Posts Tagged ‘natural history’

Video: Drive Through Death Valley

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Death Valley is home to a fantastic array of great hiking and driving options—its salt flats, badlands, and dramatically eroded canyons are not to be missed. The ancient sandstone, exposed by wind and weather, glows orange, yellow, and gold in the desert sun. Here, check out a lovely video on a lonely drive through death valley. Wait until the end for a beautiful sunset—thanks to YouTube user chasgti.

Intrigued by Death Valley? Hike it for yourself on our upcoming Death Valley Adventure, in March, 2010.

Where’s your favorite place to hike? Share below.

Study Leader Carole Baldwin on Galápagos

Monday, September 7th, 2009


Sea lions relaxing on the beach

Sea lions relaxing on the beach

Dr. Carole Baldwin, a Curator of Fishes at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, is a well-respected authority on marine biology, especially tropical marine and deep sea fishes. Here, we quiz her on the Galápagos, where she has discovered new species and where she leads one of our most popular tours. Click here for more information on Carole and a video interview with her.

Q. You’re a veteran of research expeditions all over the world. What particularly struck you about the Galápagos?

A. Two things. The first is the tameness of the animals. I’ve never been anyplace like that, on land or underwater. The animals don’t seem to have any fear of you. You’re walking down a path and you’re within touching distance of all of them. It’s the same way underwater. You’ve got these big pelagic fish and other animals so close you can reach out and touch them. It’s a different kind of experience. Second, I’d have to say the sheer number of species that don’t occur anywhere else in the world. You’re constantly confronted with that when you visit the Galápagos. Smithsonian keeps asking if I’d like to lead a different tour, and I say “Nope!” I like going back. Every time I go I see different things, whether it’s the behavior of the animals or the actual wildlife that we’re seeing. There’s still so much for me to learn.

Q. Is there a Galápagos island that stands out as your favorite?

A. It may seem funny for a marine biologist, but I’d say Genovesa, which is also called Tower Island and nicknamed “Bird Island.” It’s one of the islands which very few tour groups get to go to. I don’t think even people who are bird watchers have ever had the experience of being with so many birds as you see on Genovesa. It’s an incredible experience.

Q. What do you particularly enjoy about the Smithsonian Journeys Galápagos itinerary?

A. Several people who have been on the trip that I lead, who have traveled quite a bit, have said “This is the best trip that I’ve ever been on.” People who have done an African safari often compare the Galápagos experience to that. One time on the plane leaving the Galápagos I sat with a couple who had been on a very unpleasant trip with another organization. They did one hike in the morning and that was it — they didn’t do anything the rest of the day. They didn’t have anybody on board to give lectures; they didn’t go snorkeling. The Smithsonian journey really packs everything in. People have the option of deciding whether to do everything or not, but to get as much of the experience as you can, this is the best! I want to emphasize how wonderful the snorkeling is. Some people go snorkeling for the first time, and they’re in the water with sea lions and penguins and sea turtles and thousands of fish. When they get out they ask me “Where can we go next to have another experience like this?” and I say “Nowhere!”

Q. What is it like being with Smithsonian Journeys travelers?

A. The travelers are there to learn. It’s not just a vacation for them; it’s a vacation in which they’re trying to learn about the natural world. Along with schoolchildren, they are the most eager, enthusiastic people I deal with. Every group I go with seems like the best one I ever had!

Q. What future Galápagos research do you have planned?

A. I’m definitely hoping to submit a proposal to try and get the submersible back to Galápagos. When we were making the film, we used the sub for fifteen days and found seventeen new species. We need to have the sub back there and just take it in the water for a month, and then take it to some of the neighboring oceanic islands. We’re still finding new discoveries in the shallow water as well, which is a little less expected, since people have been studying the shallow water and terrestrial flora and flora of Galápagos for a long, long time. When you find something that hasn’t been reported before, there’s always the chance that it represents a new recruit to the islands. People tend to think of the Galápagos as a place that was colonized a long time ago — and it was — but for the ocean animals there are currents that bring new things there. You could study that place forever.

Want to see Galápagos for yourself? Click here for all Smithsonian Journeys travel to Galápagos and here for Carole’s tour.

Have you ever been snorkeling? What did you see? Share below.

Tiny Treasures of the Amazon

Monday, August 24th, 2009

This posting is courtesy of our friends at International Expeditions, with whom we’ve planned a better-than-ever Amazon Voyage for February 2010. Photos are courtesy of IE Expedition Leader Jorge Salas, who’s captured some of the Amazon’s smallest inhabitants.

The Amazon is an integration of rivers and jungles combined to form the largest wilderness area in the world—the Amazon Basin. Occupying over 2.5 million square miles and including major portions of nine South American countries, this area contains an enormous diversity and abundance of fauna and flora. Despite the hundreds of scientists who have explored the Amazon and the masses of data that have been compiled, most of its huge area is only vaguely known with thousands of new species waiting to be discovered. During our Amazon cruise, we help curious travelers discover as many of these hidden secrets as possible.

While most travelers know about the rainforests’ larger residents—macaws, river dolphins and monkeys – here are a few of the Amazon’s tiniest treasures.

Ithomiinae Butterfly

Ithomiinae butterfly – These small butterflies are common in the New World tropical forests. Due to the toxins ingested by their caterpillars they are not considered choice food items by predators.

Leptodactylid Frog

Leptodactylid Frog – Found primarily in Central and South America, this family of frogs may contain over 1,000 species. Many species construct foam nests to house the eggs and tadpoles until they hatch and metamorphose.

Short-Horned Grasshopper

Short-Horned Grasshopper – Grasshoppers are abundant from the canopy to the forest floor. Many species are very colorful, others are so well camouflaged they’re almost impossible to see until they move.


Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar – The caterpillar of the Monarch is able to eat the leaves of toxic milkweed plants. These toxins are passed on to the adult form during metamorphosis, making the adults an unpopular food choice to predators.

tropical dragonfly

Tropical Dragonfly – Dragonflies are wide-spread and commonly observed insects. Both the aquatic larval form and the adult are voracious consumers of other insects.

Poison Dart Frog

Poison Dart Frog (with young) – This species lays its eggs in the water trapped in the base of epiphytic bromeliads. If the water or food supply in the bromeliad gets too low the tadpole may attach to the adult, who then takes it to a new plant.


Mata Mata Turtle — Chelus fimbriatus – This odd-looking turtle, known from the drainage of the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers, preys on fish and large aquatic invertebrates. Adults may weigh over 30 pounds. The skin flaps and head shape break up its outline making it difficult for prey animals to recognize it before they get too close to escape.


Leaf Toad – There are numerous species of these small toads called leaf toads. They share, in common, the superficial resemblance to a dead leaf on the ground. This camouflage helps them escape the notice of hunting predators. They, in turn, consume small invertebrates they find on the forest floor.

Photo: Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
The Half Dome is one of the most recognized features of Yosemite National Park.

The Half Dome is one of the most recognized features of Yosemite National Park.

There are myriad reasons to visit Yosemite National Park, but the Half Dome (above) is one of our favorites. Almost 5,000 feet high, its image now graces the California state quarter. Although it was 1875 before people were able to climb the Half Dome, today, there are several trails and climbing routes to the summit. The view from the top is breathtaking, allowing hikers to see the valley floor.

Take your own hike through the Yosemite Valley and see Half Dome for yourself on our Yosemite in Spring tour.

Click here for Smithsonian’s Land Through A Lens virtual exhibit, a collection of iconic images of America’s natural beauty and a chronicle of photographers’ fascination with the land.

Click here to read more about naturalist John Muir’s love affair with Yosemite.

Which US National Park is your favorite? Share below.

Video: Antarctica

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

There are so many reasons to visit Antarcticafrom the marine life that can’t be found anywhere else to the magnificent icebergs of the otherworldly White Continent. Here, check out what makes Antarctica special by watching our expedition video below.

Looking for your own chance to kayak with the penguins? Click here for more information on our 2010 Antarctica expedition, a once-in-a-lifetime journey.

Click here to view more videos on our YouTube page.

Where’s your trip of a lifetime? Share below.