Creative ways to experience three national parks

Joshua Tree, Zion and Pinnacles each offer unique national park experiences for travelers
(From left, photographs by Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times; Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times; Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, adventure-seekers. It’s no secret that national parks are seeing a lot of visitors during the pandemic, with people eager to get out of their houses and into the outdoors. The downside: crowds, especially at popular destinations within the parks (I’m looking at you, Logan Pass in Glacier National Park).

This week, I’ve rounded up some unusual activities to do in three of our national parks. Do you have a favorite national park activity? Let me know, and I may include it in a future edition of the newsletter.

Trees against a golden sky at Joshua Tree National Park
Art inspired by Joshua Tree National Park will be on display in November.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🎨 Find artistic inspiration at Joshua Tree National Park

In a creative slump? A trip to Joshua Tree might be the solution.

Soak in the view from Ryan Mountain. Take time to observe the shadows cast by the Seussian Joshua trees. In short: Let the park slow you down. And when you’re done admiring the beauty, stop by the 29 Palms Art Gallery in November to see art inspired by Joshua Tree National Park, on display and for sale.

If you’re interested in making your own art, sign up for a “Mastering Landscape Photography” course offered Nov. 6-8 by the Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park. Tickets cost $170- $180; participants may camp at the park’s Lost Horse campground.

Sunrise over Zion National Park in Utah.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

🏞️ Become a rock expert near Zion National Park

Lots of road trippers have been visiting Zion National Park in Utah over the course of the pandemic. My Instagram feed is filled with photos of friends hiking Angels Landing or trekking through the Narrows.

If you’re planning a trip to the Zion area and looking for an activity that’s off the beaten path, consider this geology tour on Nov. 7 organized by the Zion Natl Park Forever Project. The tour takes travelers into the Beaver Dam Mountains, where they will see rocks 2 million to 1.7 billion years old and learn about the Earth’s history.


And for dinosaur fans, there’s time for fossil hunting. Tickets cost $65 per person.

Craggy bluffs at Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park covers about 26,000 acres and provides habitat for the California condor.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🦅 Condor-watching at Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park is one of California’s least-known natural wonders. But there’s plenty to do on a trip to the park southeast of Salinas, such as searching the skies for endangered California condors.

On a trip last year to Pinnacles, my fiancé and I spotted several soaring above the park’s signature rock formations. If you make the trip, take a look at these profiles of the park’s condors and tips for spotting them.

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Spencer Marley, owner of Marley Family Seaweeds, serves ramen made with fresh seaweed foraged on one of his tours.
(Paul Boorstin; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🌊 Combine food and travel with this tour

You’ve heard of travelers foraging for mushrooms and berries. But what about seaweed?

On this tour organized by Spencer Marley, owner of Marley Family Seaweeds, guests learn how to find and harvest seaweed for consumption. Times contributor Sharon Boorstin and her family recently spent an afternoon foraging with Marley near Cayucos, Calif., and left with knowledge about various seaweed varieties and how to prepare them. If you’re interested in upping your foraging game, Marley offers group seaweed-foraging tours on Saturdays by reservation only.

You can forage for seaweed on your own, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Marley recommends taking a look at this PDF about Pacific seaweeds from the California Native Plant Society, which should help you get started. And you’ll want to be picky about the location. “Seaweed is nontoxic unless it’s contaminated by polluted water near a city, a power plant or the mouth of a river,” Marley told Boorstin. So you should forage in more undeveloped areas, such as San Simeon and Big Sur. If you plan to harvest more than 10 pounds of seaweed, you will need to buy a one-day license at

📰 What I’m reading

  • As visitors return to Hawaii, they are finding “emptier beaches, tidier parks and easier traffic,” alongside careful adherence to COVID-19 protocols, writes Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds. He explains how Oahu hotels, restaurants and tourist destinations are handling tourism during the pandemic.
Surfers launch from Kahanamoku Beach on Oahu's south shore.
A surfer launches from Kahanamoku Beach on Oahu.
(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)
An illustration of a radio
Your ears can do some traveling with the help of Radiooooo.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

💻 Can’t adventure IRL? Here’s one way to expand your horizons

What are people listening to in Brazil? In India and France? With Radiooooo, you can find out using its playful interactive map.

Radiooooo allows users to do a bit of time traveling as well. You can filter by decade to find out what people throughout the world were listening to in 1910, 1920, 1930 and onward.


Check it out and let me know if any stations satisfy your travel bug.

📸 Reader photo

🎸 Road song

I’ve had Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers & All the Rest” box set in my music rotation since its release in mid-October. With more than 50 recordings, the set has kept me entertained on the road — and in the sky.

On a trip back from seeing family in Pennsylvania. “California” began playing serendipitously about the time the flight attendant said we were nearing LAX.

Twenty minutes later, I was on California soil. In the words of Petty, “It ain’t like anywhere else.”

Tom Petty’s “California” lyrics and a palm tree
Tom Petty’s “California” will lift your spirits this week.
(Gustavo Zambelli / Unsplash; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times