National Park Week usually falls in the spring each year, and this year the National Park Service is waiving entrance fees to all 392 US national parks. This includes free admission to not just the 58 United States national park biggies like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, but also US national monuments, forests, and historic sites. Now, state and national park rangers have been among the nicest people I’ve met, and the budget cuts the National Park Service has had to deal with is painful to contemplate. These budget cuts mean shortened hours, abbreviated seasons, and less staffing of our amazing national treasures. If your wallet’s been affected by the downturn in the economy, people in the National Park Service can surely relate. A vacation involving our US national parks is cheaper than one in a theme park, but it’s hard to beat “free.” Anyone living near a national park should especially consider exploring it this week…or, if you’re lucky enough to be able to travel so soon after spring break, consider visiting a new-to-you United States national park.
Each US national park is stunning in its own way. While I’m in no way an authority on all of them – or even half - the vast geological and topographical difference between, say the Olympic National Park (green, wet) and Canyonlands (red, dry) is amazing. That they’re both part of the name country is amazing to contemplate.
The latest issue of AARP magazine (don’t laugh; my mother-in-law subscribes but somehow it keeps coming to our house) has an article called “National Parks Less Traveled.” This article recognizes the diversity of our US National Park System, and highlights some interesting facts.
Deepest - The deepest national park is Crater Lake, Oregon. After all, it’s set inside a volcanic basin. This makes it our country’s deepest lake, and at 1,943 feet deep, it’s the seventh deepest in the world.
Darkest - Big Bend, Texas gets this honor. The National Park Service’s Night Sky Program and the International Dark Sky Association’s experts say that the nights are exceptionally clear for nighttime stargazing at Big Bend because of it’s remote desert location and cloud-free atmosphere.
Most Prehistoric - Petrified Forest, Arizona. The fossilized trees in the Petrified Forest show how the area changed in the part 225 million years, from a swampy tropical floodplain to its current desert state.
Most Bears - Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee. This US national park has around 2 bears per square mile, and in autumn they come out en masse to bulk up for winter along Cades Cove, so park visitors (in cars!) come to stare at them then.
Least Visited - Only 1,565 people traveled to Kobuk Valley in Alaska in 2008. This least visited national park is north of the Arctic Circle and accessible only by snowmobile, boat or plane. Yikes, but considering the 4.4 million tourists milling around the Grand Canyon annually, that solitude has its appeal.
Smallest – Hot Springs, Arkansas, is the smallest US national park, and the only one in an erstwhile urban area. it could fit into the biggest national park (Wrangell-St. E Elias in Alaska) 1,500 times.
Wettest – The wettest on the list is easily Olympic National Park; the Hoh Rain Forest gets 12 feet of rain a year. I remember being so overwhelmed by all the green growth here that when I closed my eyes, I saw orange.
From Joshua Tree National Park to Walnut Canyon National Monument, we all have our favorites in the US National Park Service. Even though this week’s free admission makes a visit especially compelling, The Vacation Gals urge our fellow travel lovers to plan a trip to a national park any time. It doesn’t have to be National Park Week for us to appreciate the natural splendor and geographic diversity of our country.