Google Street View Comes to California's State Parks

At its best, technology brings the world closer together. This occurs, in part, through enhanced communication methods, the ability to receive and deliver news instantaneously, and being able to see the world without ever having to pay for a costly plane ticket. (Let's save the negative impacts for another day.)

One of the most exciting ways this has manifested itself has been the invention of Google Street View, allowing anyone with an Internet connection to check out virtually any street in the world. And now, you can see the great California State Parks system that way as well.

3 of L.A. County's Best Coastal Campgrounds

A view of the Santa Monica Mountains from Malibu Creek State Park. | Photo: dwanjabi/Flickr/Creative Commons License

This guide is part of KCET's California Coastal Trail project, which looks at the state's massive undertaking to build a trail over 1,000 miles in length along its whole coastline.

Though people might try, L.A. resists being shoehorned. At times it might seem like endless sprawl. And yes, there's plenty of that. But there are also miles of sun-kissed beaches, and vast expanses of coastal wilderness that can wash away the worst urban worries. Luckily, a few campgrounds are squeezed into the mix.

Not surprisingly, beaches are among the busiest parks in the state. Generally, reservations can be made up to seven months in advance through Book as soon as possible because many sites get snagged the day they become available. Cancellations can also free up previously booked sites, so watch for that. Thanks to, images of just about every individual site are available online, letting you choose a spot in the shade of a sycamore with just the right view. Unless otherwise stated, sites permit both tents and RVs or trailers. Some companies deliver RVs directly to campgrounds, making it possible to enjoy a road hotel without the need to pilot one on the highway; rental information can be found on most state park websites.

Building the Perfect Campfire According to the Law of Physics

Photo by <a href="">ironayla</a>/Flickr/<a href="">Creative Commons</a>

One of the greatest pleasures of being in the woods and under the stars is sitting next to a warm, crackling fire in your campsite. Maybe you learned how to build a fire in your scout days with sap and sticks, or your parents taught you the finer points of starting a fire with rolled-up newspaper... but no matter how it began, it often ended up, instinctively, as a pyramid of roaring flames. We likely never knew the laws of physics when building these fires, yet we made them all the same way.

And now we know why, thanks to a study from Adrian Bejan, an engineering professor at Duke University.

Bejan penned the theory of Constructal Law in 1996, which explored the changes in thermodynamics and how flow systems survived and evolved.

8 of L.A. County's Best Coastal Hikes

A view from Point Dume in Malibu. | Photo: eatswords/Flickr/Creative Commons License

This guide is part of KCET's California Coastal Trail project, which looks at the state's massive undertaking to build a trail over 1,000 miles in length along its whole coastline.

Nobody walks in L.A., right? Correct, they hike. And with countless miles of trails in Palos Verdes, the Santa Monica Mountains, and even bike and walking paths along the beach, who wouldn't?

Bodie Ghost Town Gets Spooky This Summer

Traveling through Bodie State Historic Park is always a creepy experience. The once-flourishing gold rush town -- at one point, 10,000 residents called it home -- is now nothing more than a collection of dilapidated structures. As the final sentence of the official park description puts it:

Today this once thriving mining camp is visited by tourists, howling winds and an occasional ghost.

For three nights this year, Bodie celebrates that final category of visitor.

This coming Saturday, June 27th -- as well as July 18th and August 29th -- Bodie State Park will stay open until 10 p.m. as part of the Bodie Ghost Walk and Free Star Stories event. The night gets started at 6 p.m. with a 90-minute Ghost Walk through town, during which you'll learn about Bodie's "most fascinating ghost stories and legends." (This tour costs $35 per person.) At 8 p.m., there's an Exclusive Ghost Mill Tour at the town's 116-year-old Standard Mill. (This costs $20 per person.) If those extra fees are scarier to you than the idea of haunts, the night will also include a free Star Stories talk given by astronomer Dave Hurst at 8:30 p.m.

To reserve your tickets, head on over to the Bodie Foundation website.

Drought Conditions Increase Boating Risks

With the weather warming up and school out, boating season is at full force. Unfortunately, the ongoing drought is also making boating accidents a more common occurrence. Here are some stats comparing accidents between 2013 and 2014, taken from an official warning to recreational boaters issued by the California Department of Parks and Recreation:

- Fifty-nine percent increase in collisions with fixed objects.
- Twenty-nine percent increase in groundings.
- Accidents on coastal waters increased 35 percent, while lake accidents decreased by 29 percent. (The difference, according to the Parks and Rec department, reflects "the drought-induced shift of boating recreation from inland lakes to coastal areas.")

Shallower conditions means more obstructions making their pointy and ragged selves known to the underside of boats. With little rainfall this year, boaters need to take higher levels of precaution than usual.

"As water levels drop, underwater hazards become more prevalent," said DBW's Acting Deputy Director Christopher C. Conlin. "It is critical for all boaters, inland and coastal, to plan ahead, exercise caution and make sure everyone in a boat is wearing a proper-fitting life jacket."

That point should be drilled home by this statistic: 96 percent of boating fatalities caused by drowning occurred when the victim was not wearing a life jacket. So, if you're out there, take extra care to avoid obstructions. And, for goodness sake, wear those life jackets.

Keep It Safe During Summer Hikes

On June 12th, two hikers in the San Jacinto Mountains were too fatigued to continue walking down the mountain and had to be airlifted to safety. A week later, a hiker participating in the Cactus to Clouds trail in Palm Springs called for assistance and was also airlifted out. Which means that this is probably a good time to remind everyone:

Be prepared when you're hiking.

It's summertime, folks. It's hot. Especially if, say, you're hiking in a place like Palm Springs. Make sure to bring a whole lot of water with you, no matter the level of difficulty of the hike. (My own personal favorite method of carrying water is via one of those Camelbak bladders that fits snugly in your backpack.) We're talking liters per person.

Other tips such as making sure you've detailed your route before leaving, wearing sun protection, and telling someone where you're headed are all hugely important. But, bringing enough water for you and your hiking party is rule number one, bolded, italicized, and underlined. This summer, let's try to save the airlifts for more serious occasions than just "didn't bring enough water."

Birding on the Web: New Site Helps You Identify Most Common Birds in U.S. and Canada

Photo by <a href="">Kevin Cole</a>/Flickr/<a href="">Creative Commons</a>

Birding will never be the same again, and it's because of your computer.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Visipedia research project have teamed up on an impressive new tool for bird-watchers and the bird-curious: a website that can identify hundreds of bird species by photo alone.

The site, called Merlin Bird Photo ID, is capable of recognizing 400 of the most commonly sighted birds in North America. Using computer vision technology, the site is currently in beta but according to Jessie Barry at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, "It gets the bird right in the top three results about 90 percent of the time, and it's designed to keep improving the more people use it. That's truly amazing, considering that the computer vision community started working on the challenge of bird identification only a few years ago."

The process is simple: a user uploads a photo of a bird, enters when and where the photo was taken, draws a box around the bird and then clicks on the bill, eye, and tail to help the tool discern its characteristics.

After a few seconds, the magic happens: Merlin analyzes the pixels, matches it with millions of data points, and presents a gallery of the most likely species, including photos and song.

The tool is remarkably accurate. It correctly identified the above bird (uploaded through the site) as a Western Meadowlark, and offered a recording of its song as well as a short description of its habit and habitat.

Glacier National Park Welcomes Its 100th Million Visitor

On June 11th of this year, at just about 10 a.m., a mother and her two children from Bakersfield, California entered Glacier National Park in Montana. While the park has welcomed millions of visitors over the last 100 years (since 1911, to be specific), this trio marks something quite extraordinary for both Glacier National Park and the U.S. National Park Service in general:

The three of them represent Glacier Park's 100th million visitor.

Much of the century of stat recording was performed by hand, but rangers crunched the numbers and knew that the milestone visitor(s) would be walking through the turnstiles this month. And when they saw the Bakersfield trio, they knew they'd be worthy of the honor:

Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said, "We are celebrating 100 million visitors to Glacier National Park and more importantly we are celebrating and engaging the next generation to the park." He said, "We are pleased to celebrate this milestone with 14-year-old Pierce and 10-year-old Gretchen and their mother Becky. These kids represent the future, and upcoming stewards of Glacier National Park and other national parks, and all public lands."

To mark the occasion, the family received an assortment of gifts and gift certificates, as well as a complimentary trip to the famed Logan Pass for a picnic lunch. This is just more proof that when you enter one of our glorious National Parks, you never know what's going to happen.

California Red-Legged Frogs Are Back in Santa Monica Mountains

The Rana aurora draytonii, the California red-legged frog, is our official state amphibian. However, due in part to the presence of pesticides, pollution, and the introduction of non-native plant species, the frog is now only dispersed among three small populations throughout Los Angeles County. The numbers are so drastically low, in fact, that the frog is officially an endangered species.

Last July, biologists took hundreds of eggs and released them into the streams of the Santa Monica Mountains, the first-ever attempt to reintroduce the species into the wild. One year later, they examined the area and found that a number of frogs survived this initial ordeal. Typically one to five percent of eggs make it to adulthood; in this case, at least 15 frogs were found to be alive after their first birthday.

Recently, biologists released another hundred tadpoles that they hope will mature into adulthood. But it may be a tough road for these tiny guys, because they have their fair share of predators -- raccoons, skunks, coyotes, foxes, and certain birds -- out to get them. They'll also have to ward off some of their own:

Those tadpoles could face an even tougher childhood than their pioneer cousins, because juvenile and adult red-legged frogs are known to prey on the tadpoles of their own species.

It's far too early to tell if this attempt will take, but it's a good first sign. At the very least, it's a good reminder that if you do happen to see a red-legged frog, leave it alone.