Nature as Medicine

Trail through moss covered forest, Fort Cascade National Historic Site, Washington
Trail through moss covered forest, Fort Cascade National Historic Site, Washington

A recent article in the Washington Post illustrated an interesting phenomenon that is occurring in the medical profession these days and perhaps the timing couldn’t be better. Just when the cost of health insurance has skyrocketed, doctors across the country are telling their patients to “take a hike” to fix what ails them.

They’re not trying to lose customers, but instead are medicating their patients with nature to treat everything from heart disease to attention deficit disorder. Detailed prescriptions are often written to include park or preserve locations, specific trails and mileage. In many ways, as Ken Burns pointed out in his excellent series “America’s Best Idea”, our national park system can and should be an integral part of our healthcare system.

As a landscape photographer, I spend a great deal of time on and off the trail and I feel fortunate that my work not only helps to protect these special places, but promotes my health in the process. Photography and outdoor recreation have always been an ideal match, and now they might just lower your medical bills as well!

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”    ― Rachel Carson

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

America’s Best Idea

Last light on Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite National Park, California (© Russ Bishop/www.russbishop.com)
Last light on Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite National Park, California (click image to view large)

August 25th is the 101st birthday of the National Park Service. Established in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson, the National Park Service was created to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein…for the enjoyment of future generations.”

From its humble beginnings with just thirty-five parks administered under the Department of the Interior, today the National Park System includes over 400 units including parks, monuments, and historic sites. Ken Burns’ recent film The National Parks: America’s Best Idea rekindled the connection many feel with the parks, and is a wonderful tribute to the history and originality that first made them possible.

The National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks and a great resource for staying in the loop about events and activities at nearby parks or putting the finishing touches on planning your next big adventure.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

Kauai’s Kalalau Trail

Lush vegetation along the Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii USA (© Russ Bishop/www.russbishop.com)
Lush vegetation along the Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

The Kalalau Trail along Kauai’s verdant north shore is arguably one of the finest hikes in the world. Originally built in the late 1800’s to link early Hawaiian settlements along the rugged coastline, it is still the only land access to this remote part of the Island.

The trail, which starts at the end of the road at Ke’e Beach, hugs the sheer cliffs and traverses 5 valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach where the pali (Hawaiian for cliffs) create a natural terminus.

Along this mystical journey you pass verdant spires, wander through lush valleys, and are left with the feeling that you’ve truly entered the Lost World (not surprising since both King Kong and Jurassic Park were filmed here).

Whether you cover the entire 11 mile distance and camp at Kalalau Beach or take an afternoon hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach, this is the quintessential Na Pali Coast experience.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua tree and star trails at night, Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua tree and star trails at night, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park in the southern California high desert east of Palm Springs is an exotic arid playground that stimulates the imagination and rejuvenates the spirit.

As a world-class rock climbing mecca, its multitude of quality climbs and ideal off-season temperatures attract athletes from around the globe. And then there’s the landscape – a surreal mix of granite boulders strewn across the park like a giant’s marbles, and the namesake Joshua Trees with their whimsical spiny branches that conjure images of Dr. Seuss characters. From a photographic standpoint it’s a paradise of grand proportions, and when the sun goes down the night sky puts on a show of its own.

At the junction of two ecosystems, Joshua Tree National Park is host to both the Mojave Desert to the north in the higher elevations, and the Colorado Desert to the south. The Joshua Trees thrive in the slightly cooler Mojave Desert in the western part of the park, while the lower Colorado portion plays host to a multitude of spring wildflowers, a cholla cactus garden and the lush Cottonwood oasis near the southern entrance.

Summer temperatures can be unbearably hot, but the rest of the year is ideal for photography, climbing, hiking or just soaking up the visual experience in this otherworldly landscape.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved