Perhaps one of the best places to see the story of America unfold is along the banks of crooked as it flows from one of the Great Lakes. Despite being in one of the geologically older sections of the country, this river is relatively young with a depth of typically between three and six feet. Over its life, he was used to provide water, operate infrastructure, dispose of waste and finally as a point of local pride and recreation. Showcasing the resiliency of nature, the progress of man, and what can happen when the two forces work together, this section of river and woods shows that natural beauty can be found in even the most unexpected of places - even one of the most populated states in the country. This natural gem is Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Cuyahoga Valley is the only national park in the state of Ohio and is located between two of the state’s biggest cities: Cleveland and Akron. It may seem an odd place to stick a national park, but the Cuyahoga River the national park surrounds became a focal point of the environmental movement after the amount of pollution in the river caused it to “catch fire” at least 13 times. Today, the water quality has improved and fish have returned to the river. In addition to preserving the environmental quality of the Cuyahoga, the park also preserves the man-made ambition that built Ohio by preserving portions of the Erie Canal also located here. As a result, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a testament to both conservation and industrial progress.
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.
Named for the Carnegiea gigantea or the saguaro, this national park is famous for being home to the largest cactus in the world. The saguaro is both a living plant, a habitat and historically a source of fruit and water in the dry desert. While the iconic cactus is the park’s namesake and most famous resident, it is far from the only thing to see here. Desert tortoises, gila monsters and javelinas roam the parklands. Native tribes, Spanish explorers, miners, ranchers, homesteaders, CCC workers, and scientists have all called this area home. Saguaro has long beckoned travelers to visit the king of the cacti in his own domain.
While the sunken treasures of shipwrecks around the island may seem the most alluring part of these islands, the Dry Tortugas are actually home to a greater wealth of sea life, tropical birds, coral reefs and history. Home to the largest brick masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere, the park is accessible only by seaplane or boat. Ferries bring visitors to the islands daily, though traversing the waters is much safer than in the heyday of pirates, privateers, naval officers and fishermen. Bordered by two marine sanctuaries and part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with the Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park showcases the uncompromised natural beauty of the Florida Keys.
Officially known as the National Park of American Samoa, this national park has the distinction of being the only U.S. National Park south of the equator and only the second national park located in a U.S. Territory rather than a U.S. state. Located in the South Pacific, American Samoa is actually closer to Australia or New Zealand than it is to the U.S. Only slightly larger than Washington, D.C., American Samoa is only a portion of the full Samoan Islands with the rest belonging to the independent Samoa and the national park works to preserve the ancient heritage and natural beauty of these islands.
Once home to one of the most intricate trading networks in prehistoric Alaska, the area that now contains the national park has become home to Russian explorers and traders, American researchers and soldiers, prospectors, merchants, and now national park rangers. Shaped by glaciers and volcanoes, the park was once home to the largest copper lode in the country. It was the explotation of minerals and oils that made conservationists realize the importance of preserving the natural beauty of this ancient land. Today, the park protects everything from formations millions of years old to historic structures constructed in the past century. The story of Wrangell-St. Elias is, in many ways, the story of Alaska itself.
While the term fjords conjures up images of Scandinavia for most, Alaska has a wealth of these glacier-created formations with the Kenai Peninsula being particularly famous for them. Taking a trip back in time to the last Ice Age might be as simple as hopping on a ship in Anchorage, Kenai, Homer or Seward then heading around the peninsula in the Gulf of Alaska. The home of one of the largest ice fields in the country, more than half of the park is still covered with ice. While many of the few visitors who come here do not leave the cruise ships they use to pass through the park, those who do set foot in Kenai Fjords have a chance to see some of the most beautiful scenery Alaska has to offer, whether they choose to do so by climbing a glacier, from a dog sled, on boat or on foot.
A place of great natural and human history, the Katmai National Park and Preserve showcases a side of Alaska not many see. Roughly the size of Wales, this national park has been largely unvisited and undeveloped throughout its history - though the animals don’t seem to mind. The fourth largest national park, Katmai is also one of the least visited parks. While the interesting volcanic phenomena witnessed in the park led to its initial preservation, the park managed to gain acreage over time as part of efforts to protect Alaskan wildlife, both those that dwell on the land and in the waters of the park. It was one of several Alaskan parks established in 1980 as part of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
The park conserves the Biscayne Bay region, stretching from Miami down the southern tip of Florida to Homestead and then out to seat at Elliot Key, the northernmost of the Florida Keys. An ecosystem linked to that of Florida’s famous Everglades, the area preserves both an important south Florida ecosystem as well as a piece of Florida history with human habitation dating back at least 10,000 years ago. This water wonderland has brought together native peoples, presidents, millionaires, pirates, farmers, researchers, exiles and outdoorsmen over the years. Rainbow colored fish and coral lie beneath the crystal blue waters and emerald islands
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.
Dedicated to all things travel, places I have been and places I want to go.