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.
Originally preserved due in part to its extensive underground cave network, the park today contains the Basin and Range Province of the much larger Great Basin itself. Located less than 15 miles from the Nevada-Utah state line, this national park is located off the beaten path, surrounded by small unincorporated communities and ghost towns. Its nearly 300 miles to Las Vegas in the south or 230 to Salt Lake City in the northeast. However, those who venture out will have a chance to see an untouched segment of America, a place of rock arches, underground caverns, canyons, mountains, lakes, pine forests and mountain meadows.
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.
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 relative isolation and natural beauty of this area has led to many cultures making their homes here or at least creating their myths about how this area came to be. The forbidding nature of the area made it seem unconquerable to some and despite several attempts to settle it in the modern day, Capitol Reef remained largely untouched. Soon, it was determined the rugged beauty of this area was best preserved for future generations, a testament to the sheer power and force of nature. It would take nearly 50 years before the dream of preserving Capitol Reef was realized.
Amid the remains of ancient forests and ancient peoples are more modern ruins - towns, cars and railroads abandoned by those who attempted to make their life out in this unforgiving but beautiful landscape. While the desert and fossils here date back hundreds of millions of years, this area only became a national park in the 1960s. It took several attempts by various presidents to turn this area into a national park. It took more than 65 years of campaigning for Petrified Forest to attain national park status and was the only national park created under the presidency of John F. Kennedy. The second of the three national parks in Arizona, every new discovery here proves that Petrified Forest National Park is a national treasure.
Whether one is in the state’s wild woodlands, mountainous coal region, rolling lowlands or along its coastal plains, there are areas that Marylanders have left behind as their state has moved forward. Abandoned towns still lie in the hills and woods while major cities are now located atop what were once ancient and colonial settlements. The change in the state’s economy forced the end of some communities whose residents left for other areas as their main sources of income no longer became viable. The changes from wagons to steamships to railroads and highway systems contributed to the decline of other communities, literally taking them off the map.
Applegarth - Oyster Town
As the makeup and landscape of the state has changed, so too have the towns and cities that Maine’s residents call home. Lost into the past of the Pine Tree State are former colonial forts, a small community inundated by a local lake, a city settled by former slaves, and a wildlife reserve that was once the state’s largest shipbuilding community. The rise and fall the state’s of industry, culture and societies can be charged through the cities lost in the wilds of Maine.
Askwith - On Misery Knob
Dedicated to all things travel, places I have been and places I want to go.