10 weirdest (and wildest) nature stories from 2013

A rare "cloud inversion" at the Grand Canyon filled the canyon with an ocean of clouds in November. 

National Park Service

Some pretty strange things happened out in the wilderness this year.

From weird invasions of moose parasites to strange vandalism cases on our public lands, there was no shortage of drama in places that are otherwise known for their peace and tranquility. In case you missed them, we thought we'd share a few. Here's our list of the 10 strangest nature and public lands stories of 2013. Enjoy!

1) Ancient Goblin Valley rock formation destroyed by Boy Scout leaders

Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park made headlines this year when three men, two of whom were Boy Scout leaders (Scout’s Honor!), destroyed a nearly 200 million year old stone formation called a “hoodoo” by breaking and toppling it. Goblin Valley is renowned for its striking geological phenomena that date back to the late Jurassic Period, around 160 million years ago.

Thankfully for park officials, the raucous group filmed the entire thing and later posted the incriminating video on YouTube.

"We have now modified Goblin Valley," one of the men says in the video, soliciting a cheer from the man behind him. 

Boy Scouts of America later issued an apology statement, emphasizing the organization's focus on teaching respectable outdoor stewardship. Okay, then.

2) Rare weather event fills entire Grand Canyon with dense fog

What usually only occurs once in a decade in Grand Canyon National Park happened twice in late November. The rare weather event known as cloud inversion caused the entire canyon to be filled with an ocean of clouds on an otherwise clear day. Park rangers wait for years to see such an inversion, but this time it happened twice within one weekend. Check out more amazing photos of the cloud inversion on our Facebook page

Photo: Flickr, Grand Canyon NPS/Erin Whittaker (adapted by Lydia Hooper)

3) Yellowstone supervolcano 2.5 times bigger than originally estimated

Hot springs show evidence of volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park, Alaskan Dude, flickr

Late in 2013, scientists revealed new research suggesting that the massive supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park is actually 2.5 times larger than previously believed. What does this mean? The magma chamber of Yellowstone's volcano is now estimated to be 55 miles long, according to University of Utah researcher Jamie Farrell. The news could be slightly unsettling for nearby residents who now know the volcano has the potential to erupt with a force about 2,000 times the size of Mount St. Helens. "It would be a global event...There would be a lot of destruction and a lot of impacts around the globe," Farrell told the Huffington Post

4) Parasites literally sucking North American moose herds dry

All across North America, moose populations are on a steep decline, and no one is quite sure why.

To give you a sense of how bad America’s mystery moose pandemic is, herds are dropping at rates of up to 25 percent in one year. In some states, such as Minnesota, entire species have all but disappeared since the 1940s.

In New Hampshire, biologists with the state’s Fish and Game Department have observed skyrocketing winter tick infestations that may just be the culprit for that region’s die-offs. Winters have grown much shorter across much of the North American moose’s range, and shorter winters mean more time for these blood-sucking parasites to flourish. Up to 100,000 ticks have been recorded on a single moose.

Further north, in British Columbia, a recent study pinned the decline of moose on epidemics of pine bark beetles that have systematically killed off forest habitats that moose depend on to survive.

States are now investing in research technology, such as micro-transmitters that monitor heart and body temperature, that will help scientists understand why moose populations are rapidly thinning.

Credit: Powhusku, Flickr

5) 42 national parks (yep, you read that correctly) threatened by oil and gas drilling

A report commissioned by the Center for American Progress this year revealed that 42 of America’s national parks are currently threatened by oil and gas drilling in the near future.

Included on this list are New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon National Park, also featured in our Too Wild to Drill report, as well as Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park.

While that may seem pretty weird, the sad reality is that all public lands, including national parks and wildlife refuges, are potentially open to oil and gas leasing, unless they are designated as “wilderness”—the highest form of land protection given by the federal government.

Photo: Arches National Park. Credit: Parudox, Flickr

6) Yosemite visitors locked out, logging companies invited in

During October's government shutdown, Congress essential shut out all visitors from national parks. But guess who they wanted to allow in while you couldn't get past the entrance gates? Logging companies. One of the disastrous bills introduced in Congress during the government shutdown would further threatened public lands, including one that would allow timber companies to log in Yosemite National Forest.

After our WildAlert supporters rose up in protest, the iconic park was pulled from the logging bill, leaving Stanislaus National Forest in the crosshairs. Strangely, the bill attempts to capitalize upon the disaster of a huge fire that devastated crucial habitat and recreational areas.

Photo: Flickr, Arian-Zwegers (adapted by Lydia Hooper)

7) New dinosaur species found at Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah

A recent discovery in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments gives a new meaning to America’s “wildlands.”

A new dinosaur species, Lythronax argestes, was discovered by paleontologists at a site in southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Their findings were published earlier this year. This discovery was not only momentous for the field of paleontology, it also made clear that some of our carefully-preserved public lands possess a unique legacy.

The new dinosaur, whose name means "Gore King from the Southwest," is thought to be a close ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex, making it a major find. Only a tiny fraction of the Grand Staircase-Escalante area has been excavated by paleontologists, but it has already proven unusually fruitful, yielding the only known specimen of a new Triceratops ancestor in 1998 among other fossils.

Experts think there are many more bones waiting to be unearthed in the once-swampy region these dinosaurs inhabited eons ago.

Credit: Bureau of Land Management, Flickr

8) Shutdown of public lands leads to theft of Civil War artifacts

For the 16 days that the federal government was shutdown this fall, all of America's national parks, refuges, forests and other wild lands were closed, causing much distress to the public.

Calamities during the government shutdown included cancelled trips of a lifetime, ruined weddings, stranded visitors, strapped workers and huge economic losses to local communities. Sadly, vandalism at parks increased, including attempted theft of artifacts at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.

A local man is facing charges for attempting to take items he dug up from the land that marks one of the definitive battles of the Civil War.

Photo: Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. Credit: Flickr, kafoster27

9) Park rangers protest drilling near national parks

Park rangers aren't usually associated with protest movements, but this year was different. A group of fed-up park rangers said enough is enough when it comes to encroaching oil and gas drilling near our national parks. In April, after hearing from fellow rangers in western parks about how drilling is infringing upon national parks, Ranger Ellis Richards created Park Rangers for Our Lands and joined the ranks of conservationists urging the federal government to curb drilling near the parks. The rangers say requests for oil and gas leases on western public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) should be denied if they are close enough to national parks to threaten them. Weird? Maybe not so much. A bit unusual and cool to see rangers calling out the government for misguided decisions? Heck yeah. 

Credit: GOC53, Flickr

10) Wild bison protest government shutdown

Would-be tourists to our national parks, monuments and refuges met with closed gates and huge disappointment over the 16 days of the government shutdown in October. Apparently some of the local Wyoming bison didn't like it either.  Those bison who took it upon themselves to knock down a roadblock outside Kelly, Wyoming, near Grand Teton National Park.

See also: 

11 wilderness victories: Places you helped protect in 2013

 

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