At first glance, this may seem like some kind of alien world. Strange plants grow up out of the dirt while odd rock formations change color along with the light from the sun and night sky. Two distinct deserts meet here, and though many assume these acres contain nothing but a barren wasteland, there are diverse ecosystems and a plethora of life to be found. It is for one unique species of life that this park garnered its name. This plant earned its modern name from Mormon travelers who traveled the deserts here in the 1800s. An integral part of the increasingly smaller ecosystem where it is found, both humans and animals have come to rely on this plant. Scientifically a yucca, the joshua tree has become an icon of the desert and of popular culture, and Joshua Tree National Park is its home.
While native peoples, cowboys, homesteaders, miners, emigrants, and moviemakers have all passed through Joshua Tree, much of what is known about the park’s history and the efforts to conserve it are thanks to two women, early leaders in the national park movement. Today, the park is a favorite place for musicians and artists to gain inspiration as well as for stargazers to view the uninhibited night sky. Geologists and rock climbers are both drawn to the millions-of-years-old cliffs, formations and outcroppings that make up the park’s unique scenery.
A geological wonder, Death Valley stands out from other national parks in several ways. It is the hottest national park by record as well as the driest. It also reaches the lowest point of any national park in the Lower 48. While its name conjures up images of deserts and badlands, it is also home to one of the most beautiful wildflower displays each spring and is often covered in snow throughout the winter. While the heat of the day can be unbearable, the freezing temperatures of the night can be even harder to survive. Despite the rough conditions, plants, animals and humans have still been able to survive and thrive here. Those willing to overlook its name have always found Death Valley to be one of the most awe-inspiring sites in America.
The year 1980 was a banner year for the National Parks System with nine national parks opening that year - more than any other on record. Channel Islands became the first of those nine national parks, and bolstered the conservation and preservation efforts of America's growing environmental movement. Today, visitors still come to tour the five of the seven Channel Islands preserved within the park's boundaries while researchers and scientists have been able to use the area's endemic species to learn more about the natural world.
Preservation of Redwood National Park wouldn’t be complete without the three California state parks that join it. Del Norte Coast, Jedediah Smith and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks all date from the 1920s and all help preserve the old-growth forests the national park is famous for. Today, both the three state parks and the national park are jointly administered to help preserve the various natural resources found here, including various endangered and threatened plants and animals. Together, these parks preserve one of the most biologically diverse and archaeologically significant sites in all of northern California.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are administered jointly as Sequoia splits Kings Canyon from its visitor’s center, making Kings Canyon one of few non contiguous parks in the U.S. Despite being jointly administered, some might expect a sibling rivalry to emerge between these two parks. Though Sequoia has more visitors per year, Kings Canyon still beats its big sister in terms of acreage. While Sequoia is named after the trees themselves, Kings Canyon is also home to the largest remaining sequoia grove in the world as well as one tree dubbed “America’s Christmas tree.” It can be hard to separate the two parks from each other, but they each have unique stories that helped them become national parks.
In fact, the last time this mountain erupted was the year before it received its national park designation. Before that, it erupted three times in one year after an estimated 27,000 years of dormancy. While hot lava may have spewed from its top more than a century ago, today Lassen Peak is known as the area that receives the highest known winter snowfall amounts in the entire state of California. While not the most famous of the nine national parks located in the state of California, Lassen Volcanic National Park might be the state's most explosive.
Perhaps one of the most famous of all the American national parks, Yosemite will be celebrating its 125th birthday beginning in October 2015. Even so, a mere quasquicentennial is just a blink of an eye in the history of this remarkable land. Visitors here can explore ancient places and learn about the people and animals that have long called it home. As John Muir once described it, Yosemite is full of God’s thoughts, a place of peace and safety amid the most exalted grandeur and enthusiastic action, a new song, a place of beginnings.
Run alongside its sister park, Kings Canyon, Sequoia preserves these trees that were once on the literal chopping block, nearly destroyed by logging interests. The first of California's eight national parks, Sequoia has become a legend in its own time. Now, celebrating its 125th birthday, Sequoia has given generations of visitors the gift of walking among the giants, learning from their wisdom and enjoying the breathtaking splendor of one of the most beautiful and uniquely American landscapes.
From a valley that reshapes its trees into strange formations to a desert where rocks seem to magically move to some of the strangest colored waters in the world to the giant remnants of lost ancient civilizations, North America is home to some unique sites. In addition to those man-made wonders, the varied landscape of this region ranges from the wintry, dense forests of Canada to the diverse ecosystems of the U.S. to the Mexican desert, coastal Caribbean islands and dense jungle of Central America help make it an awe-inspiring place to visit.
Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
Rediscovered in 1989, the cave is located within Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve and in order to get a look inside, visitors must swim in and then wade through water for nearly three-fourths of a mile. Once inside, visitors can see remnants left behind by the ancient Maya, who researchers believed used this cave either as a burial ground of a place for sacrificial victims. Several skeletal remains have been discovered - and permanently left - in the cave that are believed to be thousands of years old. Of the 14 bodies discovered, the most famous is the Crystal Maiden.
From the Native Americans who first settled the land to the Spanish conquistadors set on conquering it to the Mexican ranchers to the American gold rush miners to the Asian immigrants sailing across the Pacific to seek a better life, many different peoples have called California home and shaped its history. Within these lost cities and forgotten towns, visitors can not only find remnants of buildings and communities but a lesson in the state's history.
Allensworth - The Tuskegee of the West
Dedicated to all things travel, places I have been and places I want to go.