I constantly marvel at the many wonderful features of our far-flung national parks, especially their diversity. Scenic, geographic, topographic and climactic, this never-ending variety means that every one of our parks has its own personality and offers a unique experience.
This is certainly the case with green, hilly and tropical Virgin Islands National Park located entirely on tiny St. John, one of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands. This small archipelago was purchased by President Woodrow Wilson from Denmark in 1917 as a means of preventing Imperial Germany from threatening the Panama Canal or extending its military influence into the Western Hemisphere at the height of World War I. Continue reading →
The bustling, eclectic, urban city of Miami, Florida, with the pulsing rhythms of its day and night life, is not your typical location for a national park. Yet, the southern portion of Miami’s Biscayne Bay is indeed a wonderful tropical wilderness.
Yellowstone, the world’s very first national park and one of the most popular, was established in 1872. Most of us think of it as a place to visit in spring, summer and fall, but certainly not in winter.
Wyoming winters can be brutally cold with great snow accumulations. The Yellowstone Plateau where the park sits averages 8,000 feet of elevation. This high elevation makes the sun more intense and the alpine weather patterns more dynamic and unpredictable.
Sound forbidding? Well, it can be. Indeed, the park was pretty much devoid of wintertime visitors until the advent of specialized cold-weather tourism several years ago. Since the cold is often intense and the snows deep, what’s the point, you might ask? Continue reading →
The island state of Hawaii boasts two national parks. Hawaii Volcanoes is on the Big Island and popular Haleakala National Park, the subject of this column, is found on Maui.
While Haleakala volcano, along with its vast flanks, dominates Maui, Haleakala National Park has just two access areas. The more popular and heavily visited is the slow, winding 38-mile drive up to the summit of the volcano. There, you stand on the very edge of the crater. Haleakala’s 10,000-foot summit is your prime destination for sunrise. The place will likely be crowded with couples wrapped in blankets hastily snatched from their hotel rooms. Continue reading →
The first rays of sunrise strike enormous West Temple in Zion Canyon
In the southwest corner of Utah lies one of our most scenic, accessible and popular national parks, Zion. In my view, Zion is a superlative gem of scenery and fun.
The red rock landforms towering over the canyon of the Virgin River will fill your images with great drama and brilliant color. This deeply eroded high desert plateau is studded with cliffs and buttes, many bearing the Biblical names bestowed upon them by nineteenth-century Mormon settlers.
Zion National Park has three entrances, all leading to different topography and unique compositions. Continue reading →
After searching for new and fresh images on federal lands for more than two decades, I can say that there seems to be two types of national parks: those that are heavily visited and those that are too often overlooked in favor of the big names, such as Yosemite and Yellowstone.
One of the less well-known precious gems is Petrified Forest National Park on the eastern edge of Arizona. Weighing in at about 300 square miles, one can easily drive the single road in this compact national treasure from end-to-end in less than half a day. Ah, but then you would be missing all the fun!
President Theodore Roosevelt invoked the Antiquities Act to create Petrified Forest National Monument in 1906 to protect enormous fossilized trees that have actually been turned into brilliant multicolored stone by some 220 million years of water, heat and pressure. The Petrified Forest became a national park in 1962. The park is a treasure trove of the fossilized bones and remains of dinosaurs and other Triassic creatures—such as the recently discovered skull of a phytosaur named Gumby. A trip here can be a fascinating experience for anyone. Continue reading →
Before the chilly fingers of winter tighten their icy grip and close in on some of the northern national parks, consider a trip to the Rockies. Rocky Mountain National Park is just under two hours from Denver International Airport. The resort town of Estes Park, Colorado, is the perfect gateway to the park, which is known affectionately by many as “Rocky.” With a good choice of lodgings, Estes makes the perfect base for your trip. Wherever you stay, try to save an hour to stroll through the historic Stanley Hotel. Continue reading →
Photographs of Mt. Rainier and its reflection can be made at Tipsoo Lake or Reflection Lakes.
The Ring of Fire—a string of volcanoes, earthquakes and sites of seismic activity that encircles the Pacific Ocean—is the result of plate tectonics. Tectonic plates are slabs of the Earth’s crust, which fit together like pieces of a puzzle. The plates constantly move atop a layer of solid and molten rock called the mantle. Some volcanoes are actually vents with direct pipelines to the molten core of our little planet.
One of these presently dormant volcanoes is massive glacier-covered Mt. Rainier. Long called “Tahoma” by Native Americans, Rainier is about 80 miles south and east of Seattle, Washington, and is plainly visible from that city’s airport despite the distance. At 14,410 feet, this imposing peak is the tallest in the Cascade Range and one of the highest mountains in the 48 contiguous states.
A wonderful mix of sharply chiseled mountains, glistening lakes and sparkling waterfalls can be found in Glacier National Park in northern Montana. The spectacular scenery of this sprawling million-acre park is a landscape photographer’s paradise. Add in the black bears, grizzlies, mountain bighorn sheep and snow-white mountain goats that make Glacier their home, and you have all the ingredients for a great photo trip. Continue reading →
While most of our 59 national parks stand very well on their own, a few can be viewed better when combined with another. One good example of this is the pairing of Sequoia National Park (SNP) and Kings Canyon National Park (KCNP) in central California’s Sierra Nevada Range. They have been jointly administered since 1943.
SNP was established in 1890 to protect several stands of giant sequoia (Sequoia gigantium) trees. The park originally included a portion of present-day KCNP. KCNP exists because of the singular beauty of the glacially carved canyon of the Kings River, a special favorite of legendary conservationist John Muir.
The shape of the road system through these two parks is similar to that of a horseshoe. The road enters from Three Rivers in the south as Route 198 and from the north as Route 180. Once within the parks, these roads are collectively called the Generals Highway commemorating some of the very biggest of the giant sequoias. What may not necessarily be apparent is that most of the KCNP portion of the road—including a good part of the section along the South Fork of the Kings River—actually passes through the Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument rather than the national park itself. Continue reading →