The National Park Service recently unveiled this year’s National Park Week, running from April 16 through 24. During National Park Week visitors can enter all 394 national parks free of charge. National parks have been created in every state except Delaware and all U.S. outlying territories. They are collectively made up of national ecological preserves, recreation areas, and sites of military or historical significance. They range in size from less than a half an acre to over 13 million acres.
National Parks in California
There are 32 nationally recognized parks, memorials, monuments, wilderness, and historic sites spread across the California landscape. Operating hours, costs and accessibility will vary from park to park, although daily admission is free during the National Park Week event. Information about each park can be found on the National Park Service website. Although each park has something special to offer potential visitors, there are three California parks that should be on any traveler’s to-do list.
Death Valley National Park
Nestled in a huge basin and surrounded by mountain ranges, Death Valley National Park offers desolate but spectacular views. Browsing through the Death Valley 2011 Visitor’s Guide is a great way to plan your visit. Hotel accommodations, RV hook-ups and tent camping are all available at Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, and Panamint Springs resorts. More adventurous campers can also venture out to more primitive sites within the confines of the park.
The best times to explore in Death Valley are autumn and spring, though you will find visitors in the park year-round. Be sure to stop by Badwater Basin, the lowest point of elevation in North America. Badwater is home to an endemic species of pupfish that thrives in the murky, salty, “bad” water. Another awesome sight that is not to be missed is the off-road driving tour through Titus Canyon. The route runs up and down the mountain side in steep switchbacks before dropping down to the canyon floor. The harrowing journey is definitely worth the effort for timid travelers. Thousands of years of geological processes have created multicolored layers of rock that curl, bend, and shoot up toward the sun. Titus Canyon narrows considerably near the end, making for some unique and unbelievable photo opportunities that definitely give one a sense of how small we really are.
Channel Islands National Park
The Channel Islands National Park is made up of a series of outlying islands and the shallows surrounding them, just off of the California coast near Santa Barbara. Visitor centers for the Channel Islands National Park exist in both Santa Barbara and Ventura. There tourists can shop, view a short slide show about the delicate island ecosystem, tour the museum, and explore a living tide pool exhibit. Travel to the Channel Islands themselves-Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Anacapa- must be by private or chartered boat or small airplane. Experienced kayakers can paddle the 12-miles between the mainland and the closest of the Channel Islands, Anacapa Island. Be advised that dense fogs, swift currents, and encounters with larger vessels can make for quite a daunting journey.
Each of the islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park is a haven for backpackers and naturalists alike. Hiking trails abound across every island. Both Anacapa and Santa Barbara islands also offer self-guided nature tours that highlight island plants, ecology, and wildlife. The islands remain mostly undeveloped, so travelers must carry items like water, snacks, sunscreen, first-aid supplies, and camping gear with them when leaving the mainland.
Joshua Tree National Park
2011 marks the 75th anniversary of Joshua Tree National Park’s induction into the National Park system. Spanning across nearly 800,000 acres just outside of Twentynine Palms, California; the park encompasses two different desert ecosystems, as well as tiny oases teeming with life. The National Park Service first considered naming the park Desert Plants National Park in honor of the natural abundance and rich diversity of plant species there. Instead the park was named for one of its wondrous park residents, the Joshua tree, which is only found in the southwestern United States. Joshua trees were named by migrating Mormon settlers who described them as looking like Joshua reaching his hands up toward the sky in prayer.
Joshua trees aren’t the only outlandish sight to see for the curious park purveyor. The self-guided Geology Road Tour leads off-roaders through some of Joshua Tree National Park’s more fascinating and mesmerizing landscapes. Believe it or not, bird watching is also a common occurrence in the park. Keeping your binoculars handy will guarantee a gorgeous glimpse of a swarm of turkey vultures roosted among a Joshua tree’s prickly prominences or a road runner racing through the rippling sand.
Whether you choose one of the National Parks described here or go off on your own adventure, National Park Week is the time to do it. So grab your GPS, your camping gear, and a group of friends, and go explore your world.
“Death Valley Visitors Guide”, National Park Service
“Joshua Tree Plants”. National Park Service
“National Park Week:, National Park Service
Ulher, William. “Channel Island National Park Information”. Channel Islands National Park