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Discover Outdoor New Zealand with Andrew Hempstead

1. Gadling and other top travel websites have ranked New Zealand as one of the best destinations for outdoor lovers. What makes it such a superior vacation locale for those that enjoy the outdoors?

A wide range of outdoor recreation all within easy range of a one- or two-week driving holiday. Hiking (known locally as “tramping”) tops the list, but there’s also everything from skiing to surfing. Adding to the charm, locals take full advantage of the outdoors, and in almost every town and village, you find helpful locals to guide you to the best activities.

2. Are there any outdoor activities that are unique to New Zealand?

Bungee jumping was started by a New Zealander and is the most popular adrenaline sport. The hub of bungee jumping is Queenstown.

3. There seem to be a lot of opportunities for adrenaline junkies and novice adventurers. Describe a few.

Waitomo Caves are best known for their glow worms, but the area also has a number of underground adventures that include swimming along sunken rivers and rappelling into deep grottos.

At Rotorua, hop inside a huge clear plastic ball and let yourself be rolled down a grassy slope—and then tell the folks back home you’ve been “zorbing.”

Queenstown bills itself as the “adventure capital of the world,” and with good reason. The resort town is filled with dozens of different adventure opportunities. Most famous of these is bungee jumping.

Jet boats were invented by a New Zealander. Trips are offered throughout the country, but the main concentration is Queenstown and the Shotover River.

While adrenaline junkies are well catered for, there are also a number of great opportunities for children to have fun with activities that are unique to the country, such as nighttime kiwi spotting tours (North Island) and fishing for prawns (Taupo).

4. Besides tent camping or backpacking, what are some unusual outdoor accommodations options?

New Zealand is renowned for its upscale lodging, so if your budget allows, book at least one night at a wilderness lodge. More affordable, but also unique, are the overnight boat trips on Milford Sound.

5. What are the top five outdoor activities in New Zealand? Where can you experience them?

There are so many, but here are my top five:

  • Scuba diving in the Bay of Islands
  • Viewing the geysers at Rotorua
  • Whale watching at Kaikoura
  • Hiking in Queenstown
  • Wildlife viewing in the Catlins

6. For the first time visitor to New Zealand who prefers an outdoor vacation to an urban experience, what island do you recommend visiting?

The two islands are very different. For example, someone from Florida may want to experience the mountains and glaciers of the South Island, whereas those from Canada should focus their time on the beaches of the North Island.

7. December and January are summer months in New Zealand and peak travel season. What are your tips for planning a last-minute trip?

Throughout these two months, campgrounds and most beachfront motels are full, with locals making their holiday bookings well in advance. Try traveling inland, or book hostels, which are not as seasonal.

8. Describe your best outdoor experience while traveling in New Zealand.

Surfing at Raglan. It’s a world-class break, with waves for intermediate and advanced surfers, and an adjacent town that caters fully to the surfing crowd.

Exclusive Preview: Birds of Prey #14

Birds of Prey #14 coverSomeone at DC Comics loves us. The reason I know this is that they’ve offered us a first look at Birds of Prey #14, which was written by Duane Swierczynski. You’ve read about Swierczynski before on this site as the author of the Charlie Hardie series: Fun & Games and Hell & Gone are available now in gorgeous paperbacks, with Point & Shoot arriving next year.

In issue 14, we follow the Birds of Prey as they continue their mission to Japan to track down a precious sword, while simultaneously combating a time bomb set to detonate one thousand feet below sea level. Start reading the issue below—we’ve got the first five pages—and pick up Birds of Prey #14 when it drops November 21st.

For more information about this series, visit the DC Comics website.

Click on images to enlarge

Birds of Prey #14 page 1

Birds of Prey #14 page 2

Birds of Prey #14 page 3

Birds of Prey #14 page 4

Birds of Prey #14 page 5

The Birth of The Right Hand

In the summer of 2001, my screenwriting partner Michael Brandt and I were hired to rewrite a screenplay for Universal Studios that involved an FBI agent embroiled in a global, political thriller.  While researching the film, Michael and I flew to Washington DC and were able to train with FBI agents at Quantico, including watching members of the Hostage Rescue Team perform drills — storming a facility with live flash bang grenades and real ammunition.  As part of that trip, we met with a reporter who covered the pentagon, and through him, we were able to interview a couple of real life American spies.  I was struck in particular by one man who, while perfectly pleasant in every aspect, would not tell us his name.   Still, he shared with us that one of his jobs while working for the CIA was to be in charge of holding copies of Presidential Directives.  We pressed him, and he explained that these documents noted when the President authorized breaking the laws of another country.  He would not tell us when he had this responsibility, because, he intimated, if the news got out, he would be targeted by several foreign services.

Years later, that little conversation over steaks at the Palms in DC stuck with me.  What kind of man would the US send in to purposely break the laws of another country… and what would the US do if the man were caught?  I remembered the biblical expression:  “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”  What if there were a field officer, known around Langley as The Right Hand, whom the US sent in when they wanted a mission completed but zero knowledge of how that objective was achieved.  A man so autonomous as to be in a black ops unit consisting of only his handler and himself.  And what if that spy embraced that anonymity, that it was a two-way street, that he was perfectly content to have his Agency unaware of his riskier methods.  He could be the Right Hand.   They tell him another spy went missing in Russia and they want him back.   The Right Hand is the spy who completes the assignment by any means necessary, and if he’s caught, he will be abandoned by his own country.

As this idea started forming in my head, another notion struck me.  What if this spy is given an assignment to track down a beautiful young woman who may or may not exist?  What if the mission itself might be apocryphal?  What if the Right Hand decided to make up his own assignment?    After that, I had a character and I had an assignment and the pages started flowing.

My last three books were all written in the first person, and I was eager to stretch myself by writing this book in the third person while occasionally jumping points-of-view.  Some of my favorite espionage authors — Ludlum, Clancy — deftly leap from location to location, character to character, as the web of intrigue spins out from the center.  I tried to do that here, while always holding the main character Austin Clay at the center of the action.  The fates of the other characters we meet are intertwined with Clay’s, and they will be moving towards each other like planets in the same gravitational pull as the book progresses.  Some of the fun of reading these types of books is to guess how the various characters will come together.  I hope I surprise you more than once.

That’s the origin of The Right Hand, a book I massively enjoyed writing and I hope you will enjoy reading.  I’m more than happy to answer any comments or questions about The Right Hand or any other project in the comment section below… a feature on the Mulholland site that is woefully underused.  Don’t hesitate to give me a shout…  I love hearing from readers.   I hope you’ll be one of them.

Derek Haas is the author of THE RIGHT HAND, THE SILVER BEAR, COLUMBUS, and DARK MEN. Derek also wrote the screenplays with his partner Michael Brandt for 3:10 TO YUMA, WANTED, THE DOUBLE and the NBC show CHICAGO FIRE. He is the creator of the website popcornfiction.com, which promotes genre short fiction. Derek lives in Los Angeles. Follow Derek on twitter (@popcornhaas), or facebook friend him.

A conversation with Denise Mina

Call me mildly obsessed: I can’t get enough of Lisbeth Salander. I devoured The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo back when it was an advanced reader’s edition, I saw David Fincher’s film the day it came out (and could not stop imitating Rooney Mara’s strange English/Swedish accent), and I’ve just finished reading the first volume of Vertigo’s graphic novel adaptation.

Denise Mina, author of The End of Wasp Season and the forthcoming Gods and Beasts, wrote the script for this adaptation. What I found fascinating about her writing is the way she is able to translate the characterization in Larsson’s 600-page novel with a few deft strokes of dialogue. Mina kindly took the time to answer my questions about her adaptation:

Why a graphic novel of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? What attracted you to this project?
Denise Mina: DC Comics approached me, and I was very keen. I think they were surprised by how keen I was, but I thought the story would lend itself wonderfully to a comic. Salander is very visual and the whole story—the usurping of gender roles, the motorbike, the gothic island—it could hardly be more graphic.

Also I love Larsson. He was a really radical political writer who used mass market media to get his political points across, and I felt a lot of those points were lost in the film versions. For example, Salander’s mother is brain damaged because of domestic violence. Her mother isn’t even in the American version, which is a shame. For me her mother is the centre of the whole story.

What was the hardest part about adapting Stieg Larsson’s writing for a graphic novel? Were there any plot elements in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that were easier to tell in a graphic novel format?
DM: Quite a lot. Compared to prose, comics are great at action. I’d argue that comics are better for action than film too. The fraud plot lines were easier in comics than in prose and just impossible in film.

Difficult to have an interior monologue though, unless there is a narrator, and that’s not possible with a two-handed story like this one, where Blomkvist and Salander share the action half each.

Much of the dialogue in this adaptation is original. What was it like to write dialogue for someone else’s characters? How did you get inside their heads?
DM: For me the rule for dialogue in comics is less is best. The story should come out of the graphics and dialogue just shouldn’t be there if it isn’t necessary to add information or characterisation. Basically it boils down to information filtered through characterisation.

I didn’t find it hard because I’ve written for pre-existing characters before but I’m always dismayed when I find elements of myself in there, jokes I find funny but which don’t fit in with the scope of reference for those characters.

Tell me about the parts where you deviate from Stieg Larsson’s story: How much do you feel like you’re telling your story rather than Larsson’s?
DM: Its incredibly faithful to the original. I was aware that a lot of people already knew the story, and I didn’t want to leave too much out. It never felt like my story, more than that, it felt like I was trying to make his story work in a comics form. That involved things like making Blomkvist’s attractiveness believable (women are keen as chips to sleep with him for no very clear reason) and seeding Salander’s talent for disguising herself earlier in the story so that it doesn’t feel like a surprise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Vol. 1 is available for purchase now in hardcover and eBook

Care for a Drink with your Film? (or a Film with your Drink?)

Cine Odeon Petrobras movie theater
Photo © Michael Sommers.

Although it’s more famously known for its beaches, music, and Carnaval, Rio de Janeiro is also a great city for film lovers.

This isn’t just because Rio is home to dozens of movie theaters, many of them housed in alluring edifices – ranging from the streamlined Art Deco splendor of the Roxy, in Copacabana, to the intimate 45-person hipster haven of Cine Santa, perched on Santa Teresa’s Largo de Guimarães.

Or because every year, for two weeks in early October, the city plays host to one of the biggest film festivals in the Americas, the Rio International Film Festival.

Or because, from time to time, an enormous screen is erected in the middle of Copacabana Beach and hundreds flock to sit in the soft sand and watch a free movie with Sugarloaf and Corcovado as backdrops (I recently had the pleasure of being one of the flock when Hitchcock’s very first (silent) film – The Pleasure Garden – was shown, with a live musical accompaniment by the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra’s Youth Ensemble).

It’s because Rio de Janeiro is a city where you can drink in movie theaters – and watch movies in bars.

This is particularly the case in Centro, home to Rio’s first movie houses (and its oldest bars). In the 1920s, a savvy Spanish entrepreneur decided to transform the sprawling square of Praça Floriano Peixoto into a Carioca version of Broadway, with restaurants, dance halls, theaters, and a handful of glamorous movie palaces whose prominence earned the square the nickname of Cinelândia.

Sadly, today Cinelândia’s sole survivor is the Cine Odeon Petrobras, a classic deco palace that opened its grand doors in 1932. Aside from screening (often independent and/or national) films on its blissfully large screen, it plays host to a variety of cool cinema-centric events that attract a cult following and involve as much drinking and dancing as movie watching:

Cineclube GLBT: On the final Friday of each month, Rio’s alternativo crew gather to check out screenings of GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender-themed short films from Brazil and all over the globe, followed by a DJ-led dance fest out in the lobby.

Maratonas: On the first Friday of every month, hard-core cinephiles (and insomniacs) can watch an all-night marathon of movies knowing that, in between features, they can down cocktails and dance to DJ-spun tunes until dawn and the final credits – at which time, breakfast is served.

Cineclube Cachaça: On Wednesday nights (usually once a month), members of this “club” gather to watch recently produced Brazilian short films (often with the makers in attendance) before congregating post-film to tipple fine blends of Brazil’s most famous homegrown alcohol to the strains of live or DJ-spun music.

On the flip side of the equation, Cine Botequim is a classic Carioca botequim (neighborhood bar) that screens movies. Located in the formerly down-and-out, but now up-and-coming area near Praça Mauá, it shows double features every night of the week (at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.) with selections organized according to genres, themes, and actors.

Complementing the main features are the décor (lighting fixtures made from old film canisters and lots of vintage movie posters) and a food and drink menu that allow you to gorge on “Raging Bull” (slices of sizzling grilled beef) while nursing an “All About Eve” (a ladylike mixture of vodka, passion fruit, and condensed milk that packs a nasty punch).

Note: Those who don’t speak a word of Portuguese can take comfort in the fact that, in Brazil, foreign (including English-language) films are shown in their original versions with Portuguese subtitles (since film titles are sometimes only listed only in Portuguese, some quick advance Googling might be necessary to determine what in fact you’ll be seeing).

Brazil’s Best and Write-est

book cover
Photo © Michael Sommers.

There has been a lot of ink spilled in recent times about all the enormous and myriad changes taking place in Brazil; from the swelling of the middle classes and the pacification of favelas to the behind-the-schedule-ness of Brazil’s preparations for the upcoming 2014 World Cup.

Far less newsworthy, but just as interesting are the changes taking place in Brazil’s robust literary scene.

Recently, when I was in Rio de Janeiro browsing through books at one of the few remaining livrarias that once littered the Zona Sul neighborhoods of Ipanema and Leblon, I came across (and actually purchased) a book entitled Os Melhores Jovens Escritores Brasileiros,” launched by Granta literary magazine in July of this year.

An English-language edition – The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists– was just released in North America this fall. Granta, which has been around since 1882, has been publishing these national compilations of writers to watch since 1983 when it launched a prescient The Best of Young British Novelists edition featuring stories by the up-and-coming likes of Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, and Salman Rushdie.

[pullquote] Granta, which has been around since 1882, has been publishing these national compilations of writers to watch since 1983. [/pullquote] I have to admit that – like many of my Brazilian friends – while I’m fairly well versed in the Brazilian 19th and 20th-century classics (I’ve spent countless hours with the likes of Machado de Assis, Jorge Amado, and Clarice Lispector), I’m sadly quite clueless when it comes to contemporary Brazilian fiction. Consequently, I pounced upon this intriguing (and inexpensive) volume with a considerable degree of curiosity.

According to Granta’s Brazilian editor, Marcelo Ferronio, in an interview posted on the magazine’s web site, there exists a young generation of Brazilian writers under 40 who, while continuing to draw on the country’s literary traditions, are producing a fresh crop of national fiction that is strongly influenced by popular culture and foreign fiction. These elements appear in the selection of short stories by 20 of the most promising young writers from all over the country.

Ferronio claims that the English-language version of the The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists is all the more special viewed how difficult it is to get Brazilian fiction translated, especially into English.

Says John Freeman, editor of the British-based Granta: “We buy Brazil’s clothes, we admire its football, we dance to its beats, but the dream-life of the nation – something contemporary fiction creates in a unique and vital way – remains mostly invisible to us, simply because of a lack of translation. I’m hoping this issue can change that a little, and introduce writers who will be with us for decades.”

Guatemala’s Petén Department: Sights Near Flores and Santa Elena

View of colorful houses clustered on a verdant shore across a calmly rippling lake.
View of Lake Flores, Petén. Photo © Graeme Churchard, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Map of Petén, Guatemala
Petén
There are a variety of attractions in and around Flores and Santa Elena that work well if you have a day or half a day while awaiting connecting flights or onward travel. Several of these attractions—ARCAS, Petencito Zoo, and Tayazal—are a five-minute boat ride across the lake from Flores’s north shore near the village of San Miguel. A road also goes this way along the shoreline and is useful in this discussion for orientation only, as most visitors find themselves catching a boat when heading out in this direction. You can take in 2-3 of these destinations as part of a lake tour leaving from Flores, which should cost between $15 and $20. Colectivo boats ($0.50) leave from a dock beside Restaurante La Guacamaya, on the north shore of Flores, as they fill up.


Parque Natural Ixpanpajul

Covering an area of nine square kilometers and conveniently just off the highway toward Guatemala City, the main attraction at Parque Natural Ixpanpajul (tel. 5619- 0513 or 7863-1317, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. daily) is a series of six suspension bridges built over the forest canopy, giving you a toucan’s-eye view of the forest. The trip along the forest trail takes a little more than an hour and includes a stop at a lookout point to take in the astounding view from the top of the mountain. Other activities include a Tarzan Canopy Tour (zip line), Spot Lighting (nighttime wildlife-viewing), horseback riding, mountain biking, tractor rides, and ATV rentals. You can tour the hanging bridges (Skyway) for $30 per adult or $22 per child. You also have a choice of mountain biking, tractor rides, or horseback riding, ranging from $5 to $25. Packages allow you to combine the Skyway with the Tarzan Canopy Tour and/or the Spot Lighting tour for a full day of adventure. You can combine two activities for $55 or all three for $75.

There is a campsite on the premises ($5) and you can rent tents ($10) and other equipment, but you have to book at least one of the main activities at a cost of $30. There are now also accommodations consisting of comfortable cabins with bunk beds and private bathrooms sleeping up to 5 people.

The park can provide transportation from Flores or Tikal if you call in advance. A taxi from Flores should cost about $5.


Cooperativa Nuevo Horizonte

Seventeen kilometers south of Santa Elena on the road to Guatemala City lies Cooperativa Nuevo Horizonte, a community of returned refugees and former combatants from the Guatemalan civil war. The cooperative was formed in 1998, when the community was resettled near the town of Santa Ana following the 1996 peace accords.

Nuevo Horizonte offers a fascinating glimpse into Guatemala’s sociopolitics. Although each family retains individual ownership of their house and farm plot, the pasturelands, a 250-acre forest preserve, a lake, and plantations of pineapple, pine, and lime trees are collectively owned. The co-op provides free day care, primary and secondary education, adult vocational training, and operates a pharmacy and clinic. The community also keeps two pickups and a minivan for anyone’s use. Additional infrastructure includes a welding shop and two corn mills. In an effort to minimize dependence on outside sources, the community maintains its own seed bank.

Many of the community’s residents lived in the Petén rainforests during the war years, on the run from Guatemalan government forces. In time, the jungle became a source of food, shelter, and safety and these experiences provided insights into uses for medicinal plants and food.

Among the cooperative’s initiatives is community- based tourism. They are happy to show you around the village and share their stories, and also take great pride in their forest preserve and reforestation program. Rustic cabins and meals from the community are available for visitors.


Hotel Villa Maya

As you head east along the road to Tikal, an unpaved road cuts north toward the Petenchel Lagoon for about four kilometers to the excellent Hotel Villa Maya (tel. 2223-5000, $85 d), with its 56 comfortable, tastefully decorated rooms equipped with air-conditioning, hot water, and balconies overlooking the placid lagoon. There are also a swimming pool and an excellent restaurant. It’s a bit out of the way, but the exclusive feel of this jungle outpost only adds to its allure.


Petencito Zoo

Farther west along this same road leading to the village of San Miguel is Petencito Zoo (8 a.m.-5 p.m., $3), housing a collection of local wildlife, including jaguars, monkeys, and macaws. The intrepid can ride the concrete water slides here, though their safety is questionable and at least one death has been reported.


ARCAS

Continuing west, the road again connects to the larger Lake Petén Itzá to ARCAS (tel. 7926-0946), the Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Association, where an animal rehabilitation center harbors animals captured from poachers, including jaguars, macaws, monkeys, and coatis. Although the animal rehabilitation area is not open to outsiders, an Environmental Education and Interpretation Center caters to the casual visitor. There is a nature trail showcasing a variety of medicinal plants, a beach, a bird observation platform, and an area for observing animals that cannot be reintroduced to the wild. During turtle season there are public hatchling releases with informative lectures (tel. 4144-9762, 8 p.m. daily, $1.50).

Although the site is perfectly accessible by road, most visitors come by boat. Tours leave Flores on weekdays at 8:30 a.m. (Spanish) and 3:30 p.m. (English) from the boat dock next to Restaurante La Guacamaya on the north end of the island. A tour costs $7 per person for a group of 1-2 people. Call ahead to confirm availability. You can also take a tour 9 a.m.-3 p.m. for $1.25 but you’ll have to arrange your own transportation. Confirmation is not required if you choose to go this route.


Tayazal

Not to be confused with Tayasal, which once occupied the same territory as present-day Flores, the remains of this small site can be found up a hill near the village of San Miguel. Although the ruins themselves are not overly impressive, there is a wonderful lookout, known as a mirador, built into a tree atop a temple mound from where you have an exceptional view of Flores. The lookout is about two kilometers outside of town. Follow the signs for the “mirador.”


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Guatemala.

Discover Honduras

Rolling peaks of mountains stretch into the distance.
Mountains at dusk in Tegucigalpa. Photo by Lauri Väin licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Honduras packs several personalities into a country the size of Virginia, boasting fantastic natural beauty of sea and mountains, cultural richness, and a relaxing tropical vibe similar to Belize and Costa Rica, waiting to be discovered along a far less-trodden path.

[pullquote align=”right”]While each region offers unique experiences, the warm, easy-going attitude of the catrachos, as Hondurans call themselves, is found everywhere.[/pullquote]The Bay Islands are Caribbean jewels of palm trees and sandy beaches lapped by turquoise waves, ringed by some of the finest coral reef in the hemisphere. It’s a scuba diver’s paradise, but even neophyte snorkelers can easily wade into an underwater world of angelfish, coral, and sponge. Back on the mainland, the Mayan ruins of Copán beguile travelers with their profusion of statues and glyphs carved in stone. Art and astronomy flourished in this first-millennium city, a New World Athens. Nearby Copán Ruinas, Santa Rosa de Copán, and Gracias offer glimpses into small-town Honduran life and are launching points for exploring the mountainous countryside.

A different side of Honduras is revealed in the north coast jungles. Search for a shy manatee or quiet crocodile in the shimmering lagoons. Raft down the Río Cangrejal or go for a hike in the verdant Parque Nacional Pico Bonito, then retire to one of the nearby ecolodges. Farther east lies the Mosquitia — Honduras’s fabled Mosquito Coast, the country’s least accessible region. Intrepid adventurers are rewarded by miles of undisturbed tropical rainforest, home to toucans, parakeets, troops of monkeys, and even the occasional jaguar, as well as opportunities for community-based ecotourism.

Rhythms speed up in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, the business and political capitals, respectively. The list of tourist attractions may be short in these bustling cities, but that of eating and entertainment options is long. The two metropolises can also serve as bases for exploring colonial towns and natural attractions in the surrounding regions. Bird-spotting at Honduras’s largest lake, Lago de Yojoa, and swimming at its highest waterfall, Pulhapanzak Falls, as well as the golden beaches of Tela, Omoa, and Puerto Cortés, make for easy day trips from San Pedro. Day-trippers from Tegucigalpa can take their pick of colonial towns like Valle de Ángeles, or head to the Golfo de Fonseca for a swim in the Pacific.

While each region offers unique experiences, the warm, easy-going attitude of the catrachos, as Hondurans call themselves, is found everywhere. Come to Honduras prepared to relax. Leave the stress behind when you get off the plane, and let yourself slip into the blissful contentment that has captivated many a visitor.


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Honduras & the Bay Islands.

America’s National Parks in Need Following Superstorm Sandy

View of verdant mounts with a clouded sky casting shadows on the land.
Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo © Carl & Peggy Backes.

Superstorm Sandy was certainly one of the worst natural disasters to befall America’s East Coast, and as a New Orleans native – who has a deep appreciation for the fickle temperament of Mother Nature – I’ve definitely been remiss in not mentioning it on my blog before now. With Hurricane Katrina and its long-lasting destruction never far from my mind, I’m especially horrified by what East Coast denizens have had to endure over these past couple of weeks. After all, I surely wouldn’t wish such fear, uncertainty, inconvenience, and tragedy on anyone – and I hope that life soon returns to normal for my fellow Americans in the Eastern states.

The only reason that it took me so long to mention the storm is that, as I shared in a recent post, my husband, Dan, was unfortunately in the hospital when Sandy was making headlines, and my mind was understandably focused on him at the time. In fact, I avoided watching the news for about a week straight – worry over him was stressful enough. But now that he’s home, and luckily on the mend, I’m better able to focus on news items that I might have missed, including the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

Since the storm descended upon New York, New Jersey, and other East Coast states, many Americans have tried to lend a hand – donating money, goods, and even their time to help those that were displaced and otherwise negatively affected by the already legendary superstorm. Still, East Coast residents, homes, and businesses weren’t the only entities hit hard by Sandy. Nearly 70 national parks, from North Carolina to Maine, were also damaged by the superstorm’s harsh winds, rain, snow, and tidal surge. According to the National Park Foundation (1201 Eye Street NW, Suite 550B, Washington, DC 20005, 202/354-6460), “Roads have washed away, buildings damaged, ecosystems have been tragically impacted, and historic sites have been threatened. In fact, the national parks of New York Harbor were hit especially hard, including Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, which each suffered extensive flood damage.”

Even the Blue Ridge Parkway (pictured above), which I recently highlighted in a three-part series about the Great Smoky Mountains, was adversely affected by Sandy. In fact, the superstorm brought snow, rain, and extreme wind to the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, forcing the closure of most sections of the Parkway. Until cleanup is completed, the National Park Service (NPS) has advised motorists against traveling along this route.

Unfortunately, Sandy isn’t the only natural disaster that’s recently impacted America’s national parks. Last month, for instance, wildfires consumed about 670 acres of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.

So, if you’re still looking to help out the East Coast, consider making a donation to the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks. Even a small amount will go a long way to help the cause, especially with potential budget cuts on the horizon.

While you’re at it, check out the Park Service’s response to Superstorm Sandy on Facebook, and consider visiting your nearest national park this weekend, in celebration of Veterans Day. As NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis has said, “National parks preserve places that commemorate our country’s collective heritage – our ideals, our majestic lands, our sacred sites, our patriotic icons – which our military has defended through the years. We are grateful for the service and sacrifice of military members, past and present, and honored to tell their story at many of our national parks.”

In fact, many NPS units, from frontier forts to Civil War battlefields, have direct links to the military, and several plan to commemorate Veterans Day with special events, such as evening candlelight tours of Vicksburg National Cemetery and a presentation about the African American Civil War experience at Natchez National Historical Park. As a bonus, all parks that charge an entrance fee will be free to visit from Saturday, November 10, through Monday, November 12 – the last fee-free weekend of 2012. So, on behalf of all those who serve and have served in the United States military, Happy Veterans Day!

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