Archive for the ‘National Park Service’ Tag

Carlsbad Caverns National Park   5 comments

Where Is It: 150 miles east of El Paso, TX, or 300 miles southeast of Albuquerque, NM.

The Birth: In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge established Carlsbad Cave National Monument. In 1930, Congress authorized and then President Herbert Hoover approved the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Size: 46,766 acres.

# Visitors: 2012 visitation was 381,058 people. July was the peak month, and January the least attended … even though the cave is a constant 56*, year round.

Plants: From the Park’s website:

The park’s diverse ecosystem provides habitat for many plants that are at the geographic limits of their ranges. For example, the Ponderosa Pine reaches its extreme eastern limit here and Chinkapin Oak is at the western edge of its range.

There is more diversity of cacti in the Chihuahuan Desert than in any other region. Experts believe that this plant family originated here or to the south, and expanded out through the New World. The park’s vascular plant list notes 26 species or subspecies of cacti, including two species that are federally listed.

The plant families with the most species in the park are species in the sunflower family, with 153 species, and grasses, with 135 species. There are more than 60 known species of the legume family and more than 30 each from the mustard and poinsettia families.

Animals: 17 species of bats live in the Park, including Mexican free-tailed bats. That species’ population in the Park was once estimated in the millions, but is now a fraction of that number. A study published in 2009 by a team from Boston University questions whether millions of bats ever existed in the caverns.

Choices: From

One full day allows you time to tour the main cavern and take a nature walk or a drive before watching the bats fly at sunset. For a second day’s activity, reserve space on a tour of “unimproved” Slaughter Canyon Cave, if you’re ready for a more rugged caving experience.

At the visitor center, select either the Natural Entrance Tour or the Big Room Tour (both are 1.25-mile walks). Try the first unless you have walking, breathing, or heart problems. It starts at the natural entrance and is mostly downhill, except for one stretch where you climb 83 feet; an elevator whisks you back to ground level. The Natural Entrance Tour is more intimate and may be less crowded than the Big Room.

Fees: Any tour costs each visitor $10.

Staying There: There are no campgrounds and no lodges in the Park. Backcountry camping is by permit; permits are free.

Contact Info:

3225 National Parks Highway
Carlsbad, New Mexico 88220
Visitor Information: 575.785.2232
Bat Flight Information: 575.785.3012

Current Issues: From Albuquerque Journal:

It’s been more than two decades since a discovery this big has been made at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeastern New Mexico.

Park officials announced this week that a new room has been discovered high in the ceiling of the main cavern. It was found on Halloween night by Derek Bristol, a caver and volunteer with the Cave Research Foundation, and Shawn Thomas, a cave technician at the park.

The two had climbed more than 250 feet to the “Spirit World” area to finish surveying as part of work to create a new map of the caverns. Once inside, they decided to make their way to a ledge about 15 feet away. The ledge had been observed on previous trips but never explored.

“Most of the time, obscure leads like this go nowhere,” Thomas said.

To their surprise, it opened up to a long passage.

“I remember being really shocked. I couldn’t believe this was happening,” said Thomas, who followed Bristol through the passage and into the large room they dubbed Halloween Hall. “There hasn’t been a room this big discovered in decades.”

Inside the colorful room were football-size crystal formations, light-blue endellite clay, a cascade of flow stone left behind by mineral deposits and thousands of bat bones. The room is about 100 feet in diameter.

Don’t Miss This: From

More than 300 known caves lie beneath the surface of the Chihuahuan Desert and Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico and west Texas. The Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains 113 of these caves, two of which—Carlsbad Caverns and Lechuguilla Cave—are among the largest and most magnificent underground formations in the world.


National Park Service: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Jason’s Travels: My Favorite National Parks Of The West

Terra Galleria: Carlsbad Caverns

Great Basin National Park   2 comments

Great Basin NP 00Where Is It: About 300 miles north of Las Vegas.

The Birth: The Park was established on October 27, 1986 by President Ronald Reagan.

It Happened Here: In 1964, before the Park was established, an ancient bristlecone pine, found to be more than 4,900 years old, was cut down for scientific research.

Size: 77,082 acres

# Visitors: Great Basin National Park reported record attendance in 2012: 98,540. Peak attendance was in July; January had the least attendance.

Plants: From the sponsored Great Basin National Park Sights page:

The bristlecone pines are the stuff of legends. True masters of longevity, they endure not centuries but millennia. On rocky slopes beyond the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, you can walk among trees that have kept their grip on life for two to three thousand years – some much longer than that. A bristlecone pine found here was determined to be the world’s oldest living thing: 4,950 years of age.

Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) are remarkable for their great age and their ability to survive adverse growing conditions. In fact, it seems one secret to their longevity is the harsh environment in which most bristlecone pines grow.

Bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park grow in isolated groves just below treeline. Conditions are harsh, with cold temperatures, a short growing season, and high winds. Bristlecone pines in these high-elevation environments grow very slowly, and in some years don’t even add a ring of growth. This slow growth makes their wood very dense and resistant to insects, fungi, rot, and erosion. Vegetation is very sparse, limiting the role of fire. Bristlecone pine seeds are occassionally cached by birds at lower elevations. Bristlecone pines grow more rapidly in more “favorable” environments at lower elevations. They do not achieve their legendary age or fascinating twisted shapes.

While bristlecone pines are the longest-living tree, scientists debate what is truly the oldest living thing. The creosote bush that grows in the Mojave Desert may be older. The cresote achieves its age by “cloning” new bushes from its root system. Yet bristlecone pines surely deserve our respect for not only surviving harsh conditions, but thriving in harsh conditions.

Animals: Animals common to the Park range from pronghorn antelopes to pygmy rabbits, from mountain sheep to marmots, from ringtail cats to ermine.

Choices: From

Great Basin National Park offers three major attractions:

  1. Wheeler Peak, a 13,063 foot mountain that towers above the Great Basin.
  2. Bristlecone pines, a unique tree that grows to an amazing age � some are thought to be up to 5,000 years old.
  3. Lehman Caves – beautiful caverns that penetrate deep into an underground world full of stalactites, stalagmites and other decorations.

The park is a great place to explore, hike, camp and see unique sights.

Fees: There is no entrance fee.

Staying There: There are about 100 camping sites which currently cost $10/night. There is no other lodging in the Park.

Contact Info:

100 Great Basin National Park
Baker, NV 89311
Park Headquarters: (775) 234-7331
Lehman Caves Tours Advance Ticket Sales: (775) 234-7517


National Park Service: Great Basin National Park

Posted December 15, 2013 by henrymowry in National Parks

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Olympic National Park   4 comments

Olympic NP 00Where Is It: It’s right outside of Seattle … and the Park is surrounded by Highway 101. Depending on where you’re going, the distance could be about 80 miles, or twice that.

The Birth: The Mount Olympus National Monument was created in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt. President Franklin Roosevelt designated it a National Park on June 29, 1938.

It Happened Here: The interior of the Park was first explored with the support of local newspapermen, and many peaks today bear the names of prominent editors and publishers of the late 19th century. These include Mt Meany (Edmond Meany was an editor at the Seattle Press), Mt Dana, Mt Lawson, Mt Noyes, Mt Scott and the Bailey Range.

Size: 922,650 acres

# Visitors: 2,824,908 in 2012. Peak month was August; January was the least attended.

Plants: Over 1,450 types of vascular plants grow on the Peninsula, nearly the same number as the British Isles—an area 30 times larger.

Animals: From the Park’s website:

Old Growth Refuge
The park is a rare refuge for species dependent on old growth forests, including some species protected under the Endangered Species Act. Olympic provides one of the last remaining large tracts of intact primeval forest in the lower 48 states. These moist forests provide essential habitat for northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets and a variety of amphibians.

A Unique Community
The wildlife community of the isolated Olympic Peninsula is also unique. This community is noteworthy not only for its endemic animals (found only here), but also for species missing from the Olympics, yet found elsewhere in western mountains. Pika, ptarmigan, ground squirrels, lynx, red foxes, coyotes, wolverine, grizzly bears, bighorn sheep and historically, mountain goats, did not occur on the Olympic Peninsula. Meanwhile, endemic species like the Olympic marmot, Olympic snow mole and Olympic torrent salamander are found here and nowhere else in the world!

Choices: From the Park’s website:

With three major ecosystems and almost a million acres to choose from, Olympic National Park is filled with possibilities. One of the key challenges that visitors face is how to tackle all of these choices – but we’re here to help!

Our first recommendation is to start your visit at a Visitor Center and get the most current park information. Ranger program times, opening and closing schedules, tides, weather, road conditions, and many other factors can influence your visit. An informed visitor is a happy and safe visitor!

Here are some other tips:

  • Pick up a copy of the Bugler park newspaper. It is published twice annually, to target the summer and winter seasons. Click here for the digital PDF version.
  • Plan your park activities with time and distance in mind. The park is very large and can be accessed by vehicle only in certain areas. Think of the access roads like spokes of a big wheel, with Highway 101 as the wheel’s rim.
  • Consult the park’s mileage chart for distances between key destinations, and note that in many areas reduced speed limits and winding, two-lane roads may increase your travel time. Click here for some recommendations based on your available time (a few hours, a day, or multiple days).
  • Call the Olympic National Park Visitor Center at (360)565-3130 for the current status of park roads, facilities, and campgrounds.
  • Time permitting, we recommend that you try to sample destinations within each of the park’s major ecosystems: sub-alpine, coastal, and forest (which can be further sub-divided into lowland forest and the famous temperate rainforest).
  • Check the park’s Event Calendar for interesting programs and activities
  • Don’t spend all of your time at Olympic in the car! There are hundreds of trails, viewing points, and other opportunities to experience the park beyond your windshield. Take a walk in the woods, watch for wildlife, or listen to a river. Even if it’s a five minute stop at a pull-out, don’t miss the opportunity.

Fees: $15 per car entering the park. Individuals are $5.

Staying There: There are 2 lodges, 2 resorts, and only 17 campsites in Olympic National Park.

Contact Info:

600 East Park Avenue
Port Angeles, WA 98362-6798
(360) 565-3130


National Park Service: Olympic National Park – Photography in the National Parks: Winter Essentials Olympic

Kobuk Valley National Park   1 comment

Where Is It: The Park is very remote. You can’t drive there; you must take a plane. Commercial airlines provide service from Anchorage to Kotzebue, or from Fairbanks to Bettles. Once in Kotzebue or Bettles, you must fly to the park with authorized air taxis.

The Birth: This park was one of 15 new properties established by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980. President Jimmy Carter first declared it a national monument in 1978 using the Antiquities Act.  Congress eventually passed the ANILCA bill in 1980, and Carter then re-designated the Monument as Kobuk Valley National Park on December 2, 1980.

It Happened Here: Over 30 prospectors’ camps were established during a short gold rush in 1899–1900. Surveys have not yet located the sites, though fragments of the miners’ boats have been found.

Size: 1,750,000 acres.

# Visitors: A record of 29,550 visitors came to the Park in 2012. September was the peak month.

Plants: From the Park’s website:

The southern boundary of the park is 35 miles above the Arctic Circle. The boreal forest reaches its northern limit here, resulting in an open woodland of small trees in a mat of thick tundra. The Kobuk River winds its way slowly through the park for 61 miles.

Animals: The largest caribou herd in Alaska – about 490,000 animals – travels through this area during its migration.

Choices: From

Summer is the best time to visit. Days are long (from about June 3 to July 9 the sun doesn’t set), and temperatures in many places can reach into the 80s or higher. Ice breaks up on the Kobuk River in May and begins to reform by mid-October. Mid-June to late July is best for wildflowers. August can bring rain and September snow. In late August, the aspens begin to turn yellow and the tundra red, and the caribou migration begins.

Fees: There is no entrance fee.

Staying There: There are no campsites or developed lodging areas in the Park. Primitive camps are made on the tundra or near the river, where a rapid rise in water flow can make those campsites hazardous.

Current Issues: From the National Parks Conservation Association:

Kobuk Valley National Park is home to the only active sand dunes within the Arctic Circle. The Great Kobuk, Little Kobuk, and Hunt River Sand Dunes have shrunk to 25 square miles. At one time, they covered twelve times as much area.


National Park Service: Kobuk Valley National Park

Posted December 3, 2013 by henrymowry in National Parks

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Cuyahoga Valley National Park   Leave a comment

Cuyahoga Valley NP 00Where Is It: From Cleveland, take I-77 15 miles south; from Akron, go 13 miles north on I-77; from the east or west, I-80 bisects the park, as does I-271

The Birth: From Wikipedia:

Actual park development began in the 1910s and 1920s with the establishment of Cleveland and Akron metropolitan park districts. In 1929 the estate of Cleveland businessman Hayward Kendall donated 430 acres around the Richie Ledges and a trust fund to the state of Ohio. Kendall’s will stipulated that the “property should be perpetually used for park purposes”. It became Virginia Kendall park, in honor of his mother. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built much of the park’s infrastructure including what are now Happy Days Lodge and the shelters at Octagon, Ledges, and Kendall Lake.

Although regional parks safeguarded certain places, by the 1960s local citizens feared that urban sprawl would overwhelm the Cuyahoga Valley’s natural beauty. Active citizens joined forces with state and national government staff to find a long-term solution. Finally, on December 27, 1974, President Gerald Ford signed the bill establishing the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area.

The National Park Service acquired the 47-acre Krejci Dump in 1985 to include as part of the recreation area. They requested a thorough analysis of the site’s contents from the Environmental Protection Agency. After the survey identified extremely toxic materials, the area was closed in 1986 and designated a superfund site. Litigation was filed against potentially responsible parties, which included Ford, GM, Chrysler, 3M and Waste Management of Ohio. All the companies except 3M agreed to a settlement; 3M lost at trial.

Cleanup began in 1987 and had not been completed as of mid-2011, although most of the area had been restored to its original state as wetlands.

The area was redesignated a national park by Congress on October 11, 2000, with the passage of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2001, House Bill 4578, 106th congress.

It Happened Here: This National Park leases farmland! From the Park’s website:

In order to preserve the valley’s pastoral landscape and protect both natural and cultural resources, the National Park Service developed a program called the Countryside Initiative. This program invites farmers to lease land and farm in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The Countryside Initiative program balances the needs of the land and farmer, who must follow strict guidelines for sustainable farm management.

Size: 20,339 acres

# Visitors: 2,299,722 in 2012. Attendance peaks in July/August and is least in January/February.

Plants: There are more than 250 species of plants in the Park, includine maple, birch, beech, oak and hemlock trees. Wildflowers include Ohio spiderwort, trillium, pink lady’s slipper, violets and showy orchid.

Fees: There are no entrance fees to the Park.

Staying There: There are no campsites in the Park, though there are campgrounds in adjacent state parks.

Contact Info:

Boston Store Visitor Center
1550 Boston Mills Road
Peninsula, OH 44264
(330) 657-2752

Current Issues: From

The future of some of Ohio’s most treasured places remains uncertain as budget negotiations continue in Washington.The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) estimates Ohio lost more than $3 million in visitor spending when its national parks were closed during the government shutdown.

John Garder, the NPCA’s budget director, says he is concerned about future decisions that will impact the vitality of places, such as the Cuyahoga Valley National Park or Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.

“The shutdown of the federal government and the closure of all our national parks,” he explains, “was a more dramatic chapter in an otherwise troubling history that is threatening the care of our national treasures, threatening the opportunity for Americans to visit these places, and threatening the economies of local communities.”

Garder adds the NPCA’s own bipartisan polling showed that nine in 10 Americans don’t want national park funding to be cut.

Don’t Miss This: From National Parks Traveler:

Beyond the towpath, a cursory glance of the map presents a huge number of options to pick from. But how do you choose between such alluring names as Lost Meadows and Crow Foot Gully? Read up on a few parks and visit whichever sound most appealing. There are a few you should make sure not to miss:

Virginia Kendall: This park offers trails that will take you above, below, and around magnificent geological formations. The trails are full of ledges and overlooks, bridges and creeks. There is also a large open field near the parking lot, popular for picnics and cookouts. There are a couple different trails to choose from, and I recommend the Ledges Trail. It contains a scenic overlook (which are difficult to come by in the thick hilly forests of the valley), stunning rock formations carved by glaciers, and the small but intriguing Icebox Cave. The trail is as easy or as difficult as you choose to make it. Staying on the path will make for a calm, gentle trek, but clambering over rock piles and through steep stone passages along the way exponentially intensifies the experience.

Brandywine Falls: While it there isn’t much of a path leading up to it, this beautiful natural waterfall is the site of countless weddings and wedding photos. You’re not supposed to deviate from the boardwalk, but if you hop off the platform (carefully), your experience will gain another dimension entirely. The waterfall is just off Stanford Road, as is the Brandywine Gorge Trail, which you needn’t traverse to get to the falls but will make a nice addition to your visit. It’s a fairly easy walk that takes you down to the creek where the water has gradually exposed strata of sandstone and shale.

Blue Hen Falls: While smaller than Brandywine, Blue Hen Falls is just as beautiful. It also has its own trail, which calls for a little improvisation at parts and makes for a rather adventurous trek. The trail is just off of Boston Mills Road and is about moderate in difficulty. The waterfall is toward the beginning, and the trail doesn’t really have a definitive conclusion. It disappears into the creek near the Boston Mills ski resort, leaving you to decide whether to wander on aimlessly or head back up the path.

Tinker’s Creek Gorge: A river carving a little canyon and pouring out in yet another waterfall. It can be explored from the Bedford Reservation, which is worth a gander itself. Hop on the Gorge Parkway Trail at Alexander Road for a challenging six-mile hike to the gorge scenic overlook and bridal falls.


National Park Service: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

National Parks Traveler: Birding In The National Parks

TerraGalleria: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park   Leave a comment

Mammoth Cave NP 00Where Is It: 90 miles south of Louisville, KY.

The Birth: Private citizen founded the Mammoth Cave National Park Association in 1926, and the Park was authorized later that year. Donated funds were used to purchase some land, but some tracts were acquired by the right of eminent domain, with thousands of people forcibly relocated as landowners were paid what some considered to be inadequate sums. That controversy is still remembered as a land grab in the region. The National Park Service began administration of the park in 1936, with the official Park dedication on July 1, 1941.

It Happened Here: The Kentucky Cave Wars:

The difficulties of farming life in the hardscrabble, poor soil of the cave country influenced local owners of smaller nearby caves to see opportunities for commercial exploitation, particularly given the success of Mammoth Cave as a tourist attraction. The “Kentucky Cave Wars” were a period of bitter competition between local cave owners for tourist money. Broad tactics of deception were used to lure visitors away from their intended destination to other private show caves. Misleading signs were placed along the roads leading to the Mammoth Cave. A typical strategy during the early days of automobile travel involved representatives (known as “cappers”) of other private show caves hopping aboard a tourist’s car’s running board, and leading the passengers to believe that Mammoth Cave was closed, quarantined, caved in or otherwise inaccessible.

Size: 52,830 acres, with over 400 miles of surveyed underground passages. This is, by far, the largest cave in the world.

# Visitors: 508,054 in 2012. Attendance peaks in July, and is very low in January/February.

Plants: Spring wildflowers are abundant above ground in the Spring. You can find Coral Root Orchid, Yellow Lady Slipper, Spring Beauty, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Wild Hyacinth, Trillium, Wood Poppy, Twinleaf, Yellow Corydalis, Violets, Trout Lily, Bluebells, May-Apple, Wild Geranium, Fire Pink, Larkspur, Squirrel Corn, Crested Dwarf Iris and many more.

Animals: Mammoth Cave National Park is home to over 70 threatened, endangered or state-listed species. These include birds, crustaceans, fish, gastropods, insects, mammals, mussels, plants and reptiles.

Choices: From

The tours vary greatly; pick ones to fit your time and stamina. All require you to purchase a ticket. Reservations are strongly advised in summer, on holidays, and on spring and fall weekends. For a half-day visit, you might take the Historic Tour, which combines geology with Mammoth’s rich history, or the challenging Introduction to Caving Tour. If you plan to stay longer, consider the fairly strenuous four-mile Grand Avenue Tour (there are three steep hills, each nearly 90 feet high). To enjoy the caves safely and comfortably, wear shoes with nonskid soles and take a jacket. Complete your underground trips with a river trip or a walk on the River Styx Spring Trail. The least arduous cave tour (0.25 mile, 75 minutes) is the Frozen Niagara Tour. A modified version of the tour has only six steps each way (plus an optional 49) and is designed for visitors who want a short and easy trip. The toughest challenge is the five-mile, six-hour, belly-crawling Wild Cave Tour, offered daily in summer and weekends year-round. By reservation.

Fees: The cost of a cave tour ranges from $5 to $48. Campsites are $17-40 per night. There is no Park entrance fee.

Staying There: Lodging is available in the Mammoth Cave Hotel with 62 rooms between the main hotel and the nearby Sunset Lodge. There are also cottages available. More than 100 campsites are available in the Park as well.

Contact Info:

P.O. Box 7
1 Mammoth Cave Parkway
Mammoth Cave, KY 42259

Current Issues: The alcohol’s got to go in 2013:

Too much of a good thing, and not enough park staff, mean alcohol sales at Mammoth Cave National Park will be scaled back.

Superintendent Sarah Craighead says the sale of beer and wine at the Caver’s Campstore within the park will end at close of business on Saturday, August 17. Sale of wine and beer by the glass will continue at Mammoth Cave Hotel.

“We have noticed a dramatic increase in alcohol-related law enforcement incidents,” said Superintendent Craighead. “This was a nice service for our visitors, but with our reduced staff, because of the federal budget sequester, we must manage our time carefully. If an activity disrupts park visitors and causes more work, it must go.”

Sale of packaged beer and wine began March 9, 2012. Law enforcement records at Mammoth Cave indicate that alcohol-related incidents totaled 12 in 2011, 47 in 2012, and 40 as of June 25 in 2013.

Don’t Miss This: The Wild Tour is very well reviewed, but not for the faint of heart. You must be an adult, and you must be fit and ready for a 6-hour climbing/crawling experience. Intro to Caving is suited for families with children (6 and up). It’s a 3-hour experience.


National Park Service: Mammoth Cave National Park Mammoth Cave Mammoth Cave

Shenandoah National Park   3 comments

Shenandoah NP 00Where Is It: Washington, DC is 62 miles from the Front Royal entrance. Richmond, VA is 87 miles from the South entrance.

The Birth: From National Parks Traveler:

It was long before President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated Shenandoah on December 26, 1936, perhaps as many as 9,000 years ago, that the rumpled landscape of mountains, hollows, ridge-tops, and valleys were home to Native Americans, who later were replaced by hardy white settlers who scraped out a living from the land.

Much like the settlers of Great Smoky, the Virginians had a hard life of farming the thin mountain soil and living off the land. When the Great Depression struck in the 1920s, it was a death knell for the local communities. Between the Depression and the parks movement, many of the communities vanished from the landscape. Some remnants — old orchards, stone fence lines — linger, though time is slowly taking them over.

In 1926, Congress authorized the park, under the condition that no federal funds be used to purchase the land. The State of Virginia slowly acquired land along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, forming a 100-mile-long swath of parkland. Shenandoah National Park was born.

Shenandoah’s struggles were far from over, however. Even before the park was officially created, National Park Service officials were discussing segregation. Jim Crow laws forced the agency to create black-only visitor centers, campgrounds, and even picnic areas. Slowly, though, the Civil Rights Movement broke down many of those barriers. Still, traces of black-only signs and buildings can be found in the park, slowly fading away. A new exhibit in the Byrd Visitor Center tells the story of segregation in the park.

While today’s presidents often head to Camp David to flee Washington, D.C., back in the 1920s a similar retreat was established at Shenandoah. In fact, it was President Herbert Hoover who put the location on the political map with his frequent retreats to a small, woodsy compound first known as Camp Rapidan and later referred to simply as Camp Hoover.

It Happened Here: From National

Shenandoah National Park was built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a government jobs program created during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Workers constructed the rock walls, overlooks, picnic grounds, campgrounds, trails, and the Skyline Drive. They also planted the mountain laurel that lines the road, and built more than 340 structures in the park, many now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The work of the CCC is commemorated by a statue of a CCC worker, Iron Mike.

Size: 197,411 acres

# Visitors: 1,210,200 in 2012. Attendance peaks in July/August, and is at the lowest in December/January.

Plants: From the NPS website:

The park’s Mid-Atlantic location straddles conditions of both the Northern and Southern Appalachian mountains allowing everything from lichens to oak trees to thrive. Over 1400 species of vascular plants are found in the park, though fewer than one hundred of these are the familiar trees and shrubs most noticeable to park visitors. The forests within Shenandoah National Park are generally classified as “oak-hickory”, yet they contain far more than just oak and hickory trees to discover. The park’s 70 mile length and 3500 foot elevation range create numerous habitats able to support a variety of forest cover types.

Animals: You can see big mammals in the park such as deer and bear … but there are also over 200 species of birds that live in, or migrate through, the Park. 18 species of warblers breed in the Park. Year-round species include tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees and barred owls.

Choices: From Wikipedia:

The park is best known for Skyline Drive, a 105 mile (169 km) road that runs the entire length of the park along the ridge of the mountains. The drive is particularly popular in the fall when the leaves are changing colors. 101 miles (162 km) of the Appalachian Trail are also in the park. In total, there are over 500 miles (800 km) of trails within the park. Of the trails, one of the most popular is Old Rag Mountain, which offers a thrilling rock scramble and some of the most breathtaking views in Virginia. There is also horseback riding, camping, bicycling, and many waterfalls.

Fees: $10 per vehicle, December – February. $15 per vehicle, March – November.

Staying There: Shenandoah has two main lodges as well as visitor cabins available. Camping is available in both the back country and the front country.

Contact Info:

3655 Hwy 211 East
Luray, VA 22835
Information Line: (540) 999-3500

Current Issues: The Park banned all outside firewood in 2010 in an effort to slow the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer, which has killed millions of ash trees.

Don’t Miss This:


National Park Service: Shenandoah National Park

Terra Galleria: Shenandoah National Park

West Coast Lens: Sky Line Drive

The Great American Parks Trip: Shenandoah The Beautiful

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park   1 comment

Black Canyon OTG NP 00Where Is It: 298 miles southwest of Denver, off I-70.

The Birth: From

In the late 1920s, citizens of Montrose and other area towns, led by Rev. Mark T. Warner and local civic groups, began efforts to have the scenic beauty of the canyon preserved as a part of the National Park System. On March 2, 1933, President Herbert Hoover proclaimed Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument. Since that time thousands have enjoyed the scenic grandeur of Black Canyon. A smaller number of hardy individuals have hiked to the bottom of the canyon for fishing, rock climbing, and camping. A portion of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is classified as wilderness to ensure that the landscape will remain forever in its natural state.

It Happened Here: A railroad was built to take tourists through the bottom of the canyon … read the story of this railroad, which was finally abandoned in 1955, here.

Size: 30,750 acres

# Visitors: 192,570 in 2012. July was the largest month in 2013; February the smallest.

Plants: Some of the more common plants native to the park are aspen, Ponderosa pine, desert mahogany, Utah juniper and single-leaf ash. The Black Canyon gilia (Aliciella penstemonoides) is a species of wildflower native to the park.

Animals: Park wildlife includes elk, magpies, mule deer and eagles. Migratory birds include the mountain bluebird, canyon wren and peregrine falcon.

Choices:  North rim or south rim?

The south rim has a seven-mile, one-way road connecting you to a few miles of trails that are well worth your time. A trip to the canyon floor will take more effort and time.

To take the road less traveled, visit the north rim. You’ll need to take the long drive around on a gravel road to enjoy those spectacular views. Allow a minimum of two hours. It might take you three.

Fees: $15 per vehicle.

Staying There: Camping is available in the park: 13 sites are on the north rim and 88 are on the south. Lodging is available in neighboring towns.

Contact Info:

102 Elk Creek
Gunnison, CO 81230
(970) 641-2337

Current Issues: In 2012, the Park nearly set a precedent for the National Park Service by ending commercial guide access to the park for rock climbing. After a large protest from the climbing community, the NPS reversed course and didn’t change the policy at all. Coverage in the Denver Post is here.

Don’t Miss This: Some great pictures of the Park are in this online gallery.


National Park Service: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

National Parks Traveler: Musings on Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Photo Spot: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Jason’s Travels: Exploring The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Live Laugh RV: My Own National Park


Wrangell-St Elias National Park   1 comment

Park entrance sign. Photo by J. Stephen Conn, 2009.

Park entrance sign. Photo by J. Stephen Conn, 2009.

Where Is It: The visitor center is located in Copper Center, AK, which is 200 miles east of Anchorage and 250 miles south of Fairbanks.

The Birth: The park was established in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

It Happened Here: From Wikipedia:

In January 1979 Udall introduced a modified version of H.R. 39. Following markup and negotiations between the House and Senate versions, the bill as modified by the Senate was approved by the House on November 12.  On December 2, 1980 the ANILCA bill was signed into law by Jimmy Carter, converting Wrangell-St. Elias to a national park and preserve with an initial area of 8,147,000 acres (3,297,000 ha) in the park and 4,171,000 acres (1,688,000 ha) in the preserve. Boundaries between the park and preserve areas were drawn according to perceived values of scenery versus hunting potential In accordance with the legislation, the designated areas included 9,660,000 acres (3,910,000 ha) of wilderness, stipulated in a somewhat less restrictive manner than standard practice in the continental United States.

Opposition to the park persisted after Congressional designation from some Alaskans, who resented federal government presence in general and National Park Service presence in particular. Vandalism persisted, with a ranger cabin burned and an airplane damaged, while others skirted regulations and voiced resentment of what, in their view, was an elitist attitude embodied in the park and the Park Service. However, relations improved for a time, with local businesses promoting the park and working with the Park Service on tourism projects. Incidents continued, notably involving arson at a ranger station, and relations bottomed again in 1994 when the park superintendent Karen Wade testified before Congress for increased funding in a way that was perceived to confirm resident’s suspicions about the Park Service, exacerbated by commentary from local newspapers that was wrongly attributed to Wade. This marked the high point of resentment against the park, as local residents began to take part in Park Service sponsored events. Nevertheless, the 1979 designation of the region as a UNESCO World Heritage Site continued to be seen with suspicion. The John Birch Society claimed that the designation was park of a United Nations plan to assume control of the U.S. national park system.

The state of Alaska proposed major improvements to the McCarthy Road in 1997, planning to pave it and add scenic turnouts and trailheads along its length. Although the road remains gravel, it has been widened and smoothed. Some rental car agencies continue to prohibit use of their vehicles on the McCarthy Road.

Size: It’s by far our largest Park, at 13.2 million acres. It’s 6 times the size of Yellowstone National Park. This single park and national preserve is larger than Switzerland.

# Visitors: 89,138 visitors in 2012. Attendance goes over 20,000 per month June – August. In the winter months, less than 50 visit the park in a month. Note that the park has 13.2 million acres … so there is a great deal of empty space all of the time.

Plants: Fireweed, the most common flower in Alaska, is prevalent in the Park …along with 886 other vascular plant species, which represents 54% of the Alaskan flora.

Animals: 21 species of fresh water fish have been documented in the park, including sockeye salmon, northern pike, chinook and Arctic grayling. 93 species of birds have been documented, including 24 that remain through the winter. Common birds are the rock ptarmigan, hermit thrushes and hairy woodpeckers. Owls include great horned owls, northern hawk owls and boreal owls.

13,000 Dall sheep inhabit the Park, which is one of the largest concentrations in North America. Other large mammals include black bear, caribou and the gray wolf.

Choices:  Trip planning is key, per the Park website:

A successful hiking trip requires adequate planning. You should be prepared for everything and should not count on aid or rescue from others. Here, you will be on your own. Caution and good judgment are key ingredients for a pleasant expedition. For many hikers, hiring the services of a local guide will make the trip safer and more enjoyable. In general, the areas above tree line (~3,000′) afford the easiest hiking and best views. These areas are often accessed by chartering a flight to one of the many possible “bush” landing strips. Note that there are many more places to land than are shown on maps. Air taxis will often land on gravel bars or on the tundra. The routes depicted on the “Trail Illustrated” map are the most popular.

Fees: There are no entrance fees.

Staying There: Until 2012, there was no camping or lodging available in the park. That changed with the opening of the Kendesnii Campground. There are private options available on private land contained within the boundaries of the park.

Contact Info:

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
Mile 106.8 Richardson Highway
PO Box 439
Copper Center, AK 99573
Park business line: 907-822-5234
Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center in Copper Center: 907-822-7250
Cabin reservation line: 907-822-7253


National Park Service: Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Preserve

National Park Service: The Goat Trail


Devils Tower National Monument   Leave a comment

Designated a National Monument in 1906 by President Teddy Roosevelt, Wyoming’s Devils Tower was the victim of a typographical error at birth. As the National Park Service’s website puts it:

When the proclamation establishing Devils Tower was published, the apostrophe was unintentionally dropped from “Devil’s”—and this clerical error was never officially corrected.

Devils Tower in Autumn. Tweeted by the Department of the Interior, 10/24/13.

The 867′ tall Devils Tower in Autumn. Tweeted by the Department of the Interior, 10/24/13.

Posted October 26, 2013 by henrymowry in Photography

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