Archive for the ‘North America’ Category

Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Exploring Tracy Arm by Zodiac. Photo: Michael S. Nolan, Lindblad Expeditions

Tracy Arm in Southeast Alaska is a 22-mile-long fjord with waterfalls cascading from its high, glacially-carved walls. Black bears feed along the shoreline and mountain goats scale the steep granite cliffs. Twin glaciers are located at the end of the fjordSawyer and South Sawyer—and sculpted icebergs are commonplace sights. The fjord was named after Civil War General Benjamin Franklin Tracy, who served as a Union brigadier general for the 109th New York Infantry Regiment. It was designated as a wilderness area in 1980 by the U.S. Congress.

Want to see more? Join us May 22 – 29, 2011 for our Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness Cruise.

Have you been to Alaska? How was it? Please share.

It's Not Easy Being First

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

No one can say this more than Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Their transcontinental expedition was filled with unpredictability, natural dangers, and Native communities who were not ready to have anyone move into their territory. The story itself, without any embellishment, is dramatic with equally intriguing characters including Thomas Jefferson, a young Shoshone woman named Sacagawea, and a team of men known as the Corps of Discovery who faced a landscape that had never been navigated or mapped.

Why had it taken until 1804 to even start exploring the Pacific Northwest? It was a project that Jefferson had been pondering while living in France in the 1780s, knowing it could lead to huge opportunities for the very young United States of America. He also heard talk that King Louis the XVI of France was interested in exploring the region. While the royal had officially proposed a scientific expedition, Jefferson felt the French King had a political mission in mind.

Knowing the expedition was extremely dangerous, President Jefferson provided peace medalsto the Corps to introduce themselves to the various tribes they met along the way. But on the trail, it was Sacagawea and her infant son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, who slept wrapped on a cradleboard, that reassured the tribes that the group meant no harm.

Although Lewis and Clark are best known for laying the groundwork for westward expansion and creating the first maps of the region, their observations were also useful to scientists researching the natural wildlife the Corps of Discovery encountered. Even though they were never intended to be a scientific expedition, their work helps us preserve the indigenous species and natural landscape of the early 19th century.

Explore the natural landscape as the Corps of Discovery would have seen it on In the Wake of Lewis and Clark: A Voyage Along the Columbia and Snake Rivers Aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird. Book by November 1, 2010 and save $750 per person off your cabin!

Where would you like to go exploring? Please share. 

Gardens of the Caribbean

Thursday, August 5th, 2010
The <i>Sea Cloud II</i> sailing the Caribbean.

The Sea Cloud II sailing the Caribbean.

The first thing most of us think about when we imagine the Caribbean is how fast we can get a bathing suit on and stick an umbrella on a sandy part of the beach. But the Caribbean is also a haven for beautiful gardens, unique animal species, and an eclectic ecosystem.

The region ranges in elevation from 40 meters below sea level to up to 3,000 meters, resulting in a variety of rare animals and plants that can only be found on these islands. The lowlands are don’t receive much rain and are considered semiarid, with some plants such as cactus scrubs being found on parts of Barbados, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. At the same time, trade winds tend to push moisture in the highlands of the islands, creating a rainforest climate where completely different species of flora and fauna are found.

How special is the Caribbean when it comes to biodiversity? When you look at the numbers, it’s pretty amazing. There are over 13,000 plant species found on these islands, and 50.4% are only found in this region of the Earth. But it’s the amphibians that truly makes the islands special. Amazingly, 100% of the amphibians—over  170 species—are native to the islands. Then there is the unique diversity of mammals, reptiles, and birds that are found on each island.

The wildlife to view and appreciate in the Caribbean is everywhere, and if you have really good eyes, you might see a few of the tiny hummingbirds found in the tropics - all while getting a great tan.

Which Caribbean Island is your favorite to visit? Tell us why!

Marvel at the beautiful colonial architecture and gardens of the Caribbean this January aboard the Sea Cloud II with Smithsonian Journeys!

A Grand Canyon Weekend Adventure

Monday, July 12th, 2010
A rainbow at the Grand Canyon, Photo by Nancy Holland

A rainbow at the Grand Canyon, Photo by Nancy Holland

It’s practically the American rite of passage. At some point in our lives, we are compelled to visit the Grand Canyon—and for good reason. There is no place on the planet as stunningly beautiful or shockingly vast. With more than five million visitors each year, the Grand Canyon has achieved American icon status. This is a stark difference to the 44,173 visitors in 1919, when the Grand Canyon was first declared a National Park.

While most people visit the Canyon for hiking, photography, and family vacations, it was originally home to many Native American tribes including the Cohonina, Cerbat, Pai, Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo (also known as the Diné). The oldest artifacts found date back more than 12,000 years, and are well preserved due to the hot and dry climate. It would be easy to think that with all of our technology we would know everything about the Grand Canyon, but the reality is that modern archeologists and other scientists have only surveyed 3% of the Canyon and surrounding parkland, leaving this part of the United States still full of mysteries.

What is your favorite family memory of the Grand Canyon?

Denali, Alaska’s Big Five

Thursday, July 1st, 2010
A hungry grizzley bear having a snack. Photograph by Roman Kruywczak

A hungry grizzly bear having a snack. Photograph by Roman Kruywczak

The Athabaskan people recognized Mount Denali, the massive  peak looming over a 600 mile long mountain range, as the “High One.” But it’s the animals surrounding the mountain that many people travel from all over the world to see. There are 39 known mammals that live in the park, but many come to see what are known as the Big 5 – moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, and the grizzly bear.

For those of us who love cuddly teddy bears there’s the question, “Are real grizzly bears the same way in real life?”

Definitely not.

The grizzly bear is actually one of the most solitary and aggressive of all the bears. Due to their large size, they are unable to climb trees like the smaller black bear, and instead must stand their ground. A small grizzly may weigh about 300 pounds, while bears living in coastal areas can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds. When bears are competing for food, they may become even more irritable.

But who is the most dangerous of all? The Mama Bear. 70% of human fatalities when encountering a grizzly are by a female grizzly protecting her young. Should you ever meet a grizzly bear, it would be best to respectfully keep your distance.

What wild animal sighting will you always remember? Tell us your story.

There’s still room on our Alaska’s Best: Denali and Kenai Fjords tour leaving this August. Maybe you’ll see all of the Big Five.