For many people, the best places to visit are those whose environments have remained in their primeval condition. Indeed the pull of an untouched wilderness – a magnificent landscape, a spectacular waterfall, or a serene wildlife habitat – can be so strong that many travel plans are being drawn with the “beauty of nature” as primary consideration. Each of the fifty-seven or so US national parks, considered among the best in the world, is known to exert such potent attraction.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah, which was established on September 15, 1928, is spectacular for its network of ravines, which run for some 20 miles (32 kilometers) along the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The ravines were formed by natural erosion, which carved the plateau into thousands of rock towers, spires and columns. The shales, limestone and sandstone of the plateau are rich in iron compounds, manganese and copper. These minerals contribute to the variety of colors – orange, burning red, and deep purple – that make the 35,835-acre (14,502-hectare) area one of the most frequently visited national parks in the United States.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Wooded plains and steep canyons make up the Mesa Verde National Park. Established on June 29, 1906, the 52,074-acre (21,074-hectare) park is located some 34 miles (55 kilometers) west of the city of Durango in southwestern Colorado. It is noted for the multi-storied cliff dwellings of the ancestral Puebloans (who were once called the Anasazi people) that date from the 6th to the 12th centuries. The largest and most famous of these dwellings is the Cliff Palace, which has 150 rooms and 23 sacred underground chambers in which religious rituals took place. The complex structure is said to have held some 100 people. Considered the most popular archaeological site in the United States, Mesa Verde National Park was designated a World Heritage site in 1978.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Lying beneath the arid Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico is a marvelously arrayed system of underground chambers – Carlsbad Caverns. Established on May 14, 1930, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is famous both for its elaborately decorated caves and the colonies of bats found in them. The caves form a maze about 23 miles (37 kilometers) long. The Big Room, as its name suggests, is the biggest chamber, occupying an area of 14 acres (5.67 hectares). The park also has an underground lake that does not support any life forms and, hence, water remains fresh there.
The caverns in this 46,766-acre (18,925-hectare) park contain an unequaled arrangement of remarkable limestone formations. These include stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, epsomite needles, and cave pearls. About eleven different species comprise the colonies of bats that make their homes in the caves of the park. The largest colony is made up of the Mexican free-tailed bats. Carlsbad Caverns is one of the best US national parks where hikers or backpackers can really enjoy the beauty of nature.
Everglades National Park, Florida
The Everglades is a swampy, subtropical region in the Florida peninsula. Lying south of Lake Okeechobee, the region, which is about 100 miles (161 kilometers) long and 75 miles (121 kilometers) wide, extends over an area of 5,000 square miles (12,950 square kilometers). Of this area, about 2,356 square miles (6,102 square kilometers) in the south lies the Everglades National Park. Established on December 6, 1947, the Everglades National Park was likewise designated a World Heritage site in 1979.
The best that nature has to offer can be found right in the park. To a great extent, the Everglades ecosystem is composed of sawgrass savanna. Small wooded islands and freshwater pools dot the environment; mangrove swamps line the park’s coast. Several types of native plant grow in the pine forests, including orchids, bromeliads, and ferns. The Everglades National Park is particularly famous for its abundant variety of wildlife, including the brown pelicans, roseate spoonbills, fish eagles, herons, sea turtles, porpoises, and the best known of all – the alligators.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Great Basin is a 77,180-acre (31,234-hectare) nature reserve that was established as one of the US national parks on October 27, 1986. The park sits on an area of great scenic beauty in the smaller half of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, in eastern and northern Nevada. The forested slopes of the South Snake Range are comprised of mountainous landscape. Wheeler Peak, the highest point of the range at 13,063 feet (3,982 meters), is perpetually covered with snow and ice. The Lehman Caves, declared a national monument on January 24, 1922, lie on the eastern slopes of the range. The galleries and tunnels that comprise the caves are “decorated” with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
The 183,224-acre (74,148-hectare) Crater Lake National Park in Oregon was established on May 22, 1902. The lake lies at an altitude of 6,165 feet (1,879 meters) in the foundered apex of the erstwhile volcanic Mount Mazama. Famous for its deep blue color, Crater Lake covers an area of about 12,800 acres (5,180 hectares), is about 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) wide, and has a maximum depth of 1,932 feet (589 meters). A popular feature of the park is Wizard Island, the small cone of a volcano that took shape after the collapse of Mount Mazama; it rises to 763 feet (233 meters) above the lake, near the western shore.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park, established on October 1, 1890 and declared a World Heritage site in 1984, is a 761,267-acre (308,074-hectare) area of great natural beauty. Situated in the mountain range of Sierra Nevada in California, the park has varied landscape – ice field, glacial lake, forest, alpine meadow, and waterfall and river. Prominent features of the park include: Yosemite Falls, the highest measured waterfall in North America; Yosemite Valley, famous for its natural granite monoliths; Half Dome, perhaps the most familiar rock formation in the park; Mount Lyell, the highest point in the park; and of course, the Grizzly Giant, one of the largest existing redwoods in the world.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is a mesmerizing scenery for many reasons, but probably the one that bedazzles nature lovers the most is the variety of ancient rocks that make up the layers of its striated walls. Established on February 26, 1919 as one of the US national parks, the Grand Canyon covers a 1,902-square mile (4,926-square kilometer) area in the middle of the Arizona Desert. At its widest, the canyon spans 18 miles (29 kilometers) across; its deepest point, Granite Gorge, plunges to a depth of 1 mile (1.6 kilometers).
One of the well-known features of Grand Canyon National Park is Mooney Falls, which cascade for about 200 feet (61 meters); it is one of the three major cataracts on Havasu Creek. In 1979, Grand Canyon National Park was designated a World Heritage site.
The beauty of nature in the other US national parks is by no means less enchanting than that exuded by the eight listed above. The Badlands National Park in South Dakota draws attention for its 382-square mile (989-square kilometer) expanse of jagged hills, sharp ravines, and saw-toothed ridges. The 229-square mile (593-square kilometer) Zion National Park in southern Utah boasts a landscape that is made up of multicolored sandstone mesas and canyons. Outside the contiguous United States, Haleakala National Park in Maui, Hawaii features the unique natural beauty and splendor of the Haleakala crater, one of the largest volcanic craters in the world.