Category Northern America

Wild wonders

The Canadian Rockies make a perfect playground for adrenaline-seeking adventurers. 

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By now, the story is well known. In 1883 three construction workers toiling away on the Canadian Pacific Railway stumbled across a cave in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. They encountered a series of hot springs. After various disputes, it was decided the area be protected. In 1885 Banff National Park was created; the very first in Canada.

The protected area that is the Rocky Mountains – or the ‘Canadian Rockies’ – evolved from there. Numerous national parks later emerged to give this vast terrain the protection it deserves...

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Land of the giants

The world’s largest trees have survived for more than 3,000 years, but their futures lie in human hands.  

Pierdelune

They are the giants of nature; the skyscrapers of Mother Earth. In Sequoia National Park, some 8,000 giant sequoias rise firmly from the forest floor and branch out at a height of up to 80 metres. Only by placing humans next to their roots can one really fathom their size. The species is not the world’s tallest tree type. Nor is it the widest or oldest. But by trunk volume, it is the biggest.

The giant sequoia grows fast and lives long. As they expand, they produce an estimated 40 cubic feet of wood per year. Most are believed to be between 1,800 and 2,700 years old...

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Backyard science

In Canada, a grassroots project is highlighting climate change by focusing on the country’s most treasured cultural possession: skating rinks.

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Some months ago, a group of environmental students came to notice that Canadian winters had changed. There was less ice, warmer temperatures. What was worse, it affected the skating rinks, which are about as sacred in Canada as football pitches are in Brazil. According to a study by Montreal scientists, there would be fewer days where skating was possible. Some regions, they said, would end up with no rinks at all.

The students, of Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo, south-east Canada, teamed up with a couple of professors to create RinkWatch. They set up a website where, on a Google map, people could pin down their local ice rink...

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The supervolcano

Yellowstone National Park is a geological masterpiece of hot springs and active geysers, but beneath lies a sleeping giant. 

Lorcel

When transfixed by the geothermal features of Yellowstone National Park, it is easy to forget what powers it all. The sights can be so beautiful they are spellbinding: the spectacular hot springs, the geysers, the lava formations, the fumaroles; not to mention the wildlife of grizzly bears, wolves and bison; the scenic landscape of wild forests, majestic waterfalls and large canyons.

Indeed, Yellowstone is easily among earth’s greatest geological treasures, and has been recognised as such. The 9,000-square-kilometre area (3,478 square miles) was the very first national park of the United States, created in 1872, with UNESCO listing it in 1978...

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Green city guide: San Francisco

Chintla

San Francisco is not quite like other cities. The mid-1800s gold rush transformed what was a small settlement into a booming city; then, a century later in the post-war period, an influx of liberal activists made it the home of American counter-culture, as epitomised by the 1967 Summer of Love. Beyond the Golden Gate Bridge today, a diverse and energetic society is setting its own agenda. Gay rights, feminist views and political liberals have grown strong roots, as have immigrants from every corner of the world. To call it ‘cosmopolitan’ would be an understatement.

Alongside its rebellious attitude, San Francisco has a history of radical environmental action. Vibrant NGOs and charities hold public conferences, workshops and lectures on green issues...

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Into the wild

In July last year, a ‘bear cam’ was set up in Alaska to livestream bears hunting for food. But it does not compare to the real experience.

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When you have trekked into the wild and find yourself standing close to a giant bear, there are a few things you should remember. Firstly, that these are among the wild’s most dangerous creatures. Note that they are excellent swimmers, frighteningly intelligent, with a better sense of smell than dogs. They can weigh up to 680kg. Think you can run away? Forget it: in short bursts, bears can run up to 65 kilometres per hour (40 miles). “These are wild animals, and you need to really respect that,” says John Quinley, assistant regional director at Katmai National Park, in southern Alaska. “You don’t want to sneak out a sandwich in front of them...

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Catching the Wave

In one of America’s great wilderness areas, a stream of smooth, curvy outlines are etched into the mountainside. They call it the Wave.

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The US has always been spoilt with mesmerising rock canyons, but none of them are quite like this one. Just north of the famous Grand Canyon, near the border between Arizona and Utah, wavy lines have been carved into rock by the passage of time. It looks like some kind of caramel swirl: the way it contains several colours; the way it tweaks its way around bends and corners.

Unlike many other natural sights around the world, where unregulated tourism and an overload of visitors put the attraction itself at risk, the authorities are wary of jeopardising the health of their talismanic site. Only 20 people are allowed to visit it each day...

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The rocks that move

On a dry lakebed in California’s Death Valley, stones weighing up to 300kg zip across the surface without human intervention. Despite 60 years of study, geologists are still unsure why.

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Ever since the first scientific paper on it was published in 1948, the Racetrack Playa, a smooth desert floor in Death Valley National Park, has had geologists scratching their heads. With irregular frequency, sometimes every third or fourth year, giant rocks travel inexplicably across the surface; some in straight lines, others in zig-zag patterns; others, again, across a certain distance, before turning 180 degrees and continuing in another direction. The evidence is there to see; each rock leaves a deep trail along the desert floor. But no one has ever seen them move.

The surrounding environment – Dea...

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