Web exclusive: Exploring the outdoors from home

HomeCOVID-19Casual ContentWeb exclusive: Exploring the outdoors from home
Google Earth provides virtual tours of 31 U.S. National Parks, including the Grand Canyon. (Photo by Alan Carrillo)

By Megan Salzano

The age of COVID-19 has forced most of us to become a lot more familiar with our indoor environments. Much of the country has been asked to stay home or otherwise under “shelter in place” or observe quarantine orders. While under normal circumstances downtime at home is a welcome relief, the inability to leave the confines of our four walls has caused stress, anxiety and even depression among thousands.

Being able to witness the great outdoors offers much relief from stress and anxiety on a typical day. In these days of COVID-19, outdoor experiences and interactions with nature can go a long way in alleviating the feeling of isolation. But how is it possible if we can’t leave our homes?

Luckily, the COVID-19 pandemic came at a time when advanced technology has taken over much of our daily lives. Live streaming TV and movies has become the norm, but we can also live stream nature directly to our living rooms. From taking a guided tour through the Grand Canyon to viewing cosmic wonders, the options are seemingly endless.

Visit America’s national parks

The U.S. National Park system is one of America’s greatest treasures. Visitors travel from near and far to traverse well known and even seldomly seen sights. Thankfully, you don’t have to leave the comfort of your own home anymore to take a tour of a whopping 31 national parks.

Last year, Google Earth rolled out virtual tours of some of the most beautiful parks in the country. Today, the guided virtual tours provide an in-depth look at the trails and vistas normally reserved for those who strap on their hiking boots and head into the wild. While it might not be exactly the same as breathing the fresh air and feeling the rush as you stand atop the Grand Canyon, it is still breathtaking to (digitally) behold.

Even if you’re not inclined to visit national parks (digitally or in person), Google Earth has dozens of equally awe-inspiring options for visitors of all ages.

View the Northern Lights

As more of us have taken to our homes for the foreseeable future, Explore.org is injecting just a little bit of joy into our otherwise mundane daily lives—and perhaps ticking off a “bucket list” item for many of us. A live cam, located at the Churchill Northern Studies Center in Manitoba, Canada, is situated directly under the aurora oval, allowing visitors to the site to see amazing views of the Northern Lights dancing in the arctic sky. Although the Northern Lights occur year-round, Explore.org said now—late winter and early spring—is the best time to see the lights. Tune in during the darkest hours of the night, typically 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. EDT, to view the show from the comfort of your couch.

But it doesn’t stop there. Explore.org is the world’s largest live nature cam network, meaning you can view more than just the Norther Lights. African wildlife, oceans and gorillas are just three of the hundreds of live cams viewers can choose to experience nature while stuck indoors. (Trust us, they’re all worth a view.)

Watch the (once thought extinct) Cahow chicks of Bermuda

The Nonesuch Island Expeditions webcam allows viewers to see the fluffy Cahow chicks and their parents in their underground burrows. The “Lazarus” Cahow bird is the third-rarest seabird in the world, thought to have gone extinct a few hundred years ago. Since 18 nesting pairs were found in the 1950s on offshore Bermuda islets, the Cahow has made a successful comeback. The site also has a beach cam on the Island for those of us who just want to sit back, relax and “virtually” enjoy the sunshine.

Swim with the sharks

The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California offers a view into its shark tank where (online) visitors can spy Sevengill sharks, Leopard sharks, Spiny Dogfish, the elusive Pacific Angel shark as well as Big Skates and Bat Rays. Plus, keep your eyes peeled for Sturgeon coasting through the water, Rockfish and Giant Sea Bass relaxing by the reef while Flatfish nestle on the sandy seafloor. The webcam also plays calming music while you watch the wildlife—a definite necessity for most of us.

See what Cosmic wonder occurred on your birthday

For those with birthdays in the last couple of months (and those with birthdays in the coming months), the celebration might feel a bit lackluster. So, why not take it beyond the outdoors of Earth and check out NASA’s Hubble telescope. In fact, why not check out what cosmic wonder NASA’s Hubble telescope captured on your birthday?

That’s right, Hubble explores the universe 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That means it has observed some fascinating cosmic wonder every day of the year, including on your birthday. NASA has set up a dedicated site for visitors to easily enter their birthday and discover what occurred in space that day. Check it out, here. You can also help celebrate Hubble’s 30th anniversary this year by sharing the results using #Hubble30.

As we all continue to deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, remember, from Hawaiian volcanos to Arctic glaciers and even Jupiter, there are several state-funded and private webcam networks available to tap into right from the comfort of your home. The question is, where are you going to visit first?

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