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Road around Crater Lake open to non-motorized traffic this weekend

NATIONAL PARKS — Early snowmelt is allowing Crater Lake National Park to open East Rim Drive circling Crater Lake to non-motorized traffic, providing a rare experience for visitors to enjoy the park on foot or on bike this weekend, June 22 and 23.   

Under the plan, East Rim Drive Road will be open to non-motorized vehicles only (except for administrative and emergency vehicles) from North Junction around the East Rim of Crater Lake all the way to the intersection at Crater Lake National Park Headquarters and the Steel Visitors Center. Hwy 62 through the south end of the park, West Rim Drive and the North Entrance Road will be open to vehicles.  Regular parking areas will be open, but generally fill up quickly.  

Mount Rainier tops for wildflowers

NATURE — Mount Rainier National Park is one of the region’s most gorgeous places to visit and hike during wildflower season.

Named the best wildflower spot in the U.S. by “Wildflower Wonders: The 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World,” Mount Rainier National Park offers a bouquet of flowers in nearly every color of the spectrum.

The easiest "wildflower fix" in the park is day hiking the trails around Paradise Lodge in mid-July

See a photo slide show of what's to come in this feature by South Sound magazine.

Harlequin duck, 17, returns to Glacier Park

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A male harlequin duck, known to be at least 17 years old, was recently identified in Glacier National Park by University of Montana researchers and Glacier National Park scientists.

  • The banded duck is believed to be the third oldest on record. The oldest known banded harlequin duck has a recorded age of 18 years and 10 months.

“Prior to these findings, harlequin ducks were reported to live up to only 10  years of age, which makes this finding a positive indicator of the health and longevity of harlequin breeding populations in Glacier National Park,” said Lisa Bate, Glacier Park biological science technician. “Research indicates harlequin ducks mate for life unless something happens to one member of the pair. This old male has returned the last three years with the same female.”

Researchers launched the study in 2011, using radio-telemetry and banding to learn more about the location of harlequin nests and factors affecting offspring survival.

Upper McDonald Creek is considered an important breeding stream for harlequin ducks, comprising 25 percent of known broods produced in Montana. The area also has the highest density of breeding harlequins in the lower 48 states.

About 40 pairs of harlequins in the park are known to be in Glacier Park.

Read on for more detals about the harlequins.

Break in tradition: Good food in national parks

 
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service Chief Jonathan Jarvis held an event on the Lincoln Mall to unveil new healthy food standards for national park concessionaires, with chefs offering free samples of such fare as bison tenderloin, free-range chicken breast, black bean sliders, sweet potato cakes, berry yogurt parfaits and rain forest coffee. — Washington Post
 
What? No hot dogs on a stale white bun?

Plan ahead for free forest access on June 8

PUBLIC LANDS — Federal land managers offer free entry to parks, forests, U.S. Bureau of Land management lands, refuges and other national interest lands where fees are charged on certain holidays scattered through the year.

  • The next freebie is June 8, Great Outdoors Day, with free access to national forest lands such as the Umatilla and Okanogan-Wenatche forest areas where the Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent is otherwise required. 

The 13 Fee-Free Days in 2013 include three holidays that involve ALL federal lands such as national parks, forests, BLM lands and wildlife refuges — Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 21), National Public Lands Day (Sept. 28), and Veterans Day Weekend (Nov. 9-11).

A list of other dates and participating agencies is listed below. The fee waiver does not cover expanded amenity or user fees for things such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

Aug. 15, National Park Service Birthday — National Park Service

Sept. 28, National Public Lands Day — National Park Service, Fish & wildlfie Service, BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, Forest Service.

Oct. 13, National Wildlfie Refuge Day — Fish and Wildlife Service

Nov. 9-11, Veterans Day Weekend — National Park Service, Fish & wildlfie Service, BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, Forest Service.

Additionally, active duty military members and their dependents are eligible for a free annual pass that provides entrance to lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service.

The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Program also offers a free lifetime pass for people with disabilities, a $10 lifetime senior pass for those age 62 and over, and an $80 annual pass for the general public.

Going to the Sun Road plowing opens route for bikes

NATIONAL PARKS — Now through the next couple of weeks or so will be prime time for bicyclists to explore portions of Glacier Park's Going to the Sun Highway.

While plowing is underway from both sides toward Logan Pass, motorized traffic is prohibited but bicycles are allowed.

Currently 29.0 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are open for travel.
Visitors can drive 15.5 miles from the West Entrance to Avalanche, and 13.5 miles from the St. Mary Entrance to Jackson Glacier Overlook.

Get updates here.

See photos of the brave equipment operators plowing the steep avalanche slopes toward Logan Pass.

Interior Secretary Jewell keynotes Ducks Unlimited convention

 

PUBLIC LANDS — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will speak at the annual  Ducks Unlimited convention this week during a visit to Portland in her first West Coast trip since she was sworn in last month.

Today Jewell and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales are set to announce nearly two dozen conservation projects to help boost youth employment, the Department of the Interior says.

On Friday, she, Gov. John Kitzhaber and a representative from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will sign an agreement to speed the review and permitting of energy generation and power transmission projects in the Northwest.

Interior Secretary Jewell leads reporter to fresh air for interview

PUBLIC LANDS — Sally Jewell puts her best foot forward….

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell hits the trail in her new role

New York Times Reporter John M. Broder recently joined recently confirmed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on a hike in order to talk about her new role of managing public lands.

Interior serves as steward for approximately 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other public lands; oversees the responsible development of conventional and renewable energy supplies on public lands and waters; is the largest supplier and manager of water in the 17 Western states; and upholds trust responsibilities to the 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.

Jewell is no stranger to the mountains, as you can see in the 2010 photo (above) taken as she was climbing Mount Rainier.

North Cascades Highway opening is harbinger of summer

PARKS — Suddenly it seems as though summer will happen.

Washington's North Cascades Highway, a gateway to North Cascades National Park, opened Tuesday, weeks earlier than last year because of a thinner snow pack. The route gives easier East-West access across the northern region of the state.

The April 16 opening compares with the May 10 opening in 2012, when the photo with this post was snapped near Liberty Bell.

Washington Department of Transportation crews began the process of clearing State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway, on March 25, a day earlier than last year. On average, it takes four to six weeks for crews to clear the highway, but this year they accomplished it in three weeks. Crews cleared snow as deep as 35 feet over the roadway; last year, it was double the amount.

The highway was closed Nov. 20, 2012, from milepost 134, seven miles east of Diablo Dam on the west side of Rainy Pass, to milepost 171, nine miles west of Mazama.

  • The latest reopening for the highway was recorded on June 14, 1974.
  • The earliest opening was March 10, 2005.
  • In 1980, four years after the highway first opened, it remained open all winter due to a drought year.

For more information, including a history of opening and closing dates, maps, photos and progress reports on the 2013 opening, visit the North Cascades web page.

Olympic Park not taking campsite reservations by phone

BACKPACKING — Olympic National Park is accepting reservation requests for wilderness camping areas with overnight use limits by fax or postal mail only. Phone reservations are no longer accepted.

Limits on overnight use in high-use wilderness camp areas are in effect May 1-Sept. 30 to help minimize the impact from humans and provide a quality wilderness experience. Reservations for these sites are recommended, park officials said in a news release.

Reservations for camp areas without overnight use limits are not required and are not accepted. Permits for these areas are not limited and may be picked up at a permit office just before a hike.

A wilderness camping permit is required for all overnight stays in the park’s backcountry areas. Permit fees are $5 to register a group and an additional $2 per person per night for anyone 16 or older. The full permit fee will be charged for all reservations. The fee is nonrefundable.

Overnight use limits are in effect for these high-use wilderness camp areas:

Ozette Coast, Royal Basin/Royal Lake area, Grand Valley and Badger Valley area, Lake Constance, Upper Lena Lake, Flapjack Lakes, Sol Duc/Seven Lakes Basin/Mink Lake area, Hoh Lake and C.B. Flats, Elk Lake and Glacier Meadows and the group and stock camp sites along the Hoh River Trail.

Here's the proceedure:

  • Download the campsite reservation form.
  • Mail reservation requests to Olympic National Park, WIC, 3002 Mt. Angeles Road, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or
  • Fax reservation requests to (360) 565-3108.

 Click here for additional information.

Plan ahead for free week of entry at national parks

PUBLIC LANDS — Federal land managers offer free entry to parks, forests, U.S. Bureau of Land management lands, refuges and other national interest lands where fees are charged on certain holidays scattered through the year. 

But none of the perks are as sweet as the week of entry-fee-free days coming up at national parks:

  • Celebrate National Park week with no entry fees April 22-26.

The 13 Fee-Free Days in 2013 include three holidays that involve ALL federal lands such as national parks, forests, BLM lands and wildlife refuges — Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 21), National Public Lands Day (Sept. 28), and Veterans Day Weekend (Nov. 9-11). 

A list of other dates and participating agencies is listed below. The fee waiver does not cover expanded amenity or user fees for things such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

June 8, Great Outdoors Day — U.S. Forest Service

Aug. 15, National Park Service Birthday — National Park Service

Sept. 28, National Public Lands Day — National Park Service, Fish & wildlfie Service, BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, Forest Service.

Oct. 13, National Wildlfie Refuge Day — Fish and Wildlife Service

Nov. 9-11, Veterans Day Weekend — National Park Service, Fish & wildlfie Service, BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, Forest Service.

Additionally, active duty military members and their dependents are eligible for a free annual pass that provides entrance to lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service.

The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Program also offers a free lifetime pass for people with disabilities, a $10 lifetime senior pass for those age 62 and over, and an $80 annual pass for the general public.

Only 13 state senators support federal lands in Idaho

PUBLIC LANDS — Would you trust the state of Idaho to manage the national forests, rangelands and parks in the best interest of a full range of the public, recreation and wildlife?

Quotable:

"Senators, the only reason you want title to a land is to sell it. And I don't think Idaho should be for sale."

Idaho Sen. Michelle Stennett, one of 13 who voted against House Concurrent Resolution 22, which demands Congress transfer federal lands in Idaho to the state.
- Idaho Mountain Express

Idaho lawmakers continue quest to take over federal lands

PUBLIC LANDS — Idaho state lawmkers supporting House Concurrent Resolution 22 say they don’t intend to sell off the federal land, but to manage it more efficiently.

Many people in the realm of recreation are not fond of the idea of the state — not widely acclaimed as a perfect public land steward — taking over land currently managed by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management.

  • A hearing is scheduled at the Capitol in Boise for Tuesday morning before the House State Affairs Committee.

The resolution’s premise is that the federal government broke its promise to the states to dispose of all its lands and give the states 5 percent of the revenue.

Most legal scholars agree that the federal government had the right to change its mind, but there is a minority view that the states’ claim may be held as constitutional. That view passed the Utah Legislature last year, catching the interest of lawmakers in Arizona, Wyoming and New Mexico.

Read on for the details in an Associated Press story originating from the Idaho Statesman.

Backpackers face work, joy on circumnavigation hikes, Landers says

HIKING — TONIGHT (March 18) I'll be presenting a free slide program, "Hiking Full Circle: The Pains and Pleasures of the Wonderland Trail, the Tour du Mont Blanc and other Loop Trips" for the Spokane Mountaineers — and you're invited.

The program starts at 7 p.m. at Mountain Gear Headquarters, 6021 E. Mansfield Ave. in Spokane Valley.

Remember, the critical "opening day" is near to apply for backcountry camping permits needed for hiking around Mount Rainier.

The Tour de Blanc is the classic circumnavitation trek in Europe.

And there are plenty more loop trips to consider right here in the Inland Northwest. 

Rich Landers, Outdoors editor for The Spokesman-Review, has been a Spokane Mountaineers member since 1977.  Landers, author of 100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest and Paddling Washington, has co—authored a new hiking guidebook, Day Hiking Eastern Washington, that will be published this spring.

Sequestration curbs plows, delays Yellowstone’s spring opening

PARKS — The giant yellow snowplows that wake Yellowstone from its winter slumber every March are idled, waiting for the sun to make up for federal budget cuts that are forcing the park to open late for peak season.

According to a Washington Post story, mandatory cuts kicked in three days before the plows were to start clearing snow and ice from 300 roads at altitudes that reach 11,000 feet.

Faced with an order from Washington to slice $1.8 million from his budget, the park superintendent, Dan Wenk, had considered his options, and delaying the plows was a better choice than cutting his already barebones staff of rangers and seasonal employees.

National Parks are just one of many agencies weighing choices being forced by the budget reductions known as sequestration.

San Juans Islands, Glacier Park on Lonely Planet’s list

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — Two premier outdoor recreation areas within a day’s access from Spokane are listed among the Lonely Planet's Top 10 U.S. Destinations for 2013.

The San Juan Islands are No. 3 on the list and dubbed “The Gourmet Archipelago.” The writer notes the three main islands – San Juan, Orcas and Lopez – support two vineyards, a lavender farm, an alpaca ranch and weekend farmers’ markets that ply everything from artichokes to marionberries.”

From the outdoor recreation angle, the islands are standouts for bicycling, sailing and sea kayaking. “Hop on a bike, explore the beaches and enjoy the scenery, but be sure to eat!” the author says, noting several fine restaurants.

Glacier National Park is ranked No. 10 — perhaps a little low from a outdoor enthusiast's point of view, but that’s just as well, considering the Lonely Planet’s top 10 list is viewed by 12 million people a year.

“A relatively new shuttle system offers an eco-friendly alternative. But go soon,” the author warns. “The park’s 25 glaciers are melting – and could be gone altogether by 2030 if current climate changes continue!”

Here's full list of Lonely Planet's Top 10 U.S. Destinations for 2013:

  1. Louisville, KY
  2. Fairbanks, AK
  3. San Juan Islands, WA
  4. Philadelphia, PA
  5. American Samoa
  6. Eastern Sierras, CA
  7. Northern Maine, ME
  8. Twin Cities, MN (Minneapolis and St. Paul)
  9. Verde Valley, AZ
  10. Glacier National Park, MT

Yellowstone’s roads closing so plowing can begin

NATIONAL PARKS — The transition has begun at Yellowstone National Park. Pavement will soon be exposed.

Seasonal road closures in Yellowstone NP begin Friday
Over-snow travel season is drawing to a close in Yellowstone National Park, and on Friday, the East Entrance will close at 9 p.m., and on Sunday, over-snow travel into the park from Mammoth Hot Springs will close. Other closures will take effect next week. —Billings Gazette

Video: National parks a hit for Valentines

PUBLIC LANDS — If your recent Valentine's Day didn't go as well as you'd hoped, maybe you need a change of scenery.

When the National Park Service posted an online request for videos and photos of proposals in parks across the country, it had no shortages of replies, as you'll see in the video above.

Obama nominates REI’s CEO for Secretary of Interior

PUBLIC LANDS — Sally Jewell, Recreational Equipment Inc. Chief Executive Sally Jewell is being nominated by President Obama to lead the Interior Department in his second term.

Jewell, 56, has served as the Washington-state-based outdoor retailer's CEO since 2005. She started her career as a petroleum engineer working in the oil fields of Oklahoma and Colorado for Mobil Oil Corp. She then moved to the banking industry, before joining the REI board in 1996 and becoming chief operations officer four years later.

She has been credited with expanding the Washington state-based retailer's Internet operations and contributing company resources to environmental stewardship.

Jewell was on the Avista Corp. board of directors from May 1997 through May 2003.

If confirmed by the Senate, she will replace current Secretary Ken Salazar, who plans to step down to return to Colorado.

REACTION

-Tim Wigley, president, Western Energy Alliance, which represents the oil and natural gas industry in the West.

Her experience as a petroleum engineer and business leader will bring a unique perspective to an office that is key to our nation's energy portfolio.

-Chris Wood, president and CEO, Trout Unlimited

Sally Jewell would make a great Secretary of Interior. Her background suggests that she would bring needed balance to energy development on public lands. Her stewardship of REI demonstrates that she understands the interests of anglers and hunters and would serve as an aggressive advocate within the White House for protecting fish and game habitat and hunting and angling opportunity. She is a practical, no-nonsense leader who would bring a sense of purpose to implementing the oil and gas reforms that have remained largely on the shelf. She is a strong pick.

-Sen. Patty Murray:

President Obama has chosen an accomplished leader as the next Secretary of Interior. I have enjoyed a strong working relationship with Sally Jewell, who has proven to be an effective CEO in the business community, and will bring that skill set to the Cabinet. She understands the tremendous asset that our public lands are, particularly to the multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation based economy. Additionally, American families could have no greater advocate for their continued use, enjoyment and protection of our National Parks and natural treasures. I look forward to working with Sally and President Obama as they shape and implement policies at the Department of Interior.

 -Jim Lyon, National Wildlife Federation senior vice president for conservation programs:

        Sally Jewell is a business leader who knows that conserving America’s natural resources is fundamentally linked to a healthy and strong economy. Outdoor recreation contributes $730 billion to America’s economy and delivers $49 billion in tax revenue annually, but faces a critical challenge as Washington considers even more cuts to conservation programs on top of steep cuts already made. Hunters, anglers, hikers, kayakers, bird watchers and all who value and cherish the outdoors and wildlife will benefit from her first hand understanding of Americans’ passion for protecting our natural treasures.

-Mike Nussman, American Sportfishing Association president and CEO:

From an industry perspective, Sally Jewell understands the important role that our public waters and lands have in supporting the nation’s $646 billion outdoor recreation economy. Given its responsibility for managing approximately one-fifth of the nation’s lands and waters, the Department of the Interior has a significant role in providing recreational fishing opportunities and conserving the nation’s fisheries resources.

Idaho lawmakers want ultimate public handout: federal land

PUBLIC LANDS — In another example of their self-centered approach to the outdoors and the world, Idaho lawmakers are suggesting they are going to waste state time and money making a stab and taking over federal lands within Idaho's borders.

You're not expecting public support on this, are you?

Click "continue reading" to see the Associated Press report on Monday's Statehouse meeting in Boise.

Upgrades approved for Rainier’s Camp Muir

The National Parks Service has approved long-awaited upgrades to Mount Rainier’s Camp Muir – one of the main stops for the thousands of people who climb the mountain.

Pacific West Region director Chris Lehnertz determined that upgrading the high camp would have no impact on the park, giving the green light to replace the camp’s nonhistoric structures.

Mount Rainier National Park superintendent Randy King said the project will cost about $700,000 and take three to five years to complete, the Tacoma News Tribune reported.

Camp Muir is the highest backcountry camp, located at an elevation of 10,080 feet.

Superintendent named for Lake Roosevelt, Ice Age Floods parks

PUBLIC LANDS — Dan Foster, a 20-year National Park Service employee, has been named superintendent for Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area and Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.

Foster is replacing Debbie Bird, who retired after serving as Lake Roosevelt superintendent since 2002.

Foster will leave his current position as superintendent at Niobrara National Scenic River in Nebraska and report in February for his new assignment at Grand Coulee, Wash.

Pacific West Regional Director Chris Lehnertz said Foster has experience working with neighboring communities, multiple agencies, tribal governments, military branches, and the public. 

Foster’s National Park Service resume includes positions as a resource management specialist at Bryce Canyon National Park, and chief of resource management at Nez Perce National Historical Park and Wind Cave National Park.  He has been superintendent at Niobrara National Scenic River since 2008. 

Prior to federal service, Foster was a wildlife biologist and geologist for the Utah Department of Natural Resources for eleven years.

Foster received a Bachelor of Science degree in wildlife and range management from Brigham Young University.  He and his wife Trena have three children.  Among other pursuits, Foster says he is an ardent fly fisherman.

The parks that Foster will oversee are close in proximity, but quite different in nature.

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area consists largely of a portion of the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River with relatively small land areas adjacent to the lake. It encompasses varied resources, ranging from historic Fort Spokane to numerous native fish and other wildlife, and even submerged cultural resources beneath the lake’s surface. The park was established in 1946 after the completion of the dam, and receives over a million visitors a year.

Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail was created less than a decade ago, and highlights the significant geologic features of the massive floods that scoured the landscape of the interior Columbia Basin at the end of the last ice age. Since multiple agencies and organizations will continue to manage the lands where these features are found, the trail will provide a way to unify the story of how the larger landscape ties those features together.

National Park group honors Dicks for conservation

PUBLIC LANDS — Retiring Congressman Norm Dicks has receive a conservation award from a national parks group.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees has awarded its highest honor, The George B. Hartzog Award, to Rep. Norm Dicks, D-WA, for his career-long support of America’s national parks and the National Park Service.

Hartzog, Parks director from 1964 to 1972, expanded the National Park System and worked with Congress to achieve comprehensive funding of the national parks.     

Dicks has served on the Interior appropriations subcommittee since being elected to Congress in 1976. 

While he supported a wide range of parks from the Everglades to Yosemite, Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula is a notable gem in Dicks’ district.  He was an early supporter of removing the dams that significantly impacted the park ecosystem and blocked the passage of anadromous fish. 

The Congressman was a key player in securing the passage of the Elwha River Restoration Act in 1992.  After passage of this act, Dicks helped secure 15 consecutive appropriations to make dam removal a reality.

In a press release, the parks retiree group called that "an unheard of accomplishment."  

The Elwha Dam is gone, and the Glines Canyon Dam will be gone next year.  The Elwha River will be free flowing, and the restoration of a major ecosystem, within a nationally and internationally recognized park, is on its way.

Upon receiving the award, Congressman Dicks said, “this is a great honor and I deeply appreciate the recognition for one of the most enduring causes of my career on the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee — improving and expanding our National Parks. These are the ‘crown jewels’ of the American landscape and I am proud of what we did in Congress during my tenure to improve the visitor experience at all of our park units.”                                                                                                                                       

Outdoor retailers want Obama to designate Utah monument

PUBLIC LANDS — The Outdoor Industry Association and more than 100 outdoor-related businesses are asking President Barack Obama to designate 1.4 million acres of federal wildlands surrounding Canyonlands National Park as a national monument, according to a report by Brett Prettyman of the Salt Lake Tribune.

The group is sending a letter to the president today asking for the protective designation.

The Greater Canyonlands area includes geologic landmarks such as Labyrinth Canyon, Indian Creek, White Canyon, Fiddler Butte, Robbers Roost, Lockhart Basin and the Dirty Devil River, the story says.

The area is under increasing pressure from what monument proponents say is off-road-vehicle abuse, proposed mining and oil and gas development.

The OIA is the retailers group that brings to Utah its annual summer and winter markets, the state’s largest conventions, which draw more than 46,000 visitors and $42.5 million annually to the local economy.

For months OIA has been at odds with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert over the state’s bid to reclaim more than 30 million acres of federally-controlled public lands. If it succeeds, Utah plans to sell or lease some of that land for development.

National Parks offer free three-day weekend

PUBLIC LANDS — National parks will be waiving entrance fees to celebrate Veterans Day weekend, Nov. 10-12.

The Park Service is waiving fees for a total of 17 days in 2012. The Veterans Day weekend fee waiver is the last scheduled for the year.

Offering  free admission to national parks and other federal lands has been offered the past three years as a cost-friendly family vacation option in the economic slump.

Yosemite’s Night Skies photography makes brilliant case about light pollution

WILD LANDS — A superb video with stunning images and videos of the night sky helps point out that wild lands such as national parks are rare places where people can get a great view of the stars and planets without being washed out by civilization's lights.

Enjoy this video with all its stars, moon rises, shooting stars, streaking satellites and people offering their insight on what's out there.

National Parks offer free admission Sept. 29

PUBLIC LANDS — National parks will be waiving entrance fees to celebrate National Public Lands Day on Sept. 29.

The Park Service is waiving fees for a total of 17 days in 2012.

Offering  free admission to national parks and other federal lands has been featured the past three years as a cost-friendly family vacation option in the economic slump.

La Sportiva Wildcats a hit with Pacific Crest Trail through hikers

BACKPACKING — Ultra light, ultra functional and ultra durable — those are the keys to gear that causes a buzz among through hikers on long-distance trails.

One group of hikers most of the way through their month's long,  2,650-mile journey on the Pacific Crest Trail, recently were comparing notes on their shoes at Washington's Chinook Pass. The durability winner in this group was the La Sportiva Wildcat trail running shoe, a Backpacker  Editor’s Choice item in the magazine’s 2010 gear review.

One hiker had 1,000 miles on his pair and they were still going strong.

While trail running shoes may be perfect for PCT through hikers, who are focused on speed and staying on the trail, they may not be the best for everyday hikers who may not be so trail hardened or who do more off-trail exploration.

Video: When people mix with elk in the rut…

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — This BBC film clip offers a glimpse of a town and tourists in the midst of the annual autumn mating season for elk.

The footage is as funny as it is sad to see people so nonchalant and clueless about walking past hormone-charged 800-pound animals with antlers.