National parks are reopening from coronavirus closures. Here’s what to know

Curtis Tate


Many national park sites are at least partially open to visitors as the country rebounds from coronavirus closures. But not all facilities and services are available.

“In accordance with this guidance and in coordination with governors across the country, the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service are working to reopen the American people’s national parks as rapidly as possible,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.

But before you go, check each park’s website for the latest information on what’s open and what’s not. In each case, it depends on where states are in their reopening plans.

Here are some other considerations, from the National Park Service:

Many states still require out-of-state visitors to quarantine for 14 days, which may make visiting parks in some states more challenging. The National Governors Association offers an up-to-date interactive map that shows what states have a quarantine order.

Postpone challenging hikes. Having to rescue and treat stranded hikers could divert first responders and medical professionals from the pandemic response.

Trash collection and restroom facilities may not be available. Campgrounds are generally closed.

Stay in groups from your own household and maintain social distance from other groups. Prepare to cover your nose and mouth when other people are around.

Here’s what’s going on at the 10 most-visited national parks:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

A view of Newfound Gap at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The park is the nation’s most visited, with 12.5 million visitors annually. Roads, trails, picnic areas and restrooms are open. Visitors centers, campgrounds and concessions remain closed. Some roads are closed to vehicles but open to hiking and biking.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

A visitor poses for a photo on a ledge off the Grand Canyon's South Rim.

The Grand Canyon is America’s second-most visited national park, with 5.97 million annual visitors. The South Rim opened to limited access on May 15. On June 5, the South Rim will be open 24 hours, and the Mather Campground will be open for existing reservations. The North Rim will open for day use on June 5, with the campground closed for construction until July 1. The Colorado River will reopen to recreational use with existing permits beginning June 14. North and South Rim lodging will reopen in phases throughout June.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park watch a cow elk graze in an alpine meadow.

Starting June 4, the park will implement a timed, reserved entry system that will last through the summer. Visitors will reserve and pay the entrance fee in advance at and enter the park within a two-hour window between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. In this phase, 60% of the park’s capacity, or 4,800 vehicles and 13,500 visitors a day.

“This system will more safely manage the pace and flow of visitor use, reduce crowding, and provide an improved visitor experience in alignment with the park’s safe operational capacity,” said park superintendent Darla Sidles.

Zion National Park, Utah

A hiker climbs down from the Angels Landing summit

The park has been open during daylight hours since May 13. The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is open to private vehicles until parking capacity is reached, and the last entry is at 6 p.m. The 6-mile road has about 400 parking spots. The park’s shuttle operation is suspended. Trails are open to day hiking but not to overnight backpacking. The Zion Lodge is open with limited rooms and amenities.

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls is one of the park's most iconic landmarks

The park, which gets 4.4 million visitors annually, remains closed to visitors.

Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana

A river runs through Yellowstone National Park near Grand Prismatic Hot Spring.

The park’s Montana entrances opened Monday, as the state lifted its 14-day quarantine requirement. The Wyoming and Idaho entrances are also open. The park is day-use only, with campgrounds, visitors centers and other facilities closed. Limited overnight accommodations will start later in June. The Grand Loop Road is open, except for a segment from Canyon to Tower that’s under construction.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park's beautiful Bass Harbor Light near sunset during the Golden Hour.

The park partially reopened Monday, though Maine visitors are under a 14-day quarantine order. The Park Loop Road is now open, along with most nearby restrooms. Hiking trails are open, and trash collection has resumed. The Carriage Roads will open June 5 for pedestrians, but they will remain closed to bicycle and equestrian riders. The Hulls Cove Visitors Center is open with limited outdoor information services from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Campgrounds remain closed and will reopen no earlier than July 1.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Visitors to Grand Teton National Park hike through Death Canyon, which was carved by glaciers about 15,000 years ago.

The park reopened May 18 for limited recreational use. Primary roads are open, as are hiking trails for day access. Riverbank and lakeshore fishing is permitted, as are limited biking and wildlife tours. Campgrounds, overnight lodging, visitors centers, marinas and food service remain closed. Boating on lakes and rivers is prohibited.

Olympic National Park, Washington

A deer stops to survey the landscape near Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.

The park is partially open to day use recreation. All coastal areas, however, remain closed. That includes beaches, parking areas, trails and facilities. No areas of the park are open to camping. Visitors’ centers and ranger stations remain closed. Limited lodging and take-out dining are open.

Glacier National Park, Montana

A snowy sunrise over Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

The park is closed, but a phased reopening is set to begin this month. The first phase will reopen roads, restrooms and some trails. In the second phase, campgrounds, retail, lodging and dining will reopen on a limited basis. Personal boating will be allowed and backcountry permits will be issued. The parks will relax those limits in the third phase as conditions allow.

These Insects Are Not ‘Murder Hornets’ So Please Stop Killing Them

Filed to:NATURE
Illustration for article titled These Insects Are Not Murder Hornets So Please Stop Killing Them
Photo: Matt Bertone (NC State University)

Asian giant hornets are large and stripey, yes. But so are several other insects. If you see something that looks a little like these “murder hornets” you’ve heard so much about, you may be tempted to kill it and/or convince yourself that the apocalypse has truly arrived. But please don’t. It’s almost certainly a case of mistaken identity.

Remember: the invasive hornets have only been reported in Washington state, and they’re extremely rare even there. (Also, please recall that they are not out to murder you.)

“[The vast majority] of Americans will never see an Asian giant hornet in their lifetime,” says entomologist Matt Bertone. He takes insect identification requests at North Carolina State University’s extension and recently tweeted that his inbox was full of suspected Asian giant hornet sightings. None of them were Asian giant hornets.

Now, it’s totally possible that one could show up in North Carolina, or another place where the hornets haven’t yet been sighted. If you think you’re seeing the first, sending a photo to your local extension office is the right thing to do.



But you can also save your local entomologist a bit of trouble by knowing your local large stripey bois. Even if the thing yu is huge and unlike any hornet you’ve seen before, that may be because you’re seeing something special: bee or wasp queens emerging from hibernation to start this year’s colony, as they do each spring. (Queens are larger than typical individuals of their species.)

The following are a few of the insects that entomologists say people have been mistaking for Asian giant hornets. And, just for a refresher: Asian giant hornets are not actually called “murder hornets,” and they have no particular interest in murdering you. So don’t panic either way.

European hornets

Illustration for article titled These Insects Are Not Murder Hornets So Please Stop Killing Them
Photo: Matt Bertone (NC State University)

Technically these hornets are invasive, but they’ve been in the US for over 100 years and they’re not going anywhere. Here’s a fact sheet on them from Penn State.

European hornets are typically 1 inch long, with queens measuring about 1.4 inches. They live in roughly the eastern half of the US.

The European hornet has irregular brown and yellow stripes; this comparison from the Tufts Pollinator Initiative shows a side-by-side photo. The European hornet’s head is mostly deep red. Asian giant hornets have orange heads and more sharply defined orange and black stripes.

European hornets build nests in hollow trees and occasionally the walls of houses, but they are also predators of other types of wasps, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Penn State entomologist Michael Skvarla says “when homeowners find a nest but it isn’t being too much of a nuisance (and no one in the immediate area is allergic to bee and wasp stings) I suggest they leave them be if at all possible.”

Cicada killers

Illustration for article titled These Insects Are Not Murder Hornets So Please Stop Killing Them
Photo: Matt Bertone (NC State University)

These are solitary wasps that emerge in the summer to feast on cicadas. The males can aggressively defend their territory, but they don’t have stingers. Females won’t usually bother you unless you’re a cicada. Here’s a fact sheet on them from the University of Kentucky.

Cicada killers can be up to 2 inches long, and there are multiple species that live in different parts of the U.S. (There’s a map here.) Eastern cicada killers’ abdomens are long, pointy and mostly black.

Southern yellowjackets

Illustration for article titled These Insects Are Not Murder Hornets So Please Stop Killing Them
Photo: Matt Bertone (NC State University)

You’ve seen yellowjackets before, and they don’t look too much like Asian giant hornets. But both Bertone and Skvarla told me they’ve gotten the occasional southern yellowjacket queen among their murder hornet inquiries. The queens are larger than others of their species and can appear orange and black rather than yellow and black. They mainly live in the southeast.

Bumblebee queens

Illustration for article titled These Insects Are Not Murder Hornets So Please Stop Killing Them
Photo: Matt Bertone (NC State University)

Bumblebees are already large, and queens are larger still. There are many species of bumblebees, but they generally look fuzzy and, well, bee-ish. The Xerces society, a pollinator conservation group, noted that people are mistaking bumblebee queens for Asian giant hornets. Since a major concern with Asian hornets is that they may be a threat to bees, killing bee queens is not helping the cause.

These are some of the most common large, stripey insects in the US, but every area has its own array of lookalikes. The app iNaturalist can help identify species based on a photo if you’re not sure. If you live in or near Washington state, the state’s department of agriculture has put together this comparison chart of local insects you might mistake for Asian giant hornets.

Rachael Bonoan of the Tufts Pollinator Initiative adds that in addition to the above, German yellowjackets, paper wasps, and bald-faced hornets are all Pacific Northwest wasps that are on the large side, but none are as large as an Asian giant hornet.

If you do think you’ve seen an Asian giant hornet, report it to your local agricultural extension office. If you live in Washington, you can use this form to make a report.

This post was updated 5/6/2020 at 5:07 p.m. to clarify the color of the European hornet’s head.

Invasive ‘Murder Hornets’ Have Appeared in the United States and Officials Worry They’re Here to Stay

Invasive Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia) have been spotted in the United States for the first time.

Invasive Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia) have been spotted in the United States for the first time.
Washington State Department of Agriculture
MAY 2, 2020 4:17 PM EDT

If you thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, Asian giant hornets have appeared in the United States for the first time.

Asian giant hornets, which some researchers refer to as “murder hornets” according to the New York Times, had never been seen in the U.S. until December, when the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) verified four sightings of the hornets near Blaine and Bellingham, Wash. Canada also reported sightings of the insects in British Columbia the fall of 2019, per the WSDA.

Asian giant hornets are the largest species of hornet in the world. They attack and destroy honeybee hives, entering a “slaughter phase” where they literally decapitate bees and take the hive as their own, using the thoraxes from the dead bees to feed their young, according to the WSDA. Just a few hornets can decimate a honey bee hive in a number of hours.

If the hornets continue spreading through the state, officials worry they could have a devastating affect on Washington state’s — and the U.S.’s — bee population. The many crops that rely on bees for pollination would then be seriously affected. Officials don’t know how the insects got into the U.S., but they’re bracing for the hornets to start emerging soon, as they become active in April, according to a press release from Washington State University (WSU). The hornets are at their most destructive in late summer and early fall, per the release.

“At this time, Washington State Department of Agricultural has implemented an aggressive outreach and trapping campaign,” Rian Wojahn, the eradication coordinator for the WSDA, told TIME in an email. “Local beekeepers and other agencies are also helping get information out and using our trapping protocols to deploy traps.”

Wojahn said that while it’s unknown how much damage the hornets could do to the U.S. honeybee industry, a similarly invasive hornet in Europe ended up reducing beehives by 30 percent and honey yield by up to two-thirds. The WSDA will implement “an aggressive eradication campaign this summer,” he continued.

Asian giant hornets are usually 1.5 to two inches long, have black and yellow stripes on their abdomen, and have a large orange or yellow head, according to the WSDA. They don’t usually attack people or pets, but might if they are threatened, the WSDA continued. Their stingers are longer than a honey bee’s, more toxic and they can sting multiple times. Multiple stings can also kill a human even if they’re not allergic, according to the WSU release. The New York Times reports reports that in Japan, the hornets have been known to kill up to 50 people a year.

Coronavirus: Wild animals enjoy freedom of a quieter world

Three types of dolphins including bluenose can be found in the Bosphorus, IstanbulImage copyrightAFP
Image captionThree types of dolphins including bluenose can be found in the Bosphorus, Istanbul

Coronavirus lockdowns globally have given parts of the natural world a rare opportunity to experience life with hardly any humans around.

Animals in urban areas are exploring emptied streets and waterways, and delighting human inhabitants along the way.

While many of these are not unique sightings, the human restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic seem to have given animals the confidence to go deeper into our cities and stay for longer.

Others are enjoying having nature reserves and parks all to themselves, and some authorities report a boom in wildlife while tourists are away.

Residents of Istanbul say dolphins are coming further up the Bosphorus than usualImage copyrightAFP
Image captionResidents of Istanbul say dolphins are coming further up the Bosphorus than usual

The Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey is normally one of the world’s busiest marine routes. Huge tankers, cargo ships and passenger boats criss-cross the straits that cut the city in half 24 hours a day.

Now, with a lull in traffic and fishermen staying at home during the city’s lockdown, dolphins are swimming and jumping in the waters.

It’s not uncommon to spot the tell-tale dots of a dolphin from the city’s quays, far away in the distance. But videos posted by residents of the animals swimming near the banks show how much closer to the city they’re happy to come now.

Presentational white space

Dolphins “are coming closer to the edge of the water as the terror of uncontrolled anglers on the shoreline has temporarily stopped,” a ship spotter who has photographed dolphins in the past told AFP.

Wild boar in Haifa, Israel are enjoying food left in resident's rubbish binsImage copyrightEPA
Image captionWild boar in Haifa, Israel are enjoying food left in resident’s rubbish bins

Wild boars take over Haifa as residents stuck inside,” said the headline in Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Boars were seen snuffling and foraging for food around the city of Haifa before the pandemic, but the absence of humans has encouraged them further, residents say.

Some groups feed the boar, but others want them to be removedImage copyrightEPA
Image captionSome groups feed the boar, but others want them to be removed

The issue is now so serious that local officials held a Zoom meeting to discuss the expanding population.

“I’m scared that after the coronavirus passes, the boars will have gotten used to coming every day, every night, every hour,” Yaron Hanan who is campaigning for a crackdown on the animals told Reuters.

"It's time for love," an environmental expert said about flamingos arriving in Albania to mateImage copyrightAFP
Image caption“It’s time for love,” an environmental expert said about flamingos arriving in Albania to mate

However some species are enjoying solitude in previously busy natural reserves or parks.

In Albania, pink flamingos are flourishing in lagoons on the country’s west coastline, where numbers have increased by a third to 3,000, park authorities told AFP.

Thousands have been seen soaring over the waters at Narta Lagoon where they go to mate after flying from Africa and the southern Mediterranean.

Presentational grey line

You might also like:

Nearby olive oil and leather processing factories that have been accused of polluting the waters are closed, and the traffic that usually congests a road 500m away is absent, creating quiet for the birds.

Couples have been “moving a little further into the lagoon and are now starting courtship rituals,” said Nexhip Hysolakoj, the head of the Vlora protected area.

Dalmatian or curly pelicans are known for the ruffle of feathers on their headsImage copyrightAFP
Image captionDalmatian or curly pelicans are known for the ruffle of feathers on their heads

And in Divjaka National Park, 85 pairs of curly pelicans are nesting. The usual 50,000 monthly tourists are keeping away, creating quiet in the area where officials hope a population boon will now happen.

In Thailand, a herd of 30 dugongs was caught on camera swimming in the Hat Chao Mai National Park where tourism has ground to a halt.

The Hat Chao Mai National Park caught a herd of dugong on videoImage copyrightAFP/ THAILAND’S NATIONAL MARINE PARK
Image captionThe Hat Chao Mai National Park caught a herd of dugong on video

The dugong, also known as sea cow, is classed as a vulnerable species and can often fall victim to fishing nets or suffer due to water pollution.

The national park has been posting videos on Facebook of large swarms of fish and other species, and says there has been a revival in wildlife since the pandemic began.

A cougar climbs a wall during the dawn at a neighbourhood before being captured and taken to a zoo, in Santiago, Chile March 24, 2020Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe first cougar to be spotted in Santiago was snapped jumping onto a wall

However some animals enjoying new adventures aren’t able to stay around for long.

Several cougars found wandering the streets of Santiago, Chile were captured and released back to their natural habitats.

A cougar is seen after it was caught in an apartment complex in Santiago, ChileImage copyrightREUTERS

One of the big cats was found inside an apartment complex.

“They sense less noise and are also looking for new places to find food and some get lost and appear in the cities,” Horacio Bórquez, Chile’s national director of livestock and agriculture service, said of the animals.

Media captionThe curious goats have been spotted eating flowers and hedges in people’s gardens

And who could forget the famous Kashmiri goats of Llandudno?

They enjoyed the deserted town in Wales and had a scamper around last month. Some even helped themselves to garden flowers and hedges.

But not all creatures are benefitting from the coronavirus lockdown.

Pigeons in KrakowImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMembers of Krakow’s Animal Welfare Organisation are feeding the city’s pigeons daily

Europe’s pigeons risk starvation, warns an animal rights group in Germany. That’s because the humans who normally feed them or drop morsels of food on the streets are stuck at home. The group, while acknowledging that pigeons are a problem for many cities, says they should not be allowed to die a painful death.

In Krakow, Poland, one animal welfare organisation is coming out specially to feed the flocks abandoned for the time being.

All images copyright.

Brazil: Amazon land defender Zezico Guajajara shot dead

Zezico GuajajaraImage copyrightZEZICO GUAJAJARA
Image captionZezico Guajajara is the fifth Amazon forest protector to be killed in six months

A member of a protected tribe in the Amazon has been killed by gunmen, authorities in the Brazilian state of Maranhao say.

The body of Zezico Guajajara, of the Guajajara tribe, was found near his village on Tuesday. He had been shot.

The former teacher was a supporter of Guardians of the Forest, a group formed to combat logging gangs in the area.

The killing – the fifth in six months – increases concerns about violence against Amazon forest protectors.

Brazil’s populist President Jair Bolsonaro has drawn intense domestic and international criticism for failing to protect the Guardians’ territory in the eastern Amazon region.

He has often stated support for farmers and loggers working in the area, while criticising environmental campaigners and slashing the budget of Brazil’s environmental agency.

Paulo Paulino Guajajara holds a gun during the search for illegal loggers in SeptemberImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionPaulo Paulino Guajajara – another activist seen here during a search for illegal loggers – was killed last November

The Guajajaras are one of Brazil’s largest indigenous groups with some 20,000 people. In 2012, they started the Guardians of the Forest to protect the Arariboia Indigenous Territory.

It is not clear who killed Zezico Guajajara on Tuesday. Authorities say they are investigating.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, indigenous leader Olimpio Guajajara described him as “another fellow warrior – a man who defended life”.

“We are mourning his death. We’re protecting the forest for all humanity, but powerful forces are out to kill us.”

Media caption“The people that are part of the brigade are together for this, to protect mother nature above all”

The Brazilian Indigenous Peoples’ Association (APIB) urged a thorough investigation.

The latest murder “is evidence of the worsening violence and vulnerability of the indigenous people, especially the leaders that fight to defend their territories against invaders,” the group said in a statement.

Sarah Shenker, who works for Survival International, a non-governmental organisation advocating for indigenous communities, accused loggers of targeting activists “one by one”.

The group renewed its criticism of President Bolsonaro.

“The Guardians have been mercilessly targeted by powerful logging mafias illegally exploiting the valuable hardwoods in the Arariboia indigenous territory, home to both the Guajajara indigenous people and uncontacted members of the Awa tribe,” it said in a statement.

7 Stages of Grief for the Anthropocene

Loss: Some of us have only known a life accompanied by facts of the climate crisis. Others remember decades of growing awareness around global heating and decades of inaction. In both cases, grief first grew out of knowledge—knowledge of what has been, what is, and what will be lost.

Sorrow: Our word sorrow comes from the German sorge, which means “worry.” Your ravaged homescape keeps you up at night. You look in the mirror and try to read between the new lines etched on your face. Note that there is no etymological bridge between sorrow and sorry. Moving through grief is not as clear-cut as our old-growth forests.

Rage: Confronted, sorrow shifts. The damage could be so much less if its products weren’t lining the pockets of the very few. A sticky “everything is fine” spun-of-your-daily-routines web pins your arms to your sides and makes you furious. Or maybe your sadness turns to anger when you hear of the human-made toxics found in every inch of the way from the North to the South Pole.

Bargaining: There’s plenty of advice out there if you want to save the planet: Take shorter showers. Use different lightbulbs. Ride your bike. Recycle, or maybe even reduce. No shortage of people want you to believe that isolated individuals can solve our environmental crises by changing their consumption habits.

Dread: But if you’re reading this, you probably also read the news for at least two minutes this morning—long enough to discern that, despite the good intentions of many, we’re still on a collision course with widespread ecosystem collapse. After wallowing through mucky emotions and emerging to take action, you find it disturbing that your hands still aren’t clean.

Despondency: Proffered solutions wither as you mentally chart progressively grim predictions. With snowballing dread, you wonder if the moment for a superhero to materialize has come and gone, if the credits are already rolling. Who
knows what you should do now? If grief is loving an absence, you deflate to shrink-wrap yourself around it.

Engagement: But in vacancy lies also space. When you rise up from the tear-stained earth you see others working to be a part of something sane. In refusing to accept the way things are, you accept instead the old adage that everything you do, or don’t do, is political. Now the dirt of dedication streaks your palms—clean hands are for chumps. Sowing gratitude becomes a subversive act: full, we are a harder sell. This web is my home! you roar, spinning another strand.

Miranda Perrone is a writer, outdoor educator, activist, and cartographer whose work promotes socioecological change.

Illustration: “Charcoal Boys,” by Roger Mello

Learn More: 

The terrifying reality of actually living on Mars

The first spaceships that could carry humans to the red planet are being developed now, but we need to discuss accommodations once we’re there.


On Earth we never worry about going full soda, thanks to our very friendly atmosphere and helpful magnetic field. But on Mars we’ll need to create infrastructure to solve the problems our planet handles automatically.

And of course, we also have to develop ways to extract the water and oxygen we need to survive from a Martian landscape that has hidden them away in pockets of ice, soil, rock and extremely thin air.

Easy peasy.

However, Lee and others who have cataloged the many ways to die on Mars do not see them as insurmountable hurdles. In fact, there might be one ready-made solution for living on Mars that’s viable from the moment humans arrive for the very first time.

Just stay on the ship.

Living in the parking lot

This futuristic render shows a collection of Starships hanging out on the surface of Mars. Elon Musk and Space envision astronauts initially living out of the spaceships while constructing a more permanent human settlement on the Red Planet.


The first people to arrive via a SpaceX Starship will likely live and work out of the landed spacecraft in the beginning.

“[Starships] are very valuable on the surface of Mars,” said Paul Wooster, the company’s principal Mars development engineer, in 2018 at a Mars Society convention. “You’d actually be having most of the ships stay and you’d be operating using the various systems on them to support the activities there.”

Living in the ship after arrival isn’t just a SpaceX idea, though.

The Mars Society, founded in 1998 to advocate for exploring and setting up a human presence on Mars, has its own “Mars Direct” plan. It also suggests traveling to Mars in habitats or “habs” that could then be used to set up a base on the surface once the earthlings arrive.

The habs could be connected together, in much the same way that modular buildings are trucked around on Earth and quickly hooked together on site.

“We could have people on Mars by 2030 and a permanent manned base by 2040,” Zubrin told me in 2018.

Besides bringing their own shelter to start, Martian pioneers must also pack the right tools to harvest materials from the rugged landscape in order to build a more permanent crib.

“Very little that pertains to living on Mars in the early years will involve off-the-shelf equipment and supplies from Earth,” writes Stephen Petranek in his book How We’ll Live on Mars. “Almost every tool or device in use on Mars will need to have been carefully thought out.”

Building from scratch

For the long term, a basic modular camp like the one Matt Damon struggles with in 2015’s The Martian may not offer sufficient protection from radiation and other dangers, especially in the case of a powerful solar flare aimed directly at Mars.

Radiation shielding doesn’t need to be high-tech. A barrier made up of water or certain plastics can work, as can simply going underground.

Former NASA physician Jim Logan estimates putting our fragile, fleshy bodies behind or beneath about 9 feet (2.7 meters) of Martian soil should suffice. Zubrin has also suggested using thick bricks made from Martian regolith to construct shelter, adding a uniquely medieval castle vibe to the more traditionally sleek and futuristic vision of a Mars outpost.

Old lava tubes and underground caves are also ideal places to shelter, both early on and in the case of emergencies like major dust and solar storms that can sometimes spread across the entire planet.

In the absence of other options, 3D printing technology offers another alternative for creating custom structures. NASA held a 3D printed habitat challenge in 2019, with New York’s AI SpaceFactory (which bills itself as a “multi-planetary architectural and technology design agency”) winning the top prize for a system that built a lightweight but strong structure using autonomous robots requiring almost no human guidance.

Going underground or behind thick walls isn’t exactly great for the agriculture that’s going to be essential to sustain any presence on Mars, however.

Mechanical engineer Andrew Geiszler suggested at the 2015 Mars Society convention that geodesic glass domes could be the answer. Mars provides all the raw materials needed to create glass, plastic and metals that can then be turned into dome homes.

“Ultimately we’re going to need to use native materials. It’s very feasible. They’re there for the taking.”

The glass dome structure has been popular in visions of Mars settlements going back decades, including in some recent renderings from HP’s Mars Home Planet concept challenge that asked designers to draw up plans for a city on Mars.

This leaves the question of exactly where on Mars is best to establish a presence. None of the above is possible without access to water, which we need to create oxygen, grow food and produce fuel and other raw materials. So finding precious H2O will be a top priority along with shelter from the elements when choosing a site.

Water has been found in Martian soil, in trace amounts in the air, and in significant amounts near and below ice deposits. Moving to the edge of a Martian ice cap would likely be too cold and windy, but the planet also offers intriguing craters and canyons that provide a certain amount of shelter, building materials and water from deposits of ice or possibly even springs. The remarkable Valles Marineris, a massive gorge eight times longer and four times deeper than the Grand Canyon, is one place often suggested as a dramatic second home for hardy humans.

Time to Terraform

Maintaining all of the necessary life support systems on Mars will be quite an undertaking, which is why Musk and others have a long, long term vision of expanding the habitable bubble we construct on Mars to eventually encompass the entire planet.

The concept is often referred to as terraforming, and would involve changing the planet’s environment to be more earth-like. Musk notably proposed nuking Mars’ poles to release massive amounts of greenhouse gases to warm the planet, although he’s also amenable to massive solar mirrors.

Other methods involve importing methane or ammonia to kickstart the greenhouse effect. Regardless, such a project could be a centuries-long initiative.

“Terraforming will be incredibly expensive, and it may take a thousand years before humans can walk the surface of Mars in an environment not unlike what one finds along the west coast of Canada,” writes Petranek.

That kind of long-term thinking may be required for humans to become truly multi-planetary like Musk hopes. But first, we’ve just got to figure out how to make it through the first night on Mars.