May 20, 2011

Alpine Shop's Guide to America's Amazing National Parks

As outdoor recreation lovers, Alpine Shop employees are naturally drawn to our national parks. As a company, we celebrate their existence, their protection and their continued preservation for our use and our children's use and our children's children. The National Park Service consists of over 375 parks and historic sites covering an amazing range of landscapes, wildlife and history.   Below are just a few of the most interesting facts on this expansive park system.

  • More than 300 million people visited our national park areas in 2010.
  • The first national park, Yellowstone, was created in 1872 through a law signed by President Ulysses S. Grant. The cavalry was the first caretaker.
  • The first nationally-proclaimed protected area of public land in the United States, Yosemite, was created in 1864 by the passage of the Yosemite Grant.
  • The largest living things in the world live in national parks; Sequoia Trees, and the world’s largest carnivore; the Alaska Brown Bear.
  • National park areas have volcanos, glaciers, white sand beaches, and dinosaur fossils.
  • Starting in 1910 with “The Immortal Alamo”, filmmakers have been coming to national parks year after year to capture majestic scenery for their productions.

While all of these parks are worthy of protection some hold a special place in the American experience.  While there will never be a consensus on which parks are the best we have listed below the ones that have become part of our staff’s hearts and souls.

[caption id="attachment_655" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Bull Elk resting in Yellowstone National Park, Montana."]Bull Elk resting in Yellowstone National Park, Montana[/caption] Yellowstone National Park

The 2,221,766 acres of this astounding land make up the world’s first national park.  Created in 1872 the park features nearly a thousand miles of trails, over 280 backcountry campsites and 466 miles of roadways. Within it’s boundaries you will find over 10,000 hot springs, geysers, and other thermal features, dramatic mountain ranges, beautiful rivers, hundreds of waterfalls and some of the best wildlife viewing this side of the Serengeti. Much of the park sits in an ancient caldera of a super volcano resulting in over 2000 earthquakes in an average year.

[caption id="attachment_656" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The iconic face of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California."]Half Dome Yosemite National Park[/caption] Yosemite National Park

This crown jewel of the National Park system in California was the first park to be protected by the American Government in 1864 with the passage of the Yosemite Grant. Yosemite Valley is famous throughout the world for its waterfalls and the dramatic granite cliffs rising up, in some cases, 5000 feet above the valley floor. The iconic face of Half Dome in the southeast corner of the Valley can be seen on everything from the California quarter, the logos of such respected outdoor companies as The North Face and Sierra Designs and on countless tourist photographs throughout the world. The park extends for 1169 square miles, 94% of which is wilderness.

[caption id="attachment_657" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The tranquil shores of Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana"]Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park[/caption] Glacier National Park

This park in NW Montana is dubbed “The Crown of the Continent”.   This mountain park lives up to it nick name featuring stark mountain landscapes, dozens of glaciers, and amazing wildlife. The park has about 700 miles of trails with each one more beautiful than the last.   It is a hiker’s paradise with many backcountry campsites to choose from.   The Going to the Sun Road is one of the most beautiful drives to be had anywhere.   This 52 mile long roadway was constructed in the 1920’s.  There are many sheer drops sans guardrails to keep you holding tightly to the steering wheel. The park is one of he last refuges of the great Grizzly Bear.  Other wildlife includes Mountain Goats, Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Lion, Black Bear and deer.

[caption id="attachment_658" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The beautiful sandstone sculptures of Arches National Park in Utah."]Arches National Park, Utah[/caption] Arches National Park

While tiny in comparison to Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier National Parks, Arches packs a tremendous amount of things into its borders.  Crammed into it’s 76,000 plus acres are over 2000 sandstone arches.   Many of these outstanding geologic formations are easily accessible by car and short hikes.   A couple of the more impressive arches include Landscape, Double and the states symbol Delicate Arch.  The park is just a couple of miles north of Moab, Utah and features a small campground and picnic areas.

[caption id="attachment_660" align="aligncenter" width="225" caption="The beautiful walk up the Virgin River into the Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah."]Zion National Park Utah[/caption] Zion National Park

Another “can’t miss” Utah park is Zion.   This fantastic park offers canyoneering, waterfalls, great rock climbing, and unusual geologic formations.   One of the most popular activities is a walk up the Virgin River into the Narrows.   On this walk the canyon walls will tower over you rising up to 1500 feet from the canyon floor    A convenient shuttle bus system takes you into and out of the canyon proper.  There are two campgrounds, lots of trails as well as excellent opportunities for cross county travel.

[caption id="attachment_659" align="aligncenter" width="231" caption="Beautiful pictures abound in this third Utah National Park on our list."]Bryce Canyon National Park[/caption] Bryce Canyon National Park

The old story goes that if you cannot take a great photo in Bryce Canyon you may as well throw your camera away.   The park is a series of horseshoe canyons carved out of the top of the Grand Staircase geologic formation.   Trails will lead you though a fairyland conglomeration of brightly colored spires, walls, hoodoo’s, and fins.

Ready to Explore on Your Own

Alpine Shop offers a continuous series of programs on these and other of America's incredible national parks. If you would like to learn all about these parks from people who know them intimately visit our Great American National Parks Programs by clicking here.

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