like a starry night sky. Some scientists suggest that the illusion of a night sky is precisely what might convince a mayfly or mosquito that it’s flying up and out of the cave, instead of into the snare of a waiting glowworm. Feeding on other insects is how the larva of this species survives long enough to mature into an adult gnat, whose sole purpose is to find a mate. The adult gnat doesn’t even eat during the few days it lives. But wasn’t this supposed to be the romantic view of this natural wonder?

Ice bubbles in Selbusjø, a lake in Norway

When lake water freezes quickly, it can trap bubbles below the surface. These bubbles, in Selbusjø, a lake in central Norway, were likely formed from methane. Decaying organic matter at the bottom of the lake is eaten by bacteria, which in turn pump out methane gas. If conditions are right, the methane bubbles are captured as the water freezes around them.

Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy, Hilton Head Island, SC

The Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy protects 137 acres of freshwater swamp on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The swamp is a wintering site for the endangered whooping crane, as well as home to roughly 100 additional animal species and 75 native plant species. The swamp’s ecosystem, boasting a virgin forest of black gum trees, is complex and delicate, which prompted the construction of a 1,100-foot boardwalk that allows visitors to walk through the swamp without disturbing the environment—or getting their feet wet.

Snowboarder in backcountry terrain

The first widely marketed device that most closely resembled the modern snowboard was called the Snurfer. Introduced in 1966 by inventor Sherman Poppen, the Snurfer included a rope at the front of the board so the rider could hold on and steer. By the late ‘70s, the Winterstick was used by a few athletes, and it was the device’s surfboard-like design that captured the interest of avid surfers, skateboarders, and skiers, who all relished the feeling of “surfing” through deep powder. When steel edges were added to snowboards in the early 1980s, suddenly snowboarders could carve turns on hard, groomed ski runs as well. Shortly thereafter, no doubt, skiers and snowboarders began debating who really owns the slopes.

Pluto, taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft

Famed astronomer Percival Lowell began searching for “Planet X” in 1906, but died 10 years later, not realizing he’d actually spotted Pluto. In 1929, a 23-year-old astronomer named Clyde Tombaugh came to work at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and was assigned the task of picking up where Lowell left off. And on this day in 1930, Tombaugh confirmed that beyond Neptune there was a ninth planet, soon to be named Pluto. (In 2006, Pluto’s status was demoted to “dwarf planet.”)

NASA’s New Horizons space probe launched in early 2006 on a mission to travel to Pluto, orbit it, collect data, and transmit its findings back to Earth. New Horizons took its first images of Pluto just months after launch from more than 2.6 billion miles away. But by early 2015, the probe had traveled close enough to Pluto that it was able to take highly detailed images of our favorite dwarf planet. Now more than 10 years into its mission, New Horizons has been offering up a treasure trove of findings for astronomers to study. The colors in this shot have been enhanced to bring out the detail of Pluto’s surface.

Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County, California

The Golden Gate Bridge can seem an indelible part of San Francisco’s urban landscape. But of course, the bridge leads out of San Francisco to connect with Marin County, and residents there can lay just as strong a claim to the iconic orange span. Prior to the construction of the bridge, Sausalito, the city on the northern side of Golden Gate Strait, served as a transit hub. Commuters interested in crossing to San Francisco boarded ferries in Sausalito. The construction of the bridge didn’t convert Sausalito into a metropolis, but rather, seems to have helped the city become something of an idyllic coastal getaway from the urban bustle of San Francisco.

A tunnel leading to Bet Amanuel, in Lalibela, Ethiopia

At a glance, this may appear to be an ancient cave dwelling. But the opening is the terminus of a tunnel that leads to the Christian Orthodox church called Bet Amanuel, in the town of Lalibela, Ethiopia. It’s one of at least 11 rock-cut churches believed to have been built in the 12th and 13th centuries, during the reign of the king for whom the village is named. Each of the churches is essentially underground, having been carved out of the earth by workers who spent decades constructing the buildings and the many tunnels that connect them. Some of the churches are still in use today. It’s thought that Bet Amanuel was once the private chapel of the Lalibela royal family.

Statue of George Washington, Capitol rotunda, Wash., DC

This bronze statue of George Washington was cast in 1853 from the original 1790 marble version, by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. It’s one of several sculptures depicting various US presidents and historic figures in the Capitol building’s rotunda, the second-floor space beneath the Capitol dome. Tours of the building take visitors through the rotunda, where frescoes decorate the walls and, from time to time, ceremonies are held to acknowledge important dates and people. Today being Presidents Day, chances are the rotunda will be crowded with tourists, watched over by the bronze likeness of Washington as they pass by.

Red-crowned cranes dance in Hokkaido, Japan

The three hotspots (aka trivia boxes) on the Bing image today were suggested by Bing users: Ashley, Eric, and Matt. They, and many others, provide feedback to the Bing team and offer suggestions on the Bing Listens site to make Bing even better. We chose the three ideas we liked best and used them to create this Valentine to our beloved audience.

Feel free to share today’s homepage with your special someone. And if dinner-and-a-show has lost its luster, perhaps take a cue from the red-crowned crane and hit the dance floor instead. When mating season arrives for these endangered birds, the male and female will stand facing each other, wings open, and leap, call, and move in a rhythmic motion that gives the appearance of dancing. And who’s to say it’s not?

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Walt Disney himself couldn’t have dreamt up a more fairytale-like scene than the snow-dusted rooftops of the Church of the Assumption on Bled Island. The island sits in Slovenia’s Lake Bled, a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Visitors can ride across the blue-green lake to the island in traditional “pletna” boats, equipped with colorful awnings and powered by oarsmen.

A lion in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

When it comes to the mane of the adult male lion, the general rule is: The darker and fuller the mane, the healthier the lion. But that only applies to African lions in the wild. Captive lions in some zoos of Europe and North America will sport an even heavier mane, regardless of their relative health, simply to insulate against ambient temperatures that are cooler than those in the African savannah.

Salzach River in Austria

The Salzach River flows primarily through western Austria, and for a portion of its 140 miles, acts as a border between Austria and the state of Bavaria, in Germany. The name of the river comes from the German word for salt. Up until a 19th-century railway was completed, the Salzach was a major transport passage for salt mined in Austria. Today, portions of the Salzach are rugged enough to attract whitewater rafting groups.

Blue Hole near Apra Harbor, Guam

Less than 30 yards from the southwest shore of Guam is Blue Hole, a deep marine cavern in the waters near Finger Reef. Blue Hole itself drops more than 300 feet, and the first opening that allows a diver to exit without returning to the heart-shaped opening is at around the 127-foot mark. Scuba divers are warned to make the descent into Blue Hole slowly, as the tunnel-like journey takes you to the limits of recreational diving. Luckily, we don’t need to check our depth gauges or oxygen levels to experience this photograph.

‘New Orleans Second Line’

Walk through some neighborhoods of New Orleans most any time of year and you stand a good chance of coming upon a brass band marching down the street, playing at top volume. When the musicians strike up, strutting and shimmying as they march along, the band itself is considered the “first line.” Who is the second line? That’s you, excited observer on the sidewalk. Bring your best dance moves and join the second line—those who join in the parade expressly to dance and march along.

During the Mardi Gras celebration, second line parades may take a back seat to the larger parades where floats and outlandish costumes are the standard. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying this joyous tradition, blown up to gargantuan proportions as New Orleans embraces today’s holiday with fervor.

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South Gate of the fortifications of Xi'an, China

Happy New Year! For Chinese New Year we take you to the South Gate of the City Wall in Xi’an, all decked out for the New Year celebration, or Spring Festival. Construction of the wall, also known as the fortifications of Xi’an, began in the 14th century, at the command of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. It has been refurbished several times and still encloses a 14-square-mile portion of the city. The wall itself stands 40 feet high and is wide enough at the top to allow foot and bike traffic. The South Gate is the most ornate, and will be one of many places in Xi’an bustling with New Year celebrations today.

Eurasian red squirrels in action

Touchdown! Well, probably not. Unless there’s a secret underground squirrel football league that nobody’s hipped us to. The Eurasian red squirrel’s food of choice are the seeds stashed within pinecones. And we’re guessing the lucky catch will result in this pinecone being stripped and gutted before the referees get a chance to review the play.

Misty bogs of Pian Gembro Regional Reserve, Italy

Between the mountain villages of Aprica and Tirano, up near Italy’s border with Switzerland, you’ll find Pian Gembro. It’s one of many nature reserves and parks in the mountainous region. Pian Gembro stands out as one of the only places in Italy with a naturally occurring peat bog. Alpine glaciers carved the lowland, allowing unusual local flora to develop in this wetland area. At just the right time of day, you can see the fog roll across the plain.

Pond hockey rinks on Dollar Lake in Eagle River, Wisconsin

Keep your indoor rinks with their boards and glass. Pond hockey brings the game back to its outdoor, pick-up-game roots. As punishing as the winter cold can be in the Upper Midwest, participants in the USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships don’t have to worry about the brutality of other players. Pond hockey, sometimes called “shinny,” doesn’t allow body checking (purposely bumping into an opponent) or hitting the puck into the air. Advocates for this gentler form of hockey say it brings back the fun of the sport that many fans miss from their days playing with friends.

At the annual tournament in Eagle River, Wisconsin, seen here, more than 300 teams compete for a variety of titles. This year’s tournament begins today and lasts through Feb 7. If you plan on attending, be sure to bundle up!

Skylight in Willersley Castle, Cromford, Derbyshire, England

English entrepreneur and inventor Richard Arkwright commissioned the construction of Willersley Castle shortly after purchasing the land in 1782, and construction began in 1790. Arkwright intended to live in Willersley but a fire in 1791 set back the nearly complete construction, and he died a year later, before the castle was finished. Arkwright’s son and his family moved into the completed castle in 1796, and their descendants continued to live there until 1922. But by 1927, Willersley was sold. During World War II, the castle served as a maternity hospital. Today it’s a hotel and conference center.

Expressways in Bangkok, Thailand

More than 8 million people live in Bangkok proper, with an additional 14 million in the broader Bangkok Metropolitan Region. All those people need to get around, and they do so primarily by car. Enter the Thai expressway system, which serves the urban center and its outlying areas. Like most cities growing too fast to keep up with urban planning and infrastructure development, Bangkok has become a buzzing metropolis where traffic jams are a part of everyday life. However, a photographer with the right gear and a little patience can turn the electric hustle of traffic in Bangkok into arresting visual art.

European ground squirrel

Never hire a European ground squirrel to do a groundhog’s job. This increasingly rare denizen of eastern Europe may’ve been photographed while making a hasty retreat into its burrow below the grass. The ground squirrel lives with many others of its kind in colonies, digging tunnels to provide numerous entry and exit points that come in handy when predators are near. And it isn’t just its ineptitude at weather forecasting that makes the European ground squirrel an unlikely challenger to the groundhog on Feb 2. This time of year, the squirrel is still enjoying a long winter’s nap—it tends to hibernate through the winter, usually waiting to emerge in March.

Turpan Depression, Xinjiang, China

The Turpan Depression is a cold desert region in northwest China surrounding the city of Turpan, once a stop along the famous Silk Road connecting Asia and Europe. Running water at the bottom of this gorge allows the growth of some of the only trees in the vicinity. Beyond the gorge, and beyond Turpan’s grape fields, stretches a forbiddingly dry landscape, where agriculture is made possible only through the use of a sophisticated irrigation system, the origins of which date back some 2,000 years.

That’s a Muslim cemetery in the lower left of this image. Across the tree-clogged gorge is a raisin-drying area, where grapes harvested in Turpan are taken to dehydrate. The fruit is hung from poles inside mud-brick buildings designed with holes in the walls and ceilings to let the region’s dry air circulate among the grapes, turning them to raisins before they’re brought to market.

Interstate H-3 on the island of Oahu

The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration gets this question out of the way immediately: “How can there be an interstate highway on an island located in a single state?”

The answer: Our interstate highways can connect states or they can act as defense-access roads. And H-3, sometimes called the John A. Burns Freeway, links Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Oahu’s south shores with Marine Corps Base Hawaii on the island’s east coast.

Drive this road of Hawaiian tropical beauty as if sipping a fine wine: H-3 ranks as one of the most expensive US highways ever built, in terms of its cost per mile. The final price tag for construction was $1.3 billion when it was completed in 1997 ($1.92 billion in 2015 dollars) for a length of 15.32 miles, or approximately $80 million per mile.

Hammock camping in an old growth cypress tree

Lying suspended above the lake may seem like a dicey way to spend the night. But it’s in keeping with the spirit of the hammock’s original intent. While we may associate the suspended nap-inducer with summer afternoons in idyllic suburbs, the hammock was originally used by native people in Central and South America. Sleeping on the ground isn’t a good idea if you’re out in nature, where biting ants, snakes, and other small critters come out at night. But suspend a net or canvas sling between two trees and you’ve greatly increased your chances of getting some beauty rest. Now, who’s going to get up, swim to shore, and get coffee for the rest of us?

A common raven

The common raven’s success as a species owes much to the bird’s intelligence and flexibility in terms of diet. Ravens are opportunistic omnivores, willing to eat whatever’s available. They thrive around humans, who often inadvertently provide them with food. Given our close proximity to these intelligent birds, people have developed a keen awareness of the raven—though perhaps no one has invested the jet-black bird with more cultural currency than American writer Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe’s poem ‘The Raven’ was first published under his own name on this day in 1845. ‘The Raven’ relies on the dark, often sinister attributes bestowed on the titular bird to create a story in verse. The narrator, grieving the loss of his love, is visited in the night by a raven that speaks only the word “nevermore.” And while the poem helped cement Poe’s reputation as one of America’s most famous writers, it didn’t do a lot for our perception of ravens. Time for a new PR team, ravens?

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Earth taken from the International Space Station

Long-exposure photography can show blurred movement of physical objects and light, producing a stylized and often a more artistic result than simply pointing and shooting the camera. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) took multiple long exposures of Earth, which were then layered over each other to create this composite image. The bright flashes seen dotting the atmosphere are lightning. Satellites flying below the ISS provide the long streaking lines. And in the dark sky beyond, stars leave trails through the void as their changing positions are captured by the camera’s open shutter.

Fantastic leaf-tail gecko in Madagascar

There are at least 14 species of geckos in the genus Uroplatus, a group of “leaf-tail” geckos. This one is the species phantasticus. That’s Latin for “imaginary” and the source of its modern common name: fantastic leaf-tail gecko. Its name seems appropriate given the lizard’s camouflaging skin patterns that allow it to hide from predators and also to sneak up on prey in the jungles of Madagascar.

Some know the species by the name Baweng Satanic leaf gecko. The devilish adjective was added merely for marketing purposes. Traders of exotic animals sometimes call it by that name to increase the lizard’s mysterious appeal and boost sales. We prefer to leave it in the wild, here in Madagascar’s Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, where the leaf-like skin does what it’s supposed to do: Make us want to give Mother Nature a high-five. Well, that and the whole camouflage thing.

Uluṟu in the Northern Territory, Australia

The Aboriginal Aṉangu people of Australia now co-manage with Parks Australia, a government agency, Uluṟu–Kata Tjuṯa National Park in the Northern Territory. That partnership was formed with the Australian government in 1985, thanks to the general acknowledgement that Uluṟu, the 1,142-foot sandstone rock formation, is sacred to the Aṉangu. All are welcome to visit the vibrant outback wilderness around Uluṟu, and guided tours take visitors close to the rock formation itself.

Fjords near Hellesylt, Norway

The Norwegian village called Hellesylt sits at the crux of two fjords: Sunnylvsfjorden and the more traveled Geirangerfjorden. Hellesylt is the smaller, sleepier town in the area, at least when compared to Geiranger, the village sitting at the east end of its titular fjord. But in summer, both towns host thousands of tourists who take the ferry between Hellesylt and Geiranger. Why so crowded? They come to see in person the spectacular landscape seen here. The boat ride comes highly recommended as an unforgettable journey, where the passage itself is at least as rewarding as the destination.

Bubble-tip sea anemone in the Great Barrier Reef

Anemones have developed an astonishing variety of colors and shapes. The bubble-tip anemone has adapted to grow bulb-like sections on the ends of its tentacles. This adaptation is only seen when the species lives closer to the surface, where sunlight can penetrate the water. Dive into deeper, darker waters and this same species loses the bulbs—reverting to the long, thin tentacles sported by most other anemones.

Japanese persimmon tree, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan

The fruit of persimmon trees ripens fairly late in the season, so if early snows blanket the orchard, scenes of fruit-heavy branches on an icy backdrop aren’t unusual. Most cultivated varieties of persimmon originated in Asia, but they’re now grown around the world. The Japanese Fuyu and Hachiya varieties are among the most popular, and they can be prepared fresh, baked, dried, or even pickled. But growing persimmons for the fruit is just one way humans use these trees. Some varieties of persimmon tree are harvested for the wood, used in furniture making. Persimmon trees are also often strategically planted for shade.

Tidal channels of Aldabra Atoll near the Seychelles

Four main islands comprise the lagoon-border of Aldabra, the world’s second-largest coral atoll. Situated off the east coast of Africa, north of Madagascar, Aldabra is host to many creatures found nowhere else on Earth. A sub-species of the white-throated rail lives in Aldabra, the only flightless bird of its kind in the Indian Ocean ecosystem. The Aldabra giant tortoise is one of the largest tortoises anywhere, and the roughly 100,000 lumbering specimens here are some of the last remaining tortoises in this part of the world. And it’s not just the animals that distinguish Aldabra—numerous rare orchids grow in its volcanic rock and soil. Another part of what makes this atoll unique is that with the exception of visiting scientists, there are no human inhabitants on Aldabra.

Three-toed sloth, Costa Rica

Truth be told, the three-toed sloth strikes this “aww”-inspiring pose often, since it spends most of its life clinging to tree trunks or hanging in the canopy of the tropical rainforest. But unlike the two-toed sloth, the three-toed variety can swim if necessary. Perhaps it’s that time in the water that causes algae to grow in its fur. That’s right, the three-toed sloth is so laid-back, algae take root in its hair. While we might think that’s a nuisance, the algae act as camouflage for the sloth. Slow just happens to work really well for the sloth, thank you very much.

Emperor penguin, Cape Washington, Antarctica

Most birds have hollow bones, which really helps if you want to fly. But penguins don’t fly, and hollow bones would spell trouble if you need to dive underwater to find fish to eat. Luckily, emperor penguins have solid bones, an adaptation which allows them to submerge to depths of 1,500 feet or more. Those solid bones also help their bodies cope with the immense underwater pressure of a deep ocean dive. Beyond that, their metabolic functions are uniquely adapted to the frigid waters of the Southern Ocean, so while underwater, they use less oxygen, allowing them to stay below longer. But, as we can see, eventually they have to come up to the ice for air, generally leaping out of the water and tobogganing across the ice on their bellies. It may be routine for penguins, but we like to think the dramatic leaps and slides are all in celebration of Penguin Awareness Day today.

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David Gareja Monastery Complex, Kakheti, Georgia

On the hills of Mount Gareja, straddling the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan, is the centuries-old rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery complex called David Gareja. Founded in the 6th century by an Assyrian monk, the complex grew through the 9th century and was functioning at its peak from the 11th through 13th centuries.

Today it’s caught in a border dispute between Georgia and Azerbaijan, but most of the monastery structures, located in Georgia, are still open to outside visitors and to those making religious pilgrimages. With strong winds often blowing across the slope, it’s easy to see why the monks carved these hermitages into the stone hillside. The cave-like cloisters within offer physical as well as spiritual respite from the outside world.

Martin Luther King in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963

On August 28, 1963, roughly 250,000 people marched in Washington DC for “Jobs and Freedom.” This highly publicized event, seen and heard by many Americans, is widely credited with helping to push the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Even more than 50 years later, it’s still stirring to hear one of the most iconic moments of the March on Washington: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, ’I Have a Dream.’

Delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the speech is considered a masterpiece of rhetoric, incorporating themes and elements of other speakers’ orations on civil rights, references to Shakespeare, and paraphrased Bible passages. But it’s King’s delivery that sells the words and helps preserve the event as an electric, transformative moment in our nation’s history. Today, on Martin Luther King Day, we find that King’s words have lost none of their capacity to move and inspire us.

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Hellroaring Peak in the Whitefish Range of Montana

Hellroaring Peak stands adjacent to the better-known Big Mountain, both near the town of Whitefish, Montana. And as you can see, skiing is the recreation of choice here during the winter months. The Whitefish Range runs from northwest Montana up into British Columbia, Canada, and includes protected forest land that brushes up against Glacier National Park. This time of year in Whitefish, it’s probably difficult to get a photo of a snow-covered hillside that doesn’t include a few weekend warriors shooting down the powder on skis or snowboards.

Dubai Spice Souk, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai’s skyline and business district glisten with the polish of 21st-century commerce and development. But the city’s famous Spice Souk offers an oasis of tradition. As the name indicates, it’s the place to go for spices, herbs, and incense as well as cooking implements, textiles, and perfumes. Bring your A-game if you want to shop at the Dubai Spice Souk: Every price is negotiable and the merchants expect you to try to talk them down.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

In the mountainous region of central Croatia, several small rivers and subterranean waterways converge to feed 16 lakes that form the centerpiece of Plitvice Lakes National Park. The vast underground water system cuts through the porous karst surface of the area, causing flowing water to seemingly disappear into the earth only to re-emerge elsewhere downstream. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1979, the national park is one of Croatia’s premier tourist destinations.

‘Sallie Gardner at a Gallop’

Twenty-four sequential photos of a galloping horse named Sallie Gardner proved to be the technical innovation and artistic spark that led to what would become the movie industry. Back in 1872, former California governor and racehorse owner Leland Stanford wanted to determine if a galloping horse ever had all four hooves off the ground at once. Enter eccentric photographer Eadweard Muybridge. In 1878, he used multiple cameras to take a series of photos of Stanford’s horse that captured split-second images of the horse at full gallop. Muybridge then built a sort of projector called a “zoopraxiscope” to display these images in rapid succession, giving the illusion of movement. His achievement is cited as the birth of cinema technology. When you read about the Oscar nominations today, remember that Muybridge made Sallie and her rider the very first motion picture stars.

ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aarhus, Denmark

In May 2011, a massive art installation opened in the city of Aarhus, Denmark. Atop the roof of the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson built ‘Your rainbow panorama.’ The work is a tinted-glass circle that allows visitors to walk through the colors of the spectrum while taking in a panoramic view of the city. Eliasson said the piece can almost “erase the boundary between inside and outside.”

Bundles of dyed wool, Rome, Italy

Archaeological evidence suggests that ancient Persians bred sheep for wool as long as 8,000 years ago, and began weaving some of the first woolen clothing two or three thousand years later. They’d recognized that wool is especially good at insulating against cold or heat. This is because individual wool strands are crimped, which allows a woolen textile to trap air amid its fibers, creating a protective layer for the person wearing a wool sweater or hat.

The Persians eventually traded their wool, getting the fabric into East Asia and Europe, where the unique qualities of woolen textiles quickly gained favor. Wool remains popular in many parts of the world, and while modern industrial techniques produce most woolen textiles, ancient methods of shearing, dying, and weaving also persist.

Łutownia River in the Białowieża Forest, Poland

Here on the banks of the Łutownia River in northeast Poland, this forest preserve is called Białowieża National Park. Cross the border into Belarus, and you’re in Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. These two halves unite, ecologically, to form what is thought to be the largest preserved primeval forest in Europe, part of a once-immense woodland that ranged from coastal France to the Ural Mountains of Russia.

On both sides of the Belarus/Poland border, these woods are home to pedunculate oaks so large and old that locals have given them names. The two parks also host the largest population of European bison. Like the American bison, European bison were once hunted to near extinction. But coordinated reintroduction, including a major effort in Białowieża, has resulted in a small population increase.

Manta rays near the Solomon Islands

Mantas are the largest of the ocean’s rays. And though they’re related to sharks, the batoid body shape is the one of several things that set rays apart from their cousins. As mantas swim in warm ocean waters, they flap their fins, essentially moving through liquid the same way birds navigate the air. Giant oceanic mantas can grow to be 23 feet wide, and while they may appear fearsome to an unsuspecting snorkeler, they’re filter feeders, swimming with mouths open to draw in nothing but tiny zooplankton.

The Alberta Rockies in Kananaskis Country, Canada

Sure the air is thin and cold up above Alberta’s Rockies. But down on the ground is Kananaskis Country, a park system on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies in Alberta. The various parks and reserves that make up Kananaskis Country offer numerous recreational activities no matter what time of year. In the cold of winter, both cross-country and downhill skiing are popular, but plenty of hiking trails also offer terrific snowshoeing, and some of the parks have pristine lakes for ice fishing as well.

Stoat in the Jura Mountains, France

In winter, the stoat sports white fur that acts as camouflage in the snow. It can go by a seasonal name as well: Some refer to the white-haired stoat as an ermine. Of course, it’s the same critter who will lose that white fur once spring arrives, and replace it with a brown topcoat and cream-colored fur on its underside. And as adorable as this foot-long fuzzy is when peering from a snow drift, know that the stoat is a skilled hunter—its dietary staple of choice is rabbit.

The Portuguese Cistern in El Jadida, Morocco

El Jadida is also called the Cité Portugaise. It’s not just a fanciful name: The Moroccan city was under Portuguese rule from 1502 to 1769. This now-defunct cistern is a great example of the Portuguese style that still characterizes much of the town’s architecture. With one opening in the ceiling to allow natural light to illuminate the well, the rest of the cistern is lit artificially, so that visitors can see its ornate arches. The pillars are reflected in an ever-present shallow layer of water on the cistern’s floor.

Dew on the leaf of a smoke tree

The Eurasian smoke tree, native to southern Europe and Central Asia, was so named because of its fuzzy pink and purple blossoms that appear like puffs of smoke when in full bloom. But nature, in a seemingly endless effort to one-up itself, offers out-of-season beauty on the leaves of the smoke tree in the form of these water droplets. A simple collection of dew reveals itself as a more complex, and beautiful, display than many of us might notice at a glance, thanks to the magic of macrophotography.

A red-winged blackbird in Minneapolis, Minnesota

No, the bird is not about to spontaneously combust. By wonderful chance, a photographer captured the moment when even a red-winged blackbird’s breath can be seen in the chill of the air. Those red epaulets—often with a complement of cream or pale yellow feathers—distinguish this guy from the other blackbirds and grackles in his extended family.

Look for red-winged blackbirds across most of North America, often nesting and hunting near lake shores. In flight, those red shoulders are easy to spot. It’s also easy to recognize their distinctive call, which seems to boast, “I’m a LEEEEEA-der, I’m a LEEEEEA-der!”

Laguna Colorada in Bolivia

In the southwestern corner of Bolivia, near its border with Chile, is the 23-square-mile salt lake called Laguna Colorada. The shallow lake sits more than 2.5 miles above sea level on the Altiplano – the wide, high plain within the Andes Mountains that includes the Bolivian Plateau. Laguna Colorada’s tomato hue is courtesy of red algae, a food source for flocks of the increasingly rare James’s flamingo, which wade in the lake feasting on the microorganisms.

Mask of Tutankhamun

On this day in 1924, the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun was discovered in the pharaoh’s tomb in Thebes (modern Luxor), Egypt. Though English archaeologist Howard Carter first cracked the seal on the tomb of the “boy king” on Nov 26, 1922, the excavation took years, as the burial site was loaded with artifacts. And like the intricately inlaid gold death mask seen here, the sarcophagus is an ornate affair, reflecting the status of the royal leader. Today, King Tut’s death mask and sarcophagus are displayed in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo.