See some of the world’s most amazing natural wonders at these national parks.
By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
For many of us, the numerous properties overseen by the National Park Service provide highlights to our travels, but their recognition is not limited to the United States. Thirteen national parks have worldwide reputations and are among the 936 international World Heritage Sites. Although locations such as the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall are also included on the list, we’ll limit this column to the national parks. We’ve seen all but one of these, as our travels have taken us to every state except Alaska.
1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico. More than 100 known limestone caves make up this cavern system in New Mexico. Guided tours can involve walking on paved trails or crawling through narrow cave passages. If your time is limited, start with the Big Room self-guided tour. The underground temperature stays a cool 56 degrees year-round, so dress accordingly.
2. Everglades National Park, Florida. Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness reserve in the United States. It contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere; 275 species of fish; more than 400 species of birds; 60 species of reptiles, amphibians, and insects; and enough plant species to keep any botanist busy. It is the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America.
3. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Stretching nearly 277 miles long and approximately 18 miles wide in some places, the nearly 1-mile-deep Grand Canyon contains a geological record of the earth’s history reaching back 2 billion years. Its biological diversity extends through five of the seven major life zones and three of the four desert types found in North America. Whether you see this majestic formation from the rim or hike down the steep trails to the bottom, the Grand Canyon provides views found nowhere else on earth.
4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee And North Carolina. If you include all the plants, animals, and invertebrates, more than 17,000 different species have been documented in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. No other temperate area of this size has a greater diversity. It contains more than 100 species of native trees “” more than any other North American national park. No wonder it’s the most popular national park in the United States, with more than 8 million visitors each year.
5. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii. This park contains two of the world’s most active and accessible volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Mauna Loa is the greatest volcanic mass on earth. The Hawaiian Archipelago is located more than 2,000 miles from the nearest continental land mass, and its isolation is the reason more than 90 percent of its native terrestrial flora and fauna are found only on these islands. The park extends from the top of Mauna Loa (13,677 feet) down to sea level, contributing to its rich diversity.
6. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky. If you like caves, then Mammoth Cave National Park is the place to explore. It features the most extensive cave system in the world and contains more than 390 miles of explored passageways. Most people think of caves as places devoid of life. But wildlife adapts, and more than 130 species of flora and fauna live within this cave system, either as visitors or as full-time residents. We appreciate these and other caves for the exquisite beauty of their stone formations.
7. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. More than a century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt established the first national park devoted to preserving the works of man “” Mesa Verde. Here, approximately 1,400 years ago, the Pueblo Indians lived in what we now call cliff dwellings. Although the majority of these domiciles are relatively small, the largest, known as the Cliff Palace, contained 150 rooms. The park has more than 4,000 known archaeological sites, with many open for ranger-guided tours.
8. Olympic National Park, Washington. Although roads lead into the edges of this reserve, nearly all of Olympic National Park is designated as wilderness. Here you can see Pacific Ocean beaches, rainforest valleys, and glacier-capped peaks. Mount Olympus, at 7,980 feet, is the highest peak in Olympic National Park, and because it receives more than 200 inches of precipitation each year (most in the form of snow), it has the third-largest glacial system in the contiguous United States.
9. Redwood National And State Parks, California. When the logging of redwood trees started in the 1850s, old-growth redwood forests covered more than 2 million acres. The decorative wood became so popular that in the 1920s the state of California created three parks to help preserve the massive trees. Finally, in the 1960s, when 90 percent of the original redwoods had been logged, U.S. Congress created Redwoods National Park. For efficiency, the area is jointly managed by the state and the National Park Service. Here you can see some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world. If you visit, take a tip from a couple who spent a few years living right in the redwoods “” get off the main highway and drive through the Avenue of the Giants.
10. Yosemite National Park, California. The tallest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls, extends 2,425 feet from the top of the upper falls to the base of the lower falls, making it the sixth-tallest waterfall in the world. Yosemite Valley was created by moving water, both in liquid and frozen form (the latter, glaciers). Granite walls rise a half-mile above the valley floor, providing a setting for many of the waterfalls that make the area famous. As John Muir said, “It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” After years of full-time travel, it was no accident that we settled down just a few miles outside of Yosemite National Park.
11. Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Montana And Canada. This World Heritage Site is a joint U.S. and Canada listing that combines Montana’s Glacier National Park and Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park to create the world’s first International Peace Park. Although both parks share similar habitats, most of the visitation is to Glacier, with its pristine forests, alpine meadows, and spectacular lakes. Glacier alone has more than 700 miles of hiking trails where you can explore the Northern Rocky Mountains; Waterton Lakes has 120.
12. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, And Idaho. Yellowstone National Park is known for the world’s largest collection of thermal geysers. This was America’s first national park, established in 1872, and according to park literature, its more than 300 geysers make up two-thirds of those found on earth. The geysers are among the most dramatic of the park’s 10,000 thermal features, as brilliantly colored hot springs, bubbling mudpots, and steaming fumaroles also vie for attention.
13. Glacier Bay And Wrangell-Elias National Parks And Preserves And More, Alaska And Canada. This is another jointly designated area, as national parks from the United States and Canada make up this World Heritage Site. The combination of Wrangell-St. Elias and Glacier Bay national parks and preserves and Canada’s Kluane and Tatshenshini-Alsek national parks form one of the largest internationally protected biosphere reserves in the world. Glacier Bay is accessible only by boat or airplane, but Wrangell-St. Elias can be reached by road from Anchorage. Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest of the U.S. national parks; it contains nine of the 16 tallest peaks in the country as well as North America’s largest subpolar ice field.
For almost 30 years, Lowell and Kaye Christie, F47246, have penned the “Window On Nature” and “Baker’s Dozen” columns for Family Motor Coaching magazine. Recently, health issues have prompted the Christies to discontinue writing. This month’s column will be their last.
The couple’s first “Window On Nature” column, in September 1982, explained, “We’re just two teachers who left our classrooms early to return to school. To study the language of a mountain stream, the rhythm of the seasons, the history written in the face of a cliff “” and to share what we’ve learned with others.”
“Baker’s Dozen” debuted in June 1983 with a discussion of 13 ways to shop efficiently while traveling. Subsequent columns addressed diverse topics: 13 interesting travel sites, 13 hobbies to pursue on the road, even 13 coach-cleaning tips. The couple also wrote numerous feature articles over the years.
On behalf of Family Motor Coaching readers past and present, we thank Lowell and Kaye for their decades of contributions “” 674 columns in all, according to Lowell’s estimate. “It’s been quite a run, and I’ll miss it,” he said.
So will we.