With everybody becoming aware and alert about environmental issues, travel and tourism has greatly revolutionized over the past decade or so. A new concept has now been introduced in the world of travel and tourism called ecotourism. Ecotourism is defined as travel to such places that are rich in ecological wealth and are full of biodiversity; but with responsibility and with the minimum amount of impact on the place possible. Ecotourism is undertaken more by students and scholars who are interested in studying the biodiversity of the world, rather than by professionals involved in the travel and tourism business. Ecotourism is not just traveling for fun, or traveling for its sake. Individuals who participate in ecotours often volunteer to work for the environment and its protection, especially in the area they plan to visit. Volunteering includes monetary help as well as practical help such as conservation, increasing awareness among ordinary people about the nature, culture and aesthetic appeal of the place. Many groups are now coming forward and establishing themselves as ecotour groups.
Ecotourism Destination in the United States
Ecotourism does not require one to travel far and wide in search of exotic places that have never been explored by man. Look closely enough, and you will find some of the most stunning destinations in your own country! Here is an account of some such ecotourism destinations.
Northern lights of Aurora Borealis over snowscape
Iceberg and Dawes Glacier at Endicott Arm Fjord
Coastal brown bear with cub
Caribou reindeer at the Denali National Park during fall colors
One of the first states to come to my mind when I think of ecotourism is Alaska. It is the largest of all the states that belong to the United States. But most importantly, Alaska is home to such places like the Denali National Park, Tongass National Forest, Glacier Bay Basin and the Katmai National Park and Reserve. Each of these places is worth writing an entire essay on! The scenic beauty completely takes your breath away. But even apart from that, the wildlife you get to see in Alaska, is truly remarkable. It includes animals like caribou bulls, muskoxen, Steller sea lions, bald eagles and many more. The dense, dark-green spruce and willow trees look stunning in the winters, on the pale backdrop of the snow-capped mountains. The Denali National Park attracts many naturalists and nature enthusiasts every year. It is especially known for the birds that are found there. However, authorities keep the place under strict control and observation. Feeding any animals you encounter in the park is strictly prohibited. Tongass National Forest - spreading over a vast expanse of 17 million acres, and with a total of 19 wilderness areas - is the largest national forest in the whole of United States. The Glacier Bay Basin is also another area that hosts a lot of interesting flora and fauna. The Grand Pacific Glacier, John Hopkin's Glacier, Muir Glacier and some of the most landmark glaciers in the Glacier Bay Basin. It is home to bears, bald eagles, sea lions, humpback whales and many other life forms. The Katmia National Park and Reserve, where the famous Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is located, is also in Alaska. All of this makes Alaska top my list of ecotourism destinations.
Wailua Falls, Hawaiian Waterfall
Cooling lava at Big Island, Volcanos National Park
Green Turtle silhouette in Kona, Hawaii
Hawaii would be a tropical paradise, and should top your list if you are enthusiastic and keen on learning about ocean life. A state that is in fact an archipelago (a collection or group of islands), Hawaii is the newest of the states to be included in the United States. The flora and fauna you would encounter on an ecotour to the Hawaiian Islands would be like none other you have or will ever see. This is mainly because the islands originated as a result of undersea volcanic activity. Also the islands show a remarkable topography. Geographically they are located far away from the American continent. Life forms here have thus suffered from the least amount of human impact, making them truly unique. The main attraction of Hawaii with respect to ecotourism is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You will find yourself facing all kinds of extremes on a visit to this place - from tropical forests to barren arid lands, from being at sea-level to being atop the world's most gigantic volcano. Hawaii - being an archipelago - will give you the chance to witness some remarkable sea life-forms, such as humpback whales and many more. However Hawaii has unfortunately, lost many of its endemic plant and animal species to invading human activity. Even then, Hawaii is home to some truly extraordinary endemic species that make it an ecotourism destination you should not miss!
Sunset at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Garden of the Gods State Park, Colorado Springs
Mountain goat with kid
Mesa verde cliff dwellings
The Rocky Mountain Range alone is enough to help Colorado make it to my list of ecotourism destinations. The state gets its name from the Colorado River actually (one would think it was the other way round!). The Rocky Mountain Range has been tediously studied and classified by naturalists, geologists, botanists, environmentalists and zoologists into a number of regions. Each of these regions is marked with its own peculiar flora and fauna. The Rocky Mountain National Park established almost a century ago (96 years ago, to be precise, in the year 1915) offers a lot of opportunities to go trekking, camping and on nature trails. Among different trails undertaken by various campers and camping organizations, the Ute Trail is the most popular one. The Never Summer Mountains, the Milner's Pass, the Longs Peak are some of the most visited destinations within the park. Colorado also boasts as the home to one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Mesa Verde. Finally, another remarkable destination in Colorado would be the Garden of the Gods State Park, situated in the El Paso County. The rock formations that you would get to see here are sure to leave you in awe. Beware of the rattler snakes though...! They usually like to take a peek at what's going on around them on hot summer days.
Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River
Antelope Canyon Sandstone Walls
Buttes of the Monument Valley
Sunset at Toroweap Point at the Grand Canyon
Not mentioning Arizona in a list of ecotourism destinations would be sacrilege! Being home to one of the biggest attractions in all of United States - the Grand Canyon - Arizona presents ecotourists with a number of beautiful destinations to embark on a journey to. Arizona has a collection of 6 national forests, 4 different deserts and 3 magnificent canyons. The Grand Canyon is such magnificent a place, that I had to dedicated an entire row of pictures to it in this section (All pictures in the top row offer glimpses of the Grand Canyon). The Grand Canyon is one of the seven wonders of the world. My cousin had the opportunity to visit it recently - she said tears sprung from her eyes when she laid them on the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon. It is truly a 'grand' canyon! There are many ways to explore it too - the Grand Canyon Skywalk Tour, the Grand Canyon Railway Excursion etc. The most spectacular of the Arizona deserts would be the Sonoran Desert, the last place left in the entire world where you can find wild saguaro cactus. The Red Rock Canyon and the Antelope Canyon present other opportunities to explore the great desert landscape of Arizona. Finally the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park also attracts many tourists every year.
Sunset at Cannon Beach
Multnomah Falls bridge
Oregon hosts the Crater Lake National Park and the Mount Hood National Forest - both of which make spectacular ecotourism destinations. The Crater Lake National Park is the home to the famous Crater Lake. It is one of the biggest attractions in Oregon, being the third deepest lake in the world. The lake also has sacred significance to the Klamath Tribe; ancestors of this tribe are said to have witnessed the formation of the lake. The Mount Hood National Forest has several wilderness areas, including the most common one that surrounds the Mount Hood. Human activity is greatly restricted in these wildernesses, making it evident that the people in the state are more than aware of the significance of their ecological wealth. Permits need to be acquired before you can visit the place. Another popular destination to attract ecotourists to Oregon would be the Haystack Rock. It is a monolith and the third tallest intertidal in the world. Being an intertidal, many interesting intertidal aquatic life forms can be seen in this place. Finally, the Multnomah Falls are a site not to be missed under any circumstance, if you happen to travel to Oregon. It is a magnificent two tier fall that you can experience from the bridge built in between the two tiers.
Ellery Lake at Inyo National Forest, Yosemite
Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe
Yosemite National Park
Mono Lake Tufas
California - another state that makes an exceptional ecotour destination. California is probably the only state with such a big coastline. California - as an ecotourist destination - has several attractions. Top Most in the list of these attractions is the Yosemite National Park. El Capitan, Mirror Lake, both belong to this wonderful park. The park has forests of sugar pine, ponderosa pine, oaks, firs and many other trees. It is also the place to find animals such as the mule deer, the Marmot, the Mountain Beaver, and Gray Fox. The flag of California state depicts a brown bear - and these can also be found in the Yosemite National Park. A huge collection of reptiles, birds, mammals and amphibians can be found here. The other big attraction of California is the Emerald Bay. Situated at Lake Tahoe, it is a marvelous sight indeed - a photographer's and painter's paradise on earth. Emerald Bay is where the famous Eagle Falls are located. It has been identified as a National Natural Landmark and constitutes as well as contributes to the scenic beauty of the state.
Bobcat kitten in foliage
Grizzly bear cub looking into the Flathead River
Mt. Wilbur at Swiftcurrent Lake
Reynolds Mountain at Logan Pass, Glacier National Park
Last but certainly not the least, the state of Montana makes a spectacular ecotourism destination as well. The very first destination to come to the mind when I think about Montana is the Yellowstone National Park. The park is a biodiversity jewel. More than 1500 species of trees and plants found all over the world are native to this park. The park is characterized with many endemic species, most remarkable of all being the Yellowstone sand verbena. The horde of animals found here include bobcats, cougars, badgers, black bears, bison, Canada lynx, coyotes, elks, moose, and many more. Birds include the bald eagles, pelicans, storks, cranes, falcons, coots, owls, kingfishers... the list is endless! The Arctic Grayling, Mountain whitefish, Mottled sculpin are all fish species that are native to the Yellowstone National Park. All molecular biologists all over the world will be forever indebted to the discovery of Thermus aquaticus from the Yellowstone Lake - it is this thermophilic microorganism that provides for the DNA Polymerase enzyme used in PCR technique. The Glacier National Park also contributes greatly to attracting ecotourists to the state of Montana.
Human beings were, are and will forever remain indebted to nature and all the elements of nature that govern and enrich our lives. It is our most fundamental duty to protect and preserve our surroundings if we want future generations to also know the world we know and enjoy being a part of it. With ecotourism gaining popularity, the day is not far away when Ecological balance of the nature will be restored. Remember; life is beautiful, and it is in our hands to protect its beauty.