Picture of the Day – Mount Rainier in Fall Colors.

October 20, 2014 Picture of the Day: The slopes of Mount Rainier in Washington are a patchwork of brilliant fall colors this time of year. Mount Rainier National Park is located southeast of Seattle and has more than 260 miles of maintained trails — making it a perfect place to explore the beauty of our public lands. Photo by National Parks Service.

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Picture of the Day – Yosemite National Park Icon.

October 18, 2014 Picture of the Day: Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, Half Dome is a Yosemite National Park icon.

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Picture of the Day – Sunrise in Acadia National Park.

October 16, 2014 Picture of the Day: With sunrises as beautiful as this one, it’s easy to get up early at Acadia National Park in Maine. As one of the eastern-most points in the U.S., Acadia has breathtaking sunrises that are best witnessed atop Cadillac Mountain. (Photo by Melissa Machonis).

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Picture of the Day – Joshua Tree National Park.

October 10, 2014 Picture of the Day: Joshua Tree National Park has some of the most beautiful sunsets, like this one captured by Manish Mamtani. Joshua Tree is also known for its unique rock formations (perfect for climbing) and its Joshua tree forests (rumored to be the inspiration for Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax). Chief ranger Jeff Ohlfs says that Keys View, with its panoramic views of the Coachella Valley, is a must.

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Picture of the Day – Rocky Mountain National Park – Colorado.

October 4, 2014 Picture of the Day: Happy Friday from Rocky Mountain National Park! This Sunday, join fellow explorers, photographers and others for an InstaMeet at Rocky Mountain, and take your own beautiful photos of the national park. (Photo by Nic Showalter).

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Picture of the Day – Capitol Reef National park.

October 2, 2014 Picture of the Day: Located in south-central Utah in the heart of red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges. Pictured here are cottonwood trees in front of the Castle in Capitol Reef. (Photo by Glenn Nagel).

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Tragedy on Mount Ontake – 47 Dead and Counting.

October 1, 2014 Tragedy on Mount Ontake: Pictured above, Japanese soldiers and firefighters searched near the peak of Mount Ontake in central Japan on Wednesday. So far, 47 bodies have been found after Saturday’s eruption.

Gaku Harada remembers it as a perfect day for hiking. A clear blue sky drew hundreds of weekend climbers to Mount Ontake, one of Japan’s most celebrated peaks, to see the first tints of autumn in the leaves.

Then, without warning, the top of the mountain exploded.

Mr. Harada, a professional climbing guide, was leading a local television crew up the mountain to film a nature show. One moment, the peak was clearly visible about a mile in front of them. The next, it vanished into a dark, billowing cloud as a thundering wall of gray ash raced down the slope toward them.

Unable to process what he was seeing, he said he froze, and then snapped out of it when a companion yelled, “Eruption!” Within minutes, his group was engulfed in ash so thick it blotted out the sun and began to fill their mouths. They groped their way down the mountain in the unnatural darkness as the sickening, rotten-egg stench of sulfur filled the air. But it was the sounds, he said, that scared him most: the thunder from the eruption, and the thud of boulders crashing into the slope behind them.

“I thought it was the end of the world,” said Mr. Harada, 38, who helped lead the group to a lodge on the mountainside. “I had only seen volcanic eruptions in movies and never dreamed I’d experience one in real life.”

Four days after the worst volcanic disaster in its recent history, Japan is still struggling to count the dead — and come to terms with a tragedy that caught both experienced mountaineers and locals who revere the mountain by surprise. While 47 bodies have been found so far, officials remain unsure how high the total could rise because they do not know how many people were on the mountain in central Japan on Saturday, when it erupted in a six-mile-high shower of hot ash, flying rocks and poison gases.

On Wednesday, the levels of those toxic gases dropped low enough to allow rescue efforts to resume after a day’s hiatus. Military helicopters ferried soldiers and rescue workers to the peak to search for survivors and collect the bodies of the dead.

At least 230 hikers are known to have survived, many straggling down the mountain hours or even a day after the eruption, dazed and covered with ash. They, and the residents of the tiny villages at the foot of Mount Ontake, are only beginning to come to terms with the unexpected eruption that turned an idyllic alpine peak crowded with weekend adventurers into a moonscape littered with the dead.

“Mount Ontake has always been a reassuringly protective presence for us,” said Katsunori Morimoto, 51, an official here in Otaki, a hamlet of 865 residents whose wooden homes and tidy rice paddies nestle in an emerald valley at the foot of the mountain. “Never in our wildest dreams did we think it could kill.”

Mr. Morimoto and other villagers said the mountain, which looms above Otaki, has long been a source of spiritual strength as well as economic sustenance for the village. Mount Ontake, whose name means “august peak,” has been revered since the eighth century as a sacred dwelling site of gods in Japan’s native Shinto religion, and it is still visited by pilgrims wearing white tunics and straw hats. Many pilgrims stay in Otaki’s inns, which also cater to the 65,000 hikers who pass through the village every year.

Read the complete story here:

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Picture of the Day – North Cascades National Park.

October 1, 2014 Picture of the Day: The alpine landscape of the North Cascades National Park in Washington beckons this time of year. North Cascades is home to jagged peaks crowned by more than 300 glaciers — that’s more glaciers than any other park in the lower 48 states.

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Picture of the Day – Shenandoah National Park.

September 30, 2014 Picture of the Day: Captured three days ago, this photo shows the view from Buck Hollow Overlook at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Located just 75 miles from Washington, D.C., Shenandoah offers an escape to nature with its cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas and quiet wooden hollows.

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Picture of the Day – The Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

September 29, 2014 Picture of the Day: Established in 1997, the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge works to protect the native plant, fish and wildlife species that live in the Connecticut River watershed. Spanning four states (New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut), the refuge includes nine divisions that represent a wide variety of habitats. Pictured here is the 260-acre Fort River Division located in Hadley, Massachusetts. The Fort River Division is home to everything from the red-tailed hawk and great horned owl to the white-tailed deer and bobcat. (Photo by James Weliver, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

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