Thursday, August 25, 2016

National Park Service Centennial

I am alive! Between being incredibly busy and having a total lack of motivation to write, I haven't posted anything in nearly 2 months. But here I am, and for a special day. Today, August 25, 2016, is the 100th birthday for the National Park Service! I just wanted to throw together a few photos highlighting the national parks I've been to, along with some suggestions of things to do at those parks and what have you. So, here we go!

Grand Canyon Winter
Grand Canyon National Park, one of the quintessential national parks in the United States.

The National Park Service was established on August 25, 1916, by the National Park Service Organic Act as passed by Congress and then-president Woodrow Wilson. Actual national parks are older than 1916, however, with Yellowstone National Park (established in 1872) being the first national park in the United States. Several other national parks were then created, but each of the parks were individually managed. As the parks grew in number, Congress decided to establish an agency that would collectively oversee the parks, instead of leaving them to be individually managed.

White Sands National Monument
The National Park Service doesn't only manage and oversee national parks; the agency also manages most national monuments, such as White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, which I've covered previously. In addition to National Monuments and National Parks, the agency manages several other types of locations such as National Historic Sites, National Battlefield Parks, National Parkways, National Recreation Areas, National Seashores, and other such properties.

Petrified Forest National Park
As of now, I've personally visited 11 (of the 59) national parks and many other locations managed by the NPS. They all have their incredible beauties and differences, but I've never been to a single national park that left me underwhelmed. My personal favorite, so far at least, has been Petrified Forest National Park (which I've covered at this link) in Arizona. It was the first park I was able to visit west of the Mississippi River, and it was the first place that I really got a taste of "The American West."

Arches National Park
Another personal favorite is Arches National Park. The juxtaposition between the beautifully sculpted red sandstone with the soaring La Sal Mountains in the background just makes for a mesmerizing place.

Zion Canyon
Zion Canyon in Zion National Park, Utah, as seen from atop Angels Landing.

This summer, while coming home from a field technician job in Southeast Arizona, I decided to take a 10 day road trip back to Ohio. I meandered up through Arizona, through southern Utah, through Colorado, and then back to Ohio via I-70. My plan was to hit as many national parks and other awesome natural areas as best I could for as cheaply as I could. In total I visited 5 national parks, and an assortment of national forests and other parks.

Zion National Park Hikes
The Narrows Hike (Left), Angels Landing Hike (Right)

The two most memorable hikes from my roadtrip both came from Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. I did both the two most famous hikes at Zion: The Narrows and Angels Landing. The Narrows is a deep and narrow canyon which one can hike through. There is no "trail," and you just hike through the Virgin River. I opted to do 4 miles upstream and then 4 miles back downstream. The Angels Landing hike is a grueling climb up to the top of Angels Landing, a rock formation which rises 1,488 feet above the floor of Zion Canyon. The Angels Landing hike is infamous for the last 500 vertical feet in which you have to scramble up a steep sandstone face with over 1,000 foot drops on either side of the trail (which is sometimes only 2 or 3 feet wide). I'll hopefully be writing a post or two more on Zion in the near future!

Grosvenor Arch

Many National Parks, especially ones like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite, are known for being really busy, especially during the summer months. People visit these parks in droves because they are something special, but not every place the NPS manages is crowded and overflowing with people. In fact, if you're willing to sacrifice some comforts, you can easily escape the crowds. For example, try visiting busier parks in the winter, when attendance is drastically down. Another thing you can do is simply go off the beaten path. Take the photo above. This double arch is called Grosvenor Arch. It's in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. Grand Staircase-Escalante NM is a gigantic plot of land that lies between Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands National Parks. It's an easy drive from any of those, yet has only a fraction of the visitors. This is mainly because it's wild. In this park you oftentimes have to take crazy dirt roads for miles to get to places without bathrooms or water or what have you. If you're comfortable with that and plan for the seclusion, you can often find yourself totally alone. I visited Grosvenor Arch over the summer, and there were about 5 people at the trailhead. To get there, you had to drive 20 miles one way down a dirt-rock-sand road, and even cross a creek. Not many people are willing to do that, and the touristy crowds disappear for those who are willing to.

Trail Ridge Road
Alpine tundra and spruce forest as seen from the Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park.
But it's still nice to be a tourist at a busy park. When I traveled to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, I visited the park on a Sunday afternoon. The crowds were insane, and the traffic was bumper to bumper, but the amazing views like the one above made it all worth it.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the Autumn.

Ohio even has its own national park! Although the vast majority of national parks are out west, Ohio is home to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, near Cleveland. Sadly, I've never properly explored the park, but many of those who live in the Cleveland area are very familiar with it! I've only visited for research, but hopefully sometime soon I can visit it for hiking!

Blue Ridge Parkway
The Great Smoky Mountains as seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina.
The national parks belong to you and I. They were created to protect amazing natural features for future generations to enjoy and visit. Sadly, there are many threats to the future of these treasures. Climate change is affecting all the aspects of all the national parks, from the wildlife to the plants to even the namesake features (For example, Glacier National Park is expected to lose all the namesake glaciers by 2050). On top of that, some politicians are currently trying to open up the national parks to activities such as mining and other horribly detrimental activities. And then there's the threat of invasive species, tourists damaging natural features while visiting, and a whole slew of other threats. These national parks should be protected for our children, their children, their children's children, and on and on and on. We have to take steps to ensure these lands are conserved and protected, because once they're gone, they're gone. It is our duty to do so.

Have you been to a national park? If so, which one is your favorite? Leave a comment below!