Monday, August 12, 2013

America's National Parks

On my recent train trip up the California coast, as I passed through forests and mountains, I began to think about America's National Parks, and I realized they are still largely a mystery to me.  I've been to a handful of them, but now, as an adult, I have a desire to explore them all.  Recently, I began watching Ken Burns' fantastic documentary series "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."  As I watched this 6-part series, I started researching the National Parks, and decided to share what I've found.  My hope is that this presentation of every National Park in America, in the order in which they were created, will inspire you and me to take advantage of the most beautiful places in America.  These are our national parks.  America's best real estate does not belong to the wealthy and powerful.  It belongs to all of us.

Yellowstone National Park (1872) is the first of America's National Parks.  Located mostly in Wyoming, it is known for it's "Old Faithful" geyser and large herd of bison.  It was the explorer/geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden who convinced congress and president Ulysses S. Grant to establish the country's first national park.

Yosemite National Park (1890) is located in central/eastern California and is known for it's granite structures and biodiversity.  Writer/naturalist John Muir was instrumental in helping establish this park.

Sequioa National Park (1890) is also located in central-eastern California and is known for its high peaks (like Mount Whitney) and it's very large sequoia trees.  It's Giant Forest contains five out of the ten largest trees in the world.

Mount Rainier National Park (1899) is located in Washington state.  The 14,000 foot-tall Mount Rainier is an active volcano.

Crater Lake National Park (1902) is located in southern Oregon.  The remnant of a destroyed volcano, Crater is the deepest lake in the United States (nearly 2,000 feet deep).  William Gladstone Steele was a mail carrier who lobbied congress for 17 years to get Crater Lake recognized and protected as a National Park.  He was successful.

Wind Cave National Park (1903) is located in western South Dakota.  It was established by president Theodore Roosevelt, a lifelong advocate of National Parks in America.

Mesa Verde National Park (1906), also established by president Theodore Roosevelt, contains some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world.  The dwellings were built by the ancient Pueblo people, sometimes called the Anasazi, between 600 and 1300 C.E.

Glacier National Park (1910) is located in Montana.  Of the estimated 150 glaciers which existed in the park in the mid-19th century, only 25 active glaciers remained by 2010.  Scientists studying the glaciers in the park have estimated that all the glaciers may disappear by 2020 if the current climate patterns persist.

Rocky Mountain National Park (1915) is located in Colorado.  It was writer/naturalist Enos Mills who lobbied congress for the creation of the park.  Oftentimes, it was passionate private citizens like this who helped get our National Parks designated by the government.

Lassen Volcanic National Park (1916) is located in northeastern California.  It was named after a Danish blacksmith/settler guide named Peter Lassen.  Between 1914 and 1921, there were a series of eruptions on Lassen Peak.

Haleakala National Park (1916) is located on the island of Maui in Hawaii.  The Haleakala Crater is the summit of a dormant volcano.  The name Haleakalā is Hawaiian for "house of the sun." According to a local legend, the demigod Maui imprisoned the sun here in order to lengthen the day.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (1916) is located on the "big island" of Hawaii.  It contains two active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa, which is the largest volcano in the world.

Denali National Park (1917) is located in Alaska and contains Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in North America.  The man who began the push to preserve this land was conservationist Charles Alexander Sheldon.

Acadia National Park (1919) is located in Maine.  Landscape architect Charles Eliot is credited with the idea for the park.  A non-profit group called Friends of Acadia raised money to keep and maintain it.

Zion National Park (1919) is located in Utah.  Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions, the park's unique geography and variety of life zones allow for unusual plant and animal diversity.

Grand Canyon National Park (1919) is located in Arizona.  It is often considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.  President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see."

Hot Springs National Park (1921), located in central Arkansas, is the smallest national park in the US.  Even before it was designated as a national park, people used the natural hot springs for over 200 years to treat various health ailments.

Shenandoah National Park (1926) is located in Virginia and encompasses part of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Because it is located in the South, this park used to have segregated guest facilities, but that ended with a federal law outlawing segregation and Jim Crow laws in National Parks.

Bryce Canyon National Park (1928) is located in southwestern Utah.  It's distinctive landscape was formed by frost weathering and stream erosion.  The rock structures featured below are called hoodoos.  The first American settlers of the area were Mormon, and the park is named after Mormon homesteader Ebenezer Bryce.  As with many National Parks, there was a conflict between big business (who wanted to exploit the park's resources) and conservationists like National Park Service director Stephen Mather.  Ultimately, the conservationists won (thankfully).

Grand Teton National Park (1929) is located in northwestern Wyoming.  The son of the famous industrialist John D. Rockefeller was instrumental in getting this land protected and designated as a national park.  There was actually local opposition to the park idea, because people feared it would hurt the local logging economy.  This conflict between big business and national parks would continue, and continues even today.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park (1930) is located in the Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico.  Carlsbad Cavern includes a large cave chamber, the Big Room, a natural limestone chamber which is almost 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m) high at the highest point. It is the third largest chamber in North America and the seventh largest in the world. 

Isle Royale National Park (1931) is located on islands in Lake Superior in Michigan.  In addition to the large island, the park contains around 400 smaller islands.  

Everglades National Park (1934), located in Florida, protects the southern 20 percent of the wetlands.  It was the first park created to protect a fragile ecosystem from destruction by commercial interests.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (1934) is located in Tennessee and North Carolina.  Travel writer Horace Kephart and photographer George Masa were instrumental in helping get the park recognized and created.

Olympic National Park (1938) is located in Washington state, on the Olympic Peninsula.  Both Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt were instrumental in establishing this park.  Gotta love those Roosevelts.

Kings Canyon National Park (1940) is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California.  FDR's secretary of the interior Harold Ickes was instrumental in gaining public support for this park.  Ickes enlisted photographer Ansel Adams to document the park's natural wonders.

Mammoth Cave National Park (1941) is located in central Kentucky and contains the longest cave system in the world.  The establishment of this national park was the result of a long struggle between private commercial interests and the interests of conservationists.  

Big Bend National Park (1944) is located along the Rio Grande river in Texas, right along the U.S./Mexico border.  At one time, there was discussion of making Big Bend an "international park" operated by both the United States and Mexico, but this never happened.  

Virgin Islands National Park (1956) is located on St. John and Hassel islands in the Caribbean.  This park contains coral reefs and tropical forests.

Petrified Forest National Park (1962) is located on Navajo and Apache lands in Arizona.  As the name suggests, the park contains ancient petrified trees, some of which date back hundreds of millions of years.  The park also contains petroglyphs (rock drawings) that are thousands of years old.

Canyonlands National Park (1964) is located in southeastern Utah.  It preserves a colorful landscape eroded into countless canyons, mesas and buttes by the Colorado River, and the Green River.  Author Edward Abbey, a frequent visitor, described the Canyonlands as "the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth—there is nothing else like it anywhere."

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (1966) is located in West Texas.  In 1921, Wallace Pratt, a geologist for Humble Oil and Refining Company, was impressed by the beauty of McKittrick Canyon and bought the land to build two homes in the canyon. Both constructions were used as summer homes by Pratt and his family up until 1960. Wallace Pratt donated about 6,000 acres (24 km2) of McKittrick Canyon which became part of Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Redwood National Park (1968) is located along the coast of northern California.  It protect 45% of all remaining coast redwood old-growth forests. These trees are the tallest and one of the most massive tree species on Earth.  Native Americans, who have lived in the region for nearly 3,000 years, still live in the park area today. Modern day Native groups such as the YurokTolowa, Karok, Chilula, and Wiyot all have historical ties to the region.

North Cascades National Park (1968) is located in Washington state.  In 1971, the park had 318 glaciers, the most of any US park outside Alaska. All the glaciers in the park have retreated significantly from 1980 to 2005 and the rate is increasing. The recent warmer climate has led to more summer melting and more winter melting events, reducing winter snowpack. Several glaciers in the range have melted away in the last decade.

Arches National Park (1971) is located in eastern Utah.  It is known for preserving over 2000 natural sandstone arches, including the world-famous Delicate Arch.  Humans have occupied the region since the last ice age 10,000 years ago.  In early 1969, just before leaving office, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a proclamation substantially enlarging Arches. Two years later, President Richard Nixon signed legislation enacted by congress which significantly reduced the total area enclosed, but changed its status to a National Park.

Capitol Reef National Park (1971) is located in south-central Utah.  The area was named for a line of white domes and cliffs of Navajo Sandstone, each of which looks somewhat like the United States Capitol building, 

Voyageurs National Park (1971) is located in northern Minnesota.  The park's name commemorates the voyageurs, French-Canadian fur traders who were the first European settlers to frequently travel through the area.  It is located on the Canadian Shield, with the rocks averaging between 1 and 3 billion years old.  The park is notable for its outstanding water resources and is popular with canoeists, kayakers, other boaters and fishermen. The Kabetogama Peninsula, which lies entirely within the park and makes up most of its land area, is accessible only by boat.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (1978) is located in western North Dakota.  It is named for the president Theodore Roosevelt, who once owned ranches in the area.

Badlands National Park (1978) is located in southwestern South Dakota. It is the site of the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret, the most endangered land mammal in North America.  During World War II, the U.S. Army Air Force took possession of 341,726 acres of land on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Ogala Lakota people, for a gunnery range. Included in this range was 337 acres from the Badlands National Monument. This land was used extensively from 1942 through 1945 as an air-to-air and air-to-ground gunnery range including both precision and demolition bombing exercises.  125 families were forcibly relocated from their farms and ranches in the 1940s including Dewey Beard, a survivor of the Wounded Knee Massacre. Those that remained nearby recall times when they had to dive under tractors while out cutting hay to avoid bombs dropped by planes miles outside of the boundary.  The park also administers the nearby Minutemen Missile National Historic Site.

Biscayne National Park (1980) is located in southern Florida and is 95 percent water.  It preserves coral reefs and an extensive mangrove forest.  The bay waters harbor fish, seagrass beds, sponges and soft corals, as well as manatees. The keys are covered with tropical vegetation including endangered cacti and palms, and their beaches provide nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles.

Channel Islands National Park (1980) extends along the Southern California coast from Point Conception near Santa Barbara to San Pedro, a neighborhood of Los Angeles.  The park consists of 249,354 acres half of which are under the ocean, and includes the islands of: San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz.  More than 2,000 species of plants and animals can be found within the park, including the deer mouse, Spotted Skunk, Channel Islands Fox, island fence lizard, island scrub jay, harbor seal, California sea lion, barn owl, American kestrel, horned lark, meadowlark, and California brown pelican. One hundred and forty-five of these species are unique to the islands and found nowhere else in the world. Marine life ranges from microscopic plankton to the endangered blue whale, the largest animal ever to live on earth. Archeological and cultural resources span a period of more than 10,000 years.

Gates of the Arctic National Park (1980) is located in northern Alaska.  The national parks in Alaska created by president Jimmy Carter were intensely controversial, pitting oil company interests against conservationist and local interests.  Ultimately, Carter used the Antiquities Act (which Teddy Roosevelt had created, to proclaim the proposed parklands as national monuments).

Glacier Bay National Park (1980)  is located in the Alaskan panhandle west of Juneau. President Calvin Coolige proclaimed the area around Glacier Bay a national monument under the Antiquities Act in 1925. Under president Jimmy Carter, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) enlarged the national monument by 523,000 acres in 1980 and in the process created Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.  Glacier Bay became part of a binational UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.  In 1994, the park undertook an obligation to work with Hoonah and Tlingit Native American organizations in the management of the protected area. 

Katmai National Park (1980) is located in southern Alaska.  It is notable for the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and for its brown bears.

Kenai Fjords National Park (1980) is located on a peninsula in southcentral Alaska.  The grounding of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez produced extensive contamination of the Kenai Fjords coastline.

Kobuk Valley National Park (1980) is located in northwestern Alaska 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It is noted for the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes and caribou migration routes. There are no designated trails or roads in the park.  No roads lead to the park. It is reachable by foot, dogsled, snowmobile, and chartered air taxis. The park is one of the least visited in the National Park System.

Lake Clark National Park (1980) is located in southwestern Alaska.  The park includes a variety of features not found together in any of the other Alaska Parks: the junction of three mountain ranges, a coastline with rainforests along the Cook Inlet, a plateau with alpine tundra on the west, glaciers, glacial lakes, major salmon-bearing rivers, and two volcanoes, Mount Redoubt and Mount Lliamna.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (1980) is located in southcentral Alaska.  The park's glacial features include Malaspina Glacier, the largest piedmont glacier in North America, Hubbard Glacier, the longest tidewater glacier in Alaska, and Nabesna Glacier, the world's longest valley glacier. The Bagley Icefield covers much of the park's interior, which includes 60% of the permanently ice-covered terrain in Alaska.

Great Basin National Park (1986) is located in east-central Nevada.  The park derives its name from the Great Basin, the dry and mountainous region between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Mountains.  The park is notable for its groves of ancient bristlecone pines, the oldest known non-clonal organisms; and for the Lehman Caves at the base of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak

American Samoa National Park (1988) is in the American Territory of American Samoa (way out in the Pacific Ocean), distributed across three separate islands: Tutuila, Ofu, and Tau. The park preserves and protects coral reefs, tropical rain forests, fruit bats, and the Samoan culture.  The coral reefs are under significant threat due to rising ocean temperatures and carbon dioxide concentration, as well as sea level rise. As a result of these and other stresses, the corals that form the reefs are projected to be lost by mid-century if carbon dioxide concentrations continue to rise at their current rate.

Dry Tortugas National Park (1992) is about 68 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The park preserves the civil war era Fort Jefferson and the seven Dry Tortugas islands, the westernmost and most isolated of the Florida Keys.  The park is noted for abundant sea life, tropical bird breeding grounds, colorful coral reefs, and legends of shipwrecks and sunken treasures. 

Joshua Tree National Park (1994) is located in Southeastern California.  This is one of the parks I have actually visited.  The strange joshua trees grow only here and nowhere else in the world.  The U2 album "The Joshua Tree" is pretty good.

Saguaro National Park (1994) is located in southern Arizona.  The park gets its name from the saguaro, a large cactus which is native to the region. Many other kinds of cactus, including barrel, cholla, and prickly pear are abundant in the park. One endangered animal, the lesser long-nosed bat, lives in the park part of the year during its migration, together with one threatened species, the Mexican spotted owl.

Death Valley National Park (1994) is located in California and Nevada east of the Sierra Nevada, occupying an interface zone between the arid Great Basin and Mojave deserts. The park contains a diverse desert environment of salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains. It is the largest national park in the lower 48 states and has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (1999) is located in western Colorado.  The Precambrian gneiss and schist that makes up the majority of the steep walls of the black canyon formed 1.7 billion years ago during a metamorphic period brought on by the collision of ancient volcanic island arcs with the southern end of what is present-day Wyoming.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (2000) preserves and reclaims the rural landscape along the Cuyahoga River between Akron and Cleveland in northeast Ohio. It is the only national park in Ohio.  Cuyahoga means "crooked river" in Mohawk, which is part of the Iroquoian language family.

Conagree National Park (2003) preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. Located in South Carolina, the 26,546-acre national park received that designation in 2003 as the culmination of a grassroots campaign which had started in 1969. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park (2004) is located in the San Juis Valley, in the eastern Colorado.  The park contains the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising about 750 feet from the floor of the San Luis Valley on the western base of the Sange de Cristo Range, covering about 19,000 acres.

Pinnacles National Park (2013) protects a mountainous area located east of the Salinas Valley in Central California.  The park is located near the San Andreas Fault, which had a hand in creating the unique formations the park protects. The Pinnacles are part of the Neenach Volcano which erupted 23 million years ago near present-day Lancaster, California.

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