Watching Wildlife in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is a famous American National park located at the California-Nevada border, just east of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The park includes Death Valley, the northern section of the Panamint Valley, part of the Eureka Valley, and most of the Saline Valley. Home to the arid Great Basin and Mojave deserts, the park is a great place to check out salt flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains. Basically, this park has it all.

Originally inhabited by Native Americans, a group of Europeans became trapped in the valley in 1849 while looking for an easy way to get to California for the gold rush. Since one of their groups died there due to lack of water and hot sun, they named the area “Death Valley.” To their dismay, the only profitable ore to be mined in the region was borax. The valley was abandoned for some time until the 1920s when tourism expanded and included the surrounding regions. The Death Valley National Monument was declared in 1933. However, the area was not declared a national park until 1994.

Death Valley is characterized by ancient rocks that have been metamorphosed for at least 1.7 billion years. The warm and shallow seas deposited in the region, causing the different coloration. The area is also known as “one of the driest places on earth,” where fresh water can be nearly impossible to find. Animals that live in the region need to be able to survive on no water for days at a time.

Despite the heat, the inhospitable appearance, and the previous death in Death Valley, the park is still home to quite a bit of life. Famous for the desert tarantula, the park is home to the western desert tarantula, the Arizona blond tarantula, and the Mexican blond tarantula.

Birding is also certainly something to consider in the park, and you can seek out bird viewing spots along their migratory routes.

Death Valley National Park’s Top Animals

  • Tarantulas
  • Devil’s Hope Pupfish
    • This tiny incredible fish lives in a 90-degree hot spring within a limestone cave, located just outside of the valley. The fish is a miracle of creation, able to live in something that hot without the ability to migrate up or down stream. The fish congregate in the small spring, rising up to a small shelf of rock just beneath the water’s surface to feed and breed.
  • Coyotes
  • Bobcats
  • Desert bighorn sheep
  • Bats
  • Kangaroo rats
  • Cottontails
  • Foxes
  • Badgers
  • Mountain lions
  • Ringtails
  • Burros
    • Feral burros were not originally found in the park a few hundred years ago, though they can be spotted there today. It is estimated about 400 or 500 burros live in the park’s 3.4 million acres of desert and mountain.
  • Desert tortoise
    • Known as the champion of avoiding heat, the desert tortoise spends most of the year in its burrow.
  • Roadrunners

Viewing Locations

Cottonwood Creek: Located in Grapevine Canyon, Cottonwood Creek is one of the best spots to go birding in Death Valley National Park.
Amargosa River: One of the few water sources in the park, you can catch just about any kind of animal species around this river. The best spot is along the park’s border east of Furnace Creek.
Saratoga Spring: Another great spot in the park to go birding.
Scotty’s Castle: Another great birding destination.

When Should You Go?

The best time to catch Death Valley animals out in the open is during their migratory routes in the spring and fall. Since the park is so hot in the summer, it’s recommended to proceed with caution and pack tons of water. You’re not likely to catch any animals out in the open during the hot summer months.

Death Valley National Park is also considered a dark sky park by the International Dark-Sky Association. You can enjoy unparalleled stargazing any time of the year.

Categorized as Wildlife Tagged

Watching Wildlife in Crater Lake National Park

Located in southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is known for housing the deepest lake in the United States and the second-deepest lake in North America. Established in 1902, the lake is the fifth-oldest national park in the United States and the only national park in Oregon today. It’s home to the caldera of Crater Lake, a remnant of a destroyed volcano, Mount Mazama, and the surrounding hills and forests.

Thanks to a massive explosion that created the geological spectacle, there is lots to see and do in this park. The Pumice Desert, created from the very thick layer of pumice and ash that fell north of Mazama, is an impressive spectacle where few plants grow today. Visitors can also see the Pinnacles, where very hot ash and pumice came to rest near the volcano. There’s also Mount Scott, a steep andesitic cone whose lava came from the Mazama magma chamber.

The park was originally inhabited by Native Americans who witnessed the collapse of Mount Mazama and built it into their legends and religions. It wasn’t until the 1800s when a trio of European gold prospectors, John Wesley Hillman, Henry Klippel, and Isaaz Skeeters, discovered the lake. Mesmerized by how blue the lake was, they named it “Deep Blue Lake” and the southwest side of the rim where they saw the lake as “Discovery Point.” As they kept moving to find gold, locals renamed the lake “Crater Lake,” which has stuck with it ever since.

Local William Gladstone Steel devoted his life to ensuring the lake was managed and preserved as part of the park system. He began his mission in 1870 in an effort to bring recognition to the park, which he believed more people should see. The park was established on May 22, 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt thanks to Steel’s efforts.

Today, Crater Lake National park encompasses 180,000-acres of heavily forested land that is home to a diverse range of plants and wildlife. As you venture around the trails, you can spot bears, coyotes, elk, porcupines, amphibians, and other birds and insects. There are also plenty of bats and smaller mammals like pikas, squirrels, and rabbits. The park is home to vegetation that ranges from mixed conifer forests to high-elevation hemlock and white bark pine forest.

There were no native fish present in the lake due to its formation; however, in 1888, kokanee salmon and rainbow trout were introduced to the lake. They now thrive there naturally.

Crater Lake National Park’s Top Animals

  • Bobcats
  • Chipmunks
  • Pronghorns
  • Foxes
  • Squirrels
  • Black bears
  • Coyotes
  • Pikas
  • Badgers
  • Deer
  • Elk
  • Falcons
  • Jays
  • Bald Eagles
  • Hummingbirds

Viewing Locations

Cleetwood Trail: If you want to go fishing or get close to the water, this hiking trail is a great place to do it.
Rim Drive: This 33-mile drive is your best bet for seeing the park’s mammals and birds. Take your time, slow down, and use the pull-offs to get amazing photos.
Mount Scott: The highest point in Crater Lake National Park is Mount Scott, which provides views for 100-miles in all directions. You can also see the white-peaked Cascade Range volcanoes in the north, the Columbia River Plateau to the east, and the Klamath Mountains to the West.
Sphagnum Bog: A great place to catch birds, small mammals, and even medium-sized mammals passing through and grabbing a drink.
Union Peak: Look for pronghorns and bigger mammals in this area.

When Should You Go?

Black bear sightings are much more common in the fall and spring seasons, when they are waking up or getting ready to hibernate. However, you can see the snowshoe hare, squirrels, elk, and deer in the winter snow as they are more likely to venture near the park attractions when there are less people there.

Note: Winters can get wet and cold in this National Park, so pack accordingly if you want to explore the hundreds of miles of hiking trails. It’s recommended to visit the park during the spring, fall, and summer seasons for unexperienced hikers.

Categorized as Wildlife Tagged

Watching Wildlife in Carslbad Caverns National Park

The Carlsbad Caverns National Park is an impressive American park located within the Guadalupe Mountains in Southeastern New Mexico. The most visited part of the park is the Carlsbad Cavern, which can be reached by hiking a few miles along a paved path. Located on US Highway 62/180, about 18-miles south of Carlsbad, New Mexico, the park has two entries on the National Register of Historic Places: The Caverns Historic District and the Rattlesnake Springs Historic District.

The cavern is home to a limestone chamber called the Big Room, which is close to 4,000 feet long, 255 feet high, and 625 feet wide. The chamber is famous for being the largest chamber in all of North America. As far as worldwide statistics go, it ranks as the 31st largest chamber in the world.

Discovered by European settlers in 1898 when teenager Jim White explored the cavern using a ladder he built, the teen named many of the rooms, including the Big Room and the New Mexico Room. He also named the cave’s prominent formations, like the Totem Pole, Witch’s finger, and the Bottomless Pit. Upon his discovery, locals had to walk down a switchback ramp that took them about 750-feet below the surface to check out the cave. It was a strenuous hike that made it impossible for many to see the caves for themselves.

By 1932, the National Park opened a visitor center which built two elevators into the caves. Visitors could now come in and out of the caverns below without needing to climb. The visitor center was equipped with a cafeteria, waiting room, and a museum. The park was officially proclaimed the Carlsbad Cave National Monument in 1923 by President Coolidge.

Currently, roughly two-thirds of the park is protected wilderness area in an effort to ensure there are no harmful changes to the habitat. The high ancient sea ledges, deep rocky canyons, flowering cacti, desert wildlife, and 119 caves make this National Park the only one of its kind.

There are 67 mammal species, 357 bird species, 5 fish species, and 55 amphibians and reptiles found within the confines of the park. Most of the animals are desert species, which means they sleep during the day and forage at night.

The Carlsbad Cave National Park’s Top Animals

  • Coyotes
  • Foxes
  • Wolves
  • Bobcats
  • Otters
  • Badgers
  • Skunks
  • Bats

Viewing Locations

Balloon Ballroom: This small room was first accessed by floating someone into the passage using balloons.
Bat Cave: This unadorned rocky passage is home to the majority of the park’s bat population. It has been mined for bat guano in the past.
Bell Cord Room: Characterized by the narrow stalactite that comes in through a hole in the ceiling, this room is found at the end of the Left Hand Tunnel.
Bifrost Room: Named for its location above the Lake of the Clouds as well as its colorful oxide-stained formations, the Bifrost Room wasn’t discovered until 1982.
Big Room: The biggest room in the Carlsbad Caverns.
Green Lake Room: Named for the malachite-colored pool in the room, the Green Lake Room is probably your best bet for getting photos that look like they were captured on another planet.
Guadalupe Room: The second largest room in the Carlsbad Caverns, the Guadalupe Room is known for its soda straw stalactites.
Queen’s Chamber: Regarded as the most beautiful area of the cave, Queen’s Chamber is where Jim White spent hours after his lantern went out.
Spirit World: Nestled into the ceiling of the Big Room at its highest point is an area filled with white stalagmites that look like angels to those just seeing the room for the first time.

When Should You Go?

If you want to get in on the Bat Flight Viewing celebration that happens every year, flight programs are scheduled from Memorial Day weekend through the middle of October. The best time to see the bats in flight is during July and August. Morning programs are great for making your way into the caves before the tourists arrive.

As for stargazing, programs throughout the entire year are hosted to help visitors better understand what they are seeing in the sky.

Categorized as Wildlife Tagged

Watching Wildlife in Biscayne National Park

The Biscayne National Park is an American National Park located in South Florida, just south of Miami. The park preserves the Biscayne Bay as well as the offshore barrier reefs. About 95% of the park is water, with the shore of the park boasting an extensive mangrove forest. The park covers 172,971 acres in total, which includes the largest and northernmost island of the true Florida Keys. In the north of the park, visitors can spot transitional islands of coral and sand.

The park protects four distinct ecosystems today: the mangrove swamp, the shallow waters of Biscayne bay, the coral limestone keys, and the offshore Florida Reef. The shoreline swamp region provides a nursery for larval and juvenile fish, molluscs, and crustaceans. The region is also covered with tropical vegetation and cacti, palms, and the ever-endangered sea turtle. The offshore reefs and waters harbor more than 200 species of fish, pelagic birds, whales, and coral reef.

The Biscayne National Park is home to 16 endangered species, including swallowtail butterflies, smalltooth sawfish, manatees, hawksbill sea turtles, and alligators.

Inhabited by the Glades culture more than 10,000 years ago before the rising sea levels filled the bay, native people called the region home before the Spanish took possession of Florida in the 1600s. Upon arriving in the bay, the coral reef in the water claimed hundreds of ships into the 20th century.

Fun fact: the park was originally proposed for inclusion in the Everglades National Park. It was removed from the proposal and remained undeveloped until the 1960s.

Today, the park is home to over 600 native fish, neo-tropical water birds, and migratory habitat.

Biscayne National Park’s Top Animals

  • Sea turtles
    • The loggerhead sea turtle calls the park home, although it is endangered today. The females may lay about 100 eggs per nest, but that doesn’t protect the babies from the hardships and dangers they must survive to reach adulthood. Most eggs are eaten by predators. Once grown the sea turtle has fewer predators, though the Tiger Shark still hunts them.
  • Cotton mouse
    • Named from the cotton that it uses to build its nest, the cotton mouse is known by its dark brown body and white belly and feet. With short lifespans of 4-5 months, these mice provide sustenance for dozens of species in the park.
  • American alligators
  • American crocodiles
  • Swallowtail butterfly
    • Characterized as a large, colorful butterfly endemic to South Florida, the swallowtail butterfly has been listed as endangered since 1975. In recent years, the population has declined so steeply that park service intervention has been taken to ensure the species survives. There are only 75 swallowtail butterflies left in the park today.
  • Arctic tern
    • Boasting the longest migration of any animal, the arctic tern migrates 44,300 miles in one year. Migrating across oceans, around Antarctica and back, these birds feed on smaller marine invertebrates. Nesting only once every three years, the tern can live up to 30 years. Over one million terns can be spotted passing through the park every year.

Viewing Locations

Dante Fascell Visitor Center: Get a good glimpse at local manatees from the main visitor center. Manatees can be seen year round.
Chicken Key Bird Rookery: Located northeast of the Deering Estate in South Miami, Chicken Key is only accessible by canoe. You can book a tour with park naturalists who discuss the history, wildlife, and ecology of the island. It’s a great spot for bird watching.
Elliot Key and Boca Chita Key: Two amazing campsites within the park, both of these locations are great places to sit back and catch some local animal activity. Note that standing bodies of fresh water are not safe to wade into due to the alligator and crocodile population. Follow local camp recommendations for securing food at night.

When Should You Go?

You can visit the Biscayne National Park anytime of the year, though there are more manatees present in the colder winter months. The park has a pretty stable climate with winters still manageable for visitors.

Generally, December to April is considered the dry season and has increased ranger-led program availability. If you want to plan around the natural moistness, the winter is the preferred time to check out the park.

Categorized as Wildlife Tagged

Watching Wildlife in Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is home to resilient animals that are able to withstand some seriously harsh winter conditions. Also home to many endangered species in North America, the park is characterized by its bitter winters and searing summers as part of the Great Plains. From winds and drought to blizzards, heat, and storms, any animal that survives in this habitat is surely one to appreciate.

One of the most famous residents of the park is the American bison, once abundant in the American landscape. Their natural habitat began in Mexico and extended all the way to Canada, and from New York to Oregon. There were estimated to be 30 million bison roaming the country before the European settlements of the 1600s and 1700s. Settlers quickly cut down the bison population with significant hunting that nearly caused the species to go extinct. Thanks to conservationists that intervened in 1884, there are now 20,000 bison protected on public lands today. One of their homes is the Badlands National Park.

Additionally, the Badlands National Park is known for its abundance of butterfly species thanks to its location in the Great Plains. Visitors can view 177 different butterfly species in the greater region.

The Badlands National Park’s Top Animals

  • American bison
    • The plains bison subspecies are found in the Badlands National Park, a genus of Bison, of the species bison. Still, they are often called buffalo, derived from the French word for beef when they began trapping the bison in the 1600s. Bison are about 6.5 feet tall and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Their thick coats are designed in such a way that snow sits on top of their fur without ever making contact with their skin in the wintertime.
  • Ferrets
    • Nocturnal in nature, the black-footed ferret calls the Badlands its home as it crawls out of its burrow in the wee hours of the morning. Ferrets are known for sleeping up to 21-hours per day, waking up to hunt and eat before they go back to sleep.
  • Bighorn sheep
    • Found throughout the park, bighorn sheep live in small, separate groups that migrate constantly. For that reason, they can be hard to spot during your travels.
  • Pronghorn
    • Often mistaken for deer at a distance, pronghorn are much smaller, at only three feet high at the shoulder. Found in the open prairies of western North America, pronghorn are defined by their speed (they can run up to 55 miles per hour for half a mile). They are the most abundant mammal in the badlands region.
  • Prairie Rattlesnake
    • Able to grow up to 5-feet in length, this subspecies of snake has a triangular head and body defined by dark blotches. The snake will use its tail to make noise if it senses it is in danger. They often do this when a human is approaching since they are not an aggressive species. The snake preys on chipmunks, rabbits, ferrets, and mice.
  • Butterflies
    • Look out for sulphurs, whites, coppers, hairstreaks, blues, frittilaries, and skippers during your time in the park.

Fun fact: There are no bears of any kind in the Badlands National Park!

Viewing Locations

Medicine Root Trail: If you’re on a mission to catch some of the Badlands’ natural butterfly species, this hike is a great one.

Wind Cave National Park: Located near the Badlands, Wind Cave National Park is praised for its views of pronghorn in their natural habitat. Consider adding this park to your travels.

Mount Rushmore: Should you decide to make a great American historic stop, the collared mountain goat can be found around Mount Rushmore.

Castle Trail: This 10-mile hiking trail provides some of the best wildlife viewing along your journey. Be sure to bring binoculars.

Sage Creek Rim Road: For your best chance at seeing bison in the park, drive along Sage Creek Rim Road. Herds can be glimpsed by drivers, as well as those who hike along the road.

Pinnacles and Cedar Pass: Check out white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, and American antelope in these areas. You can also see American badgers, swift foxes, bobcats, black-footed ferrets, and mountain lions.

When Should You Go?

The Badlands National Park is impressive year round. However, it comes with a brutal winter most tourists want to avoid. It’s recommended to visit the park from April through October, like many other U.S. parks. The good news is that the bison can be spotted in the park year round – they never migrate.

Although it’s nearly impossible to catch a ferret in action since they eat and mate at night, the ferrets in the park are most active March to May when they can be found mating.

Categorized as Wildlife Tagged