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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rediscovering Classic Icons

Many of the famous landscapes that we love most aren’t necessarily permanent. Now is the time to visit and photograph these treasures.

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Sandstone arches within Arches National Park have been created over millions of years by a perfect combination of geological instability, rain, ice, snow, wind and gravity. Since the recent collapse of Wall Arch, which had measured 331⁄2 feet tall and spanned 71 feet, the longest natural arch in the world, Landscape Arch, is thought to have become quite fragile from a series of collapses dating back to 1991. There’s no telling how long Landscape Arch will last before it falls, but it’s important to keep in mind that the environmental conditions that destroy these grand formations also form new ones.

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Mount St. Helens, Washington Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

Rock Slides.
Yosemite Valley, California, best known for its iconic formations and monolithic rock faces, is subject to rock slides year-round. As anyone who has hiked in Yosemite knows, small rock slides are common. Less frequently, massive rock slides occur, slowly reshaping this glacially formed valley. The last such event occurred in 1996 when roughly 162,000 tons of granite fell one third of a mile, generating a blast of air rivaling hurricane-strength winds that killed one person, injuring 11 others and toppling hundreds of trees.

Yosemite Valley, California
Fire. Wildfires are part of the natural life cycle of forests, opening areas to sunlight by removing overgrowth, returning nutrients to the soil and triggering the germination of various tree species. In 1988, one of the largest wildfires on record burned over one third of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (793,000 acres). To this day, the landscape bears the scars of this fire and is transforming yearly as the forest continues to recover.

Volcanic Eruption.
The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, Washington, epitomizes the destructive power of volcanoes and is the most recent major eruption to take place in the Cascade Mountains. Stretching south from British Columbia to Northern California, the Cascades is comprised of 21 volcanoes of which 11 have cumulatively erupted 50 times in the past 4,000 years. Iconic peaks, including Rainier, Hood and Shasta, tower over Washington, Oregon and California, respectively, providing dramatic backdrops to scenic locations across the West.

Hurricanes. Beaches and forests are ecosystems often prone to damage from hurricanes. Storm erosion, flood and wind damage can quickly and broadly transform iconic southern landscapes and wildlife habitat. Wetlands that act as a natural barrier to storm surges are being lost by an estimated 24 square miles per year in Louisiana alone, contributing to the amplification of damage that occurs with each subsequent storm. In 2005, it was estimated that Hurricane Katrina damaged roughly 320 million large trees. Southern beaches and forests always have been resilient and dynamic environments, but as history has shown, large storms in combination with man made environmental changes are having greater impact.


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