To my knowledge, there are just five cave systems within our 59 national parks, at least those that are open to the public. While other caverns are found in some national monuments, let’s stick to these big 5 for now.
Alaska is often called “the last frontier” for good reason. The overwhelming majority of our 49th state is still pristine and wild. When traipsing around this wonderful wilderness, I am constantly reminded of the American pioneers of yesteryear such as John Colter and Jedediah Smith, so open is this vast state. It is truly in a class all by itself. Perhaps the prime feature shared by all eight national parks of Alaska (only California has more) is this singularly pristine wildness. These wonderful parks are vast tracts of pure, untamed and untrammeled Nature. Towering volcanoes, sparkling glaciers, crystalline lakes and mega fauna in the wild seem to be everywhere.
A century and a half after being acquired by Secretary of State William Seward from Russia’s Czar Alexander II, “Alyeska” remains remote, sparsely populated and largely roadless. Throughout this immense state, if you want to get around beyond the point where the few roads end, you will likely be using a raft or canoe to navigate the many river drainages or the ever-popular and ubiquitous bush planes for just about everything else.
Nestled in the southwestern corner of Colorado sits the first and (almost) the only national park established to protect the works of man, rather than Nature, the fascinating Mesa Verde.
Hidden for centuries and unknown to Europeans until a couple of cowboys looking for strays stumbled upon it in 1888, this treasure trove of Native American history includes several thousand structures, both simple and complex, that were built here spanning a period that is estimated to have lasted from perhaps 600 to about 1300 C.E.
We are accustomed to driving to our national parks. This is definitely not the case with Channel Islands National Park. This little archipelago of a half-dozen rocks jutting out of the Pacific Ocean a few miles off the coast of central California is reachable only by a short boat ride. This rather contradictory blend of remoteness and accessibility offers some unique opportunities for us photographers.
The Channel Islands are called America’s Galapagos – and for good reason. A wide variety of birds and pinnipeds are in plentiful supply. Western gulls find safety here. Continue reading →
As I have mentioned a time or two, Grand Staircase-Escalante in central Utah is my favorite national monument. This is the case primarily for one reason; variety. This sprawling tract covers close to two million acres, almost as big as immense Yellowstone National Park. The monument was established in 1996 with the former Escalante Wilderness as its core, primarily as a means of protecting this chunk of central Utah from the prospective strip mining of its extensive coal deposits. At the same time, whether by accident or design, it has the simultaneous effect of protecting some of the most spectacular rock formations in all of the Southwest. Lucky us!
There are several wonderful areas within the boundaries of “The Escalante” so it can be a challenge to decide where to begin. Whether or not you have researched the monument online in advance of any trip here, it’s a good idea to make an initial stop at one of the BLM / multi-agency ranger stations serving the Escalante. They are located in the towns of Kanab and Escalante, Utah. Stopping to speak with a ranger can help to put some of the photo opportunities here in some degree of logical order.
In brief and in no particular order, the prime ‘Do Not Miss’ areas here are:
Devil’s Garden A tightly packed and surreal playground filed with outrageously eroded hoodoos and arches. My wife, at a willowy 5’9″ is accustomed to her high vantage point. Even in light of that, she is quite struck to be “feeling like Alice in Wonderland” among these remarkable geologic forms. Continue reading →
Without a doubt, one of the crowning jewels of both the national park system and the entire world is Yosemite. Over the eons, millions (billions?) of tons of metamorphic granite have been shaped and sculpted, largely by glaciers, into countless harmonious and visually riveting forms.
After decades of being photographed by the renowned Ansel Adams and the many who came after him, creating original images here is a real challenge — but it is not impossible. There is an absolutely endless variety of compositions in Yosemite even though so many natural features are pretty much a monochromatic gray. John Muir called the Sierra Nevada — home to Yosemite — “the range of light.”
Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.” — John Muir from The Yosemite (1912)
To enjoy a productive photo trip to Yosemite, we should first get organized by breaking the park into four distinct regions. These include Yosemite Valley, the High Country, the Glacier Point Road and the Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoia trees. There are many other subjects in-between, but these are the primary areas of this thousand square mile wonder. Continue reading →
Jackson Hole, with its sharply serrated Teton Range, is undoubtedly one of the most dramatic and striking scenes in all of North America. It is a great choice for a photo trip in at least three seasons.
Just south of iconic Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park is too often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor. Rather than making an outing in the Tetons merely an extension of a trip to Yellowstone, we photographers should think of both as being equally worthy of our time. Continue reading →
Ever wonder which of our 59 national parks is really the biggest? No, it’s not mighty Yellowstone or even sprawling Death Valley. Measuring a vast 13,200,000 acres, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, tucked into the southeast corner of Alaska, is far and away the biggest national park around, equal to six Yellowstones! It is larger than Massachusetts and New Hampshire combined, and includes two entire mountain ranges – the Wrangells and the St. Elias. Together with contiguous Kluane National Park across the border in Canada, the combined cross-border tract totals more than a whopping 25,000,000 acres and is the biggest wilderness area in the world.
While size does indeed matter, there is more to this sprawling wilderness than volume. Stunning peaks such as Sanford, Drum, Blackburn, Wrangell, St. Elias and others fill this rugged park. Continue reading →
Yellowstone is not only America’s first national park, but the very first such preserve in all the world. Brought into existence with the 1872 signature of President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone set the example for the worldwide park and preservation movement. It is the quintessential essence of our park system. Even after almost a century and a half, Yellowstone remains one of the crown jewels of the world.
We discussed a winter trip to Yellowstone in the October 2015 issue of eNews. In this issue, we’ll explore this vast park in warmer weather. Continue reading →
President Theodore Roosevelt was the original maverick. When he saw a problem, he found a solution, even if he had to bend the rules a bit to create one.
As far back as 1906, this activist president was faced with a need to protect the immense volcanic plug called Devil’s Tower in eastern Wyoming. Characteristically forging his own path, he applied the new Antiquities Act in an unorthodox fashion to create America’s very first national monument. Before he was done, Roosevelt signed 18 national monuments into existence.
Congress had intended the Antiquities Act to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest.” In essence, it was meant to prohibit pot hunters from stripping ancient Native American sites of their treasures. Still, after over a century of precedent, Roosevelt’s creative application of the act has now become settled law, and its continued use is unlikely to be altered going forward.
Certainly not all such monuments come into being in this dramatic fashion. Many wind their way through a bureaucratic process that can take years.
Once a monument is established, it becomes a unit of the National Park Service. Some monuments are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). No matter how they come into being or who administers them, national monuments do not have national park status, facilities or the number of visitors that frequent national parks.
Of the approximately 130 national monuments presently in existence, 30 have been established in this young century alone. Continue reading →