Explorers sharing adventures from around the globe.
Becky Lee: I stumbled upon a drum circle in Washington, D.C.’s Meridian Park. The blur of fabric and beats turned a normal afternoon into a music and dance party.
Stephanie Panlasigui: Stop the car – a mono perezoso! An animal commonly referred to in Spanish as “mono perezoso” (or “lazy monkey” in English) must certainly be a slow mover. In Panama, I encountered this Three-toed Sloth during my first ever trip abroad, as our crew drove back to the laboratory from a mangrove forest research site. It seemed perfectly content to continue munching away, and show off hanging from just one foot, before his small audience. In other areas sloths are also called “oso perezoso” (meaning “lazy bear” in English). Sloths sleep 15 to 20 hours per day, and generally move at the leisurely speed of one foot per minute. Surprisingly though, Three-toed Sloths are quite good swimmers!
Erika Zambello: Virginia Beach holds a special place in my heart. Not the tourist-trap, built-up, main drag along Virginia Beach itself, but a small trail that snakes through the marsh bordering the Lynnhaven Inlet. For an entire summer I walked this path every day, getting to know the egrets, herons, fish, crabs, and other wildlife that called the marsh home. Though I loved the fauna, the flora was also captivating, especially at sunset. These pink blossoms looked like paintbrushes, and appeared especially delicate when the breeze blew just right.
Shannon Swanson: Another big pollution contributor is the “urban slobber,” a phrase coined by Rob Hutsel from the San Diego River Park Foundation, that accumulated from the county’s millions of cars — copper dust from the brakes, oil, gasoline, etc., that would wash straight to the ocean as soon as a rain hit. Here the close connection is apparent between the San Elijo lagoon in the foreground, the coast highway at rush hour, and a famous surf break at Cardiff Reef.
Becky Lee: São Paulo is a dramatically sprawling and dense metropolitan. From the top of the Edifício Itália, I got a glimpse of just how far the city’s edges reach.
Maria Prebble: Fifty miles outside of Bangkok lay the ruins of Ayutthaya, the once prosperous and cosmopolitan capital of the Siamese Kingdom. In 1767 the Burmese army sacked the city, destroying Buddhist temples and palaces. In the years that the city lay abandoned, the roots of a banyan tree grew around a Buddha head, entwining people and nature.
Erika Zambello: As part of my day job, I promote ecotourism opportunities on the Florida Panhandle. My favorite day at work was one entirely devoted to outdoor recreation, from paddleboarding to swimming to hiking. I started at 7:30 a.m., and continued straight on until nearly 5 p.m. Luckily I had two friends along to enjoy everything with me! Of all the places we visited, a patch of wildflowers absolutely covered in butterflies felt the most special. Though there were large black and orange Monarchs flitting from blossom to blossom, I preferred the smaller and daintier species, featured here.
Ryan Huang: This is an early photo I took during my first trip to the Dry Tortugas. I was overwhelmed with how busy the sooty tern colony was; I was constantly looking up at the sky at all of these birds illuminated by the midday sun. I was finally able to capture a single individual in mid-flight on camera, and to me, it looks like the individual is bathed in a halo of light that reminded me of an angel. I’ll be going back to the island in a few months, and I couldn’t be more excited to visit this heaven on Earth.
Dr. Lindsey Rustad: Scientists corral one of nature’s most destructive forces — ice — in two 60 x 90 ft research plots at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest on Jan 18, 2016 in a unique new study to better understand how ice storms shape northern forest ecosystems.
Stephanie Panlasigui: In the summer of 2014, I spent a day enjoying Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs State Park. Famous for the numerous fossils that emerge from the eroding cliff face, the beach at the end of the trail hosted many visitors, including several little kids with pails sifting through the sand in hope of finding a Megalodon tooth. What really captivated me that day was not the fossil hunt, but the magnificent, compound eyes of the dragonflies. They flew everywhere, and were vibrantly red, blue, green, yellow and orange, like glistening pieces of a rainbow on wings.
Nikkita Mehta: My parents and I were heading to central London for dinner and decided to take the longer route. With my iPhone out the window of the car, I was able to grab this shot of London at Christmas
Erika Zambello: As the new blogger for the Florida State Parks system, I have been travelling to different state parks to describe what it’s like to visit them for the first time. Usually I’m on the look-out for different bird species, but at Hillsborough River State Park outside of Tampa, it was the lizards that really caught my attention! They were everywhere, jumping ahead of us on the trail, scampering in the leaves, and barreling up tree trunks.
Ryan Huang: I took this photo of the Duke Chapel back in the spring time, when the cherry blossoms were blooming and it was warmer and sunnier. I love this photo for two reasons, 1) it helps me get through the cold winter by reminding me spring is just around the corner, and 2) it’s a great example that you really can find beautiful scenery anywhere, even just outside your office.
Shannon Swanson: Denis Island was a salve for the soul. It seemed that daily there were impressive storms that swept through violently and then left the most surreal landscape to gawk at. This was one of those evenings.
Wout Salenbien: Part of a year-round art project on the Belgian coast, this statue rises up from the dunes, only a few miles away from WWII fortifications. Representing the foam of the sea, the sculpture doesn’t look anywhere near the real deal, but it has its own draw. Leading up to the top of the dunes, the small trail brings you to a sight were you can compare artistic interpretation with the real sea in the background. In my opinion, the statue loses – nothing beats a restless sea. Where the statue does win, is in still frames. I had all the time in the world to carefully frame this shot.
Becky Lee: A slice of Brooklyn in BA, Ciudad Cultural Konex is a mix between a warehouse, event space, and outdoor bar. I went for a drum show called La Bomba with 10+ drummers and musicians on stage at the same time. I also loved the extra large beers and people watching.
Wout Salenbien: Abra Pirhuayani: 4,725 msl (~15,501 ft asl) – Leaving the Peruvian Amazon rainforest can be done in numerous ways, but most people stick to either flying out or driving out. Since I was there for research, I stuck with driving out too – hauling out a quarter ton of rocks is not cheap by plane. The 9 hour drive from Mazuko to Cusco is not a punishment however, but a truly impressing journey from one of the hottest and most humid areas in the planet, to snowcapped peaks and oxygen scarcity in a matter of mere hours. The highest pass on this whole journey is depicted here, Abra Pirhuayani, higher than any mountain in the lower 48 States. And that is just the pass, the mountains extend up to almost 6,000 msl! Despite being almost on the equator, there are year-round glaciers on these mountains, quite the contrast from the hordes of sandflies and mosquitoes from just a few hours earlier! After this, the road gently goes downhill again until you hit Cusco after another few hours driving through one of the most inhospitable and beautiful landscapes one can imagine. A truly humbling journey, for both the impressive display of force by nature and for the adaptability of human life.
Becky Lee: The Edgartown Lighthouse in Martha’s Vineyard is as tranquil and picturesque as it looks. A stroll through the quaint, bustling town leads you right to the water’s edge and the lighthouse. You can climb a few flights of stairs for a view from the tippy top.
Erika Zambello: Sometimes, all the elements fall into place for a wonderful photo. Over the weekend, I was walking along the shore of the Santa Rosa Sound in Navarre, FL. As the sun set, I sat on the sand to take in all the beautiful colors of the evening. Suddenly, two Willets and two Dunlin – shorebirds common along the Florida Panhandle – approached me as they were feeding, apparently undisturbed by my presence. Because of the angle of the descending sun, they formed perfect silhouettes against an orange-red sky. I literally did nothing other than steady my camera against my knee and snap the photo – no manual settings, no post-processing. I definitely felt like Lady Luck was smiling at me, and this has quickly become one of my favorite photos!
Erika Zambello: Winter in Maine is cold. Still, this doesn’t stop Mainers and visitors alike from enjoying the outdoors in a variety of different ways. On a recent visit at the end of November, I stopped in York to photograph a group of paddleboarders and surfers off a small beach. The temperature? A crisp 35 degrees F!
Shannon Swanson: When I set out to document the health of San Diego’s watershed for my NG Young Explorer Grant, I was startled by how many different sources of pollution existed, both on land and in the water that ultimately affected the coastline. Here the culprit was more obvious —the sand dredger that comes every year to suck sand out of the shipping channel and put back on the beach in Oceanside Harbor. As it sucks it can stir up sediments containing heavy metals and other harmful contaminants that had accumulated on the ocean floor.
Wout Salenbien: This picture of a banana farmer’s house reflects several dreams coming together. As a photographer, or an enthusiast, you always hear about the golden hour. However, if you aren’t the morning type (like me) you miss out on those moments where the light is magical. This time I was awake, fueled by coffee and hot chocolate, and boating the Manu River in Peru during a NSF field trip this past summer. The other dream is exactly that, waking up in the rainforest and seeing all its beauty (before the sandflies attack you). Talking about this experience only gets you that far. Being lucky enough to capture the beauty that you see, that is another thing.
Ryan Huang: I love this photo of mother and child vervet monkeys that I took while working in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Part of why I love it so much is that it’s so familiar and I can relate to them. Like all the other explorers on this site, I love to travel, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of family back home that’s waiting for me to come home and give me a hug of my own.
Becky Lee: A quick solo photo excursion across the Queensboro bridge to Socrates Sculpture Park in Astoria, one of my new favorite NYC neighborhoods. The Park has a bunch of life-size art exhibits that make for an artsy afternoon with sweeping views of Roosevelt Island and Manhattan.
Shannon Swanson: My next big project was as a research assistant with the Marine Conservation Society of the Seychelles, studying the local whale shark population. It was such a privilege to see these prehistoric looking creatures and even get to know the behavior and patterns of specific individuals.
Becky Lee: As the business and commercial center of Brazil, a lot of people say that São Paulo is kind of meh compared to the natural beauty of Rio or the rich culture of Salvador, but the city really grew on me after a few visits. I even found a little green in Praça da Sé, which leads the way to the beautiful Catedral da Sé.
Ryan Huang: Everyone always loves a good sunset, and I have always loved the idea of porches. Porches are by definition, open spaces that are incredibly welcoming and allow you to relax while enjoying the view with great company. While hanging out with friends at the Duke University Marine Lab, I could not pass up the opportunity to take a photo to capture the moment. Here, my friend Chase is sitting on one of the plethora of porches at the marine lab, chilling after a long day of conference talks, enjoying the sunset as the day winds down.
Shannon Swanson: Captain Clark jumps of her boat Swell in Costa Rica, ready for a surf. Initially I loved using photography to show people interacting with nature and how fluid the two could be. This was my first image published in a National Geographic outlet (when Nat Geo Adventure was still in print). It was an exciting time.
Mary Zambello: While waiting for an appointment in Charlestown, I was able to catch the morning sunrise on Boston Harbor. The whole city was soaked in orange, so I stayed a few extra minutes to snap a photo, even though it was 35 degrees F!
Becky Lee: A few friends and I rented a convertible through Relay Rides and took a short drive south of San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, a small shore town and surfer’s paradise. Highly recommended as a day trip and easy escape from the big city.
Stephanie Panlasigui: Rarely can you get this close to a bird of prey. As much as these youngsters look like adult Osprey, it seemed they had not yet fledged, and sat in a huge stick nest constructed by their parents, waiting for mom or dad to return home with a meal. In First Landing State Park in Virginia, they watched boaters pass by with piercing stares.
Shannon Swanson: One of my first love affairs with the ocean was through surfing, both on a board and behind a camera. Here my friend Jim, a much better surfer than myself, throws an air on a small day in Carlsbad, California.
Nikkita Mehta: Fall has arrived, with jokes about pumpkin spice lattes and Halloween candy. Within the concrete jungle of New York City, the farms from the surrounding areas put up their stands and sell the fruits and vegetables they work so hard to grow. As you hop off one of the many trains at Union Square, the smell of hot cider hits you and you see these white tents covering the area. It all looks nice and uniform; until you get closer and see the wonderful displays of color pouring from the tables.
Marika Cowan: Riding the Q train to or from Manhattan on the weekends, I often encounter small bands of breakdancing buskers while crossing over the Manhattan bridge. They usually travel in small groups of three or four, and announce their presence with the characteristic shout of “Showtime, folks!” as they enter the car carrying a boombox blaring hip-hop. Most New Yorkers have grown to consider these performers an annoyance, and I’ll admit I often agree with them when I’m exhausted after a long day of errands. However, there’s another part of me that is always impressed by the skill and bravery of these kids, as I watch them do handstands and backflips amongst the crowd of commuters, grabbing onto the subway poles and swinging themselves upside-down. This week’s illustration is inspired by those performers.
Wout Salenbien: There is no better past-time activity then to spend your whole day by the river, picking out fossils. Breaking up rocks by hand, sieving them to wash out the fine fraction and picking out fossil after fossil from the coarse fraction is quite rewarding (even though it might not sound like it). This picture shows exactly the rewarding part of the hunt; wrapping up a whole day of screen washing while watching the beautiful sunset, with a majestic view on the last foothills of the Andes, the western-most edge of the Amazon rainforest. For hundreds and hundreds of miles east, there is nothing else besides forest. In the end, we recovered a whole range of teeth and bone bits. These includes fish jaws, crab claws, a whole range of rodent teeth, reptile scales, hand bones and many yet-to-be-identified fossils. Combining all this information gives us a snapshot of what life was around the river some 19 million years ago.
Ryan Huang: They say it’s important to “stop and smell the roses” and I couldn’t agree more. It’s far too easy to go about our busy days and take for granted the little things all around us, such this little bumble bee who works tirelessly to pollinate all the beautiful flowers around us. I took this picture in my very own backyard in Connecticut. So while you’re reading about amazing travels abroad, don’t forget there’s a whole world in your own backyard waiting to be explored!
Becky Lee. Not the typical Brazilian beach landscape, Canyon Itaimbezinho is located in the Serra Catarinense, a mountain range located between the southern Brazilian states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. Even though the skies were a little bit cloudy, we managed to catch some amazing views, perhaps even more mystical with the nevoeiro, or light fog.
Wout Salenbien. As part of my PhD research at Duke University, I examine the link between biodiversity and the geosphere through the fossil records. This means I get to travel along the Amazon river during my field season to look for fossils. During my latest trip, I was staying in an indigenous village deep in the Manu Rainforest Preserve. This photo was taken one morning at sunrise along the Rio Palotoa in Peru.
Erika Zambello. As everyone knows, Florida is hot. While the heat can be brutal between June and September, it does mean that we Floridians are treated to not one, but two wildflower bursts. Though it is mid-October, the flowers are definitely blooming, attracting a host of butterflies and other pollinators. This resurgence of blossoms was very evident at Karick Lake, a public area within Blackwater State Forest. Underneath the stately pine trees I found a veritable meadow of flowers and greenery that practically seemed to glow in the afternoon light. Definitely one of my favorite places I’ve visited in Florida!
Nathan Hsieh. Takhi horses are ancient wild horses with 66 chromosomes, as opposed to a domesticated horse with 64; thus they cannot breed with other horses. They have no color variation, and have been over-hunted throughout the years, leading them to be classified as extinct in the 1970′s. As a result of strong breeding programs, the Takhis were revitalized and brought back to Mongolia! Now there are over 300 of them in the Hustai (Khustain Nuruu) National Park.
Ryan Huang: As someone who travels a lot, I often forget that beauty can be found in the simplest places. In this case, I was birding in an orchard looking at dozens of beautiful hummingbirds when a sudden rainstorm caught us by surprised. As we all scrambled for cover and waited for the rain to pass, I noticed a single apple with beaded water droplets that felt more beautiful than any of the jeweled birds for which I came.
Erika Zambello: I found this Northern Gannet on the Emerald Coast of Florida, across the bridge from busy Destin. Gannets are giant seabirds, spending most of their lives soaring on the ocean winds. This juvenile was sitting on the beach, emaciated and sick. Though it was amazing to see such a magnificent bird at close range, its ill-health and weak status were definitely sad.
Ryan Huang: During my travels, I spent just under a year living in Madagascar, working with the NGO Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership to study lemur behavior and collaborate with the local community to reforest the fragmented rainforest. We follow lemurs using a special radio collar that transmits their locations for us to find. While chasing lemurs through a wet, mountainous rainforest is often quite physically demanding, I was able to capture a quick moment as a greater bamboo lemur stops to take a snack on the very plant it’s named after.
Erika Zambello: Fall is a magical time to be in Maine. Though I live in Florida, when October hits I can’t help but think of the crisp nights and amazing fall foliage in my home state of Maine. This photo was shot in the Rangeley Lakes region, as the sun was beginning to descend in the afternoon. Nothing beats those orange, red, and golden tones!
Ryan Huang: Every year I help organize a trip for students to visit the Dry Tortugas National Park, a small island chain west of the Florida Keys. We spend a week camped on the beach, banding and releasing sooty terns as part of an ongoing effort since 1937. These data allow me to help answer questions about population dynamics, survival rates, impacts of hurricanes, and more. As the sun rose, I was able to capture the chaos of a seabird breeding colony, while one of the students waits to catch a tern with his net.
Stephanie Panlasigui: While also found in other African countries, a small region in Gabon is the one place you can find the peculiar armored cricket. Standing in a logging concession waiting to observe a tree felling, I was caught by surprise to find the insect crawling up my pant leg.