Where the Wild Things Are Sierra club outings leaders show you where to meet musk oxen, alligators, whales, puffins, and more. by Dashka Slater
Maybe you were lucky enough to spot a bald eagle or a bobcat. Or maybe it was just a garter snake shimmying across the trail or a heron stalking a swamp for fish. It may have been a rustle in the underbrush, a splash in the water, a warning call, that stopped you in mid-stride, your skin prickling with curiosity. Perhaps you heard it from your tent at night: the low croon of the owl, the brazen foraging of the bear, the screech and cackle of arguing raccoons. Whatever it was, chances are that the moment you encountered one of the earth's wild creatures, everything else stopped. The human drama lost its grip on your attention and you lived in your senses, eager to know more.
We asked eight Sierra Club Outings leaders to tell us where they go to get to know the other species of our planet. They told us about places as remote as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northern Alaska, and as accessible as Everglades National Park, just an hour from Miami. Some can be visited on foot; others require boats, bicycles, or even skis. But all are places where wild creatures gather and where you stand a good chance of meeting them. Bring a soft voice, a quiet tread, a keen eye, and a patient heart. And prepare to be amazed.
Beasts of Yore Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska
On all the planet, it would be hard to find a more remote and wild place than the 19.6 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. There are no buildings here, no roads, and no trails — just a vast, unbroken expanse of mountains, coastal plain, and boreal forest.
Encounters in the Swamp Everglades National Park, Florida
"In the Everglades," environmental advocate Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote, "one is most aware of the superb monotony of saw grass under the world of air. But below that and before it, enclosing and causing it, is the water."
Whale Tales Maui, Hawaii
There's much to like about humpback whales — they're big, smart, playful, and they sing. But even an ardent humpback-lover like Lynne Simpson has to admit that the marine mammals have a flaw.
Birder's Paradise Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia's Mount Desert Island was once the playground of wealthy industrialists like the Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Fords. Few of the mansions they called "cottages" survived, but the landscape has — and its granite mountains, cobble beaches, spruce forests, and bogs and marshes make a birder's paradise.
The Bears' Lair Olympic National Park, Washington
Ninety-five percent of Olympic National Park is wilderness — old-growth and temperate rainforests, subalpine lakes, salmon streams, glacier-capped peaks, and the largest stretch of wild coastline in the Lower 48.
Winter Rendezvous Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
For most of the year, the animals in Yellowstone are spread out over the park's 2.2 million acres, doing their best to avoid the nearly 3 million annual human visitors. But in the winter, when the tourist population thins out, the animals (at least the ones that aren't hibernating) cluster near Yellowstone's meadows and thermal springs.
Tropical Menagerie Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas
When the Spanish first came to Texas in the 1500s, the Lower Rio Grande Valley was a green oasis of dense, scrublike thorn forest and grassland. No more: Agriculture and cattle-grazing have transformed much of the area into a virtual desert, and the land is scarred with highways and oilfields.
Island of the Northern Stars Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
During the particularly cold winter of 1948Ð49, Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, froze over. A female wolf walked across the ice and took up residence on Isle Royale, a 45-mile-long and 9-mile-wide wilderness normally two hours by boat from the nearest land.